Kaga Kinko TsubaKaga Kinko

periodMiddle Edo (ca. 1700)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu Tsuba
dimensions7.55 cm x 7.25 cm
price -sold-

The domain of Kaga, covering most of Kaga province, was ruled by the Maeda clan during Edo period Japan. The originated in Owari province and were in service to the Oda clan. Oda Nobunaga of course is the warlord who initiated the unification of Japan, a process completed by Tokugawa Ieyasu.

In particular Maeda Toshiie was one of the top generals of Nobunaga, and similar to his friend Hideyoshi, he worked his way up from being a page. At this time the Maeda already had territories in Kaga province. They were further awarded fiefs in Etchu and the entire province of Noto, and assembled them into a highly productive set of domains producing 820,000 koku. One koku is enough rice to support one man for one year.

Toshiie's son Maeda Toshinaga fought on the Tokugawa side at Sekigahara, and directly opposed the great Uesugi clan in battle. For his services the Tokugawa warded him additional holdings, and he was ranked as Dainagon (councillor of the first rank). The clan's production peaked under Toshinaga at 1,250,000 koku. This enormous wealth made the Maeda clan second only to the Tokugawa in the ranks of all the daimyo in Japan.

Because of this the Maeda were able to sponsor gold workers to come to Kaga and work there directly for the clan, rather than patronizing the Goto school in Kyoto or Edo based goldsmiths. Most prominently Goto Kenjo the 7th mainline master, and Goto Teijo, the 9th master of the Goto school, moved to Kaga at the request of the Maeda clan. During this time the 10th generation Renjo took over the main Goto school and moved it to Edo from Kyoto. Following Kenjo and Teijo would also be Goto Kakujo. So one can imagine the demand the Maeda had for sword fittings, in that they directly sponsored three great Goto masters to come to Kaga to produce for them. Together the work of those masters and their descendants form the Kaga Goto school.

Kaga Kinko Tsuba Box Oblique

Kaga Kinko

While the Goto directly served the needs of the daimyo, other associated gold workers came to Kaga due to the massive wealth and demand of the Maeda for sword fittings. Works that may not be directly assignable to the Kaga Goto school can take a looser attribution to Kaga Kinko, which includes these other gold workers as well as the Kaga Goto school. These other schools are the Kuwamura school founded by Goto Kenjo's student Moriyoshi; the Mizuno school founded by Goto Kojo's student Yoshihide; the Katsuki school founded by Morisada and Ujie, a student of Goto Kenjo. The Katsuki school would eventually be subsumed by the Kaneko, Koichi and Katsuo schools it spawned.

All of these associated schools in Kaga thus are branches of the Goto family. Putting this into some perspective, the Katsuo school head received a stipend of 150 koku - enough rice to feed 150 men per year. Ujiie mentioned above received a stipend that would support a staff of 15 and Morisada's salary was 20 koku. All of these schools reported to the Maeda and were devoted to satisfying their needs for sword fittings and they are not the end of the workers employed by the Maeda as the above schools spawned further smaller branches.

Since all of these schools have their root in the main Goto line, they tended to produce work done under traditional principles for the Maeda daimyo. The Goto rules at the time of the early Edo period required use of shakudo and gold only. Traditional themes included shishi (lions) and ryu (dragons), as well as various themes of scholars and Buddhist principles and stories. Due to their focus on serving the needs of the Maeda daimyo there is not a lot of differentiation in the schools styles, which is what leads to the Kaga Kinko designation.

Tsuba Back
Tokubetsu Hozon Kaga Kinko Tsuba
Kaga Kinko Tsuba Origami

Tokubetsu Hozon Kaga Kinko Tsuba

This is a very heavy and nice tsuba with a designation to Kaga Kinko. It is left unsigned as works made for daimyo of this time period were generally not signed out of respect for the high level of the customer.

The time period I think is about 1700, if not somewhat earlier. The construction is gold foil over shakudo and the carving is deep and the shakudo has a great midnight black color. There is a little bit of wear and tear on the tsuba commensurate with its age.

The Goto craftsmen of this time were mostly focused on making mitokoromono, in fact no tsuba were thought to have been made at all until the 5th generation Tokujo. Later generations started adding tsuba to their repertoire but it is not until later in the Edo period that tsuba start becoming a focus of craftsmen like Goto Ichijo.

For example, Goto Teijo has 71 items that have passed Juyo, and of those there are only 4 tsuba. Goto Kenjo has 55 Juyo items of which there are only 2 tsuba. Thus, a tsuba from this time period that is done in Kaga style is more likely to receive an attribution to one of the associated schools in the Kaga Kinko group rather than to Kaga Goto though the style will be in keeping with Goto principles.

The dragon and tiger theme in this tsuba is something that goes back to Chinese art, where these two animals were often associated in painting and other artworks. In this theme the dragon represents the yang (male) principle and the tiger the female (yin) principle. Yang collectively represents spirit, heaven, spring, rain, sun and light, while yin represents tangibility, earth, autumn, wind, the moon and darkness. This theme came along with Buddhism to Japan and was repeated frequently in Japanese Zen art. As both tiger and dragon are power symbols, this kind of theme was particularly appealing to the warrior classes in the 1600s in Japan. This yin/yang opposing but balanced theme then is perfectly suitable for two sides of a tsuba. In the case of this tsuba, the dragon's tail overlaps onto the tiger's side, and the tiger seems to be taking issue with this and giving the dragon chase.

Overall it is an enjoyable work meant for the Maeda clan, featuring high level craftsmanship and remaining in good condition. It is enjoyable in its box or would be a stunning tsuba to use for making mounts for a high level blade. It would pair well with the Kaga Goto Futakoromono of dragons that is also in my inventory right now to make a very nice mount. I would make a discount for a dual purchase.