|period:||Muromachi (mid 1500s)|
|designation:||NBTHK Juyo Kodogu|
|kogai length:||23.5 cm|
|kogai width:||1.4 cm|
Unlike swords, fittings in general have not survived as long or as well due to their nature of taking direct wear and use. Furthermore, items like koshirae feature organic materials which break down over time. The metal fittings that have been made for these have evolved over time and have changed style. Some have been lost or disposed of, or just went out of style and were no longer used.
Sword fittings do have as long a history as swords, however we end up being pretty lucky to own an item from as early as the Nanbokucho, and those made in the Muromachi period are considered to be quite old. Most of what we see today then is Edo period manufacture.
The earliest artists were not in the habit of signing their work and very little is known until the founding of the Goto school. Even among the Goto the earliest documented workers usually left no signatures. These are usually grouped together as Ko-Goto. We also see at this time Ko-Mino or Ko-Kinko. These can be fairly broad classifications because there is just little information available about them. There is some fungibility in these classifications as well as where one begins and the other ends is unclear.
These early workers were working in soft metals, and Ko-Kinko literally means “old gold worker”. Where the Goto formalized out of this period on a certain style and choice of materials (shakudo and gold), we see a variety of choices in material being made before this time. One thing that we do notice is that artistic sensibilities became important and sophistication took a turn upwards. This would continually increase over time, where swordsmiths never returned to the great work of the Kamakura period, we see incredible art being made with greater degrees of precision as time passes. The early works, though some are crude by comparison, often have surprising sophistication and also a charm that may be lost when viewing some of the later works which often repeated motifs as recipes. What is of interest is that this increase in artistic sensibility came along at the same time as the longest and broadest conflicts that Japan had seen to that date. These conflicts would ultimately end with the country united under Tokugawa.
I don't hold myself out as a high expert or even an expert in kodogu, so this is just my perspective as someone who appreciates it and has a bitten into the subject a bit.
For sword fittings and the papering levels at the NBTHK, it seems to be one level more difficult to achieve higher status than swords. Tokubetsu Hozon is regarded a bit more respectfully for fittings where it seems to be a given for most swords that are not problem pieces. Juyo is really quite prestigious for swords and I feel even more so for fittings.
I found this set to be interesting and picked it up some time ago. Really it was my first foray specifically into fittings. As I am with swords, I appreciate old works. It seemed also unusual to me to see such early pieces with a motif of guns on them. Those were extremely high tech weapons at the time. Though we look at these now with eyes that look backwards in time and we see charming antique weapons, I think it is also important to try to look at these in the context of the period when they were made, with these guns being intimidating weapons imported from exotic countries that could barely be held in the imagination. And something in this artist's imagination was captured by the power of the gun on the battlefield and its ability to dominate at a distance during the massed battles of the Muromachi period.
Their condition is quite excellent given their time of manufacture and use. They are really quite remarkable both for skill and subject matter. The NBTHK awarded this set with Juyo almost 50 years ago now. These early Juyos predate the creation of Tokubetsu Juyo, so they reflect what was then the topmost level. For this reason old Juyo are particularly appreciated. Often now we see swords that passed Juyo in the 1960s that were held through a collector's life pop into Tokubetsu Juyo and pass through with ease. This is no implication that these would pass Tokubetsu Juyo, I think that is not the case and Tokuju fittings are very rare indeed. But this is I think next best, old Juyo, old items, and an interesting motif for a discriminating collector.
As a side note there seems to be an inventory mark under one of the menuki that may be a museum catalog number. It bears some research interest as it may help indicate where these came from.
Appointed on the 10th of August, 1967, Session 16
Unsigned futatokoromono set with fuse and matchlock motif.
Kōgai of yamagane with nanako ground and takabori, mumei; menuki of yamagane in katachibori, mumei.
The teppō was introduced to Japan in Tenbun twelve (天文, 1543) via the Portuguese which landed on the island of Tanegashima (種子島). The weapon soon spread all over the country and it also took not long until it was made by Japanese craftsmen. So in terms of weapons, it is fairly natural to apply a teppō motif to sword fittings. And as this futatokoromono set shows besides the matchlock, its fuse (hinawa, 火縄), the receptacle for the gunpowder (kayaku-ire, 火薬入), and the receptacle for the bullets (tama-ire, 玉入), it is also very interesting as a reference for contemporaneous matchlocks. Though it is unclear who made such kinds of fittings, but they show various highly interesting motifs. Apart from that, the matching futatokoro set is old and excellently executed.