A Visit to Mr. Ishii Masakuni - Tokyo, 1970
   by Robert E. Haynes (1995)

On April 26, 1970 I went to visit Mr. Ishii Masakuni at his home near Zama. Mr. Ishii is retired now and lives in the country. His large old farm style house burned down recently and he now lives in a temporary house near by until the farm house can be rebuilt. He saved his sword and fittings collection from the fire, though he lost most of the furnishings. He collects swords primarily, but his son collects fittings. Unfortunately his son is now in a mental institution so that may stop his collecting unless he gets better. The father is an authority on the Kofun Bunka Jidai (the burial period, circa. 250-552 A.D.). He specialises in the Dolman blades and fittings and has written a book on the subject with Dr. Homma (I am not sure of the title or the date).

I was first shown Hoju tsuba in iron and gilt copper. Both were in remarkable condition, which only shows that this level of preservation can be found, but they are very rare. The iron example is in almost perfect state. It is not crystallised but has the original iron plate with some rust to the surface. In fact you can still see some of the polished areas of the plate which shows that they were not crude works but very sophisticated workmanship with all the qualities of later tsuba. The copper (yamagane) plate example has small holes and they are of irregular shape. It seems to be a very early example, perhaps circa. 250-300 A.D. I was also shown scabbard fittings and tsuka from the 9th to the 14th centuries.

All these pieces are exceptionally rare and this one collection seems to hold most of those in private hands. He also has very fine examples of fittings from later periods as well. What most impressed me was the pre-Muromachi fittings that were as fine in workmanship as any that were to come later. I was next shown a koshirae of leather with tachi fittings and some yamagane parts, which had scroll designs carved on them. The tsuka was also leather with a most unusual leather fuchi-kashira. In this case the leather was gold lacquered. This whole mounting was in very fine condition and of the Kamakura period. I was also shown fittings of various types from all the eras mentioned above. Next I saw tsuba of aoi-inome type (aoi shape and with inome bori corners) that had the original seppa of bronze (or yamagane) and the inome corners were lined in heavy sheet silver. The top seppa were of silver with the surface carved in kebori vines and leaves. The top seppa had inome corners as well. This was a very large and fine Heian to Kamakura period tsuba, circa. 1185. I was also shown one Heian period tsuba (one of the very few in existence), that still had all four of the original seppa of various sizes. It was of gilt yamagane and had a very thin plate with a slightly raised rim. The large seppa were very light and almost paper thin. It was very light, as light as the leather tsuba of the same period, which no doubt explains the relationship of the leather and metal fittings of this period (794-1185A.D). I was also shown some habaki that dated from the Kamakura, Nambokucho to the Muromachi period. The earliest were of iron and very well made with thin plate metal and very fine attention to detail, all were equal to the soft metal habaki of later periods. The Muromachi period examples were of thicker plate than the Kamakura period pieces.

After this once in a life time experience (today you can see a very few examples of this type of very early fittings in the Ueno Park Museum and at the N.B.T.H.K. museum), I felt that I had a better idea of the workmanship and appearance of the fittings made before the Muromachi period. Like so much else in Japan on this trip I am not sure I can digest so much material all at one time. (This turned out to be true. I would very much like, if it were possible, to see many of these collections again, for I am not sure I had enough knowledge at the time to fully understand all that I was seeing. Today I would be better able, I think, to learn a great deal more from these pieces than I did 25 years ago).

Robert Haynes


Return to Index to Articles - Go to Home Page - Email to Shibui Swords