From the life of Unno Shômin 2

To show some more aspects of Unno Shômin´s live, I would like to translate parts of an extant correspondence of the master with Mitsumura Toshimo´s manager Matano Kagetaka (俣野景孝). As mentioned in the earlier article, Toshimo was one of Shômin´s „bulk buyers“ and played so surely an important rule in supporting the artist. Somewhat later than the Kanzan and Jittoku tsuba, Toshimo placed an order for a suaka-tsuba in mokkô-gata with hell motif (jigoku, 地獄) whose mei is: „Meiji sanjûnana-nen kika Mitsumura Toshimo-kun no motome ni kotae“ (明治三十七年季夏応光村利藻君之需) –  „Teishitsu-gigei´in shô-roku´i Unno Shômin rokujûichi“ (帝室技芸員・正六位海野勝珉六十一), „Made according to an order of Mr. Mitsumura Toshimo in late summer of 1904, Unno Shômin, Imperial Craftsman and holder of the sixth court rank at the age of 61.“ One letter of Shômin to Kagetaka from April 20th of 1904 reads:

„I gratefully received your registered mail with the attached cheque of 335 Yen. As planned, I was able to basically finish the figures of the God of Wind and Thunder and apart from that I also started with the preparatory work for silver tachi mountings for which I already have been paid for. The tsuba in question with the hell motif is, as you surely know, a very costly and sophisticated work and just recently I was able to finish the carvings for the ground plate. I am an old man with increasing difficulties to use my hands and thus I also had to reject orders for an exhibition held by a local dealer. With my situation in mind I would ask you to transfer the outstanding amount so that I am able to finish all the pieces [for Mr. Toshimo] without delay. I also have to pay the assistents I had to hire especially for the preparatory work of the zôgan inlay. Thus I humbly ask for your understanding. The work on the tachi-koshirae will be finished soon and if everything runs smoothly I will send it to you right after it is finished. Again I ask you to take into consideration my situation. Yours faithfully, Unno Shômin.

Post scriptum and to Dr. Matano Kagetaka in person: Regarding the gold mitokoromono set with the bird motif, I just finished the preparatory work.“

And in a letter from April 25th we read:

 „With regard to your request to hurry up with the tsuba in question I must inform you that I work on it all day and night to finish it as soon as possible. One side which shows the ´Expulsion from Hell´ will be finished around the tenth of the next month and the other side with the hell itself probably around the twentieth of the same month.“

On June 25th Shômin wrote:

„Dear Mr. Kagetaka. I have taken note of your reprimand regarding my demand for a loan of several hundred Yen to finish the tsuba in question. I only did this because of the circumstances and was by no means meant to make extra personal profit out of the tsuba with hell motif. All money will be spent for the completion of the piece and I really had difficulties to pay my students their wages.“

And from a postcard dated June 29th we learn about the completion:

„Dear Mr. Kagetaka. I completed the tsuba with hell motif yesterday but had to add some additional coloring. Regarding the slight delay, I had to finish two habaki for Mr. Shimaya (嶋屋) which I had to deliver to him together with a shirasaya. Yours sincerely.“

In 1905, one year after the order for the tsuba with hell motif was placed, the Japanese government commissioned Mitsumura´s Kôbe-based company Kansai Shashin Seihan Insatsu (関西写真製版印刷) to document the Russo-Japanese War in the Lüshunkou District, the former Port Arthur. That means we can assume that he was quite busy at that time and did not wait every day at the doorstop for the tsuba to arrive. But maybe he did, as he was an enthusiastic collector. We further learn that his manager also had to deal with the artwork commissioned by his boss. By the way, Toshimo published in 1904 the first two volumes of the fancy tôsôgu set „Tagane no hana“ (鏨廼花, lit. „Flowers of the Chisel“). In 1919 the other four volumes followed and a limited special edition of 500 copies of all the six volumes were reprinted in 1971 by the publisher Tsuru Shobô (鶴書房). Some pics of the latter publication can be found here.


Mitsumura Toshimo (left), Matano Kagetaka (right)

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