Hasegawa Katsuaki (長谷川克明)

This will be another microhistory-style article, focusing on the life of one of the last Owari-based tsuba makers, Hasegawa Katsuaki (長谷川克明).

Portrait photograph of Hasegawa Katsuaki, holding a tsuba he made in his right hand.

Katsuaki was born as Itō Kakichi (伊藤嘉吉) in Tenpō eight (天保, 1837) in the village of Kamimura (上村) (present-day Ena City, Gifu Prefecture) in Mino province and became an apprentice as a tsuba maker with his uncle, the second generation Norisuke (則亮, 1817-1883), who was based in Nagoya in Owari province. We do not know in which year his apprenticeship started, but as all sources point out, in unison, that he studied with the second and not also with the first generation Norisuke, his studies must have started after the first generation’s death in Kaei five (嘉永, 1852). Incidentally, his uncle, the second generation, was from the Itō family and from Mino province too, and although there is some ambiguity about his exact relationship to the first generation, it is commonly believed that he was the first generation’s son-in-law and that he was adopted as successor as he later went by his master’s family name Iwata (岩田). So, it appears that Katsuaki, the third generation of that lineage, the so-called Futagoyama (二子山) lineage, had started his training some time after Kaei five and the age of 15 (or 16 according to the Japanese way to count years of life).

After he mastered his craft and left his uncle’s workshop, Katsuaki was employed by the Owari-Tokugawa family as part of the sword and sword fittings section (o-koshimono, 御腰物) which was associated with the fief’s office of chamberlain for clothes, furniture, and household items (o-nando, 御納戸). Again, we do not know exactly when this employment took place, but we can narrow it down between him finishing his apprenticeship, let’s say after at least three years of study, which would be in 1855 at the earliest, and the end of the feudal area in 1868 of course. It is said that it was around this time when Katsuaki got his nickname Tanka (鐔嘉), which is a merger of his profession, tankō (鐔工, tsuba maker), and his first name, Kakichi (嘉吉). By the way, his position with the o-koshimono section not only meant to just make tsuba, it also came with the task of appraising such and other sword fittings, plus being involved in the procedure of picking tsuba and sword fittings for koshirae. In other words, if you are a samurai of a certain rank, you make an appointment with your local o-koshimono to assist you with things like having a new tsuba or having a sword newly mounted and the like, and if you are the daimyō or a rōjū elder, you call for the o-koshimono to come to your place to advise you on all of the above of course.

Then, as everybody knows, the Meiji Restoration took place and its abolishment of the feudal system and samurai class caused a collapse of the market for newly produced swords and sword fittings. Accordingly, Katsuaki, now in his early thirties, had to change gear and was now also making ornaments, e.g., for tobacco pouches, etc.

However, coming out of a prior employment by the Owari-Tokugawa family, which has also taken over many of the local government/administrative posts after 1868, was surely a plus on your CV. So, on January 24, 1879, and within the new system of ranks of government officials, Katsuaki received the First Rank (ittō, 一等) of the lowermost, so-called “also-ran offices” (tōgai, 等外) of the Meiji government, then subordinate to the local district chief (kochō, 戸長), in this case, to the Chief of the Hinode District (日出町) of Nagoya in which Katsuaki lived at that time (previously, he had lived in the Uguisudani [鶯渓] neighborhood of Nagoya). I apologize for the cumbersome wording of the last sentence, but, believe me, the system of Meiji-era government officials and civil servants is difficult and changed quite a lot over the years. In any case, that First Rank post of that lowermost office only came with a monthly wage of around 10 Yen, which calculates to an annual “salary” of ~ $3,120 today, which means you definitely have to do something else to survive.

On January 15, 1882, Katsuaki was made head of the Office of Ornamentation and Decoration of the Greater Nagoya Area, and although this “promotion” surely came with a significant raise in annual income, I was unable to locate any specific figures within the time frame allocated for researching this article. So, if I come across these figures, I will surely post an update on this issue later.

By 1913, Katsuaki became ill and died on August 6 that year at the age of 77. He is buried at the Nichiren Shō’on-ji (照遠寺) temple which is located in the Higashi Ward of Nagoya, and his posthumous Buddhist name is Seiryūsai Kokumei Nichinō (青龍斎克明日能), which is formed from his art name () Seiryūsai (青龍斎), the Sino-Japanese reading Kokumei of his craftsman’s name Katsuaki, and the Nichiren name Nichinō given to him by the chief priest of the temple.

After Katsuaki’s death, the atelier was run by his first son Katsunao (克直), real name Hasegawa Kikujirō (長谷川菊次郎), and his second son Ichibōsai Shunkō (一望斎春江), real name Hasegawa Takesaburō (長谷川竹三郎, 1878-1944). The former died young, however, and the latter then focused more on metal work for the tea ceremony and jewelry than on tsuba, starting so a new lineage under the brand name Ichibōsai (一望斎). The second generation Ichibōsai was Shunkō’s son Shunsen (春泉) who was succeeded by his second son Shunkō (春洸), real name Hasegawa Takejirō (長谷川竹次郎, 1950- ), as third generation Ichibōsai. With this, I would like to conclude by saying that Takejirō and his wife Mami (まみ, 1946- ), who had studied with her father-in-law Shunsen, are both renowned metal artists and are still based in Nagoya.


Why is he posting mostly stuff like that and is not writing about kantei and blade characteristics lately, you might ask. Well, to be honest, my focus of interest has shifted a bit in the last few years. At this point, moving forward in my journey through the world of Japanese arms and armor, I am really eager to tell stories like this and give these artists and craftsmen a face. In this sense, if someone has a work by one of the artists and craftsmen in their collection I am writing about, and can see it in a new light, maybe even appreciate it more after reading my humble posts, I would be very much delighted!

2 thoughts on “Hasegawa Katsuaki (長谷川克明)

  1. Enjoy you putting some meat on the bones and bringing the artists, their lives, and the historical context together. It brings to life their work and adds a third dimension. Bravo! I find the works I enjoy the most are those with which I have a bond through personal experiences with the artist, or their family, place of residence, etc. Having lived in Japan and having met many of the craftspeople and sword world people, I can appreciate your efforts to add depth and resonance by personalizing the craft and craftspeople. When I look at a sword, I don’t think about the hamon or shape, I think about the time I sipped some good sake with the son of the smith at a hot spring, or the time I spent at his forge holding a sword while he signed it. It’s far too easy to forget the people who made these wonderful arts had a life, a family, other hobbies- that they were 3 dimensional. It adds so much more enjoyment to know a bit about these people. Thanks again!

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