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.

omote
ura

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?

Early Muromachi Ko-Kinko

Continuing the micro-theme of early and opulent, this time in shakudo nanako with uttori zogan. This guard is rather small, but extremely thick and obviously was mounted on a robust blade.

6.46 cm H x 1.07 cm T
The reverse
Again- over 1 cm thick with an undecorated rim. No sign it has been cut down or mounted with a fukurin.

Detail views of some of the plant motifs. Usually flowers are shown realistically but leaves, stems, seeds, etc. are often omitted or substituted by generalized karakusa type motifs. Here each plant is represented fully and accurately.

Omodaka (arrowhead) at right and Hishi (Eurasian water caltrop) in center – water plants in the water.
Yamabuki on the left (Japanese Keria var. picta)
Asago (morning glory) at left and Tachibana (citrus) at right
Once again, that botan (peony) motif in a different technique

It would be interesting to know what this was mounted on. Was it this thick for weight alone, for aesthetics and/or conspicuous consumption (it’s solid shakudo)? A published description speculates that it may have been a tachi guard converted for koshigatana or uchigatana use, but if so in its original state all of the floral motifs would be growing upside down and the water would be in the sky.

The small size, thickness and shape do recall some early tachi guards, and while I don’t think it was one, there may have been some allusion there. Was it mounted on a koshigatana that was worn paired with a tachi?

In any event, a good opportunity to study some of the better early Muromachi period nanako and uttori work on a guard that has it all turned up to 11.

Update: A reader mentioned that it may be that the guard was mounted on a tachi or kodachi in the present orientation. Given the large sekigane and heavy work on the seppa dai it is possible that the original nakago ana pointed the other way and that its original outline was lost in later remounting on a much thicker blade. If it originally had no hitsuana, it is very fortunate that none of the original decoration was cut in half when they were added.

A Hiko-no

7.12 cm H x 0.50 cm T (don’t know how it got to the bottom of the pile so quickly)

I like coming across these early kinko guards that look like they may have been the inspiration for Hirata Hikozo’s work. The color of the alloy combined with the lacquer along with the fukurin and carving have much the same flavor although Hikozo refined them all and built on it.

I had always thought the tagane were also original to these pieces, but a friend pointed out that they may have been added as an upgrade toward Hikozo’s tagane mei. It’s certainly possible, but I also see them on guards around the same age that I think would really take some imagination to try to pass off as Higo. For example:

7.72 cm H x 4.2 mm T

They’re also seen on some iron Saotome tsuba, but the rest of the work is quite different, so probably no direct connection.

Setting Hikozo aside, note that the surface of this one is not covered with nanako or even worked with a ring-shaped punch. Each circle is made up of a series of tiny punch marks. I wonder if this was a country guy’s imitation of nanako or something original and maybe earlier.

Not nanako, but it had to have been a lot of work. Maybe the nanako punch was developed as a time saver.

In this case the fukurin is needed to finish the three layer construction of the plate. Unlike the typical san mai guard, the shakudo here is only a thin foil. There is (of course) a specific term for this that I’ve forgotten. A microscope view inside the kozuka ana is here:

It appears to be quite a tight bond without signs of solder. I don’t know how it was done. Yes, I labeled the photo incorrectly way back when, it really is the inside of the kozuka ana.