I’m not a fan of Soten tsuba, too fussy for my taste, but this one turned up in a mixed lot that I bought. Most Soten tsuba depict samurai battle scenes which are difficult to identify, but I think that this one depicts Kato Kiyomasa (1562-1611) hunting a tiger while on the Korean (Imjin) campaign (1592-1598). Kiyomasa can be identified as the figure on the right by his trademark high helmet (his famous one was higher) and spear. Apparently Kiyomasa enjoyed hunting tigers while on the korean campaign (OK, not exactly a recognisable tiger, but it does not look like any Japanese animals either). The faces of the samurai and tiger on the front of the tsuba are worn, but otherwise in fair condition. The faces are copper and silver and the details are highlighted in gold nunome. The reverse is in better condition and shows pine trees and a fire with swirling smoke (presumeably to flush out the tiger), highlighted with gold nunome. The rim also has traces of gold nunome. I think that the merit of this tsuba is that I have not seen this design elsewhere.
The tsuba is signed Soheishi Soten sei (made), Soheishi being the founder of the Soten School, moving from Kyoto to Hikone about 1750. He used several forms to his signatures such as Goshu Hikone ju Soheishi Soten sei and Soheishi Nyudo Soten sei, the Nyudo added after he entered the priesthood. Soheishi can also be read as ‘Mogarishi’ and the craftman’s name ‘Soten’ was read as ‘Munenori’ before he entered the priesthood. The samurai designs of the Soten School became very popular and were heavily copied, with members of the school also signing Soten, in various ways. 17 members of the school are listed in Marcus Sesko’s genealogy charts. I believe that far more fakes than genuine Soten works are in existence and so I treat the signature on this tsuba as very suspect. I do wonder if Soten gave up making tsuba once his fame was established and he had several workers working for him, concentrating instead on drawing the designs for others to make.
Best regards, John
(just a guy making observations, asking questions, trying to learn)