The box lid reads “Tsuba worn by the family of the Shitahara swordsmith Terushige.”
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:
Thank you to Markus Sesko for the translation below.
“Provenance 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, Showa 40 (1965) – Kensō [pen name of Murakami Kōsuke] + kao”
A couple of tsuba from the literature with similar but not identical motif:
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?
The rim is carved from the plate rather than raised or attached. This is late Edo period work, but quite well done. It keeps some of the spirit of early katchushi tsuba, but takes it to an entirely more elaborate end. Nice that hitsuana were not included.
At first glance it looks quite abstract, but it’s not hard to figure out. The bonji at top and bottom are turned ninety degrees. Looking up the particulars of the Buddhist deities named is as they used to say, left as an exercise for the student.
This is a very large tsuba worked in something very like Kyo-sukashi style with a rinpa motif, signed Fusayoshi saku.
Among other less likely candidates Haynes lists two Myochin Fusayoshi (H 00525,6) an Echizen man (H 00528) and a Yamashiro Fusayoshi, date of ca. 1590, H 00530. Given the workmanship the last one seems like the best fit, but without specific examples to refer to, who knows.
The head on view shows that not all of the holes are drilled perpendicular to the surface and that their radial locations wander a bit.
Viewed from the front, the holes have a larger diameter for the top quarter or so of their depth rather than being drilled straight through.
An angle view:
On the back there is no “step” visible inside the hole, but instead some eccentricity in the outline with a sort of lobe in places.
That irregular shape makes me think of finishing with an abrasive loaded string that was worked at a bit of an angle. I haven’t been able to find anything on early metal drilling in Japan, but there is a fair bit available on wood drills.
These were used by rubbing between the palms of the hands. Some of the above drills would produce a conical hole if only worked part way through, but looking at the Fusayoshi, the drilling looks more like a distinct step rather than a chamfer where the diameter changes.
Pump drills were used to speed up the process.
Pump drills were also fitted to a framework to create in effect a drill press. Presumably something like that was not used on the Fusayoshi given that some of the holes are drilled at off angles.
The care and technique that went into cutting the delicate openwork over this large guard is remarkable. I have to wonder whether the wandering placement of the holes was an aesthetic choice. Without magnification, the step in the diameter of the holes far from obvious so it’s hard to see that as being done for looks. The reason for that and the irregular exit holes on the back eludes me.
Not Japanese, but Clickspring has another great video on a possible process for making early metal drill bits:
The video on making a pump drill with a bronze spindle weight is also very interesting, but a bit farther afield from what appears to have been used in Japan.
So, back to tsuba – it is also interesting is that the rinpa has 30 points but there are 36 holes. The mismatch does add visual interest as the pattern goes in and out of phase. There are many significant numbers in Buddhism, but I haven’t found any special meaning to 30 and 36, although 5 and 6 have multiple meanings and are factors of those numbers. 108 is also meaningful, which is one tenth of 30*36, which is probably a coincidence… I’ll stop there.
When I came across this guard I knew that I had seen something similar before and had a feeling it might have been at the Dai Token Ichi. I still have some of those catalogs and found that it was not similar, but the same guard.
I balked at the Tokyo show price back in 2002. It’s hard to imagine that it was that long ago, but nice that it came around again.
Update: Looking through Toban Shokan Kotetsu I found a similar Fusayoshi saku tsuba. This book is a modern copy (likely copy of copies) of an early tsuba book from 1736. The tsuba are realistically drawn, not schematics. The thickness of the sukashi on other illustrated guards varies as you would expect in the real thing, so this one was presumably that finely cut in reality, which is rather similar to the above.
I don’t understand the meaning of yagosei before Fusayoshi saku. Literally it means 8 year old child. Yatsugo can mean octuplet, which doesn’t seem to apply here, with 6 design elements inside of a 7th. Yachitose (substituting te for ko) means 8,000 years, but stands for “eternity.” This is presumably a stand in that expresses something related but not literal.
Here’s another Onin tsuba for comparison to the one in the previous post.
Large, thin and unusually intact, it’s one of the nicer ones to have survived. Clearly the hitsuana are original. Without inlay, it would be a good ko-katchushi guard with ume, hanabishi and inome sukashi.
Occasionally some styles of early iron tsuba are found in versions with no inlay, with hira zogan or with nunome zogan that would be attributed to Tosho/Katchushi, Heianjo and Ko-Shoami respectively. It seems unlikely that these were actually the work of different “schools” but were various options available on the base model. I’ve wondered if all of the work was done “in house” on these, or if the inlay work was subcontracted out to an specialist.
In any event, the customer opted for maximum opulence in this case.
The plate surrounding the kiri mon and kiku shows the clearest signs of having been worked to hold the shinchu suemon inlay in place.
The kiku here, particularly on the lower left show some brass exposed outside of the design that wasn’t buried under the iron. It’s not as pronounced as in the previous example with the botan inlay. I’m not sure it’s quite the same thing. Also interesting is how the brass tendrils are fitted together – definitely not obvious without magnification.
The kiri mon on the back side shows a little more “flange” to it. Perhaps not quite as carefully done as the front.
Given how often brass inlay tsuba from the Edo period are missing pieces it’s remarkable that one this old was worked carefully enough to hold on to even the thinnest elements. In guards with some losses it’s usually possible to see the undercutting of the iron plate done around the edge of the missing inlay to hold it in place. I’ll keep an eye out for one to photograph.
I came across an interesting tsuba at the Chicago show last weekend. It’s nicely made and has an unusual texture to the iron. Design-wise it’s hard to say to who and where it might belong. It would very likely draw a Shoami attribution at shinsa if uninscribed, and I can’t see how this inscription would change that.
The rim has a bit of activity to it, although it’s not quite tekkotsu. There is some texture and reflective patches. The guard has a pretty high pitched ring to it for its size.
We have few dated iron ji sukashi guards, so that is the first thing that makes this one interesting: Genroku junen ushi hachigatsu hi. 8th month of 1697.
So, the other side “should” be signed, but it isn’t. It seems to say “ha tetsu o mote kore o tsukuru.” The middle kanji on the right is the tough one. The rest is pretty standard, but it’s hard to say if that is “ha,” and if it isn’t then what is it? Any ideas?
If that is what it says, it’d be “made of cutting edge iron.” Notations about the type of steel are seen in sword signatures occasionally, but this one would be redundant on a blade. On a tsuba it makes me wonder if this was the work of a swordsmith or a tsubako. Edo tosho tsuba are well known, but they’re usually relatively simple.
If this was the work of a professional tsuba maker then why isn’t it signed? There’s room for it. Is it possible that this guard was delivered with a newly made sword, so date and material were worth noting, but signing the tsuba would be repetitious or unimportant? If the former, it was especially meticulously made by the swordsmith, if the latter it was subcontracted out to a tsubako who didn’t get to put his name on his work. In either case I’m guessing it was made from metal reserved from forging the blade.
The tsuba doesn’t appear to ever have had sekigane and the only signs of adjustment are two tiny strikes at the top front side of the nakago ana. So probably fitted to a sword, but only once. Maybe made for a sword. One with a fairly large nakago. It’s not exactly in the height of Genroku period fashion, so who knows if it was used at all.
As usual, more questions than answers. Thanks to G&N R for helpful consultation.
After thinking about tsuba finishing from the previous post, I’m adding this tsuba as an example of reaching for the limits of thinness in iron sukashi. The maker is listed in Haynes at H 07513:
NTS: G. Heckmann: TSUBA, 1995, T 39, oval iron plate carved in the round with Michikaze with large umbrella by a willow tree and a frog on the ground, with gold and silver inlay. Somewhat in the Kyoto style and with Soten overtones, signed: Nobunori. SCE. G. Heckmann, 1995
That tsuba from Heckmann is here:
It’s clearly the same guy although the work is a bit less technically extreme. I haven’t found any other examples illustrated but will keep an eye out. Kyo mixed with Soten is about right, but it clearly is his own style. I don’t imagine these were the creation of an amateur who only made a few guards.
So, a closer look at the details of the first guard.
Not only are the lines extremely thin, their width tapers as well and “all” 5 mm of depth is layered in different levels. I don’t see any filemarks (other than the nunome) under more magnification. Was there an easy way to do this? If it was made separately and inlaid or otherwise attached, I’m not seeing any signs. Amazing.
Update: I had a random thought and checked the fine tendrils with a tiny rare earth magnet to seek out possible non-ferrous shenanigans. None were found.
We’re used to seeing inlaid spokes on Sotome tsuba. Even more often we see kozuka ana cut into tsuba that did not originally have them. Occasionally when a new ana is cut into something like a nanban-style tsuba the rough opening will be finished off with a “inside” fukurin. In this case a craftsman not only cut the three spokes to make an opening, he created a new “ana” and dovetailed it into the seppa dai at top and bottom. The middle spoke uses the usual inlay method seen on Saotome kiku guards. The whole tsuba below:
It’s an otherwise unexceptional example of the type. Since it has a “built in” kogai ana it seems likely that it originally had a similar kozuka ana. Either way someone chose to modify it rather than get a new one. Was the owner on a particularly tight budget or was there a personal attachment to the guard that meant that it could not replaced. Or, did it start off as an “off the rack” guard that didn’t quite fit what the buyer needed, but he was in a hurry and was promised that the alterations would be ready in the morning? After all, they knew how to inlay iron bits. As usual, unknown.