“Mysterious” Art Name

The Tsuchiya School artist Takechika (武親, 1827-1887) is known for having used a fair number of art names (, 号). From various sources, I was able to confirm at least the following 15, not counting first names and honorary titles: Issai (一斎), Gen ́ichi (玄一), Sōryūshi (蒼龍子), Takuetsudō (卓越堂), Renshinsai (錬心斎), Sensai (宣斎), Kakeisai (花鏡斎), Shima (司馬), Shimahiko (司馬彦), Keisan (馨山), Kyūraku (窮楽), Renbeiseisha (錬兵精舎), Tōma (刀馬), Shōyōken (逍遙軒), and Shōyōkyo (逍遙居).

Now I came across a fuchigashira set by Takechika on a Hozon papered tantō-koshirae, which is signed “Takechika tsukuru” (武親造, “made by Takechika”) and which bears a mysterious, and what appears to be an unrecorded for this artist. Before I introduce the very piece, I would like to point out that in written Japanese, an empty box (▢) acts as a placeholder for an unidentifiable/illegible characte. That is, we often see this in papers where parts of a sword’s signature are lost, e.g., due to corrosion or because a mekugi-ana was added.

As you can see in the picture above, the inscribed on the right side of the fuchi’s lid is ▢◯斎. Of course, the artist did not sign himself with a placeholder empty box for his own art name, so the first two “characters” of this have to be understood as a rebus. This brings us to the million-dollar question: How to read this art name?

Well, “box” or “square” is kaku (角) in Japanese, and a “circle” is maru (丸). So, one possibility could be that this art name reads Kakumarusai (which is, as the experts will point out, a so-called jūbako-yomi [重箱読み], a mixed Chinese and Japanese reading of a two-character combination). Well, the maru character for “circle” is gan in its Sino-Japanese reading, so maybe the proper reading of the is Kakugansai?

Another approach would be to pick a different Japanese character for “round” – (円) – which also reads maru, but which has the Sino-Japanese reading en. With this, the would read Kaku’ensai, and I personally tend towards this reading for the time being as it sounds more elegant than Kakugansai and Kakumarusai.

Oddities/rarities in datings

In my previous update on the discontinuation of my translation/research service, I announced that the articles engine here will restart soon. That is, shortly, I will begin with a series titled meiburi (銘振り). The term meiburi means “signature style,” and as some of you may know, I am kind of “obsessed” with signatures that have a particular artistic value, may it be in terms of choice of a specific style or in a mere calligraphic sense.

Before this series begins, as a warm up so to speak, I would like to introduce two examples of oddities/rarities in datings. As many of you know, the character for four, Japanese yon/shi (四), can also be expressed via just four strokes (亖・二二). On swords and sword fittings, these four strokes are usually arranged similar to a watch dial. As this watch dial form is, to my knowledge, not available in any computable form, I will show it via a picture below, as character (picture 1), and the way it is signed on a sword (picture 2).

Picture 1: Character four as four strokes.

Picture 2: Date “Keiō yon tsuchinoe-tatsudoshi hachigatsu kichijitsu” (慶應二二戊辰歳八月吉日) – “On a lucky day in the eighth month of Keiō four (1868), year of the dragon.”

Now, this replacement of the character for four through four strokes is actually quite common. However, it can also be done for the character for five, Japanese go (五), although this is extremely rare and I have only seen it maybe twice in my entire career. In picture 3, I would like present such a rare example. It is a katana by swordsmith Horii Taneyoshi (堀井胤吉, 1821-1903) which is signed and dated: “Ōmi no Kuni Taneyoshi – Bunkyū ni inudoshi gogatsu” (近江國胤吉・文久二戌年五月) – “Taneyoshi from Ōmi province, in the fifth month of Bunkyū two (1862), year of the dog.” Again, this variant of the character for five is not computable, so I will highlight it in picture 4.

Picture 3: Katana by Horii Taneyoshi.

Picture 4: Character five as five strokes.

This brings us to the second and last example for this brief post. As many of my readers will know as well, some of the primitive Japanese (and of course Chinese) characters are pictograms, that is, highly stylized and simplified pictures of material objects. Most prominent examples are the crescent moon turning into the character (月) for month, and the sun into the character (日) for day.

Dates of Japanese swords and sword fittings usually follow the syntax: “X year of Nengō era, Y month, Z day.” As it takes more than a day to make/finish a Japanese sword, smiths often omitted the day and ended their dates with “a lucky day in the Y month” or just “on a day in the Y month,” unless the very day marks a special occasion, etc., but this is a topic for another article.

In picture 5, I would like to present an example of a date where the smith, Hirochika (弘近) from Mito in Hitachi province (who moved later in his career to Musashi province), replaced the characters for month and day again with the moon and the sun (detail see picture 6).

Picture 5: Katana, signed and dated: “Jōyō Suifu-jū Hozumi Hirochika – An’ei rokunen nigatsu hi” (常陽水府住穂積弘近)” – Hozumi Hirochika, resident of Mito in Hitachi province, in a day in the second month of An’ei six (1777).

Picture 6: Detail of characters for month (月) and day (日) being replaced by the moon and sun respectively.

Update: Translation Service Discontinued

I put that decision off for a while now, but in order to focus on my work with the Met, which is going into its third year now, and first of all, in order to finish so long overdue legacy projects like the Tosogu Classroom, Gendaito Project, and unfinished private translation projects, I will discontinue all translation/research service as per September of 2020. This adds “another September” to my personal timeline, i.e., I started to study Japanese in September of 1998, I started my business in September of 2008, and I joined the Met in September of 2018…

Now I will only close this chapter, for now, and surely not the entire book, so I will be around of course, and the halted service will not affect any ongoing ventures, e.g., work for societies like the American and European branches of the NBTHK and the Japanese Armor Society and work for collectors/dealers I am in touch with for so many years.

Well, the decision has not been an easy one, but as those who have tried to reach me in the past couple of years will be able to tell you, service has not been up to the standard that it used to be, at least not from the point of view of reply/turnaround time.

I want to keep this PSA very brief, no tears involved, and end with a positive side effect of this inevitable decision: The halted service will allow me to restart the articles engine here on my blog, and there is already some interesting stuff in the pipeline.

In this sense, I sincerely want to thank all of you who supported my work over all these years! Without you, guys and girls, my humble work in such a small niche as merely translating/researching/writing on the topic of Japanese arms and armor without dealing any would not have been possible!

Thick Arnold accent on: “I’ll be back!”