Historic overview of aesthetic requirements for a tsuba – Part II

    And again back to tsuba. The insecure Muromachi period played much into the hands of austere trends, a development that was picked up by Zen and the tea culture. As mentioned, Zen Buddhism was quasi tailor-made for the spirit of the warrior class. Well, practicing Zen was a rather solitary thing but with the tea, which of course also had its strong solitary connotations, the educated warriors had a good way to express and share their taste. The end of the Muromachi period thus “perfected” aesthetic ideals that had already been there, for example the so often quoted ideal of wabi (侘) and sabi (寂). Entire libraries can been filled with books and attempted explanations of this phenomenon and I am not going to ruminate them. What we have to know is that concepts like wabi and sabi had existed before but with somewhat more negative connotations. With the Muromachi period, they were kind of slightly “redefined” and no longer referred just to loneliness of living remote from society, just to name one definition, as now also natural objects and human creations could show, or better “possess” wabi and sabi. The aesthetic of wabi and sabi, and please forgive me in not splitting up these terms here as this would go too far, is an aesthetic of rustic simplicity, of something that was created by chance or nature (or looks as if created by chance or nature), of something that suggests wear. In psychological terms, appreciating wabi and sabi means to accept the transience of life, the fact that not everything can be controlled by human, the passing of time. So wabi and sabi are quite “Zen-ish” aesthetical concepts which, once understood and internalized, gives one much joy in appreciating transient moments and, if you want, simple life.

    Of course it took a while until tsuba were reflecting this development and wabi-sabi and tea influences on sword guards might not be seen before the mid-Muromachi period. I have already pointed out that the changes in warfare, society, and rule left their marks on swords and sword fittings. Now it was time to leave behind the sheer practical forms with their naive designs and bring the element “fashion” into tsuba. The simple sukashi that had represented in tentative and unobtrusive manner just patterns from every-day life or maybe religion made place for artistically arranged designs. This development went hand in hand with another one, namely gradually from mere craftsmen like shirogane-shi (白金師・銀師) or tachi-kanagu-shi (太刀金具師) to such that understood themselves as artists, although the first fruits of this change were not to be ripe until the end of the Muromachi period. Representative are the great masters Nobuie (信家) and especially Kaneie (金家) who was the first to introduce real picturesque motifs for tsuba. Pictures 6, 7, and 8 show this development in a highly simplified form.

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Picture 6: From ko (小) to ki (生) to ji (地) sukashi.

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Picture 7: From Ônin to (two) Heianjô to Kaneie.

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Picture 8: From tachi-kanagu-shi to Ko-Mino to Ko-Kinkô to Umetada

    Before entering the Momoyama period, uchigatana were basically mounted in an unobtrusive manner, that means black-laquer saya with the hilt covered in black lacquered same and wrapped in leather and with an iron ji-sukashi-tsuba. This elegant style was the forerunner of the subsequent Tenshô-koshirae (天正拵) (see picture 9), a special mounting that has its name from the Tenshô era (天正, 1573-1592) and which has to be seen as a countertrend to the loud koshirae of the Momoyama period. The Tenshô-koshirae in turn paved the way for the highly tea-oriented Higo-koshirae (肥後拵). Again, the Higo-koshirae was a for a while local trend of its own which followed the basic rules of then high-class uchigatana sword mountings of high ranking warriors but interpreting them according to tea aesthetics (see picture 10). And when I am talking of “basic rules” of that time, I mean that the often quoted flamboyant Momoyama-koshirae are actually not that far away from Tenshô or Higo-koshirae. Just the color scheme is considerably louder (see picture 11).

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Picture 9: Tenshô-koshirae

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Picture 10: Higo-koshirae

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Picture 11: Momoyama-koshirae

    So the tsuba of late Muromachi and Momoyama times followed basically either aesthetics of just design (ji-sukashi-tsuba), of more or less simple and refined picturesque interpretations (Ko-Shôami, Shôami, or Kaneie), or of wabi-sabi, whereas of course also in-between, cross-referencing, and hard-to-classify guards existed. I want once more refer to Nobuie-tsuba. These tsuba are made in a highly sophisticated and totally controlled manner but to appear to have natural shapes and a subtle, intentionally rustic, sometimes even archaic, but always very natural surface, terms that perfectly match with the aforementioned brief description of wabi-sabi. The same applies of course to Higo-tsuba which form an artistic world of their own. Another category or rather school of tsuba that emerged in the Momoyama period and which was quite a novelty is Umetada-tsuba. Umetada Myôju (埋忠明寿) was namely the first to transfer the bold but elegant and sometimes even a little bit impressionistic painting style to tsuba that had emerged in the Momoyama period around the artists Hon´ami Kôetsu (本阿弥光悦, 1558-1667) and Tawara Sôtatsu (俵屋宗達).

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Picture 12: Nobuie-tsuba, two Higo-tsuba, Umetada-tsuba

    Well, things started to change when Tokugawa Ieyasu came to power. As mentioned earlier, the Momoyama Culture is usually declared over when he elemininated the last remaining member of the Toyotomi family at the Siege of Ôsaka in 1615. The stabilization of the bakufu and the taking shape of Edo can be dated around Keian (慶安, 1648-1652) to Kanbun (寛文, 1661-1673) but Edo had a problem: No influential persons from art and culture had settled in the new capital yet. They refused to leave Kyôto, for example Hon´ami Kôetsu, Umetada Myôju, and the Gotô family, what eventually ended in forced displacements and “offers” which came close to blackmail. Apart from that, the Tokugawa-bakufu issued a series of laws and decrees which pretty well defined every aspect of a bushi´s life. It was precisely regulated which sword style had to be worn with which dress and which koshirae a samurai had to wear when attending Edo Castle for example. As we know, the Shogunate introduced in the former half of the 17th century the sankin-kôtai (参勤交代) system through wich each daimyô had to maintain a residence and household in Edo. With this and countless newly created administrative posts and functions in the new capital, the majority of the warrior class had arranged itself quite fast with Edo. And since they had a “head start” of several decades to do their own thing there, new fashions and aesthetic concepts developed locally. Apart from carpenters, roofers, blacksmiths and all forces needed to create the new center of Japan, Edo was until the mid 17th century only something for the venturesome craftsman and artist and for those who fastly reacted to the new trends there and adapted themselves. That means waiting too long could mean missing the train. A group of artists which did everything right was those of the early Akasaka (赤坂) masters. They put up their tents in Edo quite fast and, supposedly coming from Kyôto, produced as fast according to the new style in demand. This style had still its roots in tea aesthetics but gave them a new connotation, reflecting the then situation of the warrior class: Being proudly the now no longer challenged rulers of the country but at the same time “stuck” in a rigid administrative and hierarchical system. The tea ceremony was of course uninterruptedly practiced but it got a more mannerly touch. And this “being caught” feeling combined with a more and more practical, bureaucratic interpretation of the warrior ideals, and the upcoming of a no longer intellectually inferior merchant and later also bourgeois class resulted in the expression of a new aesthetic ideal that is known as iki (いき・粋). Well, iki is no less complex than wabi-sabi but basically it can be circumscribed as sophistication but always mixed with sontaneity, a pinch of romanticism, elegance and smartness by trying not to be complicated and coquettish. Thus iki is sometimes compared to Western dandyism of the early 19th century. For example, if a samurai or chônin didn´t master iki, he came across as artificial and arrogant as their Western counterparts that earned the dandyism a poor reputation.

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Picture 13: From Muromachi to Momoyama era ji-sukashi to Ko-Akasaka to later Akasaka-tsuba.

    Everything was peaceful and fine with the Edo period and the first real difficulties faced by the bakufu arose during the Kyôhô period (享保, 1716-1736). At the end of the 17th century, the coin reserves of the bakufu were running short, because the major gold and silver mines were exhausted. Added to that, there was a short period of abundance during the Genroku period (元禄, 1688-1704) caused by unusually high prices for rice, and steady prices for consumer goods. This was the administrative outcome of the preceding periods, and it left the daimyô with a new taste for the finer things of life which they didn´t want to give up. At the same time, some merchants started to play in the same financial league of a daimyô or were even wealthier. This brought some noticeable changes for tsuba. The formal arts, like paintings by the Kanô school (狩野) or the classical interpretations of sword fittings by the Gotô family were left to the warrior class. The educated urban class discovered the fresh and unconventional Chinese “literati paintings” (bunjinga, 文人画) of the Southern Schools (nanshûga [南宗画] or short nanga [南画]) which had already been in the China a counter trend to the “professional painters” of the Northern Schools (hokushūga, 北宗画). This also brought in the rise of the machibori artists (町彫, “carvings of the townsmen”), a counter trend to the so far dominating iebori (家彫, lit. “hourse carvings”) of the Gotô school. Pioneers of the machibori trend were the artists of the Yokoya school (横谷) which hard freed themselves from their Gotô masters. This trend breathed new life into the world of sword fittings, not only in terms of motifs but also in terms of interpretation, combination of colours, and raw materials, and quite many of the great machibori masters were influenced by contemporary painters. Despite the general decline in quantity and quality of swords and sword fittings in the course of the post-Genroku financial difficulties, the machibori stimulus didn´t die down and reached another peak in the bakumatsu period and the transition to the Meiji era. Well, at the same time, the insecure bakumatsu period brought also a jolt towards practicability and simplicity and “back to good old values.” Thus some artists revived Muromachi period styles like of Nobuie. And with the opening of the country, the difficulties for craftsmen who worked in the sphere of the Japanese sword, new markets had to be tapped. One such market was the orientation towards a well funded Western clientel, but this market needed some adjustments as the greater part of customers couldn´t make a head or tail of wabi-sabi aesthetics. In this sense, most craftsmen working for the foreign market focussed on what was in demand, and that was a neat, picturesque, and floral ornamentation with the certain kitchy Japanese touch.

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Picture 14: From Goto (left) to the new machibori trend (right two).

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Picture 15: A machibori peak and the backwards orientation of the bakumatsu era.

    Well, books can be written on each of these aspects but my aim was to provide an easy to understand historic overview of the development and changes of different Japanese aesthetics and their influence on tsuba as these “dots” are mostly not connected in relevant literature.

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Historic overview of aesthetic requirements for a tsuba – Part I

Due to the length of this article, it is split up to two parts.

     Today, tsuba are collected for several reasons but probably the most important one is that it triggers something in the beholder, or in other words, a certain style or look matches the viewer´s aesthetic sense. There is a major subconscious level when it comes to taste, a level that is initially shaped by genetical, environmental, and educational, but later also by cultural and social influences. But for the understanding of the different aesthetical approaches in tsuba making, we have to make a chronological excursion through Japanese history. Well the hand guard is an elementary component of a sword and when it comes to the Japanese variant, the tsuba, a lot has been said and speculated about its purpose. Some doubt that it was there to parry an opponent´s sword blow and assume that it rather prevented the swordsman´s hand from slipping onto his own blade but I am of the opinion that the tsuba fulfilled both tasks plus the task to balance the sword. The earliest tsuba of jôkotô swords were, with some exceptions, pretty plain and had, if at all, rather simple and naive decorations and this remained more or less unchanged for several centuries and about entering the Muromachi period. Don´t get me wrong, the decoration itself was often applied in a technically perfect and quite advanced manner but the designs themselves were neither bold nor outstanding from the point of view of the sword mounting seen as a whole. We have to know that until the fifteenth century, warriors, at least those of a certain rank, wore a tachi. This was, apart from the uchigatana which actually did appear much earlier and which will be addressed next, the only sword with a tsuba as accompanying swords like the koshigatana were mounted in aikuchi manner, i.e. without a tsuba, the fuchi meeting the koiguchi of the saya. Back then, the aesthetic requirements of a tachi-tsuba was, as indicated before, to match the fittings of the koshirae. Everything was in balance and en suite, i.e. featuring the same basic design, decoration, and interpretation in terms of workmanship. And this covered basically all ranks, that means the quality of a tachi-tsuba or of tachi-kanagu in general was not so much defined by artistic interpretation but by the grade of sophistication, technical perfection, and value of used raw materials. Picture 1 of a Heian period kenukigata-tachi koshirae from the possessions of the Kasuga-taisha in Nara demonstrates very good what I mean. But what we also must not overlook is the overall “appearance” of a warrior of these times. It was the time of the ô-yoroi, an armor that was made of rows of scales with countless braids and numerous other elements against which a tsuba simply did not have the chance to stand out (see picture 2). When not in battlefield or on a campaign, the usual civilian outfit of a warrior was back then, i.e. from the Heian to the end of the Muromachi period, the hitatare, a two-piece costume more or less ornate depending on occasion. To the hitatare, the very same tachi was worn, either suspended edge down with cords from the sash like when wearing armor, or just carried by hand (see picture 3). Well, higher-ranking bushi surely had several tachi, one to be worn at ceremonies, one for the actual battlefield, and one for the hitatare, but there was yet no “civilian counterpart” to the tachi.

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Picture 1: kokuhô, kin-ji raden kenukigata-tachi koshirae (金地螺鈿毛抜形太刀拵), nagasa 96.3 cm

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Picture 2: kokuhô, akaito-odoshi ô-yoroi (赤糸威大鎧), Kasuga-taisha

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Picture 3: hitatare

    The aforementioned uchigatana emerged in the Heian period but was initially restricted to lower ranking warriors and intended as plain and simple sword for guarding duties and self-defence. Uchigatana were used without tsuba but when we read between the lines of contemporary and later chronicles, we can assume that many of them must had been equipped with a hand guard as also the term tsuba-gatana (鐔刀) existed for them. We know from Heian period picture scrolls that these early uchigatana were worn thrusted edge up through the belt and varied in size, although there was the trend to somewhat longer blades to be effective for defence and self-defence. That means these uchigatana were usually not just slightly longer daggers but at least what we would classify today as wakizashi or ô-wakizashi. Please note that these early Heian and Kamakura period uchigatana were only indirectly related to the later Muromachi period uchigatana, i.e. there was not a gradual development between these two sword forms. The “rediscovering” of the uchigatana is usually explained by the drastic changes in warfare taking place over entire Muromachi period. As we know, it were turbulent times but the mentioned “rediscovering” of the more simply mounted uchigatana does not only go back to these changes in warfare. There was namely more than “just” a trend from more and more higher-ranking bushi wearing uchigatana as secondary, and equipping greater ashigaru armies with simpler swords. The rebirth of the uchigatana is also deeply connected with the then changes among the warrior class and rulership. It was the time when the bushi took over land ownership on a large scale. So they were no longer just armed guardians of someone elses land and obeying to what was decided for them in a powerplay of the shôgun, the court, and the upper clergy, they brought forth from within local military governors, the shugo-daimyô, which soon also united the civil powers of the former authorities with their military office. The result was that until the end of the Muromachi period, a decentralized state system had developed that practically completely replaced the so far central government by either the emperor or the shôgun.

    With these new governmental duties, the local shugo-daimyô hegemons and their samurai vassals, which in turn had to administer smaller land units, developed a kind of strongly “military-overshadowed” semi-civilian administration. And for this, it was of course out of question to do daily duty in full yoroi armor. Was the sword worn earler to the civilan or casual hitatare for reasons of self-defense and, well, to have your sword with you, it became now the visible symbol of rank and authoritative power and eventually the status symbol of the entire warrior class per se. But going into battle meant unchangedly the wearing of a tachi, with some exceptions like lower ranking troops, lightly armed special forces, and different personal tastes. And now we reach the point in history when the golden age of the tsuba begins. As indicated, early uchigatana were with some special-order exceptions of higher ranking bushi usually plainly mounted. And with plainly mounted I mean tôshô (刀匠) and katchûshi-tsuba (甲冑師) with simple decorations in the form of naive sukashi, and later on, i.e. from about the latter half of the 15th century onwards, also with Ônin (応仁) and Heianjô (平安城) style brass ornamentation and larger, more and more sophisticated sukashi openings. The hitarare was gradually replaced along the Momoyama period by the kataginu (a sleeveless jacket with exaggerated shoulders) and hakama ensemble (see picture 4) which in turn was the forerunner of the Edo-period kamishimo (which also existed according to occasion in more or less formal versions, e.g. longer and shorter hakama) (see picture 5). And this development to the quasi “civilian samurai uniform” can´t be stressed enough when it comes to the understanding of the development of aesthetical requirements of tsuba.

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Picture 4: Portrait of Oda Nobunaga wearing a kataginu. Picture 5: formal kamishimo

    Dressed like this for every day duty, the tsuba was now the most obvious eye-catcher of a samurai´s appearance with which its wearer could not only express his taste and “trendiness,” but in a wider sense also his wealth and status. In short, the choice of tsuba was a big statement, and I want to compare it with the status of the car in our present-day society. Most of us are not able to afford the car of our dreams and not is everyone is into cars at all. For many it is just a means of transportation but not few see in their cars a way to display their “status,” or rather financial background. Some have the money but all they need is a reliable ride but which still has to be adequate to their social position, e.g. a premium class sedan. Others might not have the financial background but still go for a premium class sedan whilst some others don´t have the money but get their desired sports car at all costs, even if they have to drastically cut back for years. As addressed, for most of us a car is a must and so we surely check cost effectiveness and what´s on our bank account, but we still strive within these limits for something decent looking and what corresponds to our taste, or in short, what suits us best. Back to the sword world. At the very beginning of this article I was briefly referring to cultural and social influences on a person´s taste and with coming now to the fundmental aesthetic concepts in tsuba design, we again have to make an excursion, this time not through history in general but through art and cultural history in particular. Starting point when Ashikaga Takauji (足利尊氏, 1305-1358) entered Kyôto in 1336. With this, the political centre returned to the old imperial city of Kyôto after 150 years of interruption by the Kamakura-bakufu. The clash of the then there prevailing aristocratic culture with the emulating culture of the warrior class resulted in the development of Japan’s cultural and artistic history, whose aesthetic ideals have characterized the land until today. Well, peace did not last long as the northern and southern imperial dynasties fought for the succession of the throne, an era that went down in history as Nanbokuchô period. Only when Takauji´s grandson, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利義満, 1358-1408, r. 1368-1394), managed to establish a compromise between the two dynasties was peace restored. Through a cleverly devised system of hierarchy and ranking among his retainers and the creation of new offices and administrative bodies, Yoshimitsu was able to keep in check rivalling families and alliances and provide a basis for political stability and peace. A milestone for the subsequent cultural developments was that Yoshimitsu appointed himself as a tributary vassal of the second emperor of the Ming Dynasty in the eighth year of Ôei (応永, 1401). With this, three years later the official trade was able to be launched between Japan and Ming-China, which would last until the mid-16th century. Some years earlier Yoshimitsu started to prepare his country estate in the northern Kitayama district (北山) of Kyōto for his time in retirement from the post of shôgun. The transfer of Yoshimitsu´s centre of rule to Kitayama was the name giver to the entire subsequent cultural heydays of the co-called “Kitayama culture.”

    As already mentioned, with the Ashikaga-bakufu´s entering Kyôto, two cultural worlds collided. The warrior class had been continuously seeking for recognition by the cultural world since their move to Kamakura, but they were constantly lagging behind the refined aristocracy. Because this self-contained culture was unattainable, even by the available financial resources, the bushi started to focus more on objects imported from the mainland, i.e. the karamono (唐物, lit. “Chinese things”). Both Buddhism and tea served as the main catalyst for this process. Buddhism practiced in Japan during the Heian period was elitist, strongly ritualized, and way too complex to be understood by ordinary citizens and, in many cases, by the warrior class too. Thus, a more “secular” interpretation of Buddhist teachings emerged throughout the succeeding Kamakura period. This was the classical period of Amidism whose doctrine was simplified in the hope of redemption in believing in Amida (阿弥陀, Amitābha) by reciting his name (nenbutsu, 念仏). The second major development in Buddhism during the Kamakura period was the emergence of independent Zen sects. It was especially Zen Buddhism, with its favour of direct self-realization through meditation, rigid mental exercises to leave behind one’s own self, the non-renunciation of everyday life, and the willing acceptance of death that made it quasi tailor-made for the warrior class. The key figures in the connections with China had always been the Buddhist monks. During the Nara and Heian period Japan mainly imported from the mainland political ideas for the erection of its own state. But with the Kamakura period, the influence shifted more and more towards cultural and artistic achievements, and the warrior class had to rely on the support of the monks who had an abundant amount of knowledge achieved through religious contacts with the mainland for centuries.

    At the time of the first Ashikaga shōguns, the balance of power was everything but settled. Any bigger clan would have been able – alone or in association with others – to cause significant problems for the Ashikaga. So it was necessary to openly display ones power and wealth quasi as a deterrent, and not only in the military field. A very important tool for the fostering and initiation of alliances, as well as for the presentation of ones taste and understanding of art, were the popular tea parties (cha-yoriai, 茶寄合) and tea contests (tôcha, 闘茶). These tea contests, based on the so-called mono-awase (物合) of the Heian-period court aristocracy, consisted of different things (mono, 物) such as the pairing of shells, flowers, fans or paintings (awase, 合わせ), it also included singing and poetry. The challenge of the tea contest then was to taste different types of tea and guess which tea was of the highest quality. The winner was opulently awarded. The origins of the tea contest date to the Sòng-era China (宋, 960-1279) and, accordingly, such contests were equipped with Chinese-style utensils and furniture. The most precious and exquisite art objects from the mainland were proudly shown to the guests. As mentioned, in order to display ones wealth, these tea parties had to be held in the greatest possible pomp and luxury, roughly comparable to the ball and salon company of the European upper class of the 19th century. Yoshinori (足利義教, 1394-1441, r. 1428-1441), the sixth Ashikaga-shōgun after Takauji, found himself confronted with increasing unrests among the aforementioned military shugo governors of the provinces. New alliances were formed, families wiped out, but about hundred years after Yoshimitsu, the political power of the Ashikaga-shōgun was as insignificant as the political power of the emperor during the Kamakura period. Every faction saw a chance of gaining power and so in the first year of Ônin (応仁, 1467) a dispute over the succession of the shôgun aroused within the Ashikaga family and their allies. This resulted in a decade of constant warfare, the so-called “Ōnin War” (Ônin no ran, 応仁の乱) which resulted, firstly, in the end of the Shogunate and, secondly, in the beginning of the Sengoku period where the already mentioned more and more decentralized state system under the now independent military governors began to form. Within the turmoil’s of the Ônin War, the then shôgun Yoshimasa (足利義政, 1436-1490, r. 1449-1473) retired on his lands in Kyôto´s north-eastern Higashiyama district (東山). Like Yoshimitsu´s Kitayama, Higashiyama also became synonymous for the cultural current that originated and developed in this period, the so-called “Higashiyama Culture.”

    In the period between Yoshimitsu and Yoshimasa, the aesthetical senses of the warrior class changed, mostly due to the uncertain times, the outbreak of the Ônin War, and the increasing adoption of Zen Buddhism among the bushi. This strongly influenced the tea parties which were still important for maintaining contacts with allies and, in some cases, also with the enemies. As mentioned, the early parties resembled ostentatious feasts where tea was served rather “on the side,” the meetings of the Higashiyama era were much more similar to the establishments of the European study or smoking room of the second half of the 19th century. The men of the European upper class withdrew in a smaller group to the study after the “official” meeting, to smoke and drink alcohol while discussing politics and business, that means topics which were not suited to discus at table. In Japan it was exactly the other way round because, during the secluded tea ceremony, profound topics like politics and the like were inappropriate. In practical terms, the ceremonies took place in the so-called kaisho (会所, lit. “meeting point”) areas of the residences. The residences themselves were modelled on the palace buildings, an architecture which is called shinden-zukuri (寝殿造). Gradually, these kaisho were out-housed to an extension, and later an annex specially constructed for this effect. Influenced by Zen Buddhism, the high-ranking warriors started to furnish these extensions in the style of the monk’s modest studies or drawing rooms (sho´in, 書院). This gave this architectural style the name sho´in-zukuri (書院造). The simpler style of tea houses developed in parallel with sho´in-zukuri but it were first and foremost the famous 16th century tea masters like Sen no Rikyû (千利休, 1522-1591) who established the tea house as we know of today.

    Well, the final phase of the Sengoku period saw years of political unification, carried out successively by Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Nobunaga ruthlessly followed his straightforward policy. He eleminated all enemies, brought an economic reform, and instituted free markets, markets that before had been under the iron grip of monopolizing guilds. But he was not able to witness the completion of his plans. His “successor” Hideyoshi was the first to maneuver the decentralized ship Japan back to a central government but he too wasn´t living enough to see that happen. It was Ieyasu who ended all this and brought the country peace, although not right from the start of his Tokugawa-bakufu. Anyway, the time from Nobunaga “ending” the Sengoku era to Ieyasu´s wiping out the last remaining Toyotomi at Ôsaka in 1615 is referred to as Momoyama period. This period of about four decades, or the first three peaceful decades in particular, rang in the development of large urban centers and the rise of the merchant class. After a century of not constant but unpredictable battles and feuds, the land had been bled dry and with the changes the warlords saw or tried to see in Nobunaga, an atmosphere of renewal was prevailing, although it was still a strongly militaristic time and much what the shugo-daimyô did was about creating alliances and steeling themselves for the next turbulent times. This meant erecting castles which had to be practical but also luxurious enough to serve as “venue” for negotiations that impress all present parties. And this trend towards pomp defines what we today refer to as “Momoyama Culture.” Under the Momoyama Culture, the preceding Higashiyama Culture ripened, the earlier Kitayama Culture was assimilated and “japanized,” and most of the ruling class was open to all new, e.g. European influence.

To be continued…

Update and Forecast

As you have surely noticed, the period in between articles got longer over the last months, and I don´t feel comfortable about that because what I want is that this page provides new aspects and interesting insights into the subject each time a nihontô enthusiasts decides to take a look what´s going on at Markus´ blog. This would be the ideal but yet in practice things are different though. Those who know me, personal and via the internet, know that I am never resting in my mission to make information on Japanese swords and everything around it accessible to those who don´t read Japanese. It was about ten years ago when I decided that this will be my way to follow and six years ago I put that decision into practice and went into business for myself. (Well, the Japanese sword accompanies my since I was eighteen but I remember having a book on edged weapons whose title escapes my mind when I was in High School, of which the – if I remember correctly – one or two pages on Japanse swords blew my mind.) In these six years, I was basically driven by personal feedback. That means, I took suggestions on necessary books to heart each time I attended a sword meeting. And at this point, I can´t emphasize enough the trust placed in me amongst (back then entirely German) collectors who gave me the opportunity to study hands-on their priced swords and fittings, even those masterpieces which are usually hidden away and hardly make it into public. I have to pay tribute to these men without whom I don´t know where the journey would have taken me… In other words, my oeuvre reflects the input and feedback I got and I am not going to change this.

When I started this blog in February 2013, I was well aware that I will receive even more feedback, and this was quite intentional. Well, starting signal for this blog was that I got an offer to contribute on a regular basis articles to a blog of a very kind art dealer. Thinking about this offer I decided that instead of continuously publishing somewhere else, I better create my own blog. This is the 2010s and a free, pleasing, and easily findable blog is set up in less than an hour. In a nutshell, friends and interested parties should be able to reach my at my own place and not somewhere else. But what I didn´t consider, or rather underestimated, is the private feedback from this blog. Over the last year and still going, almost a third of my daily work consists of answering questions, giving tips, and referring to further information, publications, and links. Please don´t misunderstand me: This is what I want to do and it is certainly a great pleasure to me to be of help and it was anyway one of the initial aims to create a place of my own. However, I feel like running for years incessantly at full power and now the the blog requires some extra. This causes some minor delays and I apologize at this moment to some of my colleagues and customers for that some things take a little longer than planned.

Anyway, with this I want to come to the forecast and want to inform you what´s going on. A considerable part of the feedback I get is about as follows: “Markus, you provided us with tons of information over the last years. Due to your work, we have now a better than ever starting position to do secondary and advanced studies on our own. But what we now need is references as a picture is worth a thousand words. There are references out there but not collected and verified.” To respond to this demand, I will publish some Taikan-style books in the future, like for example my book on Kanô Natsuo. Planned is in the near future a book on Umetada Myoju, followed at irregular intervals by Nobuie, Kaneie, Kotetsu, Kiyomaro, Masamune and so on. And yes, these books should contain all the relevant works of these artists for you to just look at and appreciate them, or to use them for advanced studies and to get an ever deeper understanding of the subject. Apart from that, I will still write a book on gendaitô, although feedback is still reserved. Well, I got a lot of material from those who told me right from the beginning they will support this project, but to be honest, I thought I would receive far more data by now. Anyway, a book on this subject will be written and it will be a useful book, I promise. Apart from that, I am still working on a project on tsuba and kodôgu that, when finished, will probably the best reference on sword fittings ever published. My proof-reader and I work hard on this and all major non-Japanese sword associations are involved. So this, and it looks like it will be three volumes, will be for decades the thing you have to have in your library when studying tsuba!

Apart from that, the impact of Momoyama culture on swords and, first and foremost, on tsuba absorbed me for years and this will be covered in the upcoming Taikan-style book on Umetada Myôju and his school. What I also plan to write is a book on meitô, i.e. Famous Swords, with all their provenance and so on. And another project on my list is to write a book on the Who´s Who of post Edo sword world. I often have to dig deep to find information on not so well known auhors and experts on swords and sword fittings and I want to dedicate them a book of their own.

So far the updates and forecast and some interesting articles are in progresss. Thank you!