Misc. Edo Period Tsubako

Bizen Suruga

8.0 cm H x 7.9 cm W x 0.5 cm T

Iron, Mokko gata, Kaku mimi koniku

The earliest Bizen Suruga guards by the first generation are unsigned.  After about the sixth, the later generations followed the Bushu Ito style rather than the original Suruga style.  They worked throughout the Edo period.  There were not many tsubako working in the Bizen area.

8.2 cm H x 8.1 cm W x 0.5 cm T

Iron, maru gata, kaku mimi koniku

Design of omodaka.  This guard shows the classic inlaid sekigane shape associated with this group.  Others used similar sekigane including Bushu Kunihiro (see below) and Akasaka Tadashige. 


Signed Kigan

7.3 cm H x 7.1 cm W x 0.5 cm T

Kigan was a follower of Yasuchika and took many of his designs from that group.  He worked in the early to mid 18th C.  This guard with dragon and clouds is made from good quality iron with layering visible in the rim.  A similar design was used by the first Yasuschica.

Echizen Kinai

Echizen Kinai

7.8 cm H x 7.7 cm W x 0.4 cm T

Iron, maru gata, kaku mimi with slight niku

The design is of thunder clouds, lighting bolts and 3 birds.  There is black lacquer remaining in the low spots in the clouds.  The wide seppa dai and wide flat mimi are characteristic of many Kinai guards.  We see vast numbers of poor quality Kinai guards with dragon, aoi and other stereotypical motifs.  The original work of this group can be quite good when it can be found.


Signed Kofu ju Akao Yoshitsugu

7.8 cm H x 7.7 cm W x 0.50cm T

Iron, maru gata, kaku mimi.

The design is of leaves.  The Akao often made rather abstracted sukashi designs with very sharp-edged cutting.  There were seven generations of the mainline Akao signing Yoshitsugu and working in Echizen and Edo dating from early through late Edo period.  Most of the rest of the workers in this group did not sign with a personal name.  Many Kinai and Akao guards are signed on the back like this one.  The front side shows a taganemei around the nakago ana similar to the Saotome. 


Bushu Kunihiro

Kunihiro Tsuba

Signed Kunihiro saku, ca 1800

7.1 cm H x 7.1 cm W x 0.45 cm T


Kaku mimi

Light signature to the left of the nakago ana. The sides of this tsuba are very slightly indented, bringing the shape of Mt. Fuji strongly to mind. The design is similar to some of those in the Yagyu family design book. The shape of the cutouts for the sekigane is characteristic of Kunihiro tsuba. This is one of his better works. Sasano Masayuki wrote a hako gaki with the rating ka (a fine work, beautiful).


Choshu tsuba are both popular and numerous. Many of these tsuba are signed, and the list of Choshu tsubako names must run into the hundreds.  These guards usually depict some naturalistic subject with not only cut out openwork, but also with relief carving that sometimes approaches three dimensional modeling. They tend to be much more accessible to the casual viewer than many of the earlier sukashi styles. The designs are almost always pleasing, but unfortunately the quality of the iron is generally not as high as the earlier sukashi schools. This is of course typical of the time period and not unique to Choshu. Of the eleven Choshu tusba making schools, the three earliest are the Kawaji, Nakai and Okamoto. The below example is from the Kawaji school. Note that this name is sometimes translated as Kawaharu. The early Choshu tsuba show significant Shoami influence and are relatively large. Bushu influence can be seen in some of the later work. Most of the later Choshu tsuba are small.


Choshu Kawaji tsuba with wave design

Choshu tsuba, mei Choshu Hagi ju Kawaji saku

7.7 cm H x 7.7 cm W x 0.5 cm T

Iron with a very smooth finish

Maru gata

Kaku mimi ko niku

The design is of stylized waves, which is an unusual subject for Choshu guards. This is a good early example. While the iron is homogenous, it is of much better quality than the later pieces and has a nice blackish color. Later Choshu tsuba generally have a light brown patina. This is a Kawaji "school" signature rather than that of an individual. Hagi was a city name.


Signed Kaneshige on the back

7.4 cm H x 7.0 cm W x 0.4 – 0.6 cm T

Iron with inlaid shakudo, copper and gold

Kaneshige apparently prepared iron plates for Hamano school inlay.  This plate is of good quality unlike most of the later kinko work on iron plate.

Kuwana Nobutoki

Signed Kuwana ju Nobutoki

7.4 cm H x 7.1 cm W x 0.3 cm T

Iron with extremely fine amida yasuri

Maru gata, kaku mimi ko niku

Nobutoki was an independent tsubako who worked at Kuwana in Ise during the early Edo period.  While the decoration is minimal, the cutting of the amida yasuri is very skillful.  The rim is very slightly raised.

Hirado Kunishige

7.1 cm H x 6.6 cm W x 0.5 cm T

Brass carved with cloud and wave design

There are many signed examples of Hirado Kunishige’s distinctive work.  He lived in Hizen in the late 17th to early 18th C.  His work shows Nanban influence and often incorporates nonsensical western lettering.  The workmanship of this piece is superior to many of his signed examples.

Copyright 1996, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005 Jim Gilbert

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