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(鍔ギャラリー⑤) Tsuba Gallery #5

Nishigaki Kanpei Tsuba (西垣勘平鐔)

Japanese Title: Sakurabana-chirashi Sukashi-tsuba (桜花散透し鐔)

Material: Iron (Tetsu 鉄)

Age: Circa 1640-1720 CE

Size: 7.3 cm X 8.0 cm, 4.0 mm at rim.

Signature: Nishigaki Kanpei saku (西垣勘平作)

Shape: Mokkō-gata (木瓜形)

Surface Finish: Migaki-ji (磨地)

Attachment: None

This is a handguard (tsuba 鐔) made of forged iron (tetsu 鉄). It was made to be mounted and used on a long sword (katana 刀). The openwork (sukashi 透) design is a dramatic mixture of Spring cherry blossoms and puffs of light snow. Four cherry blossoms (sakura-hana 桜花) are cut in positive openwork (ji-sukashi 地透) balancing the design. Each blossom is nicely detailed using line carvings (kebori 毛彫り). In contrast the puffs of snow are represented in negative openwork (kage-sukashi 影透). The general term used to describe this type of complex arrangement in Japanese is: (sakurabana-chirashi 桜花散).1    
The patina of the tsuba is deep and dark and almost black in color. The surface is smooth (migaki-ji 磨地) but has a bit of a fine sandy appearance. The rust on the inside surfaces of the tsuba clearly shows the tsuba age and contrasts with the finest of its construction. The application and distribution of the plate metal (niku-oki 肉置き) thickens toward the center (seppa-dai 切羽台) and away from the rounded square rim (kaku-mimi koniku 角耳小肉).
The tsuba is signed on the reverse (ura 裏): "Nishigaki Kanpei saku (西垣勘平作)" meaning made by Nishigaki Kanpei. Kanpei was the second son of the 1st generation Nishigaki master. Birth and death dates are not recorded for him, but he lived at least until age 76 as there are signed pieces with this age. He likely lived around the same time but a bit later then the 2nd generation Nishigaki master who lived from 1639-1717 CE. In The Index of Japanese Sword Fittings and Associated Artists by Robert E. Haynes dates Kanpei’s life from 1640-1720 CE and living until age 80. He worked at his own workshop located in Higo (肥後) Province. This work was in the Nishigaki School style similar to his older brother. 2,3,4



  1. Tosogu Classroom Volume 2 by Fukushi Shigeo translation by Markus Sesko, ©2018 JSS/US, NBTHK AB, NBTHK EB, pages 666-667, pages 682-683.

  2. Works of Kanshiro Nishigaki by Itō Mitsuru, ©2005.

  3. Genealogies of Japanese tsuba and tōsō-kinkō Artists by Markus Sesko ©2018 Books on Demand, page 94.

  4. The Index of Japanese Sword Fittings and Associated Artists by Robert E. Haynes, ©2001, page 513.


Provenance: Charlie Foos Collection

Jingo Tsuba (甚吾鐔)

Japanese Title:  菊花図鐔 (kiku-hana no zu tsuba) 
Material:  Iron (tetsu 鉄)             
Age:  Middle Edo Period (江戸時代中期) 
Size:  7.8 cm X 7.8 cm 3.0 mm at rim  
Signature:  mumei (無銘)  
Shape:  Maru gata (丸形) 
Surface Finish:
Attachment:  None

This sword handguard (tsuba 鐔) made of very well forged iron (tetsu 鉄). This guard was likely mounted and used on a long sword (katana 刀). The carved and gold inlaid (kin-zōgan 金象厳) design is of a stylized chrysanthemum flower (kiku-hana 菊花). The same design stylized in a bit different way is replicated on the reverse side of the tsuba. The ring-shaped rim (kan-mimi 環耳) is very characteristic of Jingo School. The workmanship and design of this tsuba is excellent. While this tsuba requires more study, I think it is the work of a mid-generation of the Shimizu (志水) family based in castle town of Yatsushiro (八代) in Higo Province (肥後國).

Provenance:  Charlie Foos Collection

Fukunobu Tsuba (深信鐔)

Japanese Title:  松樹透鐔 (masu ju sukashi tsuba)  
Material:  Iron (tetsu 鉄)     
Age:  Late Edo Period (江戸時代後期)  
Size:  7.0 cm X 7.5 cm, 4.5 mm at rim, 4.8 mm at center
Signature: Taganemei (鏨銘), Mumei (無銘)   
Shape:  Mokkō-gata (木瓜形)         
Surface Finish:  Migaki-ji (磨地)          
Attachment: Japanese Sword Fittings Museum Paper

This is a handguard (tsuba 鐔) made of forged iron (tetsu 鉄). It is sized for use on a long sword (katana 刀). The design done in positive openwork (ji-sukashi 地透) is that of pine tree (matsu-ju 松樹). The details of the design are nicely finished using hairline carving (kebori 毛彫). The tsuba displays an extremely smooth polished surface with a reddish-black patina characteristic of the Kamiyoshi (神吉) School.

The design of a pine tree is itself uncommon for the Kamiyoshi School, but they did have it as a sketch in their design book and I have seen other tsuba attributed to the Kamiyoshi School with a similar pine tree design. The Kamiyoshi School for the most part favored doing more abstract and stylized designs executed with an extremely refined polished surface.

The now closed Japanese Sword Fittings Museum attributed the tsuba to be the work of Fukunobu (深信) who the second generation of the Kamiyoshi (神吉) School. He made tsuba and other sword fittings on a full-time basis for the ruling Hosokawa Family in Higo Province modern day Kumamoto Prefecture. He lived from 1798-1851 CE. The direct attribution to Fukunobu was likely made due to very distinct punch mark pattern (taganemei 鏨銘) around the central opening (nakago hitsu-ana 中子櫃穴) on the front side of the tsuba.

Provenance:  Charlie Foos Collection

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