Large Ezo menuki with design of Shishi. Mid Muromachi period (c. 1450). Made of shibuichi (alloy of silver and copper) and covered with a gold wash. The gilding is slightly worn as is usual with Ezo work. There are no pins on the back for mounting. You occasionally see Ezo menuki with pins fitted to the back, however these are almost always a later (Edo period) addition.
Ezo fittings are similar in style to Tachi-Kanagushi, Ko-Mino and Ko-Goto work. It was thought that the style originated in northern Japan, however later research points to Kyoto in Yamashiro Province. These menuki reflect the second phase in the development of the Ezo tradition, dominated by animal motifs with little sukashi carving. Prior to this time Ezo artists focused on plants and flowers, often with insects as part of the design.
The shishi in this case are full of life with robust features and billowing manes and tails. Their faces are well rendered and have a focused, intense expression.
Custom fitted box with hakagaki attributing this set to Ezo. A translation is as follows:
朧銀地 – oborogin ji (literally) hazy silver ground (= Shibuichi-ji)
容彫 – katachi-bori, carved with the motif in full
色繪 – iroe
無銘 – mumei
蝦夷 – Ezo
時代室町 – jidai: Muromachi
昭和三十六年春 – Showa san-ju-roku nen haru, spring in 1961 (date of appraisal)
公 x Ko+something (appraiser’s name)
It is likely that the appraisers name is Kenichi Kokubo 小 窪, author of the fittings book Zabo Tansen (1974).
For more information about Ezo fittings please see Tom Buttweiler’s excellent articles in Bushido Magazine (Vol 1, No. 1 and Vol 1, No 2). I also understand that Boris Markhasin has also written an article about Ezo fittings in one of the KTK publications, however I haven’t managed to find a copy of this yet.
Menuki 1 (Left)
Length 4.6 cm
Width 2.0 cm
Menuki 2 (Right)
Length 4.5 cm
Width 2.0 cm
Curran Campbell, USA
Peter Klein, USA
Shishi (or Jishi) is translated as “lion” but it can also refer to a deer or dog with magical powers to repel evil spirits. A pair of shishi traditionally stand guard outside the gates of Japanese Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. As guardians outside the shrine gate, one Shishi is depicted with its mouth open (to scare off demons) and the other with its mouth closed (to shelter and keep in the good spirits). Another traditional explanation for the open/closed mouth relates to Ah and Un (“Ah” is the first letter in the Japanese alphabet and “Un” is the last). The combination is said to symbolically represent birth and death. This mythical and magical beast was probably introduced to Japan from China via Korea in the 6th or 7th century AD, during the same period as Buddhism’s transmission to Japan, for the Japanese Shishi combines elements of both the Korean “Koma-inu” (Korean dog) and Chinese “Kara-shishi” (Chinese lion).