Below is the INDEX to the various TSUBA GROUPS, SCHOOLS, & SHOKOKU.
As more information is discovered, this material will be updated.


Ko-Tosho & Tosho: Date from late Kamakura to early Muromachi periods. Generally hammered thin and ornamented with one or two simple designs pierced in negative silhouette. The quality of iron is very good which seems to indicate that metal left over from the blade was used for its manufacture. Learn more HERE.

Ko-Katchushi & Katchushi: Produced about the same time as Ko-tosho guards, Ko-katchushi guards are more elaborately ornamented and have a variety of raised rims. The metal in these guards is very strong and similar to that found in helmets of the period. Learn more HERE.

Myochin: Amongst the Katchushi armor makers was Munesuke in Kenkyu (1190-1198), who originated the Myochin School and became the founder of that family which existed until the last days of the Edo age. The oldest tsuba in existance are made by Myochin Takayoshi, during the middle of the Muromachi age. Nobuiye, the 17th master, was very well known as both armor and tsuba maker. He established a school of tsuba makers. Learn more HERE.

Kamakura-Bori: At the earliest, Kamakura-bori tsuba were made at the beginning of the Muromachi age. In reality, Kamakura tsuba are one type of katchushi tsuba. The style is thin plate with low relief carving, or bas-relief, in large bold patterns or picturesque designs. It was the samurai class who kept this style alive for more than two hundred years. The samurai saw in the Kamakura tsuba his own ideal of taste and reserve. Kamakura-bori tsuba are somewhat scarce and the information concerning them is equally sparse. Learn more HERE.


Tempo, Tembo: In the work of the Saotome school there is a combination of rough hammered surface and kokuin (hot stamped designs). The kokuin style was initiated by the Saotome school, and later the Tempo school adopted the style for use in their production. The earliest kokuin tsuba are those bearing the hana-kaze stamps. Those Tempo tsuba having signatures are usually of better workmanship than the unsigned. There are three periods of kokuin tsuba: First, the original Saotome work and the slightly later Tempo tsuba. Second, the work of the Hoan-Heianjo and the first imitations of the Saotome-Tempo style. Third, are the common late Edo age imitations of the second period. Learn more HERE

IROGANE Ko-Tsuba Groups

NOTE: It could be said that the shitogi and the aoi tsuba are the first irogane ko-tsuba. This section will begin with the kawarigane tsuba of the Muromachi and Momoyama ages. The three main branches comprising the irogane ko-tsuba group follow.

Ko-Kinko: Kokinko means "old gold craftsman". In a broad sense the term is intended to describe pre-Momoyama soft metal fittings which can not be categorized to any specific school or tradition, nor to any specific worker. The ko-kinko workers should be subdivided into three groups: the Mino Goto, the Ko-Goto, and the independent ko-kinko. With the introduction of the uchigatana precursors during the Heian period, and its ultimate wide-spread adoption by the end of the Nambokucho period, a greater demand was created for sword fittings. With the demand came inevitable diversification of technique, material and quality. Kokinko methods included techniques and materials used by the kagami-shi and tachi kanagu-shi, as well as a broader assortment including uttori, nunome, zogan, carved motifs, and sanmai awase soldering. Learn more HERE.

Kagami-shi: Kagami-shi were a very specialized group of artisans who date back to the earliest metal traditions in Japan. In the classic sense, kagami-shi cast items were made of bronze, but they later began using cast yamagane (unrefined copper). After casting decoration was limited to gilding with gold or silver. Learn more HERE.

Tachi Kanagu-shi: It is likely that the professional tachi kanagu-shi (tachi fittings maker) stemmed from the kagami-shi, as the demand for more elaborate court swords and related accoutrements grew. Tachi kanagu are fittings made specifically for tachi. These include saya and hilt ornaments, as well as tsuba. Generally, the tachi kanagu-shi employed the same casting techniques as the kagami-shi, with the addition of a number of new methods and materials. The chief base metals used for tachi kanagu were yamagane and bronze alloys. Tachi kanagu-shi employed a variety of structural and finishing techniques which included casting and alloying, sukashi, gilding, inlay or soldering, stamping, chasing and gilding, and nanako. Learn more HERE.

ONIN Groups

Onin: The full term for the two types of Onin tsuba are Onin shinchu suemon-zogan tsuba and Onin shinchu ten-zogan tsuba. These two names refer to the styles of inlay employed in the decoration of Onin tsuba. Both types were made at Kyoto from the Onin era (1407-1468) to the Temmon era (1532-1554). Learn more HERE.

Heianjo-zogan: This school may be considered a later development of the Onin shinchu-suemon-zogan tsuba style. Large areas of brass inlay are used in the decoration of this style of tsuba, but in addition to the brass inlay, silver, copper, shakudo, and yamagane were also used, thus it is better to use the term Heianjo-zogan tsuba for this school. Early Heianjo-zogan work should be considered as a branch of the Onin school and not its full successor. Later they were to develop their own naturalistic and pictorial style. The earliest Heianjo-zogan tsuba date from the Eisho era (1504-1520). Production abated in the early part of the Edo age. Learn more HERE.

Yoshiro (Kaga Yoshiro & Bizen Yoshiro): Kaga Yoshiro: Shinchu-zogan tsuba were called Yoshiro tsuba. In Edo this name applied to all brass inlaid tsuba with floral designs. Yoshiro tsuba originate from the Heianjo-zogan school and are not of independent origin. The term Yoshiro is but part of the name of Koike Yoshiro Naomasa. He is said to have been a native of Kyoto and later to have moved to the province of Kaga. Although the iron quality is good in the Yoshiro work the most admirable quality is the fine brass inlay. The contrast of the color of the iron with that of the brass is very fine in the Yoshiro work. This is not to be found in other brass inlay. The major differences between the Kaga and Bizen Yoshiro styles are: Bizen Yoshiro tsuba are younger than those of Kaga by several decades; the tsuba made in Bizen may have shakudo and/or gold in addition to the brass inlay, or may not have brass inlay at all; and the signed work of Bizen is more detailed than that of the unsigned Kaga work which seems rough and broad by comparison. Learn more HERE.


Kaneiye: The first Kaneiye signed his work 'Joshu Fushimi (no) Ju Kaneiye'. By tradition he is called Dai Shodai. The second artist of this name signed 'Yamashiro (no) Kuni Fushimi (no) Ju Kaneiye' and he was called Meijin Shodai. The first Kaneiye, by observation of extant tsuba, must have descended from one of the katchushi schools. It is not unreasonable to suppose that a superior worker of the katchushi school could have combined the best qualities of the schools of the past and created a superior style of his own. The second Kaneiye used many designs, always of a noble nature. They are quiet, graceful, and show somewhat the contemplative feeling seen in the work of the first master. The first Kaneiye worked about 1558 to 1592 and the second Kaneiye worked about 1573 to 1615. Learn more HERE.

Nobuiye: The maker of sword guards Nobuiye used seven different ways of making his signature and a number of widely differing guard styles as well. Possibly among the guards that pass as Nobuiye works there are designs by his students and by later men with the same name. Since so much mystery surrounds the man, one is in need of standards by means of which to arrive ay an idea of what true Nobuiye works are like. First, works that are true Nobuiye will impress the viewer with the dignity and assurance inherent in designs from the hands of a master. Second, they will never give the impression of being imitations by second-generation workmen or students, but will instead have the excellence and mood of historical age found only in true Nobuiye guards. Learn more HERE


Kanayama: Open work in Kanayama guards is so extensive that the remaining metal portions are very fine and slender. They belong in the ji-sukashi class. The 'tekkotsu' is another important characteristic of Kanayama guards. The nature of the tekkotsu influences the feeling of the designs worked in the iron. Learn more HERE

OWARI School

Owari: Most Owari tsuba were made of a hard, refined iron which produces a purplish patina. The rim and body of the guard together have pleasing movement which enhances the motif. The details, including the seppa-dai and hitsu-ana, are an expression of pride, logic and dignity. A careful study of these details convincingly demonstrates the careful and elaborate work undertaken to finish each piece. The Owari guards represent one of the most outstanding manifestations of the strength of the warrior and the cultivation and education of the leader. Learn more HERE.


Yamakichi: His guards occur in two styles: Earlier works, which bear the signature Yamasaka Kichibei, are thin; consequently, they lack a sense of mass and fullness. Later works, which bear the signature Yamakichibei, reveal mastery in dealing with flat metal surfaces. The forms of the guards, the beveling of the rims, and the radial surface patterns (Amida yasuri) are excellent. In general, these guards have emotional appeal and character as strong as those of the works of Nobuiye and Hoan. The tsuba of the Yamakichibei school show influence of the Kanayama and Owari schools to a greater degree than could be attributed to the style of Nobuiye. This school must be thought of as a typical school of Owari Province and any association with Nobuiye will have to be left to future research. Learn more HERE.

HOAN Group

Hoan: Hoan's works occur in three styles: In the first, he employed a method called yakite-kusa-rashi in which chemicals are used to corrode the surfaces of thin metal guards to leave patterns in them. The second style employed a method known as yaki-namashi in which high heats melt the surfaces of the guards for the sake of pattern. The third style, he once again used chemical corrosion for patterns, the metal in these last works has a purplish patina. The high-heat treated Hoan guards are notable for strength and forcefulness; the purplish-patina ones have a great sense of fullness, volume, and elegance totally without overstatement. These latter, the works of Hoan's late years, are aesthetically superior to all his other guards. Learn more HERE


Yagyu: Yagyu Renyasai (1625-94) made open work sword guards that were symbols of the ideals of the Yagyu warrior. Yagyu sword guards are relatively small with thick squared rims and bold, interesting designs. The iron is course grained and cloudy. The rims may be smooth or have a straight forging pattern. They are not noted for their sophistication or elegance; however, they do express the discipline of martial arts, Renya's enthusiasm and the peaceful climate of the times. Learn more HERE.

SHOAMI Schools

Ko-Shoami: The first tsuba of the Ko-Shoami type appear in the late Muromachi age. From that time to the end of the Momoyama age constitutes the period in which tsuba of the Ko-Shoami type were produced. There are diverse opinions concerning the origin of theKo-Shoami style. The forging, edge, web, and hammering point to the origin of the Ko-Shoami in the katchushi workers of the Muromachi age. This ability in forging a good plate would not have been possible unless this school had been a group of katchushi workers who took to decorating their plate with inlay work. Near the end of the Momoyama age the Ko-Shoami school split into several groups/schools (see below). Learn more HERE.

Kyo-Shoami: The early Edo age was the greatest period for the Shoami and the Kyo-Shoami surpassed all their provincial relatives. Their designs were richer, more detailed, and far more sophisticated than the other schools who worked in iron plate. Learn more HERE.

Awa Shoami: From information and a study of the actual tsuba it is clear that there are two styles of Awa Shoami tsuba. One is inlaid decoration in gold and silver nunome on a brass plate. The second style is iron plate usually with fan shaped or diamond shaped plates of soft metal inlaid on the surface. These inlays are decorated with gold and silver nunome or carving. Learn more HERE.

Bizen Shoami: The style of the Bizen Shoami school is rich in its decorative quality. The designs are naive but very tasteful. It has a resemblance to the Kyo-Shoami tsuba of the same period but it is not as delicate nor sophisticated as the work of the capital. The subjects of the designs are more applicable to the countryside, having a strong and bold quality. The majority of the subjects of the designs are of openwork in ubuzukashi style. They are decorated with nunome and/or iroe inlay. Learn more HERE.

Iyo Shoami: Overall, the style of the Iyo-Shoami school is simple, naive and has a country feeling. The majority of their work is in low relief carving, line carving, flat inlay, large areas of raised inlay, or mixed inlay. Learn more HERE.

Aizu Shoami: There are two techniques to the Aizu-Shoami style. The first used dark iron and very well tempered. The second style is signed, having a rough plate and the general quality is invariably poor. The tsuba made by the artists of the first style usually have good merit if signed. The lower quality of Aizu Shoami tsuba can be attributed to the lack of patronage from the Kato family who governed this province. The workers of the province were forced, as independant artists, to fend for themselves, seeking work anywhere it might be available. (see Kaneiye/Aizu TSUBA).   Learn more HERE.

Shonai Shoami: The earliest style of work from the Shonai area is that of the Ko-Shoami school. This style was used by the Yoshida family of the Shonai Shoami. Their work is later than the Ko-Shoami tsuba produced in Kyoto, but it has about the same feeling. The work of the Shonai Shoami is diverse, but with a common bond in the old Shoami style. A clue to the work of this school will depend on a feeling for the mood of the area and an understanding of the influences and trends of the age. Learn more HERE.

Akita Shoami: The name Yoshinaga is to be found from an early period in the Akita area. From examination of the work of this area, it would seem clear that Yoshinaga introduced the Shoami style into the Akita area, and if anyone can be called the father of the Akita Shoami school it would have to be he. Learn more HERE.

Other Shoami: There were a number of other Shoami workers in various provinces who were either independent artists or members of such small groups that their existence has been over looked. Two schools of note are the Bushu Shoami and the Sakushu Shoami.
The Bushu Shoami workers were descendants of Jirohachi who remained in Edo. The work of this group is in the Kyo-Shoami style or that of Jirohachi. The Bushu Shoami tsuba in Kyo-Shoami style are often mistaken for the work of the Kyoto school. This may be avoided by an examination of the iron plate. The Bushu Shoami plate is not as old or as rich as that done in Kyoto. The Bushu Shoami school existed at a later date than did the Kyo-Shoami school.
The Sakushu Shoami school style resembles the Inshu Suruga school work. In this respect the work of the Sakushu Shoami differs from that of all other Shoami schools. With this adopted style a provincial feeling is also to be found.


Kyo-Sukashi: The first period of Kyo-sukashi guards is from the late Muromachi to the early Momoyama age. Most Kyo guards have refined, elegant patterns and very finely executed open work. One might describe Kyo guards as imbued with a sense of Kyoto elegance. Learn more HERE.

Heianjo Sukashi: The Heianjo sukashi tsuba, though made at the same time as first period Kyo-sukashi work, is slightly different in style but the two schools might be confused in some cases. The openwork of both schools is complex and by the Edo age the two styles had merged. Naturally the Heianjo sukashi school is closely related to the Heianjo zogan school. Learn more HERE.

Daigoro: Daigoro tsuba (Kyoto Sukashi tsuba) that emerged after 1700 (Sasano dates 1804) under the patronage of the dealer Daimonjiya Gorobei who started in Kyoto and later moved to Edo. Learn more HERE.

Ko-Umetada / Umetada: The Umetada school first appears in the Tensho era (1573), its pre-existence unexplained. Of the four great schools in Kyoto at this time, Ko-Shoami, Kyo-sukashi, Kyo-Shoami, the Umetada was the least known. Learn more HERE.


Akasaka: The name for this school comes from the district of Akasaka in Edo where the artists of this school resided. The tsuba of this school should not be placed in the first rank (Torigoye). The poor quality of the iron and the forging, with the monotony of the shape, is the reason for this ranking. The reason for the spread of the name of this school throughout the country was its fresh approach and attractive openwork patterns that were far beyond the conventional tsuba of the day. Interestingly enough, there is a stylistic change in Akasaka guards at about this point in their history: the first three generations of masters produced guards in the Owari tradition; many of those after the fourth master assumed the position to follow the Higo tradition. The tsuba of the first three generations are nearly always more than 2 bu in thickness. After the third generation the thickness is about 1 bu 5 rin, which is average for the Edo age. The sides of the walls of Akasaka tsuba are straight and stiff, the term for this characteristic is kittate, meaning to be cut as sharp as a cliff. Learn more HERE

HIGO School

Hirata Hikozo: The first master of the Hirata school, Hirata Hikozo, was both a small fittings maker and an appraiser of precious metals. His work shows traces of Shoami influence and it is thought that he learned from the Shoami craftsman while in service of the Hosokawa family. The first master Hikozo worked in special alloys including shakudo and suaka. He was well known for a special technique used to embellish his rims (odawara-fukurin), and rarely worked with iron. The Hirata group, who belong to the Higo kinko class of guards makers, incorporated Western feeling into Shoami styles and thus created a distinctive personality of their own. Among Higo kinko guards Hirata works are truly outstanding.Learn more HERE

Hayashi: The Hayashi family school is sometimes called the Kasuga school from the name of their residence. Beautiful metal, delicate open work, lofty design patterns, gentlemanly dignity, and outstanding luster make Hayashi works one of the flowers of open-work guards. Learn more HERE

Nishigaki: In general it may be said that the style of this school is a combination of the two great schools of Hayashi and Hirata. To this was added a feeling of Kyo-sukashi and Kyo-Shoami. Learn more HERE

Shimizu: The first generation was very famous for his fine raised brass inlay (shinchu-suemon), and was also proficient at several other techniques such as gold or silver hammered onto a cross hatched base (nunome-zogan), ji-sukashi, and also the use of other alloys (kawarigane). The designs of the first and second Hikozo are sophisticated, whereas, the first Jingo's tsuba tend to be bold and powerful. They have a distinctive character with incomparable energy. Learn more HERE

Kamiyoshi: His plate has a fluid and plastic feeling, more refined than any of the early Hayashi. Also the color of his plate is browner in color than the early masters. Learn more HERE

SPECIFIC Schools / SHOKOKU Tsubaco

Tosa Myochin: In the late Edo period, armorers from Tosa took the name Myochin and became known as Tosa Myochin. Their guards can be clearly distinguished from Akasaka and Higo works by the characteristic chisel marks (kakushi-tagane) at the edges of the tang hole. The ways in which Tosa Myochin craftsmen rounded the rims and lowered the level of the metal surfaces are characteristic and different from the techniques used in Akasaka and Higo work. Learn more HERE

Akao: The tsuba of this school for the most part, whether made in Echizen of iron plate, or in Edo of kawarigane plate, are better than the late work of the Shoami school and the kinko. The early work of this school shows the superior ability above that of the majority of the contemporary workers of their period. The number of tsuba made by this school was few, for they were kakae-ko (artists who worked exclusively for a daimyo family). Learn more HERE

Hazama: The Hazama tsuba is one of the most sought after styles. The reason for this popularity is the use of sahari inlay in the decoration. Sahari is an alloy of several metals that is very hard. There is another name for Hazama tsuba: the Kameyama school. In the period of 1704-1736 at Kameyama, in the province of Ise, the Kunitomo family made this style of tsuba. The original members of this family were from Kunitomo village in the province of Omi, just east of Lake Biwa. The sahari style of inlay had been used by this family for generations in the decorations of gun barrels; it was not a decoration original to tsuba. Learn more HERE

Kaga: The three famous schools of the Kaga area are the Koike Yoshiro, Kaga Myochin, and Kaga Goto. In kinko work this province is famous for Kaga zogan, Kuwamura, and Katsuki. In addition to these there is the Horai school, a branch of the katchushi. Learn more HERE

Kinai: The Kinai style originally came from the Shoami school, in all probability, but it also was to borrow from the Choshu style as well. This combination of the Shoami-Choshu styles is the basic feeling for all Kinai tsuba. Learn more HERE

Ko-Nara/Nara: The first Nara, Toshiteru, studied under the Goto masters and achieved skill at inlaying and decorative ornamentation. After his time the other members of the family, and the school that grew up around them, felt that they should differentiate their style from that of the Goto. To accomplish this end they chose to continue the decorative style of their teachers, but they applied it to iron plate, rather than the soft metal plate traditional with the Goto. Learn more HERE

Oda: The Oda school is said to have come from the Ito school, or at least to have had close stylistic connections with the Ito school. It is plausible that the Oda school artists were self-taught, and it would seem that they did not learn their style directly from any other school. It is probable that the Oda artists saw Ito tsuba and borrowed ideas from them to add to their style; but it is plain from their work that they also borrowed designs from the Choshu and Soten schools. From this we can see that the Oda tsuba will show traces of the style of the three above schools, augmented by the provincial style of their own. Learn more HERE

Sado: Smiths working on Sado Island during the middle of the Edo age produced tsuba that have an antique feeling, but do not seem to be of any certain origin, style, or school. They worked in a mixture of Owari, Akasaka, and Kyo-sukashi openwork styles. The walls of the openwork tsuba are wider than those made by the schools mentioned. Learn more HERE

Soten: The first and second Soten were splendid at their chosen style. The iron is of good quality but the tempering is quite common. The nikubori is inferior. They tried to cover this fault in the iron quality by making a good edge and using fine decoration. Although their work is usually on iron plate, the plate is subordinate to the decoration. Their work should be judged on the quality of the carving, inlay and designs. The majority of later Soten tsuba are but a poor imitation made by shiiremono makers in the late Edo age at the docks of Yokohama. They account for more than ninety-five percent of all Soten tsuba extant. Learn more HERE

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