Tetsugendo Shoraku Daisho FuchigashiraTetsugendo Shoraku

periodMid Edo (ca. 1760)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu Daisho Fuchigashira
measurementsdai fuchi 3.9x2.15 cm, sho fuchi 3.9x2.1 cm
dai kashira 3.4x1.8 cm, sho kashira 3.3x1.8 cm
mei 鉄元堂正楽(印)敏行 – Tetsugendo Shoraku (shirushi) Toshiyuki
price$9,500 -new-

Shōraku mostly worked in iron and made himself a name for being able to interpret this raw material in any way he wanted. With Ichinomiya Nagatsune (⼀宮⻑常) and Ōtsuki Mitsuoki (⼤⽉光興), he is regarded as one of the “three great Kyōto masters” (Kyōto-kinkō-sanketsu, 京都⾦⼯ 三傑).

Both the difficult-to-process iron and the coloration are of a detailed and elaborate deki and so we have here a masterwork whose iron is worked in such a profound way of which only Tetsugendō was capable.

NBTHK Juyo Nado Zufu

We don't know when Shoraku was born but we know he died in 1780, so we can assume the height of his work period is around 1750-1760. His birth name was Okamoto Genbei Toshiyuki, and he initially signed as Naoshige. Later in his life he became a priest and then took on the name we now know him by: Shoraku. He named his metalworking group himself, Tetsugendo which meant House of the Iron Principle and in terms of ironworking technique his reputation is as a craftsman with no superior.

The quality of his iron is incomparably fine, and he was also good at carving in high relief. NBTHK English Token Bijutsu

His name [Shoraku] is associated with those of the famous Nagatsune and Kasutsura of Kyoto, but of the three he is considered the best iron worker. Okabe, Japanese Sword Guards

During the same era, there were excellent smiths who worked with many iroe (color) techniques, and produced many masterpieces. Among these artists were Ichinomiya Nagatsune and Yamazaki Kazuyoshi in Kyoto. In Edo, there was Omori Eishu. Among these artists, the shodai Tetsugendo Shoraku (whose real name was Okamoto Toshiyuki) worked with iron, and produced original work very successfully, and people used to say that he was a master smith in iron work, and that no one was better than him.

He has other work using themes from Tatsutanjin (the Mongolian people). Tatsutanjin and Genjoraku are similar subjects, and Toshiyuki looked for old continental Chinese subjects or themes. Genjoraku combines music and dance, and exhibits the glory and elegance of the court. These themes were expressed very well in Toshiyuki’s very highly skilled iron work. NBTHK Token Bijutsu

The NBTHK has written that Shoraku made himself a name for being able to interpret [iron] in any way he wanted, indicating his complete dominance over this material. Shoraku has a very high reputation as can be seen above, being said to be the best worker of iron and ranked with Ichinomiya Nagatsune and Otsuki Mitsuoki as the three greatest craftsmen of Kyoto.

There are competing stories about his origin, that he was working under Nagatsune (which may make sense given his home in Kyoto), or under Kaneie. Kaneie being a master of iron may make sense as a teacher, and was also located in Yamashiro province. Okamoto Harukuni is also said to be his teacher, however there are no works remaining by him that we can use to prove this for sure.

Tetsugendō Shōraku, whose first name was Genbei (源兵衛) and his civilian name Toshiyuki (敏行), also belonged to the Okamoto family. He was the student of Harukuni, adopted the shop name Tetsu´ya, and combined it with his first name to make the pseudonym Tetsugendō (鉄元堂). First he wrote it with the characters (鉄源堂), using the character Gen (源) in his first name. Markus Sesko, Kinko Kodogu

Because of this signing habit we can separate out earlier period works from later period works by looking at his signature. Furthermore, while he began his life signing with Toshiyuki, and then Naoshige, he entered the priesthood and adopted the priest name Shoraku which he signed with during his final work period.

Shoraku Juyo Soroikanagu
Shoraku Juyo Soroikanagu

As above, his primary material is iron, which has a rich chocolate color in his examples that remain to us. He then added inlays of various soft metals to the carvings, for highlights and dramatic effect. The net effect is very distinct and makes his work stand out among the various kinko schools. He usually signed with a gold hanko that follows his name, and the Tetsugendo usually is in smaller block characters just above and to the right of his name Shoraku. The nidai (Tetsugendo Shoraku Naofusa) seems to have split his signature on either side of the nakago ana on tsuba though with limited examples it's hard to know if this is always the case with his signature.

Shoraku has a high rank of Meiko in the Kinko Meikan (one rank from the top artists like Ichijo, Natsuo, etc.). His works have passed Juyo on 11 occasions and are not often seen. Of these 8 are tsuba, one is a soft metal menuki, and one is a daisho menuki set in soft metal both of which are rare in his repertoire. Another is a daisho tsuba and fuchigashira. There are two additional Juyo tsuba from the nidai, and the mei is certainly different as well as the gold hanko being omitted. So potentially the nidai did not follow in this signing habit.

After Shoraku's death in 1780, the school would embrace further artists such as as Shigemoto, Naofusa, Naokata, Naoka, Naotomo, Mitsufusa, Takenori and Naoyoshi. These workers probably contributed the mumei works that are now attributed to the school. No others reached the level of mastery of Shoraku.

Dai FuchigashiraSho Fuchigashira
Tetsugendo Shoraku Daisho Fuchigashira Origami

Tokubetsu Hozon Tetsugendo Shoraku Daisho Fuchigashira

This set certainly embraces all of the features of Shoraku's work. He included his civilian name Toshiyuki in the gold hanko, which allows us to separate this work for certain from the nidai.

This scene is called Yudachi, which means Sudden Evening Shower. The condition is just about perfect, and all of the details of the figures are done in gold, silver and copper. The carved iron clouds mixed with gold clouds together gives a sense of depth, and the iron ground gives a rustic feeling that is common to all of his works. The clever use of gold in the clouds shows off the glow of rainclouds when lit from inside and underneath by a lightning flash.

In the sky is the Thunder god Raijin (Raiden, 雷神). Above his head are his drums in gold with the tomoe mon on them (very small, you have to zoom in to see them). There is a storm going on as can be seen by the rain carved into the surfaces as well as lightning coming from the clouds. Wind is shown with the movement of clothes and items held by the figures in the rain, and the townspeople of Kyoto are running for cover. There is a woodcutter, charcoal sellers, and various other charming figures. Take note, though the image of the Juyo reference work above is not so clear, it is this same rain scene with a god in the clouds, lightning, wind and rain. This one I feel is at least the same quality if not better than the Juyo example.

The English Token Bijutsu has this to say about a certain tsuba:

Tetsugendo Okamoto Shoraku was a highly renowned goldsmith in Kyoto. Other top artisans include Ichinomiya Nagatsune and Otsuki Mitsuoki.

He is especially highly skilled in working with iron material. Shoraku is a Buddhist name Naoshige took after he formerly committed himself to the Buddhist faith. He was good at creating designs featuring human figures. The most well known works are named people in the evening shower and Nanban-jin (Occidental persons).NBTHK English Token Bijutsu

As well this entry from Japanese Sword Mounts describes a tsuba which has this same scene.

Storm Tsuba - Field Museum
Storm Tsuba - Field Museum

Though he moved to Kyoto where he set up his atelier called Tetsugendo (Hall of the Iron Principle), he is always associated with the Choshu group, since the family Okamoto from which he sprang was one of the most famous in the whole province. Naoshige used the names Toshiyuki and Shoraku,often writing the former in seal characters inlaid in gold. He was followed by a nephew, Naofusa who, possessed of considerable talent, did not carve the forceful designs which Naoshige sculptured. Hanabusa Itcho, the celebrated painter who died in 1724, is said to have influenced the designs adopted by Naoshige. Though he painted several nature studies of great beauty, he is particularly famed for his comic drawings, and satirical designs which finally were the cause of his banishment.


We do know, however, that a similar storm-picture, included among the paintings owned by the British Museum, is attributed to Hanabusa Itcho. On both sides of the tsuba a storm rages, the rain falling in slanting lines, the lightning flashing from out the sweeping clouds and people everywhere hurrying to shelter. Above the thatched roof of the cottage, where four men huddle, may be seen Raiden, the thunder god, with four of his drums decorated with the mitsu-tomoye. The faces of the people are inlaid in relief of copper and silver, the lightning is in relief of gold. Japanese Sword Mounts

As a daisho, these fuchigashira are obviously more rare and precious than a single set. I haven't encountered any others of his other than the Juyo example above, but that of course doesn't mean there are not more out there somewhere.

These fuchigashira are very high quality, and with the excellent condition, and one of his famous themes, I think they bear a chance at Juyo submission. They reside in a custom box with a custom fabric shikufu. If you are collecting the top makers of tosogu, then Shoraku as one of the three great Kyoto masters is one you should have.

Boxed SetShifuku