“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.

4 thoughts on ““Mysterious” Art Name

    • Very interesting, I had not thought about Sengai Gibon in this case. After reading your comment, I briefly thought about the “elements representation” of these geometrical shapes, i.e., the square for “earth” and the circle for “water,” as some explain Gibon’s zenga. So, this would bring us to Chisuisai (地水斎) as potential reading for the gō. I just love all these possible layers!

  1. Hello Markus,

    I am Shaun Berry’s wife. You came to see a suspected Rai Sadamori we have a couple triaging in North Carolina.

    We have a dilemma. We are moving back to Japan and have decided not to take our collection with us. I was wondering if you have a recommendation of someone who would store them safely while we are gone. Any advice would be appreciated.

    Thank you, Kari Kendall Karib_333@yahoo.com 907-290-0353

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Sir,

    I thought about your last article in one context that might interest you. In your last article – CHŪMON-MEI: AN EXAMPLE WITH INTERESTING HISTORIC CONTEXT you wrote: “Now there is the term shōsetsu (松節), lit. “pine knot,” which refers to the knot a pine forms after an injury or a pest infection. Medicine made from these knots is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine since earliest time, e.g., to ease joint pain and rheumatism.”

    In a number of pre-industrial cultures (whose tradition in Japan lives in Shinto preserved until today’s postmodern society), scarring (and overcoming injury) has been considered an extremely important point in life. Ritual scarring was very common. But even unintentional scarring had its considerable symbolic meaning. Scare showed resilience, strength and the ability to survive even serious damage.

    Therefore, while reading your text, I wondered if the sword presented by you could not have been a sword made to celebrate the survival of an injury caused by a scarring wound. That the inscription could also mean “For Ōhashi Shigemasa, for surviving accident scarring him as the knot a pine forms after an injury”
    It’s just an idea, I don’t insist on the idea, but I thought she might be interested – so I’m writing it to you 🙂

    Sincerely, your reader Jiří X. Doležal

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