Goto Teijo MenukiGoto Teijo

periodEarly Edo (ca. 1650)
designationNBTHK Hozon Tosogu Menuki
measurements3.7 cm x 1.6 cm, 3.5 cm x 1.6 cm
price -sold-

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.

The Ashikaga Shoguns granted Yujo (who died in 1512) and his heirs a certain amount of hereditary income from Sakamoto in Omi province. This continued through the sponsorship of Goto Joshin who worked for Ashikaga Shoguns Yoshiharu and Yoshiteru. The fifteenth Ashikaga Shogun Yoshiaka was the last of the line, and died when Oda Nobunaga began conquering Japan and took over Kyoto in 1568. At this point the Goto family began working for Nobunaga and his circle, which would eventually hand power to Toyotomi Hideyoshi and then to Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Goto line continued working for the Tokugawa through the end of the Edo period.

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. Along with the fourth generation Kojo, the work of these initial generations is restricted to the small fittings, kogai, kozuka and menuki, sometimes in sets of mitokoromono (things for three places).

These fittings were strictly made in a style we call iebori, or house carving, and were made entirely in gold or shakudo or a combination of the two metals by rule.

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.

Goto Teijo Mitokoromono

Goto Teijo

Goto Teijo (後藤程乗) is the 9th mainline master of the Goto family and had the civilian name of Mitsumasa (光昌). He was born to the 7th generation Kenjo in 1603. Goto Sokujo, the 8th master was the son of the 6th master Eijo, and died young at 32 years of age in 1631. Thus, Teijo inherited the school at the age of 28.

His father Kenjo and his uncle Kakujo worked for the Maeda daimyo in Kaga province, and Teijo followed them in or around 1646 when his son Renjo took over as family head. This allowed Teijo to work in Kanazawa, where he received a mansion from the daimyo Maeda Toshitsune. Meanwhile, Renjo transferred the school from Kyoto to Edo to work closer to the Tokugawa Shoguns who were the primary clients of the Goto family. In spite of the geographical distance, Teijo, Renjo and the 11th generation Tsujo overlapped enough in time to make joint works together.

The work of these Teijo, Kenjo and Kakujo is the beginning of the Kaga Goto school. These makers and their followers were all quite highly skilled. The Kinko Meikan ranks Teijo as Meiko which is the next to top rank for a kinko artisan.

Goto Teijo signed some of his items but mostly left his work unsigned. This was standard practice at the time as the works were going to daimyo, nobility and the Shogunate. When he signed he signed sometimes with his civilian name Goto Mitsumasa, sometimes he signed just in two characters as Teijo with his kao. Sometimes he signed and filled his name in gold. From the signed items we can see a diverse work style and subject matter that branched out from the standard shishi and dragon types from previous generations. Some of these are whimsical. However when he made dragons, he made powerful and beautifully shaped items.

To date 41 of Teijo's works have passed Juyo, and one tsuba passed Tokuju (his kogai is part of a mixed set on a daisho which has also pass Tokuju). There are some other mixed sets of Goto work at Juyo that contain his work as well. Furthermore there is an outstanding koshirae for a ken which is the work of Goto Teijo and has the rank of Juyo Bunkazai, and Important Cultural Item.

Hozon Goto Teijo Menuki
Goto Teijo Menuki Origami

Hozon Menuki

This is a gorgeous set of dragons from the great 9th generation of the Goto family. Teijo's skill is shown off perfectly in these menuki, as the detail is over the top and they have been preserved in almost perfect original condition. If these had a Goto origami with them I think they could be submitted to Juyo due to the quality of the carving and the perfect preservation. They are solid gold, and gold very easily wears with finger touches due to the softness of the metal. So, to get a set of dragons that preserve such fine details without wear on them is a coup.

This pose for the dragons is classic, and hands down from Goto Yujo. The various generations of Goto each added their own small details and modifications.

They reside in a custom box and are ranked Hozon. Often times with this kind of tosogu, the submitter only applies for Hozon because it saves some money and the quality of the items are self-evident. If someone wants Tokubetsu Hozon for these, I guarantee they will pass, or I will give a full refund.


While the theme of ryu (dragons) chasing some sort of jewel goes back to Chinese art forms, the sword in the tail is a Japanese thing which is supposed to reflect the origin story of the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, one of the three Imperial Treasures of Japan. This sword was said to have been discovered in the tail of a dragon Yamata no Orochi. This dragon was killed by the god Susanoo and the sword was afterwards presented to the goddess Ameratsu at her shrine. This sword was later used by the warrior Yamato Takeru 2,000 years ago.

These gifts came in handy when Yamato Takeru was lured onto an open grassland during a hunting expedition by a treacherous warlord. The lord had fiery arrows loosed to ignite the grass and trap Yamato Takeru in the field so that he would burn to death. He also killed the warrior's horse to prevent his escape. Desperately, Yamato Takeru used the Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi to cut back the grass and remove fuel from the fire, but in doing so, he discovered that the sword enabled him to control the wind and cause it to move in the direction of his swing. Taking advantage of this magic, Yamato Takeru used his other gift, fire strikers, to enlarge the fire in the direction of the lord and his men, and he used the winds controlled by the sword to sweep the blaze toward them. In triumph, Yamato Takeru renamed the sword Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (lit. "Grasscutter Sword") to commemorate his narrow escape and victory. Eventually, Yamato Takeru married and later fell in battle with a monster,after ignoring his wife's advice to take the sword with him. Wikipedia

This legendary sword is supposed to remain still at the Atsuta shrine though it is not available for display and is said last to have been seen during the Edo period and since then the priests of the shine have refused to show the sword, so it's not clear now if it truly exists or not. Like most good stories...

The hoshu-no-tama clutched by dragons is known as the Pearl of Wisdom on the Chinese mainland and often the dragons are chasing it rather than holding it. In Japanese legend it is a jewel that was said to lie under the sea and to be guarded by dragons. It is alternately translated as the Jewel of Good Luck or as a Treasure Orb. If you were able to capture it, you would be able to make a wish. In modern times, this legend was used as the basis for the popular Japanese anime Dragonball.

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