Tsubako Ha
The Goto Family The Goto family is the most famous Ha in the ornament metalsmiths history of Japanese swords. The founder Goto Yujo (1440 - 1512) flourished in the latter part of the Ashikaga Shogunate, and his family was active until the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate (about 400 years).The Goto family not only reigned over the metal-carving world but also dominated finance, politics, and arts.

The head family of Goto The family of Goto continued from the founder Yujo to the 17th head Tenjo. At the time of the 6th head Eijo, the Goto family was appointed as an official sword fitting maker by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogunate.

The Ichijo clan Goto Ichijo (1791 - 1876) is the last master craftsman in the Goto's history. He started his carrier with maintaining the Goto's tradition, "Iebori". Later on, he broadened out of his designing styles and tried to break from the Goto's traditions. He  fostered several good craftsmen.

Branches of the Goto family Some of the branches of Goto were established after the time of the 4th head Kojo and the 5th head Tokujo. There were as many as 14 Goto branches: the Rihei family, Kihei, Genbei, Edo-Seijo and more. These branch families are called "Waki-Goto" in contrast to the head family.


Tosho-Tsuba The definition of Tosho-Tsuba is 'tsuba made by swordsmiths' not by tsuba craftsmen. Most of their pieces of works are made of iron, and one or two small openwork per piece. Tosho-Tsuba are tasteful because each iron plate is forged very well and each openwork is very simple.

Katchushi-Tsuba Katchushi means armorsmith in Japanese. So, the definition of Katchushi-Tsuba is tsuba made by armorsmiths.
There are many Ume or Sakura flower openwork on this kind of tsuba. These openwork look similar to ears of the masks of Katchu (=armor). This is why elderly Japanese people refer to this kind of tsuba as "Katchushi-Tsuba".
Makers of Katchushi-Tsuba are smiths (including armorsmith) who made their living by some type of forging.

Onin-Tsuba The style of Onin-Tsuba is descended from Katchushi-Tsuba and are similar to Kamakura-Tsuba. That is, the metal is iron and appears to be hammered. The special feature of Onin-Tsuba is that one or all of the periphery of Seppa-Dai, Kougai-Bitsu, or Kozuka-Bitsu is inlaid with brass.
This kind of tsuba dates back to the time of the War of Onin (1467 - 1477). We call this kind of tsuba "Onin-Tsuba".

Heianjo-Shiki Shinchu-Zogan Tsuba Some features of Heianjo-Shiki Shinchu-Zogan Tsuba are similar to those of Onin-Tsuba. Heianjo-Shiki Shinchu-Zogan Tsuba were produced during the time from the latter part of the Muromachi period to the beginning of the Edo period.

Yoshiro-Shiki Shinchu-Zogan Tsuba This kind of tsuba is descended from Heianjo-Shiki Zogan Tsuba. We can find the same inscription "Yoshiro" on some of these  tsuba. Its style is made of iron, round shape, and arabesques, flowers or crests are expressed by inlay and openwork techniques.

Kamakura-Tsuba The name "Kamakura-Tsuba" came from it's carving style which is very similar to the Japanese wood engraving folkcraft "Kamakura-Bori". It has nothing to do with the Kamakura period (1192 -1333) or the place Kamakura.

Kanayama-Tsuba It's generally believed that Kanayama-Tsuba were produced in the areas around Owari Province and Mino Province. The time Kanayama-Tsuba began to be produced dates back to the middle part of the Muromachi period. Largest production period was during the Sengoku period (=the Age of Civil Wars). At the time of the Edo period, Kanayama-Tsuba assimilated into Owari-Zukashi-Tsuba and lost its originality.

Kyo-Zukashi-Tsuba Kyo-Sukashi-Tsuba is openwork tsuba that are produced centering around Yamashiro Province (=Now Kyoto Prefecture). Kyo-Sukashi-Tsuba are elegant and exquisite compared with Owari-Sukashi-Tsuba that is well-rounded and masculine.

Owari-Zukashi-Tsuba The best of openwork tsuba are Owari-Sukashi and Kyo-Sukashi. Owari-Sukashi-Tsuba were produced around Owari Province (=Now Aichi Prefecture) from the latter part of the Muromachi period, through the Momoyama period, to the beginning of the Edo period. The feature of this kind of tsuba is thicker and more powerful than Kyo-Sukashi because usefulness in fighting was regarded as the most important matter.

Akasaka-Tsuba It's generally believed that "Tadamasa", the beginner of Akasaka-Tsuba, was a tsuba craftsman for Kyo-Sukashi in Kyoto. He came to Akasaka in Edo and started making tsuba there. The feature of Akasaka-Tsuba is round shape, round rim and openworks.

Yamakichi-Tsuba It is generally believed that Yamasaka Kichibei produced battle-gear such as armor helmets or tsuba at Kiyosu of Owari Province (=Now Aichi Pref.). There is a theory that he attended to Oda Nobunaga (1534 - 1582). However it is uncertain whether this theory is true or not. In both cases, Kichibei is a contemporary of Nobunaga's. Kichibei inscribed his name "Yamakichibei" for brevity on tsuba. So, we categorize this kind of tsuba as "Yamakichi-Tsuba".

Kaneie Kaneie is one of the master craftsmen in Japan's tsuba history. It is believed that he lived at Fushimi of Yamashiro Province around the Momoyama period. Before his time, designs of tsuba were only architectural and patterned. Kaneie brought in sketchy and painterly design for the first time.

Nobuie Nobuie was a craftsman equally admired as Kaneie. Kaneie's elegance and Nobuie's magnificence are quite contrastive. Nobuie came to Kiyosu of Owari Province at the invitation of Oda Nobunaga. The designs, temper of iron plate, and the patterns on the surfaces express Nobuie's advanced skills.

Edo area Edo (=Now Tokyo) was the trend-setting city as it used to be the Japanese capital during the Tokugawa Shogunate period. Metalsmiths competed with their skills against each other in this metropolis. Their latest styles were copied by regional metalsmiths.

The Hirata School The father of the Hirata family handed down cloisonne work  to only one of his sons. This family continued from the founder Hirata Donin ( ? - 1646) to the 11th head Nariyuki as an official craftsman family for the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The Yokoya school The Yokoya school occupies a most important place in the sword ornament metal-carving world. Yokoya Somin was born in 1670 at Edo. He created the "Katakiribori" carving method that looks like painting (by Japanese brush) and heavily used pictorial engraving. He marked a new phase in the metal-carving world of which the Goto family had dominated for a long time.

The Yanagawa school The Yanagawa school was founded by Yanagawa Naomasa who was a pupil of Yokoya Somin. This school became famous due to the reputation of master craftsmen: the founder "Naomasa", "Naomitsu" and "Naoharu". Craftsmen of this school were good at making Yokoya's style tsuba. This style is Takabori Iroe on Shakudo Nanako-Ji ground (=high relief carving and brazing thin golden or silver sheet on red copper Nanako-Ji processed metal.)

The Ishiguro scholl The Ishiguro school is classified as the Yokoya group by reason that the founder Masatsune studied under Yanagawa Naomasa and Kato Masatsune. The craftsmen of this school made more elegant and skilled handiworks than those of Yokoya's. They were especially good at portraying birds of prey.

The Ohmori school The Ohmori school is also classified as the Yokoya group. Ohmori Hideaki studied under Yokoya Somin for years and finally broke away from the Yokaya school. His adopted child "Teruhide", and Teruhide's son "Hidemitsu" made exquisite works that caused this school to flourish.

The Yoshioka-Inabanosuke family The founder of the Yoshioka-Inabanosuke family "Shigetsugu" came from Kyoto and had an audience with Tokugawa Ieyasu. Shigetsugu went to Edo at Ieyasu's invitation and the Yoshioka family was appointed as an official craftsman for the Tokugawa Shogunate. This school did not produce any supreme craftsmen, but did produce many good craftsmen.

The Nara school The Nara is one of the most important schools ranked with the Yokoya in Japan's metal-carving world. Several schools were derived from this school. The founder "Toshiteru" flourished and participated in setting up the Nikko Toshogu Shrine. His family continued for 9 generations. Except the head family, this school produced three supreme craftsmen who are called "Nara's Big Three". They are Toshinaga, Joi and Yasuchika.

The Hamano school The founder of the Hamano school "Shozui" was also a pupil of the Nara school. He gained a reputation equal to the "Nara's Big Three". Craftsmen of the Hamano school produced neat and vigorous handiworks.

The Tsuchiya school The founder Tsuchiya Yasuchika (1670 - 1744) was born in Shonai of Dewa Province (=Now Akita Prefecture). At the age of 34, he went to Edo and studied with the Nara school. The materials and compositions and techniques of his works are various, though, all of his works stir poetical sentiment.

The Ito school The Ito school was initiated by Ito Masanaga at the former part of the Edo period and continued until the Meiji Restoration. This school earned a good reputation for a long time with its splendid and elaborate carving style. They mostly made round shaped tsuba with iron or Shakudo metal plate, and were good at making tsuba whose subjects are flowers and grasses or trees. This school established bases at Edo and also at Odawara of Sagami Province. Craftsmen in this school came and went between the two places and had contact with each other.

The Iwamoto school The Iwamoto school is one of the major metalsmith schools in Edo area. They made naturalistic handicrafts. Iwamoto's 4th head "Ryokan" and the 5th head "Ryokan" (the same name) attained fame. Furthermore, the 6th head "Konkan" made elegant and smart handiworks which established his distinguished, original style.

The Horie school Horie Okinari studied metal-carving under Hamano Shozui first, though, the master deceased in 1769. Then, Okinari studied under Ohmori Teruhide. Later, he gained independence and became an official craftsman for Awa Domain. His inscriptions are peculiar. Most of them are inscribed in flowing writing style (Grass hand).

The Tanaka school Tanaka Kiyotoshi was born in 1804 at Aizu of Mutsu Province. It is conjectured he studied the Shoami style metal-carving in his younger days. Later, he became a pupil of Kohno Haruaki when Haruaki lived in the Tohoku area. He was given one word of his master's name "Aki", and forbidden to be named "Akiyoshi". However, he said "My master is not one man. Many". He brought in other carving styles from other schools. His works and skills earned the highest reputation at the end of the samurai period.

Kyoto area

The Umetada school The Umetada family successively served as a purveyer to the Ashikaga Shogun family. They located a workshop at Kyoto and engaged in polishing sword blades or producing Habaki, Seppa and other sword parts. "Myoju" (1558 - 1631) produced tsuba which were inlaid with color metals on brass or on red copper. Those types of tsuba were innovative so that the Umetada school was in its glory from the Momoyama period to the early part of the Edo period.

The Shoami school "Ami" means aides who served Ashikaga Shogun. "Shoami " must be one of them. It is generally believed that the Shoami school arose at the end of the Muromachi period. This school spread and flourished all over Japan during the Edo period. Craftsmen who belonged to this school mostly inscribed "Shoami" and "their name".

The Ichinomiya school Ichinomiya Nagatsune (1721 - 1786) was born in Tsuruga of Echizen Province (=Now Fukui Pref.). At the age of 13, he set out becoming a metal craftsman, then, became a pupil of Yasui Takanaga in Kyoto. He went independent at the age of 30. He prefered Shakudo (red copper) and Shibuichi (alloy of copper and silver) metals. Takabori Iroe (high relief carving and brazing inlay) or Katakiribori Zogan are his favorite techniques.

The Okamoto school Okamoto Shoraku who goes by the name of "Genbei", established his shop name "Tetsu-Ya". He sometimes inscribed "Tetsu-Gen-Do" on his handiworks. He heavily used tetsu metal (=iron), and was good at portraying Japanese or Chinese historical characters with Takabiri (high relief carving) and Iroe (brazing inlay) techniques.

The Ohtsuki school Ohtsuki Mitsuoki (1766 - 1834) went to Edo at the ago of 20, studied painting with Ganku and was influenced by the Maruyama school's painting style. He drew rough designs for his metal handiworks and produced many masterworks with sophisticated and sound carving methods. In his old age, he produced novel and homorous handiworks which make us feel Zen spirits.

Regional areas

Akita Shoami Akita in Dewa Province (=Now Akita Pref.) was a castle town of Satake Domain which yields 206 thousand koku of rice. The old name of Akita is Kubota. Craftsmen belonged to the Shoami school which flourished here. Shoami Denbei (1651 - 1727) is especially famous. He mainly used Shakudo and Shibuichi alloy metals, and produced many bold and artistic tsuba of which geometric curving lines are interlaced.

Shonai area Shonai is now Tsuruoka city of Yamagata Prefecture. This city was a castle town of Sakai Domain which yields 140 thousand koku of rice. Sato Yoshihisa went to Edo and studied metal-carving techniques with the Nara school. After coming back to Shonai, he fostered eminent Tsuchiya Yasuchika (son in law), Watanabe Arichika and Ando Yoshitoki. Katsurano Sekibun went to Edo when he was young and studied metal-carving techniques with the Hamano school. He became an official craftsman for Sakai Domain.

Sendai area Sendai was a castle town of Date Domain which yields 620 thousand koku of rice. From the time of Date Masamune who founded this domain, people in this town retained high interest in cultures and arts. Kusakari Kiyosada was born in Sendai, and went to Edo to study metal-carving with the Ohmori school. He then, became an official craftsman for Date Domain. The feature of his works is that fans or flax ornaments are expressed innovatively in the Sendai style inlay.

Aizu Shoami Aizu in Mutsu Province was a castle town of Matsudaira Domain which yields 230 thousand koku of rice. There were many metal craftsmen. Craftsmen of the Shoami school especially flourished in this place, and people called them "Aizu Shoami". Shoami Ikko and Shoami Kanesuke are well-known as excellant craftsmen. In other schools, Kato Hideaki (the Ishiguro) and Kato Akichika (the Yanagawa) are relatively famous. In addition, Tanaka Kiyotoshi went to Edo from Aizu and achieved great success.

Mito area Mito was a castle town of Mito Tokugawa Domain which yields 350 thousand koku of rice. The Mito Tokugawa is one of the "Three top Tokugawa-related families". Many craftsmen flourished in this area especially at the latter part of the Edo period. They used a variety of metals and made full use of all carving and inlay techniques. Both the Sekijyoken group and the Ichiyanagi group have conspicuous presences in point of skills.

Echizen Province Fukui in Echinzen Province (=Now Fukui Pref.) prospered as a castle town of Matsudaira Domain which yields 300 thousand koku of rice. The Kinai, the Myochin and the Akao schools are famous in this area.

Kaga area Kanazawa of Kaga Province (=Now Ishikawa Pref.) was a castle town of Kaga Domain which yields one million koku of rice. This area developed a brilliant culture. In reference to tsuba, elegant ones were produced more than powerful ones. The Maeda daimyo family invited the Goto's men (Kenjo, Teijo, Etsujo, Enjo) and provided houses and lots for them. Therefore, this group prospered in this area and people named them "Kaga Goto".

Mino area Mino (=Now Gifu pref.) is a key junction of traffic since early times. Being far from Kyoto, was the reason for metal-carving to develop well in this region. Tsuba were categorized as "Ko-Mino" being made before the Momoyama period (1573 - 1600), and categorized as "Minobori" which were made after that period. The features of Minobori are that (1) Shakudo or Yamagane (=coarse copper) is mostly used as ground metal. Iron is seldom used. (2) Autumn flowers are heavily used for design. (3) Regarding tsuba, most areas are chiseled down except Seppa-Dai and Mimi.

The Kitagawa school Soheishi Soten, an inhabitant of Hikone in Ohmi Province (=Now Shiga Pref.) mostly produced tsuba. He was good at expressing Samurai warriors in armor and mountain hermits by engraving or by inlay on iron ground.

Choshu-Tsuba Choshu Domain (=Now Yamaguchi Pref.) encouraged craftsmen to produce tsuba and export them to other provinces for the sake of securing financial resources. As a result, Choshu craftsmen produced many tsuba and other pieces of works. People said "Aizu in the East, Choshu in the West". Choshu-Tsuba cannot be categorically described in one phrase because there are many styles in this area. The families of the Kawachi, Nakai, Okamoto, Okada, Kaneko, Nakahara, Fujii, Inoue and Yamichi from this domain are relatively famous.

Hizen Province Hizen Province is now Saga Prefecture. This province was governed separately: Saga area by the Nabeshima daimyo family (330 koku of rice), Hirato area by the Matsuura daimyo family, and the Karatsu area by the Doi and Mizuno daimyo families. The Jakushi family at Saga and the Yagami school at Yagami are well-known as excellant tsuba craftsmen. And, in Nagasaki, the largest singular port opened to overseas trading during the Edo period, a particular style of tsuba that was influenced by Chinese culture became fashionable. This style of tsuba is called "Nanban-Tsuba".

Higo-Tsuba Higo Province (=Now Kumamoto Pref.) was governed by the Hosokawa daimyo family during the Edo period. Because Hosokawa Tadaoki, the father of Hosokawa Domain, was not only a great commander in the battlefields but also good at tea ceremony, Japanese poem and some other arts, caused the cultural level of this region to be high even though it was far from Edo or Kyoto. In the tsuba world, this region produced many master craftsmen. We categorize their works as "Higo-Tsuba" and tsuba lovers today praise their works.

Satsuma Province Satsuma Province (=Now Kagoshima Pref.) which yields 770 thousand koku of rice was governed by the Shimazu daimyo family from age to age. This province produced plenty of tsuba which are powerfully-designed on iron metal. Naotaka, Naonori and Naokata of the Oda school are best known as master tsuba craftsmen in this province. And the Chishiki school occupies the next place to the Oda. The founder Kanenori, the 2nd head Kanetake and the 3rd head Kaneatsu are famous in this school.

Shibuiswords & Jyuluck-do

E-Mail    me any comments or questions.

Return    to Tsuba Gallery