kanayama by Dr. Torigoye

Kanayama Tsuba

These are unsigned sukashi iron guards originating in the early Muromachi with continued production through early Edo. Most are relatively small and have simple, often difficult-to-interpret designs. The surface texture of the iron is usually highly modulated and shows pronounced tekkotsu. These tsuba appear to have been finished by slightly melting the surface after forging and shaping. This brings out tekkotsu from the high carbon inclusions in the iron. Some of the older references identify Kyoto as the origin of Kanayama tsuba, but Akiyama's work and most subsequent thought ties them to the Owari sukashi style. It is interesting the Kanayama tetsu does not seem to be as hard as Owari, but the finished product shows an equal or greater intensity of bones.

Dr. Torigoye writes that during the time that swords were in active use as weapons, Kanayama tsuba were popular among both samurai and chonin for their strength and simplicity. However, Akiyama said in Token Kai-Shi that "In the Tokugawa period, the family had been in reduced circumstances and the school disappeared. Perhaps because people did not appreciate their work, consequently there are very few pieces in existence. The important thing for us now is to preserve well known old pieces, or they will gradually disappear." Mr. Sasano's books have been responsible for bringing Kanayama guards back to the height of popularity with many of today's collectors. Unfortunately, this hasn't necessarily improved their chance of surviving in original condition.

Some early texts refer to Kanayama tsuba as very thin, and being too weak, due to excessive open work, to be functional guards. It make me wonder whether the name Kanayama was used in reference to a different type of tsuba at one time.  Dr. Torigoye’s Toso Soran illustrates a guard at the bottom of page 234 that may be of this type.  What we usually call Kanayama today strike me as among the most reliable sukashi guards. These tsuba have a directness that defies words.

Kanayama tsuba, mumei, mid Muromachi

7.5 cm high x 7.5 cm wide x 0.50 mm thick

As sometimes happens with Kanayama tsuba, to describe this guard we have to fall back on schematic terms of concentric circles and cross bars, because it is not clear what the design is intended to represent.  The quality of the tsuba is quite certain, however and is a good study for Kanayama.  The tekkotsu on rim are of both the linear and the lump type and some are prominent enough to be easily visible even from the front in this illustration.  Tekkotsu are also exposed on the face of the guard and in places actually distort the outline of the openwork.  The rotation of the axes of the design relative to the centerline of the nakago ana is typical of the aesthetic of this time period.  The bubbly, distorted surface, the asymmetry and eccentricities are strong in the “tea taste” of the time.  While the design is quite simple, there is a great deal to enjoy in the subtle irregularities of shape and the texture and activity of the iron.  Ex. Sasano collection.  NTHK kanteisho to Kanayama, 85 points.


Kanayama Tsuba

Kanayama tsuba, mumei, ca. mid Muromachi

7.5 cm H x 7.4 cm W x 0.5 cm T

Iron, maru gata, round cornered kakumimi koniku

This piece has a black patina and linear and granular tekkotsu in the mimi. The design is of openwork gourds on the left and right and birds at the top and bottom. NTHK kanteisho to Kanayama, 81 points.


Kanayama Tsuba

Kanayama tsuba, mumei, ca. mid Muromachi

7.00 cm H x 7.05 cm W x 0.65 cm T

Iron, maru gata, kaku mimi with a just a bit of nikku

Both the face and mimi have very strong but natural tekkotsu. The iron is very dense, feeling surprisingly heavy for the size. The color is beautiful. See Sasano's Early Japanese Sword Guards, number 60 for a similar example. I can't find any fault with a guard like this.


Kanayama tsuba, mumei, ca. mid Muromachi

6.8 cm H x 6.6 cm W x 0.45 cm T seppa dai, 0.6-0.7 cm T mimi

Iron, maru gata, kaku mimi ko niku

There are a variety of large tekkotsu visible in the rim and face.  The surface is concave.  This guard may date from the early Muromachi.


Kanayama tsuba, mumei, ca. mid Muromachi

6.91 cm H x 6.92 cm W x 0.45 cm x 0.49 cm T

Iron, maru gata, kaku mimi ko niku

Classic Kanayama iron with tekkotsu.  The motif is two tomoe.


Kanayama Tsuba

Kanayama tsuba, mumei, ca. late Muromachi

7.3 cm H x 7.1 cm W x 0.5 cm T

Iron, Momo gata (peach shaped), rounded kakumimi koniku

Both the face and mimi show conspicuous tekkotsu, although not as muscular as the first example. The narrow seppa dai and wide hitsu ana form an interesting combination. Illustrated in Tsuba Kanshoki and with an early hakogaki by Dr. Torigoye.


Kanayama Tsuba

Kanayama tsuba, mumei, ca. late Muromachi

7.1 cm H x 6.7 cm W x 0.5 cm T

Iron, tatemaru gata, kakumimi with niku

The design appears to be of cedar trees.  Slight tekkotsu appear.  The piece has traces of nunome on the web and rim, which is not typical of Kanayama.  An almost identical example without nunome traces is illustrated on page 92 of Tsuba no Bunkashi.  NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon.


Kanayama Tsuba

Kanayama tsuba, mumei, ca. Momoyama

7.3 cm H x 7.2 cm W x 0.5 cm T

Iron, maru gata, kakumimi koniku

This piece has a textured iron surface without prominent tekkotsu. The bones seem not to have been brought out through heat treatment or later rusting. I have not figured out what the design represents. NBTHK Hozon.


Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004 Jim Gilbert

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