Shoami Katsuyoshi (1832-1908) was born in Mimasaka province (present-day Okayama Prefecture), the son of Nakagawa Katsutsugu. From the age of thirteen he followed his father's occupation as a maker of sword fittings. The family were retainers of the Tsuyama Matsudaira clan. Katsuyoshi went to Edo at the age of seventeen, returning home a year later to marry into the Shoami family of Mimasaka, and continued his sword fittings career in the family, later to sign as the ninth generation of that school. The Shoami had branches throughout Japan from the Muromachi period onward specializing in sword guards. They influenced many well-known Edo-period schools, although Shoami work itself can vary much in design and technique. The two characters for "ami" in the name Shoami are adopted from the name of the Buddha Amida, implying that his work involved a spiritual element.
Some of Shoami Katsuyoshi's work is reminiscent of that of Goto Ichijo, under whom his brother Nakagawa Issho had studied. In his later years, he moved to Kyoto, where his son Nakagawa Yoshizane (1859-1915) also worked in the latter part of his life.
Among his better known published pieces are the silver incense burner in the collection of the Sannenzaka Museum in Kyoto, which also has some of his rare sword fittings; the great silver caparisoned model elephant in the Khalili Collection; and the iron gourd with leaves, insects, birds, and reptiles in copper alloys with gold inlaid details in the British Museum (see Metalwork, Part 1, vol. 2 of Meiji no takara Treasures of Imperial Japan: The Nasser D. Kahalili Collection of Japanese Art, Oliver Impey and Malcolm Fairley, gen. eds. [London: The Kibo Foundation, 1994], no. 3; and Lawrence Smith, Victor Harris and Timothy Clark, Japanese Art: Masterpieces in the British Museum [London: Oxford University Press, 1990], no. 152, p. 162 or www.britishmuseum.org accession no. 1969.0210.1). There exist works by Katsuyoshi that have leaves and wildlife included in the design, many of them of iron patinated in his characteristic method, such as this and the British Museum pieces, and employing colored copper and bronze with expanses of gilding.
Following the 1871 prohibition against wearing swords, Shoami turned to the manufacture of other items of metal, including tea ceremony equipment, small personal accessories, and ornaments. For further examples of his work, see Arts of East and West from World Expositions: 1855-1900: Paris, Vienna and Chicago (Tokyo: NHK, NHK Promotions Co., Ltd. and Nihon keizai shinbunsha Ltd., 2004), p. 121. He became particularly skillful at gold and silver togidashi inlay, and was to receive prizes at both domestic and international expositions: a gold medal at the New Orleans exposition in 1885, a silver medal at the Paris exposition in 1889 and a gold medal at the St. Louis exposition in 1904. In the 1904 Handbook of Japan published for the St. Louis fair, he was pleased to note that some of his work had been acquired by the Imperial Household.