Otsuki Minayama Oki MitokoromonoOtsuki Minayama Oki

periodca. 1810 (Edo)
designationNBTHK Juyo Tosogu
fuchi3.7 cm x 2.2 cm x 1.3 cm
kashira3.5 cm x 1.8 cm x 0.65 cm
kozuka9.7 cm x 1.9 cm
kozuka mei遊仙之図 三所同作 竹鳳応興
Yūsen no zu mitokoro dōsaku Chikuhō Ōki + kaō
Motif of Yūsen, part of a set of mitokoro (i.e. menuki, kozuka, fuchigashira) made by my hand, Chikuhō Ōki + kaō
menuki divided mei応 (Ō) 興 (Ki)
fuchi mei麗誉堂応興
Reiyodō Ōki + kaō
price -sold-

The Ōtsuki 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.

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). He lived to the age of 69 in 1834 having trained several talented students. One of them was Ikeda Takatoshi who would go on to teach the great Ōtsuki master Kano Natsuo who is held among the very best of all kinko artists.

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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.

Mitsuoki 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.

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.

Another of the students of Mitsuoki who would go on to become one of the masters of the Ōtsuki school was a man of the name Minayama Naoichi. He used the art name name Ōki. Very few of his works remain to us but show remarkable levels of skill. One work in particular is famous for its subject matter and exquisite execution, an iron tsuba in the form of an elephant. The artistry exhibited in this piece is nothing short of breathtaking. I was able to find another reference piece that had sold at Christie's auction, and showed again his creative approach and naturalistic eye, where menuki in the form of cicada were made. The first is the empty shell of a newly transformed cicada done entirely in gold. The matching menuki is an extremely lifelike representation of the adult cicada. The take on these items is very interesting, as they are intimately tied to each other though absolutely different (one only a shell, the other a living organism). The use of different materials to express the metamorphosis of the insect portrays this perfectly.

His work with the elephant tsuba is particularly magnificent as there were very few elephants ever present in Japan. To be able to capture one so perfectly with none around to model is the work of a remarkable artist.


In Japan, the first time people are supposed to have actually seen an elephant was in Oei 15 (1408). In mid-Edo times, an elephant appeared in the city of Edo. From his long nose, slow movement, cute eyes, and strange appearance, many people recognized him. Can you imagine how much people were surprised with their view of an elephant at that time? Because of this, many smiths, including Yasuchika, used an elephant theme as a tsuba design.

This artist Ōtsuki Ōki belonged to the Ōtsuki Mitsuoki school, a great master who lived in Nijo in Kyoto. There are not too many of his works left today, but from his school's influence, his carving technique is excellent, and there are couple of masterpieces left today.

This masterpiece shows a huge elephant's body fitted into the small tsuba. It has excellent composition, and this work shows his unique and excellent carving technique. It also shows a well expressed elephant theme, and the elephant was an unusual and unseen animal beyond people's imagination at that time. NBTHK Journal

Ōtsuki Ōki operated out of a shop called Hishiya. He made joint works with Mitsuoki and at least one of them is signed by both makers. Like his teacher he seems to have enjoyed using various names for himself, and changed his signature over time. Initially he signed as Ōki (応興), but later changed the initial character to 應 though it is read the same way. His various other names include Chikuho, Chikuhodo, Reibokudo, Reiyodo and Mitsuhisa. The last of which as it follows the pattern of his teacher (Mitsuoki) may also have been an early signature. And we know him usually by a mix of his given name Minayama with his art name Ōki rather than his school name.

Ōki made mostly menuki and fuchigashira, but from time to time made tsuba, kozuka and mitokoromono. He worked in shakudo, iron, shibuichi and brass and has a reputation for very skillful and steady chisel work. His own students were those that took his name as their teacher, and formed a sub-school: Minayama Oei (Masahide) and Minayama Oen (Masanobu).

Overall the Ōtsuki school has been characterized by work of the highest quality made for important and powerful figures in Kyoto. Today the work of these makers is found in museums and exhibitions, and in distinguished private collections.

Juyo Otsuki Minayama Oki Mitokoromono

Juyo Otsuki Minayama Oki Mitokoromono

The Immortal Saints in Japanese legend, also known as Sages, or Sennin embrace both the Eight Immortals coming from Chinese legend, and various figures from Japanese folktales.

SENNIN 仙人: Generic name of Immortals who have reached that stage from that of man through meditation, asceticism, and the the following of Taoist teachings, which endowed them with wonderful magic powers. The name Sennin carries with it the meaning of a life spent away from the rest of mankind in the mountain fastness affected by Buddhist monks up to the present day, and peopled by the imagination of the Taoist with hosts of genii,immortal animals, and mythical trees.

The Eight Immortals are Taoist figures that feature prominently among the Sennin and in general they support the poor, weak and oppressed and operate often with humor, and mischief but are known primarily for their compassion.

Ōki himself named the theme of this mitokoromono on the kozuka: Yusen, a journey through the land of the Immortal Saints.

Though his work is now very rare, this set is even more so as it bears his early style of signature. His inheritance from his teacher and the play on names is found within this set in several places as he uses two of his own chosen names of Chikuhō Ōki, and Reiyodō Ōki.

Chikuhō when you look at the kanji means Green Peng. The Peng (鵬) is a mythological Chinese giant bird who could transform into a giant fish (many miles long). When used in a name the Peng reflects someone of great promise. Embedded in this character is wordplay as it is constructed of components that mean bird (鳥), friend (朋), fish (魚) and descendants (昆). There is a Chinese parable of the Peng and in it, it rises up and flies to heaven while a dove and a cicada take short journeys respective to their own size and laugh at the Peng saying that they have done the same work related to their own size. There is some debate over the meaning of the story, but the winning argument equates the journey of the Peng to the journey of a Saint (a perfected person) who is able to spiritually rise up above the mundane limitations of worldly existence. It would seem to agree with the subject matter of “A Journey through the Land of the Immortal Saints.”. There may be additional meaning embedded in this choice of name, reflecting his learning from a great master via descendants (昆). It is interesting to speculate.

The second self chosen name he places on this set is Reiyodō (麗誉堂), roughly transliterates as beautiful, famous temple. I don't know how accurate that is or what to speculate from this.

Sennin seem to embrace some free spirited aspects as well as serious aspects. From the Wikipedia entry on Lü Dongbin:

Lü Dongbin is usually portrayed as a scholarly, clever man with a genuine desire to help people obtain wisdom or enlightenment and to learn the Tao. However, he is often portrayed as having some character "flaws", not an uncommon theme for the colorful Taoist immortals, all of whom in general have various eccentricities: He is said to be a ladies man, even after (or only after) becoming an immortal – and for this reason he is generally not invoked by people with romantic problems. This may also relate to some of the Taoist sexual arts. He is portrayed as having bouts of drunkenness, which was not uncommon among the often fun-loving Eight Immortals. This also parallels several Taoist artists renowned for their love of drinking.

Additionally some good background from what-when-how: The most important tale of Lu concerns his journey to the capital to follow an official career in government. During a stop along this trip he met Zhongli Quan, a fabled immortal who was busily warming some wine. under the influence of Zhongli (and the wine presumably), Lu fell into a deep sleep and had his famous "Yellow Millet Dream." In this dream, Lu attained his government post and, as a result, accumulated great wealth and prestige. He enjoyed this privileged mortal life for some 50 years until he was accused of a great crime. Found guilty, he was stripped of all property, his family was separated from him, and he himself was banished into the mountains. With this Lu suddenly awoke to find his meal of yellow millet had still not finished cooking; his entire official career had lasted for only a few moments.

Realizing that ordinary life is but a fleeting dream, Lu decided to abandon his worldly aspirations and become Zhongli’s disciple, taking the Daoist name Dongbin ("Guest of the Cavern") as a sign of his new religious life. After passing numerous tests, Lu underwent training in the secrets of alchemy. His powers were said to be so great that he retained a youthful appearance even past age 100. He could change his shape and even travel 100 miles in a matter of seconds. Lu Dongbin eventually became a high-ranking immortal, but he turned down the offer to ascend to the celestial realm with his master, preferring to remain on earth to aid all those earnestly seeking Dao. Because of his compassion, Lu was regularly sought after for oracles, healing, and spiritual advice.

Lu is especially known for his healing powers (he is sometimes said to be the "doctor of the poor") and his ability to subdue evil spirits. His sword and his bushy flywhisk symbolize these powers. For Lu, the sword is not a weapon of aggression, but a means of cutting through ignorance and the passions. It also is the means by which he can control evil spirits. Lu's fly-whisk, a traditional symbol of a cultured scholar-gentleman, symbolizes his ability to fly at will.

Daoist tradition holds that Lu made many important contributions to the sacred arts. For example, Lu is credited with stressing the importance of developing compassion in Daoist self-cultivation―a sign, perhaps, of Buddhist influence. He is also credited with transforming the ancient methods of "external alchemy" (waidan) to those of "internal alchemy" (neidan). To this day, Lu Dongbin is regarded as one of the mythic "founders" of the Quanzhen (complete perfection) school of Daoism, the major monastic order. His official biography is in the Zengxian liexian zhuan (Illustrated biographies of the immortals). Various treatises and poems attributed to Lu have been collected in the Luzu quanshu (complete works of Patriarch Lu). Because of his importance, Lu Dongbin continues to be honored in Daoist temples, which usually hold special feasts in his honor on the 14th day of the fourth lunar month.

Lu has particular honor in Daoist tradition because he is alleged to have passed on his teachings to students who went on to become major Daoist figures in their own right. One of his students was Zhen Xiyi, said to have been a major innovator of techniques of qigong. An even more famous student of Lu’s was Wang Chen Chonyang, the official historical founder of Quan-zhen Daoism and central character in the popular Chinese novel Seven Daoist Masters. Because of his contributions to these lineages, Lu is sometimes regarded as the grand patriarch of "internal alchemy."

For the set itself, the carving is simply breathtaking. I am amazed at the microscopic detail and precision and it is something that blows my mind that this came from a human being working by hand. He worked with a shibuichi base and has used various patinas and materials including gold, silver, copper and shakudo to create subtle differences in shade throughout. It is very tasteful and elegant. I am able to identify a handful of the saints at this point with some help from other collectors and Markus Sesko, as well as some pouring over old books. I am working on the rest.

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Omote Menuki

Rakan Hattara Sonja (aka Bhadra). He is one of the 16 Arhats (disciples of Buddha). He has an association with a white tiger, and the tiger in this menuki could have been depicted in black and gold which are found elsewhere in this set, but is clearly chosen to be neutral in color. I find there is some striking similarity with this print by the famous artist Kuniyoshi, especially in the illustration and sculpture of the tiger. Ōki and Kuniyoshi were contemporaries, so I wonder if there was some influence going in one direction or the other. I am particularly in love with this menuki, as he has captured the mood of serenity of this disciple while the tiger's restrained energy and power is clear in its pose and musculature. There is a lesson here in finding inner calm to master your own base instincts and aggression and to me this is the crowning element of this mitokoromono.

HATTARA SONJA or BHADRA. One of the Sixteen ARHATS, generally shown with a white tiger crouching at his feet; he holds a knotted staff, and is occasionally shown seated on a rock. He is also shown with the ringed staff (Shakujo) or the Nioi (short wand), symbolic of the powers of faith.

This arhat was appointed to T'an-mo-lo-Chow, that is, Tamra-dvipa or Ceylon, and he was given a retinue of 900 other arhats. We sometimes find him called Tamra Bhadra, apparently from the name of his station.

The Bhadra of the Buddhist scriptures was a cousin of the Buddha and one of his great disciples. He was a good preacher, and could expand in clear and simple language the Master's teaching. Hence he is often represented as expounding the contents of a book which he holds in one hand. He took his profession very seriously and aimed at spiritual perfection.

Bhadra often appears in pictures and images accompanied by a tiger which he soothes or restrains, but he is also represented without the tiger and in an attitude of worship.

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Ura Menuki

Wong Tai Sin (Japanese: Koshohei), he is shown turning rocks into goats. As well, the sense of humor that he inherited from his teacher shows here, as the ura figure on the menuki is showing us his own ura. This makes both figures face the same way, away from the wearer of the tanto. Also known as Wong Cho Ping (or Huang Chuping, the name of his mortal form). He has the power of healing and there is a major temple dedicated to him in Hong Kong.

He is said to have experienced poverty and hunger, becoming a shepherd when he was eight years old. He began practicing Taoism at the age of fifteen after meeting an immortal or saintly person on Red Pine Mountain in his hometown. Legend has it that he was able to transform stones into sheep forty years later. Wong Tai Sin later became known as the Red Pine Immortal (赤松仙子), after the mountain where he had his hermitage, and his birthday is celebrated on the 23rd of the eighth lunar month.

More: his story is mentioned in the Shenxian Zhuan (Biographies of Immortals Treatise), which was compiled by Ge Hong (284-364AD). Briefly, Wong Cho-ping came from Danxi (Zhejiang). At 15, he was left guarding sheep (or goats) on Jinhua shan. A Daoist teacher saw him, and took him to a stone cave. There Wong Cho-ping practiced his meditation. After 40 years Cho-ping's brother - Cho-hei - met the Immortal who had trained Cho-ping, and he took Cho-hei to see his brother. The first question Cho-hei asked Cho-ping was 'where are the sheep?' Obviously, after 40 years, there were no sheep - but Wong Cho-ping pointed at some small rocks, and they transformed into sheep. Cho-hei was so amazed that he decided to stay with his brother, and practice the Dao. Because this method involved turning cinnabar into a drug that prolonged life, Wong Tai Sin has become the great doctor, who can provide cures either spiritually, or through the dispensing of medicine from the temple.

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Of the three figures, the front-most, with back facing the viewer, is Lü Dongbin. He is traditionally shown carrying a straight sword on his back. This sword could fly at his command and is named Chan-yao Kuai which means The Demon Slayer. On the left is Yun Fang, the immortal who brought Dongbin into immortality. I believe this is illustrating the tenth test of Lu Dongbin. Yun Fang before raising Dongbin into immortality tested him ten times. The tenth test, Dongbin found himself attacked by ghosts, but he did not give in to fear. Then, yaksha (demons in this case) appeared and put a dead convict in front of Dongbin, who then accused him of committing his murder. Dongbin's answer was to admit fault and to begin to commit suicide to pay his debt. Then it was revealed to be Yun Fang and Dongbin's modesty and character were found to have passed the test and he was admitted into the ranks of the immortals. The initial meeting of Yun Fang and Lu Dongbin relayed above and concluded with this scene in the kozuka is one of the essential stories around this figure, and it illustrates the fleeting nature of life and the emptiness of pure ambition for power and worldly goods.

Lü Dongbin (Chinese: 呂洞賓; Born 796) was a Tang Dynasty Chinese scholar and poet who has been elevated to the status of an immortal in the Chinese cultural sphere, worshiped especially by the Taoists. Lü is one of the most widely known of the group of deities known as the Eight Immortals and considered by some to be the de facto leader. He is also a historical figure who was mentioned in the official history book History of Song. Lü is widely considered to be one of the earliest masters of the tradition of neidan, or internal alchemy. He is depicted in art as being dressed as a scholar and he often bears a sword on his back that dispels evil spirits.

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Not quite sure, but one possibility is Zhang Guolao (Japanese: Chokaro), who rides a mule that is stored in a gourd.

Zhang Guo Lao (Chinese: 張果老) is one of the Eight Immortals. Zhang Guo Lao appears frequently in Chinese paintings and sculpture, either with the Eight Immortals or alone, and, like the other immortals, can be seen in many different common artistic mediums and everyday objects. He may be depicted standing or seated, but is typically shown riding his white mule, usually seated facing backwards. His emblem is a Yü Ku, or fish drum, which is a tube-shaped bamboo drum with two iron rods or mallets that he carries with him, or carrying a phoenix feather or a peach, representing immortality. Since he represents old age, in the Taoist Feng Shui tradition a picture or statue of Zhang Kuo can be placed in the home or bedroom of an elderly person to help bring them a long life and a good, natural death.

Among the Eight Immortals, Zhang Guolao, Zhongli Quan, and Lü Yan were real historical figures; the rest exist only in legend. His existence is said to have begun around the middle or end of the 7th century AD, and ended approximately in the middle of the 8th. The epithet "Lao" added at the end of his name means "old".

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Li Tieguai, his signifying attribute is a gourd issuing vapours. His healing powers were so great that his spirit was called once to heaven and spent so much time there that one of his disciples thought he had died so burned his body. When his spirit returned, lacking a body to inhabit he was able to animate the body of a deceased beggar. Since then he had to walk with the beggar's crutch and gained the nickname Iron Cane Li. He symbolizes living without stress, "not sweating the small stuff", as he was the supreme swordsman and healer but lived out his life in a crippled beggar's body and it never affected his outlook on life.

Li Tieguai is sometimes said to be the most ancient and popular of the Eight Immortals of the Taoist pantheon. He is sometimes described as irascible and ill-tempered, but also benevolent to the poor, sick and the needy, whose suffering he alleviates with special medicine from his gourd. He is often portrayed as an ugly old man with dirty face, scraggy beard, and messy hair held by a golden band. He walks with the aid of an iron crutch and often has a gourd slung over his shoulder or held in his hand. He often is depicted as a clown figure who descends to earth in the form of a beggar who uses his power to fight for the oppressed and needy.

One extra mysterious note. The owner of this set at the time it was submitted is listed as 後藤一乗, which is Goto Ichijo (alternatively Goto Kazunori). I don't know if there is any connection back to the Goto family but at the very least it is quite an amazing coincidence. A man with this name is definitely born to sword fittings.

Otsuki Minayama Oki Mitokoromono OshigataOtsuki Minayama Oki Mitokoromono Juyo

Juyo Mitokoromono

Appointed on the 11th of October, 2001

Yūsen no zu soroi-kanagu (遊仙図揃金具) – Set of fittings depicting the subjet yūsen, i.e. “Going on a Journey through the Land of the Immortal Saints”)


Minayama Ōki (皆山応起) was a student of Ōtsuki Mitsuoki (大月光興). His first name was Naoichi (直市) and he lived at Kyōto´s Nijō (二条). First he signed his name Ōki with the characters (応興) and switched later to (応起) and he used among others the pseudonyms Reibokudō (麗 墨堂) and Chikuhōdō (竹鳳堂).

This set of fittings consisting of fuchigashira, kozuka, and menuki is signed with above mentioned the early mei (応興) of Ōki. It is of shibuichi and worked in usunikubori and the artist made use of various iroe colorations. It is an accurately worked and finished set.

When you take a closer look at the carvings you learn that they don´t show yet the fluid application of the chisel as seen on his later works signed (応起). Instead, the carving is crisp and you can feel down to every detail and stroke of the chisel along both kebori and katakiribori. This earnestness and straightforwardness makes for the special charm of this work. It is a masterpiece that is not only precious because of its workmanship but also because it bears the early signature of the artist.

Closing Notes

My final note. This set exudes so much charm, and in this there is a sheen to the metal and how it reflects in the light. This is very noticeable in his construction of the kozuka which has an appearance of silk sheen in the construction of the ground. The texture under your fingers feels fantastic, and finally the colors are impossible to nail in photography as they are done in a palette of grays and golds. To appreciate the beauty, color and sheen of these items, honestly you must take yourself and play with under the light to truly appreciate. These photos are only an approximation of the beauty of this set. It is very difficult to obtain the ranking of Juyo for a set of mitokoromono so I hope you will find this one as impressive as the NBTHK and I did as I did.