Omori Eiman Daisho TsubaOmori Eiman

periodEdo (ca. 1790)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu Daisho Tsuba
mei大森英満鑴 藤原國次鍛之 · Omori Eiman horyu (carved) - Fujiwara Kunitsugu kore-o-kitae (forged)
ura-mei白川楽翁書 · Shirakawa Rakuō sho
dai9.6 cm x 9.3 cm x 0.65 cm
sho7.6 cm x 7.2 cm x 0.6 cm
price$7,500 $8,800 sale!

Before beginning, a note on names. Omori Teruhide is better known in Japan as Omori Eishu. This is in fact the better way of referring to him, with Teruhide being the alternate pronunciation of Eishu, but more commonly understood in the west. Omori Terumitsu, the subject of this listing, similarly can be referred to as Omori Eiman and it is probably more appropriate to do so. I will however use Terumitsu herein to maintain compatibility with various English language books and translations.

The Omori school is famous for its carving and particular for deeply carved wave patterns. Its roots are with a swordsman: Omori Shirobei from Sagami (Soshu). He began making fittings around 1700 but it is his son Omori Shigemitsu who is recognized as founder of the school so he is likely to be the first who received high level training as he studied under Masayoshi Ichirobei and Yasuchika of the Nara school. He died in 1726 and his work is all in Nara style. His son Terumasa (Omori Eisho) studied under Yokoya Somin and Yanagawa Naomasa but his work is not as highly regarded as those two. His nephew Teruhide though would rise to eminent levels and be considered the greatest of the Omori masters. Teruhide actually had a samurai as a student, Chizuoka Hisanori, who was a retainer of the Mito Daimyo. He gained a fairly high level of skill studying under Teruhide.

One of the styles we see in the Omori school aside from the famous waves patterns is the traditional pairing of botan (peony) with shi-shi (also referred to simply as lions, fu-dogs, or lion-dogs). These symbols are quite ancient, with the shi-shi having originated in India, passing through China and arriving in Japan in the Nara period (roughly a 1300 years ago). They are Buddhist designs invoking Monju the Bodhisattva of wisdom, which are symbols of protection and power. The botan is considered the Queen of Flowers and thus associates well with the shi-shi, or King of Animals. We also see the shi-shi in front of temples and shrines, where they serve to scare off demons (with an open mouth) and keep in good spirits (with a closed mouth).

Teruhide was born in 1730 with the personal name of Kisoji, and he is also known with an alternate pronunciation of his name: Eishu. In Japan this is more frequently used, though in the west we usually use Teruhide. Though he was the nephew of Terumasa he was adopted somewhere along the line and is considered the second mainline master of the Omori school and its finest artisan.

His enhancement to the wave pattern style began by Terumasa was to make extremely deep carvings and undercuts, which had to take a considerably longer time due to the amount of material which had to be cut away to produce the dramatic three dimensional sculpture. These wave pattern items usually feature some kind of sea creatures and can be quite stunning.

One of his famous techniques is makie-zogan which involves hammering gold into the existing shibuichi ground and afterwards polished to a high gloss.

He continued the style of his father [... enhancing it with ...] a so-called "nashiji-zōgan" (梨子象嵌) or "makie-zōgan" (蒔絵象嵌) technique where fragments of gold foil are hammered on the prepared surface. The latter is polished and so a magnificent effect is created which reminds us of the makie lacquer technique and some style elements from paintings. Markus Sesko, Kinko Kodogu

Omori Eishu when he died in 1798 at the age of 69 passed the master position to Eiman, sometimes called Hidemitsu or Terumitsu. He was the 5th son of Teruhide and worked in the late 1700s. Eiman signed with two styles, one of which featured an abbreviated "mori" character. Eiman is ranked Joko for superior skill in the Kinko Meikan.

For some reason when Eiman died he never appointed a successor so the Omori mainline officially ends with him, though Omori Mitsutoki was in turn his primary student and probably would have been the candidate for becoming the 4th master of the school. His skill certainly speaks to this opinion.

The legacy of the Omori school threw a large shadow of influence and the waves pattern work that Teruhide made famous was copied by many artists who came after him. Many of these copies had no signature or had signatures removed, and both types were targets for adding fake Teruhide signatures. These fakes are quite common and in spite of the bad signatures they are often passed along as "Omori school" works or even demand a fair amount of money just because the style is so popular. Though Teruhide made the waves style famous, his work in the other typical Omori styles seems to be at least or even more common than waves style.

Omori Eiman Dai TsubaOmori Eiman Dai Tsuba
Omori Eiman Daisho Tsuba OrigamiOmori Eiman Daisho Tsuba Moji Reference

Tokubetsu Hozon Omori Eiman Daisho Tsuba

These are very unusual works for the Omori school who mostly worked in soft metals. In this case the base plates were forged by a swordsmith, Fujiwara Kunitsugu, and then carved by Eiman. It is the first time I saw a joint work of a kinko artist and a swordsmith. The work retains both of their names, and further references the calligraphy of Shirakawa Rakuo as the inspiration. They are quite large and done in the shape of kanji characters spelling out Chūkō 忠孝. More on that later.

Shirakawa Rakuo was the art name of a daimyo, Matsudaira Sadanobu. The Matsudaira clan is the origin clan of the Tokugawa (Ieyasu was a member of the Matsudaira, and changed his name to Tokugawa and this was the act that founded the Tokugawa clan). The Matsudaira then are inevitably linked by blood and heritage with the Tokugawa throughout the Edo period.

Sadanobu was born in 1759 to the Tayasu branch of the Tokugawa clan and he was educated and raised with the understanding he may become Shogun one day. His family's lifestyle was austere and he was educated along Confucian principles. Though he was well suited to rule, the Tayasu were politically defeated by the head Roju Okitsugu. They never saw their full ambitions met for Sadanobu as he was cut off from adoption by the Shogun Tokugawa Ieharu. When this became clear that it could never happen, he was instead adopted by Matsudaira Sadakuni which led to him being given the Shirakawa fief in Mutsu province to rule at 24 years of age.

Shirakawa had endured much famine and difficulty at this time. To understand the magnitude of the problem dropped in his lap, this domain was rated to produce 110,000 koku of rice (one koku is enough to feed one man for one year) and at the time he stepped in, 106,000 koku of production (over 95%) had been lost. Sadanobu involved himself in repairing the economy and rice production of the domain was able to turn the fortunes of the around completely and bring it back to stability, gaining him a great reputation as a wise administrator.

Matsudaira Sadanobu (Wikipedia)
Matsudaira Sadanobu (Wikipedia)

Due to his excellence in ruling Shirakawa and his reform of the finances of this province, Sadanobu was appointed to a post as Roju, one of the senior direct advisors to the Shogun Tokugawa Ienari. He eventually became the chief among the Roju so the top advisor to the Shogunate and one of the most influential powers in Japan as a result. He was the main author of the Kansei Reforms which were meant to correct for the reckless civil and financial policies of the previous Shogunate under Ieharu and its chief Roju Tanma Okitsugu (the very man who had blocked his family's attempt to see Sadanobu become Shogun).

These reforms were fairly successful, but the constant political maneuvering and resistance he encountered saw him retire from civil service with the quote one should retire before discontent sets in..

Sadanobu was also somewhat of a renaissance man, due to his calligraphy and the many books he wrote. Posthumously a work he wrote was found and published entitled, Daimyō Katagi (Portrait of a Daimyo) which pokes fun at daimyo culture by satire and parody of the main character who is a bit obsessed with bun and bu (civil and martial arts). This no doubt reflects his deep education and possibly some natural cynicism developed during the political maneuverings which surrounded him throughout his life.

Though he had officially retired, Sadanobu continued to exercise influence through contact with his successors and others in the Shogunate until he died in 1829. Sadanobu actually destroyed his copy of Daimyo Katagi before his death, possibly fearing repercussions from his peers and the Shogunate for himself and his family. However, his retainers had secretly made copies and these were handed down through several families in Japan in secret until the modern period.

These tsubas are based on his calligraphy according to Omori Eiman. These were made during the lifetime of Sadanobu so I think this is very plausible. The general style is called Moji (文字) and in this case the two characters side by side are read as Chūkō(忠孝), which means loyalty and filial piety. As Sadanobu was trained to be a Confucian scholar and was an ideal ruler we can understand that he held these ideals close to his heart. However, we must remember he was also quite wise and his satirical works remind us that he had a fine sense of irony. So there is a second reading here that is simply satirical, as in saying these are important virtues however one should not simply follow them for the reason that they are virtues. That is, blind adherence to rules for the sake of rules or appearance was the major flaw of his character in Portrait of a Daimyo. My instinct is that some of that wry sense of humor has found its way into his calligraphy in that he would not respect someone who paid lip service to the ideals.

We see this kind of thing around us constantly, where people for instance may pay lip service to their religion and say they are a devout follower of it, yet in their actions do not support any of the ideals of said religion. They may say they worship ideals of freedom and yet their actions are to inhibit others freedom of speech or expression at any turn. This kind of hypocritical behavior can be found in anyone who pays ardent devotion to a simplistic representation of a concept, without taking the concept to heart and living out the actual ideals of the concept.

They are documented in the book Tsuba Kodogu Gadai Jiten and a translation of the entry follows. At the time they were put into this book the patina had been severely damaged as can be seen in the book.

I had the patina repaired in Japan due to the poor condition they were in at the time, but unfortunately the person tasked with this did not do a very good job and it needs to be redone. In hand it looks better than the photos, but it wasn't done right. I think these should be restored by Brian Tschernega or Ford Hallam and will be much better after, and I will pay the cost of restoration if the buyer chooses this.

Engravings of characters, or tsuba which are entirely formed as a character in katachibori, started to emerge at the end of the Muromachi period and were made in large numbers until the bakumatsu era. These tsuba with characters are referred to as moji-tsuba (文字鐔).

As for early masters, Nobuie (信家) is famous for making many tsuba with inscriptions, many of them referring to warrior-related proverbs, for example menpeki kunen (面壁九年, “nine years in front of a wall,” referring to Daruma), un wa ten ni ari futei (運有天不定, “fate lies with heaven and everything is uncertain”), kiremusubi-tachi no shita koso jigoku nare (切り結ぶ太刀の下こそ地獄なれ, “to be under crossed swords is hell”), zenki (禅機, “Zen powers/enlightenment through meditation”), or shosei-kan (処世観, “being aware of your conduct”). By the mid Edo period, Yasuchika (安親) made some powerful tsuba with positive and negative inscriptions of katsujinken (活人剣) and satsujinken (殺人刀), i.e. “the live giving and the live taking sword,” and during the bakumatsu era, inscriptions of classical songs and poems, old proverbs, motivational slogans, and morale boosting phrases were very popular. So we can see the changes in time being reflected on what inscription is to be found on a tsuba. Incidentally, morale boosting phrases are obviously very often found on Mito-tsuba.

The work introduced here is a daishō pair interpreted in katachibori that consists of a kawari-kakugata and a kawari-marugata piece with the round one representing the character kō (孝, “filial piety”) and the angular one representing the character chū (忠, “loyalty”). The characters have been turned into a design and are with their thick and bold strokes very powerful.

The signature tells us that the design of the characters go back to Shirakawa Rakuō (白川楽翁), which was the pen name of daimyō Matsudaira Sadanobu (松平定信, 1783-1759), and loyalty and filial piety were virtues that were held in very high esteem during the bakumatsu era. There are also several Mito-tsuba extant which state in the mei that their inscriptions go back to the hands of the local lord Rekkō and the Mito scholar Fujita Tōko (藤田東湖, 1806-1855). And although the reliability of such claims that very tsuba inscriptions base on the calligraphy of famous personalities remains unclear, it is very much possible that these claims are indeed true. Tsuba Kodogu Gadai Jiten by Numata Kanji

They need further loving care at this point from someone who understands iron to see that they age gracefully from this point onward and the patina evens out over time. The right collector will know what to do with these going forward, as there are care procedures for iron tsuba which will over time bring the patina back to better condition naturally. If someone wishes to pursue this themselves via the long TLC method rather than getting them repatinated, I will adjust the price down considerably. So it is a nice opportunity to get some unusual works by a good artist if someone is willing to take the task on.

These tsuba come in a very old custom box in which they have resided for a very long time. The fabric has faded around the shadow of the tsuba, leaving their impression behind. They are ranked Tokubetsu Hozon for their quality and rarity and in this case it is well deserved.

Tsuba box