Goto Joshin Kozuka

Goto Joshin

periodLate Muromachi (ca. 1540)
designationNBTHK Juyo Tosogu Kozuka
mei紋乗真 · 光守「花押」
Mon Joshin - Mitsumori (kao)
measurements9.6 cm x 1.5 cm
price -new- -consignment- -please enquire-

The mainline Shirobei branch of the Goto family stands by itself in the history of soft metal fittings. Its founder is Yujo, who was likely born in Mino in 1440 and assimilated the various traditions of the time. He worked for the Ashikaga shogun Yoshimasa, and developed a typical style which he handed down to his son Sojo and would form the basis for house carving – iebori – for the rulers of Japan.

Goto Joshin was born as Shirobei Yoshihisa in Eisho 9 (1512). He was the first son of Goto Sojo, the 2nd main line master. He worked for the 12th and 13th Ashikaga shoguns Yoshiharu and Yoshiteru, and received the rank of Hogen. Joshin was also a bushi and fought on the battlefield, where he died in 1562 at the age of 51. His son would take up the name Kojo and continue the line as the 4th mainline master. Joshin's work is a bit different from the generations coming before and after him, and is usually deeply carved and sometimes in large proportions.

The first three generations of the main line, Yujo, Sojo, and Joshin took their names after entering the priesthood and did not sign their work. We generally do not see signatures until the later generations of this school.

The work of the third master, Joshin (Yoshihisa), has been very much appreciated on account of its high relief. He was the son of Sojo, and lived from 1511-1562. The work is far bolder than that of his predecessors. He is known to have signed some of his work. Alexander Mosle

Though Mosle claimed some of his work was signed, there are not any signatures that have been accepted by the NBTHK for Joshin. The habit of signing work occasionally is something that comes several generations after Joshin, and it was not until the middle of the Goto line that work was consistently signed. The reason for this is generally because the main line of Goto were court artists, making objects for Shoguns and high ranking persons. Signing your name to an item is a mark of pride, and though today we think of brands having prominent labels for display, this was not at all the thought when making items for the military aristocracy.

The work of the first four Goto artists is restricted to the small fittings, kogai, kozuka and menuki, sometimes in sets of mitokoromono. Popular themes included dragons and shishi, which reflected themes of power and majesty and well suited the kinds of top level blades on which they would be placed. We tend to see these themes in gold on kozuka and kogai, placed on black shakudo nanako ground. We collectively refer to them as Ko-Goto, which is a term referred to for pre-Momoyama Goto work. This term I have seen used with a bit of flexibility, either to denote the first three generations, or the first five. The fifth generation Tokujo however is the first to make tsuba, and also he developed chemical plating processes that were used in place of the mechanical riveting processes of the older generations. As well his work is aligned with the Momoyama period, and so I think this is the logical place to separate the groups.

When it is remembered that the punching tool was guided solely by the hand and eye,and that three or more blows of the mallet had to be struck for every dot, some idea may be formed of the patience and accuracy needed to produce these tiny protuberances in perfectly straight lines at exactly equal intervals and of absolutely uniform size, so that a magnifying glass can scarcely detect any variation in their order and size. Nanako disposed in straight parallel lines has always ranked at the head of this kind of work. F. Brinkley, Japan and China

Early Goto work has a particular kind of hallmark that can be found on the mokko (the lobe at the end of the kogai). These were formed with a straight edge of some sort, so that the bend makes a straight fold in the "waist" of the lobe. The NBTHK states that these are closely associated with Joshin, though sometimes he made lobes with a more rounded shape.

The most characteristic about the shape of this kogai is the slightly flattened modelling of the mokko (lobed) shape at the bottom of the upper portion. Such a finish is pertinent exclusively to Joshin among early Goto.

The work of the early Goto masters was something that was reserved for daimyo, shoguns and the imperial court, and the value of this work was beyond the means of an average bushi to have for their sword. Old books from the 1900s in the English language frequently state that the work of the Goto masters is rare and almost non-existent outside of Japan where they have been preciously kept and handed down through generations. With the rise in collecting of Japanese samurai artifacts worldwide and the ability for collectors to find items on the internet, we have become the first generation to have unrestricted access to these wonderful objects.

Goto Joshin has the most Juyo out of the Goto school with the exception of Ichijo, and this count is at 74 as of the time of this writing. Five of these have gone on to pass Tokubetsu Juyo, and there is one more Juyo Bijutshin attributed to him.

Juyo Goto Joshin Kozuka
Goto Joshin Kozuka OshigataGoto Joshin Kozuka Origami

Goto Joshin Kozuka

This kozuka was reset in a new frame by Goto Mitsumori (aka Keijo), the 14th generation mainline Goto master. This happened on many older Goto works that were brought in for appraisal and repair centuries after they were made.

When Mitsumori made a new frame for this kozuka, he left the ground as it was, with worn nanako and we also see considerable wear in the gold foil that wrapped the design in places. While to western eyes this kind of presentation looks worn out, according to Japanese aesthetics such a piece has charm, character and dignity that come from its use and age. So at the time of restoration, this kind of item may have been left mostly as it was.

In some cases (as in this case) kogai were repurposed as kozuka, either due to damage or due to the preferences of the owner.

Joshin was one of the early generations who never signed anything, so the next best thing is this kind of appraisal, which reads Mon Joshin - Mitsumori (kao) and shows that the work was assessed by one of the head masters. When it comes to early Goto work, the appraisals done by the Goto school themselves are the guideline that allows us to sort out other unappraised and unsigned works.

The theme is one of drums, and often these themes imply something that cannot be seen. In this case the drums signify those that were used to accompany a noh play, and so one's thoughts should be directed to the play rather than the drums themselves. Which play that could be is left to the imagination.

This piece is ranked Juyo for its artistic merit and historical value.

Goto Joshin Kozuka OshigataGoto Joshin Kozuka Origami


Appointed on the 29th of October, 1999 (Session 45)

tsuzumi no zu kōgai-naoshi kozuka (鼓図笄直し小柄) – Kōgai with with drums motif reworked into a kozuka

Mon Jōshin – Mitsumori + kaō (紋乗真 光守「花押」) – “Motif element by Jōshin, [certified so by] Mitsumori + monogram”


Length 9.6 cm, with 1.5 cm


Hinshitsu-keijō: shakudō, nanako ground, takabori relief with uttori-iroe accents, reverse in gold sogetsugi finish


late Muromachi period


Jōshin (乗真), the third generation of the Gotō family, was the son and heir of the second generation Sōjō (宗乗). His first name was Jirō (二郎) and his legal first name was Yoshihisa (吉久), which he changed later to Genshirō (源四郎) and Harumitsu (治光) respectively. Jōshin worked for the two Ashikaga Shōguns Yoshiharu (足利義晴, 1511–1550) and Yoshiteru (足利義輝, 1536–1565) and held income yielding lands in Sakamoto (坂本) in Ōmi province. The Gotō, however, were at discord with the Asai (浅井) clan from norther Ōmi province, and Jōshin died in battle at the age of fifty-one when Asai Sukemasa (浅井亮政) attacked his family on the sixth day of the third month of Eiroku five (永禄, 1562). Accordingly, Jōshin was both a kinkō artist and military commander, and because of his gallant character, his works are usually large and powerful and his engravings show a rich sense of volume.

This kōgai was reworked into a kozuka and features uttori-iroe accents. In its original state as a kōgai, the motif of this elaborate masterwork covered the entire plate and the depicted drums likely represent those used in the Nō plays that were liked by the Shōgun. The reverse is elegantly finished in gold sogetsugi.