After one has absorbed the available knowledge in the study of fittings of the Japanese sword one must reflect on its source. What
was the origin of this information and how did it develop? If we do not have a full understanding of our primary sources we do not have the ability to
judge what we have taken such great trouble to learn. What is more important, we cannot grow in our studies beyond these primary sources. Thus what are
these sources and how and where did they develop?
For the hundreds of years that the sword was actively worn there was no need for either the artist who made the fittings or the wearer to concern
themselves with their origin. Certainly the great family schools were concerned with their heritage and the spread and fame of their name, but we shall
see that this fame, in most cases, came far after their origin. In fact it was not until the end of the Edo period that anyone concerned themselves with
the origin or study of the fittings of the sword.
The printed material that is extant consists of a few woodblock printed books such as the TOBAN ZUFU (1753), by Matsumiya Kanzan, which was originally a
few dozen rubbings and drawings of tsuba with some slight comments handwritten beside them. The TOBAN FU which was another collection of drawings printed
in woodblock form. The TOBAN SHINPIN ZUKAN, in the Nordenskjold Library manuscript #525, Stockholm Sweden, see: J. S. Edgren, ACTA BIBLIOTHECAE TEGIAE
STOCKHOLMIENSIS, (CATALOGUE OF THE NORDENSKIOLD COLLECTION, of Japanese books in the Royal Library), number 967. The SOKEN KISHO (1781) by Inaba Tsuryo,
which has the first small list of tsuba artists names and a few kao. There are such single artists or family design books as the NOBUIE TSUBA FU, HOAN TSUBA
FU, and the YAGYU TSUBA FU. These three are of far more historical interest than as text books. These few are all the sources we have from the Edo period.
What we can learn from these and the few other early books that were for the most part private manuscripts? They do give us some history of our studies but
not the true information that we need to study sword fittings. It is not until October 1900 that we have printed information that is still of any value to
this day. At that time Akiyama Kyusaku wrote his first article for the TOKEN KAI-SHI (The Journal of the CHUO TOKEN KAI). In 1900 Akiyama Sensei was 57 years
old, and was considered the senior authority on the fittings for the Japanese sword. What was the source of the knowledge of Akiyama? He was self taught for
the most part, but he mentions in the Joly translation of the TOKEN KAI-SHI journal (page 108, March 1908), that “I went to Kyoto, and visited Kishimoto, the
shop is at Yanagyubaba oike, where my old teacher and friend Gensuke (Kishimoto) lived, it was in this house that many of my queries were settled, I am very
sorry that he is dead.” This was the only method that one could use to study at this time. You put yourself in the hands of a dealer-teacher and learned all
that he had learned in the same way. This method was still in use up to the 1950’s and is still in use in the Japanese “country-side”. But we see that some
foreigners were students of sword fittings at this time (1900). How did they study sword fittings? In much the same way. Joly studied through Yamanaka & Co.
in the person of Hogitaro Inada, Daigoro Goh, H. Mutsu and other gentlmen from Japan who were living in London. On the continent the sources of knowledge were Tadamasa Hayashi (1894) and Shinkichi Hara, who we hear of first (May 26, 1896), when Brinckmann discovered him. These two men taught Samuel Bing, Hugo
Halberstadt and Brickmann. Hayashi is a very good case in point if you rely on a primary source without doubting all that you hear. He was a proud man who was asked to teach the foreigners ALL about the arts of Japan. His knowledge of the fittings of Japanese sword was very limited indeed! He could not admit this and one will see in his catalogs of his collection tat he was guessing, at best, when he dispensed his “knowledge” about sword fittings. Thus we come to the first lesson in any STUDY SITUATION. DO NOT BELIEVE ALL YOU ARE TOLD, AND ONLY SOME OF WHAT YOU SEE IN PRINT.
So what are the sources for the study of sword fittings? The first source is Akiyama Kyusaku. Almost all you read today and what is put into print by all the
“authorities” we take for granted can be traced back to the writings of Akiyama. Was he a reliable source? For the most part he was. Even he admits in his
written work hat he is but a student, and not the last word on the subject. The great value of Akiyama as a teacher is that he taught himself about tsuba from the many hours, days, and years of close observation of the many thousands of tsuba that passed through his hands. Also first and foremost Akiyama was
interested in the aesthetics of the study of tsuba and not in the business of applying names to pieces. He was not the only serious student at this time in Japan. The two other men who must be mentioned are Kuwabara Yojiro and Ogura Soemon. Kuwabara studied the Goto school and the kinko artists and schools of the Edo period. His work in these fields was just as pioneering as that of Akiyama’s studies of the iron schools and the origins of the history of sword fittings. Again we find that almost all the books and information that we have today concerning the kinko artists comes from the writings of Kuwabara. Ogura (his shop name was AMIYA) is another case in point. He was the greatest dealer of the Meiji period. The reason that he became a dealer was the Haitorei edict of 1876. When this promulgation was enforced, the wearing of swords in public was abolished. Thus many tsuba and other fittings came onto the market for the dealer. This market was not in Japan. There were a few collectors that were born through this edict, but the real market was in Europe. Such men as Hara, Hayashi, Bing, Brinckmann, and Halberstadt all bought from Ogura, as did Mosle’, and Bigelow. What can be said for Ogura was he was a true student of sword fittings and certainly one of the most knowledgeable expert-dealers of his period. It is a shame that he did not publish the many thousands of fine fittings that passed through his shop. Today in almost every Japanese book on fittings all the fine examples were purchased from Ogura, as are many of the best pieces in books of the Halberstadt collection (by Nobuo Ogasawara) and the Boston Museum Collection (by Morihiro Ogawa). This dealer-collector relationship should be continued to this day.
Back to our sources of knowledge. All the information written and available up to 1945 was dispensed by the authorities mentioned above, or their immediate students. Two of these should be mentioned. About 1910 to 1920 Noboru Kawaguchi was a student of Akiyama Sensei. He later also studied briefly with
Kuwabara. The last student of Akiyama Sensei was Dr. Kazutaro Torigoye who studied from 1925 to 1935. These two men are the sources of the study of sword fittings after the war period. Kawaguchi was the specialist in the Goto and the Kinko schools, as Kuwabara had been before him, and Torigoye was the master of the iron schools and the history of sword fittings, as Akiyama had been in his day.
As you will have noticed I have said nothing about the authorities or the sources of study of the sword blade. That is a separate study that I hope someone will write about. But there are sources to be mentioned in connection with the blade. The masters of the study of the blade have always had an interest in the study of the fittings. None wrote about fittings to any extent until after 1945. At that time the N.B.T.H.K. was reformed and had space in the National Museum at Ueno Park. Dr. Jungi Homma wrote MASTERPIECES OF JAPANESE SWORD GUARDS in 1952. The short introduction in Japanese and English is pure Akiyama in every word and statement. In fact even today most of the publications of the N.B.T.H.K are based almost wholly on the works of Akiyama and Kuwabara. There have been other sources since the end of the war. The most notable original thinking is to be found in the books by Sasano Masayuki, particularly TOSOGU NO KIGAN, Tokyo 1979, and his last book on sukashi tsuba printed in 1993. Both these books broke new ground for the student and contain important source material that will advance the knowledge and study of sword fittings.
So one can see that the student has to be both very careful in his studies to know the origin of his source material and to relate that material to what
advancement he can hope for in his own knowledge. There will not be a growth or an advancement in the available knowledge unless those students of today
find the truth in the sources of their information and add to it from their own knowledge and studies. I want to thank Robert Burawoy for his assistance
and knowledge of the early book sources on sword fittings. His bibliography of the blade and the fittings, is the most complete source that is now available.