Two 2nd generation Akasaka tsuba

The first is an example of the fairly common musashi plains motif with grass and a goose in flight.

7.48 cm H x 0.67 cm T

The goose is at the left and outlines the kozuka ana. The smaller kogai ana is a typical trait of the second generation Tadamasa. The long curved lines on the right are the grass and the irregular figures at 2:00 are the grass seed heads. The scale of the circle at the top of the seppa dai suggests a dew drop, but the moon over the plain does figure in some variations of the musashino motif.

This is a relatively small, thick guard and has the typical fully rounded rim. It has a Sasano hakogaki attributing it to the second generation and rating it kessaku.

Here are some variations on this design by Tadamasa from the literature:

Atributed to the sandai in Tosogu Yuhin Zufu above, but to the nidai directly by Sasano. See Ekhard Kremmers comments and additional images at the bottom of this post.

Here’s a composite image for easy comparison.

The last guard is the most different. In the first three the figure at ~7:00 appears to be a blade of grass bending to the left. I’m not sure if the fourth is just a further abstraction of that or if it represents some other idea. Musashino is an enduring tsuba motif, and not only within the Akasaka workers.

Akasaka tsuba are known for relatively abstract designs, and the next example tends to confound most viewers on first look.

7.93 cm H x 0.56 cm T

The asymmetrical and in this case “free form” hitsuana are again typical as is the shape of the full maru mimi. The seppa dai here is a bit more pointed toward the top. This guard is accompanied by an NBTHK certificate attributing it to the second generation and describing the motif as a mortar and pestle (suribachi and surikogi). The rim of the mortar bowl is the ellipse at the lower right and the base is merged with the rim. The curvilinear motive at the top is probably a cord attached to the pestle.

The mortar and pestle are associated with the preparation of medicine and food. It also figures in the monkey and crab legend Saru Kani Kassen which is a bit convoluted but does not end well for the monkey.

Another example is here, with a different reading of the same motif.

These are the only two examples of this design I can think of, regardless of school. As Dr. Torigoye notes it is a modern idea, one of many created in iron by the Akasaka masters.

Update: Additional information on the third musashino tsuba above has been provided by Eckhard Kremers. The following images are his and are much more revealing than the above. Please see his full text regarding this tsuba in the comments section below.

7.9 cm H x 0.7 cm T. provided by Ekhard Kremers
Akasaka nidai Tadamasa. provided by Ekhard Kremers

While the caption of the photo from Sasano-sensei’s study group Tosogu Yuhin Zufu attributes the tsuba to the sandai, his personal attribution as shown above is to the second generation.

Interestingly, the walls of the sukashi show clear chisel marks rather than filing, which Eckard points out in his comment below indicates an early date.

provided by Ekhard Kremers
provided by Ekhard Kremers
provided by Ekhard Kremers

The composition of this example is also different from the first three examples, introducing a rotation of the elements as demonstrated here:

provided by Ekhard Kremers

Taken together as Eckhard writes in the comments below, this is likely the earliest example of the group.

Additional Update: I took another look at inside the sukashi of the first tsuba:

Inside view of the first tsuba at the top of this post. Photo Tsubakansho

There’s a bit more rust on this example, but looking all around under magnification I see no signs of a chiseled finish to the walls. I also don’t see file marks, so unknown if this is scraped or filed to finish.

For completeness, here is a look at the hakogaki for that first tsuba from the top of the post:

photo Tsubakansho

Hopefully jumping back to the third and then the first tsuba in the post is not too confusing.

6 thoughts on “Two 2nd generation Akasaka tsuba”

  1. Hi Jim.

    I have always liked this motif… always… as clearly did the samurai… a masterpiece rating is no small thing indeed..

    Are you getting lots of responses from your posting.. .for me it is great and I would think others as well….

    The nation suffers… does the world…..

    Be well, Stuart



  2. Dear Jim,

    with quite some interest i‘ve read your article about the different Musashino designs. Maybe you remember the tsuba you are describing as the most abstract one is from my collection. I have had the chance to purchase it from dear Sasano sensei about one year before him passing away. Please find attached some photos of this particular piece.

    1.) Sasano had attributed this tsuba to the 2nd master. Please see the backside of the original tray on which he is writing: Akasaka Nidai Tadamasa and Musashino Sukashi. I think he is right in his attribution. The tsuba is quite big H.: 79,0 mm, seppa dai 7,0 mm, the Kogai hitsu is somewhat narrow or squeezed, pointing to the early period of Akasaka tsuba.

    2.) The bad picture from Tosogu Yuhin Zufu attributing this tsuba to the third Akasaka master Tadatora is showing the loose rust i.e. old grid inside the sukashi. Interestingly enough the Sukashi is done only by chisel work without later finishing file work. This is clearly visible after cleaning away the rust or dirt layers inside the sukashi. Please look at the photos of my ppt-presentation about Akasaka tsuba done at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, September 2016. One can clearly see the traces of the tagane or chisel. It is one of the very few pieces that show this excellent chisel work without later filing traces. This is also a hint for attribution to the early period of the workshop or school.

    3.) Please see the design of composition or construction of this very tsuba. No other piece of the similar design is showing that kind of exact construction.The construction is turned at an angle of about 10 degrees in clockwise rotation. Of course slight irregularities occur by transforming the design or marking lines into the iron plate sukashi. I would guess the other pieces more or less are made after this one without understanding the initial idea. Nevertheless those are good Akasaka Tsuba. Within my collection I have got other pieces also from the former Sasano collection showing the same kind of rotation but with different motive or design (4 matsukawa-bishi).

    All together I am convinced that this is a rather early Akasaka Tsuba not later than 1630 – 50. Still the 2nd master is a very good attribution.

    Best regards


    © for the photos and text is by me. Of course you can use the pictures when mentioning my name.



  3. Although the post focusses on the first TSUBA the second one also gains attention. I agree with the mortar and pestel interpretation, the third element running to the left side is most probably a kitchen knife or maybe an OROSHIKI, a grater. I’m very fond of the rotated rectangular composition which gives the design an bold touch.



    1. Thanks Florian, I had not thought of a grater. If a knife, it could also fit with the gardening motif interpretation. I also lean toward the mortar and pestle though. Something else I didn’t mention in the post is that there is a very distinct punch mark on the pestle just below the kogai ana.

      The musashi plains did wind up taking over the post.


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