SASANO Masterpieces from the Sasano Collection
SUKASHI TSUBA by Sasano Masayuki: published by Kyuryudo, March 21, 1993. Hardcover, slipcase, 333 pages.

SASANO Japanese Sword Guards Masterpieces From The Sasano Collection by Sasano Masayuki Part One, "Masterpieces from the Sasano Collection": published by Daisuke Saito, Mega Co. Ltd. Photographer (both editions) Seichi Nakamura. Translated by Tomoko Sato, edited by John Harding. 341 pages. Dust jacket. First edition 1994. The eight page difference between the two editions is accounted for by the English edition having four examples of the calligraphy of Mr. Sasano, an introduction by John Harding and a two page glossary at the end.
BOOK REVIEW by Robert E. Haynes

Mr. Sasano does not need an introduction to those interested in the fittings of the Japanese sword. His EARLY JAPANESE SWORD GUARDS Sukashi Tsuba, published in English in 1972, is well known to all western collectors. He was a good and patient friend to many of us and is a great loss to the future study of the fittings world. This last book was certainly his crowning achievement and the culmination of his fifty year study of tsuba. It was a sharp departure from the 1972 book and showed the growth and projection of his stream of study. The first area that was a departure from his and all other theory concerning past ideas on the history of the tsuba was its dating. This is the first book in Japanese to suggest that the iron tsuba worn by the average soldier might be older than the mid Muromachi period of 1450 as almost all books in the past had stated. This chronology by Sasano is very bold and enlightening.

The first tsuba illustrated on page 18, number 1, is dated to the late Heian period (794-1185) ca. 1100. Number 2 and 3 are dated ca. 1220. Numbers 4 to 8 are dated ca. 1275. It is not until we get to number 20 that we find dates of the "classical" mid Muromachi period. This is revolutionary! Naturally tsuba from these early periods are very rare in iron plate. One can even get an idea of the true nature of the tsuba of these early periods from the photographs alone. I found another example of the Heian period tsuba, number 1, on my trip in Europe this last November. It is in the Linden-Museum Stuttgart. The only difference is the example in Germany had a hitsu ana that seems original and the design is three circles in the upper right quarter of the plate, in all other respects they could be by the same hand. This is why this book is so important. We can use it for study, which unfortunately we can not say for most of the books on tsuba published in the past. The text in both Japanese and the English translation is brief and could have been expanded to clarify the origin of the theory for the dating and other ideas proposed by Mr. Sasano. It is very fortunate that the illustrations speak for themselves. Part of the reason for this brevity is the state of Mr. Sasano's health at the time he was finishing this book. He was very ill and could not find the strength to put all the time and energy into it that he had left. We are very fortunate that it was completed at all. As you will see from the English title this is part one. We do not know when or if part two will appear but I have been told that it is to contain the many other areas of the Sasano collection, such as the early soft metal tsuba. This brings up another point. A study of the tsuba from its earliest beginnings to correct the dating and chronology is but half the story if it shows only the iron examples from the earliest periods. The other half of the story is the history and dating of the soft metal tsuba that were made at the same time as these iron examples. A clue of this area surfaced in Paris of the wreck of the San Diego, a ship that sank off the Philippines in 1600. Aboard this ship were a number of Japanese swords. The fittings of many were well preserved and show us the style and type of tsuba worn in the late Muromachi period (ca. 1550). I know that Mr. Sasano would have been fascinated with this new information and it might have inspired him to write the companion book that is needed to tell the whole story of the early tsuba period.

Both the original and the translation of this book should be in the library of every collector. If one is to have a full understanding of the iron plate tsuba and how the history of these pieces showed the development of the workmanship in both skill and aesthetics, then this is the book that will tell you just that.

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