Kanji for Saotome

Saotome Tsuba

Saotome tsuba are large iron guards with bold hammer work and simple but elegant sukashi designs. The openwork motifs are sometimes quite abstract. The iron tends to have a slightly melted look to the surface; irregular and varied, but with a smoothed, integrated feeling. The rims are frequently slightly raised. Kiku designs in sukashi or in surface carving are commonly seen. Later Saotome tsuba are often decorated with various kanji stamped deeply in the web. This technique became the hallmark of the Tembo tsuba style. Today the traditional Saotome lineage is considered to be a story invented to enhance the prestige of the family. There are, however, existing Saotome tsuba signed Ienori, Ietada and Iesada.


Saotome tsuba, late Muromachi

8.5 cm H x 8.1 cm W x 0.3 cm mimi

Iron plate with design of bracken

Sukinokoshi mimi

A classic example of the well hammered, softly finished Saotome plate.  The style of the rim, sukashi and kozuka ana are also typical.


Saotome tsuba, late Muromachi

8.4 cm H x 7.9 cm W x 0.3 cm mimi

Another classic example.  The shape of the kozuka ana is not unusual for this style of work.


Saotome tsuba,  late Muromachi

9.4 cm H x 9.1 cm W x 0.55 cm mimi

Iron with traces of black lacquer

Kiku gata

Kaku mimi ko niku

An unusually large and fine ubu example of the "wheel spoke" Saotome tsuba. Many of the spokes are inlaid rather than carved from the plate, although this is difficult to detect. One side is slightly dished toward the seppa dai and the other is flat. I saw an identical but even larger example in a friend's collection in Japan. I wonder whether these tsuba have anything to do with Saotome. The work is quite different from the other guards called Saotome. NTHK kanteisho to Saotome, 76 points.


Saotome Tsuba, mumei, ca. Momoyama

8.6 cm H x 8.3 cm W x 0.3 - 0.4 cm T

Iron with varied hammered surface

Mokko gata

Sukinokoshi mimi

Sukashi design of boxes (?) or quivers (??)

It is interesting to note that the mokko outline of this tsuba is slightly rotated compared to the nakago ana. A simple but sophisticated design. I do not know what the sukashi represents, but I have seen other Saotome tsuba with a similar "overlap" in the sukashi.


Saotome tsuba, ca. Momoyama

8.0 cm H x 7.6 cm w x 0.4 cm T mimi

Iron with deep hammer/punch marks

Uchikaeshi mimi

The working of the surface is clearly original and not a result of later rusting. This is typical of the Saotome style guards. The basic design of these guards is not too different from that of the "Katchushi" tsuba, but the feeling is different. The surface is more heavily and self-consciously worked, and the sukashi tends to be less rigid. I am not sure what this particular sukashi design represents. Maybe iris leaves, or a mon.


Tembo-Saotome tsuba ca. early Edo

8.4 cm H x 8.2 cm w x 0.5 cm T

Iron with hot stamp designs

Mokko gata

Uchikaeshi mimi

Very nice quality iron for this style of guard. This is an unusual example with bold hammer work and a very busy, punched design. The size of the Kozuka ana has been reduced with a soft metal insert. The tagane mei around the nakago ana ia often associated with the Saotome. I think that this represents a transition into the Tembo style. NTHK kanteisho to Tembo, 70 points.


Copyright 1996, 1999, 2001 Jim Gilbert

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