Otsuki School MenukiOtsuki School

periodLate Edo (ca. 1830)
designationNBTHK Hozon Tosogu Menuki
price -sold-

The Ōtsuki (大月) school begins with Ōtsuki Korin (Mitsushige) who is a craftsman of Owari province in the early 1700s. He traced his lineage back 18 generations to Ichikawa Hirosuke who is (in legend at least) the founder of all kinko artists. Korin worked in Kyoto maintaining a shop called Senya and did metalwork of all types, including sword fittings, and followed the Goto style. Following him are Mitsutsune and Mitsuyoshi, but the 4th generation Mitsuoki would be one of the all time greats of kinko artists. In practice he is considered the founder of the school.

Toward the end of the century a versatile genius, Mitsuoki (son of Mitsuyoshi), came into prominence. He far surpassed his contemporaries in his command of design and color, and at first stood quite alone in his disregard of classic Kano school models, taking many of his designs from the painter Ganku, with whom he studied. Okabe, Japanese Sword Guards

Mitsuoki is said to have been a dignified and righteous man, but also a lover of sake. His masterpieces made the Ōtsuki school famous, and he obtained the reputation of being one of the Kyoto Sansaku (Three Great Artists of Kyoto) along with Ichinomiya Nagatsune and Tetsugendo Shoraku. He lived to the age of 69 in 1834 having trained several talented students.

During his life he seems to have enjoyed wordplay because he signed with many different variations of his name, using Dairyusai, Ryugyokusai, Ryusai, Ryukudo, Zeikuniudo, Shiwundo, Shiryudo, and Shiryu. This may not be a comprehensive list either.

There is no question that Mitsuoki is the best master smith among the Kyoto kinko smiths. NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Mitsuoki moved to Kyoto at 20, then to Edo at 30 where he studied under a painter, Ganku, at the imperial court, and the influence is seen in the production of his work of birds, reeds and his human figures which are said to be represented with power and grace. He further studied under Nagazawa Rosetsu, and by the age of 50 returned to Kyoto.

Among the students inheriting from Mitsuoki is Shinoyama Atsuoki, who is also held as one of the very topmost kinko artists. He went on to provide custom work for the Shogun and the Emperor, and illustrates well the level at which the Ōtsuki school was achieving. Other great students in this school were Tokuoki, Hideoki, Minayama Oki, Tenkodo Hidekuni, Matsuo Gassan, and his son Mitsuhiro. One of them was Ikeda Takatoshi who would go on to teach the great master Kano Natsuo.

The high relief (takabori) and unevenly v-shaped line carving (katakiri-bori) techniques are his most advanced skills.

Metal materials favored by him include iron, shakudo, shibuichi, and brass. which with his gifted talent were all utilized in the most adequately selected manner. Among them, brass or shinchu was his best favorite for the ground metal. NBTHK Token Bijutsu English

menuki leftmenuki right

Though he worked in all these metals, his early works feature fuchigashira in shakudo with nanako, and tsuba with various metals and gold menuki and frequently used the Ryukudo signature in block characters. Later works move to shibuichi and mostly have the Shiryudo signature in cursive characters. Final period works are said to use suaka (copper) and shibuichi and then he uses the Dairyusai or Tsuki signatures and feature katakiribori prominently.

Among the sword fittings makers, he may be compared equally with earlier or contemporary masters such as Yokoya Somin, the three great masters of the Nara school (Yasuchika, Toshinaga and Joi), and Ichinomiya Nagatsune. The polished shibuichi kozuka where the otsu-e design dealing with the goblin's image called Kinenbutsu was presented by katakiribori and flat inlay techniques is a representative example testifying to his excellent artistic proficiency. NBTHK Token Bijutsu English

To date 57 items from the Otsuki school have passed Juyo, one of which is Tokubetsu Juyo. In addition Kano Natsuo has passed Juyo 65 times and 8 of those have gone on to Tokubetsu Juyo. Another four of his are Juyo Bijutsuhin. box

Otsuki School Menuki OrigamiOtsuki School Menuki Natsuo Sketchbook

Hozon Menuki

These charming menuki are asymmetrical, featuring plovers accompanied by waves crashing over a setting crescent moon. They are in solid gold, and highly skilled in manufacture which is consistent with the attribution to Otsuki school.

This theme was indeed worked on by Kano Natsuo as it is found in his sketchbook. His illustration has five plovers and a rising moon through clouds, but it is clearly related to what we see in these menuki.

So this theme either predates Natsuo and is something that he copied and developed further, or this is the product of his workshop and thus one of his students. Otsuki school in the broader sense can cover Natsuo's students but if the judges specifically thought this came from Natsuo's workshop they would have said so. So please understand this is just my theory based on the theme appearing in his sketchbook. Natsuo's sketch is pictured to the left.

Regardless, these are very beautiful menuki and made in solid gold and furthermore are in excellent condition. They would be a charming addition to any collection. They reside in a custom fit box.

Hozon Otsuki School Menuki