With seventy years of concentration in one area of interest it tends to focus the mind, though not always in the manner one would hope. In my case many areas of concentration have been perpetuated beyond all recognition of their true meaning. This I have yet to correct, perhaps now I can.
In the beginning of my studies of the kodogu for the Japanese sword, I took as gospel any and all information that I saw or read. I could do no other, as I had nothing to compare this information to. As the years rolled by I came to doubt some of the information that I had learned. In fact I came to doubt much of it, but I had no new knowledge to put in its place. In time I found sources of new knowledge that gave me a whole new perspective on my studies and how I might revise the past information that I had learned. You may well ask, what were these new sources of information? In the first ten years of my collecting fittings I saw between three to four thousand objects in my hand, and another several thousand pieces illustrated in various books. Many of these pieces were at great variance to what I thought were the names and types of fittings these very books claimed them to be. Which was correct, what I saw or what the books claimed to be the truth? At this stage of my studies all this "new" information was pure conjecture on my part. But all this was to change in 1960 when I became a student of Dr. Kazutaro Torigoye.
After a year of studies at the home of Dr. Torigoye, and the translation of his doctoral thesis, TSUBA GEIJUTSU KO, 1960, I thought I had a concrete grasp of all I should know as a student of the fittings for the Japanese sword. How wrong I was! It would take to this day to sort out what I believed, from what my teacher believed and what his teacher, Akiyama Kyusaku, believed. In the end I have come much closer to the thoughts and theories of Akiyama than those of my teacher. Not his ground breaking ideas on the aesthetics of kodogu, but the nomenclature and historicism of fittings. At this time I was to be honored by Dr. Torigoye, who named me as his successor, an honor I do not yet deserve. Dr. Torigoye died in 1980, a full twenty years after I began my studies with him. Though I was given his seals on his passing I did not feel I should, nor did I want, to write certificates for other collectors, and I have not done so to this day. But all this is another story for another day.
But what we should be speaking about is the omission and commission of the study of sword fittings. If we start with the Kofun Bunka Jidai, said to be about 250 to 550 A.D. There is a vast amount of extant material from this period, and much of it is of a military nature. What is important for us today is the very high level of the art work and craftsmanship of these various pieces. The origin of this artistry is found in China, which was later imported to Korea, and from there to Japan. The Chinese and Korean artists, who made the first of these objects, showed all the skill and ability that was to be seen in the fittings for the Japanese sword for the next near two thousand years. It should also be noted that all the technical skill needed to produce any form of fitting had been perfected at this time. Unfortunately the study and relationship of this period, to all later fittings makers, has been ignored or dismissed. To have a complete knowledge of fittings one must fully understand this art period and its relationship to all later art forms and periods.
The Asuka period was from 552 to 645, a short 93 years. This period is very important in the study of sword fittings, not so much for the military metal work, but for the Buddhist metal work, which was introduced from China and Korea. Metal casting, openwork metal objects, gold and silver plating and many other technical innovations, to be seen later in sword fittings, came directly out of the Buddhist metal arts. It is too late for me to do the necessary research needed to fully understand this period but Boris Markhasin is doing some remarkable work in this field of study.
The Nara period was only 149 years, from 645 to 794, but this short time was very influential to the metal work of the military arts. For now we begin to see some of the fine aesthetics introduced to match the technical skills that had already been perfected. Though we rarely see Nara period fittings outside of book illustrations, there are a number of famous pieces that show the skill and artistry of the period. The true dating of pieces from this period is complicated by the Russian archeology work in the Amur valley on the Russian coast off Sakalin Island. The items excavated from this area very closely resemble mirror image items made in Japan in the Nara period. The problem is that the Russian pieces are dated six hundred years earlier than their Japanese equivalent. So which is the chicken and which is the egg? No one in Japan seems to want to answer this question!
The Heian period was from 794 to 1184, almost four hundred years. To my mind it was the time for the full flowering of the metal arts in civil, religious and military areas the nation over. What seems to be ignored is the very high quality of the kodogu that was produced during this period. The court nobility still held sway at this time and the majority of the fittings were made for the nobles, who in most cases, never expected to have to use their swords in combat. Nevertheless the artists who made the great sword fittings of this period were master craftsman who produced many examples of the metal arts that were every bit as fine, in every detail, as those art objects, that were not to be seen again until the late Edo period. Someone should do a comparison study of the Heian and late Edo metal arts to show just how close their quality was. But the aesthetics goes hands down to the Heian period. In the Edo period they did try to capture the quality and greatness of the Heian arts, particularly during the Genroku times (1688 to 1703), they did get the glitter, but not the greatness of the metal arts of the Heian period. What is most important is that the quality of Heian art almost disappeared until late Edo times.
As you will have noted we have been discussing the soft metal fittings for the most part, up until now. What about the iron fittings? Though we have far fewer examples of these than we do of the soft metal fittings, from this period, there is one notable sword with its original tsuba and fittings that should be discussed here. This is the sword that belonged to Sakanoe Tamuramaro (758-811). In 801 he received the title of SEI-I-TAISHOGUN, which was created for him, and that made him the first SHOGUN. His battle sword is at Kiyomizu-dera, which he founded, and may be seen there to this very day. In 1960 I went to the temple to see this sword and spent several hours examining it and I took Polaroid pictures of the tsuba and other various parts of the fittings. This tsuba is illustrated in several books now, with the mountings and the blade. What I saw was a tsuba slightly larger than a wakizashi size example and as thick as any Edo period Akasaka school piece. The left half is very rusted but the right half is in remarkable condition. The walls of the sukashi are beveled, as you see in some Edo period Akasaka tsuba. What we have here is a very sophisticated work of art and not the mud-pie one might expect. The artistry of forging and fashioning of iron plate tsuba was already equal to that of the tsuba of the Edo period. This sword and tsuba was ignored for many years, probably because Tamuramaro was of Korean birth, but then at his period twenty five percent of the imperial court were of Korean heritage, the later prejudices did not exist during his period. This is not the only example of the fine workmanship to be seen in iron tsuba of the Heian and Kamakura periods, but many of them are in private collections and have not been published and probably never will be. It is important for us to reevaluate our thinking and opinions of the quality and artistry of the iron plate tsuba of these early periods. The simple plain iron tsuba we are so familiar with was not the product of inferior ability but the taste of the owner and not the artist. The Shogun and his samurai of the Kamakura and later periods was what you might expect from country warriors, country taste, and not the sophisticated taste of the imperial court, which was far beyond that of the simple soldier.
Since we have nudged into the Kamakura period already we should take up its study now. It was from 1185 to 1336, a period of 151 years. We may consider it a transition period. The art of the imperial court was still in full flower and at the same time the art and taste of the Shogun and his samurai was on the rise. But for the most part they could not be farther apart. What should interest us now is this samurai taste. What was it? Naturally it had existed from the earliest days but it did not show itself to any extent until the Kamakura period. The simple taste was not so much out of aesthetics as it was out of economics. We seem to often forget that these objects had to be bought and paid for. A samurai or even a Shogun could afford only the quality of blade and its mountings that he had the ready cash to pay the artist who made them for him. Thus we have plain and simple tsuba for the low ranking samurai and the quality, and any gold or silver, increases with the buyers ability to pay. There are those who will go on at great length about the influence of Zen on the art and weapons of the samurai, but the Zen faith as that of others can only be seen in the objects that the individual believer asked the artist to make. What about fashion in fittings. Fashion did play a large part in the styles and subjects that one see€ in both tsuba and the small fittings. Some of the subject matter was taken directly from the painters of the day. Other fittings artists were very accomplished artists with the brush, as well as the chisel, and created their own fashions that the samurai were only to happy to see as the fashion of the day, which in many cases it was. We will take this subject up again, for we have gotten ahead of ourselves, since many historical events, often seen in Edo period fittings, have not even taken place at this time. Now we come to the short period of the Yoshino (1333 to 1392), or as it is more commonly called the Namboku-cho jidai (1336 to 1392) a matter of 59 years for Yoshino and 56 years for Namboku-cho, either name will do for the sword and its fittings were not altered by these events and only the income of the artists was really effected.
We will now move on to that magical and greatly misunderstood period of the Muromachi, the dates of which vary with the writer. Some say it began in 1336, thus including the Nambokucho era, others say it began in 1392. The ending date can vary from 1490, with the accession of the 10th Ashikaga Shogun Yoshitane (1465-1522). While others say 1568, when Oda Nobunaga entered Kyoto. The last Ashikaga Shogun was the 15th, Yoshiaki, (1537¬1597). For us it does not matter either way. What is important is that this is the beginning of the era of the SHOGUNS, and the full accession of his SAMURAI. It is interesting to note that the "experts" in tsuba have for some strange reason said that the study of the fittings should begin with some mythical date such as January 1. 1400, thus totally ignoring the thousand years of the history of the fittings we have been discussing, but such are the ways of these "experts". In the matter of experts, this is where we get to the part of this paper that deals with the "BECAUSE I SAID SO". As you have no doubt guessed, this paper is as much about what I DID NOT say as what I said. But the "did not" part has taken 70 years to formulate.
The reign of the Ashikaga Shoguns was a very turbulent period. To secure their power they had to subdue many daimyo who wanted the Shogunate for themselves. From Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358), to Ashikaga Yoshiaki (1537-1597), a period of almost two hundred fifty years, the nation was at constant civil war, and the slaughter was everywhere. Which brings up my next important point. We call many of the iron plate tsuba from this period as TOSHO and KATCHUSHI, which implies that they were made by SWORD SMITHS and by ARMORERS. Nothing could be farther from the truth! During this period we have very good evidence that upwards of 250,000 fully mounted swords were made. About 150,000 were exported to China and Korea, with the rest made for domestic use. We do not have figures for the number of armor made at this time, but it must have been in the thousands. This meant that there was very little time for these artists to be making tsuba. Perhaps a swordsmith might make a tsuba for a customer who ordered a blade from him. As for the armorer he had NO time to make tsuba in any case. ALL of these tsuba were made by professional tsuba makers. We can call them TSUBA-KO or KO-TAN-KO, or just TAN-KO, in any event they were the descendants of the same tsuba makers who had been making tsuba for the past thousand years. AH! you say. What about the Myochin who laid claim to both signed and unsigned tsuba made during this period. Unfortunately their glowing genealogy is a product of their ego. There is NO proof that any of the tsuba attributed to them from this period were actually made by any Myochin artist. As we have yet to find an example with the Myochin family name to go along with the name on any tsuba from this period. In fact almost all signed tsuba from this period have only a two kanji signature and we have no record of any with a family name, except for a few forged signatures created by the Myochin to bolster their claim. The Saotome on the other hand might have made a few tsuba during this period, but since there are no signed examples we will never know, for sure, if the types that are attributed to them were actually made by them. What did the tsuba of this period look like when they were newly made? Many of the iron plate tsuba with a flower or mon sukashi design were black lacquered so that they would NOT rust. The patina surface that we see today is a product of age, not aesthetics. Not all were so plain. Some might be decorated with gold or silver nunome, if the buyer could afford it, but most of these have now lost their nunome and we only see such inlay in very rare examples. What about the other types of tsuba made during this period? As you know so well this was the period of the brass inlay tsuba. It became such a fashion statement that they were produced by the thousands. What is interesting is how they were produced. In most cases the plate maker did NOT do the brass inlay. This was done by specialists who were trained in the art of inlay which took many years for them to learn. It is interesting to note that the best brass inlay examples seem to be the earliest ones we see. The quality of this type of inlay deteriorated as the generations of artists went on. Brass inlay tsuba were made for the entire Muromachi period and did not go out of fashion until the first hundred years of the Edo period. But copies and imitations of the early examples were made during the entire Edo period. By the way, what you call these brass inlay tsuba is a matter of choice. It can be Onin, Heianjo, Kyoto inlay, or whatever. These names were invented in the Edo period, often by the owners in the area that they lived. One other type of tsuba from this period that should be discussed is what is called the KAMAKURA tsuba. This name has nothing to do with the Kamakura period. The name comes from a style of lacquer called Kamakura bori. Which, is black lacquer that is carved with low relief designs of a fanciful nature. The iron plate of these tsuba does not rust as the other tsuba of this period do. It is something in the iron or the black lacquer that covered most of them. In iron plate examples there are a large number of sukashi tsuba that are attributed to various schools, and some of them might have been made in Kyoto or Owari, but it is much more likely that they are the work of unknown artists of no particular school or identifiable area. They are the work of anonymous craftsman who show their ability in the pieces they created. Naturally as we see in all cases NOTHING can be anonymous in the "expert" world of Japan. There is this insatiable desire that all things be tagged with a name, so names are assigned willy-nilly to satisfy this craving to attach a name to every object. There is nothing wrong in saying that you have NO IDEA who might have made a particular piece. The objects quality speaks for itself and a name will not make it a better or a lessor quality example. Try making your evaluation without a name pushing you in one direction or another. The beauty of the piece can be seen with or without a name to go with it.
Now we should discuss the soft metal fittings made in the Muromachi period. These, for the most part, have the "name" of Ko-kinko or Ko-Goto, Tachikanagushi, or as Dr. Torigoye said, Irogane ko-tsuba. In reality we have no idea who made these pieces and they are ALL anonymous works of art. They were created by the descendants of the Heian and Kamakura artists who had been making fittings for hundreds of years. Each one is to be judged by itself and many are equal to the artistry and ability of their ancestors. There is also a type of tsuba from this period that the books do not mention. They are copper or brass plate tsuba of various designs but all are totally covered with sheet gold. They do not have a "name" but they would seem to be worn by the priestly cast. Their work closely resembles the gold covered metal objects seen on temple alters. I do not know why no other has recognized these tsuba as a group before me, but perhaps someone will study them in the future.
This brings us to the Goto family school. It would take a lifetime to do justice to the study of the Goto, but we should see how they fit into the Muromachi period. Goto Yujo (1440-May 7, 1512) is considered the "founder" of this family school. He was a samurai retainer of Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1435-1490), Yoshihisa (1465-1489), and Yoshitane (1465-1522), who were the 8th, 9th, and 10th Shoguns. The books illustrate various menuki, kogai, and kozuka that they say are the work of Yujo. If he is the great master that they say he is, then most of these pieces are far inferior to that ability. I have seen one gold menuki of a shishi, affront, that seems to be the work of Yujo, but this is the only object that shows the power and creative ability that we should see in the work of Yujo. We do not know who he studied with or why, or how he became a master metal artist. Also it is clear that he was not the only one making such fittings during his lifetime. There were many other artists who made the needed menuki and other small fittings for the thousands of swords produced in his time period. What he seems to have invented is the style of shishi and dragon design that are so typical of the Goto School for many generations. As I said, one lifetime is not enough to devote to the study of the Goto family school. If the Maeda family will let the experts fully examine the Goto documents that they hold, perhaps we can finally come to an understanding of the Goto. Until then all the attributions of unsigned and those with correct certificates will be the only way we can judge their work.
At this point we have covered only the highlights of the Muromachi period. What we should take away from this period is the underlying ideas and thoughts that make the Muromachi period what it was. The artists of this period were individualists, not part of a codified and controlled hierarchy, as is the case for the Edo period. The designs and quality of their work has the independence of mind and workmanship that show great art was created by the artists without restraints. Many of the tsuba of this period were created by one person, but in the Edo period these individual works were the foundation for the designs that the Edo artist used as their source of inspiration, which can often be seen in the many sukashi schools that came directly out of the works we see made in the Muromachi times.
Now we should take up the Momoyama period, from 1568 to 1615. There are a number of other dates for this period, such as ending in 1600 etc. What is important during this thirty or forty year period is the way it took its toll on the artists of that time. The civil wars of this time were so many and so bloody that the artist could only keep up with demand by making pieces that were for fast production and to hell with the art. Yet, we see many very fine fittings said to have been made during this period. This is the paradox in our judgment of the fittings of many total war times. How could great art come out of such chaos? I am sorry that I do not have an answer to this question, I wish I did. Perhaps someone can tell us how this is possible. In any event the Momoyama period gave us many beautiful fittings that are the equal of any other time. It also was the budding time for the Edo period, in which the first hundred years was so creative and laid the foundation for the rest of that time. Naturally the dates of any of these periods did not start or end the work of the artists of its times. There was much overlap in the styles, fashions, and the ability of the artists one period to another.
It is said that the Momoyama period produced two of the most important tsuba family groups in the history of fittings. These are the Kaneie, and the Nobuie schools. We can discuss them together as their problems and the solutions are very similar. First let us take up the Kaneie. We are told that there were TWO main masters of this family school, and that they lived at Fushimi in Yamashiro Province. Fushimi is a town just, south of Kyoto, which is on the Yodo River, which is formed by the junction of the Ujigawa and the Katsuragawa. The Yodo River comes to the sea at what is now the city of Osaka. It served as the port for Kyoto, and Osaka is where the many thousands of swords were shipped to China. The Fushimi area contains the famous Momoyama hill, from which the Momoyama period was named. At this time there was also what has been called the Fushimi castle. It was destroyed, as was the later home of Toyotomi Hideyoshi which was at this same place. Naturally we all know that the Kaneie School signed their tsuba either, Joshu Fushimi ju Kaneie, or Yamashiro Kuni Fushimi ju Kaneie. What is interesting is that there is no family name in this signature. Why should that be? The family school is said to be of the Aoki family, but there is no proof of this, and there are no signed works with that family name. Why the long address and no family name? I asked this question of John Yumoto many years ago and he said, half in jest that they wanted to advertise where they lived by such a full signature. This may actually be true if we consider the fact that the majority of the tsuba signed with the Joshu signature are of very thin plate in the center part. Why was that the case? I think that these tsuba were the type that were mounted on the many thousands of swords that were shipped to China. The center plate of the Chinese sword is very thin metal, about the same as the Kaneie tsuba. This might also explain why there are so few Joshu examples, the majority were sent to China where they were not preserved. Later the Chinese export swords might have been mounted with those produced with the Yamashiro signature but we have no way of knowing as none can be found in China. If any of this is the case then we come to my next point. I feel that the Kaneie School had many artists working as a group to make the tsuba produced by this family school. But you say, look at the signatures, they all seem to be by the same hand. That is my very point, as I think these signatures were carved by professional signers and not by the artist who made the tsuba. We know that sword blades were signed this way, such as those made at Osafune in Bizen Province. Why should not this practice also be found in the making of tsuba? The Kaneie were a factory, and a very fine one, but there are far too many examples of their work extant, not to mention the many examples that no longer exist, to have been produced by just two master artists. Also if there were just two artists, who were the artists who went to Saga in Hizen Province, as well as those who stayed in Kyoto and kept the school style going in the early Edo period, and continued to make Kaneie style tsuba for most of the Edo period? There is one other Kaneie signature that should be discussed. There are more than twenty recorded tsuba that are signed Kaneie saku on the upper right side of the sepps-dai. These signatures are genuine and the tsuba were made by an artist who worked in the Momoyama to early Edo period. His work shows several different styles, such as openwork on solid plate and some small inlay metals at times. An example was recently sent to the N.B.T.H.K. and they had no idea who he was even though there is an illustrated example in the TSUBA TAIKAN by Kawaguchi, it was rejected as gimei. I have had several examples as have my friends. Just another example of the lack of knowledge to be found in the modern "experts". As you see there are legitimate questions without answers at this time. I hope someday we can have a full and open round table discussion about the Kaneie.
The Nobuie group had nothing to do with the Myochin family school and their origin, and even the place they worked, is in dispute. The Myochin connection is the fabrication of that family group who wanted to have every famous artist, without a family name, to suddenly become a Myochin. It is said, as in the case of Kaneie, that there were two famous masters of this family school. There are two distinct signatures, as we see with the Kaneie, but we have the same problem again. There are far too many extant examples with these two signatures to have been produced by two artists if they worked 24/7 for two lifetimes, not to mention the forgeries and the many Nobuie that were produced in several provinces during the Edo period. One also has to consider that there is such a variety of styles, plate metal, and workmanship quality, that were they unsigned they would not be attributed to two artists, but to dozens. The Nobuie, like the Kaneie were a very fine factory of artists who worked together for more than two generations to produce what we call Nobuie tsuba. They, like the Kaneie, had professional signers who produced distinctive signatures for the most part, but not always. Naturally the best way to study the Nobuie is by examining their work. The finest examples will be readily apparent to the student but he must also decide how the many others fit into this family school, and if they are the true work of the Nobuie factory. Today I have seen many "Nobuie" with all kinds of certificates, that are modern copies and imitation work that somehow seems to fool the "expert" and the collector. A full and total reexamination of the Nobuie is in order and I hope someone will look into it and give it the careful examination that it deserves.
There are two other family schools that should be discussed at this point. The Yamakichi and the Sadahiro schools. The first group are said to be a derivative school from the Nobuie. We have no proof for this and the relationship seems more independent than teacher to student in its history. The Yamasaka Kichibei seem to be seven generations, plus students and the many copies that were made by the first and second Iwata Norisuke. What this adds up to is the picture of a classic Momoyama to Edo period family school that shows what the Nobuie should look like. The majority of Yamakichibei tsuba one sees are copies, imitations, or forgeries. Genuine examples are of far better metal quality and power of forging, and the others do not compare in the least. The Sadahiro are said to be two or perhaps three generations. What is important is the fact that the number of extant Sadahiro tsuba is a small fraction of the number of Nobuie tsuba. This shows that the Sadahiro production was the norm and that the number of Nobuie that exists far exceeds the norm by thousands, far beyond the few hundreds that should be in circulation. This pretty much finishes the Muromachi-Momoyama to Edo period reexamination. Some of these problems will come up again in the discussion of the many families, schools and artists of the Edo period.
There is one type of tsuba that we might as well take up at this time. That is what are called YAGYU tsuba. We all know the beautiful stories about the Yagyu School of fencing etc. BUT that should not, and does not, effect the tsuba that were made under their name. When I was a student of Dr. Torigoye he showed me a copy he had made of the Yagyu family design book. I spent a great deal of time making my own copy from his. It is far more complete than several other copies that are around. What it shows are the drawings of the various styles of Yagyu tsuba. That is fine as far as it goes. We see a large number of tsuba made in the style of these drawings, BUT that is all that we see. We have no idea who REALLY-made those tsuba. Some may have been made in the Yagyu school area, and some could and were made by a large number of artists who copied both the tsuba, and made pieces from the designs in the Yagyu book. The Iwata Norisuke father and son, made many Yagyu tsuba as did a number of other artists who were asked to copy the Yagyu designs. The unfortunate problem is that almost ALL of these tsuba were made in a very short period of time, say about fifty years, So it is very difficult to tell just WHO made any Yagyu tsuba. The other problem is that the quality of iron in Yagyu tsuba is very ordinary at best, and though there are several good designs in the Yagyu book, for the most part these tsuba show no exceptional ability. The Yagyu name is their only fame.
The Edo period, for our purposes, will be from 1600 to 1900. Naturally there was much carry over from the late Muromachi, and the Momoyama period, into the Edo period, in all art forms. Kyoto was still the official home of the Tokugawa until Iemitsu (1603-1651), grandson of Ieyasu, took the Shogunate to Edo about 1630, and the country was CLOSED! Iemitsu in 1634 enacted the SANKIN-KODAI, which meant that on alternate years each daimyo had to reside in Edo, where he left his wife and children as hostages. These daimyo had very large compounds in Edo each according to their wealth and rank. They were staffed with many samurai and many artists as well. More about the sankin-kodai later. This did not affect the fittings artists, except that they did not have, and were forbidden to have, any contact or influence from any foreigners, even those in Deshima, thus we see a full awakening of native subjects, designs, and old ideas that codified the art of the Edo period. The greatest influence on the arts of the Edo period was the rise to influence and power of the merchant class. It is interesting to note that the two most powerful merchant groups in the Edo period were the sake merchants and pawn brokers. This changed the way art goods were made and sold. The city streets now had merchant shops that anyone could go to and buy whatever they wanted. Thus the patronage of the Daimyo and the Shogun, who had supported the artists in the past, were now obliged to have those artist as direct retainers of their household, both in their home province and at their compound in Edo. This gave direct rise to what is called the MACHIBORI artist, an independent artist who could sell his works to the merchant dealer or even to the individual buyer himself. The old IEBORI artist, those who only worked for one family, were now divided into the Goto who were considered iebori and the rise of the Yokoya and many other family schools who are considered the machibori. Thus the Tokugawa now had total control of every aspect of every person in the country and if they got out of line they died. To enforce this control there needed to be many more samurai than in the past. For every artist making fittings up to now there were going to be ten new ones in the Edo period. It took many new artists to outfit these samurai with two swords and a tanto.
A classic example to illustrate the above points is the story of the Akasaka sukashi family school. At first there is said to be two brothers who made tsuba and their merchant handler, Kariganeya Hikobei (H 01256.0), who sold their tsuba at Edo in the Akasaka district, where he had set them up in business. Their tsuba became very popular with the dandy Edo samurai and they employed students to help fill the demand. By the middle to late Edo period what had been two men now was a family school of 30 to 50 artists and others who made the Akasaka style tsuba and even copies of their earlier work. This example is to be found in a large number of other Edo period family schools. Not all family schools fell directly into the iebori vs. machibori divide. Old schools such as the Shoami and Umetada were taking advantage of the expanded need for new artists but they did this more as a direct competition between themselves and were not under the strict control of the machibori influence. Except that they needed to make fittings that were the fashion of the day so they could stay in business. The Shoami were the single largest group of artists working under one family name in the entire history of fittings. They also were the most varied in styles, subjects, and ability. They' could do any type of work in any metal and they were masters of all of them. They seem to have originated in Kyoto, but in the Edo period they had a branch school in every province that had artists who made fittings. I have always wondered why there has never been a book published that was devoted to the Shoami family. One reason may be that the "experts" have never thought of the Shoami as "great" artists. There are no first class names that jump out at you when you think of the Shoami. In fact the only name that seems to have first class status is Shoami Masanori (H 04395.0). The Shoami certainly need the same attention that has been devoted to the Higo schools. The Umetada on the other hand were the direct competitors of the Shoami. In every province that there was a Shoami school there was an Umetada school. The Umetada gained much of their fame from Umetada Myoju (H 06409.0) who died May 18, 1631. He is said to be the "founder" of this family school, but there were Umetada tsuba makers before Myoju. The ability of the Umetada was equal to that of the Shoami, so much so that unsigned examples of their work are sometimes very hard to tell apart. One must also remember that there were many independent artists who did not have a patron or were on their own in a provincial area. Naturally their production was small so we know about them only if they signed their work or show such ability that they are recognized as great anonymous artists.
Now we come to that bucket of worms, the artists of Higo Province. Although the whole group can be considered artists of the Edo period, there are some aspects of their work that show origins in the late Muromachi and Momoyama periods. I do not believe that this connection has been explored as yet. Someone should take this up in the future. What is important for us is the relationship of the various schools one to the other and the relationship of the Edo Higo artists to those who resided in Yatsushiro and Kumamoto. The fashion for Higo tsuba was vast in both areas. One of the reasons that Higo tsuba, both then and now, are so popular is that they were fully backed by the famous Hosokawa family. The Hosokawa were descended from Minamoto Yoshisue (Seiwa-Genji) in the tenth century. By the Edo period they were one of the most powerful daimyo families in the nation. In 1632 Hosokawa Tadatoshi (1586-1641), son of the famous Tadaoki (1564-1645) was transferred to Kumamoto in Higo by Tokugawa Iemitsu. Tadaoki had come from Tango to Buzen with his residence in Kokura. The contemporary Hosokawa family is still as powerful as their ancestors. When the N.B.T.H.K. was formed, after the war, they wished to have a great name associated with them. That name became the Hosokawa whose name is to be found on every early certificate issued by the N.B.T.H.K. To honor him the N.B.T.H.K. wrote a very large book on Higo tsuba. It is: Sato Kanzan, Homma Kunzan, Kashima Susumu: HIGO KINKO TAIKAN, Tokyo, N.B.T.H.K. 1964, 638 pages. A large number of the items illustrated in this book came from the Hosokawa family collection. Many others came from collectors and many dealers, who had them put in the book so they might sell them. At this time I was able to buy several items illustrated in the Higo Taikan from these very dealers. This is a common practice in Japan to create a book where the objects illustrated are there to be sold. I will not go into why the Hosokawa name is no longer on the masthead of the N.B.T.H.K., as most of you will already know that answer. But we are getting away from the subject at hand. As you know there are four main family groups in Higo. They are: Hirata Hikozo, Hayashi Matashichi, Nishigaki Kanshiro, and Shimizu Jingo. These four in the first two generations are very recognizable. By the third generation we see that they were making copies of their grandfather, and were even making copies of each other. By the fourth generation, it is very hard to know who might have made a single piece. But add to this that the artists who worked for the Hosokawa at their compound in Edo were doing the same thing and you see why I call the Higo a bucket of worms. The largest group working in Edo were the Tsuboi School, but they were not alone. We do have some Higo schools where their work is rather rare, such as the Suwa, Tani, Toyama, and Misumi Koji. There are also artists not directly connected to the Edo group who were very prolific in making copies of any and all other Higo schools, such as Chisokutei Shimizu Jingo (H 0315.0), ca. 1700. The one school I have not discussed is the Kamiyoshi. For the most part the examples that you see from this school are made by the master they are attributed to, but not all as Rakuju has become so famous that there are copies of his work. To add to the above, when as a student of Dr. Torigoye in 1960, I was shown a number of tsuba said to be by Hirata Hikozo, but they were contemporary work made at that time, of excellent quality, and I am sure that they have passed for genuine now. I am sure you also know the story of the hundred or more Miyamoto Musashi tsuba I saw, at a dealer in Kumamoto, in 1960, waiting to age so that they could be sold. I am sure these have passed into many collections by this time. I am sorry that you must look at all Higo tsuba with a very jaundiced eye, but that is the way it is.
We should mention the Soten school group. I always wondered why there were so many Soten tsuba extant. I found out that the daimyo of Omi (Goshu), the Ii family employed the Soten family and that Ii Naotaka (1590-1659) in 1633 had a revenue of 340,000 koku. This enormous amount allowed him to employ as many artists as he wished. Thus he had many artists making Soten style tsuba for him as he loved them very much. In fact when he made the sankin-kodai trip to Edo ALL the hundreds of samurai in his entourage wore Soten tsuba to please their master. This went on during the whole Edo period so that there are even now thousands of Soten style tsuba extant. There were other provincial groups who produced thousands of tsuba to either please their daimyo or to fill the fashion statement that they possessed. Such as the Kinai of Echizen, the Aizu Shoami, and Mito Shoami, as well as the Bushu Ito and the many schools of Choshu Province.
I am going into the Hirata and the shippo styles only to try to set the record straight. Hirata Hikoshiro Donin (H 00408.0) was born in 1590 and died in 1646, a working time of 30 years, max. Since there are no signed examples of his work we are only guessing that the many shippo kozuka that are attributed to him were actually made by him, or if any of them were made by him. The traditions about the shippo style and family school are all conjecture and were created to enhance their style of work. Shippo fittings were made during the entire Edo period. The other school that made many shippo works were the Umetada School, but these were very rarely signed and how they might be related to the Hirata school seems never to have been explored. Then there are the many tsuba and other fittings that had shippo inlay added to them at a later date. This time only a can of worms. For me it does not matter as I do not like any shippo work.
I suppose I have to go into what are called, by some, "Christian" tsuba. As far as I am concerned there may be a Christian tsuba but I have yet to see one. The famous Nobuie example might be 0K, but I have never held it in my hand to be sure of its age. The same is true for many other examples, unless you can examine them in sunlight, with a glass, you will never know their true age, and their age is the only way that you can tell if they are of the "Christian Period" or are not just another later work to fool the collector.
As you know, in the Edo period, the samurai, and those above him in class, could wear two swords, and a tanto. During the Edo period the merchant became so powerful that he was given the privilege, in some cases, of wearing one sword. But later the leaders of the pawn brokers and the sake dealers, who had much of the wealth of the nation, were allowed to wear two swords and given honorary samurai status. Their taste went to the gaudy and they wanted as much gold on their fittings as they could afford. Just what you would expect from such nouveau riche, now raised above their station. This was the same as the Shogun and samurai when they usurped the power of the nation. On the other hand there were those who had exquisite taste in both their swords and its fittings. As you may know Akiyama Kyusaku was a samurai in the service of the Yamanouchi Daimyo, of Tosa Province. He wore two swords. He agonized over the proper fittings for his swords. The mountings had to be complementary in color, texture, subject and harmony before he was satisfied that they had the proper appearance that he desired. He was not alone in such taste, but he was probably in the minority.
Now we will enter that huge area of the KINKO TSUBA. First you will realize that what you see is what you get in kinko work, as far as the quality of that work is concerned. That said, you must train yourself to know the work, and quality of work, of the artists you are examining. This is not always easy for the first class artist may be but a slight bit better than the one below him. This is seen as the way that the "experts" judge the kinko artists in Japan. If there are two examples of work by, say a father and son, then the "experts" will assign the better example to the father and the lesser to the son. This presupposes that the father always made better pieces than his son. In many cases it also supposes that the father made nothing but masterpieces which is ridiculous, since no artist does that, and the best artist can make a work that is below his best talent. You must judge kinko fittings as you would any other art, such as paintings, sculpture, or fine carving and inlay. The best way to learn to judge kinko fittings, or any other for that matter, is to see as many as possible and make comparisons between them. It will not be long before you can weed out the often seen inferior work that is so common in kinko fittings.
What happened to the Goto in the Edo period? They continued to make much the same fittings that they had always made, but the quality of their work declined and the taste of the buyers was inclined to more gaudy work than they produced. Some of the later main line masters took to certifying the work of their ancestors. Some of these papers are OK, but others were written for money and they cannot be relied on. Naturally Goto Ichijo (H 0Y697.0) is considered the greatest of the Edo Goto but he was not a main line master and he did not work in the family style except when he was asked to. He had many students and they helped him produce the large number of examples that exist under his name.
There are a few other particular artists who should be mentioned at this time. Kano Natsuo (H 06974.0) is considered one of the greatest masters of the Edo period. I have never been able to figure why. His work, for the most part, could have been produced by any of the artists of his period, and in many cases it was made by his students and signed by him to keep up the production of over fifty fittings he was said to have made each year.
A far greater artist of this period than Natsuo, was his student Unno Shomin (H 08764.0), his sons and their students. They produced the ultimate in Edo kinko fittings, which you have to admire for the skill and craftsmanship even if they did not have the spirit of past fittings that some say was the soul of the samurai. Unno Moritoshi (H 05772.0) made fittings for Dr. Bigelow that are now in the Boston Museum. See the Ogawa book, numbers 325, and 335, both of which are signed as made to the order of Bigelow-san and dated 1883. It seems that it was the foreigners who saved the art of sword fittings in its last days after the HAITO-REI decree of 1876 which abrogated the wearing of swords in public. Some artists continued to make fittings, it was all they knew how to do to make a living. Others made all and any type of metal work that could be sold to the foreigner. But the art of making fittings is not dead as there are fifty or more artists who make fittings to this day.
Now to the admonitions of the day. These very contemporary artists who are making fittings are also in some cases making imitations of earlier work, which is all right if they sign them with their own name, but they are not the only ones. The Chinese are making all kinds of fittings and they are getting better at it each day. In fact there is so much hanky-panky that the student and collector must be on his guard with every piece that he sees. Quite enough of the bad news of the day.
Well, there you have it! My gripes, complaints, and questions answered and unanswered. There are many other areas that I could cover but I think I have given you enough for now. Anyway it is time for you to write your own paper that sees all the flaws, misconceptions, and errors in my paper. I have very much enjoyed the last seventy years as a student of the fittings for the Japanese sword and if I might be reincarnated I will wish to come back so that I may take up a life time of study of the Goto family school. Actually a tall cold drink on a sandy beach might be a better idea, either way I wish you all well and I have enjoyed your time with me and your interest in a study that not many people find as fascinating as we do.
Robert E. Haynes: Lacey, Washington, 2016