This time, I would like to introduce two tsuba from the collection of the Met, which share the same motif and which are interpreted in a very similar manner, both made by artisans from Mito, former Hitachi province. It is evident at first glance that both tsuba are very late works, dating to the Meiji era, and can be placed, in terms of style, within a trend which is referred to as hamamono (浜物). The broader context of hamamono should be omitted here, but being close to the source so to speak, I want to quote from Ogawa Morihiro’s (小川盛弘) catalog Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156–1868:
Appreciated as ornaments and paperweights, hamamono are often decorated with fanciful designs in fine inley. (The term “hamamono” probably derives from the fact that most of them were exported from Yokohama.) Most hamamono tsuba are inscribed with the names of great Edo-period sword fittings makers, such as Yokoya Sōmin, Nara Toshinaga, Tsuchiya Yasuchika, Hamano Shozui, and Ishiguro Masatsune, but their style of manufacture suggests that they were more likely made by Mito artisans, such as Okawa Teiken [sic] and the metalworkers of the Edo Hamano group. Although large numbers of hamamono can be found in American and European collections, there are comparatively few in Japan,suggesting that they were made largely for export.
One detail in this quote, the reference to Mito artisans, brings us back to the tsuba introduced here. The first one (see picture 1) is signed: “Zuiryūken Hidetomo” (随柳軒英友). And the second tsuba (see picture 2) is signed: “Suifu-jūnin Ichiryūken Shujin kizamu/koku” (水府住人・一柳軒主人刻) – “Carved by Ichiryūken Shujin, resident of Mito.”
Now consulting Haynes, we find the first maker listed as follows:
The second maker, however, is a little bit of a mystery. Haynes interprets the suffix shujin in a literal way, meaning “lord/master,” which is understandable. Full quote below.
I did some very superficial digging, no in-depth research, but found a person who might have been behind this art name, i.e., the “full” art name in the form of Ichiryūken Shujin, and that is because of the local connection. The Ibaraki Prefectural Library namely holds a publication titled Meiji Kyōiku Kawa Dai 1 Shū (明治教育佳話・第1集, Good Stories From Meiji-era Education – Volume 1), which was compiled by a certain Ichiryūken Shujin with the very same name. Now the library adds in parenthesis the real name of this person, Shimonō Shigeyasu (下生成安), and here the aforementioned local connection comes into play.
This Shimonō Shigeyasu was from Hitachi, and coincidentally, from the same town of Kashima (鹿島) as Kajihei from my previous article here. In other words, he was a “Mito guy,” Mito only being 30 miles from Kashima. Shigeyasu was born in Ansei five (安政, 1858). According to the Ibaraki Kyōikuka Ryakuden (茨城県教育家略伝, 1894), his father was a Confucianist and his mother was from the Shimonō family that held an important hereditary religious post at the Kashima Shrine. His maternal grandfather, a Shintō priest, was Shimonō Shigenobu (下生成信, 1804-1879), who is said to have had a chivalrous spirit and settled many violent disputes of local rōnin, proudly wearing a sword with a red-lacquer saya. Do we see here a hint of a connection to sword fittings?
Well, Shigeyasu was a teacher, school principal, and an important figure in the local education system of the Meiji era. He published a few books on this topic and also worked for a while for the Ministry of Education. Now the million-dollar question: Is this our man? Did Shimonō Shigeyasu study with a local kinkō artist and then made tsuba as a pastime (or as a side job) under the pseudonym Ichiryūken Shujin?
When you take a closer look at picture 2, you could argue that the tsuba has indeed a certain “crude” character (punches towards the bottom that represent shade, not very uniform and aesthetically pleasing concentric engravings on the upper left and right that represent the texture of the tea kettle, also not really uniform greek key pattern along the lid of the kettle, crude nakago-ana recess, etc.) which would support the approach of facing an amateur work here. However, you could also argue that the majority of hamano is not really sophisticated in general, and the slight “crudeness” of this tsuba does not necessarily mean it was made by a teacher on his weekends.
That said, there is a certain number of Ichiryūken works out there, mostly represented in Western collections (also see Ron’s thread on the NMB here). So, if these are works of Shimonō Shigeyasu, it is safe to assume that he was running that tsuba-making venture as a side job rather than a hobby. Or, this all is just a coincidence, and there is no connection between the Mito-based tsuba maker Ichiryūken, who signed with the supplement shujin, and the also Mito-based teacher Shimonō Shigeyasu who used the very same art name combo Ichiryūken Shujin…
Anyway, I would like to conclude with the actual motif of the two tsuba introduced here, a motif which is referred to as bunbuku-chagama (分福茶釜・文福茶釜), “The Magic Tea Kettle.” This is a folktale about a shapeshifting tanuki (raccoon dog); the tale has its origins at Morin-ji (茂林寺) Temple in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture. There are different variants of this folktale but the bones of it concern Shukaku (守鶴), an old and wise monk who, in the late 1500s served several successive abbots of the Morin-ji. Shukaku was in possession of a magic tea kettle which was never empty despite having been filled only once, even at a large New Year’s banquet where tea was made for a huge crowd. Later, another monk peeked into Shukaku’s room when the old monk was taking a nap and he saw that Shukaku had a tanuki tail. So, the monks learned that their colleague was actually a tanuki who had transformed into a monk and that the capacity of the kettle arose in the magic powers of the tanuki. Shukaku had to leave the temple. Later this legend turned into a folktale about a monk who bought a tea kettle and set it over the fire to boil water, only to see it sprout tanuki legs, and run away. In another variant of the story, the tanuki does not run away but returns into its transformed state as a kettle. The shocked monk decides to leave the tea kettle as an offering to the temple where he lives, choosing not to use it for tea again.
That should do it for today, enjoy the two tsuba introduced here, and an article on a gory reference to the cutrting ability of a sword found on a few blades should follow shortly.