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.

Textbook of Mokume Gane – a review

For once a fittings book that is informative, in English and neither expensive nor hard to get. In fact, you can save yourself some time by skipping my review and just going to Amazon right now and ordering it for $22 to have it in your hands for a weekend read.

This is a 175 page paperback by modern mokume master Takahashi Masaki published in 2018. This is not a style of fittings that I had a particular interest in, but after reading Takahashi I keep coming back to them. This is not a book only about fittings, but covers all aspects of guribori and mokume. It goes back to Northern Song dynasty carved lacquer work, Ming and Qing examples and later sagemono. There are mokume pipe fittings, yatate, bowls, etc., which became staple products for metalworkers at and after the end of the Edo period.

There are illustrations and descriptions of about 20 each of guribori and mokume tsuba, and about the same of fuchikashira, kozuka and other fittings including a few koshirae and one each of mokume and guribori menuki.

Guribori fittings used to be readily available at US sword shows but have become rather scarce in recent years. I hadn’t given them much attention, but Mr. Takahashi has and there is quite a lot there to study.

Many mokume tsuba have gone to the west, and Takahashi has traveled extensively to study and document examples in European and American museums. The catalog he has created with this book would be a must have if it stopped there, but it’s only his starting point. He sets out to describe and reproduce methods that could have been used to create historical pieces.

He goes into detail about the extremely complex layering and twisting process behind the creation of the famous early mokume kozuka by Shoami Denbei.

And provides a sequence of process photos in recreating Denbei’s famous guribori tsuba:

Again, this is not all. There are histories and genealogies of the makers of these fittings (of which Mr. Takahashi is a part) and articles by several guest authors on the techniques behind creating the mokume billets in a variety of materials including recipes for pre-cleaning, fusion processes and patination.

The book ends with a chapter on jewelry which is what sustains mokume production in both Japan and the west these days. Checking the websites of several of the contributors, it seems to have boiled down primarily to wedding rings with none of the interesting pieces illustrated in the Mokume Textbook on display. That makes sense from a business perspective.

I ran across a passing reference to this book online and figured that it would be unavailable or at least difficult to get. I checked Amazon thinking that the chance of it being there would be slim to none, but there it was. The research and devotion to the art of mokume that Takahashi-san has is unequaled and having it in such a well done and accessible book is fantastic. Go get it.

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