Ichijo and precision

Goto Ichijo is a well known giant in the field of tosogu. Recently one of my clients purchased a kozuka of what appears to be simple design, but under magnification all kinds of brilliant details come out. When you magnify weaker work it looks sloppy and melted. When you magnify Ichijo’s work it reveals more things to enjoy.

Rather than focus on the artwork on the front, what I would like to have a closer look at, is his signature and the treatment of the back of this kozuka.

(Note, ironically I had a measurement error in this post previously, I’ve updated the post with corrected measurements.)

Details details details

I feel like Ichijo in his signature shows off the incredible level of control and patience he possessed. It’s true that we see this with a lot of Edo period artists, that signatures become ornate and decorative, but what Ichijo demonstrates is extreme control and hand eye coordination. Also there are some other small hidden messages in this kozuka. At first we just notice a quiet presentation and typically understated Goto Ichijo beauty.

Now pause for a moment and look at the relationship of signature to the crane. They take generally the same shape in the same position. I don’t think it’s by accident. I think he deliberately fashioned one against the other. If you examine quickly you will miss it. If you pause and contemplate and study the work (remember ordinarily it would be in your hands, you can’t see both sides at the same time), you will notice it. And when you do it makes you smile.

Now have another close look at the crane, and the area under his feet. From the naked eye it looks like some roughness in the surface but it’s Ichijo’s design to create bubbles. Those bubbles are coming out of mud. When you put some weight on mud this is what happens, bubbles come up around the area. We know it’s mud because if you look there is a footprint left by the crane in the ground. It looks obvious here but those toeprints are 1 millimeter long. The width is about a tenth of a millimeter. Yet, in this space, he has clearly left the impression of claws and toe joints and weight of the crane.


Now let’s turn to the signature which is what I wanted to look at.

Pause for a moment and consider what he is doing here. That’s a centimeter scale superimposed. He’s making parallel lines by hand with a chisel that are 2 millimeters apart. Exactly how wide they need to be to fit the characters of his mei.

Look closer. The red bar is one quarter of one millimeter.

That is the width of the chisel marks he is making and they are uniformly wide. This illustrates precise pressure and control. And when we look at the right hand character he placed a vertical line 0.03 millimeters … three one hundredths of a millimeter, in a parallel line.

To the careful eye, Ichijo is communicating, he is saying, “This is what I can do if I want.” It tells you everything he’s done is a decision and there is no limit to how precise he can be.

The end points of the strokes in his characters are terminating halfway through a line that is only 0.1 mm wide as well.

In the topmost character he has made it flow out of structure in the metal and what’s more, his chisel work is on the order of size of the grains in the shibuichi.

And this one just blows my mind. He parks a character, abutting it up against one of the yasurime lines without any gap and without crossing in. This is down to 0.003 mm of precision.

It’s hard even to study this under a magnifier because of how your hands shake unless you have something mounted. But go and study the signature if you have an Ichijo and see what you can see.

Each stroke is beautiful on its own and is a microcosm that illustrates everything that is wonderful about this artist.