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A TANEGASHIMA MASTERPIECE


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Sakai is a city on Honshu Island near the larger city of Osaka. Sakai like Kunitomo was famous for producing great quantities of firearms during the Edo Period. Guns produced by the Sakai were famous throughout Japan for their very high quality. Where the Kunitomo smiths excelled in well made practical guns, ... most devoid of all but minor decoration, the Sakai gunsmiths seemed to have revelled in embellishing their guns with fine barrel inlay, and applications of brass decorations to the stocks. Often seen on Sakai guns are large decorative escutcheons covering the again rather large pin holes which take the pegs to fasten the barrel to the wooden stock. The guns are generally elegant in shape, if somewhat ( at times ) over embellished with ornamentation. The stocks are of the finest oak utilizing the natural grain to its best visual appeal. It has been written that Daimyo would often commission Sakai gunsmiths for their personal weapons due to the beauty and quality of their workmanship. The gun I illustrate today is certainly a text book example.

 

This gun is signed made by Kuniyasu, and is dated 9th year of Bunsei, ( 1825 ) a lucky day in August. Overall length is 51 1/2 inches. The caliber is 11.5 mm ( .46 inch ) or in Japanese measurement 2 monme. Barrel is octagon tapering towards the muzzle which is bulbous. The front sight has an inlaid silver bead to aid in sighting. The top of the barrel is inlaid in brass, silver, and copper with a depiction of KWANYU ( a celebrated Chinese General of the 2nd century, diefied in 1594 as the God of War ). He is depicted carrying his large spear. The depiction is flawlessly inletted into the steel barrel.

 

The brass lock is of the outside spring type, but the inside has a small coil release on the sear re-lease arm. There are no less than 5 adjustments fot trigger pull. In order to prevent the corrosion and burning associated with the ignition of black powder, the flash pan is lined with gold. The entire lock mechanism works like a fine tuned clock.

 

The stock is of fine grained burl oak, and the escutcheons over the pin holes are large and ornamental. In addition a single brass band ( not counting the large breach band which are always present on Tanegashima ) helps anchor the barrel to the stock. The floorplate of the stock has a well executed brass dragon entwined around a silver ken sword. The inletting of this huge piece of metal must have taxed the stockmaker. A circular mon in silver of the Abe family is also inlaid. Near the forend another brass plate depicting a dragon helps strengthen this vunerable area of the stock. The offside of the stock butt has a Chrysanthemum in alternating rings of brass and silver, the hole in the center is meant to accomodate the excess of match cord, and keep it firmly secured to the stock.

 

The condition of this firearm is excellent, and would be quite safe to fire. This short article, and accompanying photos are respectfully submitted for the study and enjoyment of the NMB membership ..... Ron Watson

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Hello Eric,

I suppose there will always be one more ornate, .... this example is actually not so ornate as to be ostentatious. It is I think a very tastefully built firearm obviously made for someone with means who could afford in todays terms a Westley Richards Hunting Rifle as opposed to a Remington Hunting Rifle. ............ Ron Watson

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Hello Eric,

I suppose there will always be one more ornate, .... this example is actually not so ornate as to be ostentatious. It is I think a very tastefully built firearm obviously made for someone with means who could afford in todays terms a Westley Richards Hunting Rifle as opposed to a Remington Hunting Rifle. ............ Ron Watson

Ron, this is what I like about the later Edo period, the Japanese were able to take a weapon or armor etc and while keeping it functional they were able to transform it into a work of art at the same time.
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Ron, the signature is quite interesting, but I think whoever took the photos must have missed the first characters for Kunitomo, which made my search a bit longer!!! All you have posted seems to be:

鳳澤 舎 国安 作Ho-sawa (-zawa?) sha Kuniyasu saku

 

 

First I found that the Mei Ho-sawa is recorded in a list of gunsmiths in Ko-shu 甲州 (甲斐)the present-day Yamanashi Ken, whence Takeda Shingen came. The third character has the meaning of Yadoru, 'temporarily living', or 'temporary abode'. Later following a few hours searching (!) I found that Kuniyasu is listed as a Kunitomo smith, but was he temporarily living in Yamanashi when he made this gun? The full signature should therefore be Kunitomo Ho-sawa (-zawa) Sha/Yadoru/Mi-o-yoseru/kari-ni-sumu Kuniyasu Saku, right?

 

Admittedly the gun looks like a Sakai-zutsu, but being in fierce rivalry with each other , many Sakai and Kunitomo guns were almost indistinguishable. It may be that your gun looks restrained because it is in fact a Kunitomo gun, which were not generally as flashy/bling, or ostentatious as you say, as Sakai.

 

PS I think you'll find the Chrysanthemum is an ashtray, for extinguishing the matchcord after use.

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In the records of gunsmiths there is

国友平八国安 甲斐国住 享和三年

国友鳳澤舎国安 甲斐住 

 

There are also a couple of smiths listed not under Kunitomo, but like this:

鳳澤国重 甲斐住

鳳澤金平左衛門国重 甲斐住

鳳澤舎 国久 甲斐住

 

Those are all the recorded smiths of this school (?) that I can find.

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Dear Piers et al,

Firstly, you gentleman have one great advantage over me, ... that being a knowledge of the Japanese language, ... I relied on an old Japanese friend to do my translating until he passed away. The signature on the barrel is as seen in the photograph. The kanji for Kunitomo is not present.

 

Now, ........ the reason why I say this is a Sakai Tanegashima as opposed to Kunitomo : I believe the barrel is KUNITOMO verses Sakai, ... but that is where I draw the line. Certainly the muzzle is typical of Kunitomo verses Sakai in that it is bulbous but NOT poppy shaped.

I will post a picture of what I call a SAKAI muzzle with this reply. Next I agree, .... Kuniyasu is a Kunitomo gunsmith and he made the barrel.

The inlay work on the barrel, .... the stock, ... I most definitely attribute to the Sakai. It has been written ( bottomley & Hopson ) that Daimyo often sent barrels by other makers , .. eg. the Kunitomo to Sakai for mounting. I believe this to be the case in this example. This is the most logical explanation, .... and given the final work was carried out by the Sakai, ...... I assigned the gun to the Sakai verses the Kunitomo.

 

Next, ...... the idea that the Chrysanthemum on the off side is really an " ashtray " as opposed to a match holder I again dispute, ... please see the photograph I add to this posting showing another Tanegashima with the same Chrysanthemum. NOTE, ... the natural alignment of the match running from the serpentine thru the stock, and into the Chrysanthemum. This should be proof in itself that these Chrysanthemum stock inlays are for holding the butt ( un-lit ) end of the match. They may well have served as a convienient ashtray, but I heartly dispute that this was their intended purpose. They are DEEP in all examples I have observed, .... making it all the more plausible they are indeed match holders. One does not need an ashtray on a firearm to extinguish the match. Perhaps this is erroneous information came from your Japanese firearm instructor, ... and I would suggest he is quite incorrect.

 

I thank you all for your interest, and hope the attached photos will aid in further study and understanding of what is a most interesting field of Samurai weapon/art. ...... Ron Watson

 

NOTE: First photo shows a Sakai style Muzzle.

 

Second photo shows the natural alignment between the serpentine and the Chrysanthemum Match Holder.

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Concerning the use of the decorated cavity/half-hole I cannot say that my teacher told me this was for extinguishing the Hinawa. All my instincts and training tell me this has to be the purpose, although I grant that when displaying the gun a short section of match fed into this hole might be a good way to display it. The problem is that it would fall out immediately if you tried to use it like that. Some older guns have a hole that goes straight through, but this shallow hole would mean use of a very short cord, which would make little sense in battle, I am sure you would agree. The cord is always wrapped around the left forearm and gradually fed to the serpentine, through the diagonal hole as you suggest when it is present. When we finish our displays there

is always an urgent message flashed around to extinguish our matches. They were precious in olden times I would guess. Some of our members carry a pair of scissors, but I have found the easiest and quickest way to comply is to push it in and suffocate the cord within this close-fitting metal-lined hollow.

 

On p 18 of Sugawa san's pdf he calls this an extinguishing hole, ie Hi-keshi-no-ana 火消しの孔

http://www.mlsa.jp/sugawa/hinawajyu3.pdf

 

This is by no means definitive, but I would like to go away and toss this around a little more and gather a few more grizzled opinions if I may, Ron.

 

PS Here is a further selection of Sakai muzzles.

PPS Your gun also has influences of Sendai in it! (The trigger etc.)(Or am I beginning to see things?) :lol:

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Dear Piers,

Here is a little more food for thought regarding the decorated Chrysanthemum stock cavity question.

1. The depth on both examples I have in my collection measure 3/4 of an inch, .... a little deep considering the diameter for an ashtray ( fuse extinquisher ).

2. If they were meant as a convenient way of extinquishing the match ( in lieu of a little spit in the palm of the hand for example ), ... why are they never located on the lock side of the stock which would be more convenient.

3. The other gun stock example I pictured shows the hole drilled thru the stock not perpendicular to the gun's axis, but rather on an angle leading directly next to the Chrysanthemum cavity indicating it was meant to lead the match in that direction.

4. A small amount of pitch if necessary at all ... would have been more than adequate to hold the match secure. Personally I think given the depth, friction fit would have been quite sufficient.

5. This Chrysanthemum feature IS NOT found on most " combat " guns, ... but rather on guns obviously of high class meant for show, or for the target range, ... in which not a great deal of match was necessary. At any rate allowing the match to hang would have easily allowed for a couple or even three feet of match, ... more than enough for the purpose at hand.

6. Certainly a great length of match might or would be desirable when going into actual combat, and of course wrapping the match about the arm was the more practical, and consequently the Chrysanthemum feature is not found on these plainer weapons.

7. I have serious doubts about Sugawa san being deemed an expert on firearms. He is at best a collector who published a primer in English on the subject. He certainly has not spent the greater part of his life in the study of firearms, ... albeit he is to be credited with introducing the Tanegashima to the average Westerner who until his publication had very little in the way of material to study.

 

I think if you will consider the above, ... you might if not agree concede that what I say has validity. Being a smoker myself, ... I find using a lit cigarette in the serpentine beats using a piece of clothes line. I've just never considered butting my smoke out in my Tanegashima :D ;) . ..... Ron Watson

 

PS> .... If you want grizzled, .... I should post a photo of myself. Dear God, ... then you'd appreciate grizzled !

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Before I answer your detailed post above Ron, I just want to put this up before I forget it. (Old age) This 'NAMAE' site, based in Kamakura, is a site that lists for descriptive purposes the names for all the parts of the Tanegashima, and in 'The Stock', section 3 from the top, line 16, you can find this line:

火縄消しの穴 火消壷 有無、材質、内径、深さ、飾り金具(段数)

= Match extinguish hole, fire extinguish hole, absence/presence of, material(s), inner diameter, depth, decorative metalwork (number of Dan)

 

This comes from the following page. (In Japanese, sorry)

http://www.geocities.jp/nosuka02/NAMAE.html

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Hi Ron, some quick thoughts regarding your points above.

1. Yours are very deep. Mine is shallower. I am beginning to wonder whether the original straight-through hole was under-used and someone tried blocking it with whatever, and then they disovered you could get away with half the hole and half the decorations (= half the labor/labour) during manufacture. This may explain why there is so little literature on this feature, and only later guns seem to have it in this form.

2. From personal observation I agree that it is located in an inconvenient place for me, especially when my hands are full of other clobber. The other side would be better. Our matches are seriously hot however, and even with a large dollop of spit you would have to have very horny hands to avoid getting burnt. You would then have the problem of relighting if such became suddenly necessary.

3.About the angled hole you mention, my long gun has two of these in parallel. These holes would be the ones mentioned in the line above the line quoted, in the description web page.

火縄通しの穴 有無、材質、内径、飾り金具

= matchcord tunnel(s), presence/absence of, material(s) inner diameter, decorative metalwork

I have used these in the past to push the matchcord through, though I am not yet convinced that the angle of them points consciously (decoratively perhaps) towards the Hachimanza.

4. Granted, depending on the other factors.

5. My Kumamoto Castle gun, definitely a combat gun, but of late vintage (1847) has this half-hole, but ringed only once in plain but thick brass. The inner end is wood, so I am burning the stock a little more each time I use it! :shock: Is that why yours are deeper, thru much use???

6. OK

7. As you see, I did say that his work is not definitive. Agreed.

 

I don't think anyone has yet had this debate anywhere so I am glad we are having it here. :bowdown:

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Dear Piers,

The year the article was printed ?? .... I have no doubt given the lack of knowledge of the Japanese in the field of firearms that Sugawa san's book and what he says is Gospel to some. I have no doubt that like you ... many a Japanese Gunner may well have used the Chrysanthemum cavity as a convenient way of stubbing out the match. It is my contention, and I believe I have provided ample evidence to back my position that the ORIGINAL and correct intention was to hold the match and not act as an ashtray. The strongest points I make is that they are rarely found on weapons meant for the field of battle, ... but rather on show pieces and target firearms, ... and secondly the alignment of the ( SOMETIMES SEEN ) match hole passing thru the stock and how it lines up with the Chrysanthemum aperature. To me at least it is the more logical and practical reason for their being found on some Tanegashima. Am I wrong, .... of course I can be wrong, .... but I do take much of what the Japanese have to say on this subject with a grain of salt. By the time the Japanese took an interest in the history of firearms in their own country, ... much was lost to time. Show me a contemparary treatise on the parts of the tanegashima written in say 1825, ... and I will gracefully back down from my position. In someways it matters little who is right and who is wrong so long as we kindle an interest in these little known artifacts. On that point we have I hope suceeded. ... Ron Watson

 

PS. Piers, ... I prepared this resonse prior to your last post. As I state above in my last two sentences, ... hopefully debating this point will spark ( no pun intended ) interest in these artifacts. It is interesting that your holes are so shallow, ... whereas mine are so deep ( not from burning ) ... I just double checked. Perhaps in a way we are both right. Perhaps as time went by the damn things lost their original purpose and did become snuffers, ... ??? I will post photos of the other Tanegashima next week. .... Ron Watson

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Quick edit above. My Kumamoto gun is dated Koka 4 nen, 1847 (not '1867' as I mistakenly posted earlier. Now edited.) I will post a piccie of the hole in question when I get home, if I can just get this other deskwork out of the way first! Who invented work? :roll:

 

The NAMAE site I have just posted above is I believe independent and unrelated to the earlier link to Sugawa san.

 

Yes, I agree that our two previously extreme positions may be moving somewhat together. I have learned a lot in the process of this discussion. Many thanks.

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Quick edit above. My Kumamoto gun is dated Koka 4 nen, 1847 (not '1867' as I mistakenly posted earlier. Now edited.) I will post a piccie of the hole in question when I get home, if I can just get this other deskwork out of the way first! Who invented work? :roll:

 

The NAMAE site I have just posted above is I believe independent and unrelated to the earlier link to Sugawa san.

 

Yes, I agree that our two previously extreme positions may be moving somewhat together. I have learned a lot in the process of this discussion. Many thanks.

It would be nice to see all of the discussions (and pictures) on Japanese firearms and related items in one archive so that anyone in the future could reference these fascinating pictures and intriguing facts etc all in one place. There is more information contained in this forum on the subject than any were else online I believe.
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It would be nice to see all of the discussions (and pictures) on Japanese firearms and related items in one archive so that anyone in the future could reference these fascinating pictures and intriguing facts etc all in one place. There is more information contained in this forum on the subject than any were else online I believe.

 

Quote. For the moment, I bookmarked all the discussions like this using the "bookmark this topic" function :beer:

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It would be nice to see all of the discussions (and pictures) on Japanese firearms and related items in one archive so that anyone in the future could reference these fascinating pictures and intriguing facts etc all in one place. There is more information contained in this forum on the subject than any were else online I believe.

 

Quote. For the moment, I bookmarked all the discussions like this using the "bookmark this topic" function :beer:

Lorenzo, thanks for the idea..I did not think of that. Now I will have to go back and try it :bang:
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All, I have just had a look at the chrysanthemum hole on my Sakai gun and it is drilled all the way through, being as near as enough the same diameter as the diagonal match tunnel. There is therefore nowhere on this gun to stub out the match. It would be possible to thread a length of match through the tunnel and then through the hole to the right side of the stock.

By chance I am preparing a talk on Indian matchlock guns and some of those from Oude (now Uttar Pradesh) have a similar medallions on the sides of the stock. One, usually on the right, having a blind hole in the centre. On at least one of these guns, there is red velvet under the pierced part of the medallions, but the central hole itself is clear. Some guns from the same region have a blind hole drilled into the wood of the sloping face behind the breech or occasionally under the stock near the breech. I also append a picture of a gun from Indore with what is normally regarded as a holder for a pricker, for clearing the vent, attached to the right side of the stock. In this case, there is no pricker nor any reasonable place to attach one. I'm not saying it is, but it might be a match snuffer.

Ian Bottomley

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Ian, if that is a sheath for a pricker, I can imagine it would stay in if the gun was pushed down into a horse's holster, but would it not slide back out when lifted up into the firing position? Thought-provoking pics. Many thanks.

 

Further to the above post, I include some shots of the quite shallow ringed hollow in the butt of my Kumamoto Castle gun. (I think a small bird might have made a nest in there.) You can also see the two parallel match holes and a separate narrower hole for a decorative lanyard.

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Dear Ian,

As you state the Chrysanthemum cavity on your gun could NOT have been a snuffer, ... I would then conclude it held the unlit end of the match. I am beginning to think that this feature found on some tanegashima started out as a match holder, and as time progressed eventually became shallower until as in Pier's gun is very shallow becoming as Piers argues a match snuffer. An evolutionary sequence, or a feature that some gunsmith invented for one purpose ( holding the match ), and some more distant ( without our communication systems of today not necessarily very far ) gunsmith mistaking the original idea to be a match snuffer and consequently building his Chrysanthemum cavity not nearly so deep. This may be the plausable explanation, as I must agree that the example on Pier's gun is no where deep enough to hold the butt end of the match securely, .... whereas the examples I have, and you possess would.

 

Now if I may, ... I would like to address the " picker " holder on your pictured gun from Indore. I believe the holder you picture is actually meant to hold the business end of the match when not in use, with the rest of the match wrapped around the wrist of the gun. This kept the unlit match in a convenient yet instantly available position for quick withdrawl, lighting and insertion into the serpentine.

.... Ron Watson

 

PS> Piers no apologies for a threadnap, .... I think Ian's contribution to this debate was important, ... as is his photos of the attachment on the Indore gun. It simply goes to teach us all that certain features may have more than one use, or be mistaken in their designed use. I would never want it said that I could be considered intransigent ;) !

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Ron, Piers, I suspect there are many things we do not really know about these early form of guns. As for the tubular object on the Indore gun, it is probably for a pricker of some form, but there just isn't any sign of one. It may of course have been entirely separate and is now lost. I append a picture of a Gwalior gun with a pricker, but absolutely nowhere to park it. I assume it just dangled. AS for the through hole in the stock of my Sakai gun, I can see no purpose in threading the match through it - the one diagonal hole is more than enough. However, I note a cord through a similarly placed hole in the stock of your Kumamoto gun Piers. Is it possible that the Sakai through-hole is for a similar cord?

Ian

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