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.

Late Muromachi Ko-kinko

A return to the more elaborate end of the early soft metal tsuba spectrum with another small shakudo nanako example made with very different technique from the recently posted early Muromachi example.

6.82 cm H x 0.55 cm T Autumn flowers and grasses with both inlaid and overlaid metals

Kikyo (bellflower) at the top left and Nadeshiko (pink) at bottom left. The zufu describes the other flowers as Kiku, but the shape of the leaves are different than usual for chrysanthemum. Aster is another possibility, but given that there are karakusa on the back with different leaves maybe the kiku blossoms aren’t meant as a literal representation of the plant.

The reverse. The kozuka ana is original, but presumably enlarged into the seppa dai.
Jakago motif mimi, seen later on Umetada tsuba

Update: Reader question about jakago. See photos by Satomi Grim below. Its use as a purely decorative motif probably has a bigger life than its literal meaning, but it started as a sort of basket weave construction used to hold rocks in place to stabilize river banks (enthusiastically replaced by concrete in modern Japan). In this tsuba it might imply that the plants are growing along a river bank or may just be there for its own sake. The same form is used in domestic baskets, packaging, etc., as well.

Jakago じゃかご - Stone Basket

(end of update…)

detail view with suaka zogan

Both sides of the seppa dai have small patches of what would at first just appear to be wear, but looking closely are metal overlay.


Occasionally on early kinko guards there are a few rows of nanako sown on the seppa dai that appear to be a test to get a feel for the material before starting in on the main part that will be seen. This isn’t the same, but might it be something related?

Going through Mr. Lundgren’s book recently I came across a very similar tsuba I had forgotten.

Lundgren tsuba at top

It looks very likely to me that it by the same individual. That is interesting enough, but note that on the backside seppadai there is also a “test patch” but in a color that relates to metal on that tsuba. The front side seppa dai has been modified to the point that it’s hard to say if it also has one.

Could this have been a final check of the preparation work to ensure that the adhesion of the iroe to the ground would be good before proceeding with the main work? That was a relatively new technique at this time but would soon replace uttori zogan.

It would be interesting to compare the two in person… any ideas?