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Habaki - tosogu?

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Hi everyone, this might be quiet the facepalm moment, or just a plain stupid question but what is a habaki considered to be? Does it fall under the umbrella of tosogu? Is it just like mekugi peg something that is functional to the sword? Most aren't very fancy apart from the base materials used although some are quiet beautifully decorated. I'm triggered because I try to keep a clean and easy to understand set of galleries for photos and pictures on my phone and instinctively added a photo of an habaki of mine tot the tosogu folder.

 

Just as a preference I think silver ones are nice to see, but also the one with openwork would be nice to have as it shows more of the blade.

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Well I suppose it's that, or just the right mind that hasn't seen it or just a really stupid question.

 

I'm on my phone and can't find the smiley tab.

 

")

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Technically no, tosogu are the decorative elements of swords mountings whereas habaki and seppa are regard as being purely functional elements, made by shirogane-shi, class of metalworker below the more creative ranks. 

 

At no point in Edo period metalworking culture were the makers of seppa, habaki or any of the basic blanks of tsuba and fuchi kashira regarded as anything more than relatively low level artisans. 

 

Having said that, of course we've all seen the occasional fancy arty habaki or seppa set but these really are the exceptions.

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I can't imagine habaki on equal artistic footing as tsuba and fuchi kashira, but together with its intended blade a well made habaki to me personally have the potential to be a piece of art - simple, direct and effective with a high level of skill evident in its making.

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If not tosogu, Ford, how would you classify a habaki? Kind of hard to refer to them as "fucntional elements" when you're discussing them.

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Hi Ken

 

If memory serves they were made by shiro-gane-shi, lit. white metal workers, or silversmiths and they were essentially functional parts like seppa. It's a little amusing to see how the habaki has been elevated so much in modern times, perhaps because of the general decline in quality in Japan of the overall tosogu scene. That's not to say some habaki are not beautiful art works but those antique ones are almost inevitably made by tosogu-shi. Of the finest modern habaki I wouldn't call them art though, rather fine craft...especially when you know the techniques being employed  ;-)

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Ford,

 

Do you have any ideas for a true art habaki, and would you consider a commission for it if so?

 

Or a truly full matched set, including all tosogu plus seppa and habaki?

 

I have no idea what that might look like, but I get the feeling it could be quite special.

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Just referring back to your original question, Axel, people collect Tsuba, and fuchi/kashira, and kodzuka/kogai on their own as you say.

 

I cannot think of anyone (one notable exception aside) who has a collection of Habaki which walk independently. I have seen strings and boxes of habaki, but they probably originated from an artisan's workshop. Apparently early habaki were made of iron by the original swordsmith at the same time as the blade.

 

My friend here is a Shirogane-Shi, and he has shown me some of the Habaki that he has made over the years. Most have gone out (sadly?) to live side-by-side with the blade they complement. Occasionally when visiting a museum exhibition he will quietly point out a habaki of 'his' that adorns a blade on display. Many are really works of art, whether copper, covered in silver, or gold leaf, or solid silver/gold. Their surface features can be rough or smooth, regular or irregular patterns, like wheatfields in the wind, or they can carry a Mon/Kamon, or there can be some talismanic feature as with the 九字Kuji of Ka-Shu habaki. Habaki could vary by region, so in the Edo Period you would hear the phrase 'Okuni habaki' reflecting how they were recognizable in shape and structure.

 

So as Ford has said above, 'technically' they were and are functional. Many old swords still have a wooden or copper habaki fitted. Measured and fitted often to order by a self-respecting Shiroganeshi (like a tailor), however, they also evolved into individual works of art, fitting and suitable for each treasured blade.

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In my modest opinion (as here posted really experts as Ford Hallam), I think it is part of the tôsôgu, or even the kodôgu 'cause is an small part. Of course I agree that the 80% of the cases (like the seppa as Ford said), it's a functional part with no decotarion and without an artisctic or aesthical background. But I think we must consider in the same group but not the same category due there are excellent examples, for example, i'm thinking in the Gôto Jûyô or koshi Jûyô types. To make an example on Western (Spanish) silverwork, in the Martinez or Arfe atelier you can find very decorated and artistic spoons as well simple and just practical ones. Both had the same mark of the atelier, but just the important ones had also the artist mark. So all silver spoons are under the same group as silverwork, but not the same category, depending its artistic and aesthetical work. For example, I took a picture of this habaki years ago in a Bizen Osafune Museum exhibition. The last habaki is from a private Spanish collection. 

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Here I found newly made habaki from the newly made works exhibition at Tôken Hakubutsukan last time I attend to this exhibition 2 years ago.

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Today I discovered that Habaki were not only made by dedicated Shirogane-Shi, but also independently made by Kinko 金工 metal artisans as part of a full Koshirae for a blade. In such cases the Habaki were/are often signed.

 

(Fits nicely with your illustrated Habaki, SalaMarcos!)

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