A kôgai that has passed through many hands

This time I want to introduce a very famous kôgai of Gotô Yujô (後藤祐乗, 1440-1512), namely the so-called “nuregarasu” (濡烏), which was not always called that way. But one thing at a time. First of all, it is today part of a futatokoromono set with menuki of the same motif which is attributed to the 7th Gotô-generation Kenjô (後藤顕乗, 1586-1663). Originally, the kôgai belonged to a kind of „triple set“ of kôgai owned by Ashikaga Yoshimasa (足利義政, 1436-1490, r. 1449-1473) for whom Yûjô worked. Basically we have two slightly differing provenances on this triple set, found namely in the work “Gotô-ke jûnana-dai” (後藤家十七代) and the Maeda chronicles “Kichôhin-mokuroku” (貴重品目録). The information quoted in the former goes back to a document called “Higashiyama-dono gyobutsu-soshi Yûjô-horimono no oboe” (東山殿御物祖師祐乗彫物之覚, about “Memories on Carvings of Yûjô, the Ancestor of [making] Things for Lord Higashiyama [i.e. Ashikaga Yoshimasa]”). Therein we read that Yoshimasa was treasuring three kôgai of Yûjô, one with the kuyô crest (九曜) motif, one with kari (雁, wild geese) motif, and one with crows by the water (mizugarasu, 水烏) motif. He did not part with them and after his death, they became hereditary treasures of the Ashikaga-shôgun family. However, the kuyô-kôgai was later given to Oda Akita Jônosuke Nobutada (織田秋田城之介信忠, 1557-1582) – Nobunaga´s son and heir – but destroyed by fire in Ôgaki Castle (大垣城) in Mino province. The 13th Ashikaga-shôgun Yoshiteru (足利義輝, 1536-1565, r. 1546-1565) placed the kari and the mizugarasu-kôgai in custody at the 4th Gotô-generation Kôjô (後藤光乗, 1529-1620). The Gotô family in turn sold them for 100 ryô to Akechi Mitsuhide (明智光秀, 1467-1568) who presented them to his lord Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga in turn gave them as a gift to Hideyoshi and Hideyoshi presented the mizugarasu-kôgai to Katô Kiyomasa (加藤清正, 1561-1611) to reward him for his achievements in battle. The kari-kôgai was left at the Toyotomi family but destroyed when Ôsaka fell in 1615. Being in the possession of Kiyomasa, the mizugarasu-kôgai was for whatever reason renamed to nuregarasu-kôgai (lit. “wet crow”) and eventually presented to Maeda Toshitsune (前田利常, 1594-1658).

The Maeda chronicles “Kichôhin-mokuroku” however say that all three kôgai in question were passed down within Yûjô´s successors and not within the Ashikaga family and that Gotô Kôjô sold them all to Akechi Mitsuhide. Mitsuhide in turn presented all three to Nobunaga who in turn presented the kuyô and the mizugarasu-kôgai to Hideyoshi. This document says that it was the kari-kôgai which was destroyed in Ôgaki Castle and the kuyô-kôgai which was destroyed at the fall of Ôsaka. And further we read that Hideyoshi did present the mizugarasu-kôgai to Katô Kiyomasa but that it went from him back to the Gotô family which eventually sold it to Maeda Toshitsune.


Picture 1: nuregarasu no zu futatokoromono (濡烏の図二所物), mumei, attributed to Gotô Yûjô, the matching menuki are attributed to Kenjô

It is also speculated that Nobunaga, who had a fondness for tea utensils, paintings and famous masterworks from all over the country, displayed a certain wish to own the famous three Yûjô-kôgai handed down within the Gotô family and that Akechi Mitsuhide, trying to fullfil this, eventually “convinced” Kôjô by offering the incredible sum of 100 ryô. Anyway, it is hard to say which of the transmission is correct as just the nuregarasu-kôgai is extant which is today preserved in the Maeda Ikutokukai (前田育徳会), the foundation established in 1926 for the management and preservation of the cultural heritage of the Maeda clan. As mentioned, it is assumed that the matching menuki are a work of Kenjô and further that the kôgai came into the possessions of the Maeda at Kenjô´s time as he and his cousin Kakujô (後藤覚乗, 1589-1656) worked on a biennial basis alternating between Kyōto, for the bakufu, and Kanazawa (金沢) for the Maeda, receiving a salary from the latter of 150 koku. There are namely many examples known where single famous pieces were completed by later Gotô masters to futatokoro or mitokoromono sets.

That means the nuregarasu-kôgai has passed through the hands of all the key figures of Momoyama and early Edo Japan. What a history-charged piece!


Picture 2 (from left to right): Gotô Yûjô, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, Oda Nobutada, Ashikaga Yoshiteru


Picture 3 (from left to right): Akechi Mitsuhide, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Katô Kiyomasa, Maeda Toshitsune

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