Kanji for Akasaka

Akasaka Tsuba

Akasaka was and still is a district of Edo. These are ji sukashi tsuba with active "modern" designs that one might expect to be popular in a busy commercial capital. Unlike the earlier tsuba traditions, there is enough documentation of the Akasaka workers for us to know their names and the approximate dates of their work (Sasano, Kremers, or Watson's translation of the Nihonto Koza is a good source for this). However, there are no signed tsuba among the work of the first three generations and only a few by the fourth, making attributions difficult at times. The later workers did often sign their tsuba, however attributions of unsigned tsuba can still be a problem due to the large number of students working at the time.

The earliest Akasaka tsuba date from the beginning of the Edo period when the (likely legendary) dealer Kariganeya Hikobei was supposed to have moved from Kyoto with two skilled tsuba makers named Tadamasa to set up business in Akasaka. Because of this story, many of the older books identify Kyoto as the origin of the Akasaka tsuba style. More recent research into the design motifs of the tsuba tends to lean toward Owari as a likely source. It is probably reasonable to assume that with the relatively free movement of people, products and ideas in the Edo jidai, the Akasaka makers were familiar with and influenced by both Kyo and Owari tsuba styles. As the Edo period progressed, this cross-fertilization continued to the point that it becomes very difficult to distinguish the origin of an unsigned tsuba. The work of tsubako around the country followed popular fashion more than it adhered to a particular regional style. As with swords, the iron production became centralized and processing methods changed such that much of the character of the material was lost.

Akasaka tsuba are constructed with a hard skin layer sandwiching softer, inner layers. This can sometimes be seen on the mimi or in the walls of the sukashi. I have not seen this technique used on either Kyo or Owari tsuba. I suspect that it was a way of saving on labor and/or expensive material, but may have enabled some particular aesthetic effect. I doubt that it was intended as a functional improvement. Bob Haynes has pointed out tsuba that appear to be Akasaka, but show age that predates the supposed origin of the style. We don't know who these "Muromachi Akasaka" were or where they worked.

Akasaka tsuba, mumei, ca. early-mid Edo

7.5 cm H x 7.5 cm W x 0.65 cm T

Iron

Maru gata

Maru mimi

The design is of Musashino with a flying goose at the left, grass with seed heads at the right and a dewdrop at the top. There are slight signs of senkotsu in the rim. Unlike the next guard below, this piece has been well treated and has not been altered by rusting. Attributed to the second generation Tadamasa by Mr. Sasano and rated Kei (masterpiece). An identical example by the second generation appears in the Sano museum Akasaka book.

Akasaka tsuba, mumei, ca. early-mid Edo

7.96 cm H x 7.76 cm W x 0.59 cm T

Iron

Maru gata

Maru mimi

The motif is a slightly abstracted mortar and pestal. The rim has profuse tekkotsu and senkotsu and multiple layers of metal are visible in the sukashi opening. This style of hitsuana is seen in the work of the second generation. Tokubetsu Hozon origami to nidai Tadamasa.

 

Akasaka tsuba, mumei, ca. early-mid Edo

7.7 cm H x 7.6 cm W x 0.6 cm T

Iron

Maru gata

Maru mimi with senkotsu

The design is of 4 fern brackens. This is an unusually massive Akasaka guard. NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon to the third generation, Tadatora.

Akasaka tsuba, mumei, ca. early-mid Edo

7.8 cm H x 7.6 cm W x 0.6 cm T

Iron

Maru gata

Maru mimi with senkotsu

Manji design. This is an unusual motif for Akasaka tsuba. Second or third generation.

Akasaka tsuba, mumei, ca. mid Edo

7.4 cm H x 7.3 cm W x 0.65 cm T

Iron

Maru gata

Flattened maru mimi

Musashino design of birds and grass represented by overlaid circles. The rim is massive and well modulated. Probably by Tadamune, the 4th generation or Tadatora the 3rd. This simple but dynamic design was produced by each of the first 4 Akasaka generations.

Akasaka tsuba, mumei, ca. early-mid Edo

7.6 cm H x 7.3 cm W x 0.55 cm T

Iron, with light kebori on the leaves and stem of the bamboo

Maru gata

Maru mimi

The edge shows the very distinct stacked layers that are associated with Akasaka tsuba. This tsuba was very rusty, and it may be the process of corrosion that revealed the structure so clearly. Mr. Sasano mentions that the design of bamboo, cloves and catfish is often seen in Akasaka tsuba, but that he does not know what it means. Where his tsuba has a catfish, this example has two birds and the diagonal bar. The meaning is not any more clear. This sort of gentle, informal design wouldn't likely appear in earlier work. The hitsuana have shakudo sekigane. NTHK Kanteisho to Akasaka, 76 points.

 

Akasaka tsuba, mumei, ca. mid Edo

7.45 cm H x 7.35 cm W x 0.55 cm T

Iron with fine tsuchime (hammer work)

Maru gata

Maru mimi, slightly beveled

Design of a cricket or 'bell insect,' and two other types

There are quite a few examples of this design, attributed to as early as the third generation and including some signed examples by the later generations. There is an interesting play between the angular and abstract forms of the bodies and the flowing, circular design created by the insects' antenna. The two insects the bottom are different from the one at the top. The hard skin metal gives the impression of being stretched tight. The cutting of the sukashi is very sharp and vertical. Its probably by the 4th or 5th generation. Issued a Tokubetsu Hozon origami by the NBTHK.

Akasaka tsuba, mumei, ca. mid Edo

7.9 cm H x 7.7 cm W x 0.60 cm T

Maru gata

Maru mimi

The motif is of pine needles and seed cones. The delicate construction and the shape of the hitsu ana consistent with Tadashiges work. Typical Akasaka work for that time.

 

Akasaka (?) tsuba, mumei

7.6 cm H x 7.6 cm W x 0.5 cm T

Iron with a sort of orange peel texture

Maru gata

Low maru mimi

The horizontal wavy lines appear to represent water, perhaps with blossoms floating on it. I don't understand the six pointed star figures at the center of the two big half-kiku. I have seen something like this referred to as a cut section of fruit. The top of the seppa dai does not show the narrowed shape often associated with Akasaka. I have seen a very similar tsuba published with identification as Owari. This tsuba was awarded a Tokubetsu Kicho origami to Akasaka by the NBTHK and Kanteisho to Shoami by the NTHK, 75 points.

Tsuba mei Akasaka Tadatoki saku, ca. late Edo

7.70 cm H x 7.30 cm W x 0.45 cm T

Iron with kebori

Mokko gata

Low maru mimi

The sukashi design is of the three friends - pine, plum and bamboo. This is a later piece from around the time of the eighth generation. Rather busy, but not unpleasant. It lacks the depth of earlier work.


Copyright 1996, 1999, 2000,2002, 2003, 2004 Jim Gilbert

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