Ichinomiya Nagatsune and Nagayoshi Fuchigashira

Ichinomiya Nagatsune and Nagayoshi

periodMid Edo (ca. 1780)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu Fuchigashira
fuchi-mei長常「花押」· Nagatsune (kao)
fuchi dimensions2.3 cm x 3.8 cm x 1.86 cm tall
kashira-mei長美「花押」· Nagayoshi (kao)
kashira dimensions1.8 cm x 3.2 cm
price -sold-

What Somin is in the East, Nagatsune is in the West. Traditional Japanese saying

Ichinomiya Nagatsune is one of the all-time greats in the manufacture of sword fittings. His name has been handed down with renown as one of the three great masters of Kyoto, and he was a peer in time, skill and style to Yokoya Somin. Somin's development of katakiri-bori was paralleled by Nagatsune who advanced the art form and applied various embellishments of colored metals to what would otherwise be monochrome katakiri-bori designs. For this use of a variety of metals he is quite famous, and we need to remember that at his time this was pioneering work that was breaking free from the traditional and dominant styles of the Goto school which catered to the taste of the daimyo.

His favorite style was katakiribori with gold, silver, and copper. In particular, his katakiribori with a bright color hirazogan technique is different from Somin’s katakiribori work, and this is Nagatsune’s original style [i.e. Nagatsune invented it]. Iida Toshihisa, NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Nagatsune was born to the civilian name Kashiwaya Chuhachi, and his father was a sake brewer. His training began with simple metal gilding under a silversmith named Nagayoshi. After this, he advanced to study painting and tosogu manufacture. His lineage traces back through his various teachers to the Goto main line, connecting at Goto Kojo.

In 1719, in Kyoto,was born one of the finest chasers of Japanese metal-work, Nagatsune, who was the founder of the Ichinomiya School. At first apprenticed to a metal gilder, he later became a pupil of Takanaga (Yasui) and Furukawa Yoshinaga. His early work is signed Setsuzan. Not only was he a very clever tsuba maker and producer of the smaller sword-fittings, but he also was a painter, having studied under Maruyama Okyo and Ishida Yutei. He evidently did not expend all of his skill in glyptic art on sword-mounts, for G. Jacoby, H. Joly, and S. Hara all mention a cover which he made for a brazier (shuro) sent by the daimyo of Tsuchima to the king of Korea, who in turn offered it to K‘ien-lung, the Chinese emperor. Helen Gunsaulus, Japanese Sword Mounts in the Collections of Field Museum

Though Ms. Gunsaulus put his place of birth in Kyoto, it rather seems to be Suruga in Echizen province and 1721 rather than 1719. When he began his career in fittings manufacture he used the name Setsuzan and later changed to Nagatsune. There are 33 Juyo examples of his work today, and three of those have this early signature.

Nagatsune received two titles in his life, first was Echizen no Daijo and this was subsequently upgraded to Echizen no Kami though when the second was granted is not clear and this particular bit of information is hard to verify. For fittings makers this is very unusual to receive such titles, and is typically something associated with sword makers.

He used various materials but in particular he was a master of shibuichi, which takes its name from the ratio of silver to copper (one in four). Shibuichi can be made with a fairly wide range in this ratio, and when formed well and patinated reveals a gorgeous crystalline structure which gives the base a beauty that is very different from the dark black of good shakudo.

He learned the art of sketching from Ishida Yotei who was a student of the famous Maruyama Okyo, and his outstanding talent is demonstrated in his paintings and sketchbooks he left. As described in the dictionary of Japanese painters published in 1927, he amused the public by sketching bamboo shoot, horsetail, snail, frog, etc. Later when he became more skillful in drawing, he begun to depict dragon, lion, and people in his uniquely clever ways. His depiction of people was particularly excellent of movement, and his best favorite was small animals.

Nagatsune's specialty technique-wise was takabori-iroe to begin with; he also combined low relief (usunikubori) and iroe and/or zogan, or katakiribori, which he was really good at, and successfully applied a kind of brush painting technique to produce a variety of darkness of ink to the metal surface by means of carving. It should be noted in this connection that katakiribori was innovated by Yokoya Somin who was a most outstanding master artisan in the middle of the Edo period. The innovator used the new technique all by itself, whereas Nagatsune combined it with flat inlay using gold, silver, and shakudo to add more ornamental elements to his work. Kashima Susumu, NBTHK Token Bijutsu


Nagatsune left behind a sketchbook with a vast array of ideas and designs, to which he would annotate how he intended to sign a piece along with the various materials and inlays that would be required. The last great master and possibly the best of them all was Kano Natsuo was in the possession of this sketchbook, and he derived much of his inspiration from Nagatsune and copied his katakiri-bori technique and designs. The sketchbook has luckily survived and copies are available for purchase today.

It can be summarized that Natsuo first learned from earlier masterful works as well as from works of more recent masters of various schools such as Goto, Yokoya and Nara. He also studied the works of Kono Haruaki, Goto Ichijo, and Toryusai Kiyotoshi, and mastered the best of different workmanships to establish his own style and school. It seems obvious that Natsuo's utmost respect was gained by Ichinomiya Nagatsune because he was found to have owned the basic design sketch book drawn by Nagatsune. NBTHK Token Bijutsu English

In particular, [Natsuo] admired Nagatsune’s work, and collected his sketch books, and he supposedly studied these all of the time. This kozuka uses Nagatsune’s special style which has a one quarter polished surface or ji, and has katakiri-bori, and he used all kinds of colors with a gold hirazogan (high inlay) technique. This shows Nagatsune’s elegant style, and has Natsuo’s famed empty spaces, and has simple sharp curves, and this shows poetic and fantasy images. Iida Toshihisa, NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Nagatsune died in 1786 at the age of 66, leaving behind fantastic works, many of which display a whimsical sense of humor on top of his pioneering style and great skill.

Ichinomiya Nagatsune and Nagayoshi Fuchigashira Kashira

Ichinomiya Nagayoshi

There are two smiths with a name read as Nagayoshi in the Ichinomiya school. The first is said to be the son of Nagatsune and signed as 長義. This smith later moved to Osaka but his birth and death dates are not known.

The second Nagayoshi signed as 長美, and was born in 1756. This makes him 37 years younger than Nagatsune, and this would seem to make him one of Nagatsune's sons, but he in his documents referred to Nagatsune as his grandfather. This could be the case if his biological father was adopted by Nagatsune.

It is this smith that inherited the Ichinomiya school as the second master. The details are a bit fuzzy in regards to these two Nagayoshi, Sesko writes that this smith may be the third generation, however it is clear that he is a direct student of Nagatsune and it is also possible that the other Nagayoshi who moved to Osaka departed the school for one reason or another before Nagatsune died, or they are possibly the same person.

This Nagayoshi lived to 78 years of age and died in 1825. After him there were another thirteen notable Ichinomiya smiths, and the school was successful until the end of the samurai era, when all things like this came to an end.

Tokubetsu Hozon Ichinomiya Nagatsune and Nagayoshi FuchigashiraIchinomiya Nagatsune and Nagayoshi Fuchigashira OrigamiIchinomiya Nagatsune and Nagayoshi Fuchigashira Sketchbook Page

Tokubetsu Hozon Fuchigashira

This wonderful piece is taken directly from a design present in Nagatsune's sketchbook. Furthermore, it is an unusual gassaku work, that is joint work of two artists. In this case, it is by teacher and student, Nagatsune and Nagayoshi, the first two generations of the Ichinomiya school.

This Nagayoshi is the second mentioned above, signing 長美. Since he was born in 1756 and Nagatsune died in 1789, we can likely assign this work around 1780 near the end of Nagatsune's life.

Katakiri-bori is said to show its level of skill in the smoothness of its execution, which implies speed and confidence in the chiselling. If you make a mistake in this, you are likely to be throwing away the piece and starting again. Circles are just about the hardest thing you can make, because you need to access the piece from 360 degrees during the execution as the chisel must maintain its cutting direction and get make a full revolution around the piece. We look at these shapes and we are pleased by the geometric simplicity but we rarely stop to think, how do they do it? If you do and imagine a chisel in your hands and if you were to make these carvings, the difficulty of what seemed previously simple will suddenly spring to mind for you.

In the execution of katakiri-bori, Nagatsune is at a peer level to Somin and both of these smiths together are only beaten by Natsuo. What makes this work remarkable then is that the teacher Nagatsune has displayed great confidence in the work of his student, so that he would display his own work side by side with his student's, each bearing their own signature. In this way he seems to be challenging the viewer to differentiate the skill of their technique. Though Nagayoshi did not go on to achieve the fame of Nagatsune — to be fair, Nagatsune is one of the pillars of fittings manufacture and only a handful of artists have achieved his level of skill and fame — his execution in this subject is extremely advanced. If Nagatsune himself did not think so then this piece would surely not exist.

Nagayoshi signed the fuchi on its side, and on the opposite has added additional katakiri-bori. Both fuchi and kashira are executed on shibuichi ground which shows gorgeous crystalline effects and has gold, shakudo and copper embellishments. They also carefully used two karat grades of gold in order to differentiate the flames (more silvery colored) from the tama themselves (deep gold from higher karat). The gold surface seems scratched at first but this is not so but is a deliberate finishing technique to provide a matte surface (if it were not finished like this before inlay then the other elements and the ground would show the same effect, but they don't).

As described above, this is Nagatsune's most typical and heartfelt style, and in combination with this being teacher/student gassaku it has to be understood as something of a final exam and a passing of the torch to share his trademark style like this. In making the colored metal inlay, the inlay is first attached to the subject and then it is carved into. In this piece we can see this at work as the gold elements feature katakiri-bori within them, indicating they are rather deep. The smith would risk puncturing through the gold, copper and shakudo elements doing this if they were made with simple foil. Again these are small details that our brain can easily gloss over because the combination of all of these details forms a tapestry which registers as interesting and beautiful. But if you stop to think of the technical details of assembling and carving these it is really quite magnificent.

The design is of hoshu-no-tama, the flaming pearl of wisdom. This is the same jewel that is often found clutched by dragons in Goto school works and goes back to Chinese painting. In Nagatsune's sketchbook the design is illustrated along with the various inlay metals and where they should be used. He has attached a signature to this which is a very long mei stating Ichinomiya Echizen no Daijo Minamoto Nagatsune (kao) so this allows us to date the design to the years between receiving the Daijo title (1770) and his death in 1786. So this design was fairly recent when he returned to it in making this fuchigashira with his student.

Of additional note, the fuchi being made quite tall is a sign that it was intended for use on Satsuma style koshirae. The gold shitodome are original and unusually feature nanako. They had to be made to a very specific width in order to precisely and perfectly fit three rows of nanako. There are some small signs of wear on the fuchigashira as it was made and intended for use, though it is overall in excellent condition. It is Tokubetsu Hozon for its quality and authenticity. These papers are dated Heisei 28 (2016), so these were hidden until recently. They could undergo a careful cleaning of the katakiri-bori to remove some detritus that has accumulated in some parts from the passange of time. This is not seen by hand but under 10x magnification.

This fuchigashira comes in a custom box and would be an excellent addition to any collection of fittings. Gassaku works are unusual to begin with, let alone for a great master like Nagatsune and showing to the world that his grandson as achieved all of his potential.

Sketchbook Highlight