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Help My Awakening To Old Iron


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#1 Valric

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 01:03 AM

I know a lot of you are enamored with iron tsubas, and somehow dislike the bling shakudo ones. I'm a great admirer of the latter, as I truly enjoy the meticulous works of inserts and carving, and gold tones give them relief and vibrancy. 

 

That said, I'm genuinely trying to learn how to appreciate the iron ones, which so far I don't "get". Is there a good place to start? What should I pay attention to as a criteria for quality? I've tried the iron bones thing - and I also tried to enmesh myself in the zen-like qualities of plain pieces, but...I can't. I'm thinking its an acquired taste, like coffee. Hence, I'd love if a few of could could share your story about how your learned to appreciate old iron, and what qualities you find in them that elicit a sense of aesthetic fulfillment. Where to look. 

 

Cheers

 

Chris 

 

 


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#2 Grey Doffin

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 02:44 AM

Hi Chris,

You could start with the Sasano book:

http://www.japaneses...sano-collection

If that doesn't do it you're probably beyond hope.

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#3 seattle1

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 03:13 AM

Hello Chris:

 Great question actually and one that could be approached many ways though Grey gives you a pointer to Sasano and from that you can noodle out some ideas, but they won't directly address the question.

 Iron tsuba are not necessarily the oldest tsuba once you get beyond the Kofun era, but they do represent the tsuba worn on the blades of the lowest socio-economic group of samurai and samurai aspirants who were the least sophisticated, least shielded by layers of subordinates and most likely to die doing their duty without fanfare or lingering recognition. Their simple ideas of religious belief and symbolic identification were often incorporated into the tsuba they used, and the use of those pieces had to be equally sturdy for the functions required, namely keeping the hand from slipping forward and balance in the dynamic use of the sword. People of higher social position could have tsuba full of intended artistic sophistication, but the folk art nature of early tsuba, styles of which were carried on right through late Edo times, are not to be found in shakudo and gold, at least not in the same primal way.

 Therein for many lies the attraction of good old ko-tosho and ko-katchushi tsuba, as well as some of the more robust iron tsuba of the Edo era. Iron bones, complex designs, "workmanship spectaculars," precious metal, are all beside the point.

 Arnold F.


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#4 Steve Waszak

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 05:19 AM

Hi Chris,

 

Actually, I'd recommend Sasano's Early Japanese Sword Guards: Sukashi Tsuba as the best introductory text for appreciation of early iron guards.  But I'd be more than happy to elaborate in detail on the merits of early iron tsuba... thumbs%20up.gif  Please feel free to email me at stevewaszak@cox.net.  We can get into lots of specifics.  If necessary, we can arrange a phone call.  Happy to help if I can... ;-)

 

Steve


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#5 Ed

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 05:50 AM

I would suggest you also read "TSUBA, An Aesthetic Study", by Torigoye and Haynes.

 

Most begin their journey into the appreciation of Tsuba much like you, admiring the bling.  Some never veer from that path, and as their knowledge increases, so does their appreciation of better quality bling.  

 

Others, looking back to the roots of the bling, begin to study and appreciate the depths of the seemingly simplistic pre-edo iron tsuba.

With study, thoughts of simplicity soon turn to appreciation of high quality forged iron and the way it has been transformed into a thing of beauty.  

 

Please note, there are many levels of quality which fall under the heading of iron tsuba, the average iron tsuba on e-bay doesn't come close. 


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#6 SAS

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 10:06 AM

Old iron = wabi and sabi.....a Zen appreciation for natural textures and ancient objects. :Drool:


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#7 Ford Hallam

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 10:15 AM

Hi Chris

 

I think that to begin to see or feel the specific aesthetic that 'good' old iron guards exhibit it might be helpful to try to get a sense of what exactly that aesthetic is, where it comes from and how it has evolved.

The problem you're facing is, I think, a common one. Like almost all of us we were raised and live in a culture that for the most part doesn't have any ingrained sensitivity to the varieties of Japanese aesthetics that inform the appreciation of 'old iron'. It takes conscious effort to learn about this 'foreign' way of seeing and feeling. Sometimes though even then we might project our own preferences and not quite 'get it right'.

Traditional aesthetics of Japan have over the past 20 or so years gradually made their way into popular culture, but the superficial veneer of this exotica can as much obscure as illuminate the real thing.

This is why it is so important to continually return to a variety of culturally appropriate sources to refine our understanding.

Sasano's books have been suggested and while I am a fan of his writing style in that he does try to evoke a sense of the poetry of the pieces, and I think poetry is valid way to understand art. it must be remembered though, that his is only one man's opinion on the issue.

Similarly 'TSUBA, An Aesthetic Study' is a single viewpoint. Somewhat frustratingly this book is misleadingly titled. There is no meaningful discussion of the aesthetics of tsuba, rather it comes across as a fairly dogmatic 'rule book' that attempts to simply tell you what is to be admired and what is beneath consideration. It does this without any convincing reasoning though and therein lies its weakness in my opinion.

So where to go to learn about this elusive aesthetic then?

I would suggest the following three books might help you form a clearer and more fully informed understanding of the varieties of wabi, sib, shibui, yugen, miyabi and more. These being the aspects of Japanese aesthetics at work or play in the old iron guards that sometimes make grown men weak at the knees and misty eyed. Not to mention lighter in the wallet. Still, they’re probably cheaper and certainly safer than a mistress. :shame: :roll:

The Unknown Craftsman. A Japanese Insight into Beauty by Sōetsu Yanagi. Forward by Shōji Hamada. This is something of a classic and although its focus is on the then newly coined concept of Mingei (Folk Art) it does present a good view of some important features of the native aesthetic experience.

Japanese Aesthetics and Culture. A Reader. Edited by Nancy G. Hume. Highly recommended, essential reading imo.

In Praise of Shadows by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki. This is very idiosyncratic but it does provide some valuable insight into one mans refined sensibilities. There’s a flavour of ‘shibusa’ (astringency) that runs though the text that’s worth picking up on.

There’s some further comment and many more books dealing with Japanese aesthetics on my forum here.


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#8 Ford Hallam

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 10:17 AM

Hah, Steve posted while I was busy writing. His reply is far more succinct and possibly immediately helpful than my ramble :thumbsup: :beer:


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#9 dominnimod

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 12:48 PM

Well, you can't force yourself to like something, but you should keep in mind the context of these. Early tsubas belonged to times of war ,swords which were tools, so they are quite primitive. Late tsuba however belongs to swords which were symbols of status and thus, long time of peace allowed them to get more and more intrincate.

I guess with older iron, you have to aprreciate, not just the quality, but also the fact that they survived so many generations and ended in our hands, imho

(Thats wabi sabi aesthetic)


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#10 Henry Wilson

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 01:50 PM

I always love Ford's recommended reading. I have just ordered the ones I don't have. I too second Sasano gold book for text but the silver book for pictures. I love Arnold's explanation too. One more source that is free is Jim Gilberts site:
http://home.earthlin...lbert/tsuba.htm
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#11 Valric

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 06:12 PM

Well, where to start... 

 

Thank you for all the great responses, I'm proud to be part of such a community. I plan to give a big boost to my nihonto and tosogu library this year, and I will for sure get some of these books on my shelf (PS: I'm interested in wholesale buying if someone wants to sell his book collection, Tosogu, Nihonto, and Japanese aesthetics, PM).

 

I would suggest you also read "TSUBA, An Aesthetic Study", by Torigoye and Haynes.

 

Most begin their journey into the appreciation of Tsuba much like you, admiring the bling.  Some never veer from that path, and as their knowledge increases, so does their appreciation of better quality bling.  

 

Others, looking back to the roots of the bling, begin to study and appreciate the depths of the seemingly simplistic pre-edo iron tsuba.

With study, thoughts of simplicity soon turn to appreciation of high quality forged iron and the way it has been transformed into a thing of beauty.  

 

Please note, there are many levels of quality which fall under the heading of iron tsuba, the average iron tsuba on e-bay doesn't come close. 

 

 This is indeed true, looking back two years ago my taste for bling was wholly unrefined, I remember seeing a Soten Tsuba and loving it - but looking back at it now I really don't understand my judgement anymore. Since then I've tuned my preferences, after studying some of the great Goto masters. Perhaps - and this really puzzles me - five year from now I will have veered towards the folk art and zen-inspired pieces, It's strange how preferences evolve, but I disgress... 

 

I would suggest the following three books might help you form a clearer and more fully informed understanding of the varieties of wabi, sib, shibui, yugen, miyabi and more. These being the aspects of Japanese aesthetics at work or play in the old iron guards that sometimes make grown men weak at the knees and misty eyed. Not to mention lighter in the wallet. Still, they’re probably cheaper and certainly safer than a mistress.

 

 

Not rambling at all, thank you for sharing! That's indeed what I was getting at with aesthetic appreciation. Thank you for the suggestions, these concepts really do seem to be the key. 

 

Hi Chris,

 

Actually, I'd recommend Sasano's Early Japanese Sword Guards: Sukashi Tsuba as the best introductory text for appreciation of early iron guards.  But I'd be more than happy to elaborate in detail on the merits of early iron tsuba... thumbs%20up.gif  Please feel free to email me at stevewaszak@cox.net.  We can get into lots of specifics.  If necessary, we can arrange a phone call.  Happy to help if I can... ;-)

 

Steve

 

Very kind of you Steve, I'd love to skype over one of these days - and if you could show me some of the pieces of your collection and expand on what triggers the aesthetic experience that would certainly be the fast track to enlightenment! But beware of unearned wisdom, as they say... 


Chris H. 


#12 Steve Waszak

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 07:38 PM

Hi Chris,

 

I'm happy to help out if I can.  Those who know me here will hear me go on and on about the virtues of pre-Edo iron, especially Azuchi-Momoyama Owari tsuba...  :glee:   So again, if you'd like to set up a time to talk in live time, just let me know.  I'm in San Diego, so on USA west coast time. 

 

Just a thought or two to add quickly here.  As concerns Tsuba:  An Aesthetic Study, it was really the Introduction of the book that I found most rewarding, mostly because it confirmed/supported a viewpoint I'd long held:  that it is the plate of the tsuba that matters first and foremost in a pieces's beauty, not any applied decoration, whether sukashi, carving, or inlay.  The book is worth getting just to read this argument.  ;-)  

 

Next, another "small" book on Japanese aesthetics is Donald Richie's A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics.  It is all of 79 pages, but it introduces and explains many aesthetic terms/concepts that were in use from the earliest centuries of Japanese history, on through the Muromachi, Momoyama, and Edo periods. 

 

The book Ford mentions, Tanizaki Jun'ichiro's In Praise of Shadows is one I not only echo in recommending, it's a book I quoted from rather liberally in an article I wrote on the importance of lighting in iron tsuba appreciation. 

 

I would second Henry's comment that for text, Sasano's gold book is the one to have, but for images, his silver book is a must-have. 

 

I should mention, too, that to really understand pre-Edo iron tsuba, you must also familiarize yourself with the Tea Ceremony and the articles used in that practice (the ceramics, in particular, for many of the aesthetic concerns attached to the Tea Ceremony (which was a hugely important cultural phenomenon of Momoyama and early Edo times) also informed the design and construction of upper-level iron guards.  Contrary to what some might say, the finest of iron tsuba of those times were meant for high-ranking bushi, the same bushi who were also intimately involved with Tea. 

 

Finally, it's worth noting, I think, that the most celebrated tsubako of all time for the Japanese (generally speaking, of course) are Nobuiye and Kaneie, both of whom worked almost exclusively in iron and were Momoyama artists.  Many will argue that these tsubako best expressed many of the most valued aesthetic principles of their age (or any) age.

 

There is SO much more to say on this, Chris, so please do get in touch... ;-)

 

Cheers,

 

Steve


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#13 Pete Klein

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 09:44 PM

FWIW -- there's nothing 'wrong' with preferring kinko to the more wabi iron fittings.  You'd just have more in common with Toyatomi Hideyoshi...


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#14 Steve Waszak

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 09:49 PM

:laughing:   Ah, so true... ;-)

 

Here is Hideyoshi's Golden Tea Room.  Makes me gag, but that's just me... :glee:

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#15 Steve Waszak

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Posted 23 June 2017 - 09:54 PM

On the other hand, Kaneie was Hideyoshi's Fushimi tsubako, so he must have had some taste... :glee:


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#16 Pete Klein

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 12:10 AM

Paleeze -- Kaneie is overrated. 


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#17 Valric

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 12:11 AM

Let's do this :) PM sent, Steve! I just spent the evening reading about zen aesthetics and tea ceremony, to set the mood. 


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#18 Tanto54

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 01:25 AM

Dear Chris,

 

Don't be ashamed of a love and appreciation of soft metal, and don't be persuaded to the "dark side" of old charcoal briquettes and manhole covers unless you really determine that you like them (I believe that there are far too many collectors who are admiring the Emperor's New Clothes...)


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#19 seattle1

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 02:38 AM

Hello:

 While there is of course nothing wrong with admiring kinko, even in its extreme forms of "workmanship" excess and florid expression, we should not forget that that ethos can be carried to the extreme as it was by Hideyoshi and his golden tea room and utensils. The parvenu traits he exhibited probably annoyed his chief teacher of aesthetics, Sen (no) Rikyu,  enough to be criticized by him for the display which promptly led to the invitation for Rikyu to commit seppku in Hideyoshi's residence.

 Arnold F.



#20 Steve Waszak

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 06:48 AM

And it needs to be said, too, that there is kinko, and then there is kinko.  While I would love to have one of the two tsuba pictured here, the other is wholly unappealing (this is being kind).  Both are kinko, technically, but it is akin to saying that a Siberian tiger and a tabby are both felines.  One of these tsuba exhibits forcefully a value Kokubo Ken'ichi called Haki (power, ambition, unbridled spirit), while the other is trite, obvious, unimaginative, and the very embodiment of insipidity (all in my humble opinion, of course... :glee: ).  Which is which?

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#21 Steve Waszak

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 06:52 AM

George,

 

Would you please be so good as to supply a few photos of these "manhole covers" and "charcoal briquettes" for us?  I'd very much like to see these "emperor's new clothes" examples.  Thanks.


Steve Waszak

#22 Henry Wilson

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 09:19 AM

Which is which?

Insipidity to the left I would say.

I love old iron but the only soft metal tsuba to join my collection is this Ko Kagamishi.
IMG_0237.JPG
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#23 Valric

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 02:34 PM

Hahaha, some fantastic comments in this thread. Hideyoshi the "nouveau riche" chastised the old keepers of ascetic virtue. 

 

I've seen my fair share of Juyo koshirea with exuberant theme which have left me drooling... 

 

Omori, Natsuo, Goto masters... 

 

However, I have never seen I believe, a Koshirae in the wabi-sabi style which has been recognized as a masterpiece. It would be fantastic is someone could post a few images :-)


Chris H. 


#24 Steve Waszak

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 06:32 PM

Henry,

 

I've always liked that ko-Kagamishi piece.  A nice, quiet beauty... ;-)

 

Chris, the best book on koshirae I've seen is Uchigatana no Koshirae.  Spectacular examples of all kinds of koshirae here.  Grey should be able to get you a copy.  WELL worth it.  thumbs%20up.gif


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#25 Steve Waszak

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 08:20 PM

Hey, look!  I found an old iron manhole cover tsuba!  :glee:

 

 

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#26 Steve Waszak

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 08:29 PM

Oh, wait.  Sorry.  My mistake.  This is an iron ita tsuba from the Momoyama Period made by nidai Yamakichibei, one of the most respected tsubako in Japanese history, an artist with a number of juyo tsuba to his name.  Maybe there is more to appreciate here than first meets the eye...

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#27 Steve Waszak

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 08:51 PM

Chris,

 

In response to your query regarding masterpiece "wabi" koshirae, I can post this example here.  I'm not sure I'd call it "wabi," exactly, but it certainly is spartan relative to many of the gaudy koshirae we are familiar with.  This koshirae, incidentally, is juyo.  thumbs%20up.gif

 

Cheers,

 

Steve

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#28 SAS

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 10:47 PM

....because sometimes, less is more..... :)


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#29 Pete Klein

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 11:08 PM

Yes -- like around $20K - more!  LOL

 

I remember that one well as Fred Weissberg had it at one of the shows years ago.  An interesting thing abot this is that the menuki were two small metal bars hidden beneath the wrap.  They were there only for function.  These koshirae are incredibly rare as the vast majority haven't survived. 


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#30 Tanto54

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Posted 24 June 2017 - 11:55 PM

Dear Steve,

 

Don’t get me wrong - I like old iron too, but I’m really tired of the “Emperor has no Clothes” elitism that we hear from some on the “hard metal” side (not saying its you...).  For example, they say ridiculous things like kinko tsuba weren’t used by real samurai or were too soft to be used in battle - BS.  Or they say, as you mature, you’ll “graduate” and realize how gaudy kinko is and how sophisticated iron is (i.e., see Hideyoshi vs. Rikyu comparisons - come on, that’s unfair).  Sure the patina on an old, worn-out manhole cover looks great, but so does tasteful kinko.  Let’s use your own example and put it next to a kinko example (that many on the “hard metal” side would say is “gaudy”).  While “art” is in the eye of the beholder, you are not being honest with yourself if you cant admit that the Shomin kinko below is at least as good as your “hard metal” example.  I guess that I’m just reacting to what appears to be attempts to persuade Chris by jovial elitism and embarrassment.

 

Manhole Cover.jpg

 

Shomin Tsuba.jpg


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