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.

Unfinished business

8.45 cm H x 0.53 cm T

This is an Akasaka or Higo style tsuba with the plum branch and bird motif that was roughed out but never finished. Given the angles at which the hitsuana meet the seppa dai, I’d lean toward Higo, but that’s not really the point. As we’ll see below the blank was worked with a chisel.

Each chisel stroke is easily seen in this part of the rim.

The openwork is chiselled very close to the kebori layout lines defining the shape of the rim and plum branch. Handmade files couldn’t have been inexpensive, so it probably made sense to keep their use to a minimum. Each tooth of a file required a cut with a chisel, so it was probably about as much work to make one as to cut out a tsuba like this.

Given the roughness here it looks like the maker was working quickly and confidently. Opening this up with a jeweler’s type saw would be slow work and hand made blades would probably also have been expensive. I seem to recall reading that they came into use in the Edo period, but don’t remember the source. I’ll have to look for more information. String and abrasive techniques were around well before that, but that would have meant even slower going.

It’s possible that the tip (left) of the upper branch may be the reason the work stopped. The chisel stroke cuts over the centerline of the design. It seems like that could be closed back up without much trouble, but maybe that would be asking for headaches later in the process (or from the boss).

At the right side here there openwork has been refined beyond the rough chiselling. It looks like it may have been scraped down. Comments from metalworkers are welcomed.

It’s interesting that work that’s quite rough is next to spots that are almost finished instead of working everything uniformly from the rough state. The nakago ana, seppa dai and hitsuana were “cast in stone” early in the process.

There are some coarse-ish apparent file marks visible in the most finished section, but they aren’t showing well with either the macro setup or microscope. I wonder if the rim was going to be finished off with a circular cross section or left flat. Interesting choice to have refined the branch tip to that point while the rim is still rough.

I found an interesting video on a likely process for making early files. It’s not about Japanese technique, but from what I’ve seen the methods were probably similar (and the production values here are better).

His whole project on recreating the antikythera mechanism with period methods is well worth checking out. Amazing stuff.

Thanks to Fred G for the subject tsuba.