Somen overall
Dimensions

Mask 21 x 19.7 x 15 cm

With guard 34.6 cm high

Weight

441 grams

Materials

Iron, urushi, leather, silk

Origin

Okayama Province, Japan

Dating

Acquired late 1990s

Provenance

From a Dutch private collection

Price €5500, -

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Introduction

Fukutake Ichirō (1928-2002) was one of the last traditional Japanese armorers. He was mostly known for his great skill in uchidashi; hammering iron to high relief in a style similar to the Myochin makers. This is very difficult to do, especially in high relief due to the stresses on the material, which is why most late work is in much lower relief. Ichirō was considered the most talented of modern era smiths in this style, and produced many works.1

He didn't generally sign his works and so various pieces have since been sold as being much earlier. Some were even inscribed by unscrupulous people with the names of old masters. Ichirō laughed it off and was flattered that his pieces would pass as genuine masterworks.1

One of his masks even passed the Katchūkai shinsa as Jūyō (important) and was asrcibed to the mid Edo period.2

A little-known fact is that he also had a son, Ryūtarō, who was 45 at the time of the interview in 1995. He was very prolific and did sign his work, often with a single character ryū () on the bottom of the chin in grass script. These have often been misread as reading Ichirō (一郞).3

Ryūtarō's work was equal to that of his dad:

"I have examined about twenty pieces, most with patinated steel surface, a few lacquered black or red.
The quality of the russet iron pieces, most of them by his son Ryûtarô (45 years old) is remarkable. Many
of them are superior and more spectacular than the pieces that have found their way to the West and, from
an artistic point of view, better than many authentic Edo period pieces..."

-Robert Buroway
Japanese Armor Society newsletter, 1995

 

Notes
1. Robert Buroway; Encounter with a contemporary armorer, Fukutake Ichirô (福武一郞). Japanese Armor Society newsletter, January 1995.
2. Katchû bugu kenkyú 142 of August 2003.
3. Robert Buroway; A sequel - 24 years later Fukutake Ryataro (福武龍太郎). Japanese Armor Society newsletter, September 2018.

 

This example

A classic example of a sōmen (full-face mask) as Ichirō and Ryūtarō made them. The menacing look and pointy, beak-like nose identify it as Tengu. The details are in high relief with exceptional sharpness to the raised ridges. The inside is lacquered red.

The bottom is signed:

Ryu signature



"Ryū"

Identifying it as a work by Ryūtarō. Born around 1949, he would be around 75 today but rumor has it he died in a motorcycle accident.

It comes complete with an antique neckguard (yodare-kake) that was associated with the piece. It uses traditional stenciled leather for the upper part, with two laced rows of lacquered leather protection.

 

Comparable examples

On December 8, 2016, Christie's sold a somewhat similar sōmen signed Ryū () from The Dolphyn Collection of Samurai Art, lot 128. They attributed to his father, Fukutake Ichirō. The dating was the early Shōwa period  (1926–1989), but Ichirō was only born two years into that period in 1928. It sold for £5,625 (GBP).

Somen by Ichiro's son Ryutaro
Somen by Ichiro's son Ryutaro
Somen by Ichiro's son Ryutaro
Somen by Ichiro's son Ryutaro
Somen by Ichiro's son Ryutaro
Somen by Ichiro's son Ryutaro
Somen by Ichiro's son Ryutaro
Somen by Ichiro's son Ryutaro
Somen by Ichiro's son Ryutaro
Somen by Ichiro's son Ryutaro
Somen by Ichiro's son Ryutaro

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