Japanese sword guard depicting three wise monkeys conveying the message see no evil, hear no evil, speak no…
74 x 71 mm
5 mm thick
Hizen province, Japan
Japanese antique art market
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Nanban tsuba are a genre of tsuba exhibiting strong foreign influence. Some are plain imports and should be seen as outside the genre. Of those made in Japan, very, very few are ever signed. Today I present a rare exception.
This piece depicts a fantasy version of a Chinese ship, possibly the mythical Takarabune (宝船), or "Treasure Ship". The bow of the ship is shaped like a phoenix head, with a figure standing at its base. At the stern are two figures in traditional Chinese dress. Two small billowing sails are also chiseled. It has a beaded rim. The seppa-dai (washer seat) is in typical nanban style; angular with peaked top and bottom and decorated with a stylized wave pattern. The whole is decorated with gold overlay over three-directional cross-hatching.
It has one hitsu-ana, the opening for the by-knife, with a very small four-letter signature on its rim:
Hishū is an old name for Hizen.
Kanesada appears in the Haynes index, H 02535.0. Active circa 1800, did classic Canton style with facing dragons and a jewel. Also did the Mitsuhiro style 100 monkeys designs.
Examples are published in the Furukawa collection, pl. 22, #122. Wakayama; Tōsō Kinkō Jiten, page 122, upper #7. Wakayama; Tōsō Kodōgu Meiji Takei, Vol. III, page 318. Ken'ichi Kokubo; Shinsen Kinkō Meikan, page 68.
The piece comes with old NBTHK Tokubetsu Kicho Nintei-sho papers of Shōwa 37, 1962. Such papers are deemed worthless today due to corruption at the NBTHK. The Shinsha team at the time could also not figure out the maker's signature. I will keep them with the piece out of nostalgic reasons.
1. Robert Haynes; The Index of Japanese Sword Fittings and Associated Artists. Nihon Art Publishers, 2001. Entry H 02535.0.
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The very detailed mountings are decorated with designs of Japanese spiny lobsters.
A fine and unusually large tsuba. Attributed to Hizen by the NBTHK.
Executed in "nanban style" openwork with chiseled and gold-encrusted peonies.
A peculiar tsuba with a depiction of Bodhidharma and two dragon chasing a pearl.
Its outer surface is decorated with interlocking swastikas and family crests.