This style of minimalist centred motif on the kozuka is in the style of Sojo and was again used in the Momoyama period by Koujou 後藤光乗 and Tokujou 後藤徳乗. The 5th master is considered the last of the Ko Gotou masters. I Suspect this may be the work of, or from around the time of Koujou 徳乗, the 4th Gotou master.
The menuki also have a rich dark Shakudo ji and there is kin iroe on the body. The hidari menuki had gold eyes and the migi, shakudo. There are small differences in where the iroe is placed between the two menuki. The bees are in flight and look to have purpose. There are posts just visible on the back but they are hard to judge as the hollowed out area on the back on both menuki is filled with pitch or resin and the insides are impossible to see.
However, as “horoku” refers to a salary in rice or cash for a certain duty or job, in contrast to a regulated stipend, it is quite plausible that such kodogu (and other items with that motif) were once presented quasi in place of the actual payment. We can assume that an educated bushi at that time understood the play of words with “ho” and “roku” when he saw the animals.
Lastly, as a third and in my opinion, a more logical option, there is a Japanese proverb that goes 鹿の角を蜂が刺す or Shika no tsuno o hachi ga sasu. This translates to “A bee stings an antler”. That means an imperturbable character, which is “to be incapable of being upset or agitated”, or not easily excited. The bee stings the antler and there is no response from the antler. It remains stead fast. This proverb is aimed at the samurai, who must try and remain focused no matter how much pain he endures This explanation make prefect sense for the koshirae of a samurai and while not in accordance with the kanteisho, it is probably a more logical reading of the design.
Provenance: 日本刀装具美術館 – Nihon Tousougu Bijutsukan – Japan Sword Fittings Museum.
Kozuka: length 96mm, width 14mm.
Menuki: Hidari 左: 30mm x 18mm x 5mm. Migi 右: 29mm x 17mm x 5mm.
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