KANEIYE AND THE MYOCHIN NOBUIYE FAMILY
Under the Ashikaga shoguns (1338-1573) the power of the military
governors (shugo) increased to such an extent that there was established
between them and their retainers a
vassalage which severed the direct communication between the latter and
the shogun as it had existed in former times. At the same time the
shugo were not strong enough to completely control these minor landholders.
Insurrections between them occurred constantly, and the
frontier lines were continually being disputed and shifted. Japan was
literally torn asunder into a number of semi-independent bodies, with
Under these circumstances the sword took on an added importance. In the various provinces, schools of metal-workers developed who devoted their entire time toward the making of armor and especially toward the perfecting and embellishing of the sword for the resident feudal lords. In spite of the dark aspect of these times, great artists arose, such as the landscape painter Sesshu and the master worker in metal, Kaneiye, both of whom bear witness to the statement that the arts, in the Ashikaga period, advanced to a remarkable degree. There occurred during those years a renaissance of the Chinese influence which left its traces in all branches of art; for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and Ashikaga Yoshimasa are among the great patrons who worked intensively for their nation's growth along cultural lines. Although Goto Yujo (1435 or 1440-1512) is conceded to have been the originator of working in relief as a form of decorative art in metal, to Kaneiye must be granted the place as first having applied upon iron tsuba the processes which Goto Yujo used only upon the smaller sword ornaments. The date of the first Kaneiye is one of the much debated questions in the involved study of sword-guards. M. de Tressan, in his chapter on Kaneiye, after discussing the opinions of Hayashi, Hara, and other authorities, has come to the conclusion that he must have flourished during the period 1480- 1530, between the time of Goto Yujo and Nobuiye I, of whom some would make him a pupil. H. Joly, in the last of his excellent catalogues on Japanese tsuba, says, "The name Kaneiye has been adopted by several craftsmen, the first of whom lived at the end of the Ashikaga period, and is usually termed Oshodai Kaneiye (Mr. Akiyama says that his work was an improvement on the Onin tsuba) ; others Shodai and Mei jin Shodai, followed him closely, and others again imitated him, either before 1600 or afterwards. Lastly, as to the date of the founding of the Kaneiye school, Bashford Dean, in his luminous chapter on Kaneiye, observes, "The first generation appears to have flourished during the last quarter of the sixteenth century—some experts say much earlier, even a century. The second generation dates roundly from 1600 to 1650, and the third generation from the middle to the end of the seventeenth century."
It may be seen from the stress put upon this question, in what importance Kaneiye tsuba are held. Out of the many thousand signed ones whose signatures generally read "Made by Kaneiye, who lived in Fushimi in Yamashiro" (and these have probably been added long afterwards), there are very few genuine Kaneiye tsuba, as a collector will readily realize when he has the fortune to look upon an authentic work from the master's hand. Three distinct Kaneiye who worked before the eighteenth century are thought to have existed, judging from the technique and decoration of specimens determined as originals.
1) The tsuba of Kaneiye Shodai are usually of elongated, oval form or occasionally of mokko form, of a very hard quality of iron, the subjects of decoration being personages, classical, or religious, sculptured in sharp relief, with inlay of silver or gold on the faces and ornaments. The form of tsuba known as kobushigata, in outline resembling a closed fist (kobushi), is said to have been introduced by him.
2) Kaneiye Nidai, whose work is held by most experts as superior to Kaneiye Shodai, worked in lower relief with great simplicity, and exquisitely depicted the landscapes so suggestive of Sesshit and the Kano school. A characteristic of Kaneiye Nidai is the finishing of the edge, which is often irregular and bordered by a folding over of the metal in very low relief.
3) The third Kaneiye, whose tsuba are heavy and generally round, preferred birds and flowers as his subjects of decoration.
All three are remarkable for the effect of pliability which has been given to the carefully worked iron. In the early specimens the reliefs of precious metals are sparing, but applied with remarkable effectiveness, while the later followers of the Kaneiye school frequently used gold and silver in higher relief. Since the greatness of the Kaneiye artists was recognized even by their contemporaries, numerous followers and copyists of varying degrees of ability sprang up and endeavored to supply the demand for these desirable tsuba. As was observed above, there are thousands of guards signed "Kaneiye," many of which are very evidently poor copies or late productions. Distinctions have been worked out by which the genuine signatures may be identified, such as a sharp cutting of the hook stroke in the iye, but it is not safe to rely on these incidental facts. The art expressed, and the treatment of the medium of the tsuba under consideration, are the only real bases on which to test a genuine Kaneiye. To appreciate the meaning and appeal of these artists, one must consider the philosophy of the Zen sect of Buddhism, which had such an influence on Sesshu, the artist from whose works came much of the inspiration of the three Kaneiye, especially Kaneiye Nidai. In the revival of Chinese culture in the Ashikaga period, there appeared in the paintings of many artists, especially Sesshu, that spirit of the grand calm of nature which followers of the Zen sect sought for in their practice of deep contemplation and the mental concentration on the absolute. "The Zen sect was the most influential among the samurai class in old Japan, and still has many adherents among educated men. Through the practice of Zazen, its believers acquired presence of mind, calm resignation to destiny, renunciation of worldly desires and, above all, fearlessness before death, all these qualities greatly contributing to the formation of the spirit of Japan called Bushido."
This Buddhistic spirit pervades certain of the tsuba of the Kaneiye to a remarkable degree. On these limited fields and through the recalcitrant medium of iron, these masters have in rare cases captured and interpreted some truly noble landscapes. The votive stone lantern, a typical form seen in the cemeteries, has been chiselled out of the iron and filled in with a gray pewter covered with punches which tend to produce a stone-like surface. The guard is signed Kaneiye Yamashiro Kuni Fushimi ju ("Kaneiye who lived in Fushimi in Yamashiro"). It was acquired early in the eighties in Japan by Edward Greey, and bears all the marks of being a genuine product of the first Kaneiye. The two other examples herein illustrated are in the style of Kaneiye Nidai, who, we are told by S. Hara and others, came from the family Aoki. He also lived in Fushimi in Yamashiro and later moved to the province of Higo. Two other names, Jubei and Tetsunin ("Iron Man" or "Iron Kernel") were used by him, according to S. Hara and the Honcho ko-kon zan ko-fu ryaku. The author of the latter book, Kuwa Hara Mago-no-jo, mentions the fact that in Yamashiro there is iron very suitable for swords and sword-fittings. With the same simplicity, a similarly large view of nature is encompassed within the small field of this almost circular iron guard. Above are mountains crowned with rugged trees, which rise as in mystery from a misty foreground, all suggestive of the Chinese landscape. On the very edge of the tsuba are two geese with golden bills, modelled in low relief, one stretching its long neck, calls to break the silence round about; the other, pushing through the low rushes, which are bedewed with silver drops, moves toward the water's edge rippled by a soft breeze and pictured on the reverse side of the guard. It has much of the quality of Kaneiye Nidai, but is more likely the work of one of his followers in the late seventeenth century. Though unsigned, the third of the tsuba which represent this school of workers, was evidently made by an artist thoroughly imbued with the same lofty spirit as the Kaneiye themselves, and worked out with a feeling and technique worthy of his masters. The form is a modified mokko, and the metal is also a soft brown iron. The subject, a favorite of the Zen followers, is full of allegorical meaning, reminding one of the "Song of the Ten Bulls" by Sokko Zenshi of the Sung dynasty (963-1279).
Probably contemporaneous with Kaneiye was Myochin Nobuiye,
likewise a great artist. Mention has been made in the foregoing pages
of the work of the Myochin armorers, and some of the tsuba bearing
marks characteristic of their workmanship have been described and
illustrated. The members of this famous family are said
to have been the court armorers from the twelfth century to the
eighteenth, Munesuke being credited with the production of the famous
helmet of Yoshitsune (1159-89), which is now in the monastery on Mount Kuruma,
and which, on account of its elaborate reliefs of precious metals, is
doubted by some to be of so early a period.
The tsuba of the armorers generally are found to be of iron, either plain or with sober designs chiselled in negative silhouette. The foldings of the layers of iron (mokume ji; literally, "wood grain"), which can be distinguished on close examination, add greatly to the beauty of these objects and lead us to agree with H. Toly that the Myochin must have been taught tsuba-making by the swordsmiths who forged the blades from layers of iron of varying hardness. Indeed, many of the Myochin are known to have been swordsmiths themselves, several members of this family being listed with the pre-eminent Masamune. With the advent of Nobuiye, the seventeenth Myochin, the processes of the armorer appeared on the sword-guard ; forceful designs, primarily of dragons executed in repousse.
Nobuiye I, who has an outstanding place both as an armorer and a tsuba maker, was the son of Yoshiyasu, and lived at Shirai in Kozuke in the first half of the sixteenth century. The years 1554 or 1564 have been given as the date of his death, which occurred in the seventy-ninth year of his age. Imitations of his work and forgeries of his name are almost as common as those of the Kaneiye. According to H. Joly/ there are several artists of the name of Nobuiye, who resided in other provinces than Koshii, and who must not be confused with Myochin Nobuiye. He used many names, the tradition being that he called himself Yasuiye (not to be confused with the Yasuiye of the nineteenth century), until Takeda Harunobu rewarded him with the last character of his name "Nobu" in recognition of his talent. Other signatures used by him are: Sakon no Shokan, Osumi no kami, Iyeyasu, Rakui, Koshii Myochin, Ujiiye and Gakui.
The second Nobuiye, son of Nobuiye I, was named Ujiiye, taking the name of Nobuiye II in 1550, and also signing his work Shichirodayu and Iyeyoshi. Sadaiye (1513-74), likewise a son of Nobuiye I, was the eighteenth Myochin, and lived at Odawara and later in the province of Iga. He was also called Matahachiro and Heiroku. Working from the information given in the Soken Kisho (1781), M. de Tressan classifies the tsuba of Nobuiye in the three following categories,—( 1) those decorated in karakusa ("floral scrolls"), characters of writing, and the tortoise-back design; (2) those in openwork and positive silhouette; (3) those in repousse, hammered and chiselled in a remarkable style, imitating shells. The centipede seems also to have been a favorite motive with Nobuiye, and appears chased in low relief on an excellent specimen in the Naunton collection. This design may have been a favorite of Takeda Harunobu, who is said to have recognized the art of Nobuiye ; for it will be remembered that he favored the Shingen tsuba which often were decorated with the centipede. Since the centipede is associated with Bishamon, the god of riches, whose aid is sought by warriors, this motive naturally would have its appeal as a decoration for the sword.
Many of the followers of Nobuiye adopted the tortoise-shell design for the ground pattern on their tsuba as well as the mokume ji. E. Gilbertson has traced the genealogy of this famous family and characterized the products of the leading members. Many of the followers of Nobuiye are listed in this article. Those who are represented by specimens in Field Museum of Natural History are the following:— Munekuni, an artist not listed by S. Hara, but one who is probably identical with the Munekuni referred to by E. Gilbertson, who was called Iwami, and who lived at Aizu in the province of Mutsu about 1751-63.
Munenori, family name Myochin, who worked in Tsuchiura in the province of Hitachi. He also used the name Yukiye. Yoshihisa, family name Myochin, worked in Echizen in the first half of the nineteenth century. The tsuba is signed "Myochin Munekuni." It is circular and of dark brown iron, chiselled to represent the bark of an old tree. This treatment is undoubtedly a development of the true mokume ji of the earlier Myochin workers. At the top of the guard, on both the obverse and reverse sides, there is a branch of pine in relief, with needles inlaid in gold. Below at the right on the obverse, in high relief of copper, is the cast-off shell of a cicada (semi). This insect is the symbol of resurrection in China. The other specimen is of later date and also of interesting workmanship. It is signed on the obverse Myochin ki Munenori nukinde tansei kore wo tsukuru ("Myochin Munenori distinguished for great diligence made this"). On the reverse, the inscription reads, Bunkyu gan nen shu getsu jo ran ("In the early part of an autumn day in the first year of Bunkyu"; that is, 1861). The tsuba is of mokko form, and is made of brown iron, chiselled to represent a helmet with small laminae. Both sides are identical, and the whole is very light on account of the fact that the "laminae" are rounded and hollow. Altogether it is a remarkable piece of chiselling. The seppa dai are separate plates affixed to either side, and each is unevenly notched on the edge. It is interesting to see the traditions of the early Myochin armorers reflected in this helmet-like design of nineteenth-century workmanship.