It was the end of the best of times, when our tale begins, over a hundred and twenty-five years ago. A young kosho of the noble Lord Yamanouchi Yodo Toyonobu, of Tosa Province on the island of Shikoku, began his study of the fittings of the Japanese sword. Born, November 28, 1844, he was even then, at the age of 13, well into his adventure of a lifetime of study that would last for eighty years. As you may already have guessed his name was Akiyama Kyusaku. These four score years were a constant quest for as much insight as could be obtained from self study and pure observation of the many fittings that came to his hands. These thousands of fittings that he examined with his ever questioning mind, and evaluated with the eye of an aesthetic, passed in serried ranks throughout these eighty years. Thus Akiyama was to become the first true student of Japanese sword fittings. It was not an easy task. He constantly wrote of his many doubts and queries that he could not find the answers to, even given his lifetime of study. The majority of his writing was in the form of questions, rather than assertions, showing the mind of the inquisitor. Given the times and his background, his turn of mind is surprising, but it might be explained from his years as the head of the police force of Nara prefecture. He may have learned the rational empiricism that he used in his studies of sword fittings during these working years in Nara. They held him in good stead for through doubt he found some answers and also many more unanswered questions. He was always open to the ideas, theories, and thoughts of others. Both those of equal rank and those of his students. His open mind thus gave birth to both sound theories and ideas he could neither find a foundation for, or prove. He was never adverse to changing his hypothesis when new evidence gave rise to a better explanation. This fluidity of mind and inquiry is to be seen in his writings regardless of the subject or field of investigation. From this style of study one might suppose that little of lasting value has come down to us from his studies. Such is far from the case. In fact, almost all that has been put into print concerning what we "know" about sword fittings is directly derived from the writings of Akiyama. He would not be pleased that so many of his theories are now presented, in innumerable books, as unalterable fact, rather than theory, but he would be pleased that some students have carried on his studies in his fashion. Those students of the past, and those who would write of his theories as fact, were no doubt confounded by his writings. They could not accept theory, and mentally programmed as they were, their whole life, to only accept facts, they were for ever misstating and misunderstanding both what he had said and what he thought. Now let us get back to the positive results of the many years of Akiyama's studies, rather than the negative consequences of their interpretation by so many past "experts."
Just what method of study did Akiyama use? We have some clue that he would in his early years ask the shop keepers who he knew what their ideas and theories were. These shop keepers were for the most part practical men who had achieved their knowledge by direct contact with the late Edo period artists who had actually made the fittings in question. This was fine for those works made after 1700, but what about those fittings made before the Edo period? That became the great question that Akiyama had to answer. He had no fellow students to discuss what he had learned, so he was thus forced to keep most of what he discovered to himself. Since Akiyama was more interested in those fittings used for the fighting sword, rather than the Edo period fittings made for the merchants and samurai
bureaucrats, he had to learn what he needed to know through his own examination of the fittings made before 1700. There had been one great event that made some of this easier than it would ever have been in the past. That was the Haitorei of 1876. After that date many thousands of fittings came onto the open market and could be bought for far less than their initial cost. Akiyama was thus able to see in the various shops far more fittings than almost anyone before his time. The great families opened their treasure houses to him so he could examine fittings rarely ever seen before. These families were forced, at this time, to sell many of these treasures to maintain their life style. In fact it is safe to say that Akiyama examined, made rubbings, and held in his hand more sword fittings than any one before his time. What he saw in these thousands of fittings he slowly formed in his mind into the broad periods, types, and specific schools of fittings artists that would be the backbone of his writings. He had a particular love for the artists who signed Nobuie, and he collected many of that school group. He also took particular interest in any fittings that were of a type he had never seen before. He did exclude from his studies and examination, those fittings he felt were of poor aesthetic value, and thus large groups of fittings that did not come up to his high standards of quality were dismissed as not worthy of his study. This might help to explain the many tsuba we see that we can not explain their school, period or relationship to the whole history of fittings. He implied in his writings that others should take an interest in such works, when their more important studies had been completed. For him there was still far to much to learn to take up areas that were not relevant to the many ideas he was already studying. This is another clue to the study habits of Akiyama. During the full eighty years he devoted to his studies he felt he was always learning and had never completed his studies, even to his dying day. Such a scholar was very rare in his day and today there are very few who work in his mold. Unfortunately he was not able to impart this constant love of learning to his students, who were not as many as one might expect. In fact only two of note, and several who later laid claim as his students for their own self advantage. One of his notable students, the second to last, was Noboru Kawaguchi, but he did not carry on the great tradition of the rational empirical study style of Akiyama. He felt early on that he knew as much as his teacher and did not need to study, but would record available data instead.
The second tyro of our tale was the last student of Akiyama. When Akiyama was 82 years old Kazutaro Torigoye came to study with him, he was 32. Dr. Torigoye by that time had graduated from Clark University in America, with a degree in English and sociology, both subjects he was to teach for many years at the business college in Okayama. When he came to study with Akiyama he had been collecting for a number of years and studying on his own. Now he thought it was time to learn from the master of his day. They studied together for ten years, until the death of Akiyama, on January 21, 1936. During these years Dr. Torigoye would study in a style alien to that used by the majority of sensei to their deshi. Akiyama forthrightly discussed his ideas, theories, and those facts he could prove, with Dr. Torigoye. It was a very open relationship, of teacher to student. Because of this method Dr. Torigoye was able to ask many questions, and even doubt openly the ideas of his teacher. This was unknown and unacceptable for other teacher-student relationships at that time and is still unacceptable today. Though there was a fifty year age difference between Akiyama and Dr. Torigoye they seemed to meet on common ground in their studies. The first great principle that Dr. Torigoye learned from Akiyama was his aesthetic theories. This foundation in aesthetics was to be expanded on by Dr. Torigoye when he published his own ideas some twenty-five years after the death of Akiyama. Dr. Torigoye was the true successor, in all respects to his teacher and was able to carry on and continue those ideas and theories that he learned from Akiyama. This did not mean a slavish repetition of what he had learned from Akiyama. In fact, when Dr. Torigoye published his doctoral thesis, he directly countered some of the ideas and theories of Akiyama, in print, something that was almost unheard of. Even today the student does not publish ideas that are contrary to those of his teacher. Akiyama would not have minded such contradictions of his ideas. He would have openly embraced them. Dr. Torigoye would continue this open and free relationship with his own students. This double legacy would be passed down to later generations of students.
The third tyro of our tale was born in 1930, when Dr. Torigoye was in the middle of his studies with Akiyama. It would be thirty more years before the teachings of these two great men would penetrate to this last student. As a teen-ager he was studying drawing and oil painting with a private teacher during the last of his high-school years. Coming from a family of doctors, engineers, and artists it seemed natural for this romantic to be also interested in the knights of old. By the age of fifteen he bought his first Japanese tsuba, and not long after his first suit of armor. In 1951 he was in Japan, courtesy of the army, and was buying sword fittings from H. Kusunoki in Kyoto. In London, and later in Los Angeles, he continued his studies by himself. Then through John Yumoto he was able in 1960-61 to go to Japan to study with Dr. Torigoye who had just received his doctorate from Kyoto University. It is interesting to note that Dr. Torigoye used the same method of study to teach this American student as Akiyama had used to instruct him. It was a very free and open relationship with Dr. Torigoye, to the point, at the time of leaving Okayama, he went through a ceremony of "adoption" with Dr. Torigoye. He was not the only student of Dr. Torigoye, some had been his students for twenty-five years, but they came for study once a week, and the American studied very day and took trips to see various collections on weekends. Dr. Torigoye used examples from his own collection, which was very complete, as the study of the schools progressed. After a full year of instruction they both went to Tokyo to see many of the most famous fittings in museums and private collections. After going back home to study more on his own Dr. Torigoye was able to make his first trip to America since he had been a college student. At that time he had more long discussions with Dr. Torigoye about the future course of his studies. Dr. Torigoye told him he wanted to name him his successor and that he would be the one to carry on the studies he had started and those turned over to him by Akiyama. Thus the line does continue but in the West, and this is as it should be according to the will of Dr. Torigoye.
What can we learn from this tale of three tyro? The most important thing would seem to be their studies and study methods. They never accepted, as the last word or thought, anything that crossed their mind or that they observed with their eyes should be taken at face value. Always doubt, always question, and always try to learn more than the available facts. All three considered themselves students, who had never mastered their subject, to the extent they would wish, during their lifetime. They did not think of themselves as experts, for to be an expert one would have to be satisfied that you knew all the available, and the unavailable knowledge, which no student can do. No single life time is long enough to fully master the study of Japanese sword fittings. From these three students we see that over a hundred and twenty-five years is not long enough to complete ones studies. Each tried to master the available knowledge that the past student had left and then build on that information, and hopefully add to it for the future students. That is all one can expect in any series of students. What does the future hold for the study of sword fittings? One can only hope that the student of the future will have more available knowledge to build on than did these three tyro. There are students who may carry on the studies of the past students, and add to the available knowledge, and it would seem that the very best of them are to be found in the West, unless a young Akiyama is now finding his first tsuba in the West, or East, and will be the fourth tyro.