Original essay written by Michael Harris @ Satcho,
Edited by Elliott Long @ Shibui Swords

Contributions of SASANO MASAYUKI (1920-1993)

       Announcements in Albert Yamanaka’s Nihonto newsletter, published 1968 – 1972, of Sasano’s published works of that period offer insight and would foreshadow the influence of the Sasano's scholarship on tsuba study. Yamanaka’s description of the book Sukashi Tsuba (Kokubo et al, 1968) notes the authors’ collections and knowledge of the field as well known in Japan. In 1971 the Yamanaka’s newsletter's description of Sasano’s Bushido-no-Bi (1972) specifically notes that “most Tsuba people [regard Sasano] as an expert on Sukashi Tsuba”, and continues that “he is especially well learned in Akasaka and Owari”.  Sasano’s 1970 publication would later be reworked and reformatted as the English-language text, Early Japanese Sword Guards – Sukashi Tsuba by Sasano (1972).  In the frontispiece of that text, Sasano defines iron sukashi tsuba as “the kind of beauty required by the samurai” and that his book “underscores the aesthetics of work in iron and offers…examples of brilliant design”.
       Sasano’s scholarship was not without controversy.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the bibliography for The Japanese Sword (1983), wherein Sato Kanzan wrote: “Few will be able to appreciate [Sasano’s] rather vague criteria for categorizing the guards,” referring to Early Japanese Sword Guards.  In case Sato’s sentiment is missed, commentary on Sasano’s Tosogu no Kigen by Sasano (1976) noted that it was “Controversial work with an ax to grind.
       It would be easy to assert that Sasano’s influence in the west was as result of multiple English-language publications.  However, recognizing Sasano as likely the most influential Japanese tosogu scholar in the west must also acknowledge the importance of his emphasis on the aesthetic consideration necessitated in studing sword fittings.  Sasano’s scholarship was bold, but it was not unfounded.  Assertions in Tosogu no Kigen call on empirical evidence and today enjoys many supporters.
       Other publications follow Tosogu no Kigen before Sasano’s final publication, Japanese Sword Guards: Masterpieces from the Sasano Collection, Part One by Sasano (1994), published after his death. Sasano’s Shoyu Kai study group published Kagamishi Tsuba by Sasano (1980), Tosogu no Kansho by Sasano (1982), Higo Irogane Tsuba by Sono Heiji (1984), Tsuba To Koshirae by Hiroi Yuichi (1987), and in 1986 began a journal called Tosogu Yuhin Zufu.  Publication was limited to two journals issued annually to members, each issue focused on different aspects of tosogu study and featured detailed photography of exemplary works.  Many of the examples coming from private collections were otherwise unpublished.  The journal ceased shortly after Sasano’s passing and its limited-run issues are prized by advanced tosogu students.
       Sasano was also credited for directing the development of the Phyllis Sharpe Memorial Collection of Tsuba.   At his recommendation the collection was reduced in accord with Sharpe Memorial’s intent to include only the finest examples.  The collection later went to auction in 1997 (London: Sotheby’s).  It is also noted (Harding, 1993) that Sasano has been called on to consult for major auction houses as early as 1967.
       As noted in the second paragraph above, Sasano reworked and reformatted his earlier work and this was no less true of his last publication.  Japanese Sword Guards: Masterpieces from the Sasano Collection, Part One was published in 1994.  A Japanese-language text was published the preceding year, and there would be no part two.  Sasano prefaced his final text with a reflection on his earlier texts.  There was no mention by Sasano of Tosogu no Kigen; there was no need as the weight of evidence spoke for the humble Sensei.  Rather, Sasano spoke in terms of his embarrassment at his growth since his early 1970s publications on iron sukashi tsuba, and this accounts for much of the overlap with his previous study.  In the end we are reminded that true scholarship is a lifelong endeavor as Sasano ably demonstrated.


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