Mei (signed): Mumei (unsigned): Yagyū
Period: Early Edo (Edo Zenki)
Published: Sasano Sukashi Tsuba, N° 201, page N° 234
N.B.T.H.K. Tokubetsu Hozon Tōsōgu certification
In kiri box
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Here we have an ancient tsuba from early Edo period, with openwork design of distant pine trees made by Yagyû school.
It has a round shape, made of iron, carved-in surface, negative openwork design, embankment-style rim left raised by carved-in surface.
First of all it is essential to know that they go back to the famous swordsman Yagyū Ren´ya Toshikane (柳生連也厳包, 1625-1694). He was trained in the martial arts by his very own family in Owari province.
In 1648, his father retired and he was appointed to the post of official fencing instructor of the Owari fief. One year later his father inaugurated him as fifth head of the Shinkage-ryū by writing at the end of the certificate: “This person [Toshitomo] was the most outstanding among the students being taught so far in this school. This extraordinary praiseworthiness must be highly appreciated. The more, he is under obligation to show no negligence. The person described here is unequalled.”
In 1668 his salary was once again raised, namely to 600 koku. However, he expressed the wish to retire from his official post. Mitsutomo agreed, the salary was reduced to 200 koku, and a residence in Kobayashi (小林) right outside of Nagoya was granted to him. In the course of this early retirement, he changed his name from “Toshitomo” to “Toshikane” (厳包). Well, Toshitomo/Toshikane was neither ill nor weak at that time but wanted to focus somewhere off the family´s dōjō on the more spiritual aspects of swordsmanship not being busy with training students all day long.
In 1685 Toshikane entered priesthood and called himself “Ura Ren´ya” (浦連也). “Ura” was almost his new family name and “Ren´ya” his first name. And thus it should just read “Ren´ya” and not “Ren´yasai” (連也斎) as quoted by many authors.
Ren´ya died on the eleventh day of the tenth month Genroku seven (元禄, 1694) at the age of 70.
As mentioned in the beginning, they go back to Yagyū Ren´ya and that is why they were called “Yagyū-tsuba” later. But also the term “Kobayashi-tsuba” (小林鐔) existed which goes back to Ren´ya´s place of retirement. Everything started with his granted retirement and the name change to “Toshikane”. Extant documents suggest that he was concerned about tsuba from that time on and that he also experimented with yakite-kusarakashi, i.e. a certain surface finish applied by a combination of acids and heat treatment.
In late Edo-period tsuba related publications like the „Kokon-kinkō-benran“ (古今金工便覧), published in 1847, we read that Ren´ya and others tested back then their tsuba by smashing them in a mortar. None of them met the expectations of the swordsman except those with ground plates made by Kotetsu Gozaemon (古鉄五左衛門) from the Akasaka district of Edo which namely did not change their shape.
Thus Ren´ya entrusted him with forging the ground plates of 36 tsuba into which a certain Gotō (後藤), probably „Gotō Shōbei Mitsuteru (後藤庄兵衛光輝), cut the sukashi motif designed by Kanō Tan´yū (狩野探幽, 1602-1674).
So in the course of this tsuba project initiated by Yagyū Ren´ya Toshikane, 36 designs were created. Later, these 36 tsuba were called „kasen-tsuba“ (歌仙鐔) because the number matches with the „Thirty-six Immortal Poets “ (Sanjūrōkkasen, 三十六歌仙) from the Nara, Asuka, and Heian periods. Several designs were added later to this pantheon of Ren´ya´s tsuba, even some by Tokugawa Mitsutomo himself like for example the so-called “kazeho” (風帆, lit. “billowing sail”) motif.
And by the Meiji period, the total number of Yagyū-tsuba motifs had arrived at more than 120. The later copies made around Hōreki (宝暦, 1751-1764) were referred to as go-ryūgi-tsuba (御流儀鐔), i.e. about „tsuba in the style of the Yagyū school“. Today these works are also called „second generation Yagyū-tsuba“. Towards the end of the Edo period, even more Yagyū-tsuba or Yagyū-style tsuba were made and they in turn are referred to as „third generation“ Yagyū-tsuba.
These are very attractive to own tsuba so obviously connected to swordsmanship in particular and martial arts in general.