Shoami Shigekatsu / Tetsujin

I saw this tsuba in an online auction and while it’s not my usual sort of thing the signature looked interesting.

7.97 cm H x 7.94 cm W x 0.33 cm T

The nunome zogan is fairly typical of Kyo-Shoami, etc. and there is sukashi of a plum blossom and kumade (bamboo rake). The condition is good but not perfect, as this kind of inlay work rarely is.


The front is signed Tetsujin, or as some sources read Tetsunin. This group worked in Saga Hizen and elsewhere and made Kaneie style work as well as guards with mon sukashi designs. These tend to be uncomplicated, but are often more sophisticated than here.

The back has a longer inscription including the name Shoami Shigekatsu.

Shoami Shigekatsu on the left…

Haynes lists two Shoami Shigekatsu working in Aizu as H08296 and 7, one working in Bushu as H08298 and an Iyo Shoami man at H08299 . The earliest is described as working in Kyo-Shoami style nunome zogan ca. 1650-1725 and the next as a later generation of the first ca. 1750-75. Either of these is a good fit given the inlay work on this tsuba.

The Bushu Shigekatsu is described as working in Myochin style, which doesn’t sound like a likely candidate, but I will return to him with another related tsuba later on. The Matsuyama Shigekatsu is said to work in later Choshu style, so the less said about him the better.

So, what about that right-side inscription? I couldn’t tell what it might be in the online photos, but as far as I can tell now it’s “koyo zogan iri.” I lack anything like Japanese language skills, but my guess is that it means something like “old use, inlay added.” As in “I took an old tsuba by Tetsunin and tarted it up.” I’ve shown this guard to a couple of people who might know better and got shrugs and “I guess so.”

The sukashi design didn’t strike me as typical for Tetsujin work, which is usually not this static, but it’s hard to say how many people might be working under that name and how inspired they may have been. It does look like the signature chisel is wielded differently on the two sides, but hard to say what really went on. So, one of those projects that go on the back burner.

Recently browsing through the massive “elephant book” book that is Tsuba Shusei I came across the above. The arrangement is slightly different, but clearly there were unadorned Tetsujin version of this tsuba, and that one of them was in fact later decorated by Shigekatsu seems much more likely.

I wonder if the alteration to the kozuka ana was not just functional, but also by way of switching it to a shape usually associated with a kogai ana the later guy was marking his territory as being the new front side.

As always I am interested in other interpretations.

Now, back to that Bushu Shigekatsu… I also found this guard, also not in perfect shape:

Shoami Shigekazu

This would seem to fit with Bob’s H08298 man working in Myochin style, but comparing the signatures on the first guard and this one, they are very similar.

Shigekatsu and Shigekatsu

I suspect it is the same person, but no idea on the reported Aizu vs. Bushu locations. Maybe this shows he was better at nunome zogan than he was at making tsuba.

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.

Onin suemon zogan

Here’s another Onin tsuba for comparison to the one in the previous post.

9.91 cm H x 0.42 cm T mimi, 0.18 cm T seppa dai

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.

Interesting inlay

Another tsuba from the Chicago show is one that I’ve admired from my earliest collecting days. It appears in the second Haynes auction catalog from 1982 (about ten years before my time, with tsuba anyway).

8.42 cm H x 0.38 cm T Botan motif, shinchu suemon zogan

Lot 2, from the catalog: “Very rare and important Onin example”

“Iron rounded aori shape with raised carved rim, to resemble a rim cover, with good iron bones in the edge. The plate is inlaid on both sides with four peony branches of cast and carved brass, the edges secured by working the iron plate over the cast flange. The brass is the classical very rich color of the Onin period, circa 1450. The inlay is intact on both sides, but some of the flanges have pulled away from the plate. Ht. 8.4 cm., Th. 3 mm. (Note: it is rare and fortunate that riohitsu were never added at a later date.) (Est. price 500-750)

Ex. Jack Paras sale, lot 2, May 26, 1981″

Here’s a closer look at the inlay. The exposed flanges are particularly visible on the far right leaf and the bottom middle one.

I’ll have to make a closer inspection of other Onin guards to see if that is present but just not as obvious. There are some other places where the inlay is slightly lifted as Bob mentions, but here it appears tight to the plate and was probably never covered. The rest of the surrounding iron does show signs of being moved over the brass. Obviously enough was done to hold the inlay in place.

There are similar guards published, but not with enough detail visible to say for sure, but I don’t see that here.

Shishi Botan from Hyaku Tan
Shishi Botan on copper alloy ground. Source unrecorded

Many thanks to S for sending it my way after keeping it carefully for all these years.