JSSUS Newsletter Volume 8, no.1, 1969

The articles on this page originally appeared in JSSUS newsletter Volume 8, no.1, 1969.  


Illustrations from the original 1969 newsletter are shown at the bottom of this page.

[Translated from the German by Helga E. Reap and Alan L. Harvie, and taken from Shinkichi Hara's Die Meister der japan- ischen Schwertzieraten (Hamburg: Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg, 1931).] Hana wa sakuragi, hito wa bushi. tree's blossom, beautiful is the warrior's status." "Just as the cherry So went the song of the warrior in the Land of the Rising Sun whose "soul" the sword was.1 To beautify this soul as much as possible, one employed a variety of precious materials for its decoration; before the time of Yujo (1440-1512) however, such adornment was chiefly modest and conventional.

Figure 1. Guard of gilded copper (?), with six per- forations; excavated in 1780 at the village of Fu- nada near Shirakawagōri in Mutsu Province (present Iwaki). According to the Shuko Jisshu. Ht.: 7.6 cm.

Figure 2. Guard of gilded copper (?), with seven perforations; excavated at the village of Omura near Shira- kawagōri in Mutsu Province (present Iwaki). According to the Shuko Jisshu. Ht.: 9 cm.

1This is not to say that only the warrior carried a sword. From the Ashikaga period, or even earlier, every farmer, craftsman and merchant carried two swords until the Shogun Tsunayoshi, in the year Tenna 2 (1682), forbid all of them, except the warriors, to carry two swords. The farmer, craftsman and the merchant were allowed to carry one short sword only for special occasions such as a wedding, a funeral or on a journey. Some knowledge concerning the ancient swordguards has been handed down; the earliest period of the rest--proper sword fittings--is still, on the whole, obscure. With the exception of a small quantity of excavated prehistoric swordguards (Fig. 1 and 2) and a few very small swordguards of elliptical shape, 1 the oldest swordguard in the Shōsōin treasure house is of a modified hexagonal form, small and thick, much like the cross guard of the medieval European sword, sometimes much thicker than wide.

Figure 3. Oblique view of a shitogi tsuba with katsuragane. Reduced.

Such a form of swordguard, of Chinese origin, was later fitted on both sides with an arch-shaped attachment--katsuragane; this is named shitogi tsuba (Fig. 3), because it resembles the shape of a rice cake: shitoqi. The so-called "Chinese" sword of the Emperor Shōmu (d. 756) in the Shō- sõin bears a very small shitogi tsuba without katsuragane. The swords Tamoki no Tachi, Sugaru no Tachi and to some extent Kusaqusazukuri no Tachi in the Ise Temple have shitogi tsuba, partly without, partly with katsuragane. Also, in the Mishima Temple in Iyo Province is preserved the sword of Taira no Shigemori (d. 1179) that has a gilded shitogi tsuba

Another type The silver swordguards of the two swords which Katata Hiobu (16th century) dedicated to the temple at Itsukushima, have similiar shitogi shape with katsuragane. of tsuba is called aoi tsuba (Fig. 4), so-called because this shape is formed of four aoi leaves whose tips point outward. Such as, for example, the sword- guard on the sword of the Emperor Go-Shirakawa (a. 1192). 1192). These two types of swordguards consist mostly of copper alloys and are specifically for ceremonial swords, whose blades were not always of steel but often of raw forged iron or wood. The sword- guard of the battle sword was different. This was of mokko shape (quatrefoil, Fig. 5)1 or round, seldom of a different form; it consisted mostly of black lacquered leather and was called neri tsuba, or was of iron often covered with leather, also of copper and silver, and was either not decorated or with only the simplest, regularly divided perforations in the shape of the so-called "boar's eye" (inome, Fig. 6). For example, the following historical swordguards, all of mokko shape:

Figure 4. Aoi tsuba. Reduced. 1 Also found in ancient tombs were several elliptical swordguards of copper or iron, but without perforations. Figure 5. Mokko tsuba. Reduced.

Figure 6. Guard with four inome. Reduced.

The guard of the famous sword called Kogarasu-maru of the Taira family, which was once owned by Sadamori (10th century), of four layers of black lacquered leather pieces with gold edging. Also, but without trim, the guard of the sword of the famous hero Minamoto no Yoshiiye (d. 1108) in the Tsuboi-Hachimangu Temple, and that of the sword of Taira no Shigehira (second half of the 12th century) in the Mishima Temple in Iyo Province of leather with brass trim.

Also, the mokko-shaped guard of the famous sword Oni- maru of Hōjō Yasutoki (d. 1242) is made of black lacquered leather. Similiarly, the guard of a sword of the Shogun Takauji (d. 1358) is supposed to have been made of leather. Swordguards of leather are also found much later as, for example, on the sword which the Shogun Yoshiharu (d. 1550) presented to Yura Narishige (Giobu no Tayu). This swordguard of mokko form consists of five layers of black lacquered leather pieces with copper trim.

1 oblong mokkö shapes were found among the swordguards excavated in 1869 near the Ise Temple on very old kusagusa- zukuri no tachi.

The swordguard of the sword of Minamoto no Yoriyoshi (d. 1075), which is pictured in the Shuko Jisshu, is of el- liptical shape and of undecorated copper with gold lacquered rim. Very interesting is the swordguard which Kiogoku Uji- nobu, in the year 1286, had made from a horse bridle bit once owned by his famous ancestor, the hero Sasaki Takatsuna (Fig. 7). This elliptical swordguard has simple, regularly divided perforations and shows clearly the influence of the oldest swordguards (Fig. 1). There is, furthermore, on a sword which Mori Terumoto (d. 1625) dedicated to the temple at Itsukushima, a round iron swordguard with golden trim but without decoration.

From these genuine historical landmarks it can be concluded that for the earlier ceremonial swords, shitogi or aoi tsuba and for the battle sword mostly neri tsuba or un- decorated iron swordguards were used.

In the catalog of the collection of Japanese sword- guards in the Louvre, Hayashi illustrates ten iron swordguards executed with perforations, partly in negative and partly in positive silhouette, which he has designated as work of the 10th to 14th centuries. In the first edition of this work I established that this is completely unfounded as, according to the statement of the antiquarian Sakakibara Kozan who, quoting the book Muromachike no Ki or Muromachi Kaki, in his Hompo Tokendo (published in 1795), writes that sukashi tsuba, viz., perforated swordguards, first appeared in the time of the Shogun Yoshinori (d. 1441). Wada also agrees with Saka- "It kibara, but says in his Hompo Sōken Kinko Riakushi: cannot be said that before Yoshinori's time absolutely no swordguards with sukashi-bori, viz., with perforated work in negative silhouette, existed, because among ita tsuba (see below) of swordsmiths and armorers before the time of Yoshinori a few sukashi-bori can always be found. To avoid misunderstanding, one must distinguish between ita tsuba and sukashi tsuba." Under ita tsuba, literally "board tsuba "--a new word which Wada, or his consultant Akiyama, has devised--one should vis- ualize an iron plate on which the design is executed in negative silhouette, and un- der sukashi tsuba are only such guards whose designs are represented in positive sil- houette: this is absolutely wrong. Apparently Wada did not understand the actual meaning of the word sukashi tsuba and therefore came to this erroneous conclusion.

Figure 7. Iron guard of 1286. In the possession of Vicomte Kiōgoku in Tokyo. In Töken Kwaishi, No. 210. Ht.: 8.5 cm.

Sukashi tsuba, an abbreviation of sukashibori no tsuba, as neri tsuba results from nerikawa no tsuba, is ac- tually a swordguard with sukashi-bori (see above). Very late, perhaps in the first third of the nineteenth century, a new term for sukashi tsuba was introduced; namely, jizu- kashi tsuba, 1 viz., a swordguard whose design is pierced in the plate, and it does not mean anything other than the true sukashi tsuba. This was done to distinguish between the swordguards with negative and positive silhouette, because swordguards with positive silhouette, such as the Akasaka work, were originally called uchinuki sukashi tsuba, 2 short- ened to sukashi tsuba. And, finally, all perforated guards. with relief on both sides are called sukashi tsuba. Earlier, however, as mentioned above, one understood sukashi tsuba to mean only swordguards in negative silhouette, as the renowned antiquarian Ise Sadatake (d. 1784)3 calls the swordguard of the hero Ikeda Shōniu (Fig. 9) simply sukashi tsuba, whereas Wada wants to call it ita tsuba.

The sukashi tsuba of the time of Yoshinori were not of positive but of negative silhouette, and are, therefore, found amongst the old, particularly beautiful, works of the Miochin. Wada illustrates in his book a large iron sword- guard with susuki grass and full moon in negative silhouette which is named "Takayoshi," and which is by the hand of the famous -Miöchin Takayoshi who, around the middle of the 15th century, therefore at about the time of Yoshinori, was work- ing in Kyōtō. Even if it should be questioned that this swordguard indeed originates in the 15th century (cf. p. 49) it is, nevertheless, a very early piece and can be used as a verification of my previously expressed opinion. and has given them his newly created designation: Heianjo sukashi tsuba. This statement of Wada's, however, lacks every proof. Even so, it is an impossible historical devel- opment that these elegant, exemplary swordguards suddenly came into being without any intermediate stage. My opinion is that swordguards of this type were first made around the end of the 16th century, whereas, in general, accord- ing to various sources, sword- guards produced in positive silhouette did not seem to appear before the first half of the above-mentioned cen- tury, as best shown by the swordguard of the Shogun Iye- yasu (Fig. 10). Furthermore, I would like to mention that these large, thin so-called sword- smith and armorer swordguards with plain perforations which are credited with having the great age of 700 years, orig- inate, in fact, mostly around the time of the great civil wars of the 16th century. Seki also expresses himself similarily. This statement agrees with the fact that the famous master-swordsman Tsuka- hara Bokuden (d. 1572) favored swordguards in negative silhouette (kirinuki), and the hero Akai Akuyemon (d. 1579) always used large, thin perforated swordguards in negative silhouette.

Wada now pictures in the illustration volume of his book, as work of the time of Yoshinori, two iron swordguards; one representing the Tomoye crest, the other the Yatsuhashi Bridge, which are in positive, slightly relieved, silhouette

1 Akiyama explains in his Tsuba Oshigata Setsumei this term for swordguards in positive silhouette, which is absolutely wrong.

2 This means swordguards whose designs were created by beating out the ground.

3 It is said that Oda Nobunaga preferred to wear swordguards in negative silhouette. Ise also mentions in his Teijō Zakki, that someone had seen Nobunaga's tachi tsuba in negative silhouette (cf. Fig. 8).

Figure 8. Guard of a sword of Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582). According to the Buki Sodekagami. Diameter: 8.2 cm.

Figure 9. Iron guard of the renowned sword of Ikeda Shōniu (1536 to 1584). According to the Hompo Tokenkō. Height: 7.6 cm.

Figure 10. Iron guard of the Shogun Iyeyasu (1542-1616). Preserved in the Toshögu Temple at Nikko. According to Token Kwaishi, No. 148. Diameter: 8.3 cm

The fine arts during the time of the Shogun Yoshimasa (d. 1490) are represented by prominent artists: the paintings by Shubun, Sotan, Sesshu, Mitsunobu and Masanobu; the makiye lacquer art by Igarashi Shinsai and Koami. Michinaga; the mask carving by Sankobo; the metal casting by Yaami In particular, one great artist of the close circle around Yoshimasa influenced the high development of one of these arts which, without Chinese influence, developed in Japan: the art of sword decoration. He is Gotō Yujo, who can properly be called the father of this art. He was born the first son of Mototsuna in Mino Province. Even as a child Yujō showed talent for plastic art. Only eight years old, as is told, he formed a little monkey of clay so life-like that a big bird came flying down, grasped it and flew off. Later on, Yujo was employed by the Court of Yoshimasa But, as and proved to be a talented and intelligent youth. a high tree has to suffer from a strong wind, so did Yujo's fortunes not always prosper. When he was eighteen years old he was, through the envy and jealousy of his colleagues, dismissed from his position and thrown into prison. summertime. Out of sympathy his jailor gave Yujo a peach to quench his thirst. Yujo surreptitiously begged for a small knife and carved on the peach pit fourteen ships (for a Shinto procession) and sixty-three monkeys. This phenomenal achievement he gave to the jailor out of gratitude who, in turn, presented it to Yoshimasa. Delighted by the work, he freed the prisoner and ordered him to engrave sword decora- tions. Yujo obeyed this order. Calling himself Yujo (earlier he had used different names), he had his hair cut and received the title Hokkio. It did not take long until the Emperor Go Hanazono heard about this; he gave Yujo the title Höin, a title which, aside from Yujo, no other sword decorator ever had received. Yujo died on the 7th day of the 5th month of the year Yeisho 9 (1512). Since the 5th master, Tokujo, all of his descendents have certified the work of their ancestors only on the seventh day of the month.

So much for his life! Technically he did not produce much that was new, but his great accomplishment concerning Japanese sword decorations was his development of a new style using dragons, lions and other motifs for his reliefs, and using these motifs appropriately to create menuki, kōgai and This style is not too naturalistic, nor is it pictur- esque, but it is a type of the engraving art as Noda Yoshiaki (d. 1825) rightfully said. Yüjo's works are generous and noble, very strong and lively, because his chisel technique is robust, even slightly bold, only using his chisel where absolutely necessary. He made only the three above-mentioned true sword decorations, never swordguards, because they are not sword decorations but are a means of defence for the hand. He used gold and shakudo exclusively for his works. His descendents often used other metals, but never iron,,as it was forbidden to the Goto to fabricate works of iron.(1)

Yujo's descendents, many of whom are famous as mas- ters, enjoyed high honors having been hereditary sword decorators to the Shogun for sixteen continuous generations of the line. All sword decoration artists, except the tsuba artists (see Prefatory Note I), were students of the Goto or stood completely under their influence.

The art of the tsuba was carried out as a separate speciality. Except for a few single artists and artist's families of reputation, such as Nobuiye and Kaneiye, the most famous tsuba artists came from the Umetada and Shoami schools. The swordguards of Higo Province--Higo-Tsuba--, of Hagi in Nagato Province--Hagi-Tsuba--, of the Akasaka district in Yedo--Akasaka-Tsuba--, from the Suruga family in Inaba Province, of the Ito school in Yedo and those of art- ists named Kinai in Echizen Province are also of good reputation.

Following the Genna Period (1615-1624) there was, in general, peace in all of Japan and the arts developed to full blossom. The Daimyo employed hereditary artists and permit- ted them to practice their art undisturbed. This also applied to sword decoration artists who, earlier in Kyoto and its suburb Fushimi, had worked for Hideyoshi. A portion of these artists were appointed by the Daimyo of Kaga to preserve the impressive characteristics of the time of Hideyoshi, and who established his work could not be distinguished from that of the Goto. This was not Somin's intention however; he wanted to make a name for himself through his own style. So, relinquishing his salary because he would have been forced to work in the Goto style, he created a new style which was pictorial and He made sword decorations in this style of high, colored relief, which are highly valued. veloped a new style of engraving, namely yefu-kebori, which took from pictures by Tanyu (d. 1674) or he received them from his very good friend Itcho. How intimate Somin was with this famous painter can be seen by that, during the time Itcho was exiled on the island of Miyakejima, he cared for and nursed Itcho's mother for eleven years as his own. did not always confine himself to the broadside of a kozuka, which was satisfactory to the Goto school; he preferred to use the bold shape and especially the large representations, His chisel work is always very strong and almost always bouyant, sometimes detailed with great care, depending upon the motifs. Somin's influ- ence on the art of sword decoration was so strong that even the proud Tsujo, the eleventh Goto master, was obliged to let himself be affected by Somin's style. Somin was the first "bourgeois" engraver, and can be compared with the first Court artist, Yujo. He died in the year Kioho 18 (1733) in which had been unknown until then. the 64th year of his life.

How well regarded, but also how conceited he was, can be seen from the following little story.

His friend, the well-known millionaire and epicurian, Kinokuniya Bunzayemon, called Kibun, ordered menuki from him Three years with paulownia and gave him ten rio in advance. Kibun became impassed without the menuki being finished. He reminded the artist several times. Sōmin did not like this and he returned the advance. Later, however, he completed the menuki with each one, engraved in gold, representing a paulownia flower. This marvellous work Sömin did not present to Kibun but to another millionaire who, in return, presented the artist with fifty rio. And, since that time, Somin never repeated such work.

About a hundred years before Sömin a new technique developed by the metal-artist Hirata Donin (d. 1646) was introduced to the art of sword decoration. This was the shippo (enamel) art, which had been known prior to the Nara Period (710-784); it seems, however, to have been later lost and which Donin, at the order of the Shogun Iyeyasu through the intermediation of the Diamyo of Tsushima, was taught by The work of the Hirata, called Hirata shippo, con- sists mostly of translucent panelled enamels, whose colors are extraordinarily clear and bright. This art remained the important secret of the Hirata who, for ten generations, were hereditary enamelers to the Shogun. Only to Suge Nagaatsu, who lived in the first half of the 18th century, did his teacher Narikado, the fifth Hirata master, initiate in 1723 into this secret. But it seems that the technique of the Hirata work was also known to Umetada Naritsugu, who also worked in the first half of the 18th century and lived very near to the Hirata family, because there exists in the Oeder Collection a fuchi-kashira by him with some rather unclear but translucent champleve enamel, while the Umetada (not to be mistaken with the famous family of tsuba artists of the same name), who also were living in Kyoto, usually made sword decorations, primarily fuchi-kashira, with opaque panelled enamels which have been copied in Nagoya. I would like to take this opportunity to mention that swordguards of brass with unclear, opaque, predominately of white and green champ- leve enamel, have been made since the end of the 16th century in Kyoto, and probably also in Kaga Province.

In the first third of the 17th century there appeared a new school--the Nara School--which was influenced by the Goto school and, more than likely, by the great tsuba artist Kaneiye, which distinguished itself through strong chisel work in the manner of the Goto and through plain, realistic interpretation. In the beginning the style is plastic, later more picturesque. It became famous, though, primarily in the 18th century through the students and student's students: Toshinaga, Yasuchika, Jõi, the originator of sunken relief, shishiai-bori and Masayuki, the founder of the Hamano school.

These three families--Goto, Yokoya and Nara--repre- sent the main schools of the art of sword decoration; they maintained their style but not in a strong division, min- Numerous other schools of artists gling their techniques. are nothing more than a variation on these main schools.

In the 18th century, especially in its first half, the art of sword decoration reached its zenith. Besides the above-mentioned masters, Naomasa (d. 1757), Jochiku (middle of the 18th century), Jimpo (d. 1761), Teruhide (d. 1798) and Konkwan (d. 1801) worked in Edo, and Naoshige (d. 1780) and Nagatsune (d. 1787) in Kyoto. The last one especially distinguished himself by following a naturalistic tendency, as did his fellow-student, the famous painter ōkio, 1 from whom Nagatsune received various designs for his work.

1 lōkio and Nagatsune were students of the painter Yūtei.

In the provinces also there were different groups of artists working of whom, aside from the above-mentioned Kaga group, several Mito artists merit special mention. The art of sword decoration later became effeminate, but there were still some prominent artists. Around 1800 there appeared Tomomasa in Edo, who unfortunately died pre- maturely, and Mitsuoki in Kyoto, who was influenced by the well-known painter, Ganku (d. 1839). Mitsuoki founded the naturalistic Ozuki school, which the famous Natsuo belonged to.

In the 19th century Haruaki and Kiyonaga worked in Edo and Ichijo in Kyoto. The most distinguished of these masters is Ichijo whose designs, because the important paint- er Yosai (d. 1878) advised him, were extraordinarily diverse and fresh.

The last famous master of sword decoration is Natsuo, who handed down this art from old Japan to New Japan and pre- served it against the European influence. Natsuo's work is naturalistic and completely influenced by the Maruyama and Shijo schools of painting. As his teacher Raishō (d. 1871) distinguished himself through the painting of carp, so also do Natsuo's carp belong to his best work. His swordguards, though, are not distinguished.

With the upheaval in the year 1868 and the 1876 proc- lamation forbidding the wearing of swords, the art of sword decoration came to an end; the artists, therefore, losing their subsistence and having to with difficulty live from hand to mouth. Even Natsuo was compelled to make metal fit- tings for tobacco pouches, which was an ignominy for a sword decoration artist.

The most important sword decorations made after the upheaval, as far as I know, are those by Natsuo, his student Katsuhiro and four other artists, by order of the Emperor Meiji, during the period from July 1893 to December 1896.

Sword decorations are, without a doubt, the best ma- terial for the study of the art of Japanese engraving from the artistic, as well as from the technical point of view; because the best artists of engraving devoted, at all times, all of their vigor to sword decorations. How highly these artists were regarded can be seen in that they, as were the painters and sculptors, not infrequently were awarded the title Hokkio or Högen. Noblemen also engaged in this art as amateurs, such as the aristocratic Ishiyama Mototada, the Daimyo Akimoto Tsunetomo and the versatile artist-priest of the proud royal line, Sakai Hoichi, under the name Kishin. Women, who also made themselves familiar with this art, were not lacking; the best known is Jotetsu, the daughter of the previously-mentioned Jochiku.

With the coming of proper appreciation, the works of this so-highly prized art have been, and are, eagerly collected outside of their mother country, especially in Eu- rope and North America. Frequently, though, one encounters one-sided collections of which some only contain iron sword- guards, the others only elegant works. The largest and best under consideration of all factors of assembled collections of sword decorations in Germany are those of the Museums für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg, the Staatlichen Museen in Berlin (formerly the Gustav Jacoby Collection) and of George Oeder in Düsseldorf.