Owari tsuba are named for the old province near present day Nagoya. Many, particularly in Japan, consider Owari tsuba to be the finest of the iron ji sukashi tsuba, best embodying the Samurai aesthetic. Others find them crude and unrefined. They are known for bold, symmetric designs, hard, well forged iron with conspicuous tekkotsu (high carbon content metal showing as smooth lumps in the rim). These tsuba were developed in the early Muromachi period with aspects of the style carried on into Meiji. After the early Edo period, however, the exciting quality of the iron is generally lost. Note that the Hoan, Yamakichibei, Kanayama, and other tusba making groups were also located in the Owari area, but are generally classified on their own, and not as part of the Owari Sukashi tradition. However, tsuba from these schools share certain a similarity in taste that is quite distinct from those made in and around Kyoto or Edo.
Owari sukashi tsuba, mumei , mid to late Muromachi
8.39 cm H x 8.35 cm W x 0.57 cm T
Kaku mimi with ko niku
Flower and bracken design. The rim shows both subtle and bold tekkotsu in Owari style. Juyo tosogu.
Owari sukashi tsuba, mumei , Momoyama
8.50 cm H x 8.50 cm W x 0.60 cm T
Kaku mimi with slight niku
The motif is kiri mon enclosed within a strong diagonal grid. The surface shows a reddish patina in spots where slight delamination of the surface layer has taken place, possibly due to burning. The iron is very dense and the design extremely bold. Indeed it is slightly coarse, but the power can hardly be missed. This has a hakogaki by Sasano sensei and is assigned the rating kei; masterpiece. It is illustrated in Eckhard Kremers' "Sukashi Tsuba in Europaischen Sammlungen."
Owari sukashi tsuba, mumei, late Muromachi
8.5 cm H x 8.6 cm W x 0.50 cm T
Dense iron with a velvet texture
Kaku mimi with very slight niku
This guard clearly has an Owari design, but the iron appears softer and more homogenous like the iron of Kyoto. This is a very well worked plate showing no flaws. The edges of the sukashi are rounded over slightly. The design is of birds. Recent archaeological excavation shows evidence of Mino and Seto pottery styles being produced in the kilns of Kyoto at around this time. It appears that local production of goods that had been imported from outside the region became popular in the late Muromachi and Momoyama periods. NTHK kanteisho to Owari, 80 points.
Owari sukashi tsuba, mumei, Momoyama
8.4 cm high x 8.3 cm wide x 0.50 cm thick
Kaku mimi ko niku
The motif is Musashino, the grasses of the Musashi plains. We can see blades of grass with five dewdrops and two ripe seed heads. The rim is slightly rounded and is beautifully finished. The size and shape of the hitsu-ana are similar to the guard above, but the seppa dai is a bit narrower in Kyoto style. The texture of the iron is also closer to Kyo, but the patina is rather blackish. The design and overall feeling is Owari despite the delicacy. Aspects of the sword guards from Owari appear to have been appropriated by makers in Kyoto.
Owari sukashi tsuba, mumei ca. early Edo
8.10 cm H x 8.05 cm W x 0.50 cm T
Iron with heavy hammer work
Kaku mimi ko niku with running iron bones
As with many Owari tsuba, the meaning of the open work design is less than obvious. This tsuba has the typical rustic appearance and strong quality to the iron. The bold tsuchime (hammer work) gives the guard an activity that forms a nice contrast to the soft luster of the finish.
Owari Tsuba, mumei, ca. late Muromachi
7.3 cm H x 7.2 cm W x 0.5 cm
Iron with melted finish
Kaku mimi, ko niku, showing lump and running tekkotsu
The design is of birds, scale weights and saddles. The plate thins toward the center. The seppa dai and sukashi are slightly altered to accommodate a kozuka. There are a couple of similar tsuba published as Kanayama, although if anything there seems to be some Kyoto influence at work. Many US collectors seek out Owari tsuba with plates that dish toward the seppa dai, but when I visited Mr. Hagihara, he mentioned that the pieces with uniform thickness are superior. I haven't studied enough examples to form my own opinion on the subject, but his Owari tsuba were far and away the best I have handled.
Owari Tusba, mumei, ca. mid Edo
8.2 cm H x 8.2 cm W x 0.5 cm T
Iron, quite homogeneous and without tekkotsu
Sukashi design of ginger shoots and birds with very sharp edges.. This motif is also seen in Higo tsuba, but there the edges of the sukashi tend to be somewhat beveled. Dr. Torigoye called this guard late 2nd period Owari. By this time the quality of the early Owari iron is lost. While it's not a bad design, it has the generic feel of most later work. The pointed seppa dai is not typical.
Copyright 1996, 2003, 2004 Jim Gilbert
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