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.

So who was Robert H. Rucker?

The Met’s Mito Tokugawa Goto collection mentioned in the earlier unboxing post lists its provenance as “Ex. coll.: Robert H. Rucker, New York.”  So who was he?  A quick check of my library and online searches turned up the following. 

George Cameron Stone mentions him in his acknowledgements in A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor: in All Countries and in All Times saying  “Mr. Robert H. Rucker who has placed his unequaled knowledge of things Japanese at my disposal and who has given me valuable suggestions and most helpful criticism.” 

In his introduction to the 1999 Dover edition of Stone, the Met’s Donald LaRocca mentions “Robert H. Rucker (d. 1944), a noted collector of Japanese arms.”

While not mentioned often today, Rucker’s 1924 catalog of the Goda Collection shown above takes a deep dive for the time into terminology, materials, methods and a survey of schools. In his introduction to that book Bashford Dean calls Rucker “a learned and judicious amateur in this field.”

The Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum says  “There is now in press a catalogue of our Japanese sword furniture (Goda Collection, 1917), the manuscript of which was prepared by Robert Hamilton Rucker and embodies his researches of the past decade.”

An even less well known book with contributions by Rucker is the exhibition catalog shown above. Each guard is illustrated and described, and while the paper has not held up well, the images are actual photographic prints that are tipped in and are in perfect condition with excellent resolution. I will probably post some later (update – one added below).

According to Financier, New York, Vol 108 , (Sept 9, 1916) and The Commercial and Financial Chronicle, vol 103 “Mr. Rucker is a certified public accountant at 27 Pine Street, New York City.”

Club Women of New York, Vol 6, Parts 1910 – 1911 Lists Robert Hamilton Rucker, 119 East 19th St. as treasurer of the National Arts Club, Gramercy Park, Manhattan.

Asia and the Americans, Volume 21, part 1 reports that “Robert Hamilton Rucker has traveled extensively in the Orient for the purpose of studying eastern art and religions.”

Dean’s “learned and judicious amateur” assessment seems spot on and intended in the most positive sense of the term.

What I have not found yet is anything that suggests when and where Rucker might have acquired his collection of Goto fittings. The accession date to the museum is 1945, and LaRocca records his date of death as 1944. Given the published dates of his professional activities early in the century he would presumably not have been a young man during the second world war. Daimyo families were sometimes inclined by necessity to part with family treasures in the early decades of the last century and that may be the case here. I will update as any additional information comes to light.

Update – a request for the closeup view of the giant Shingen tsuba toward the middle of the display board:

Half of a page from the NY Armor and Arms club exhibition catalog

Update – Thanks to Pete K. for mentioning that Rucker worked with Alexander Mosle on his collection catalogs. Pete once had a copy of the 1909 Berlin catalog with extensive handwritten annotations by Rucker.

A Goto unboxing at the Met

Thanks to Markus Sesko, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The New York Token Kai, a group of fifty or so sword students were invited to a lecture and viewing at the museum on the swords of Echizen Yasutsugu and the Shimosaka school.

Visitors to the Japanese arms gallery at the Met will be familiar with the Mito Tokugawa collection of Goto kodogu on permanent display. There are mitokoromono from each of the first 15 mainline generations along with additional kozuka and menuki. (Ex. coll. Robert H. Rucker, NY, Rogers Fund, 1945).

Seldom (never?) seen on display are the lacquer boxes that originally housed the collection. Markus retrieved these from deep storage and brought them out for study along with the above mentioned swords.

Markus looks on as Edward Hunter removes the lid of the outer storage box
Setting aside the outer storage box. The lacquer inner box is wrapped in furoshiki.
Unwrapping the box holding the menuki collection
The inner box lid removed. The box for the mitokoromono collection is on the right.
The top tray holding the Goto origami is removed and unwrapped.
The set of drawers is removed and one opened. The name of each generation is written in lacquer.
Menuki from the last five generations remaining in storage inside the box.
The wrappers containing the origami

See also from Markus Sesko:

Further details on the attribution of the various items and some photos can be found by searching on “Goto” at the Met Museum site: