Owari Tsubako

This page includes guards by various tsubako working in the Owari area.



Signed Nobuie, ca. Momoyama


8.7cm H x 7.9 cm W x 0.3 cm T seppa dai, 0.5 cm T mimi


Iron with carved tortoise shell pattern


Mokko gata


Uchikaeshi mimi


Kaku mimi ko-niku with tekkotsu and continuation of the tortoise shell in places


A sword cut is visible on the left and right sides of the guard.  Since this cut could only have been made with the tsuba unmounted, it is believed to be the result of a test cut.  Tokubetsu Hozon kanteisho to Nobuie.


Yamakichibei Tsuba, ca. Momoyama

7.1 cm H x 7.0 cm W x 0.2-0.4 cm T

Iron with tekkotsu in the mimi and face

Muttsu Mokko gata (six-lobed shape)

Kaku mimi ko-niku


The sukashi pattern at the top is a hat and the bottom is a modified udenukiana.  There is a slight trace of the yama in the signature remaining to the left of the nakago ana.  It has been partly removed in the installation of the copper insert.  The surface is varied and rich with a rustic flavor.  Unusual Sasano origami to shodai Yamakichibei.

Signed Yamakichibei, ca. early Edo

8.07 cm H x 7.33 cm W x 0.53 cm T at the mimi

Iron with tekkotsu in the mimi and face


Kakumimi ko-niku


The signature and workmanship are typical of the second generation.  The tekkotsu on the rim are extremely pronounced, appearing as many small diameter but high relief bumps.  The meaning of the sukashi motif is not at all clear.  NBTHK Hozon origami to nidai Yamakichibei.



Hoan Tsuba

Hoan tsuba, mumei, ca. mid-Edo

8.30 cm H x 8.20 cm W x 0.40 cm T

Iron with acid etched surface design in Buddhist motif of ken and rosary beads

Maru gata

Goishi gata (cross section is go stone shaped)

Probably Kishu Hoan. While this piece is not early Hoan, it is quite beautiful. It gives an impression of being older than it is. The design and the quality of the iron are better than most later Hoan work. The kogai ana was probably added later. NTHK Kanteisho to late Hoan.

Hoan tsuba (?), mumei, ca. 17th C

7.30 cm H x 7.05 cm W x 0.60 cm T

Iron with tekkotsu on the face and rim

Heavy, squarish rim with rounded edges

The density of iron and the prominent tekkotsu are typical of the Owari area. The acid etched surface would be consistent with Hoan, even though the design of hats and birds is not a typical one for this group. I saw a guard with this exact design, but of inferior iron, that was called Yagyu. The motif does not appear in the Yagyu design book, however.  It could be Kanayama work, but the surface texture is not typical of that group.


Signed Sadahiro, ca. mid Edo


9.0 cm H x 8.3 cm W x 0.4 cm T seppa dai, 0.5-0.6 cm T mimi


Iron with brass and copper inlay


The design is of a botan (peony) flower.  NTHK kanteisho, 76 points.



Ono is located on the Chita peninsula south of Nagoya. According to the available sources, the metal workers there started producing tsuba in the Momoyama to early Edo period. Dr. Torigoye points out that this was an abumi making area in earlier times. Ono guards show material and workmanship consistent with origin in the Owari area. Mr. Sasano believed that Ono, Kanayama and Owari tsuba are closely related and that Ono examples are often incorrectly classified as the work of the other groups. Interestingly, Sasano sensei did not include any Ono tsuba in his final book on sukashi guards. He only mentions that workers in the Ono region probably made some of the Yagyu designed tsuba. I wonder if later in his life he found that Ono guards did not meet his aesthetic standards, or if he was rethinking the status of the "school." Dr. Torigoye, in Haynes' translation of "Tsuba Geijutsu-ko" comments "Their work is of common rank and not as pleasing as the real Kanayama or Yagyu tsuba." I have very little personal experience with these guards, and can only summarize some of the previous research. When I asked a friend of mine with a good understanding of the type to describe the unifying characteristics of Ono guards, he told me that the designs are massive "like the foundation stones of a Japanese castle."

Ono Tsuba

Ono tsuba, mumei, ca. early Edo (?)

7.4 cm H x 7.3 cm W x 0.65 cm T

Iron ground with very strong tekkotsu

Carved in the form of a water wheel

The iron of this guard is very dense and has a compact-looking surface. It has a lot in common with Kanayama work, and in fact there is an identical example illustrated in the Kurokawa Institute of Ancient Cultures kodogu volume that is attributed to Kanayama. Surprisingly, though, this piece recently received Tokubetsu Hozon papers to Ono. Some have been saying that the Ono group did not really exist, but this does not appear to be the current thinking at the NBTHK. This is an excellent guard, with nothing about it of "common rank."

Ono tsuba, ca. late Edo period

7.4 cm H x 7.1 cm W x 0.7 cm T

Iron with exaggerated tekkotsu

The sukashi motif is pine trees on the lower left and perhaps a wheel at the upper right.  This guard is very massive with a highly modulated surface and tekkotsu that are a bit unnatural.  Because of this it is probably revival period work.  Some of the highest points on the surface have been hammered down.

Nagasone Saiichi

7.2 cm H x 7.2 cm W x 0.6 cm T

Refined and compact iron ground

The motif is matsukawabishi.  There are signs of the forging all over the web.  The metal is extremely dense.  The iron looks like something from the Owari are, possibly Sadahiro.  The design looks similar to Ono or Myochin.  It was judged to be the work of Saiichi of Echizen.  He was a student of the famous swordsmith Okisato Kotetsu.  NTHK kanteisho, 73 points.   


The first generation Iwata Norisuke was born in 1781 and died in 1852.  The second generation was a student of the first and lived from 1817 to 1883.

Signed Futagoyama ju Norisuke (kao)

7.5 cm H x 6.9 cm W x 0.4 cm T

Iron with masame grain visible in the rim and in places on the face

The first and second Norisuke made many copies of the work of famous Owari area tsubako.  Most of the Yamakichi and Yagyu tsuba that we see today are their work.  They also made original work and much of it is very good.  This piece is rather plain, but is a good example to study the details of their iron forging.  Similar qualities can be detected in their Yagyu forgeries.

Copyright 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004 Jim Gilbert

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