Yokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono

Yokoya Somin and Soyo

periodMid Edo (ca. 1710)
designationNBTHK Juyo Tosogu Futatokoromono
ratingMeijin and Joko
kozuka10.4 cm x 1.8 cm
Sōmin saku kakuroku menuki sou kore o horu – Sōyo + kaō
Carved by Sōyo to accompany crane and deer *menuki* by Sōmin
menuki 3.1 cm x 1.6 cm, 2.9 cm x 1.6 cm
price -please enquire-

It is impossible to understand kodogu craftsmanship from Edo period Japan without analyzing the Yokoya school and its influence on all manufacture of this time.

There is one broad generalization in soft metalwork traditions during this period, between iebori (house carving) and machibori (town carving). Iebori is represented chiefly by the Goto school and to a lesser extent Yoshioka and the other artists who directly served the Shogun and Japanese nobility of the time. Their work tended to be devoted to consistency with established principles and themes. For instance, the Goto school worked in gold and shakudo and stayed with this traditionally. It was not until the rise of the machibori artisans that there was some back pressure to broaden the scope of material and themes they worked with.

The machibori artisans had no such restrictions in theme or style or material, as their clients included the ever more wealthy merchant class, and as such, novelty became one of their selling points. Ever more interesting designs and styles grew out of this desire to serve this marketplace.

Yokoya Soyo

At the juncture between iebori and machibori in the early half of the 1600s, is the smith Yokoya Soyo (横谷宗与). Soyo was a Goto trained metalworker under Goto Kenjo, the 7th mainline Goto master. He is also documented as the student of Goto Injo, the first generation of the Shichiroemon line of Goto. We can now look back and say this was the founding of the Yokoya school but at the time, I'm sure he began as a minor but talented artisan under the overall umbrella of the Goto school while he developed his reputation and skill set. He took training as well from Goto Injo, and his own son Yokoya Somin II took training under the 10th Goto master Renjo. Soyo is said to have also used the names Moritsugu, Morinobu and Tomokane.

With the death of Goto Sokujo, the 8th master, Soyo's responsibilities within the Goto family increased and he maintained presence in Edo, Kyoto and Kanazawa while working for the Shogunate. He received a rather large salary that allowed him to support a group of craftsmen.

Soyo was employed by the bakufu during the Shoho era (1644-1648) for the relative high salary of 220 hyo (俵 ~ 88 koku) and a stipend for the support of 18 persons. Markus Sesko, Kinko Kodogu

Soyo almost never signed his work, but in the Yokoya generations that followed him, current head masters authenticated work of their predecessors. So we have unsigned work that retains authentication papers from Somin or the second generation Soyo, as well as their retention of his individual style which allows us to identify his handicraft.

The generations that followed him used the names Soyo and Somin in an even/odd manner, with the 2nd mainline master being called Somin (横谷宗珉), the 3rd master is the 2nd generation Soyo (note the kanji difference 横谷宗與), and the 4th master is the 2nd generation Somin (横谷宗珉).

Soyo was around 70 years old when he died in 1690, which handed the Yokoya school to his student Somin.

Yokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono Somin Portrait

Yokoya Somin

The first generation Yokoya Somin (横谷宗珉) who worked around 1700 is a master with no peer. Some references state Somin as the third in the school, and that Soyo was his grandfather, but others state him as second with Soyo as his father. His names also include Tomotsune, Tonan, Chojiro (early life) and Jihei (end of life). He was born in 1670 and he, like Soyo before him, worked for the Shogunate and it is thought he was a preparatory craftsman for Soyo using the name Sochi (宗知). At the age of 21 on his father's death, Somin took over Soyo's business with the Shogunate. Between 1690 and 1696 he began using the name Somin, and at 27 he resigned his position with the Shogunate.

Somin in his independence took inspiration from paintings from the Kano school, and maintained friendships with Kano Tanyo and Hanabusa Itcho. From his work that follows, it seems his goal was to break free of the restrictions of the Goto school. What he did is something very rare in Japanese traditional arts: he was a true iconoclast and out of his vision came the entire machibori movement.

Tokubetsu Juyo Yokoya Somin
Tokubetsu Juyo Yokoya Somin

Yokoya Sōmin´s creative period was at the time of the boom of the Edo culture, i.e. the Genroku and Kyōhō eras, when in the east an anti-pole to the old-established culture of Kyōto started to emerge. As mentioned in chapter 6.1, the machibori trend breathed new life into the world of sword fittings, not only in terms of motifs but also in terms of interpretation, combination of colours, and raw materials. Sōmin is considered today as the pioneer of the machibori movement. He was the first who worked in pure katakiribori without additional hira-zōgan applications and who used a vertical-format composition on kozuka. The otherwise undecorated katakiribori looks simple at a glance but was strongly influenced by contemporary painters who in turn tried to get rid of the classical subjects of, for example, the Kanō school.

Sōmin´s personal influence goes to a large extent back to the Edo painter Hanabusa Itchō (英一蝶, 1652-1724). Their friendship began when Sōmin was about 40. The relationship was quite close, Sōmin used sketches by Itchō for his kinkō works and even accommodated Itchō´s mother for eleven years when the latter was banished to the island of Miyakejima (三宅島) for eleven years due to his „eccentric“ lifestyle. By the way, the banishment lasted from the eleventh year of Genroku (1698) until the fifth year of Hōei (1709), when Itchō was pardoned. Kinko Kodogu, Markus Sesko

Yokoya Somin employs horizontal and orthodox composition when he depicts a peony flower and sleeping hotei. Meanwhile he uses vertical composition for facing Chinese lions, two horses, water-drinking tiger, nio and juro then they are arranged to stand face to face with people who appreciate it. This bold and novel technique was originated by Somin and had never been tried by other metal workers.


The technique of master metal worker Somin is fully expressed in this work like rich modelling, sophisticated lining of ke-bori, deep carving of the eyes and noses and the expression of supple mane. His powerful and dignified technique is really unrivalled. NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Somin demonstrates his skill everywhere in the execution of his work, the choice of subject matter and in its presentation... in all of which he broke new ground. In one of his innovations, he became fond of turning the natural horizontal window of the kozuka into a difficult to use vertical window. In doing so he introduced new challenges for himself and a new perspective for the art world. This has been copied by other masters; in some cases direct copies of his work have passed Juyo on their own for other makers.

Later in his life Somin took on the priesthood and the name Ton'an and would die in 1733 at the age of 64.

What Somin left behind for us received by later experts with the greatest of appreciation. His works have passed Juyo 26 times, and six of these went on to become Tokubetsu Juyo. There are a further 15 Juyo Bijutsuhin, and four Juyo Bunkazai works by this master. In order to understand how impressive that is, there are only 20 artists who have qualified for either Juyo Bijutsuhin or Juyo Bunkazai. Only Kaneie has more Jubi than Somin and only Yasuchika has more Jubun than Somin. Somin's count of these two top level rankings are more than double Goto Ichijo and Kano Natsuo combined. Hopefully that provides some context to the importance of Yokoya Somin in the current day. He is rated at Meijin in the kinko Meikan, putting him at the topmost rank.

Tokubetsu Juyo Yokoya Somin
Tokubetsu Juyo Yokoya Somin

Somin is particularly famous for katakiribori which involves deeply carving relief into the ground instead of building on top of it. In this style he remains the greatest master of all time. His work with shishi draws inspiration from his Goto roots but transforms the subject matter into something original. His natural expression of horses is also held in great esteem.

While Somin almost single handedly reinvented tosogu craftsmanship in terms of style and presentation, he seems to have retained a very conservative application of yasurime and mei on his items. These are always oriented top left to bottom right for yasurime and his mei should always be accompanied by a kao (monogram). In the example shown here, the face of the shishi is washed in silver, and this is something that you can also see in the examples of the Omori school who had many great smiths itself and was a branch of Yokoya. You can see two examples of the silver washed faces of the subjects on my site under Omori Mitsutoki and Omori Terumitsu. I haven't read about this before, these are just notes I've been making as I have personally encountered works of these master artists.

Yokoya Soju

Yokoya Somin had many excellent students, including Yanagawa Naomasa, Yokoya Soju (横谷宗寿) and Soju's son Tomosada (友貞). It is thought that Soju had something of a brother relationship with Somin and was likely a student of Soyo at the time of Soyo's death and then worked with the senior pupil Somin afterwards.

Soju had a son of the name Terukiyo (英精), and he fathered a line of smiths all using the first character of Teru. It may be that he is somehow involved with Somin's student Terumasa (昌英) who would go on to found the Omori school. This in turn was home to Teruhide (Eishu) one of the great masters of the Edo period.

Yokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono Mei

Yokoya Soyo II

Somin had no children of his own and ended up handing the Yokoya school down by adopting the son of Soju, Densaburō Tomosada. Tomosada then took on the name Yokoya Soyo (横谷宗與), though he has different kanji from his ancestor Soyo (宗与). Soyo was born in 1700 and died in 1779.

Soyo worked with Somin on preparation and it's said that sometimes he did daisaku and daimei for his teacher and his skill level was very high (he is ranked at Joko in the Kinko Meikan). When Somin died in 1733, the 2nd generation Soyo took over the school at age 34. His work is not so easy to find, but there exist ten items that have passed Juyo for him.

Fukurokuju is one of the Seven Deities of Good Fortune. It is well known that he presides over all wealth and fortune and is also called ‘Jurojin’. He is always accompanied by a scroll of Buddhist sutra and a crane. The maker, Soyo is a son-in-law of Yokoya Somin and succeeded to the second generation of the Yokoya family. He is never inferior to his father-in law in skill and is speculated to have substituted for Somin. NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Somin's Legacy

The second Soyo's first son Tomotsugu would become the fourth mainline master of the Yokoya school and on this occasion took the name Somin II. He would die somewhat early and left no legitimate heir, whereupon the Yokoya primary line blurs out. Others claimed heritage but nothing certainly factual exists to rely on historically. These claims go out to a 7th generation Somin. There are many late period items with spurious signatures of Somin that bounce around auctions and some of these may be pieces from the end of this lineage as it faded away.

As for other students, the umbrella of the Yokoya school embraces a large number of great masters that would follow in Somin's footsteps.

Somin's Influence Chart

Masatsugu, a student of Soyo, and Naomasa, a student of Somin, would found the great Yanagawa school. The Yanagawa student Masatsune would himself found the illustrious Ishiguro school, and as well the excellent Sano school would branch from Yanagawa via Sano Naoyoshi. Furukawa Genshin, a student of Somin would have his own line in the Furukawa school. Somin and Naomasa's student Sootsu would found the Iwamoto school which would lead to Konkan, another of the great names of the Edo period. As mentioned before Omori takes its roots with Yokoya, as do the Inagawa, Katsura, Mikaki, Kato, Kikuoka, Oyama-Sekijoken schools. This accounts for about half of the top schools of the Edo period, taking root with Somin and his breakaway vision.

Yokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono LeftYokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono Left Angle
Yokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono RightYokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono Right Angle
Yokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono Back LeftYokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono Back Right
Yokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono Kozuka
Yokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono Kozuka Angle 1
Yokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono Kozuka Angle 2
Yokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono Kozuka Angle 3
Juyo Yokoya Somin and Soyo FutatokoromonoYokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono Token Kinko MeisakuYokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono Ogura Yokoya Somin

Juyo Yokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono

This is a joint work of Somin and his heir Soyo. There are no other documented works like this at Juyo and Tokuju.

I have been looking at this work in various old books as can be seen above for a long time, and I was lucky to have this fall into my hands during my long stay in Japan during 2020. I think by staring at pictures long enough somehow this kind of thing seems to manifest.

Like the Goto smiths before him Somin did not sign menuki. On the occasions of unsigned work, there are a few rare examples where Soyo did origami for them or else added kiwame mei to pieces. In this case Soyo made a heavy solid silver kozuka in the form of a scroll to accompany the work of his teacher, on which he wrote the attribution for his teacher's work. It seems in fact to be the only reason for this kind of kozuka as it is otherwise thick and heavy and I think the intention was out of fondness of his teacher's work rather than to make a mountable set.

The menuki are solid gold with silver and shakudo accents, with both animals having silver toned tails and shakudo feet. Hallmarks of Somin can be seen on the underside, where the posts of the menuki are quite large, have star shaped bases, and have distinct peg and socket shapes in the stems. Soyo would possibly have familiarity with these various works at the time of their manufacture. As well you should take careful note of the eyes as they are typical of his work. Together the crane and deer in repose, along with the Buddhist scroll, represent attributes of the god Fukurokuju (Jurojin). In this way this god is present but not seen, how one may expect them to be in everyday life.

Pictured to the left are pages from Ogura's books Token Kinko Meisaku Shu followed by Yokoya Somin both of which featured this set and were published in the 1930s.

Sōmin (宗珉) mumei (Kozuka inscribed by Sōyo, stating that it is a supplement for crane and deer menuki by Sōmin)

Gold crane and deer menuki with iroe. Kozuka of silver and in katachibori. A sketch of this work is found in Volume 3 of the sketchbooks and is annotated with the comment that it is modelled after Kanō Sokuyō (狩野即養). It is said that the motif is an allusion to Fukurokuju. It was very well received and thus reproduced by the Yokoya School, and even Haruaki Hōgen (春明法眼) made several works inspired by this interpretation. Yokoya Somin, Ogura

Translator’s note: Kanō Sokuyō (狩野即養) appears to be a typo and the reference may be to Kanō Sokuyo (狩野即誉) who was a mid-Edo period Kanō painter in the service of the Kaga fief and later of the Shogunate. His years of birth and death are unknown, but he is dated around Kyōhō (享保, 1716-1736).

I haven't seen the sketchbook that Ogura refers to but would like to track it down. The NBTHK Token Bijutsu refers to it: Somin’s sketch book itself was assembled through the efforts of important experts such as Sato Kanzan and Noda Kiyoshige. In the early Showa period, there were studies of Somin’s work by experts such as Kuwabara Yojiro and Ogura Souemon, and since that time, Somin’s work has been at the heart of tosogu appreciation.

This set I think stands excellent chances at passing Tokubetsu Juyo. There is nothing like it, and it reflects the true mastery of skills both of Somin and Soyo who came after. It will stand out as a special item in a collection of the highest caliber.

Yokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono OshigataYokoya Somin and Soyo Futatokoromono Origami

Juyo Futatokoromono

Appointed at the 59th jūyō shinsa held on October 11, 2013

Futatokoromono, Yokoya Somin and Soyo

Jurō, Fukurokuju no zu futatokoromono (寿老福禄寿図二所物) - Futatokoromono alluding to the Lucky God Jurōjin (Fukurokuju).

menuki, mumei: Sōmin (宗珉)

kozuka, meki: Sōmin saku kakuroku menuki sou kore o horu – Sōyo + kaō (宗珉作鶴鹿目貫添彫之宗輿「花押」) - “Carved by Sōyo to accompany crane and deer menuki by Sōmin”


kozuka of pure silver and in sukidaashibori and katakiribiru; menuki of pure gold, in katachibori, with silver and shakudōzōgan-iroe, and male and female stems


mid-Edo period


Sōmin (宗珉) was the third generation of the Yokoya (横谷) family and was born in Kanbun ten (寛文, 1670) in Edo. His real name was Tomotsune (友常). Sōmin’s grandfather, the first generation Sōyo (宗輿), had studied with the Gotō family and was then employed by the bakufu. Sōmin worked initially for the bakufu too but resigned later to become a very successful independent artist. Due to the new style he developed, he went down in history as “ancestor of the machibori movement.” Sōmin’s work can be roughly divided into traditional interpretations in takabori-iroe and his new style in katakiribori. He was a close friend of the Kanō School painter Hanabusa Itchō (英一蝶, 1652-1724) who guided him in terms of motifs and designs. Apart from typical Yokoya School shishi, Sōmin also made fittings with vertically kozuka motifs of shishi, tigers, and horses facing the viewer, or being portrayed from behind, an approach which was novel at his time and which greatly influenced later kinkō artists.

This futatokoromono set alludes to the Lucky Gods Jurōjin and Fukurokuju. The kozuka is of thick silver, engraved in katakiribori, and interpreted in marubori (motif forms outline) to represent a scroll. As stated in the signature, it was made by Sōyo to accompany the shown menuki by Sōmin. It testifies to Sōyo’s great skill and lives up to his great reputation. Due to the exquisite distribution of the niku, the menuki feel quite vivid and are finely carved and both crane and deer are interpreted in a very expressive manner. They are carved down to the smallest detail, e.g., the eyes of the crane and the antlers and hooves of the deer, and are overall of an outstanding deki.