Kamakurabori Tsuba

Kamakura tsuba are named after the carved lacquer and wood craft of the city of Kamakura rather than after the Kamakura jidai. These tend to be large, thin iron plates with shallow sukidashibori (relief carving) of flowers, Chinese influenced landscape scenes, etc. Various sukashi figures are often incorporated into the carved design. None of these tsuba are signed. They appear to have been made during the Muromachi jidai and may have been developed by the workers in the Ko Tosho/Katchushi style. When mon sukashi appear, they are of the same type as is seen on Katchushi and Tosho style tsuba.

Dr. Torigoye comments: "The samurai saw in the Kamakura tsuba his own ideal of taste and reserve. It would seem that their popularity was later supplanted with the rise of the Heianjo zogan style by the samurai of the Edo age."

There are several substyles within the Kamakurabori type. The majority are plate tsuba of a coarse, porous-looking iron. There are also those, like the one below, of high quality iron, that seems similar to that used in other early guards. There is also a group of highly openworked tsuba (not illustrated here, but see Tsuba Kanshoki 2nd ed., bottom p43) done in the coarse style of iron with only small panels of surface carving in the Kamakura style. The delicacy of the sukashi is along the lines of Kyoto work, but designs and iron appear to be Kamakura. I am not aware of any evidence telling us where the Kamakurabori style may have actually been made.

Kamakura bori tsuba, mumei, late Muromachi

8.50 cm H x 8.45 cm W x 0.20 - 0.30 cm T

Iron with brass inlay

Maru gata

Narrow maru mimi

An exceptional example with a very good iron plate, extensive sukashi and carved designs and inlaid brass dots.  The hitsuana are original and unaltered.  The well forged iron and the rich decoration are consistent with the quality and aesthetic of Kyoto work.  The brass inlay suggests a possible relationship with Onin ten zogan guards.  The carved elements are mostly various plants, but include water on one side and clouds on the other.  The sukashi figure at the top appears to be a genji mon, and if so would refer to chapter 33 of The Tale of Genji, “Wisteria Leaves.”  Ex. Sasano collection.

Kamakura bori tsuba

Kamakura bori tsuba, mumei, late Muromachi

8.75 cm H x 8.60 cm W x 0.20 - 0.30 cm T


Mokko gata

Kaku mimi ko niku with fine tekkotsu

A good, classic example of this style. The kozuka ana is original, but slightly enlarged, cutting into the seppa dai. Many such tsuba have lost the raised edge around the kozuka ana due to overall enlargement. The flowing design shows water, clouds, mountains, a thatched hut and a plum blossom. The relief on the right side of the tsuba appears to have been worn down.

This tsuba was issued a tokubetsu kicho origami from the NBTHK in 1971 and has a hako gaki written by Sato Kenzan. These tsuba seem to have been popular with Western collectors that did not otherwise favor work in iron. Ex. Noda and Compton collections.

Kamakuribori tsuba

Possibly proto Kamakura bori tsuba, mumei

8.95 cm H x 8.70 cm W x 0.3 cm T

Iron with slight brass inlay


Kaku mimi ko niku

The outline of the dragon design is carved into the plate. The iron is quite dense and shows nicely modulated hammer work. The texture and color seem to relate to the Kyoto area. The other side has the same design, and both sides have a dot of brass for the pupil of each eye. There are at least several tsuba like this one in the US. The feeling is somewhat like Kamakura bori, and I wonder if these are a precursor of that style. This tsuba could be old enough for that to be possible. The design has a Chinese character to it that is also interesting. I'm not sure who came up with it, but there is an idea that these might have been made for export to China. We do know that many swords were sold to China during the Muromachi period. The body of the dragon reminds me of the very abstract so no kurikara style sometimes seen engraved on swords. The head and mane have an almost comical expression, though. I wonder how they were perceived by the people who carved them 500 to 600 years ago.

Copyright 1996, 1999, 2002 Jim Gilbert

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