Kyo-Kinko Menuki

period:Edo (ca. 1600-1800)
designation:NBTHK Hozon Tosogu
omote: 3.9cm x 1.65cm x 0.6cm
ura:3.8cm x 1.6cm x 0.55cm
price:$2000 -on consignment-

Kyo-Kinko is an attribution used to designate the gold workers who lived and work around the traditional capital of Japan, Kyoto in Yamashiro province. There was a market here for the nobility and the circle of power around the Emperor. Over the centuries many prestigious schools of sword making were located in Kyoto: Sanjo, Gojo, Awataguchi, Ayanokoji, Rai, Hasebe and Nobukuni in particular in the koto period. In the Shinto period this was continued by several schools, most conspicuously the Umetada school.

The Umetada craftsmen made top quality swords, and also made fittings and are regarded in the top echelon for their iron tsuba. They were also the craftsmen who made suriage at the request of the Honami and inlaid Honami attributions into gold signatures on shortened blades. The other primary important residents of Kyoto working in gold were the Goto family, who set the primary styles of traditional manufacture for iebori which were made in gold and shakudo and aimed squarely at the top ranking families and nobleman of the late Muromachi and Edo periods in Japan.

Various other smaller schools and also important craftsmen came to Kyoto and worked in similar styles to the above two schools. When it is difficult to attribute to an individual or to a school, but the work is clearly from the Kyoto region in the Edo period, the NBTHK will attribute to Kyo-Kinko. This designation is a superset of all Kyoto craftsmen and does include the above two groups, but if the designation could certainly be made to Goto or Umetada then those designations would be given instead of Kyo-Kinko.

Japanese Shi-shi

Shi-shi are Japanese styled lions which inherit from Chinese imperial sculpture, which in turn arrived by way of India about 2000 years ago. The purpose of these lions traditional was to protect the dharma of the Emperor as well as to symbolize the power of the Imperial House.

It's important to bear in mind that lions as a species once roamed Europe and Central Asia, and their reduction in habitat almost entirely to Africa is a result of human impact on the environment over millennia. Ancient Greek stories of Herakles defeating the Nemean Lion came about because there actually were Lions in Europe for instance, and Indian iconography of Lions similarly comes with familiarity with lions in Asia. There are in fact still lions in India today by a subspecies called the Asiatic lion - panthera leo persica though the population is down to about 500 animals and is critically endangered.

Since the introduction of the lion symbolism from Indian culture especially through Buddhist symbolism, statues of guardian lions have traditionally stood in front of Chinese Imperial palaces, Imperial tombs, government offices, temples, and the homes of government officials and the wealthy, from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), and were believed to have powerful mythic protective benefits. They are also used in other artistic contexts, for example on door-knockers, and in pottery. Pairs of guardian lion statues are still common decorative and symbolic elements at the entrances to restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and other structures, with one sitting on each side of the entrance, in China and in other places around the world where the Chinese people have immigrated and settled, especially in local Chinatowns. Wikipedia

Shi-shi arrived in Japan during the Heian period from China, and are one of the main styles accepted for traditional craftsmanship in kozuka, kogai and menuki. For these we usually see either dragons (ryu) or shi-shi, and the material should only be gold or shakudo. Higher quality and more valuable manufacture will be in solid gold. They are held to the the masculine king of the animals so project power, and sometimes shi-shi are styled along with peony flowers, which are considered the queen of plants. As such together a single shi-shi along with a peony flower makes a joint theme, but mostly we see shi-shi styled without peony and frequently in pairs.

The [stone guardian] lions are usually depicted in pairs. When used as statuary the pair would consist of a male leaning his paw upon an embroidered ball (in imperial contexts, representing supremacy over the world) and a female restraining a playful cub that is on its back (representing nurture). Wikipedia

The name shi-shi actually comes directly from the Chinese name for stone lion sculptures seen on imperial buildings. In turn Chinese had previously adopted the Persian name for Lion shiar, which shares a common root with Sanskrit sinh, all meaning Lion. Today Singh, the traditional name chosen by Sikhs derives from this root as does the Thai word Singha (also a popular beer in Thailand).

Kyo-Kinko Menuki

These are high quality works from the Kyoto region of the middle Edo period. I think a bit earlier rather than later from the quality of the work and the thickness of the gold. They are papered to Hozon, but I think they will pass Tokubetsu Hozon. Sometimes works are just put to Hozon to get an attribution and save money, as with kodogu the price of the papers can add up to a large percentage of the value.

They are made in solid gold so were for someone important who could afford the manufacture of such items. I think the style of these is a bit different from mainline Goto work so that explains the attribution to Kyo-Kinko instead of Goto.

There is a story about shi-shi in Japanese folklore, in that the mother guaranteed the ferocity of the cubs by pushing them over a cliff. Those that survived the fall would be the strongest. There are other cultural associations in Japan, such as the open mouth of the male lion represents the intake breath of life, and the open mouth of the female represents the exhale breath of death. Alternatively if one mouth is open, and the other is closed, they harmonize with the sounds “Ah” and “N” which are the first and last sounds in the Japanese alphabet. They then also symbolize birth and death, or beginning and ending, or to scare off evil spirits (open mouth) and to keep good spirits in (closed mouth).

They're an enjoyable set, and can be kept in a box for pleasure or else used as part of a mounting project for a high quality blade.