Akiyama Kyusaku was born in 1843 (Tempo 14) (1) at Kochi in the province of Tosa (now Kochi Prefecture) on the island of Shikoku. Tosa had been given to the Daimyo Yamanouchi Kazutoyo in 1600, by Tokugawa Ieyasu, with income of 242,000 koku. At the time of the birth of Akiyama Sensei the province was administered by Yamanouchi Toyonobu (1827-1872). He was more commonly known by his pen name of Yodo. “He was the first, who on the advice of Goto Shojiro, wrote to the Shogun asking him to remit the government of the country to the Emperor”. (2) Akiyama Sensei, at the age of 9, was named as a kosho (child page) at the court of the Yamanouchi. He was thus trained in the manners and customs of the Daimyo aristocracy. In this position, he was given the privilege of wearing two swords. (3) It is said that he began his studies of tsuba at the age of 13 (1856). He studied by himself at that time. He used the available books, such as the SOKEN KISHO, MAMPO ZENSHO, and SHINPIN SUROKU. When he was 14 he saw the Americans in company with Lord Yamanouchi. He was 25 when the restoration (1867) took place. At the age of 26 he became the principle of Kainen gaku (school) in Tosa. He married and had his eldest son at age 27, who died in the Russo-Japanese War, as a Major, in Manchuria. He had several other children, two girls, and three boys who died young. At age 55 he became the head of the police force at Nara prefecture and was given the rank of Kodaken, fifth grade official rank. A position he held until his retirement a number of years later. From age 56, when he was not engaged in his official duties he was studying tsuba.
When he was 73 (1916) he published “TOBAN OSHIGATA SET¬SUMEI (Explanation of Oshigata of Tsuba) magazine. (4) During his life time he had made about 10,000 oshigata of tsuba, in 22 volumes. They are now thought to be at the Yamanouchi family archives. (5) Akiyama is said to have wanted to destroy them on his death, but his family gave them to the Yamanouchi in recognition of his service with that family. Kawaguchi stated, “that at the last moment of his last breath he gave the volumes unreservedly to the family”. Kawaguchi was the student of Akiyama Sensei when the master was about 72 years old (1915). When Akiyama was 82 years old, in 1925, Dr. Kazutaro Torigoye became his student. Akiyama Sensei lived at Ushigome ward in Tokyo at that time, and on his first visit Dr. Torigoye took ten to fifteen tsuba to show. Akiyama Sensei said that they were by and large, second class pieces and could be replaced in two or three days in Tokyo. He did pick up one sukashi tsuba from the group and said he liked that one very much. It was an old Kyo sukashi example. Dr. Torigoye offered it to him as a gift, which he accepted. Later, before Dr. Torigoye started his lessons, Akiyama Sensei sent him a gift of a first generation Bizen Suruga tsuba. The letter with the gift is dated April 21, 1926. (6) Dr. Torigoye studied with Akiyama Sensei for the next ten years. Akiyama Sensei had three collections in his lifetime. The first two collections he did not keep for he felt they were inferior examples, and that he could learn nothing more from them. The third collection was about fifty pieces that he gave to the head of the Yamanouchi family on his death.
He did not put his tsuba in boxes, where he could not see them. He had a board that hung on the post of his tokonoma with about six to ten pegs in it. When one of the tsuba that was on view would not come up to the high aesthetic standards that Akiyama Sensei demanded of his collection, it would be replaced with another, until he felt all the examples were of equal quality in his eyes. Those that remained in his collection at the time of his death were as fine a group of his class tsuba as 80 years of experience and study would allow.
At the age of 58 he began to write articles for the TOKEN KAI-SHI (the journal of the CHUO TOKEN KAI) (7). He continued these articles until his death in 1936. They concerned a large range of subjects, though mostly in the form of thoughts and notes on various areas of tsuba, history, swords, and what ever else came to his recollections. At the age of 81 to 83 he disclosed his theories about sukashi tsuba, Kaneiye, and Nobuiye. In 1926, at age 83, he published the NOBUIYE TSUBA SHU of the Nakamura rubbings of 143 Nobuiye tsuba.
He did not believe in societies and group teaching. He preferred to study alone, or with a single student. He did like to discuss tsuba, and many other areas of art, with a small, but select group of friends. Though today most of what Akiyama Sensei wrote or proposed as ideas on many areas of the study of tsuba are taken to be the last word on each subject, he was far from sure that his ideas were to be without reservation. A classic example is the term we use today of KO-HAGI TSUBA. A student came to Akiyama with a very old tsuba with kiku and leaves in sukashi. Akiyama Sensei said to the student that, “if there were such a thing as old Choshu tsuba this piece is probably what they would have looked like”. Inamura Choga, another student, heard this and went on to say that this style of tsuba was KO-HAGI, removing all of the qualifiers that Akiyama Sensei had put into his statement.
This happened in many other cases with his ideas. Kawaguchi thought that Akiyama Sensei was seriously considering the idea that there were nine generation of the Kaneiye school. He did not mean this statement to be interpreted as proven fact. He was only thinking that because a tsuba is signed, “I am the 9th generation Kaneiye”, that it was an interesting area to study, IF the signature were true. It is a shame that the ideas of Akiyama Sensei have become so distorted with time.
In the 93 years of his life he lived longer than many of the famous artists of his period, such as Unno Shomin, also born in 1843, who died 1915. Goto Ichijo died when Akiyama Sensei was 33. Hagiya Katsuhira died when he was 41. Kano Natsuo died when he was age 55. In fact he outlived all the great artists of the late Edo to Showa period. It is interesting in his writings that he has so little to say about the ability of his contemporaries or about their art. He did not much care for the work of the late kinko artists and the tsuba that were made in his life time he dismissed for the most part. His interest lay in the tsuba produced in the Muromachi to the Genroku period. A few selections from his articles in the Token Kai-shi Journal should be of interest to the student today. In the March 1908 issue he writes: (8) “I went lately to Osaka and I saw my oId friends and some curio dealers, and found that several had moved or were dead. I was fortunate enough to see several (remaining) shops and to obtain more than twenty pieces. Candidly, I was obliged to buy, as a guide was kind enough to take me round. I gave trouble to the shop keepers, but not a piece can I be proud of to show to my friends (it is giri-kai, i.e. duty buying). The Yamanaka shop is an old well known establishment that had many things for sale, the staff was very courteous, I was treated better than I ought to, and I regret that I could not see even half the stock as I was in a hurry to come home, and I thought I would have a chance to go again. This shop is very famous among foreigners and natives, and is worth visiting. Then I went to Kyoto, and visited Kishimoto, the shop is at Yanagibaba oike, where my oId teacher and friend Gensuke lived. It was in this house that many of my queries were settled. I am very sorry that he is dead. His son is a very cleaver man, improving the business with more stock than his father. Then I went to Nagaoya as I knew Asahina & Sons. I was welcomed and treated like a great man and they asked many questions for study. This is one of the largest shops in the country. Then I went to Okazaki, I used to live there one year, about 18 years ago. It is quite changed. There was no Doguya who I had known, but fortunately two amateurs, Watanabe and Inuzuka, were able to show me several fine things from which I learned very much, and I thanked them, but I could not buy anything there. On this trip I bought a manuscript titled, MEIBUTSU TSUBA KOSAKU SHU, dated Bunsei 9 (1826) in September. Although not a very old work, yet the Akasaka family is mentioned up to Sandai Tadatoki. In this book there are several very strange opinions!” He then goes on to outline these strange ideas and what he thinks of them with only slight comment.
In a 1905 article he says: “The articles Zakan issoku (?) (this series of articles) have already appeared in 80 numbers, chiefly irregulatory (sic ?) talk, there are many articles which should be rubbed off, and few worth keeping, and I wish I could have a rest for a little this year. My oshigata collected during the last 50 years (this would mean that he made his first oshigata at age 21) are about 3,000, which is less than one tenth of all the tsuba I have seen, (this would mean that at age 62 Akiyama had seen about 30,000 tsuba) and I wish to arrange them in order according to periods and schools, but I have a very bad habit since my young days that I never finish anything yet. I am afraid it may end in a bad result like the poem by Kagawa Keiju, ‘Ikutabi ka omoi sadamete kawaruran asasora tashiki waga kokoro kana’, (which means) ‘often decided and often changed, it is dreadful to my mind’. Since I became a retired man I have made a study of tsuba in some years and in others I studied kodogu. Last year I was very keen in furnishing swords. My intention this year is a very difficult study (he does not say what study) it seems useless labor, but there is great interest in it.” These selections from his writings I hope will give you some idea of the workings of the mind of Akiyama Sensei.
Akiyama Kyusaku Daishodai Sensei (9) died January 21, 1936 at the age of 93. Kawaguchi Noboru died in 1964. Dr. Kazutaro Torigoye died September 18, 1980, at the age of 87. Akiyama Koenji was the grandson of Akiyama Kyusaku. He was living in Tokyo in 1961, at the age of about 60. He had no interest in tsuba.
(1) I do not have the day and month of the birth of Akiyama.
(2) E. Papinot, Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan. Charles E. Tutle Col, 1972, page 746.
(3) In later life Akiyama was photographed wearing swords to show the proper method. He mounted his swords to his taste. Iron tsuba and fuchi kashira by such as the first Yasuchika.
(4) This magazine seems to be unknown.
(5) Dr. Torigoye said this about the collection of oshigata. He said that Akiyama gave the 22 volumes to him, and they were destroyed when the house of Dr. Torigoye was burned at Okayama in a bombing raid.
(6) When a student of Dr. Torigoye I saw this letter in 1961.
(7) The Joly translation dates from January 1901 to his death in 1919. From 1920 to 1936 should be translated for all.
(8) These quotes are from the H.L. Joly handwritten manuscript translation of the TOKEN KAI-SHI from January 1901 to 1919.
(9) I have given the title of DAISHODAI to Akiyama Sensei. It is taken from the designation of the “Joshu” Kaneiye having that term applied to the first generation of artists. See also the Harry Afu Watson translation of volume 6 of the Nihon To Koza, page 22, under Kaneiye, line 18, where the term is translated as, “Patriarch or Grand Master”, which I think befits Akiyama Sensei.