Yokoya Soju

period:Mid Edo (ca. 1700)
designation:NBTHK Hozon Tosogu
mei:Soju (kao) - 宗寿 (花押)
price:$6,000

It is impossible to understand kodogu making in Edo period Japan without analyzing the Yokoya school and its heady influence on all manufacture of this time.

There is one broad generalization in soft metalwork manufacture during this period, between iebori (house carving) and machibori (town carving). Iebori is represented chiefly by the Goto school and to a lesser extent Yoshioka and the other artists who directly served the Shogun and Japanese nobility of the time. Their work tended to be devoted to consistency with established principles and themes. For instance, the Goto school worked in gold and shakudo and stayed with this traditionally. It was not until the rise of the machibori artisans that there was some back pressure to broaden the scope of material and themes they worked with.

The machibori artisans had no such restrictions in theme or style or material, as their clients included the ever more wealthy merchant class, and as such, novelty became one of their selling points. Ever more interesting designs and styles grew out of this desire to serve this marketplace.

Yokoya Soyo

At the juncture between iebori and machibori in the early half of the 1600s, is the smith Yokoya Soyo (横谷宗与). Soyo was a Goto trained metalworker under Goto Kenjo, the 7th mainline Goto master. He is also documented as the student of Goto Injo, the first generation of the Shichiroemon line of Goto. We can now look back and say this was the founding of the Yokoya school but at the time, I'm sure he began as a minor but talented artisan under the overall umbrella of the Goto school while he developed his reputation and skill set. He took training as well from Goto Injo, and his own son Yokoya Somin took training under the 10th Goto master Renjo. Soyo is said to have also used the names Moritsugu, Morinobu and Tomokane.

With the death of Goto Sokujo, the 8th master, Soyo's responsibilities within the Goto family increased and he maintained presence in Edo, Kyoto and Kanazawa while working for the Shogunate. He received a rather large salary that allowed him to support a group of craftsmen.

Soyo was employed by the bakufu during the Shoho era (1644-1648) for the relative high salary of 220 hyo (俵 ~ 88 koku) and a stipend for the support of 18 persons. Markus Sesko, Kinko Kodogu

Soyo almost never signed his work, but in the Yokoya generations that followed him, current head masters authenticated work of their predecessors. So we have unsigned work that retains authentication papers from Somin or the second generation Soyo, as well as their retention of his individual style which allows us to identify his handicraft.

The generations that followed him used the names Soyo and Somin in an even/odd manner, with the 2nd mainline master being called Somin (横谷宗珉), the 3rd master is the 2nd generation Soyo (note the kanji difference 横谷宗與), and the 4th master is the 2nd generation Somin (横谷宗珉).

Somin

Tokubetsu Juyo Somin

Yokoya Somin

The first generation Somin who worked around 1700 is a master with no peer. His names also include Tomotsune, Tonan, Chojiro (early life) and Jihei (end of life). He like his father worked for the Shogunate. However, he resigned his post in 1696 when he was 27 years old, it seems in order to break free of the restrictions of the Goto school. What he did is something very rare in Japanese traditional arts: he was a true iconoclast and out of his vision came the entire machibori movement.

Somin demonstrates his skill everywhere in the execution of his work, the choice of subject matter and in its presentation... in all of which he broke new ground. In one of his innovations, he became fond of turning the natural horizontal window of the kozuka into a difficult to use vertical window. In doing so he introduced new challenges for himself and a new perspective for the art world. This has been copied by other masters; in some cases direct copies of his work have passed Juyo on their own.

What Somin left behind for us is almost unprecedented for soft metal workers in how it has been received by later experts. There are four Tokubetsu Juyo, 15 Juyo Bijutsuhin, and four Juyo Bunkazai works by this master. In order to understand how impressive that is, there are only 20 artists who have qualified for either Juyo Bijutsuhin or Juyo Bunkazai. Only Kaneie has more Jubi than Somin and only Yasuchika has more Jubun than Somin. Somin's count of these two top level rankings are more than double Goto Ichijo and Kano Natsuo combined. Hopefully that provides some context to the importance of Yokoya Somin in the current day.

Somin

Tokubetsu Juyo Somin

Somin, while he almost singlehandedly reinvented tosogu craftsmanship in terms of style and presentation, seems to have retained a very conservative application of yasurime and mei on his items. These are always oriented top left to bottom right for yasurime and his mei should always be accompanied by a kao (monogram). In the example shown here, the face of the shishi is washed in silver, and this is something that you can also see in the examples of the Omori school who had many great smiths itself and was a branch of Yokoya. You can see two examples of the silver washed faces of the subjects on my site under Omori Mitsutoki and Omori Terumitsu. I haven't read about this before, these are just notes I've been making as I have personally encountered works of these master artists.

Somin is particularly famous for katakiribori which involves deeply carving relief into the ground instead of building on top of it. In this style he remains the greatest master of all time. His work with shishi draws inspiration from his Goto roots but transforms the subject matter into something original. His natural expression of horses is also held in great esteem.

Yokoya Soju

Yokoya Somin had two excellent students, Yokoya Soju (横谷宗寿) and Soju's son Tomosada (友貞). It is thought that Soju had something of a brother relationship with Somin and was likely a student of Soyo at the time of Soyo's death and then worked with the senior pupil Somin afterwards.

Somin had no children of his own and ended up handing the Yokoya school to the son of Soju by adopting Tomosada. Tomosada then took on the name Soyo as the third master of the school, though he signed differently to his grandfather Soyo.

Not so long after this, in 1733, Somin died (aged 64). The 2nd generation Soyo took over the school. In turn the second Soyo's first son Tomotsugu would become the fourth mainline master of the Yokoya school and on this occasion took the name Somin, becoming the second generation of that name. The fourth master died somewhat early and left no legitimate heir, whereupon the Yokoya primary line blurs out with others claiming heritage but nothing certainly factual to rely on historically. These claims go out to a 7th generation Somin.

Somin's student Terumasa shared the same first character as the students who inherited from Soju (his name was Terukiyo 英精) and would go on to be the founder of the Omori school. This in turn was home to Teruhide (Eishu) one of the great masters of the Edo period. Masatsugu, a student of Soyo, and (mostly) Naomasa, a student of Somin, would found the great Yanagawa school. The Yanagawa student Masatsugu would himself found the illustrious Ishiguro school, and as well the excellent Sano school would branch from Yanagawa via Sano Naoyoshi. Soyo's student Sootsu would found the Iwamoto school which would lead to Konkan, another of the great names of the Edo period. This accounts for about half of the top schools of the Edo period, and all of this magnificence lies at the feet of Somin, and his breakaway vision.

Soju Fuchigashira

Yokoya Soju as mentioned above is the brother, or maybe brother in law, of Somin. It's very hard to get a handle on his work style as very few examples exist. It is likely that he was working under Somin as a craftsman and as a result most of his efforts went into Somin's work. There are two Juyo tosogu by Soju but both of these look like current period Goto work. That may indicate his time period, as a near contemporary of Somin and maybe date before Somin's attempts to reinvigorate the soft metal working arts.

These two Juyo are made in shakudo (with gold highlights on one), and feature family mon. Both of these koshirae according to the NBTHK were made for the Uesugi daimyo family, one of which features their mon, and the other of which is kiri mon (this shows up frequently on the Uesugi properties). So, all of these works together in stark shakudo with just small gold highlights seem to point to Soju's preferred aesthetic. By the way, the most famous of the Uesugi clan was Uesugi Kenshin, one of the most powerful daimyo of the Muromachi period.

Kenshin is famed for his honourable conduct, his military expertise, a long-standing rivalry with Takeda Shingen, his numerous campaigns to restore order in the Kantō region as the Kanto Kanrei, and his belief in the Buddhist god of war — Bishamonten. In fact, many of his followers and others believed him to be the Avatar of Bishamonten, and called Kenshin "God of War". Wikipedia

What is special about this fuchigashira compared to these other works is that it is filled with the distinct Yokoya style pioneered by Somin. It shows that Soju was indeed a highly skilled master and accompanied Somin in breaking free from the standard Goto styles. These horses are filled with life and would have paired beautifully with Somin's horses on kozuka as shown above. One can perhaps imagine (let me have my dream) that they were made together as a set by the smiths working side by side.

In trying to research other examples of his work, they are very few and far between. I did however find out that this fuchigashira is one of the reference items for his work, as it appears in the Kinko Meikan on page 422. This book is basically the bible for tosogu artisan signatures. So, if you wanted a textbook example of one of the great Yokoya artisan's works, this one is such by definition.

I guarantee Tokubetsu Hozon papers if someone wants to upgrade these. Often times Japanese dealers just get Hozon on even the upper level tosogu just to save a bit of money on the papers. This would be an example of this practice. The papers date to the first month of 2015, which means they had only one chance to be submitted to Juyo (I bought them during the submission time frame in 2016, so I know they were not attempted in 2016). (Friend points out to me here that since you need Tokubetsu Hozon to submit to Juyo, that it has Hozon is proof it was never tried at Juyo yet). Given the rarity of the work of this maker, his relationship with Somin and the particular subject and style of this work, I think it is worth a shot at Juyo. However, it is very, very difficult for any tosogu to pass so high and anyone making the submission should be sure to note this.

Papers aside, this work attracted me from far away as I could see the lively horses standing out and I thought immediately it was work of Somin as a result. For most people, getting their hands on Somin is far above what can be accomplished in terms of cost and availability. Soju work being even more rare, there probably won't be any chances to acquire such a thing again for anyone. As representative work of Yokoya school, and featured in one of the top Japanese reference books, as well as just being beautiful, Soju's art will surely give a collector something to be happy with and get pleasure from for a very long time.

This fuchigashira is presented in a fine quality custom made box.