Goto Tokujo Menuki

Goto Tokujo

periodMomoyama (late 1500s)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu
meiTokujo saku - Goto Mitsuyoshi (kao)
徳乗作・後藤光美 (花押)
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 Tokujo Kozuka and Kogai

Goto Tokujo

Goto Tokujo was born in 1549 in Kyoto, with the name Genjiro. He was son to the fourth mainline Goto master Kojo. In adulthood he took his father's name of Shirobei. Both Kojo and Tokujo had prestigious patrons: Kojo was in the service of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Tokujo was in the service of Hideyoshi and then the first Tokugawa Shogun Ieyasu. Between the two masters, they served the three warlords responsible for unifying the Japanese territory into a single nation.

Kojo’s son, Tokujo (Mitsutsugu), 1549-1631, the fifth master, enlarges the scope of his predecessors with the manufacture of tsuba and kozuka. He revived the models of Yujo, and his work is therefore not very different from that of his predecessors. His work falls in the time of the Taiko Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and he naturally did much work for this famous general. As the kiri (Paulownia imperialis) crest had been bestowed upon Hideyoshi by the Emperor, Tokujo’s work shows frequently this crest in gold on shakudo. This crest has always been a favourite one in Japan, and pieces adorned with it were eagerly sought after and were high in price. Tokujo became court chiseller of the Taiko and made the metal ornaments of the Taiko’s state palanquins, which were adorned with his crest. As an official of the Mint of the Shogun’s government, he designed and made the models for the gold o-ban. Alexander Mosle, The Goto Shirobei Family

Tensho Oban, Wikipedia
Tensho Oban, Wikipedia

As may be obvious to say, there were no more powerful men than these three in feudal Japan, which has much to say about what kind of esteem in which the Goto masters were held.

Tokujo's influence is seen in other areas of Japanese history: he held responsibility for the issuance of oban coinage under Hideyoshi in Kyoto where he also fulfilled Imperial orders. For this he established the purity of the gold, minted the coins, and signed them. He is also considered to be the designer of the Kiri mon of Hideyoshi.

Work Style

According to Mosle, Tokujo is the first of the Goto masters to have employed chemical processes in his goldwork, with previous generations using gold plate that was riveted in place.

Tokujo, being court chiseller of the Taiko Toyotomi Hideyoshi, also worked ornaments for court swords, chiefly for the Taiko and his court. From the Taiko’s time downward to the end of the feudal period the Daimyo and highest vassals of the Shogun, when they went in their palanquin to the audiences of the Emperor or to the Shogun, wore generally a wakizashi which was called Kamishimo-zashi, because these nobles wore the court dress called kamishimo when going to the audiences, or denchu-zashi (palace sword). It is here where the Goto ornaments reigned supreme.

These kamishimo-zashi bore nearly exclusively ornaments made by the Goto Shirobei family, i.e. the mitokoro-mono. The tsuba and fuchi-kashira were either plain shakudo-nanako or shakudo-nanako with the crest of the Tokugawa or the great Daimyo. These last were generally made by special nanako artists, and are rarely signed. Plain iron tsuba of renowned artists are also found amongst these. The scabbard of this kamishimo-zashi was always in plain black lacquer. The mitokoro-mono was perforce of shakudo-nanako with gold decoration in relief, chiefly dragons, dogs of Foo [i.e. shishi], scenes of great wars, or of the bugaku and no-kyogen pantomimes, flowers, and many other subjects. The braid covering of the handle of these kamishimo-zashi was different to other wakizashi, as the braid was plaited over the kashira, which process is called makikaki-no-kashira.

In my opinion these kamishimo-zashi represent the supreme type of sword amongst the many styles during the Tokugawa period. Contrast in this regard the fine and dignified black lacquered scabbard with furniture in shakudo, ornamented in gold relief on nanako ground, with examples of the tawdry and over-decorated scabbards of many other schools. Alexander Mosle, The Goto Shirobei Family

His work style is said to exhibit a great degree of boldness and strength as his trademark. Perhaps in accordance with the mentality required to create such works, he is also responsible for expanding the realm of work of the Goto family into tsuba.

Tokubetsu Hozon Goto Tokujo
Tokubetsu Hozon Goto Tokujo
Tokubetsu Hozon Goto Tokujo
Goto Tokujo Juyo Reference: session 35
Goto Tokujo Juyo Reference: session 35

It may be that Tokujo had a falling out with Ieyasu at the end of his career, as some sources have him at his death at 82 years of age in 1631 having the status of ronin. Before he died he would see his daughters marry two of the Honami masters: Honami Kosatsu and Honami Koshitsu.

Overall there are 357 unsigned Goto works that have passed Juyo, and the school stands second to none for its importance to tosogu history. Of these 357, 11 are attributed to Tokujo and his work is not commonly seen. Of these 11 his signature appears one time on a kogai though it's not 100% clear to me if this is an attribution signature.

Goto Attributions

Tokujo also began the tradition of writing origami that would authenticate work of the previous four generations. Later Goto generations would in turn write origami that authenticated Tokujo's work. These origami are very precious, and in particular those of Goto Mitsutaka (11th gen) are seen among Juyo qualifying work. This extra attribution from within the Goto school is considered highly authoritative and is one of the sources of knowledge we access today to make further attributions of unsigned work.

These later generation Goto smiths would also make a type of substitution mei from time to time, called kiwame-mei and in this they would state the maker and an additional note if it is mon or saku. In the case of works designated mon, the design elements were lifted from worn out tosogu by the later Goto artist and remounted in new housings. Many of these have passed Juyo. Those that were noted as saku indicate that the piece was made in whole by the earlier artist, making them 100% original work.

The presence of Goto kiwame-mei and origami as mentioned is particularly precious because it gives extra information for later judges to work with and assures us that the work has been authenticated by the Goto family. The results of this are seen at Juyo as follows:

Mumei with no Goto attribution: 120
Mumei with Goto Origami: 83
Mumei with Goto Kiwame-mei: 97
Mumei with Kiwame-mei and Origami: 57

Thus, we find Goto attributions accompanying 237 out of 357 mumei Goto works that passed Juyo. And of course it is obvious that the best situation would be to have both origami and kiwame-mei present, and these are only on 16% of the Juyo works.

Tokubetsu Hozon Goto Tokujo MitokoromonoGoto Tokujo Mitokoromono OrigamiGoto Tokujo Mitokoromono Mitsuyoshi

Tokubetsu Hozon Goto Tokujo Mitokoromono

This is a very rare set. Dragons were a popular theme as can be imagined, due to their natural association with power and magnificence. Being made in gold, many of these wore out through frequent use and were remounted and restored or destroyed and lost over the ages.

All 11 works of Tokujo that exist at Juyo are mitokoromono or components of mitokoromono. All of these carry one or both forms of Goto attribution, indicating their importance in certifying Tokujo's work at the Juyo level. There is only one additional work that has his own signature on it that is documented at a high level, and it is a Juyo Bijutsuhin mitokoromono.

Five of the 11 Juyo works are noted as mon by the Goto master writing the attribution, indicating that they remounted earlier work.

There is only one set of dragon tosogu at Juyo out of the 11 by Tokujo, the example shown above, which is also a remounting job by Goto Mitsutaka. The set shown here is attributed by Goto Mitsuyoshi and confirmed by the NBTHK as being saku, or 100% original work of Goto Tokujo.

This set remains in remarkable condition with almost no wear at all on the surface, and only a bit of wear on the back. This set I think must have been on a high level sword up until recently, as it can be seen where the kogai fit into the pocket on the koshirae and the papers are of very new mintage (dated June 2016). So they have not been out and available in the market very long, and I acquired these in the spring of 2017 before the papers were one year old.

The NBTHK paper also includes the Goto Mitsuyoshi origami as a line item which it is authenticating. This is very important as it authenticates the origami as being original and authentic and accurate. So consider these as being a paper on a paper as well as the mitokoromono. pointed out above, it is quite rare indeed to get access to an old Goto work that has both kiwame-mei and origami from one of the Goto masters, with only 57 of the 357 Juyo mumei works possessing these. Mitsuyoshi further added a high valuation of 20 gold pieces for this set to his origami.

The detail in these dragons is amazing, amongst the most detailed I've seen in Goto work. I am positive that these will pass Juyo in a future shinsa, as the work is equivalent to the dragon set that already passed and they are 100% original work instead of remounts like the Juyo set. Regardless of the Juyo papers, it is more precious to own a set certified as original than one that has been remounted, even by a maker as great as Mitsutaka who remounted the Juyo set.

I highly recommend this Goto Tokujo mitokoromono: it is a collection in one type of item for a sword or fittings collector. Tokujo delivered items like these to the Regent Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the first Tokugawa Shogun Ieyasu. When you buy a set like this, you are taking on ownership of a masterpiece intended for use by the top warlords of samurai era Japan. Chances like this don't come by very often. For old mitokoromono this is the best set I will ever have now, and into the future. It was a real dream to find this in Tokyo and not pay 6 million yen to get it.

Goto Tokujo Mitokoromono Envelope

Goto Mitsuyoshi Origami

The 15th mainline master Goto Mitsuyoshi (also known as Goto Shinjo (後藤真乘) attributed this mitokoromono to Tokujo and added his kiwame-mei to the kozuka and kogai. None of the mumei Juyo items have kiwame-mei added to menuki and the Goto masters appear to not have done this. The actual paper is above, this is the cover sheet of the envelope.

  1. 金這龍三所物
    Kin hairyū mitokoromono
    Gold mitokoromono depicting creeping dragons
  2. 作徳乗 裏哺金七子赤銅
    Saku Tokujō - ura fukumi-kin, nanako, shakudō
    Work of Tokujō - back side gilded, nanako, shakudō
  3. 代金貮拾枚
    Daikin nijū-mai
    Value 20 gold pieces
  4. 後藤四郎兵衛
    Gotō Shirōbei
  5. 文政五年
    Bunsei gonen (1822)
  6. 五月七日 光美「花押」 
    Gogatsu nanoka - Mitsuyoshi + kaō
    Seventh day of the fifth month - Mitsuyoshi + kaō

Shinjō, born in the eighth year of Tenmei (1788) and was the eldest son of Keijō. His first names were Gennojō (源之丞) and Kameichi (亀市, also read Kiichi) and his civilian name was Mitsuyoshi (光美). Shinjō died on the seventh day of the sixth month of Tenpō five (1834). He received his gō Shinjō posthumously. There are different entries regarding Shinjō´s year of birth and death going round. Some say he was born in the ninth year of An´ei (1780) or the third year of Tenmei (1783) and that he died in the 14th year of Tenpō (1843). Well, the transmission Tenmei three and Tenpō 14 correspond with other handed-down information (according to the Japanese way of counting years), namely that he died at the age of 52. Markus Sesko, Kinko Kodogu

Goto Tokujo Boxed Set