An Assessment of Japanese Sword-Fitting Literature

It was not until the "opening" of Japan and the flood of diplomats, entrepreneurs, missionaries, etc., had the opportunity to take stock of their surroundings and make note that we see the beginnings of information on the Japanese art of sword fittings. In 1882, George Audsley, an architect in Liverpool, published a two-volume work entitled Ornamental Arts of Japan, followed by an American edition in 1883. Also, in that same year, Louis Gonse published his two-volume work L'Art Japonais. In 1886 Justus Brinckmann, of Germany, published Kunst und Handwerk in Japan. In the United States The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, published its Description of the Collection of Japanese Swords, 1885, followed by a definitive volume on tsuba by Okabe Kakuya, Japanese Sword Guards, ca. 1907.

This unleashed a flood of books, mostly personal collection catalogs, some of which are worthy of note. In England we have those of Sir Trevor Lawrence and Michael Tomkinson, in France we have those of Pierre Barboutau, Hayashi, Brenot, Gillot, Garie and Bing, and in Germany that of Justus Brinckmann. Also, in Germany, in 1905, Gustave Jacoby published his translation of Col. Nagaya Shigena's Higo Kinko Roku, an excellent book with many details and dates of the Higo schools. This, by the way, was translated and published in the Bulletin of the Japanese Sword Society of the United States; Volume 4, Number 1, Autumn 1963.

In 1902 the Hamburg Museum published Shinkichi Hara's Die Meister der Japanische Schwertzieraten. A seminal work taken from Japanese sources which lists Japanese sword fitting artisans in alphabetical order with signatures and names in kanji, alternate names, dates, locale, etc. This was followed by a greatly enlarged edition in two parts in 1931/32. Admittedly incomplete and with some errors, it still provides a viable source.

Also of note are: Bashford Dean's Japanese Armor in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, 1905; Joly's Legend in Japanese Art, London, 1908; Wada's Collection of Sword Furniture, Japan-British Exhibition, London, 1910; followed by a series of collection catalogs by Henri L. Joly which included those of Naunton, Hawkshaw, Church, etc., with the best being Japanese Arts and Handicraft, Red Cross Exhibition, London, 1913, done in company with Tomita Kumasaku.

Meanwhile, various learned societies had been publishing excellent investigative articles. Notably the Japan Society of London in its Transactions and Proceedings (1892-1941), and the Bulletin de la Societe Franco-Japonaise, Paris, (ca 1902-1918), was particularly active with excellent articles by Mene, Joly, and de Tressan, the latter writing a voluminous series (1910-12) Evolution de la Garde de Sabre. This is one of the first, if not the first, general study of the history and evolution of the Japanese sword fitting. He was assisted in his researches by Akiyama Kyusaku, Amiya, and other Japanese experts of the day. He later published, in 1914, a supplement entitled Nouvelle Contributions a l'Etude de °Histoire de la Garde Japonaise which was translated and published under the auspices of the Northern California Japanese Sword Club in 1996. De Tressan, unfortunately, fell during WWI.

The finest collection catalog published to date is Wada Tsunashiro's Furukawa Collection. Printed in Japan in 1913 in various European languages in a restricted edition of only one hundred copies each. This was intended as a gift to prominent diplomatic and influential people of the day. Superbly printed with collotype plates, the contents comprise selections from one of the finest private collections extant.

Between the two world wars published works on Japanese sword fittings were few. The catalog of the Oeder collection was printed in 1915, but was not released until shortly after WWI. This catalog was written by Vautier and Kummel. This famous collection disappeared from the Hamburg Museum in the aftermath of WWII and has been recently discovered in Russian hands. Litigation is presently underway. The two catalogs of the New York based Armor and Arms Club Japanese Sword Guards and Japanese Sword Fittings exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1921-1922), are excellent but hard to find.

Often overlooked, but valuable nevertheless, is Helen Gunsaulus' Japanese Sword Mounts in the Collection of the Field Museum, Chicago, 1923. Well written with good descriptions of various schools and artisans, it has the added advantage of including artist's names in kanji; one of the earliest books aside from Hara to do so. In 1924 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, published George Hamilton Rucker's The Goda Collection of Japanese Sword-Fittings, a small but fine collection of iron tsuba and soft-metal fittings. Stone's Glossary appeared in 1934 and is still in use with several reprints, the first in 1961. An excellent work of occasional value.

In 1914 the Mosle collection catalog was issued in German, French and English editions of two hundred each. This was in the form of two portfolios containing loose plates together with a softbound introduction by Henri L. Joly. This was followed by a series of four volumes (1932-1933) consisting of a descriptive catalog, supplement and corrections. This fine collection was seized and sold by order of the U. S. Government at Parke-Bernet Galleries of New York in 1948.

It was not until the aftermath of WWII, with the influx of swords, fittings and other art objects from Japan, that the resumption of popular, and affordable, publications began. At first the emphasis was on the Nihon-To with minor references to the tsuba and fittings; finally, in the 1960's and 70's, definitive works on tsuba and fittings began appearing. At first they were reprints of famous collections such as the Hawkshaw, Naunton, Behrens, etc. The Arts of the Japanese Sword by B. W. Robinson was first published in 1961 and was a great help to the novice collector. Not a great book but certainly worthy of study.

Collector's groups started appearing in the early 1960's such as the Japanese Sword Society of the United States and the splinter groups, the Northern California Japanese Sword Club and the Southern California Japanese Sword Society. Together, with the newly formed To-Ken Society of Great Britain, they issued newsletters and bulletins with articles and essays of varying importance. They did, however, reflect the divergent views of their members.

In the past fifty or more years since the resumption of peace there have been only five books published that I consider of primary importance to the student and collector of Japanese tsuba and sword fittings. The most valuable is Ogasawara's Sword Guards and Fittings from Japan. The Collection of the Museum of Decorative Art, Copenhagen, 1983, is the superb collection of Hugo Halberstadt and contains many famed pieces. Next is Sasano Masayuki's Early Japanese Sword Guards - Sukashi Tsuba, first published in English in 1972. A very imporLanL work on early iron tsuba, it contains excellent photographs and scholarŽship. Ogawa Morihiro produced Japanese Swords and Sword Furniture in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1987. Excellent, as far as it goes, but it was written for a primarily Japanese audience and reflects Japanese taste in tsuba and fittings; iron vs kinko. Much of the Boston museum's assemblage of fine iron tsuba remains unremarked. B. W. Robinson's The Baur Collection, published in 1980, suffers from the same myopia. Mr. Robinson placed emphasis on the soft metal and neglected the iron, of which this collection has many fine examples. And, finally, there is the massive Swords of Japan - A Visual Glossary by Kajihara Kotoken, published in 1989. In two volumes and in both Japanese and English. Covers both swords and fittings and is the first ever to concentrate on the physical entities of the subject. Invaluable for looking up obscure techniques, nomenclature, and the correct kanji for each. It takes imagination, time and patience but, it is there and worth the study.

Needless to say there are many other books and publications which are of great value, but are generally directed to a limited audience. There are two students whose works deserve our attention. I say 'students' because they never stop learning. Mr. Robert Burawoy of France and Mr. Robert E. Haynes of the United States. Mr. Burawoy has written extensively for the Bulletin de l'Association Franco-Japonaise, Paris as well as several monographs. His researches and findings are well presented and thought provoking. He is conversant with many Japanese authorities and major collections. Mr. Haynes is well known for his The Index of Japanese Sword Fittings and Associated Artists, Gai So Shi, Tsuba An Aesthetic Study co-authored with Dr. Torigoye, and various articles in the publications of collector's groups in Europe and the United States. His scholarship in the publication of his ten auction catalogs (1981-1984) constitutes what may be considered as the major textbook on tsuba in the English language. In addition to the introduction in each catalog, a partial translation of Dr. Torigoye's Tsuba Geijutsu Ko is presented. Mr. Haynes, in his catalogs, devoted a great deal of attention to the presentation and description of each piece offered. Unusual in that the pro's and con's are given, pointing to the attribution. In addition, the pieces offered are categorized according to school, artisan, etc., and are generally those of the type that we are more likely to be dealing with.

This brings us to the present and the heart of the matter. Most of our knowledge of Japanese sword fittings is based on Japanese research. In Japan, for the most part, formalized research started approximately one hundred and fifty years ago with Akiyama Kyusaku Sensei (1843-1936) who wrote of his researches and findings extending from the 1850's to his final years; primarily in the Japanese sword periodical Token Kai Shi. Two of his students, Kawaguchi Noburo and Dr. Torigoye Kazutaro became prominent sensei in their own right. Also, of some note, was Wada Tsunehiro. All of these men were active in the first half of the 20th-century, a little later in Dr. Torigoye's case. Those early researchers, Akiyama and Wada in particular, were in constant communication with Kummel, de Tressan, Joly and, no doubt, others in the budding years of Western sword fitting literature. Later, in the post WWII years, Dr. Torigoye and Sasano Masayuki, in particular, came to the United States and freely shared their knowledge. Akiyama Kyusaku Sensei and Sasano Masayuki were keen and observant students. Able to ignore the monolithic structure of Japanese research, they could acquire, access, consider and either accept or reject information as warranted.

Unfortunately, the present pattern of information dissemination seems to have become more and more formalized with the various new publications becoming more catalog than textbook. There is some reason for this as most available records have been scrutinized time and time again, and those records that could shed new light upon many artisans are being jealously held by the various noble families and temples as sanctioned or sacred. What a shame! It should be pointed out that there is a continual stream of articles and publications appearing on our subject. Some good, some indifferent and some poor. It is up to us as students and collectors to discriminate. (Alan L. Harvie, edited by Elliott Long)

Home Page | Tsuba Books | Tsuba | R.E. Haynes Tsuba | Study Guide