The Joi and Toshinaga Problems
   by Robert E. Haynes (2002)

Since arriving in Japan (March 1970), John Harding and I have been having an ongoing debate concerning the problem of the 'real' vs. the usual Joi fittings one sees. Harding has shown me several pieces he has collected since coming to Japan that he feels are the genuine article. One tsuba of iron plate, one of shakudo, and one of copper. I am sorry to say that I think they are all the usual types we have seen in the past and that none are superior to the 'average' Joi fitting. The copper example is illustrated in the Tagane no Hana, (Nara Sansaku vol.) which is not paginated, almost in the centre. It is an oval ishime ground plate with Hotei riding on an ox being held by a boy skipping rope with the halter. The reverse has a boy by a stream viewing the moon. It is in relief carving and inlay as well as in shishiai bori (sunk relief carving). Granted it is well done and the figures are well drawn and carved, but I see nothing that could not have been done by the best of the Ichinomiya school.

On a second visit to Dr. Katsuya we were shown a tsuba that was the finest work by or with a Joi signature I have seen. Very fine detail and good iron plate (for him), it may be a real one (if there is such a thing). It was signed Issando Joi with the gold inlay Nagaharu seal. I also saw several `Joi' at the Noda collection. I visited Mr. Noda Kiyoju in May 1970 but all were of the same type of Joi one always sees. Some were variations on the standard work and some had no relationship to each other at all! I am not sure any are real but it would seem that the signature in tensho style, with the square jagged appearance may have the best chance of being genuine, but even that style has little consistency as to quality of work and style of signature. Sometimes the work is better than the signature, and vice versa. As far as I am concerned I have not, up to this time, seen a real Joi fitting. (I might add that in the 25 years since this was written I STILL have not seen what I think is a genuine Joi fitting. If he was the GREAT master they say, equal to Toshinaga, Yasuchika, and Shozui, then where is the work to prove this? I would very much like to hear comments on this problem from other students, you also John H..)

As long as we are into this we might as well go into the Toshinaga Problem. Who was Toshinaga and what did his REAL fittings look like? In fuchi-kashira we see many pieces and a fair majority seem to be real. In tsuba we see many and almost none seem to be real, why? John Harding has a tsuba of iron plate with subject of two men and some sukashi signed Toshinaga. He also has a tsuba of the same plate and subject signed by one of the Tetsugendo school, which is not as good work. Is the Toshinaga example, which has a weak and poor signature, genuine because the work is superior to the Tetsugendo example? (Since this was written I have seen a fuchi-kashira of iron plate in a private European collection, with the signature of Toshinaga, that is certainly the finest example of the work of this master outside of Japan.) In the case of the very famous Toshinaga tsuba with the gold inlay signature and the subject of Omori Hikoshichi, I saw this first in Tokyo (around 1960) and was able to hold it for close examination. I saw it again in Osaka and was able to study it after a ten year period. I felt that in both cases the plate iron is very young and not of the quality that one should find in the work of Toshinaga. The inlay is no better than good Mito work and on the whole this is NOT the exceptional tsuba it has always been thought to be. It certainly is not good enough to have made the reputation of this artist. Ogura Soemon said that this tsuba was a secret copy by Natsuo and that the original does not exist. I will go along with the 'copy' idea because that would explain the young plate and quality of the inlay, but Natsuo? I have never felt he was even this good! Perhaps it is by one of the great Mito masters such as Unno Shomin, who could do far better work than this piece. In all events the truth of the fame and workmanship of Toshinaga has not been explained.

Well there you have these two problems, both without answers, perhaps the readers will have both comments and solutions to the puzzle.


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