Shoami is usually translated as "one who is talented in the arts." This term may have been in use at the time of the origin of the Shoami tradition in the late Muromachi period. When it came to be applied to the work that we know today as the Shoami is not clear. The use of the ami kanji implies much more than mere skill; it also has religious connotations and association with "high culture." Haynes comments that "Dr. Torigoye in his studies of various daimyo records, found that the only family name mentioned, in most cases was the Shoami."
The earliest Shoami tsuba, called Ko (old) Shoami, were unsigned, like the other tsuba of the time. The origin of Shoami tsuba was probably with the old iron tsuba workers. One can speculate that these tsubako found and responded to a market for more decorative guards. Adding nunome inlay and carving to the iron plate met this need and became recognized as a "school" trait in time, aided by the eventual addition of signatures. During the early Edo period, Shoami workers spread throughout the country and spawned various regional Shoami styles.
Because of the long history of the Shoami, the numerous workers and regional styles, overarching generalizations about these tsuba are difficult. Some casual collectors tend to disregard Shoami because it has become synonymous with the huge quantities of poor quality production work turned out in places like Mito, Aizu and Awa during the late Edo period. The early work of these regions can actually be quite fine. Others assign any unfamiliar guard to Shoami in the hope that they cannot be contradicted. There are however many original and excellent Shoami works available for our study today.
Ko-Shoami tsuba, mumei, late Muromachi
7.65 cm high x 7.50 cm wide x 0.50 cm thick
Kaku mimi ko niku
This guard has a sukashi design of ginger shoots forming the hitsu-ana, which are connected by 4 birds to the vertical and horizontal cross bars. The workmanship and design is almost a cross between Kanayama and Kyo Sukashi. The surface has a melted finish that is like a ceramic glaze. It also has the asymmetry and the rotated axis seen in some Kanayama guards. We expect to see tekkotsu, but they are not there. The iron appears consistent with that of Kyo-sukashi guards, yet the method of working it and the finishing seem more like Kanayama. The sukashi motif has a basis in the simplicity of Kanayama, but is embellished in a loose Kyo style. The rim has slight niku to it and inside portion is chiseled at a bevel, as we see in later Akasaka and Myochin work. The marks left by the tool are clearly visible. Perhaps we should expect to see diverse influences coming together in the center of culture and commerce. Tokubetsu Hozon to Ko-Shoami.
Ko-Shoami, mumei, late Muromachi
6.9 cm high x 6.9 cm wide x 0.50 mm thick
Kaku mimi ko niku
The motif of this tsuba is four long-necked gourds. The rim is square with some niku and shows linear and low bumped tekkotsu. The iron is quite dense and has something of an Owari feel to it. The seppa dai is proportionately broad. The style of the hitsu-ana suggests that this may be older than late Muromachi. Again, we see some of Owari and something of Kyoto but the result is clearly something different -- Shoami. Ex. Sasano collection.
Ko Shoami tsuba, mumei, ca. late Muromachi
9.0 cm H x 9.1 cm W x 0.4 cm T
Iron carved in relief with brass inlay, hitsuana are shakudo filled
This is a majestic tsuba. The modeling of the shishi shows amazing depth given the thin plate. The gauge and the narrow rim coupled with a width greater than the height give it an expansive feeling. The iron is very dense and well forged. The carving almost seems related to Kamakura bori, although in more detail and positive relief. The reverse shows the backs of the shishi. Dr. Torigoye wrote a hakogaki for this tsuba to Ko Shoami. I do not know of another tsuba like this one, but I also don't know what else it could be called. Ex. Lundgren collection.
Ko Shoami tsuba, iron, mumei, ca. late Muromachi
8.4 cm H x 8.4 cm W x 0.35 cm T
Reasonably good quality iron with nice hammer work and cutting. This design is usually referred to as a well cover. The eccentric styles of hitsuana seen in Muromachi guards disappear in Edo times. This style of guard is also seen with nunome or Heianjo style zogan. This is the basic, undecorated version.
Ko Shoami tsuba, iron, mumei ca. Momoyama
8.2 cm H x 8.0 cm W x 0.55 cm mimi x 0.4 cm seppa dai
Juzu mimi (Buddhist rosary)
The design of gingko leaves in shakudo, shinchu, shibuichi, iron and copper with shinchu dew drops and surface carving is a characteristic Shoami demonstration of materials and techinque. The shape of the kozuka ana is often seen in Ko Shoami work. The gingko tree is symbolic of samurai loyalty. NTHK kanteisho to Ko Shoami, 73 points.
Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003 Jim Gilbert
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