by Robert E. Haynes (1993)

Throughout the history of art the objects created by the artist are only given names after the conception. Sometimes by the artist, but often by those who acquire the objects. The possibilities for such names are endless, but the need for such names seems to be universal.

Individual names of specific objects for identification are not a problem, and without them, this or any other paper could not be written. The names that one will find cause controversy are those applied to groups of objects. These names are usually applied long after the objects have been created and are used because no other term was available. They are the abstract names we use as labels. When they are first applied to these groups they may have specific relevance, but time is not kind to them, and they later are misused and there application sometimes is purely misleading.

Japanese is such a very rich language that there are almost endless possibilities and variety in the giving of names. Why limits are put on these possibilities is hard to understand. It probably has to do with the fact that these early terms were first used by revered teachers and no one wants to counter what was, probably a casual turn of conversation, by giving a new and more applicable modern definition. Thus we are stuck with names that are either inappropriate or totally incorrect. Today these terms have passed into common usage and are unfortunately here to stay. This does not mean that we should be unaware of them. The list of such names is very long, but here are a few.

The discussion here will be about both the terms that still apply to the objects as they are seen today and those terms that seem to be misleading in their application today. It perhaps will be best if we use a rough chronological order in examining these words and their application. Let us start with the swords and fittings of the Kofun bunka jidai (the Dolman period), ca. 250 to 550.

Hoju (jewel shape) or torankei (obovoid, or egg shape), both of these terms accurately describe the object.

Shitogi tsuba, again the shape of a shitogi rice cake, is very applicable.

Aoi tsuba, in the shape of a hollyhock leaf, will do but begins to get into that area of clever names, not directly referring to the shape of the tsuba.

Nerikawa tsuba, means tempered leather, which is what these tsuba were. Maybe not the best term but lacquered tempered leather plate does not seem to be much better.

Now we get into the crux of the discussion. Many of the following terms do not seem either correct or applicable.

TOSHO (swordsmith) but the kanji sho also means artisan, workman, idea, design. When this term is applied to tsuba it implies that the work was made by a swordsmith. In some examples this is the case. During the late Kamakura to late Muromachi periods many of the tsuba dating from that time are labeled as being the work of the swordsmiths of the period. A few of the tsuba from these times may be the work of swordsmiths but very few indeed. The reason so few are the true work of the swordsmith has been demonstrated by my paper discussing the export of swords (the Kango trade) to China during the above periods.(1)

(1) The kan kanji of this compound is not the one used to mean China, but that which means "think over", "perception", "censure", "intuition", and the go kanji means, "together", "total", "fit", "match", "agree with", "combine", "compare", "be correct". A "tally" was taken from Japan to match one at the port of destination in China.

The swordsmiths would have had VERY little time to make tsuba, since for over a hundred years they had been producing three swords, on average, a DAY. So who did make these tsuba? PROFESSIONAL tsuba makers made them, as they had for several hundred years prior to this period. Unfortunately we do not know the schools, families, or individual artists who created these tsuba. If they must have a name or label then perhaps the best name would be early, middle or late Kamakura or Muromachi tsuba makers. At least this would give some indication of WHEN they had been made. The general term tsuba ko would be acceptable, as in "early Muromachi tsuba ko". Maybe a little long, but at least it is accurate. A note to reflect on. The hundred thousand swords mentioned above needed a hundred thousand tsuba to be mounted on them for export. I am afraid only a large group of professional tsuba makers would have the time or ability to make that number of tsuba in almost any given period, let alone a group of swordsmiths trying to make them.

KATCHUSHI does mean armor maker, in a very generic sense. If we break this term down we find that kat (ka) is a carapace, shell, tortoise, armor, and is an alternate for yoroi (armor). The chu kanji means, lineage, helmet, headpiece, as an alternate for kabuto (helmet). The shi kanji means, teacher, master, exemplary person, army or war. A term of many cross meanings and broad terminology. When it is applied to tsuba we are to suppose that the tsuba was made by an armorer. There is a good possibility that more tsuba were made by armorers than by swordsmiths. But during the period of the Kamakura and Muromachi ages the armorers were very busy at their art and had very little time to make tsuba. Also one has to remember that at this time the armorer was one of the highest ranking artists who made objects for war, for only the highest ranks of the court and military wore armor and a katchushi outranked a tsuba ko at that period, so why would he lower himself to making tsuba when it would only demean his art and position. If he made any tsuba it was as a favor for a high ranking patron or by commission. The other important point in regard to the armor maker is that it was a joint effort by the metal smith, in both iron and soft metals, by the lacquerer, lacer, and other artists. This whole group of artists made up the "armorer". There is a relationship of armor to tsuba that I think has been ignored. That is the maker of the soft metal fittings applied to the helmet and other parts of the armor. These artists could be the same ones who made many of the Kamakura and Muromachi soft metal tsuba, fuchi-kashira, and other small fittings, as well as habaki, in the early days. I do not believe this relationship has been explored.

IROGANE KO TSUBA, this term can be applied to the whole area of soft metal fittings prior to about 1500. The term is direct and simple in meaning. Irogane is colored metal, ko is ancient, old, from long ago, added to the term tsuba. Another general term that applies is KAWARIGANE, kawaru is to change, be different, or disturbance. As a compound it is "soft metal". In other words the artists, KOKINK0, worked in kawarigane, as the smith worked in iron. Allied artists working with, but usually independent of each other, are the KAGAMISHI (mirror maker) and the TACHIKANAGUSHI (metal artist for tachi). Now all of these artists have existed since at least the Kofun period, (200-500). That being the case they had developed a very high degree of skill and experience. Thus the terms for these artists, by Kamakura and Muromachi times, had been in use for hundreds of years. There is one other group of artists working in the early periods who does not seem to have a name. These are the artists who made soft metal parts to be applied to the statues in the Buddhist temples. They can be seen today on these figures yet no one seems to care, or want to find out, who might have made them. Many are so skillful that they could easily have been made by the same artists who made soft metal sword fittings.

Enough has been written lately about Kamakura, Onin, Heianjo, and Yoshiro tsuba. Let us go on to very difficult signatures.

You would think that the signatures: Joshu Fushimi ju Kaneie and Yamashiro Kuni Fushimi ju Kaneie; would be simple enough. They are not. In reality we know nothing about these artists. In fact the legends and bits of history concerning these artists have yet to be proved as fact or fantasy. The subject is much too complicated to go into here but the subject is a classical example of a long history of misinformation and lack of serious controlled study of the artists and where and when they lived.

The signature Nobuie is another example of ideas taken for granted that have little or no bases in fact. Akiyama wrote opinions that some believe today and others adhere to those ideas put forward by Dr. Torigoye. I think the truth is somewhere in between. Nobuie may have been of the Myochin family school, or he may have been an independent artist, or even more likely a group of artists working under a common name with one or more of the group signing for all. The full theories and facts will require another paper.

The artists of the Owari area were numerous and prolific for hundreds of years. The term Owari sukashi is taken for granted, but why do they have to come, or be made in, the Owari area. We have no proof that they were, and no signatures to tell us the truth. Naturally this may be said of all the unsigned sukashi tsuba schools and styles, and it should be said. We need to examine all these terms to see how much truth and validity there is in them. Just because Akiyama thought the place names he gave them was their point of origin does not prove that it is so. Naturally it is much easier to adhere to these rules and labels made a hundred years ago than it is to take exception to them.


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