In view of the upcoming Met’s exhibition Kyōto: Capital of Artistic Imagination, organized by Diane and Arthur Abbey Assistant Curator of Japanese Decorative Arts, Monika Bincsik, I would like to introduce a tsuba that will be on display and that can be described as joint project between three persons from Kyōto’s large pool of culturally involved figures. Fortunately, we know about this sword guard’s genesis from provenance research carried out by Fukuda Kenryū (福田顕龍), a sword scholar from the mid to late 1800s. Fukuda recorded his finds on the lid of the wooden outer storage box of the tsuba, which made it into the collection of The Met as well (picture 2).
Picture 1: Tsuba by Umetada Shigeyoshi (36.120.124); Diam. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm); thickness 3/16 in. (0.5 cm); Wt. 6.6 oz. (187.1 g)
Picture 2: Outer wooden storage box of the tsuba. Transcription of the inscription below.
On the outside of the box (picture 2, left) we read: “Favorite ‘Sword and Virtue’ katana-tsuba of Itakura, Lord of Suō province.” The inscription found on the inside (picture 2 right) translates as follows:
At the request of Itakura, Lord of Suō province, while Shogunal Deputy in Kyōto, Umetada Shigeyoshi designed this guard on which are written two characters – “Sword” and “Virtue” by the master calligrapher Seki Jōzan. It is said that Umetada (埋忠) (literally “burying fidelity”) was changed to Umetada (梅忠) (literally “plum loyalty”), the former being considered a taboo in Edo and the latter being of the same pronunciation yet very good in meaning. Because of its quality, its calligraphy by a famous scholar, and its name/character changing, this guard is outstanding in three different ways.
A winter day in the year of the rooster (1861), Fukuda Kenryū
With this information given by Fukuda, I want to elaborate on the participating figures and the historic context of this tsuba. First the artist, Umetada Shigeyoshi, who signed his work the following way: “Umetada Shichizaemon Tachibana Shigeyoshi saku” (梅忠七左衛門橘重義作), “made by Umetada Shichizaemon Tachibana Shigeyoshi.” Shigeyoshi, who was active in the mid-1600s, belonged to a family which had worked for many generations, i.e. since the early 1400s, for the family of the Ashikaga Shogun. Their initial profession was that of sword and yari (spear) smiths but later they also specialized in adding engravings (horimono) to sword blades and in the production of habaki, seppa, tsuba, and fuchigashira. Apart from that, the Umetada were responsible for the shortening of blades and adding, via a gold inlay, a sword blade’s appraisal performed by the Hon’ami (a family of sword appraisers and polishers to the Shogun). The greatest Umetada master war Myōju (埋忠明寿, 1558-1631) who worked at the beginning of his career for the 15th and last Ashikaga Shogun Yoshiaki (足利義昭, 1537-1597), then for Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and later as an independent artist, being thoroughly taken up in the art world of Kyōto.
Next person in this trio is Itakura Shigemune (板倉重宗, 1586-1657) (picture 3) who is referred to by Fukuda as by his honorary title “Lord of Suō Province.” Incidentally, Shigemune’s actual title was that of Suō no Kami (周防守, Governor of Suō) which Fukuda chose to quote in an alternative manner, Bōshū kō (防州侯, Lord of Suō Province), but which transports the same meaning. Also, Fukuda refers to Shigemune’s title of Kyōto Shoshidai (京都所司代), Shogunal Deputy of Kyōto, by its Chinese equivalent Keichō no In (京兆尹, Chinese Jīng zhào yǐn). (Note: When Japan replicated China’s then more advanced political system in the 8th century AD, the offices, posts, and ranks received Japanese names but the original Chinese names never became entirely obsolete. By the Edo period, people from the world of art and culture started to use the Chinese names again as they were now considered to sound more poetical than the by then antiquated and starchy sounding Japanese names.)
Picture 3: Itakura Shigemune
Shigemune had participated in the Battle of Sekigahara (1600) and in both the Winter and the Summer Campaigns of Ōsaka (1614~1615) and took over the post of Kyōto Shoshidai from his father Itakura Katsushige (板倉勝重, 1545-1624) in 1620 who had held that office since 1601. Shigemune took his job as Shogunal Deputy of Kyōto very seriously and was praised by men from all ranks for his impartiality and fairness in the lawsuits he oversaw as a judge. Some of the important tasks of the Kyōto Shoshidai were to maintain good relations between the Shogunate and the Imperial Court, to ensure the personal security of the Emperor, and to act as a liaison between the Imperial Court and daimyō who requested access to it for whatever reason. Shigemune held this post for more than thirty years and when he retired in 1654 at the age of 68, Makino Chikashige (牧野親成, 1607-1677) was named Kyōto Shoshidai, whose Sekiyado fief (関宿藩) Shigemune then took over two years later. Incidentally, Shigemune was so thorough in his job that when he realized he was going to leave office with five difficult lawsuits open on his desk, he wrote guidelines on how to best handle them and handed these over to Chikashige when he retired. Unfortunately, Shigemune became ill three months after taking over Sekiyado and died a few weeks later at the age of 71.
This brings us to the third associated person, Ishikawa Jōzan (石川丈山, 1583-1672) (picture 4), whom Fukuda refers to as by his abbreviated name Seki Jōzan. As stated above, Jōzan did the calligraphy of the two characters which Umetada Shigeyoshi transferred to the tsuba. The characters ken (劔), “Sword,” and toku (徳), “Virtue,” are executed in a powerful manner, occupying the entire and otherwise undecorated iron ground plate of the piece whose rim is set off via a circumferential carving.
Picture 4: Ishikawa Jōzan.
Picture 5: Calligraphy by Jōzan.
The calligraphic style seen on the tsuba is referred to as “flying white” (hihaku, 飛白) and was one of the preferred styles of Jōzan. It was created in the 2nd century AD in China and its poetic name alludes to the streaks of white, i.e. paper, that the forcefully but swiftly applied brush leaves behind. An example of Jōzan using this style can be seen in picture 5 which shows the calligraphy Matsukaze (松凮), “(Sound of) the wind through pine trees,” designed for being used as a henkaku (扁額), a framed picture or motto hung over gates or lintels. Please note how skillfully Umetada Shigeyoshi recreated the “flying white” effect via golden accents on the silver inlay. Now the interpretation via hihaku is as bold as it is direct and effective, with the two characters chosen unambiguously alluding to the “model samurai” who lives by the sword but who uses such in a virtuous manner.
Ishikawa Jōzan so to speak knew what he was talking about and the very two characters were not chosen randomly, but more on this aspect later. Jōzan was born into a family of samurai who served for generations that branch of the Matsudaira (松平) family of which Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged. Being taught martial arts by his great uncle, Jōzan managed to become a close retainer of Ieyasu by the age of 15, fighting for him subsequently in the Battle of Sekigahara and in the Ōsaka Campaigns, as Itakura Shigemune did. However, in the second, the summer campaign against Ōsaka, Jōzan attacked the enemy before the official command to do so had arrived, an act that Ieyasu did not condone, especially as Jōzan was such a close and trusted retainer of his. So, Jōzan ended up as a rōnin, a masterless samurai, either by choice or by being dismissed by Ieyasu.
Jōzan secluded himself for the following couple of years and studied Confucianism with the Neo-Confucian philosopher Fujiwara Seika (藤原惺窩, 1561-1619) but then his mother became ill and so he went into the service of the Asano (浅野) family as a tutor. When his mother passed away thirteen years later, he asked for permission to retire from his post but which was not granted and so Jōzan left Hiroshima, the fief of the Asano, on his own to return to Kyōto and to return to his secluded life. In 1641, he erected the Shisendō (詩仙堂) temple in the northwest of Kyōto, on the southwestern slopes of Mt. Hiei, where he spent his remaining years writing calligrapy and poetry and studying Confucianism and the Chinese classics until he died in 1672 at the advanced age of 90 (according to the Japanese way of counting years of life).
This brings us back to the reason for why the characters in question were chosen for the tsuba. At the time when Itakura Shigemune was Kyōto Shoshidai and Ishikawa Jōzan immersed himself in his studies, we are talking about the early and mid-1600s, Neo-Confucianism was thriving. The humanistic and rationalistic philosophies of Neo-Confucianism left it “up to man to create a harmonious relationship between the universe and the individual” (Craig, Edward, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Volume 7; Taylor and Francis 1998) and were thus well suited as a general guideline for the then still relatively new Tokugawa Shogunate to formulate its principles. Shigemune had experienced first hand the birth, the initial difficulties, and the eventual stabilization of the Tokugawa Shogunate through Neo-Confucianism, paired with cementing the samurai as the ruling class of the country. Therefore, it is no wonder to see him choosing the characters “Sword” and “Virtue” written by a Confucian-scholar-turned-samurai to be banned in a bold manner on his tsuba. That said, I would like to add a fourth layer of interest to the three qualities pointed out by Fukuda, and that is the aspect of the tsuba providing us a glimpse into the formation of the Tokugawa Shogunate and warrior principles which became later known as bushidō (武士道), “The Way of the Warrior.”
One of the former owners of this tsuba must have realized its contextual value, quoting here from Stephen V. Granscay’s essay The Howard Mansfield Collection – Japanese Sword Furniture from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 1937:
The Umetada School, whose work ranks high in the eyes of Japanese, is exceptionally well represented […] The name of Shigeyoshi, who was among the most distinguished masters of this school, appears on eight guards. One of them was evidently considered a treasure by its former Japanese owner, as it has been fitted into a lacquered box protected by a deerskin case and enclosed in a plain wooden box. The psychology of such care is interesting and reflects the importance of the piece.
Picture 6 above shows that storage ensemble. On the bottom the tsuba in the leather-padded lacquered inner box, on top the green dyed deerskin case, and to the left and right the outer wooden storage box with its inscribed lid.
Picture 7: John La Farge
Picture 8: Howard Mansfield
Granscay also states in this essay that the tsuba “was one of the masterpieces in the collection of the late John La Farge, sold at the American Art Galleries in 1911.” La Farge (1835-1910) (picture 7), an American painter, muralist, and stain glass window maker, started to collect Japanese prints in the late 1850s and 1860s and had them flow into his art. Incidentally, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Schools, a series of educational programs established by The Metropolitan Museum of Art to provide vocational training in the late 19th century, hired La Farge in 1892 for holding advance courses for students in New York City. The tsuba eventually ended up in the collection of Howard Mansfield via whom it came into the possession of the Museum in 1936, partly by purchase from the income of the Rogers Fund and partly as a gift of Howard Mansfield himself. Mansfield (1849-1938) (picture 8) was a lawyer, collector, and for thirty years trustee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and became its first acting curator of Asian art until a staff curator – Sigisbert Chrétien Bosch Reitz (1860-1938) – was appointed in 1915. In the Bulletin of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Volume XXXII, Number 1, January 1937 we read that altogether 488 pieces of Japanese sword furniture came into the possession of The Metropolitan Museum of Art this way, “the most notable gift of its kind ever received by the Museum.”
Picture 9 above shows the preliminary setup for the tsuba (plus three others) in the exhibition, and it is really nice that the angled wedge brings out the shine of the inlaid character. (picture 10).
Picture 10: Top left (Umetada) Hisanori (久法), top right Kaneie (金家), bottom left the tsuba introduced here, bottom right Bairyūken Kiyotatsu (梅龍軒清辰).