Tsuba: Tanaka-Toryusai school

Signature/mei: mumei

Material: iron, shakudo, gold

Era/jidai: late Edo

Form: slightly mokko

Dimensions: 7.1 cm x 6,4 cm x 0.45 cm (rim)

Kiri box

NBTHK: Hozon – “Sugi Tree” – Toryusai school

Price: €1690 / $1870 / ¥250000


This tsuba is a fine example of the famous Tanaka-Toryusai school.

Sometimes the design on tsuba can be sort of an abstract type. Then there are tsuba which depicts a design in the fullest of possibilities. And then there are tsuba, where you have to use your imagination to see the “whole picture” as parts of the design are missing or – more precisely – left out due to the limited space on these little works of art.

Here we have such a piece.

At first glance we see a tree placed to the very right carved in bold kiriba into the fine iron plate. At the base of the tree grow some bushes inlayed in shakudo and coloured with gold. A large branch of the tree, also in kiriba, reaches over the nakago ana far into the left side of the tsuba. The left side of the tsuba is mostly empty just balanced by the one hitsuana.

Just above the hitsu ana – inlayed in shakudo and accented with gold – we see a bird flying in front of the tree’s leaves. The leaves are represented as inlaid dots of gold.

The bird and the undergrowth together with the tree create two depth layers.

Then our gaze falls on the bottom of the tsuba. There is a larger sukashi (and a smaller one). The area around the sukashi is coloured in silver. But parts of the sukashi don’t make to the other side. So the larger suksashi isn’t so big after all and “inside” the sukashi we see something in silver…

The moon! The moon is just rising behind the tree, illuminating the area “around the sukashi” in soft moonlight. That the moon is placed behind the tree is only possible because the tree is on a very steep mountain, which of course we have to imagine. Such steep mountain landscapes are often found in Japan.

The moon adds another depth layer to the tsuba, transforming the steep mountain landscape into a late-evening, early-breaking scenery.

The design is repeated on the omote, here the branch of the tree is inlaid in shakudo and coloured with gold.

Simply beautiful and a clever design. A small masterpiece by the Tanaka-Toryusai school.