Arisada — Nara School Soroi KanaguArisada — Nara School

periodLate Edo (ca. 1850)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu Soroi Kanagu
price$7,000 -new-

If we were to break the Edo period Tosogu artisans into three general groups, we would have the traditional lineage of the Goto and their satellite artisans first. We would then have the Yokoya who descend from Somin, himself a Goto artisan who broke the mould of the Goto traditions and thus is the origin of most of the major machibori schools. Thirdly we would have the Nara school which is thought to be founded by metal artisans who were involved in the construction of temples and shrines, in particular the Nikko Toshogu and the Edo Kanei-ji where some of the Shoguns are interred.

The school founder is said to to be Toshiteru who worked from around 1600 up to his death in the 1629, though he may not have made any tosogu. As per the school name, had his origin in Yamato Nara. They worked for the Shogunate as did the Goto, as can be seen from their efforts in constructing shrines to honor the remains of the Tokugawa Shoguns. The various metal objects and ornaments on these shrines would be the art forms that fell under their domain.

We also know from extant documents that the Nara family or school basically split into two lines, namely those of the kazari-shi [i.e. metalworkers] and those of the nuri-shi [i.e. lacquer artists], whereas the former used the hereditary first name Shichirōzaemon (七郎左衛門) and the latter Hachirōzaemon (八郎左衛門). But both lineages worked for the bakufu and the former ran the production of sword fittings as a sideline. This separation in the field of functions, as well as the work on the mentioned temples, is also mentioned in the Sōken-kishō. Markus Sesko, Kinko Kodogu

In practice the first tosogu maker is thought to be Nara Toshimune, and his son Toshiharu is the first one to really solidify the Nara style. He worked until the age of 85 and worked throughout the middle 1600s.

There were two Nara Toshinaga smiths, signing with different kanji. The third mainline master used 利永 and his work was eclipsed by the second Toshinaga who signed 利寿.

This second Toshinaga is probably the Nara school's greatest craftsman, working from the late 1600s until the early 1700s. His renown is such that he is grouped as one of the Nara San Saku together with Tsuchiya Yasuchika and Sugiura Joi. He is one of only a few tosogu artists who has work that achieved Tokubetsu Juyo, and as well as Juyo Bijutsuhin and Juyo Bunkazai. As a side note the group of makers who have achieved Jubi are: Hikozo, Goto Joshin, Goto Tokujo, Goto Ichijo, Sugiura Joi, Kaneie, Matashichi, Umetada Mitsutada, Umetada Myoju, Kikuoka Mitsuyuki, Kano Natsuo, Shozui, Somin, Nara Toshinaga, Yasuchika, and Kanshiro Nagahisa. Those achieving Juyo Bunkazai are: Donin, Ichijo, Kaneie, Matashichi, Myoju, Nobuie, Somin, Goto Yujo, Goto Teijo, Nara Toshinaga, and Yasuchika. So from this list you can see that the number of smiths who obtained both rankings is quite small (Myoju, Ichijo, Somin, Kaneie, Matashichi, Yasuchika and Toshinaga).

As Nara Toshinaga is one of the all time greats, it is natural that the school peaked around this time. However Sugiura Joi who was likely his student and first signed using the name Nagaharu, and afterwards changed to Joi. As can be seen from the list above, he also is one of the very few makers who have obtained both Juyo Bijutsuhin and Juyo Bunkazai levels in tosogu. Working at the same time as Joi is Yasuchika, another artist of the Nara school. Yasuchika's work is relatively peerless as he was both immensely talented and built a distinctive style and school (Tsuchiya). Furthermore he was one of the primary influences on the great master Kano Natsuo. Shozui who is also listed above, is another maker of the Nara school who went on to found his own school (the Hamano school).

The main line of Nara continues with the fourth master Toshimitsu, and after this Toshikatsu, and then the 6th generation master Toshinao. Toshinao was hired back by the Shogunate as a metal artisan and as a result apparently left his tosogu work unsigned. Following him was the 7th and last mainline master Toshitsune who worked up into the Meiji period.

Nara school works frequently use copper for the ground than shakudo as the Goto and Yoshioka schools would do (though shakudo works do exist). Tsuba by Toshinaga are almost all iron and there are kozuka in shibuichi as well as copper, and brass is another metal that is used in this school.

Taking their inspiration directly from nature, the Nara artists depicted birds and insects, flowers and trees, with a grace which makes one marvel at the complete mastery which these metal-craftsmen had over their tools and the unresponsive mediums with which they had to work. Historical and legendary subjects made their appeal to many, and these are portrayed in detail, generally amid natural surroundings of real beauty.

Joi's work is characterized generally by the use of a recessed relief or intaglio relievato which gives the effect of the object rising out of the metal. His surface treatments are remarkable, especially in the case of copper-bronze... The Japanese Sword and its Decoration, Field Museum of Natural History

Arisada — Nara School Soroi Kanagu Elements
Arisada — Nara School Soroi Kanagu Kozuka
Arisada — Nara School Soroi Kanagu Tsuba FrontArisada — Nara School Soroi Kanagu Tsuba BackArisada — Nara School Soroi Kanagu OrigamiArisada — Nara School Soroi Kanagu Lid

Tokubetsu Hozon Arisada — Nara School Soroi Kanagu

This tsuba has an additional attribution by Kawaguchi Noboru who is a tosogu expert and the author of the Tsuba Taikan among other works.

He dated the work to the end of the Edo period to Kato Shobei who worked under the name Arisada. He was a retired samurai who made fittings in Nagoya. As a samurai, he served under the Owari Tokugawa who were one of the three main branches of the Tokugawa family, and their power was centred in Nagoya (not coincidentally). After dedicating his life as a samurai to the Tokugawa, Arisada then made tosogu for them in his retirement until his death in 1863.

Kawaguchi states that he was an expert in producing basket weaving style tosogu, and this is seen in the Nara school so this is most likely where he gets his training. I'm not sure what allowed Kawaguchi to make the direct attribution other than that he did it in 1954 and this is almost halfway between the time of creation of these tosogu and the present day (Arisada died around 1863).

The NBTHK attributed the work to Nara school, and as it is mumei in Nara style it is understandable that a conservative judgment from the NBTHK can't go a lot further than that.

This set is quite remarkable for its quiet dignity as well as its completeness. It contains 8 or 9 elements (depending if you count fuchigashira pairs count as one or two elements):

  • Tsuba
  • Kozuka
  • Menuki
  • Fuchigashira
  • Kurigata
  • Koiguchi
  • Kojiri
  • Kuchigane

This set remains a very nice collectible in the box, ranked at Tokubetsu Hozon and illustrating the Nara style basket weaving very well. It is decorated with bell flowers, and kiku. Additionally it can be used to mount up a wakizashi very beautifully.

In addition to the Tokubetsu Hozon papers, this set has an extensive hakogaki by Kawaguchi Noburo, written in 1954. He attributes this work to Arisada.

有定ハ徳川期名古屋最後之名工ニシテ本名加藤庄兵衛幹止斎有定ト号ス素銅あじろハ 作モ得意トスル所鉄赤銅又其技工極メテ見事ナリ文久二年十月八日死ス名古屋市中区日之出町徳林寺ニ葬レ 幹止斎有定ハ網代彫を得意として最も名高く無銘而し本九所物揃い其之傑作也 昭和甲午廿九年四月 大臥山人川口陟識

Arisada wa Tokugawa-ki Nagoya saigo no meikō nishite. Honmei Katō Shōbei, Kanshisai Arisada to gō-su. Suaka ajiro wa saku mo tokui to suru tokoro tetsu shakudō mata sono gikō kiwamete midokoro nari. Bunkyū ninen jūgatsu yōka shi-su. Nagoya-shi Naka-ku Hinode-machi ni hōmure. Kanshisai Arisada wa ajiro-bori o tokui toshite mottomo nadakaku. Mumei shikashite hon kokonodokoro soroi sono kessaku nari. Shōwa kinoe-uma nijūkunen shigatsu Taiga-sanjin Kawaguchi Noboru shirusu

Arisada was the last renowned Nagoya-based (kinkō) master of the Tokugawa era. His real name was Katō Shōbei and his pen name Kanshisai Arisada. He specialized in a wickerwork design in suaka but he also made skilfully executed and very gorgeous works of iron and shakudō. He died on the eighth day of the tenth month of Bunkyū two (1862) and is buried at the Tokurinji in the Hinode neighborhood of the Naka Ward of the city of Nagoya. Kanshisai Arisada specialized in wickerwork carvings, for which he is most famous for. This en suite nine piece set of fittings is unsigned but a masterwork of his hand. Written by Taiga-sanjin, Kawaguchi Noboru, in April of 1954, year of the horse.

Arisada Soroi Kanagu