Kikuoka Mitsuyuki FutatokoromonoKikuoka Mitsuyuki

periodLate Edo (ca. 1780)
designationNBTHK Juyo Tosogu Futatokoromono
kozuka-meiKikuoka Mitsuyuki (kaō) – 菊岡光行「花押」
menuki-meiKikuoka 菊岡 ・ Mitsuyuki (kaō) 光行「花押」

Yokoya Somin is responsible for a renaissance in tosogu design in the Edo period. He was trained in the Goto tradition and seems to have felt it to be constraining. He would go on to form new designs with new ideas, and the Yokoya school he founded would be the seed from which many great Edo period schools flowered.

You can read more about the Yokoya school here.

The movement that Somin founded is known as machibori or town carving, which distinguishes it from house carving (iebori) which refers to the work of the Goto and Yoshioka makers who made traditional subjects in traditional materials for the Shogunate and the circle of families in power.

The machibori movement of course took advantage of the Goto techniques and styles as they branched out of the Goto school, and Somin rather than replacing these outright, added layers and mostly reinterpretations of subject matter in innovative ways. The various top level schools that would branch out of his Yokoya school, and that of his primary student Yanagawa Naomasa's school, would all continue to develop their own particular styles as well as make callbacks to Yokoya. Sometimes those callbacks were simply making things like Shishi and Peony tsuba in Yokoya style, and from time to time one of the far off students-of-students may make an utsushi of Somin's work.

These schools that branched off of Yokoya were responsible for a lot of evolution and focused on lush, dynamic beauty that appealed to the ever more economically powerful mercantile class. Eventually their work and presence would go back in turn to affect the Goto school as we see in the work of Goto Ichijo who adopted some of their ideas into his repertoire.

Somin's Legacy
Kikuoka Mitsuyuki Futatokoromono Backs

Kikuoka School

The Kikuoka school was founded by Mitsuyuki, whose family had a cultural background. His father and his grandfather – according to transmission a friend of Matsuo Bashō (松尾芭蕉, 1644-1694) – were renowned haiku and waka poets. Their pseudonym Senryō (沾涼) was later passed on to Mitsuyuki and his art of metalwork was, to a great deal, inspired by poetry. Markus Sesko, Kinko Kodogu

Kikuoka Mitsuyuki was born in 1750 in Edo. He is the founder of the Kikuoka school, and he was one of the best students of Yanagawa Naomitsu. Naomitsu trained under Naomasa, who was the primary student of Somin. With Mitsuyuki we essentially have the continuation of the Yanagawa school as he preserved the styles and was his best student.

Mitsuyuki was extremely talented and the Kikuoka school he founded became very successful. In terms of skill he is ranked highly at Joko in the Kinko Meikan and Sesko below indicates that he was similarly skilled to both Somin and Naomasa but a little bit less talented in the layout of his subjects. He is known though for his precision in his work, and in later periods Unno Shomin even joked that it must have taken a full day for him to write his signature.

Regarding his workmanship, Mitsuyuki combined the styles of Sōmin and Naomasa and was by no means inferior to them. His interpretations are very carefully carved and are highly graceful. But the price for his rather systematically arranged motifs create concessions in terms of elegance. Therefore he is ranked a little lower than Sōmin and Naomasa. Also, the execution of the signature in a perfect block script (kaisho, 楷書) speaks for his orderliness and the Meiji-era kinkō artist Unno Shōmin criticized [i.e. not seriously] Mitsuyuki stating that he must have wasted an entire day chiselling the signature. Markus Sesko, Kinko Kodogu

Mitsuyuki did achieve fame as well as a poet, working in haiku form. Unfortunately he died young at the age of 51 (before his teacher died), and this limited the number of works we have available from him to this day. However his younger brother Mitsumasa, and their sons and students would go on to create a great number of masterpiece works, and whenever we see items from the Kikuoka school they are always very beautiful.

Of the works that Mitsuyuki himself left behind, there are 14 Juyo and most of these show the clear and strong influence of the Yanagawa and Yokoya schools as we would expect. He made mitokoromono according to the Goto tradition but with Yokoya school design of the elements, making them feel both classical and also fresh and free at the same time. As well as these works, one of his kozuka is also ranked Juyo Bijutsuhin and is considered his masterpiece.

Juyo Bijutsuhin Mitsuyuki
Juyo Bijutsuhin Mitsuyuki
Juyo Kikuoka Mitsuyuki Futatokoromono

Juyo Kikuoka Mitsuyuki Futatokoromono

This gorgeous set shows everything that is to be loved about Kikuoka school work. The detailed carving makes it jump out from far away and under magnification shows the immense skill of Mitsuyuki who made it.

The subject are kirin who are mythical animals, with an origin in Chinese folklore (via mandarin, it is anglicized as qilin). They have the head of a dragon, and the body of a horse, or a deer, with cloven hooves. Chinese dragons have antlers so often times these are expressed with antlers as well.

Kirin are said to appear on the passing of a sage, and have the ability of knowing whether someone is good or evil and having the power to punish evildoers.

In Buddhist influenced depictions, they will refuse to walk upon grass for fear of harming a single blade, and thus are often depicted walking upon the clouds or the water. As they are divine and peaceful creatures, their diets do not include flesh. They take great care when they walk to never tread on a living creature, and appear only in areas ruled by a wise and benevolent leader, which can include a household. They can become fierce if a pure person is threatened by a malicious one, spouting flames from their mouths and exercising other fearsome powers that vary from story to story.

Legends tell that qilin have appeared in the garden of the legendary Yellow Emperor and in the capital of Emperor Yao. Both events bore testimony to the benevolent nature of the rulers. It has been told in legends that the birth of the great sage Confucius was foretold by the arrival of a qilin.

Qilin are thought to be a symbol of luck, good omens, protection, prosperity, success, and longevity by the Chinese. Qilin are also a symbol of fertility, and often depicted in decorations as bringing a baby to a family.

In the Post-Qin Chinese hierarchy of mythological animals, the qilin is ranked as the third most powerful creature (after the dragon and phoenix), but in Japan, the kirin occupies the top spot. This is following the style of the ancient Chinese, as qilin was ranked higher than the dragon or phoenix before the Qin dynasty. During the Zhou dynasty, the qilin was ranked the highest, the phoenix ranked second, and the dragon the third.


Please bear in mind that only one set of tosogu (including koshirae) passes Juyo for every 6 swords, so on average it is a lot harder for tosogu to achieve the rank of Juyo. The combination of tradition and evolution that we expect from Mitsuyuki is present in this set, as it is completely in tune with the iebori presentation ideals of shakudo and gold, in a clear and traditional format. However the carving, and detail of the kirin is doubtlessly in Yanagawa style inherited through Somin, thereby producing a new art form standing on the shoulders of the old.

I highly recommend this set, as it will give you pleasure and hopefully good luck as well for a lifetime.

Kikuoka Mitsuyuki Futatokoromono Box Kikuoka Mitsuyuki Menuki Kikuoka Mitsuyuki Menuki
Kikuoka Mitsuyuki Futatokoromono OshigataKikuoka Mitsuyuki Futatokoromono Origami

Juyo Futatokoromono

Appointed on the 11th of October, 2001

kirin no zu futatokoromono (麒麟図二所物) - Futatokoromono set with kirin motif


Kozuka length 9.7 cm, width 1.5 cm


Hinshitsu-keijō: kozuka of shakudō, with nanako ground, kinmon, and reverse gilded; menuki of pure gold and in katachibori


Late Edo Period


Mitsuyuki (光行) was a student of the Yokoya (横谷) School master Yanagawa Naomitsu (柳川直光, 1733-1808) and founded his own, the Kikuoka (菊岡) School. His son was Mitsutomo (光朝) and his younger brother was Mitsumasa (光政) and both Mitsuyuki and Mitsumasa were not only influential Edo-based kinkō artist but also renowned haiku poets and noted persons of culture, writing under the their family’s hereditary pen name Senryō (沾涼). Mitsuyuki was born in Kan’en three (寛延, 1750) and died in Kansei twelve (寛政, 1800). He basically worked in shakudō-nanako and a Yokoya-style takabori relief of shishi lions, animals, figures, and birds, but as he was actually trained by a member the Yanagawa family, he mostly focused on Yanagawa-style shishi lions.

This set consists of menuki of pure gold that are worked in katachibori and a kozuka in shakudō-nanako with a kinmon ornamentation and a gilded reverse, with both fittings depicting kirin chimeras. The highly sophisticated and precise carvings reflect the high standards of the Kikuoka School.

Kikuoka Mitsuyuki Shifuku