|YAGYU TSUBA |
by Robert E. Haynes (2003)
Perhaps a better title for this paper would be YAGYU TSUBA AGAIN. The subject of Yagyu -kips tsuba has seemed to fascinate Western collectors since the publication of the first book by Sasano Sensei (Masayuki Sasano: EARLY JAPANESE SWORD GUARDS, Japan Publications, Inc., November 1972). On page 17, under 9. Yagyu (107-124), Sasano gives a very succinct and accurate account of the history of Yagyu tsuba. One can also find the ideas of Dr. Torigoye in, TSUBA AN AESTHETIC STUDY BY KAZUTARO TORIGOYE AND ROBERT E. HAYNES FROM THE TSUBA GEIJUTSU-K0 OF KAZUTARO TORIGOYE, edited and published by Alan L. Harvie for the Northern California Japanese Sword Club 1994-97, bound volume March 2000. On pp. 93-96 one will find more details than contained in the Sasano entry. In the publication, ART AND THE SWORD, volume three, 1990, the Bulletin of the Japanese Sword Society of the United States, edited by Bruce W. Kowalski and James McElhinney, on page 10 are twelve lines devoted to the Yagyu school as part of the article, A Comprehensive Survey of Bishu Kinko, by Homatsu Wakayama, prepared for the 14th annual national convention of the Nihon Token Hozon Kai, October 1983. Also see; AFU, Harry Afu Watson: NIHON TO KOZA, VOLUME VI, JAPANESE SWORDS, KODOGU PART ONE, published by Afu Research Enterprises, Inc., 1998, pages 280-283. Here the information about the Yagyu school is mixed through the section on Owari Tsuba, with two Yagyu tsuba illustrated on page 283. The latest article on Yagyu tsuba has been published in; SOLINGEN - Deutsches Klingenmuseum. Ausgewahlt Japanische Kunstschwerter aus Europaischen Sammlungen der N.B.T.H.K., 2002, by Michael Hagenbusch, Eckard Kremers, John Nandris, pp. 211-227. An English translation is available. An exhibit of Yagyu tsuba was displayed in Solingen at the time this paper was issued, that were from various German collections. For the latest information, in English, see; Robert E. Haynes: THE INDEX OF JAPANESE SWORD FITTINGS AND ASSOCIATED ARTISTS, Nihon Art Publishers, Ellwangen Germany, 2001, under Yagyu
H11083.0, Yoshiuji H12281.0, and Toshikane H10388.0. For publications in Japanese, one should first see, Wakayama Takeshi: TOSO KODOGU KOZA, 8 volumes, Tokyo, 1972-74. In volume I, page 284-291, under the heading, Bujin no Tsuba ("Samurai Tsuba") one will find the source for much of the information published in Western publications. The most interesting work in the Japanese language, on the Yagyu group is; YAGYU TSUBA (SHAHON YAGYU REN NARI TSUBA FUROKU: "With Suppliment of The Handwritten Manuscript of Yagyu Tsuba") by Miki Yoshitomo, Osaka, 1997. This work, which is not paginated, has 17 pages of text and reproductions of the drawings of the original 36, (actually 35) Yagyu tsuba, and additional drawings of 125 of the later designs for Yagyu tsuba. This work is based on a copy of the family held manuscript of the original drawings still in the possession of the Yagyu family school. During my study with Dr. Torigoye in 1960-61, I had the good fortune to be able to borrow the copy Dr. Torigoye had made from the original Yagyu manuscript. I spent many hours making my own copy, from his copy. This work had an additional 75 drawings that are not contained in any other source. When one compares the Torigoye drawings with those in the Miki book you will see that the Torigoye examples are far more detailed and have better commentary than any other manuscript. I would be happy to have my copy reproduced for those who are studying the Yagyu family school, should they wish. What can one learn about Yagyu tsuba from the above sources? Unfortunately not enough! The information in all sources is about uniform and gives little help to a thorough study of Yagyu tsuba. As in many cases for the names of various tsuba styles and schools, it was Akiyama Kyusaku who first mentions Yagyu tsuba. When he visited some dealers and collectors in Osaka he was shown what the owners called Yagyu tsuba, about 1900. He liked the designs, but thought the quality of the iron plate was very ordinary. He guessed their age at mid to late Edo period, and thought they were far inferior to the work of the Kanayama school of tsuba. Since Akiyama judged iron plate tsuba
on the quality of the iron, he did not have much respect for the work of the Yagyu school, and only mentioned it in regard to other Owari area tsuba schools. The reservations of Akiyama have been forgotten by the students and collectors today. It is Sasano Sensei that gave the Yagyu tsuba a respectable name. He very much liked the designs and the mingei quality of the work. As we know, Sasano worked very heavily on the surface quality of his tsuba, and he gave his Yagyu tsuba a far better appearance than they would normally have had. I understand the tsuba exhibited at Solingen had this same surface quality. This makes the study of the Yagyu tsuba very difficult, for the student can not examine the true plate quality of these tsuba, as they are naturally, when they study the majority of examples outside of Japan. The inability to study the iron plate quality is not the only problem for the student of Yagyu tsuba. Since the first Yagyu tsuba were made in the late Genroku period (1688- 1703), their production continued until the last of the Edo period, ca. 1868. The original Yagyu tsuba, commissioned by the Yagyu family school were made in Owari for perhaps 50 to 75 years, lets say to about 1775. This takes into account the famous signed and dated Yagyu style tsuba which has been illustrated several times. The design is a gourd vine which in my drawings of the Yagyu designs are numbered 56 and 58. This tsuba is signed: Yoshiuji, and is dated 1763 at age 70, see H12281.0. This tsuba seems to have had little study in Japan, and naturally confuses any study of the Yagyu school. No one seems to be able to tell us who this artist was and how he was related to the Yagyu school. If this were not enough, the student must be able to wade through the many Yagyu "style" tsuba that were made from 1750 to the present day. We know that Iwata Norisuke, first and second, (ca. 1800-1880) H07397.0, and H07398.0, made many copies of various famous tsuba schools, such as the Yamakichibei, Nobuie, and others. What is not so well known is that the majority of their copies were of Yagyu school tsuba. This can easily be seen if you examine the Norisuke design books. The Norisuke were not the only ones making
Yagyu imitations. There were several independent artists working in the Osaka area who made copies of Yagyu tsuba from about 1750 to 1850. Since many of these "copies" were made close in time to the originals, I defy anyone to tell me what artists made any particular Yagyu tsuba. The poor example late fakes can be sorted out by the quality of the iron, in many cases. The iron of these examples will be the boring homogeneous quality to be seen in most factory iron plate tsuba of the late Edo period, but even these I have seen with a polished Sasano style finish that makes them look almost like some of the originals. When you come right down to it what we are talking about is money. If some poor collector pays four or five thousand dollars for a Yagyn tsuba I would hope he can have some idea of what he is buying. Naturally no Yagyu tsuba is worth these prices in the first place, but the market created by many in the last few years has given rise to a value far in excess of the true quality of the examples of the work to be found in these tsuba. Actually what we have said about Yagyu tsuba can be applied to the study of any other tsuba group, family, or school. Do not be influenced by fashions in tsuba and do not buy any piece if you have not already made a full study of what it is you are purchasing. Unfortunately most fittings buyers seem perfect victims for the buyer-be-ware syndrome. Also be able to examine the plate of the tsuba for signs that it has been over cleaned, re-colored, over polished, or otherwise badly treated. Do not let anyone tell you that these destroyed tsuba are the true way that they should look. Yagyu tsuba are but one of many other iron plate sukashi schools. They are late sukashi and their iron is not of very good quality. They appeal to our mingei tastes and show a amateur primitive quality that seems to be in fashion today. There are many fine sukashi tsuba of the period from 1450 to 1600 that are superior to all Yagyu tsuba in every way. Study those examples and then you can put the Yagyu tsuba in its proper place in the full history of sword fittings.
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