Ko-Goto Joshin and Kojo KogaiKo-Goto Joshin and Kojo

periodMuromachi (ca. 1555)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu Kogai
price$7,000 -new-

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

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 flat modelling at modelling of the mokko (lobed) shape at the bottom of the upper portion. Such a finish is pertinent exclusively to Joshin among early Goto. NBTHK Token Bijutsu English

Goto Kojo

Goto Kojo was born in 1529 and died in 1620, living a long life of 92 years. It never ceases to amaze me how long some of these craftsmen were able to live in feudal Japan, at a time where the average life expectancy in Europe was about 35 years (in fact up to the 1800s). In any event, Kojo was the son of Joshin and had the rank of hogen. His name was Koichiro and apparently he changed this to Mitsuie before entering the priesthood.

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

Kojo was the house artist for Oda Nobunaga, the most powerful warlord of the time and the primary driver of the unification of Japan. And after Nobunaga's death, Kojo continued working in these roles Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who completed the job of unifying Japan and is himself one of the pivotal figures in Japanese history. Under both of these men Kojo was also given responsibility for the operations of the national mint, and his son Tokujo would follow in his footsteps in this regard.

The fourth master Kojo (Mitsuie), son of Joshin, 1530-1620, was very skillful. His work goes more into detail and is very rare. Alexander Mosle

The vast majority of Kojo's work is unsigned, like his forefathers though there are apparently a small number that may be signed. The four generations that followed him mostly did not sign either. As far as I can tell there is only one signed work, and he signed it only as Goto with gold inlay on the back of a kogai toward the tip.

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.

To date there are 82 items that passed Juyo attributed to Goto Joshin. Four of those have gone on to pass Tokubetsu Juyo: a menuki, a mitokoromono, and two kogai. There is additionally a single kogai that is Juyo Bijutsuhin. This tells us that single kogai by this smith can be very important. Goto Kojo additionally has another 29 Juyo items attributed to him.

Layout Tokubetsu Hozon Ko-Goto Joshin and Kojo Kogai
Ko-Goto Joshin and Kojo Kogai OrigamiKo-Goto Joshin and Kojo Kogai SasanoKo-Goto Joshin and Kojo Kogai Fittings Museum

Tokubetsu Hozon Ko-Goto Joshin and Kojo Kogai

It is extremely rare to find an early Goto work attributed to two of the mainline masters as gassaku. I can in fact tell you how rare this is, in that there is only one other I can find documentation on that is a joint work of Kojo and Joshin, and it is documented in the English Token Bijutsu.

In that particular work the item was authenticated by Goto Kenjo who was working while Kojo was alive, and so it is theorized that he was told directly by Kenjo the story of its manufacture.

In that case the shape of the kogai is that which is made by Joshin, including all of his typical and unique mannerisms. Overall on that item it is documented as containing very little of Kojo's style but is mostly a representative work of Joshin. So it was likely a training piece for Kojo who did preparation work for Joshin in his early years.

This kogai also shows the form of Joshin but the panel seems to be the work of Kojo, which leads to the ultra rare designation as joint work of the two artists.

Charles Bowman relayed to me that the theme of this Goto comes from the The Tals Of Ise and concerns a poem about Ariwara no Narihira [825-800] viewing irsis near an eight plank bridge and thinking of his beloved wife.

There is a similar themed kogai, but in shakudo, by Joshin and Kojo illustrated in Sengoku Busho no Yosoi by the Sano Museum. This piece is likely the origin of the attribution of this one to Joshin and Kojo as a joint work.

It remains with a condition that is appropriate to its age: these soft metal fittings were used and touched frequently so they have usually lost a bit of crispness to the carving and nanako. This loving use of these objects imparts a dignity and taste which is very precious to the most educated Japanese collectors.

This piece was used in Sasano's Tosogu Yuhin Zufu study group publications as a reference work of Goto Kojo, pictured to the left.

As a further note, this item was in the Aoyama collection, which was the best Showa period collection and featured several National Treasures (at least six Kokuho). This collection was liquidated some years ago at Christie's but some of the items sold before that in the Museum of Japanese Sword Fittings sales. Aoyama operated a museum which featured much of his collection. During its time in the museum it was attributed earlier to Goto Sojo (2nd generation mainline Goto) but this has been overruled by the NBTHK (much of what was in that collection was absolutely top rate but did not have papers, rather they had ad-hoc attributions by the museum).

This is a rare and unusual item that would suit the collection of an advanced collector of tosogu. It is currently offered on consignment from an excellent American collection. It resides in a custom fit box.

Box