Yanigata are interesting items associated with kodogu. At first glance they might appear to be molds for casting fittings, but they are made in positive relief. Another thought might be that they are forms for raising a thin sheet of metal, but they have much more detail than that would require and are much too fragile to survive it.

8.77 cm L x 2.19 cm W kurikara ryu

This example is from a kozuka with the dragon and ken motif frequently found in Goto work. As can be seen here, larger yanigata sometimes have distorted lines that would not make them useful for creating copies.

Detail view of the above.

There is a lot of detail to be found in the nanako, dragon scales, etc., but some of the low points are a bit indistinct and this is a clue as to how these were made. As far as we know, yanigata are replicas of finished kodogu that were retained by their makers for reference, perhaps for study by contemporary and later generation students.

A completed fitting would be pressed into a pliable clay mixture called nengata to form a negative impression. When dried the resulting mesugata would be used as a mold to cast the yanigata from pine resin, possibly mixed with a solvent or other materials. A release agent of some sort was likely required for one or both steps to get things to come apart cleanly. I would guess that the bent lines and cracks in the above example formed during the cooling of the resin, but I have not tried this process at home. Does anyone know more about the materials and methods?

reverse of the above

The back sides show evidence of kneading, sometimes retaining fingerprints. A friend mentioned imagining that holding the tsuka of an old koshirae is like shaking hands with the original owner. These fingerprints come another step closer.

The backside of the yanigata isn’t formed from contact with the original clay mold though, so it would presumably come from working with the resin while still in a plastic state to get it into a practical shape. The finished item is fairly light weight and tapping a yanigata makes a sound and feel similar to a low fired clay piece.

I picked up a group of 20 of these, and only one has (indecipherable) writing on the back. However, there are published examples that are clearly labeled with the names of the makers which would be very handy things to have. Books on the Goto family have the same set of photos of the various tools, weights and seals they used. They also include this valuable reference material: yanigata facsimiles of work by the first four generations:


Having a full set of these on hand would have been very useful when the main branch family got together to kantei unsigned examples of their ancestors’ work and write origami. The detailed work visible is close to what was present in the originals. Oshigata work reasonably well for recording what a tsuba looked like, but are not much help with small fittings.

Another example set from the literature is published in the Ishikawa Prefectural History Museum’s 1997 catalog Katchû, Abumi, Tôsôgu, Kaga-han Gi to Dezain .

From the Mizuno family library (image courtesy G. Robson)

And these are from the Osaka Museum of History catalog of the Katsuya Shunichi collection:


Note that some of these appear to be partially wrapped in paper or perhaps painted with clay slip (likely the former based on the peeling one shown at top right and bottom left) . I don’t know if this is just for ease of writing and reading or if it also is intended to keep the edges from chipping. There are quite a few more in the Osaka catalog, but the images are smaller.

Another dragon kozuka from my group. Detail view follows.

7.62 cm W x 2.20 cm W

Without any cues from the materials used, the backsides of menuki, etc., it is hard to say what group made many of these. It does put the focus on the details of the carving.

The lighter colored material is likely residue from the clay mold. It may have been left for visual contrast.

the reverse
7.19 cm W x 2.93 cm H

There is no sign of a frame around this pair of dragons so it is presumably from a very large menuki. Other than the pair of Kojo menuki illustrated near the top, the ones illustrated and the members of this group consist of singles. I don’t know if usually only one was made, or if the pair tended to get separated.

the reverse
3.61 cm W x 2.55 cm H

A nicely detailed menuki with inscription.

The reverse of the above, reading unknown
4.81 cm W x 2.96 cm H

The resin used with these monkeys is quite a bit shinier and finer textured than the rest. It seems closer to a straight pine resin which makes me wonder if the others might be mixed with some granular material. The apparent strings or twisted wire appearing on left and center bottom of this one is also different. They wouldn’t be part of the actual menuki. Presumably it was part of the process of creating the yanigata . This one also has some residual mold or mold release material.


The backside of the monkeys also looks different. The shape and radius of the curves matches my thumbnail surprisingly well. I don’t see that on the others.

4.80 cm W x 2.32 cm H Fuchi with chickens wall and foliage
3.40 cm W X 2.03 cm H

This fuchi is a bit on the rough side. A couple of pieces that I’m not including here have very little detail. I don’t know if that is because the condition has deteriorated or if the original technique was lacking. While this is a simple process to describe, I’m sure that there were many ways for things to go wrong resulting in a poor yanigata.

1.87 cm W x 3.12 cm H

A tanto-sized puppy motif kashira.

2.64 cm W x 3.60 cm H

The impression here is quite deep but does not show signs of openings on the sides for shitodome, so perhaps it’s a kojiri rather than a kashira. It looks like the original work wasn’t of the highest quality. A fingerprint is visible on the left side wall.

4.30 cm W x 2.20 cm H
the reverse

A section from a small kozuka with a horse motif. The backside shows pressing with some sort of tool.

Sketchbooks and oshigata preserve valuable information, but yanigata are a step very much closer to being there. In the case of the Goto family I suspect that they were entirely for in house use. I wonder if machibori workers ever traded these or used them as samples to show prospective customers (although customers might not be impressed by those wavy kozuka).

Certainly there are sets of saya nuri “paint chips” that appear to be customer samples. Even some of the drawn and colored wooden forms of fittings including tsuba seem likely to be light weight, inexpensive “salesman samples.”


I haven’t seen any yanigata that appear to be taken from tsuba, but I did run across some illustrations recently of what appeared to be wet-molded paper copies pulled from tsuba – a sort of 3-D oshigata. They did not preserve the kind of detail seen here, though. Producing a full-tsuba yanigata may not have been technically practical, but capturing sections of decoration as done with some of the fuchi seems possible.

The small photos of these in the backs of kodogu books have always been intriguing, so it is exciting to get to examine some in person. Let me know if anyone has more information to share.

Rankings in the Kinko Meikan

I was recently asked if there is a modern ratings system for fittings makers along the lines of Fujishiro’s saijo-saku through chu-saku ranking of swordsmiths. The answer to that question is yes.

I hadn’t thought of it for a long time, but Mr. Senichiro Masumoto and Mr. Kenichi Kokubo rate the artists recorded in their 1974 classic, Kinko Meikan. I found my translation by John Yumoto and Alan Harvie (1982-1988) and set out to refresh my memory. I’ve never been a major list enthusiast, but I made some notes and decided to put them here.

From Yumoto and Harvie: “Each artist in this book is rated according to his skill and contribution to the field of fitting making as “MEIJIN,” or super master; “MEIKO,” or great master; “JOKO,” or excellent artist; or “RYOKO,” or good artist.”

I made two passes through the translation looking for points of interest. I think that I captured all of the 4 star makers, but omissions are possible. Most of the 3 stars are listed below, but many among the bottom half are omitted. By far the majority of the entries in the book are the one star kinko artists, and I mostly picked out the tsubako listed among them instead.

The top of the heap is pretty much as expected. Recall that this is a meikan, so people like the early Goto masters who did not leave behind signed work are left out of the discussion.

Meijin (super master)

Kaneie, Nobuie, Umetada Myoju, Hirata Hikozo, Hayashi Matashichi, Hirata Hikoshiro Donin, Yasuchika, Toshinaga, Joi,  Somin, Goto Kenjo, Goto Ichijo, Natsuo

Most of the 4 star talent above have left works rated as juyo bunkazai/bijutsuhin. Hikozo and Natsuo have not, but most fittings enthusiasts would agree with their inclusion among the top rank. Kenjo also has not, although Yujo and Joshin have. Kenjo may be serving as a sort of family representative here in addition to his own merits.

Meiko (great master)

Shodai Yamakichibei, Nakai Tomotsune, Goto Eijo, Goto Teijo, Goto Tsujo, Shozui, Hamano Noriyuki, Ishiguro Masatsune, Omori Teruhide, Iwamoto Konkan, Otsuki Mitsuoki, Ichinomiya Nagatsune, Okamoto Nasoshige, Tanaka Kiyotoshi, Jochiku, Tsu Jinpo,  Unno Shomin

Hamano school founder Shozui has left us a jubi rated tsuba, but he necessarily ranks below the Nara sansaku including the genius Yasuchika with an astounding 12 jubi/jubu works (if I kept count).

Nakai Tomotsune is certainly a leading light from Choshu, but it was surprising to see him ranked this high. Hoan is listed in the Kinko Meikan, but is not rated and so does not appear here. Among the three stars are of course the founders of the important machibori kinko groups.

Joko (excellent artist)

 Nidai Yamakichibei, nidai Jingo, Hayashi Tohachi , Hayashi Shigemitsu, Kamiyoshi Fukanobu, Sadahiro, Hazama, Kunitomo Teiei, Umetada Shichizaemon Shigeyoshi, Shoami Denbei, Shoami Masanori,  Akasaka Tadashige, Goto Renjo, Yanagawa Naomasa, Someya Tomonobu,  Tanaka Kiyoshige,  Funada Ikkin, Araki Tomei, Haruaki Hogen,  Washida Mitsutoki

It is interesting that Goto Renjo (10th gen) is given two stars where Goto Teijo (9th) and Tsujo (11th) get three. Renjo seems to enjoy higher status today. Most of the later Goto generations and some of the sideline families are also in this rank. Also interesting is that Shigemitsu gets held back a grade from his position following Matashichi. Sadahiro gets pride of place in the rank above most of his tsubako brethren that follow.

Ryoko (good artist)

Sandai Yamakichibei, sandai Jingo, Nishigaki Kanpei, Misumi Koji, Saotome Iesada, Kinai, Fukui Jizaemon, Toda Hikozaemon, Kishu Teimei, Iyo Shoami Morikuni, Shoami Shigenobu, Bizen Suruga, Tetsujin, Hirado Kunishige, Jakushi, Sekibun, Naokatsu, Norisuke

There are some solid iron smiths in here, but also quite a range in quality. It’s a broad category. It’s surprising to see Misumi Koji and Sekibun down at the bottom. There’s even a translator’s note next to Sekibun reading “should be higher.” We all have our preferences and even our axes to grind.

Again, there are many one and two star kinko artists that I’ve glossed over out of necessity and interest.

There are inclusions, omissions and inconsistencies enough to puzzle over, but I think I can set them aside to be revisited in another 20 years or so. There’s nothing like a good question – thanks for listing.

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.

Stamped Ko-Kinko Tsuba

Continuing on from the last post with a complex early yamagane tsuba featuring stamped decorations, here are three examples with the more typical single plate construction. The first is a small guard with many kokuin.

6.00 cm H x 5.30 cm W x 0.38 cm T
Yamagane with traces of black lacquer

The decoration includes kiri, kiku and hishi mon along with “star” or “snow flake” shaped stamps on a polished ground. Many are incompletely punched or partially erased. Despite the profuse decoration the effect is fairly subdued.

back side, upper left
back side, upper right

My guess is that the original surface was not entirely lacquered but was left in the low spots for contrast. This type of work is also seen in the late Edo period.

This guard has a hako gaki by Sasano-sensei attributing it to Ko-kinko. The inside of the box is below for those interested.

The next guard is much larger and in addition to stamps has colored metal inlay and overlay. The ground also has a tooled texture. While there is also urushi, the overall impression is anything but subdued.

8.87 cm H x 8.29 cm W x 0.38 cm T

Again there are kiku and kirimon with hanabishi and other flowers. Rather than the often seen description of “mon chirashi,” the kanteisho accompanying this guard describes the motif as bukan chirashi meaning something like scattered heraldry. The sukashi motif is not described, but is often identified as a shishi or sometimes as rising smoke.

the reverse
backside top

This decoration is most similar to the first guard. The plate is stamped and lacquer is applied and remains in the low spots. Here the kiku has a thin gold highlight added.

backside right

Here a similar kiku plus a sakura blossom with added gold. The flower at the right is inlaid and carved brass with a gold overlay.

front side top

Another is inlaid in a dark silver-colored alloy.

front top left
front top right

The hanabishi is also in inlaid and carved brass, with the gold overlay getting out of bounds.

At first glance the next guard looks like it could have carved decoration, but it appears to be stamped. I’m not sure about the motif, it looks like a nimbus or sunburst. Some mushrooms have gills that look somewhat like this. There’s also a biological resemblance there that I don’t think was known before the invention of the microscope…

8.45 cm H x 7.87 W x 0.36 cm T

This tsuba is the same shape as the one above and is almost the same size and thickness. The tagane around the nakago ana are also similar. I have to wonder if that’s just a coincidence or these could have come from the same workshop.

Looking closely at the stamping around the kozuka ana suggests that it is not a later addition. There is no trace of the “heads” of the stamping continuing around the seppa dai or any of the “tails” coming from the outer edge.

Front side kozuka ana

There are traces of the gold lacquer on top of the lead plug shown above suggesting that the coloring is a later addition or at least was refreshed at some time after the ana was filled.

Back side kozuka ana

The variegated colors on this plate are interesting and unusual. My guess is that they came with age rather than being the original patina.

Hollow Kagamishi Tsuba

Happy New Year! Here is is a rare and interesting sub-style of the so-called mirror maker tsuba. The motif is tortoise shell on the rim and lightning/thunder spirals on the web.

9.04 cm H x 9.15 cm W x 0.67 cm T mimi x 0.42 cm seppa dai
Yamagane with urushi. Kikko mon ni kaminari mon.

At first glance this looks like one of the tsuba made by taking two small bronze mirrors and mounting them back to back together after removing the central knobs and finishing off the rim with a fukurin. One of the nicer examples of that type is here:

A literal mirror made tsuba. Note the outline of the removed mounting knob in the center.

In this case the plates are pinned together within the seppa dai. I owned a smaller one of these that did not use pins, and was actually made up of three plates. The outer pieces were repurposed hand mirrors on either side of a central plain copper plate. In any multiplate construction a fukurin is usually applied to finish off the rim, and in the case of that tsuba it was all that kept the plates together. When handling that type of guard of course it feels like a completely solid piece despite some small gaps between the plates.

The first tsuba above though clearly sounds hollow in both the rim and the plate and feels extremely light. A look inside the nakago ana shows that there are two pieces there, but the construction is more complicated than that.

Inside the nakago ana

This section shown above has a loose fit typical of multiplate tsuba, but the rest is quite tight, but with no sign of solder, etc., used.

Microscope view inside the nakago ana

Before going deeper into the weeds on possible construction, here are the other examples of this type of guard I’ve found in the literature.

Yamagane ji 8.9 cm

Yamagane ji 9.4cm

Where noted, these are similarly sized yamagane tsuba that appear to share construction and decoration methods. It would be handy to examine them all, but since there’s only the one here I’ll continue with the details of that starting with the rim.

One side of the mimi
Same spot viewed from the other side

This isn’t the typical construction seen in either a fukurin or a dote mimi. The overlapping joint is at one edge of the rim, something like fitting a lid on a jar. At one point there is some damage to the rim that shows a bit more of what’s there:

Clearly the metal is very thin, and tapping on it makes a hollow sound about as you’d expect if there is nothing else in there.

The kikko mon tortoise shell pattern appears to be stamped in first, with the raised knobs being punched from the back afterward. The stamps are mostly well aligned, but there some that overlap.

microscope view
The bumps were presumably formed after the stamping was done. 70 on one side, 83 on the other.

On the side of the tsuba shown in the first photo at the top of the post it is hard to say if the rim is of one piece with the plate because there is a layer of lacquer all the way around.

But there is some working there that would suggest that it’s not one piece.

The central spiral designs also appear to be stamped showing variations in the strength of the hit, overlap and rotation. That the spirals are cut off at the edge of the plate is also likely consistent with it being a separate piece.

The above image is from the other side at around 7-8 o clock, and it shows another part of the story. This is adjacent to the part of the rim that is damaged and it appears that the impact may have broken loose the lacquer layer to reveal that the rim and plate are not made of one piece, at least on this side. An angle view shows the gap:

Going to the microscope, here’s a view of one end of the break:

At the bottom left there are some tool marks that may have been from working the joint between the plate and rim. The center looks typical of the lacquer all around the other side and the top right shows where it has gone missing.

Changing the angle of the microscope light to look into the gap it appears to be hollow. Checking the other, intact side of the plate with the microscope there are a few spots where the lacquer is starting to crack:

So while that is not conclusive I suspect that there is a joint there as well, and all of the rest above suggests that both sides are made the same way with two outer rings joined to two central plates. All of it is very thin. The guards from the literature show a similar looking line between the web and mimi pieces. The nested friction fit and crimping of one half of the rim over the other seems to be what is is holding the whole thing together.

On my example the web sounds hollow all the way up to the nakago ana, yet the photos of that at top show that it should be two solid ~2 mm thick plates. This would suggest that the edges of the thin plate are turned down at 90 degrees there, or maybe that there is a ring of that full thickness metal around the nakago ana to add strength. I’d like to have a look inside the hitsuana of the two guards above that have them to see what the edges look like.

Solid yamagane tsuba with stamped decorations and partial lacquer coating are fairly common, so why go to the trouble of making something this complicated? It is certainly much lighter than a solid plate, although when mounted on a sword I’m not sure how significant that difference would be. It definitely is a different look and we do tend to go out of our way to achieve that, but it seems like there may be more to this story.

If this guard looks familiar to those who have been around for a while it may be because it is the first example in the 1994 Masterpieces from the Randolph B. Caldwell Collection catalog. It is described there as being cast yamagane from the Fujiwara/early Kamakura period and as being accompanied by Tokubetsu Kicho certificate number 930 from 1969. The attribution given on that paper is not mentioned, but there is a recent tokubetsu hozon certificate describing this as Kagamishi.

Metallurgical cross sections are usually conclusive in determining cast vs. forged construction (or a combination with a piece being hammered after casting) which is not going to happen here, but it is hard to see where casting was a part of the process in the creation of the thin sheets used to build this tsuba. Aesthetically the result is similar to the kagamishi tradition, but of course there is no evidence that the single-piece cast tsuba of that type were the work of actual mirror makers. Still a useful term in discussion.

Shoami Shigekatsu / Tetsujin

I saw this tsuba in an online auction and while it’s not my usual sort of thing the signature looked interesting.

7.97 cm H x 7.94 cm W x 0.33 cm T

The nunome zogan is fairly typical of Kyo-Shoami, etc. and there is sukashi of a plum blossom and kumade (bamboo rake). The condition is good but not perfect, as this kind of inlay work rarely is.


The front is signed Tetsujin, or as some sources read Tetsunin. This group worked in Saga Hizen and elsewhere and made Kaneie style work as well as guards with mon sukashi designs. These tend to be uncomplicated, but are often more sophisticated than here.

The back has a longer inscription including the name Shoami Shigekatsu.

Shoami Shigekatsu on the left…

Haynes lists two Shoami Shigekatsu working in Aizu as H08296 and 7, one working in Bushu as H08298 and an Iyo Shoami man at H08299 . The earliest is described as working in Kyo-Shoami style nunome zogan ca. 1650-1725 and the next as a later generation of the first ca. 1750-75. Either of these is a good fit given the inlay work on this tsuba.

The Bushu Shigekatsu is described as working in Myochin style, which doesn’t sound like a likely candidate, but I will return to him with another related tsuba later on. The Matsuyama Shigekatsu is said to work in later Choshu style, so the less said about him the better.

So, what about that right-side inscription? I couldn’t tell what it might be in the online photos, but as far as I can tell now it’s “koyo zogan iri.” I lack anything like Japanese language skills, but my guess is that it means something like “old use, inlay added.” As in “I took an old tsuba by Tetsunin and tarted it up.” I’ve shown this guard to a couple of people who might know better and got shrugs and “I guess so.”

The sukashi design didn’t strike me as typical for Tetsujin work, which is usually not this static, but it’s hard to say how many people might be working under that name and how inspired they may have been. It does look like the signature chisel is wielded differently on the two sides, but hard to say what really went on. So, one of those projects that go on the back burner.

Recently browsing through the massive “elephant book” book that is Tsuba Shusei I came across the above. The arrangement is slightly different, but clearly there were unadorned Tetsujin version of this tsuba, and that one of them was in fact later decorated by Shigekatsu seems much more likely.

I wonder if the alteration to the kozuka ana was not just functional, but also by way of switching it to a shape usually associated with a kogai ana the later guy was marking his territory as being the new front side.

As always I am interested in other interpretations.

Now, back to that Bushu Shigekatsu… I also found this guard, also not in perfect shape:

Shoami Shigekazu

This would seem to fit with Bob’s H08298 man working in Myochin style, but comparing the signatures on the first guard and this one, they are very similar.

Shigekatsu and Shigekatsu

I suspect it is the same person, but no idea on the reported Aizu vs. Bushu locations. Maybe this shows he was better at nunome zogan than he was at making tsuba.

Japanese Sword Guards, decoration and ornament in the collection of Georg Oeder of Dusseldorf 1916

This is a quick review of the 2017 partial reprint and translation of the famous Oeder collection catalog.

There are a number of print on demand versions of early fittings books available these days including this one from Blurb. Oeder put together one of the better early European collections and his original catalog is one of the hardest to find.

The cover of my original, tape repairs by a previous owner. A user rather than book collector copy.

I haven’t seen an original catalog come up for sale recently, but the last I heard they were into four figures. There is a 2011 facsimile edition that I also haven’t seen recently, but they used to sell for around $200. That version reproduces the entire original book with text in German.

This 2017 book is not a facsimile. It leaves out the kodogu and focuses only on the illustrated tsuba. The original catalog has descriptions of many tsuba that are not illustrated. This one is a bit of a trade off, but it would have been more work to translate those entries and more paper to print them. Most collectors will probably not miss reading about the unseen guards.

A portrait from the 2017 book.

The collection was auctioned after Oeder’s death. I’m not clear about the details, but it was then known to be in Berlin until it disappeared at the end of the second world war. A mystery.

From the 2017 book

There are 214 tsuba illustrated and the images are about 2.5 inches wide on the page. The paper quality is typical of POD and there is some show through of the images on the opposite side of the page, although it is not as noticeable in use as it is under the lights here. The bent text is because I did not squash the binding for the photo. The quality of the images is quite good and the translations read well.

Here are a couple of the same illustrations from the original edition:

The 1916 source page

The page layouts don’t match exactly because the content is different, and this is not a problem. The original illustrations are a bit sharper as expected. The original text is not hard to navigate, but the translation is certainly nice if English is your language. The binding of my original is quite fragile and it sheds particles and threatens to fall apart whenever I use it, so I find myself using the new version for casual browsing instead. I’m glad to have access to the original when I want it for the missing material or more detailed images, but I’d be hard pressed to argue for why it’s a must-have now that this reprint is easily available.

In addition to the catalog images there is an introductory essay that is a good read, but pretty typical of western material of that time. There is also a second mini-catalog at the end:

Speaks for itself, I think

If I heard of this sale catalog before, I forgot about it, but the provenance is beyond impressive. The pieces aren’t at the same level as the Oeder collection and the photos are apparently upscaled from small originals, so the image quality isn’t great:

Page from the second catalog

Annotations by the editor help to make the descriptions more informative. It’s an interesting piece of history and maybe someone will find out that he has a piece once owned by Archduke Ferdinand. Hope you have better luck.

So, bottom line for the student of tsuba – an absolute no brainer purchase at the $30-40 prices found on eBay. Even better, right now there’s one new copy for sale on Amazon for $4.09 and a few others at around $15. I don’t know about the internals of this business and don’t have a stake in it, but seems like a good opportunity to add much to the library for very little.

“Proto-Kamakura” Dragons

8.93 cm H x 8.67 cm W x 0.35 cm M x 0.37 cm SD

A large iron guard with a carving of a rather abstracted dragon’s body topped by a strange head with a mane and a single dot of brass for the eye’s pupil. The design on the back is the same. Similar guards in the literature are split between attributions to Kamakura-bori and Katchushi. They seem to me to have more to do with the Kamakura style, although there is an example with a Saotome signature that I will introduce later on.

A nearly identical example to the first with the addition of a kozuka ana. The shape of the ana looks early whether original or not. Note that in both examples parts of the dragon at the top and bottom of the nakago ana would be covered by the seppa.

Described in the text as Kamakura tsuba with dragon motif

Again, very similar. This time the kogai ana interrupts the design but the seppa dai does not. The bodies of all of these do look like the more abstract style of dragon horimono seen on swords, but the heads are unusual.

The most “primitive” style attributed to Kamakura-bori are those guards carved with concentric rings and sometimes waribite. It seems like the type of carving here could be a pictorial elaboration of that style, but both are still quite different from the carving approach and motifs seen in typical Kamakura style tsuba. It’s hard to say if these predate the classic pieces, are a sideline style or something unrelated. I have seen both this dragon style of guard and the ring types attributed to Kamakura in recent NBTHK hozon kanteisho.

Also described as Kamakura, dragon motif

It’s a bit hard to see what’s going on in the original photo, but it appears to be a variation on the theme. Two shinchu ten zogan eyes are visible here. The iron plates seem similar in these pieces and is probably within the range of what was used in more conventional Kamakura work. Relatively few of the latter have refined and smoothly finished surfaces. More are a bit more rustic and similar to these dragon guards. Many are rough and dull.

8.4 cm W x 0.3 cm T

Lot 2 from the first Walter Compton sale at Christies, attributed to “Kamakura style” where other more conventional examples in the same sale were called Kamakura-bori. The raised rim appears original and is a katchushi-like feature. The nakago ana appears to have been flipped at least once. It was published the other way around in the catalog.

Attributed to Katchushi

Another variation with a more dragon like head and two eyes. Hard to say if the mokko shape is original. It looks like it impinges on the carving in some spots, so perhaps a later modification. The rim looks slightly raised. The flame-like carving near the bottom is a new addition.

Also described as Katchushi

The head here looks more like a bird, or at least something with a beak. The rest of the workmanship appears consistent with the examples labeled Kamakura elsewhere.

Saotome Ienori

It’s difficult to make out in the original photo, but it appears to be similar to the ones we started with. The signature is even harder to see, but it would interesting to know if it is original to the piece. We do see the occasional older guard with added Saotome or Myochin signature in addition to the legitimate examples. Haynes lists a Saotome Ienori at H 01798 working ca. 1800. That would seem at odds with the apparent age of these tsuba, so it would be interesting to see this one in person. Most authors date these to late Muromachi to Momoyama, although as usual there is little to back this up.

Another even more unusual variation. This is pretty far from work in the mainstream Kamakurabori style. The “flame like” features reappear.

And maybe a much later copy of the same idea. The plate and carving are quite different and not particularly attractive.

So, are these proto-Kamakura tsuba? They have more in common with that style than they do with work typically assigned to the katchushi category. Even if there is no relationship with the main body of Kamakura-bori work, the term “proto-Kamakura” is a useful enough tag in discussion of these carved early tsuba.

Update: Reader David Stiles provided photos of an interesting tsuba with attribution to Higo by the NBTHK. The motif is described as rain dragon, written with the more complex character for dragon.

We know from Tom Helm’s article referenced in the previous post that the Higo swordsmith Enju Kunihide made a guard in the “proto Kamakura” style with ring and waribite/drawer pull carving.


In this case the rim is quite different than the other examples above and does have something of a Jingo look to it. Overall it also appears to be a bit later. I wonder if as with Tom’s example there might one of these with a Higo signature.

I don’t have photographs of the reverse sides of the guards from the literature, but the first guard shown has the dragon in the same orientation on both sides as this one does.

Two Kyushu Tosho

Not usually my thing, but two late Edo period swordsmith tsuba came my way recently.

7.94 cm H x 0.43 cm T

The motif is two bats and what I think represents a falcon. While Japan lacks a falcon species that specializes in hunting bats like the Bat Falcon of the new world tropics, the species that are present are known to eat bats somewhat regularly.

Merlin, a medium sized north American falcon, are often seen hunting Red Bats in the early evening here in the northeastern US. Merlin aren’t common in Japan, but are present along with the more frequently seen Eurasian Kestrel, Hobby and occasional Peregrine falcon.

Bats are generally a positive motif in Japan, so I don’t know the implication of this combination if that’s what it is. Falconry was certainly popular among the elite, although game birds were preferred prey. (For example in the US today, hawks that specialize in frogs or snakes are not at all popular birds with falconers.) Maybe there’s a jibe or admonishment here that if you don’t want to catch bats, don’t fly your falcon at dusk… or something like that.

The maker is Hizen Tadamitsu, who according to Haynes (H 09116) was the second son of the 8th generation Tadayoshi. Born December 1836 and a retainer of the Bakufu in 1865, Bob records tsuba with dates of 1871 and 1876.

Hizen kuni ju Tadamitsu saku
Reference example from Wakayama

Another example from the WL Behrens collection catalog:

A small color photo and more information can be found on the Ashmolean musuem website:


And the second guard, from Higo by Enju Kunihide:

8.71 cm H x 0.32 cm T
Hishu ju
Enju Kunihide

Something like an early tachi style tsuba with a thin plate in prominent mokume hada. Kunihide is listed in the Haynes Index as H 03569 and is recorded there as a student of Suishinshi Masahide and a retainer of the the Hosokawa daimyo, passing away in 1830. He was said to carve horimono, which is believable given the style of carving here.

I parted with my sword reference library some years ago, but no doubt there is more information to be had about these smiths in that literature.

Update: Tom Helm posted another similar tsuba by this smith and a lot of information about his swordmaking career here:


As a side note, both of these tsuba arrived with a fair amount of light rust, which in late iron guards cleans up very easily compared to early material. A horse hair brush is enough to remove most of the dusting with only a little additional work with a fiberglass brush required. It’s almost instant gratification compared to the commitment required to take on an old guard that needs work.


Shitahara tōkō, Terushige-ke shoyō, O-tsuba

The box lid reads “Tsuba worn by the family of the Shitahara swordsmith Terushige.”

8.42 cm H x 0.49 cm T, kuwaba and yuki motif

An interesting guard with a motif of mulberry leaf and snow flakes. It has a tokubetsu kicho paper to Owari sukashi. There are no tekkotsu visible and the iron has a bit of an unusual texture to it. It is accompanied by a long hakogaki:

Hakogaki by Murakami Kōsuke

Thank you to Markus Sesko for the translation below.

This tsuba with an openwork design of mulberry leaf and snowflakes was once a heirloom of the family of the Musashi-based swordsmith Yamamoto Terushige. It was also worn for generations, namely on a daishō with a niji-mei signed dai by the first generation Terushige and a goji-mei signed shō by the first generation Yasushige. When the pair was remounted later, this tsuba was given to me as a
gift by Mr. Yamamoto Tajima. At first glance, it looks similar to an Owari-tsuba, but lacks that quality and has a more rustic flair. However, it is truly of classical elegance and may thus be the work of an unknown Musashi-based Shitahara smith who had specialized in the production of tsuba.

First third of May, Meiji 40 (1907) – Kensō [pen name of Murakami Kōsuke] + kao”

A couple of tsuba from the literature with similar but not identical motif:

Kyo sukashi, dry leaf and snow motif, early Edo

The tsuba doesn’t seem quite right for either Kyo or Owari although the date seems about the same as those above. Certainly a variety of signed Edo period tosho tsuba have survived, some of which are very basic and others quite sophisticated in design and execution. This example is well done, but the finishing, particularly on the rim, is a little rougher than usual for the period.

An Adobe Acrobat search of the Haynes Index turns up no names. Has anyone found a tsuba with a Shitahara signature?