Lies My Teachers Taught Me
   by Robert E. Haynes (2003/2004)


What is that you say? Every word you have been taught about swords and fittings is the gods-honest-truth! Don't you believe it! Or if you do, then you are a greater fool than any student should be. I was such a fool. When I finished my studies in person with Dr. Torigoye, circa 1960, I was sure that all I had been told was all the truth, and nothing but the truth. Well it was not. This was not so much the fault of Dr. Torigoye, as what he passed down to me were many of the lies that he had been taught by his teacher. In this case that teacher was Akiyama Kyusaku. Since the buck stops with Akiyama Sensei, why would he tell his students lies? The answer is that he did not intentionally tell lies, but some information he imparted became false after his death, when new research proved him wrong, or the later "experts" had not listened, or could not understand the truth of what he had said. In some cases these later experts told lies to cover their misunderstanding.

I shall not go into the lies that abound in the study of blades, but some poor student should take this subject up and inform those who hold the tomes, teachers, and societies as sacred, that their world is built on sand and their teachers have feet of clay, just as the fittings world does. Who has the nerve?

Don't take what I shall write next as a personal attack on the knowledge you have acquired in your years of study. Should any one disagree with anything I write, or think I am telling lies, please write a paper of support or condemnation of what I think. Just what are these lies my teachers told me? Most are lies of omission, though this being a study area of Japanese art, many of the lies were of commission. Let us begin with a few lies of omission. Where to begin, for there are so many, some were only of the "white" lie nature, but others were of the grand full blown variety that have not been cleared of their damage they do to each new student, to this very day. I think it is best if we use my translation of "TSUBA AN AESTHETIC STUDY, by my teacher, Dr. Kazutaro Torigoye, as our point of reference. We will begin with Hoju tsuba, and continue to Satsuma tsuba.

Not so much lies, as acts of omission are to be found in this section. It is important to remember that to understand the true study of the fittings of the Japanese sword, the true ORIGIN of this study must be fully taken into consideration, and that means the origins of Japanese sword fittings will be found in such countries as China, Korea, and even Russia. The arts of these areas, outside of Japan, directly affected the whole history of sword fittings within Japan. Though the "experts" in Japan will not, or can not, acknowledge the debt to these origins, they do exist, and all students have to study the metal work, and time period in which it was produced, if they are to have a full understanding of the history of metal work in Japan. The relationship of the metal work in Japan to that of the much more advanced metal arts made in the Amur area of Russia requires a book by itself. If it is ever written, we may finally understand the true origins of the art and techniques used in Japan hundreds of years after they were developed in the Amur valley. Unfortunately you will not find such information in any book written in Japan, so we must hope that one will be written by experts in Russia. The Archaeologists in Japan had great hope that some of these origins might be found within Japan, but today the mind-set of the scholars in this field gives little hope that we will find the true origins published in Japanese works. So you see a great deal of work and study must be done even within the very origins of the study of sword fittings. Many "experts" in Japan do not feel that the origins, or even the study of the Hoju fittings, should be a part of the field of study for the student in this day or any other. Only Sasano Masayuki, in his work: TOSOGU NO KIGEN, Tokyo, 1979, understood the importance of these origins, but he was ignored. We at least should have a translation of this vital research.

A great deal needs to be written about the shitogi tsuba, but it is so rare to see, and almost impossible to handle, one of the early period examples that I think we will have to leave the full study of these fittings to someone in Japan who might make a study that will bring the extant knowledge to completion. There is also an error I made in this section. The name Haruta MURASHI would be better read as Haruta MuraJI. This kanji refers to one of the 8 kabane (titles), given by the Emperor Temmu, in 682, to the military subjects, also called the mononobe. The reason this title might have been given to this Haruta stems from the use of the shitogi tsuba being mounted on court tachi, at this period. Unfortunately we have no proof of any of this, but the family tradition at least probably supports this title name being used by the Haruta family.

What is not explained is why this section should be titled: AOI which is the word for the mallow or hollyhock plant. A far better name for this type of tsuba would be INOME tsuba, as the four inome openings are almost always found as part of the design of "aoi" tsuba. This misnomer might come from the aoi mon of the Tokugawa and Matsudaira families that we see in such ubiquitous quantity. It was common for the tachi of the Edo period to have "aoi" style fittings when used as part of an Imperial court ceremony. There is another explanation for the term AOI, and that is, the shape we have come to call INOME, is in fact an aoi leaf, and not in the shape of a boar's eye. Perhaps one of today's students would like to sort this out.

As far as it goes this section is correct. What we need is greater depth in the study of the nerikawa tsuba. Unfortunately, those who write about fittings in Japan have very little interest in the nerikawa tsuba. This probably comes about because the majority of them have only seen examples in books and have no first hand knowledge of the use, origin, or technical aspects of these tsuba. The other important study of nerikawa tsuba is their relationship with other fittings of the period, and how they were used with other metal mounts to form the koshirae in fashion in their time. I hope that Jim Gilbert will continue his studies in this field and try to answer these questions.

I have written in other places about this tsuba and my holding it in my hand. Today we have good photos of this tsuba and it has been illustrated in several books. What is not mentioned in these books is the relationship of Tamura-maro in the scheme of Japanese history. The Sakanoue family were of Korean origin, and thus part of the twenty-five percent of the Imperial court that had come from Korea. Unfortunately, today this Korean origin is ignored and such men of history do not receive their proper place in the historical record. Perhaps we should be grateful for the belated recognition of Tamura-maro, in any aspect.

This summary is VERY incomplete! It glosses over the iron tsuba that had been made continuously since the first Hoju tsuba, but about which almost nothing is written. Today we have some good illustrations of these tsuba and with the fine exhibits in Tokyo we can get a much better idea of what they looked like, and how they were mounted with the rest of their koshirae. Naturally, this information is only a slight beginning. What we will probably learn from an in-depth study, is that All types of the fittings mounted during the almost thousand years this part covers, were made by professional fittings makers, and that they were much more skilled in both workmanship and design than the mud-pies we have come to expect from the work of these years. Even when we come to reassess, review, and rewrite the information of fifty years ago, we realize that in fact we know so very little about the study of Japanese sword fittings. All other nations manage to write the history of their arts from the inception of the art form to the latest evidence of its existence. Why can not Japanese "experts" do the same thing?


All collectors and students of Japanese sword fittings are familiar with the terms: TOSHO and KATCHUSHI. When these terms are applied to fittings, they take on a very different meaning which has become a self perpetuating lie. Only in rare cases are the tsuba given the appellation TOSHO actually made by a swordsmith. Naturally, there are true TOSHO tsuba from a very early period, but they were in most cases made by the smith, as a gift to those who ordered a blade to be forged by that smith, and even these are very rare.

So what term should be applied to what we call TOSHO tsuba? Today in Japan the "experts" are not at all interested in any change of the term TOSHO, for then they would have to admit that the original nomenclature was nothing more than a lie, and that would make waves, and as we all know, the system will not permit waves, for good or evil, that make the original lie irrelevant.

In the West that has only added to the confusion as to who really made what are called TOSHO tsuba. They were made by professional sword fittings makers who had been making tsuba and ALL other types of fittings since the Kofun Bunka Jidai, the Tumulus period (250-552). During that period many of the fittings were made by craftsman who learned their art in China or Korea, or were natives of those cultures. Some of the earliest fittings makers in Japan were trained by these artists, or they went to China, or Korea, to be trained by the experts in the metal arts which were already hundreds of years old in China.

During the Auska period (552-645) the metal arts in Japan advanced in every aspect. This coincided with the introduction of the Buddhist religion in 538, from Paekche in Korea. The images, altar pieces, and other metal arts used in the temples and shrines were provided by the masters of these crafts who worked in Japan during the Asuka and Nara period (645-794). As you can see from these dates the metal arts of Japan were developed during a period of almost 550 years, which is equivalent to the period from mid Kamakura (1300) to the end of the Edo period (1850). So it did not just happen somewhere in the Muromachi period (ca. 1450), as the "experts" in Japan would have us believe.

The primary reason this lie has existed over the years can be found in the idea of BUSHIDO, and the samurai spirit. The "experts" in Japan have always felt that only through the rise of the samurai, and the control of the country by the military war lords, under an all powerful Shogun, could the art of the sword and its fittings have come to full flower. Naturally this is pure and simple nonsense, but even today that same "samurai spirit" colors every aspect of the thoughts and literature of these same "experts".

Even if this fallacious date (1450) had some validity, the events of the period would preclude any possibility of the metal arts having been developed at that time. As you know, the period from 1400 to 1550 was one of the busiest periods for the making of Japanese swords and related objects. Japan was exporting thousands of swords to both China and Korea during this period and the smiths working during that period would not have had any time to make tsuba or any other fittings, but there were many professional fittings makers during this period who were making the tsuba and all other mountings needed to fit these thousands of export blades. In fact, this is the time that the mass production of both blades and fittings were at their peak. So, if the mid Muromachi period was not the origin of tsuba, what time period should we look to for these origins. As I have stated, this artistic development was a slow growth of ability and quality over hundreds of years. We should go back to the Heian period (794-1186) for extant examples of fittings and full mountings that show the future artistry as it is still found in the kodogu made since the Heian period, much of which was not to be equaled in quality of artistry for the next 700 years. The superb examples of the metal arts produced in the Heian period were not made under the control of the samurai, or a shogun, who had no control of the country at that time, but were made at the command and under the patronage of the Imperial Court, who were the sole arbiters of the arts and the esthetics of the Heian period. This clearly shows that the samurai, and Bushido, had nothing to do with the quality or artistry of the fittings for the Japanese sword. In fact, the quality of workmanship of the Heian period far exceeded that of the art of sword fittings in the Muromachi period. The Shogun and his samurai only developed artistic tastes when they had absorbed the culture of the Imperial Court and tried to emulate that taste, as best they were able. In fact, this assimilation took a very long period of time. The simple rough taste of the samurai has often been mistakenly associated with Zen taste. In fact it was inaka-mono (rustic provincial taste) which became the source of the early samurai aesthetics.

Those tsuba that are said to have been made by the armor makers, katchu (armor) shi (artists, makers), would be covered by the same statements that have been applied to the tosho tsuba. The armor makers from the Kofun Bunka Jidai (250-552) to the late Muromachi period (ca. 1550), were also far too busy making armor for the vast number of battles in this period to have much time for making tsuba. The method of making the plates of iron used in a suit of armor was a vastly different art form than making the plate for an iron tsuba. Those great armor makers who have come down to us in history, and made the best helmet bowls in each generation, did in rare cases make tsuba. There are a few Muromachi period tsuba with signatures that by tradition are said to be armor makers. The Myochin family school of armor makers created a very elaborate genealogy of their family that has included some of these Muromachi period artists. There is just one problem with this Myochin genealogy. None of the artists that they list as early members of the school ever used the the family name of Myochin in any of their signatures. The first tsuba with the Myochin name included in their signatures did not occur until the Edo period (ca. 1600), so there is no proof that this elaborate genealogy has any place in fact. It was created to give the Myochin glamour and glory and try to make them the first family of armor makers, which they were not in any case. This is not the place to go into the family schools of armor makers, but they should be carefully studied before one applies them to those who made tsuba in the Edo period. What have we learned from these two sections? The language used by the experts in Japan, in most cases, is very general in both fact and application, and often has very little to do with the truth of who made a particular tsuba at any time before the Edo period. Naturally nothing from the West will ever change the nomenclature, or the minds of those who use it, but perhaps a Westerner will have enough influence to make the powers that be at least feel that someone outside of Japan is paying some attention, and is well aware that not all one hears is the truth. A free and open mind is a very rare thing in almost any field of study and when that field is Japanese art the closed mind and lack of freedom of thought is de rigueur. For the Western student this leaves two choices. One, he can accept without question all that he hears and is told, or number two, he can freely think for himself and question all that he hears and is told. Naturally if he chooses number two he faces ostracism in Japan and also from many in the West who take all they know from Japan as gospel.

This series is designed to make the student think, as much as it is to make corrections in our study of past information. The student of today seems to have become immune to the continued blandishments from Japan. It is as if we now want the perfidy and odium from our experts, who reap rewards for telling the collector what he already knows and then charging him for it, to be probity. I guess there is one born every minute!
*I wish to thank Sharon Busby for all her help with this article.


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