I was recently asked if there is a modern ratings system for fittings makers along the lines of Fujishiro’s saijo-saku through chu-saku ranking of swordsmiths. The answer to that question is yes.
I hadn’t thought of it for a long time, but Mr. Senichiro Masumoto and Mr. Kenichi Kokubo rate the artists recorded in their 1974 classic, Kinko Meikan. I found my translation by John Yumoto and Alan Harvie (1982-1988) and set out to refresh my memory. I’ve never been a major list enthusiast, but I made some notes and decided to put them here.
From Yumoto and Harvie: “Each artist in this book is rated according to his skill and contribution to the field of fitting making as “MEIJIN,” or super master; “MEIKO,” or great master; “JOKO,” or excellent artist; or “RYOKO,” or good artist.”
I made two passes through the translation looking for points of interest. I think that I captured all of the 4 star makers, but omissions are possible. Most of the 3 stars are listed below, but many among the bottom half are omitted. By far the majority of the entries in the book are the one star kinko artists, and I mostly picked out the tsubako listed among them instead.
The top of the heap is pretty much as expected. Recall that this is a meikan, so people like the early Goto masters who did not leave behind signed work are left out of the discussion.
Meijin (super master)
Kaneie, Nobuie, Umetada Myoju, Hirata Hikozo, Hayashi Matashichi, Hirata Hikoshiro Donin, Yasuchika, Toshinaga, Joi, Somin, Goto Kenjo, Goto Ichijo, Natsuo
Most of the 4 star talent above have left works rated as juyo bunkazai/bijutsuhin. Hikozo and Natsuo have not, but most fittings enthusiasts would agree with their inclusion among the top rank. Kenjo also has not, although Yujo and Joshin have. Kenjo may be serving as a sort of family representative here in addition to his own merits.
Meiko (great master)
Shodai Yamakichibei, Nakai Tomotsune, Goto Eijo, Goto Teijo, Goto Tsujo, Shozui, Hamano Noriyuki, Ishiguro Masatsune, Omori Teruhide, Iwamoto Konkan, Otsuki Mitsuoki, Ichinomiya Nagatsune, Okamoto Nasoshige, Tanaka Kiyotoshi, Jochiku, Tsu Jinpo, Unno Shomin
Hamano school founder Shozui has left us a jubi rated tsuba, but he necessarily ranks below the Nara sansaku including the genius Yasuchika with an astounding 12 jubi/jubu works (if I kept count).
Nakai Tomotsune is certainly a leading light from Choshu, but it was surprising to see him ranked this high. Hoan is listed in the Kinko Meikan, but is not rated and so does not appear here. Among the three stars are of course the founders of the important machibori kinko groups.
Joko (excellent artist)
Nidai Yamakichibei, nidai Jingo, Hayashi Tohachi , Hayashi Shigemitsu, Kamiyoshi Fukanobu, Sadahiro, Hazama, Kunitomo Teiei, Umetada Shichizaemon Shigeyoshi, Shoami Denbei, Shoami Masanori, Akasaka Tadashige, Goto Renjo, Yanagawa Naomasa, Someya Tomonobu, Tanaka Kiyoshige, Funada Ikkin, Araki Tomei, Haruaki Hogen, Washida Mitsutoki
It is interesting that Goto Renjo (10th gen) is given two stars where Goto Teijo (9th) and Tsujo (11th) get three. Renjo seems to enjoy higher status today. Most of the later Goto generations and some of the sideline families are also in this rank. Also interesting is that Shigemitsu gets held back a grade from his position following Matashichi. Sadahiro gets pride of place in the rank above most of his tsubako brethren that follow.
Ryoko (good artist)
Sandai Yamakichibei, sandai Jingo, Nishigaki Kanpei, Misumi Koji, Saotome Iesada, Kinai, Fukui Jizaemon, Toda Hikozaemon, Kishu Teimei, Iyo Shoami Morikuni, Shoami Shigenobu, Bizen Suruga, Tetsujin, Hirado Kunishige, Jakushi, Sekibun, Naokatsu, Norisuke
There are some solid iron smiths in here, but also quite a range in quality. It’s a broad category. It’s surprising to see Misumi Koji and Sekibun down at the bottom. There’s even a translator’s note next to Sekibun reading “should be higher.” We all have our preferences and even our axes to grind.
Again, there are many one and two star kinko artists that I’ve glossed over out of necessity and interest.
There are inclusions, omissions and inconsistencies enough to puzzle over, but I think I can set them aside to be revisited in another 20 years or so. There’s nothing like a good question – thanks for listing.