Gotō soroi-kanagu (後藤揃金具)

After roughly a century of peace (with the exception of the Shimabara Rebellion) and stability after the Tokugawa had taken over in 1600, the affluent Genroku era (元禄, 1688-1704) is considered as the Golden Age of the Edo period. However, this period did not last very long as financial miscalculations on part of the bakufu caused an abrupt inflation and much went so to speak downhill from there until rock bottom was hit in the mid to late 1800s. I don’t want to go into too much detail here but suffice to say, and focusing on the ruling bushi class, we see the divide between rich and poor growing gradually bigger from after Genroku onwards.

Well, the super rich were still very rich and when you were from a well-off and high-ranking samurai family, dealing with the issue of luxurious gifts and return-gifts was the order of the day. So apart from swords (I have talked about sword gifts on numerous occasions), what do you give a daimyō son as his wedding gift, e.g. when you are a daimyō or high-ranking hatamoto yourself? Well, from the second half of the 18th century onwards, it became fashionable, i.e. when you really had to leave an impression, to present a complete set of fittings of all Gotō generations. For example, one kozuka, kōgai, pair of menuki, or a full mitokoromono set by each and every one of the Gotō main line generations that existed up to that time. These sets are referred to as Gotō XX-dai soroi-kanagu (後藤◯◯代揃金具), with the XX referring to the then total number of main line generations of course. If its “just” kozuka, a full set may be referred to as Gotō jūrokudai soroi kozuka (後藤十六代揃小柄), as seen here.

This “fashion trend” among the rich goes hand in hand with the practice of the Gotō to issue origami appraisals/evaluations and add motif elements by an earlier generation to a newly made kozuka or kōgai, and signing so on the reverse, e.g. “Mon Teijō – Mitsutaka + kaō (紋程乗 光孝「花押」), which translates as “Motif element by Teijō, (attributed so by) Mitsutaka” (see picture above). Such signatures are referred to as kiwame-mei (極め銘) and newly made kozuka/kōgai with motif elements by an earlier generation to as kiwame-mono (極め物).

Now that all said, main reason for why I made this post is because I want to introduce one way of how such Gotō soroi-kanagu were stored (and presented). So, this is for those who have never seen such sets and I thought that might be interesting to share when I was handling a few of these boxes the other day at The Metropolitan Museum of Art whilst studying sword fittings. For those who have been to the Met by the way and checked out the Japanese arms and armor galleries, the Gotō sets that are on display are to a large extent stored in such boxes (now you know), But let’s start.

The picture below shows the large and heavy wooden box which is inscribed “Gotō-ke jūgodai menuki” (後藤家十五代目貫), “menuki by the 15 Gotō generations.” ↓

When you take off the lid, you see a nice little bundle which you pull out by the lateral purple cloth straps. ↓

Below is the inner chest taken out of the wooden box, still in its custom made cloth cover. ↓

That cloth cover taken off, a black-lacquer chest appears. ↓

Opening its lid, you see more cloth and opening the uppermost cover, another black-lacquer box appears which is labeled origami (折紙). ↓

As you have already guess, it is full of origami for each piece in the set. ↓

Under the origami box is another black-lacquer chest, wrapped in a separate piece of cloth. ↓

The lid of this chest is labeled “Iebori o-menuki” (家彫・御目貫) and taken off, it reveals three drawers with five sections each what brings us to the total of 15, i.e. one section for each Gotō generation, starting with the first generation Yūjõ (祐乗, 1440-1512) on top left (you have to read the names from right to left) and ending with the 15th generation Mitsuyoshi (光美, 1780-1843) aka Shinjō (真乗). ↓

And the picture below shows the whole ensemble. Can you put everything back together? 😉 These were just the menuki and The Metropolitan Museum of Art is in the possession of some more boxes with different sorts of Gotō fittings sets. Last but not least, an extravagant set is owned by the Sano Museum (see here). Their set consists of mitokoromono by the first 14 main line generations.

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