Goto Joshin

period:Late Muromachi (ca. 1540)
designation:NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu
kozuka dimensions:9.6cm x 1.4cm
kogai dimensions:22.3cm x 1.3cm

The mainline Shirobei branch of the Goto family stands by itself in the history of soft metal fittings. Its founder is Yujo, who was likely born in Mino in 1440 and assimilated the various traditions of the time. He worked for the Ashikaga shogun Yoshimasa, and developed a typical style which he handed down to his son Sojo and would form the basis for house carving – iebori – for the rulers of Japan.

Goto Joshin was born as Shirobei Yoshihisa in Eisho 9 (1512). He was the first son of Goto Sojo, the 2nd main line master. He worked for the 12th and 13th Ashikaga shoguns Yoshiaru and Yoshiteru, and received the rank of Hogen. Joshin was also a bushi and fought on the battlefield, where he died in 1562 at the age of 51. His son would take up the name Kojo and continue the line as the 4th mainline master. Joshin's work is a bit different from the generations coming before and after him, and is usually deeply carved and sometimes in large proportions.

The first three generations of the main line, Yujo, Sojo, and Joshin took their names after entering the priesthood and did not sign their work. We generally do not see signatures until the later generations of this school.

The work of the third master, Joshin (Yoshihisa), has been very much appreciated on account of its high relief. He was the son of Sojo, and lived from 1511-1562. The work is far bolder than that of his predecessors. He is known to have signed some of his work. Alexander Mosle

Though Mosle claimed some of his work was signed, there are not any signatures that have been accepted by the NBTHK for Joshin. The habit of signing work occasionally is something that comes several generations after Joshin, and it was not until the middle of the Goto line that work was consistently signed. The reason for this is generally because the main line of Goto were court artists, making objects for Shoguns and high ranking persons. Signing your name to an item is a mark of pride, and though today we think of brands having prominent labels for display, this was not at all the thought when making items for the military aristocracy.

The work of the first four Goto artists is restricted to the small fittings, kogai, kozuka and menuki, sometimes in sets of mitokoromono. Popular themes included dragons and shishi, which reflected themes of power and majesty and well suited the kinds of top level blades on which they would be placed. We tend to see these themes in gold on kozuka and kogai, placed on black shakudo nanako ground. We collectively refer to them as Ko-Goto, which is a term referred to for pre-Momoyama Goto work. This term I have seen used with a bit of flexibility, either to denote the first three generations, or the first five. The fifth generation Tokujo however is the first to make tsuba, and also he developed chemical plating processes that were used in place of the mechanical riveting processes of the older generations. As well his work is aligned with the Momoyama period, and so I think this is the logical place to separate the groups.

When it is remembered that the punching tool was guided solely by the hand and eye,and that three or more blows of the mallet had to be struck for every dot, some idea may be formed of the patience and accuracy needed to produce these tiny protuberances in perfectly straight lines at exactly equal intervals and of absolutely uniform size, so that a magnifying glass can scarcely detect any variation in their order and size. Nanako disposed in straight parallel lines has always ranked at the head of this kind of work. F. Brinkley, Japan and China

Early Goto work has a particular kind of hallmark that can be found on the mokko (the lobe at the end of the kogai). These were formed with a straight edge of some sort, so that the bend makes a straight fold in the "waist" of the lobe. The NBTHK states that these are closely associated with Joshin, though sometimes he made lobes with a more rounded shape.

The most characteristic about the shape of this kogai is the slightly A at modelling of the mokko (lobed) shape at the bottom of the upper portion. Such a finish is pertinent to exclusively to Joshin among early Goto.

The work of the early Goto masters was something that was reserved for daimyo, shoguns and the imperial court, and the value of this work was beyond the means of an average bushi to have for their sword. Old books from the 1900s in the English language frequently state that the work of the Goto masters is rare and almost non-existent outside of Japan where they have been preciously kept and handed down through generations. With the rise in collecting of Japanese samurai artifacts worldwide and the ability for collectors to find items on the internet, we have become the first generation to have unrestricted access to these wonderful objects.

Goto Joshin Futatokoromono

This futatokoromono (things for two places) is attributed directly to Goto Joshin by the NBTHK. They are ranked Tokubetsu Hozon which is a lot harder for fittings to achieve than it is for swords. These are in excellent condition in spite of signs showing that they were mounted and in regular use.

The material is a jet black shakudo (an alloy of gold, arsenic and copper which takes its color after patination). It is very austere and beautiful in material. The subject matter of busy bees though is in contrast light-hearted on first examination and on deeper examination.

These bees are combined with deer's antlers in a subject called Houroku (蜂鹿). The character 蜂 means “bee” and can be pronounced as hachi or hou, and roku is a reading of 鹿 which means “deer”. So together when read as Horoku it is a homonym for “salary”. This kind of wordplay is common in Japanese as the various characters being substituted by sound give rise to these double meanings.

This theme then is used on gifts for young men entering the professional world, on receiving their first salary. So these would have been made and given to a young samurai or bushi when he assumed his rank and received his first swords as a professional warrior.

On further examination if you count the bees you will find that there appear to be 16 of them, 8 on each element. The Japanese word for the number 8 is hachi (八) which again is wordplay since the word hachi also means bee. Look a bit closer though and Goto Joshin played a little joke by adding one more bee which is mostly hidden though looking directly at the viewer and is easily missed in the first count.

The word roku for deer is also how we would pronounce the number six (六). So there are five deer antlers, or go roku in Japanese which sounds like you're counting five, six. Three of the bees are configured to also make it look like there is a sixth roku, or a roku roku, but this seems to be another little joke like with the 17th bee. If you count the prongs on the horns you should also get the number 17, one prong for every bee.

Overall it seems a rather happy subject and theme and I found to be quite amusing given the rather serious nature of so many things around swords. This light heartedness gives a little bit of insight into the times and that not everything was always humorless.

This set is deeply carved as would be expected for Joshin, and the straight fold in the mokko is no doubt one of the reasons why this set was directly attributed to Joshin rather than Ko-Goto as a subschool.

Work by Joshin is unusual and hard to come by. Because it is so old and made in soft materials it's often quite worn. This set I think is in very nice condition for its age and the unusual subject matter and light hearted nature make it an excellent choice for a collector of fittings.

This futatokoromono comes along with a custom box which is pictured below.