|period||Mid to Late Muromachi (ca. 1540)|
|designation||NBTHK Hozon Tosogu|
|dimensions||4.2cm x 1.31cm|
Though the history of sword manufacture and sword fittings manufacture are inevitably intertwined, we have a more clear picture historically about swords. We can go back to the Heian period 1,000 years ago and make some clear statements about swords, but going back this far for fittings, we have nothing much to say about the makers or schools and very little evidence of their work has survived the way swords have.
With regards goldsmiths of the Muromachi period, including those engaged in the making of sword fittings who directly inherited the makes and styles developed in the Kamakura period, the Ko-Mino group of artists expressed themselves by means of the most traditional techniques of metalwork, establishing the so-called Mino art which rendered novelty to the field of decorative metalwork. NBTHK English Token Bijutsu
In practice, some of the earliest groups that we talk about are Ezo, Ko-Mino, and Ko-Goto in the Muromachi period though some Ezo may be earlier than this. There are others rooted in the Muromachi period as well, such as Katchushi, Onin, Hoan, Nobuie, etc. The rise of these fittings makers coincides with the heightened state of war in Japan and the need to provide weapons for large armies. This era of war would see Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and finally Tokugawa Ieyasu complete the unification of Japan. The Goto school would go on to become the house makers for the Shoguns and their work held in highest regard. When it's not possible to make a determination to one of these early groups, sometimes because of style, sometimes because of skill, a more generic attribution of
Ko-Kinko is used (old goldworker).
Ko-Mino is said to root itself in the Nanbokucho period, though we don't see much that exists from these times anymore from any maker. The center of manufacture is supposed to be Kagano village in Ogaki district and Goto Yujo is said to have arisen from this group of Ko-Mino artists. They are thought to have been armorers as well as specialist makers of sword fittings in their early history. Though this would have necessitated the use of iron in armor, their sword fittings are somewhat exclusively made in soft metal, most frequently shakudo ground with gold, silver, copper, shibuichi, and yamagane ornamentation.
There is some relationship between the Ko-Mino makers and Goto Yujo the founder of the Goto line, we see common themes and influence from their work. None of these schools signed their work which is what in particular makes it difficult to say much beyond the school attributions and then the history associated with the Goto school. There are some Mino works that are signed, but these are thought to be Momoyama or possibly early Edo work so tend to be broken out from Ko-Mino.
Ko-Mino as a style features deep carving and when it comes to menuki, a domed profile is common and often shows openwork. In side profile Ko-Mino work should have some clear three dimensionality from the deep carving and dome shape. The most common themes are floral and nature themes, though sometimes we see dragons and shishi which would go on to become very typical Goto styles through Yujo. The attribution to Ko-Mino usually covers work from the middle Muromachi period up until the Momoyama period which is about as far as we can go back reasonably and make a determination of who made the item.
Goldsmiths of the Ko-Mino school lived in Mino Province in the Muromachi and into the Momoyama period. They developed the unique techniques with which they worked on their ingenious designs.
The Mino-style engraving known for deep chisel cuts makes the design in high reliefs stand out remarkably raised. The depth of cuts and the powerful lines are the most conspicuous traits of Mino-bori. Most of the designs used are of autumn flowers and plants that grow in the wild presented in the typically Japanese taste .
Their love for nature and the plants cherished by it vividly represents the Japanese sentiment deeply rooted in the worship of mother nature. NBTHK English Token Bijutsu
Today the Ko-Mino school is held in high regard with 116 items having passed Juyo. Due to their relative age as sword fittings, they are not so frequently found.
The theme of these menuki is sansho which are Japanese peppercorns. They are seeds and pods from the Japanese prickly ash and are a key ingredient of many Japanese dishes and is (other than salt) said to be the oldest spice used in Japanese cooking.
This kind of spice produces a numbing effect, and in traditional medicine it was used as an unaesthetic. So it would stand to reason that bushi going back into history would have some appreciation for sansho, as it would both improve the flavor of your food, and assist with treating injuries.
According toWanjinden, a Chinese historic book, Sansho grew naturally since 3 century AD. The old name of the Sansho ishajikamiand it is mentioned in Kojiki (7th century AD), in the songs composed by Emperor Jinmu. In the 10th century, the leaves of Sansho were used as spices and in medicines. InOkusa Cookbook, written in the 15th century, Sansho is mentioned as a condiment used for cooking grilled eel. Back then it was used in the same manner as today.
Sansho is also an ingredient of Otoso, New Year’s alcohol. This tradition is especially strong in China. Also, as it bears a lot of fruits, it has been promoted to a sacred plant of theprosperity of descendants. It is also grown in the Japanese gardens.
It has also been used in China as an herbal medicine. The Empress of the Former Han Dynasty who had Sansho rubbed into the walls of her bedroom, creating a pleasant aroma, used it. Sansho was used as a symbol of power as it was used used both by aristocracy and wealthy merchants. Japan Hoppers Editorial Staff
The artist made two different surface textures which distinguish the pod from the seed, and the open work in these menuki is at a glance attributable to the Ko-Mino school.
They are made in shakudo, and these would have decorated a sword with entirely shakudo mountings, for a very understated and elegant look.
There is usually another meaning behind this kind of ornament, as the Mino artists enjoyed making various natural themes, seed production of this plant is in autumn. So there is maybe a secondary meaning to this about the end of summer and the beginning of winter coming, possibly a reminder toward the impermanence of life combined with the precious flavor it possesses.
As the price is not so expensive, these represent very nice examples of one of the oldest schools of tosogu manufacture for a collector to pick up and as well demonstrate all of the skill and artistry associated with Ko-Mino work.
They come in a custom fit box.