Ishiguro Masayoshi and Masaaki Futakoromono

Ishiguro Masayoshi and Masaaki

periodLate Edo (ca. 1836)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon and Hozon Tosogu Futakoromono
fuchi mei行年七六十五才 · 寿翁斎石黒政美「花押」
Gyōnen Rokujugo Sai · Juōsai Ishiguro Masayoshi (kao)
tsuba mei石黒政明「花押」
Ishiguro Masaaki (kao)
price$25,000 -new-

The Ishiguro school’s detailed representations of plants and animals are second to none and they are known for luxurious and gorgeous designs full of life and beauty. These ideas were planted by the school founder Masatsune, and then his students took them to the next level. The Ishiguro harmonized with the tastes of the time and their work mirrors contemporary paintings of natural scenes. These themes frequently represent birds and peaceful scenes of great beauty. Their primary material is gold on shakudo, but they took it to flamboyant and gorgeous styles which were distinct from the work of their ancestors in Yokoya.

Masatsune was a student of Kato Naotsune and Yanagawa Naomasa. He took his name from one character of each of his teachers. Masatsune was born in 1760 and his Ishiguro school is a direct offshoot of the Yokoya school, as Naomasa was the best direct student of Yokoya Somin.

Though Masatsune was far above average in skill, he trained two extremely and equally talented masters in Masayoshi and Masaaki that would stand at the very pinnacle of Edo period tosogu craftsmanship. During their time the Ishiguro school became quite famous and featured many other highly skilled smiths, including two additional generations of Masatsune, Koretsune, Yoshitaka, Moriaki, Masaharu, Teruaki, Koreyoshi, Yoshitaka, Yoshitsugu, Masahiro, Masachika, and Teruaki. When Masatsune gave out characters of his name to those he taught, he used the Masa (政) character for his students and Tsune (常) for his blood relatives. So in this was we know that Koretsune is among the children of Masatsune.

Ishiguro Masatsune
Ishiguro Masatsune

Masatsune lived between 1760 and 1828, used the Go of Jumyo (壽命) after the age of 61. He died at the age of 69. The second generation Masatsune took over the school, but this did not last long and is likely due to his early death. This made Ishiguro Masayoshi the third head master and recorded this fact in his signature. The final master of the school was the third generation Masatsune.

Shodai Masatsune had what seems to be two sons, Koretsune who was the oldest, and the nidai Masatsune who originally had a name of Masamori. Koretsune did not inherit the school which seems to also indicate an early death for him, possibly before the Shodai Masatsune himself died. No birth and death dates are known for the 2nd generation Masatsune either. So it would seem unusual to have two generations of Masatsune working at the same time, and an alternate explanation for this is simply that Koretsune signed daimei for his father. Or as above, he may not have existed and is a transcription error in later works of the Shodai’s original name.

Masayoshi signed into his mei that he was the 3rd generation Ishiguro master on some pieces. So it seems then that Koretsune, then Masatsune first generation, then Masatsune second generation all died in rapid succession. This left Masayoshi standing as the senior student and the inheritor of the school while the third generation Masatsune was too young to do so.

One of the direct students of the first generation Masatsune was Masahiro, who was given the responsibility of training the third generation Masatsune after the deaths of the first and second generation Masatsune. The third generation Masatsune originally had the name of Shigetsune and is the son of the second generation Masatsune. When Shigetsune was old enough he changed his name to Masatsune and took over the Ishiguro school from Masayoshi some time in the middle 1800s as its fourth master. He would work until the Meiji era.

Ishiguro Masayoshi and Masaaki Futakoromono Masayoshi Presentation

Ishiguro Masayoshi

This early nineteenth-century master who studied under Naoyoshi of the Sano school and Masatsune of the Ishiguro family, has reproduced on this small field, with technical perfection, a picture glowing with the color and beauty of spring in its exuberance. Description of a Masayoshi tsuba, Japanese Sword Mounts

Ishiguro Masayoshi was born in 1772 with the name Shōzō (庄蔵), and was the adopted son of Okamoto Yūsen. Yūsen was a doctor from Satsuma province who was trained in Western style medicine.

When Masayoshi began his apprenticeship, he started out first as a student of Sano Naoyoshi (佐野直美 or 直好) of the Yanagawa school, itself a branch of Somin’s Yokoya school. After this he trained under Masatsune. Both of these masters granted him one character of their names which is how we got to Masayoshi.


Masayoshi is generally considered the highest skilled of the Ishiguro school. He is rivalled only by his fellow student Masaaki, who both outshone their great teacher Masatsune.

Ishiguro Masayoshi [...] together with his fellow student Masaaki (政明), formed the unrivalled pair of this school. NBTHK Token Bijutsu Japanese

Masatsune was succeeded by two following generations. The artisan known by the name Koretsune was the second son of the Shodai (first generation). The most outstanding artisan who came out of the Shodai’s studio was Masayoshi, born An’ei 1 (1772).

Masayoshi did not merely faithfully inherit his master’s elaborate style and workmanship but further advanced such characteristics, in his pursuit of aesthetic perfection, to create the effect of viewing the most richly colorful painting spread out fully in the composition. His motifs were numerous in variety and included the bird of prey, autumn grasses with butterflies, peony flowers and a golden pheasant, a pine tree and longtails, and so on. The design were presented on the shakudo-nanako ground or on the (copper) suaka-ishime ground where fine chisel engraving and coloring created by the use of various metals such as gold, silver, shakudo, suaka and rogin, were executed to produce the gorgeous tsuba. It is a shame that these pieces went somewhat too far in the pursuit of technical elaborateness, but the outcoming dazzling brilliance was the most outstanding skill of this artist. NBTHK Token Bijutsu English

Masayoshi is thought to have had a close relationship with the Satsuma Shimazu clan, as he made tosogu for Satsuma style koshirae and modern opinion is that he was the Satsuma Shimazu clan’s okakae smith (working directly for the daimyo) though he remained resident in Edo. As well Satsuma was his province of birth.


Since historical times, the Satsuma clan had a reputation for producing very serious or dedicated warriors. This is illustrated very well in the mid-Edo period by the clan’s original Jigenryu kenpo school. This school’s style focused their sword fighting techniques on the first stroke: the idea was to hit with a very intense stroke which was likened to tearing the air, and just one stroke was intended to kill their opponent. This was a very cruel fighting style. Most of Satsuma’s koshirae are made to support this fighting style. The tsuka are thick and long, there is not much tapering in the center of the hilt (ryugo); the fuchi is thick, the same as the kashira; most of the koshirae do not use same skin; the tsukamaki style is usually hira-maki (use of two strings) or katate-maki (use of only one string) and there are usually no menuki. The school’s philosophy is that a sword is a weapon for attacking the enemy, and not for protecting yourself.

From this, the function of the tsuba is only to protect the swordsman’s hand from slipping, so many of their tsuba are small. In addition, the school’s teaching was not to use a sword rashly, and usually the saya and tsuka were tied together with a string. When a katana was drawn, the katana with saya was withdrawn from the obi and then used to attack an enemy. Adapting to this fighting style meant that the Satsuma koshirae didn’t have orikaeshi shaped tsuno (hooks), but just a smooth bump-like projection to make it easier to pull out the saya from the obi. NBTHK Juyo Tosogu

There are currently 28 items by Masayoshi that are Juyo and six Tokubetsu Juyo Tosogu. This is an extremely high count. Only Kano Natsuo and Goto Ichijo have more Tokubetsu Juyo to their name.

Masayoshi used some variations in stroke styles for his signature, so close study is needed on any particular example. His works appear in various museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Walters Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Victoria and Albert museum and many Japanese museums. Single tsuba by him can fetch prices in excess of $80,000 and I once viewed a daisho set of tosogu that was priced at 20 million yen (at the time, $200,000).

He used the gō Jugakusai (寿岳斎), Jugakusai (寿寉斎), Jurōsai (寿老斎) and Juōsai (寿翁斎) and died in the second year of Bunkyū (1862). As a side note, his son Shuki (1807-1862) became a well known painter and used the family name Okamoto which came from his father’s birth name. He showed strong influence from his father’s tosogu work.

Ishiguro Masayoshi and Masaaki Futakoromono Tsuba FrontIshiguro Masayoshi and Masaaki Futakoromono Tsuba Back

Ishiguro Masaaki

Masaaki’s first name was Sadayoshi (or Sadakichi) (定吉) and he also used the Go of Mokuzusai (木惠清). It’s thought that he lived from 1813 to 1875 approximately and left behind possibly only one dated work (1851). There is not much biographical information available on him, and his works are comparatively rare when we look at his peer Masayoshi.

The Met Museum has a daisho made jointly by Ishiguro Masaaki (dai) and Hagiya Katsuhira (sho), which gives another rare detail on his life that he collaborated with other artists.

Masaaki as stated above is the peer of Masayoshi and equivalent to him in skill. Due to the rarity of his work there are only 18 Juyo works to date by him. His work style is similar to Masayoshi but he representation of birds of prey is noticeably different and characteristic of his hand. Some references say that he trained a second generation but from his life span it would seem doubtful.

Masaaki is said to be born in 1813 or 1815 and Masatsune died in 1828. He would have received the Masa character from Masatsune then as a very young man. The Edo Kinko Meifu was written in 1810 and at the time the Ishiguro school was just about to bloom, and Masaaki is not recorded (he would have been three years old).

The Kinko Tanki was written in 1839 and at this time Masaaki was listed as one of the students of Masatsune, with the personal name of Sadayoshi/Sadakichi. At this time he was 26 and already has many students of his own: Moriaki (an adopted son), Yoshiaki, Hiroaki, Haruaki, Takaaki, Teruaki, and Mitsuaki are all named. This list accounts for more students than Masayoshi had at the time. So from all of this we can see Masaaki became independent quite young, both by getting part of Masatsune's name, and that he was a vigorous artist. He was responsible for making his own work and for training more students than the senior smith in the school at such a young age.

Masaaki was, with his fellow student Masayoshi, one of the best students of Masatsune. He was born around Bunka ten (1813) and lived in the Sakashita-cho neighborhood of Kanda district. His year of death is unknown but it is said that he was still alive in the early years of the Meiji era.

Masaaki continued the fine and delicate, highly elegant expression of Masatsune but further refined them, an approach that resulted in works that are even more splendid than those of the grandmaster. Masaaki not only took over Masatsune’s characteristic composition of flowers and birds, he basically also adopted the signature style of his master, and because we can see so many common features we can confirm that Masaaki was an outstanding talent and that he truly continued the art of the Ishiguro School that was established by Masatsune (shodai). He also trained many students himself, for example Moriaki (守明), and was thus an artist who greatly contributed to the rise of the Ishiguro school. NBTHK Ishiguro Exhibition

Ishiguro Masayoshi and Masaaki Futakoromono Masaaki OrigamiIshiguro Masayoshi and Masaaki Futakoromono Masayoshi Origami

Ishiguro Masayoshi and Masaaki Futakoromono

The Ishiguro school is famous for gold and shakudo, but these artists were also adept with iron and shibuichi. These two works are made in shibuichi and so are fairly rare in the overall repertoire of the Ishiguro school. However, they follow the model of the example above by Ishiguro Masatsune. They are finished in ishime and feature birds (I think sparrows) in copper, silver, shakudo, and gold along with various flowers and plants in gold and shakudo.

The Masaaki tsuba is Tokubetsu Hozon and the Masayoshi fuchigashira is Hozon, but I guarantee it will pass Tokubetsu Hozon or a full refund will be issued should someone want this paper.

I found these two pieces in Japan from different sources. Masaaki is particularly difficult to find anything let alone a tsuba. The work style, the shibuichi base, the finishing and the selection of multicolored metals for the birds matches exactly, to the point where it might be argued that they were made to be together. They retain separate boxes but I had a new box made to unite them as I thought it made a very nice set with the rare style and the two masters of the Ishiguro school represented.

These were at some point mounted and the tsuba could use with very careful cleanup, but I chose to leave well enough alone.

Additionally, Masayoshi in making the fuchigashira added his age and his go Juōsai. He made this at the age of 65, which also lets us date this work to 1838. This as a result is a rare bonus and shows his style at the end of his life, as he would die four or five years later.

I hope that someone will treasure these works and understand the rarity and unusual chance that both Ishiguro masters can be represented side by side with the same theme.