Yanigata are interesting items associated with kodogu. At first glance they might appear to be molds for casting fittings, but they are made in positive relief. Another thought might be that they are forms for raising a thin sheet of metal, but they have much more detail than that would require and are much too fragile to survive it.

8.77 cm L x 2.19 cm W kurikara ryu

This example is from a kozuka with the dragon and ken motif frequently found in Goto work. As can be seen here, larger yanigata sometimes have distorted lines that would not make them useful for creating copies.

Detail view of the above.

There is a lot of detail to be found in the nanako, dragon scales, etc., but some of the low points are a bit indistinct and this is a clue as to how these were made. As far as we know, yanigata are replicas of finished kodogu that were retained by their makers for reference, perhaps for study by contemporary and later generation students.

A completed fitting would be pressed into a pliable clay mixture called nengata to form a negative impression. When dried the resulting mesugata would be used as a mold to cast the yanigata from pine resin, possibly mixed with a solvent or other materials. A release agent of some sort was likely required for one or both steps to get things to come apart cleanly. I would guess that the bent lines and cracks in the above example formed during the cooling of the resin, but I have not tried this process at home. Does anyone know more about the materials and methods?

reverse of the above

The back sides show evidence of kneading, sometimes retaining fingerprints. A friend mentioned imagining that holding the tsuka of an old koshirae is like shaking hands with the original owner. These fingerprints come another step closer.

The backside of the yanigata isn’t formed from contact with the original clay mold though, so it would presumably come from working with the resin while still in a plastic state to get it into a practical shape. The finished item is fairly light weight and tapping a yanigata makes a sound and feel similar to a low fired clay piece.

I picked up a group of 20 of these, and only one has (indecipherable) writing on the back. However, there are published examples that are clearly labeled with the names of the makers which would be very handy things to have. Books on the Goto family have the same set of photos of the various tools, weights and seals they used. They also include this valuable reference material: yanigata facsimiles of work by the first four generations:


Having a full set of these on hand would have been very useful when the main branch family got together to kantei unsigned examples of their ancestors’ work and write origami. The detailed work visible is close to what was present in the originals. Oshigata work reasonably well for recording what a tsuba looked like, but are not much help with small fittings.

Another example set from the literature is published in the Ishikawa Prefectural History Museum’s 1997 catalog Katchû, Abumi, Tôsôgu, Kaga-han Gi to Dezain .

From the Mizuno family library (image courtesy G. Robson)

And these are from the Osaka Museum of History catalog of the Katsuya Shunichi collection:


Note that some of these appear to be partially wrapped in paper or perhaps painted with clay slip (likely the former based on the peeling one shown at top right and bottom left) . I don’t know if this is just for ease of writing and reading or if it also is intended to keep the edges from chipping. There are quite a few more in the Osaka catalog, but the images are smaller.

Another dragon kozuka from my group. Detail view follows.

7.62 cm W x 2.20 cm W

Without any cues from the materials used, the backsides of menuki, etc., it is hard to say what group made many of these. It does put the focus on the details of the carving.

The lighter colored material is likely residue from the clay mold. It may have been left for visual contrast.

the reverse
7.19 cm W x 2.93 cm H

There is no sign of a frame around this pair of dragons so it is presumably from a very large menuki. Other than the pair of Kojo menuki illustrated near the top, the ones illustrated and the members of this group consist of singles. I don’t know if usually only one was made, or if the pair tended to get separated.

the reverse
3.61 cm W x 2.55 cm H

A nicely detailed menuki with inscription.

The reverse of the above, reading unknown
4.81 cm W x 2.96 cm H

The resin used with these monkeys is quite a bit shinier and finer textured than the rest. It seems closer to a straight pine resin which makes me wonder if the others might be mixed with some granular material. The apparent strings or twisted wire appearing on left and center bottom of this one is also different. They wouldn’t be part of the actual menuki. Presumably it was part of the process of creating the yanigata . This one also has some residual mold or mold release material.


The backside of the monkeys also looks different. The shape and radius of the curves matches my thumbnail surprisingly well. I don’t see that on the others.

4.80 cm W x 2.32 cm H Fuchi with chickens wall and foliage
3.40 cm W X 2.03 cm H

This fuchi is a bit on the rough side. A couple of pieces that I’m not including here have very little detail. I don’t know if that is because the condition has deteriorated or if the original technique was lacking. While this is a simple process to describe, I’m sure that there were many ways for things to go wrong resulting in a poor yanigata.

1.87 cm W x 3.12 cm H

A tanto-sized puppy motif kashira.

2.64 cm W x 3.60 cm H

The impression here is quite deep but does not show signs of openings on the sides for shitodome, so perhaps it’s a kojiri rather than a kashira. It looks like the original work wasn’t of the highest quality. A fingerprint is visible on the left side wall.

4.30 cm W x 2.20 cm H
the reverse

A section from a small kozuka with a horse motif. The backside shows pressing with some sort of tool.

Sketchbooks and oshigata preserve valuable information, but yanigata are a step very much closer to being there. In the case of the Goto family I suspect that they were entirely for in house use. I wonder if machibori workers ever traded these or used them as samples to show prospective customers (although customers might not be impressed by those wavy kozuka).

Certainly there are sets of saya nuri “paint chips” that appear to be customer samples. Even some of the drawn and colored wooden forms of fittings including tsuba seem likely to be light weight, inexpensive “salesman samples.”


I haven’t seen any yanigata that appear to be taken from tsuba, but I did run across some illustrations recently of what appeared to be wet-molded paper copies pulled from tsuba – a sort of 3-D oshigata. They did not preserve the kind of detail seen here, though. Producing a full-tsuba yanigata may not have been technically practical, but capturing sections of decoration as done with some of the fuchi seems possible.

The small photos of these in the backs of kodogu books have always been intriguing, so it is exciting to get to examine some in person. Let me know if anyone has more information to share.

“Proto-Kamakura” Dragons

8.93 cm H x 8.67 cm W x 0.35 cm M x 0.37 cm SD

A large iron guard with a carving of a rather abstracted dragon’s body topped by a strange head with a mane and a single dot of brass for the eye’s pupil. The design on the back is the same. Similar guards in the literature are split between attributions to Kamakura-bori and Katchushi. They seem to me to have more to do with the Kamakura style, although there is an example with a Saotome signature that I will introduce later on.

A nearly identical example to the first with the addition of a kozuka ana. The shape of the ana looks early whether original or not. Note that in both examples parts of the dragon at the top and bottom of the nakago ana would be covered by the seppa.

Described in the text as Kamakura tsuba with dragon motif

Again, very similar. This time the kogai ana interrupts the design but the seppa dai does not. The bodies of all of these do look like the more abstract style of dragon horimono seen on swords, but the heads are unusual.

The most “primitive” style attributed to Kamakura-bori are those guards carved with concentric rings and sometimes waribite. It seems like the type of carving here could be a pictorial elaboration of that style, but both are still quite different from the carving approach and motifs seen in typical Kamakura style tsuba. It’s hard to say if these predate the classic pieces, are a sideline style or something unrelated. I have seen both this dragon style of guard and the ring types attributed to Kamakura in recent NBTHK hozon kanteisho.

Also described as Kamakura, dragon motif

It’s a bit hard to see what’s going on in the original photo, but it appears to be a variation on the theme. Two shinchu ten zogan eyes are visible here. The iron plates seem similar in these pieces and is probably within the range of what was used in more conventional Kamakura work. Relatively few of the latter have refined and smoothly finished surfaces. More are a bit more rustic and similar to these dragon guards. Many are rough and dull.

8.4 cm W x 0.3 cm T

Lot 2 from the first Walter Compton sale at Christies, attributed to “Kamakura style” where other more conventional examples in the same sale were called Kamakura-bori. The raised rim appears original and is a katchushi-like feature. The nakago ana appears to have been flipped at least once. It was published the other way around in the catalog.

Attributed to Katchushi

Another variation with a more dragon like head and two eyes. Hard to say if the mokko shape is original. It looks like it impinges on the carving in some spots, so perhaps a later modification. The rim looks slightly raised. The flame-like carving near the bottom is a new addition.

Also described as Katchushi

The head here looks more like a bird, or at least something with a beak. The rest of the workmanship appears consistent with the examples labeled Kamakura elsewhere.

Saotome Ienori

It’s difficult to make out in the original photo, but it appears to be similar to the ones we started with. The signature is even harder to see, but it would interesting to know if it is original to the piece. We do see the occasional older guard with added Saotome or Myochin signature in addition to the legitimate examples. Haynes lists a Saotome Ienori at H 01798 working ca. 1800. That would seem at odds with the apparent age of these tsuba, so it would be interesting to see this one in person. Most authors date these to late Muromachi to Momoyama, although as usual there is little to back this up.

Another even more unusual variation. This is pretty far from work in the mainstream Kamakurabori style. The “flame like” features reappear.

And maybe a much later copy of the same idea. The plate and carving are quite different and not particularly attractive.

So, are these proto-Kamakura tsuba? They have more in common with that style than they do with work typically assigned to the katchushi category. Even if there is no relationship with the main body of Kamakura-bori work, the term “proto-Kamakura” is a useful enough tag in discussion of these carved early tsuba.

Update: Reader David Stiles provided photos of an interesting tsuba with attribution to Higo by the NBTHK. The motif is described as rain dragon, written with the more complex character for dragon.

We know from Tom Helm’s article referenced in the previous post that the Higo swordsmith Enju Kunihide made a guard in the “proto Kamakura” style with ring and waribite/drawer pull carving.


In this case the rim is quite different than the other examples above and does have something of a Jingo look to it. Overall it also appears to be a bit later. I wonder if as with Tom’s example there might one of these with a Higo signature.

I don’t have photographs of the reverse sides of the guards from the literature, but the first guard shown has the dragon in the same orientation on both sides as this one does.