Early Soft Metal Tsuba 2

Tachikanagushi Tsuba

Tachikanagushi means tachi fittings maker. It seems reasonable to believe that the tsuba and other fittings for early tachi mounts may have been made by the same worker. In practice, this name is applied to a variety of early soft metal guards. Some tsuba traditionally labeled Tachikanagushi, like the third and forth ones below, appear closely related to the Katchushi or Tosho tsuba of the time. I think that many of these early guards were made by specialist tsubako working in a variety of materials, rather than as a sideline of armorers, swordsmiths, etc. Looking to Hoju and Aoi tsuba, the soft metal and iron works developed in parallel. The design and forging (early soft metal guards were hammered out) are very similar. Did separate groups of ironworkers and kinko influence each other's work, or did the same individuals apply their skills to whatever material was appropriate to the customer's status, needs and budget? I am told that John Yumoto said that the tools used on iron fittings are different from those suited to working the soft metal alloys. However I have also heard from modern metal artists that the same tools are used, although they are manipulated differently and/or that the cutting edges are ground at different angles. 

Tachikanaguchi Tsuba

Tachikanagushi tsuba, mumei, Muromachi

7.5 cm H x 7.2 cm W x 0.5 cm T at mimi, 0.3 cm T at seppa dai

Yamagane plate with clove and inome sukashi

Mokko gata

Dote mimi

This style of tsuba was made in the early Muromachi and was popular again in the Momoyama period. I am not yet sure which time this piece comes from. The design and workmanship are more sophisticated than what is usually seen in the early examples. The earliest form is usually called aoi tsuba. The plate of this example is worked with a punch to create an ishime surface. The rim has a smooth finish. Many of the early aoi examples have a kozuka ana added that cuts into one or more of the sukashi decorations. Since this one has no clove cut on the left side, the ana is probably original.

Tachikanagushi tsuba, late Muromachi

7.7 cm H x 7.1 cm W x 0.45 cm T at fukurin

Sanmai plate with paper-thin layers of shakudo over a copper core

Nademaru gata

Fukurin mimi

The shape and metal of this guard give it a quiet beauty.  While the surface appears to be covered with the early ring-style nanako, each circular figure is actually formed by a series of pinpoint punch marks.  The surface is further covered with black lacquer.  The outer metal layers of the sanmai construction are so thin that they are difficult to see without magnification.  The punch marks around the nakago ana are similar to those seen on Hirata Hikozo guards in the Edo period.  He probably took his inspiration from these earlier Tachikanagushi guards.  With its use of shakudo and sanmai construction technique, this guard could also be considered Ko-Kinko, although with very restrained ornamentation for that type.

Tachikanagushi tsuba, mumei, ca. Momoyama

7.1 cm H x 6.7 cm W x 0.5 cm T

Nadekaku gata


The surface has been worked with a punch to give texture and lacquer has been left in the low spots.  The range of color and texture is quite pleasing.  This is another guard that seems to be of the type that Hikozo may have taken some of his ideas about surface finishing from.

Tachikanagushi tsuba, mumei, late Muromachi

8.6 cm H x 8.5 cm W x 0.45 cm T at mimi, 0.30 cm T at seppa dai

Yamagane plate with punched ground

Maru gata

Heavy Yamagane fukurin with soldered joint

This is a large example of the type.  The work style and aesthetic is consistent with the iron guards of the period, and it is no less functional.

Tachikanaguchi Tsuba

Tachikanagushi tsuba, mumei, late Muromachi

6.7 cm H x 6.7 cm W x 0.2 cm T

Yamagane plate with a shell and pine needles sukashi (difficult to see in this picture because the cuts are extremely narrow.)

Maru gata

Shinchu (brass) fukurin

A nice color plate with a well hammered ground and traces of black lacquer. These tsuba give some insight into what the early iron tsuba would have looked like before centuries of corrosion. In this case the pine needles are actually cut as finely as they appear. Many later tsuba with thread-like sukashi were cut with relatively wide lines and then closed by hammering to a narrow gap at the surface. The distorted nakago ana shape is sometimes seen in Onin ten zogan tsuba.

Tachikanagushi tsuba, mumei, Momoyama

8.0 cm H x 7.6 cm W x 0.5 cm T mimi, 0.35 T seppa dai

Shinchu plate with clouds, waves and inlaid dew drops

Mokko gata

Uchikaeshi mimi

The surface is defined by countless, fine graver marks.  At some oblique angles, the color appears copper red rather than brass yellow.  This style of work was done by the Shonai Shoami, but shape of the hitsuana and the surface condition show that this style was likely the prototype for those tsuba.  It is strong as any iron guard.

Copyright 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003 Jim Gilbert

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