Ko-Mino Menuki

period:Mid to Late Muromachi (ca. 1540)
designation:NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu
mei:mumei
dimensions:5.2cm x 1.3cm x 0.55cm, 5.2cm x 1.25cm x 0.55cm
price:$8,000

With regards goldsmiths of the Muromachi period, including those engaged in the making of sword fittings who directly inherited the makes and styles developed in the Kamakura period, the Ko-Mino group of artists expressed themselves by means of the most traditional techniques of metalwork, establishing the so-called Mino art which rendered novelty to the field of decorative metalwork. NBTHK English Token Bijutsu

Though the history of sword manufacture and sword fittings manufacture are inevitably intertwined, we have a more clear picture historically about swords. We can go back to the Heian period 1,000 years ago and make some clear statements about swords, but going back this far for fittings, we have nothing much to say about the makers or schools and very little evidence of their work has survived the way swords have.

In practice, some of the earliest groups that we talk about are Ezo, Ko-Mino, and Ko-Goto in the Muromachi period though some Ezo may be earlier than this. There are others rooted in the Muromachi period as well, such as Katchushi, Onin, Hoan, Nobuie, etc. The rise of these fittings makers coincides with the heightened state of war in Japan and the need to provide weapons for large armies. This era of war would see Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and finally Tokugawa Ieyasu complete the unification of Japan. The Goto school would go on to become the house makers for the Shoguns and their work held in highest regard. When it's not possible to make a determination to one of these early groups, sometimes because of style, sometimes because of skill, a more generic attribution of “Ko-Kinko” is used (old goldworker).

Ko-Mino is said to root itself in the Nanbokucho period, though we don't see much that exists from these times anymore from any maker. The center of manufacture is supposed to be Kagano village in Ogaki district and Goto Yujo is said to have arisen from this group of Ko-Mino artists. They are thought to have been armorers as well as specialist makers of sword fittings in their early history. Though this would have necessitated the use of iron in armor, their sword fittings are somewhat exclusively made in soft metal, most frequently shakudo ground with gold, silver, copper, shibuichi, and yamagane ornamentation.

There is some relationship between the Ko-Mino makers and Goto Yujo the founder of the Goto line, we see common themes and influence from their work. None of these schools signed their work which is what in particular makes it difficult to say much beyond the school attributions and then the history associated with the Goto school. There are some Mino works that are signed, but these are thought to be Momoyama or possibly early Edo work so tend to be broken out from Ko-Mino.

Ko-Mino as a style features deep carving and when it comes to menuki, a domed profile is common and often shows openwork. In side profile Ko-Mino work should have some clear three dimensionality from the deep carving and dome shape. The most common themes are floral and nature themes, though sometimes we see dragons and shishi which would go on to become very typical Goto styles through Yujo. The attribution to Ko-Mino usually covers work from the middle Muromachi period up until the Momoyama period which is about as far as we can go back reasonably and make a determination of who made the item.

Goldsmiths of the Ko-Mino school lived in Mino Province in the Muromachi and into the Momoyama period. They developed the unique techniques with which they worked on their ingenious designs.

The Mino-style engraving known for deep chisel cuts makes the design in high releif stand out remarkably raised. The depth of cuts and the powerful lines are the most conspicuous traits of Mino-bori. Most of the designs used are of autumn flowers and plants that grow in the wild presented in the typically Japanese taste .

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Their love for nature and the plants cherished by it vividly repre· sents the Japanese sentiment deeply r oted in the worship of mother nature. NBTHK English Token Bijutsu

Today the Ko-Mino school is held in high regard with 116 items having passed Juyo. Due to their relative age as sword fittings, they are not so frequently found.

Ko-Mino Menuki

These are fantastic quality menuki from the mid to late Muromachi. The NBTHK has ranked them Tokubetsu Hozon which is a bit harder for fittings to get than it is for swords. They are made of solid gold and are relatively thickly made and in outstanding condition with a highly complicated form. Ko-Mino is known for its openwork and the depth of carving, as well as a domed appearance and these hit all the Ko-Mino checkboxes. They weigh 6 grams and 5.75 grams respectively and are large even for the period. Combining all of this openwork and the and the coiling of the dragons is very difficult to manufacture. The high resolution photos are blown up by a factor of about 10 and there is still clear fine detail appearing in the texture of the face and the skin of the feet. This work is very detailed and skilled and I think compares very well to those at the Juyo level. I have a soft spot for Ko-Mino in general and love the what this school accomplishes, especially in the theme of dragons. This is the best set I have ever had.

The theme is of two dragons, a male (with the sword in his tail) and a female intertwined and seemingly fighting for the hoshu-no-tama (宝珠の玉) that is held by the female. Dragons are usually portrayed in menuki as a male and female, with one clutching the hoshu-no-tama and another having the sword in its tail. Who exactly holds the hoshu may vary.

While the theme of dragons chasing some sort of jewel goes back to Chinese artforms, the sword in the tail is a Japanese thing which is supposed to reflect the origin story of the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, one of the three Imperial Treasures of Japan. This sword was said to have been discovered in the tail of a dragon Yamata no Orochi. This dragon was killed by the god Susanoo and the sword was afterwards presented to the goddess Ameratsu at her shrine. This sword was later used by the warrior Yamato Takeru 2,000 years ago.

These gifts came in handy when Yamato Takeru was lured onto an open grassland during a hunting expedition by a treacherous warlord. The lord had fiery arrows loosed to ignite the grass and trap Yamato Takeru in the field so that he would burn to death. He also killed the warrior's horse to prevent his escape. Desperately, Yamato Takeru used the Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi to cut back the grass and remove fuel from the fire, but in doing so, he discovered that the sword enabled him to control the wind and cause it to move in the direction of his swing. Taking advantage of this magic, Yamato Takeru used his other gift, fire strikers, to enlarge the fire in the direction of the lord and his men, and he used the winds controlled by the sword to sweep the blaze toward them. In triumph, Yamato Takeru renamed the sword Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (lit. "Grasscutter Sword") to commemorate his narrow escape and victory. Eventually, Yamato Takeru married and later fell in battle with a monster,after ignoring his wife's advice to take the sword with him. Wikipedia

This legendary sword is supposed to remain still at the Atsuta shrine though it is not available for display and is said last to have been seen during the Edo period and since then the priests of the shine have refused to show the sword, so it's not clear now if it truly exists or not. Like most good stories...

The hoshu-no-tama clutched by dragons is known as the Pearl of Wisdom on the Chinese mainland and often the dragons are chasing it rather than holding it. In Japanese legend it is a jewel that was said to lie under the sea and to be guarded by dragons. It is alternately translated as the “Jewel of Good Luck” or as a “Treasure Orb“. If you were able to capture it, you would be able to make a wish. In modern times, this legend was used as the basis for the popular Japanese anime Dragonball.