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Assortment of Sword Guards

1 The Goto Family
2 Craftsmen
3 Edo area
4 Kyoto area
5 Regional areas
The Gotou Family

The Goto family is the most famous celebrities in the ornament metalsmiths history of Japanese swords. The founder Goto Yujo (1440 - 1512) flourished at the latter part of the Ashikaga Shogunate, and his family continued and was active until the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate for about 400 years.The Goto family not only reigned over the metal-carving world but also dominated finance, politics, arts and the others.

The head family of Goto

The head family of Goto continued from the founder Yujo to the 17th head Tenjo. At the time of the 6th head Eijo, the Goto family was appointed as an official sword fitting maker by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tycoon of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The Ichijyo clan

Goto Ichijo (1791 - 1876) is last master craftsman in the Goto's glorious history. He started his carrier with maintaining the Goto's traditions "Iebori". Later on, he broadened out of his designing styles and tried to break away from the Goto's traditions. He also fostered several good craftsmen.

Branches of the Goto family

Some of the branches of Goto were established after the time of the 4th head Kojo and the 5th head Tokujo. They were as many as 14 branches such as the Rihei family, Kihei, Genbei, Edo-Seijo. These branch families are called "Waki-Goto" in contraposition to the head family.


The definition of Tosho-Tsuba is tsuba made by swordsmiths not by tsuba craftsmen. Most of their pieces of works are made of iron, and small openworked one or two places per piece of tsuba.Tosho-Tsuba are tasteful because each iron plate is forged very well and each openwork is always simple.


Katchushi means armorsmith in Japanese. So, it is said the definition of Katchushi-Tsuba is tsuba made by armorsmiths. Though, this definition is suspicious.
Instead, we can find so many Ume or Sakura flowers openwork on this kind of tsuba. Those openwork look similar to ears of the masks of Katchu (=armor). So, old people said this kind of tsuba "Katchushi-Tsuba". This theory seems to be true.
Makers of Katchushi-Tsuba must be all smiths including armorsmith who made their livings by some kinds of forging.


The style of Onin-Tsuba is descended from Katchushi-Tsuba and also similar to Kamakura-Tsuba. That is, the metal is iron and easily found out to be hammered. The special feature of Onin-Tsuba is that the periphery of Seppa-Dai or Kougai-Bitsu hole or Kozuka-Bitsu hole is inlaid with brass.
This kind of tsuba dates back to the time of the War of Onin (1467 - 1477). So, we call this kind of tsuba "Onin-Tsuba".

Heianjo-Shiki Shinchu-Zogan Tsuba

Some features of the Heianjo-Shiki Shinchu-Zogan Tsuba are similar to those of Onin-Tsuba. Heianjo-Shiki Shinchu-Zogan Tsuba were produced during the time from the latter part of the Muromachi period to the beginning of the Edo period.

Yoshiro-Shiki Shinchu-Zogan Tsuba

This kind of tsuba is descended from Heianjo-Shiki Zogan Tsuba. We can find the same inscription "Yoshiro" from some of this kind of tsuba. So, we especially call this type of tsuba "Yoshiro-Shiki Shinchu-Zogan Tsuba". Its style is that made of iron, round shape, arabesques or flowers or crests are expressed by inlay technique and openwork technique.


The name "Kamakura-Tsuba" came from the reason its carving style is very similar to the Japanese wood engraving folkcraft "Kamakura-Bori". It has nothing to do with the Kamakura period (1192 -1333) or the place name Kamakura.


It's generally believed that the Kanayama-Tsuba were produced in the areas around Owari Province and Mino Province. The time Kanayama-Tsuba began to be produced dates back to the middle part of the Muromachi period. In full flower at the Sengoku period (=the Age of Civil Wars). At the time of the Edo period, Kanayama-Tsuba assimilated into Owari-Zukashi-Tsuba and lost its originality.


The Kyo-Zukashi-Tsuba is openworked tsuba that were produced centering around Yamashiro Province (=Now Kyoto Prefecture). Kyo-Zukashi-Tsuba is elegant and exquisite compared with Owari-Zukashi-Tsuba that is well-rounded and masculine.


The best two of openworked tsuba are Owari-Zukashi and Kyo-Zukashi. Owari-Zukashi-Tsuba were produced around Owari Province (=Now Aichi Prefecture) from the latter part of the Muromachi period, through the Momoyama period, to the beginning of the Edo period. The feature of this kind of tsuba is thicker and more powerful than Kyo-Zukashi because usefulness in fighting was regarded as the most important matter.


It's generally believed that "Tadamasa", the beginner of Akasaka-Tsuba, was an tsuba craftsman for Kyo-Zukashi in Kyoto. He came to Akasaka in Edo and started making tsuba there. The feature of Akasaka-Tsuba is round shape, round rim openworked.


It is generally believed that Yamasaka Kichibei produced battle-gear such as armor helmets or tsuba at Kiyosu of Owari Province (=Now Aichi Pref.). There is a theory that he attended on Oda Nobunaga (1534 - 1582), however it is uncertain whether this theory is true or not. In both cases, Kichibei is a contemporary of Nobunaga's. Kichibei inscribed his name "Yamakichibei" for brevity on tsuba. So, we categorize this kind of tsuba as "Yamakichi-Tsuba".


Kaneie is one of the master craftsmen in Japan's tsuba history. It is believed that he lived at Fushimi of Yamashiro Province around the Momoyama period. Before his times, designs of tsuba were only architectonic and patterned. Kaneie brought in sketchy and painterly designs for the first time.


Nobuie is sterling craftsman equally admired as Kaneie. Kaneie's elegance and Nobuie's magnificence are quite contrastive. Nobuie came to Kiyosu of Owari Province at the invitation of Oda Nobunaga. The designs, temper of iron plate, patterns on surfaces express Nobuie's advanced skills well.

Edo area

Edo (=Now Tokyo) was the trendsetting city as it used to be the Japanese capital during the Tokugawa Shogunate period. Metalsmiths competed their skills each other in this metropolis. Their latest styles were copied by regional metalsmiths.

The Hirata School

The Hirata family handed down cloisonne work from the father to only one of his sons. This family continued from the founder Hirata Donin ( ? - 1646) to the 11th head Nariyuki as an official craftsman family for the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The Yokoya school

The Yokoya school occupies a most important place in sword ornament metal-carving world. Yokoya Somin was born in 1670 at Edo. He created Katakiribori" carving method that looks like painting by Japanese brush and heavily used pictorial engraving. He marked a new phase in the metal-carving world of which the Goto family had dominated for a long time.

The Yanagawa school

The Yanagawa school was founded by Yanagawa Naomasa who was a pupil of Yokoya Somin. This school became famous celebrities by reputation of master craftsmen the founder "Naomasa", "Naomitsu" and "Naoharu". Craftsmen of this school were good at making Yokoya's style tsuba. That is Takabori Iroe on Shakudo Nanako-Ji ground (=high relief carving and brazing thin golden or silver sheet on red copper Nanako-Ji processed metal.)

The Ishiguro school

The Ishiguro school is classified as the Yokoya group by reason that the founder Masatsune studied under Yanagawa Naomasa and Kato Masatsune. Although, craftsmen of this school made more elegant and skilled handiworks than those of Yokoya's. Especially good at portraying birds of prey.

The Ohmori school

The Ohmori school is also classified as the Yokoya group. Ohmori Hideaki studied under Yokoya Somin for years and finally broke away from the Yokaya school. His adopted child "Teruhide", and Teruhide's son "Hidemitsu" made exquisite works so that this school flourished.

The Yoshioka-Inabanosuke family

The founder of the Yoshioka-Inabanosuke family "Shigetsugu" came from Kyoto and had an audience with Tokugawa Ieyasu. Shigetsugu went to Edo at Ieyasu's invitation and the Yoshioka family was appointed as an official craftsman for the Tokugawa Shogunate. This school did not produce any supreme craftsman, however, produced many good craftsmen.

The Nara school

The Nara is one of the most important schools ranked with the Yokoya in Japan's metal-carving world. Several schools were derived from this school. The founder "Toshiteru" flourished such as participating in setting up the Nikko Toshogu Shrine. His family continued for 9 generations. Except the head family, this school produced three supreme craftsmen that is called "Nara's Big Three". They are Toshinaga, Joi and Yasuchika.

The Hamano school

The founder of the Hamano school "Shozui" was also a pupil of the Nora school. He gained a reputation as same as the "Nara's Big Three". Craftsmen of the Hamano school produced neat and vigorous handiworks.

The Tsuchiya school

The founder Tsuchiya Yasuchika (1670 - 1744) was born in Shonai of Dewa Province (=Now Akita Prefecture). At the age of 34, he went to Edo and studied with the Nara school. The materials and compositions and techniques of him works are various, though, all of his works stir our poetical sentiment.

The Ito school

The Ito school was initiated by Ito Masanaga at the former part of the Edo period and continued until the Meiji Restoration. This school earned a good reputation for a long time with its splendid and elaborate carving style. They mostly made round shaped tsuba with iron or Shakudo metal plate, and were good at making tsuba whose subjects are flowers and grasses or trees. This school established bases at Edo and also at Odawara of Sagami Province. Craftsmen in this school came and went between the two places and had contact with each other.

The Iwamoto school

The Iwamoto school is one of the major metalsmith schools in Edo area. They made naturalistic handicrafts. Iwamoto's 4th head "Ryokan" and the 5th head "Ryokan" (the same name) attained fame. Furthermore, the 6th head "Konkan" made elegant and smart handiworks so that he established distinguished original style.

The Horie school

Horie Okinari studied metal-carving under Hamano Shozui first, though, the master deceased in 1769. Then, Okinari studied under Ohmori Teruhide. Later, he gained independence and became an official craftsman for Awa Domain. His inscriptions are peculiar. Most of them are inscribed in flowing writing style (Grass hand).

The Tanaka school

Tanaka Kiyotoshi was born in 1804 in Aizu of Mutsu Province. It is conjectured he studied the Shoami style metal-carving in his young days. Later on, he became a pupil of Kohno Haruaki when Haruaki itinerated Tohoku area. He was given one word of his master's name "Aki", and forgiven to call "Akiyoshi". However, he said "My master is not one man. Many". He brought in other carving styles from other schools. His works and skills earned the highest reputation at the end of the samurai period.

Kyoto area
The Umetada school

The Umetada family successively served as a purveyer to the Ashikaga Shogun family. They located a workshop at Kyoto and engaged in polishing sword blades or producing Habaki, Seppa and other sword parts. "Myoju" (1558 - 1631) produced tsuba which were inlaid with color metals on brass or on red copper. Those types of tsuba were innovative so that the Umetada school was in its glory from the Momoyama period to the early part of the Edo period.

The Shoami school

"Ami" means aides who served Ashikaga Shogun. "Shoami " must be one of them. It is generally believed that the Shoami school arose at the end of the Muromachi period. This school spread and flourished all over Japan during the Edo period. Craftsmen who belonged to this school mostly inscribed "Shoami" and "Each name".

The Ichinomiya school

Ichinomiya Nagatsune (1721 - 1786) was born in Tsuruga of Echizen Province (present Fukui Prefecture). At the age of 13, he set on becoming a metal craftsman, then, became a pupil of Yasui Takanaga in Kyoto. Went independent at the age of 30. He prefered Shakudo (red copper) and Shibuichi (alloy of copper and silver) metals. Takabori Iroe (high relief carving and brazing inlay) or Katakiribori Zogan are his favorite techniques.

The Okamoto school

Okamoto Shoraku who goes by the name of "Genbei", established his shop name "Tetsu-Ya". So, he sometimes inscribed "Tetsu-Gen-Do" on his handiworks. He heavily used tetsu metal (=iron), and was good at portraying Japanese or Chinese historical characters with Takabiri (high relief carving) and Iroe (brazing inlay) techniques.

The Ohtsuki school

Ohtsuki Mitsuoki (1766 - 1834) went to Edo at the ago of over 20 and studied painting with Ganku and was also affected by the Maruyama school's painting style. He drew rough designs for his metal hadiworks by himself and produced many masterworks with sophisticated and sound carving methods. In his old age, he produced novel and homorous handiworks which make us feel Zen spirits.

Regional areas
Akita Shoami

Akita in Dewa Province (=Now Akita Pref.) was a castle town of Satake Domain which yields 206 thousand koku of rice. The old name of Akita is Kubota. Craftsmen belonged to the Shoami school flourished in this town. Shoami Denbei (1651 - 1727) is especially famous. He mainly used Shakudo and Shibuichi alloy metals, and produced many bold and artistic tsuba of which geometric curving lines are interlaced in designs.

Shonai area

Shonai is now Tsuruoka city of Yamagata Prefecture. This city was a castle town of Sakai Domain which yields 140 thousand koku of rice. Sato Yoshihisa went to Edo and studied metal-carving techniques with the Nara school. After coming back to Shonai, he fostered eminent Tsuchiya Yasuchika (son in law), Watanabe Arichika and Ando Yoshitoki. For other, Katsurano Sekibun went to Edo when he was young and studied metal-carving techniques with the Hamano school. He became an official craftsman for Sakai Domain.

Sendai area

Sendai was a castle town of Date Domain which yields 620 thousand koku of rice. From the time of Date Masamune who found this domain, people in this town retained high interest to cultures and arts. Kusakari Kiyosada was born in Sendai, and went to Edo to study metal-carving with the Ohmori school, then, became an official craftsman for Date Domain. The feature of his works is that fans or flax ornaments are expressed innovatively in the Sendai style inlay.

Aizu Shoami

Aizu in Mutsu Province was a castle town of Matsudaira Domain which yields 230 thousand koku of rice. There were many metal craftsmen. Craftsmen of the Shoami school especially flourished in this place, and people called them "Aizu Shoami". Shoami Ikko and Shoami Kanesuke are well-known as good craftsmen. In other schools, Kato Hideaki (the Ishiguro) and Kato Akichika (the Yanagawa) are relatively famous. In addition, Tanaka Kiyotoshi went to Edo from Aizu and achieved great success.

Mito area

Mito was a castle town of Mito Tokugawa Domain which yields 350 thousand koku of rice. The Mito Tokugawa is one of the "Three top Tokugawa-related families". Many craftsmen flourished in this area especially at the latter part of the Edo period. They used a variety kinds of metals and made full use of all carving and inlay techniques. Both the Sekijyoken group and the Ichiyanagi group are conspicuous presences in point of skills.

Echizen Province

Fukui in Echinzen Province (present Fukui Prefecture) prospered as a castle town of Matsudaira Domain which yields 300 thousand koku of rice. The Kinai, the Myochin and the Akao schools are famous in this area.

Kaga area

Kanazawa of Kaga Province (=Now Ishikawa Prefecture) was a castle town of Kaga Domain which yields one million koku of rice. This area developed brilliant culture. In point of tsuba, elegant ones were produced more than powerful ones. The Maeda daimyo family invited the Goto's men (Such as Kenjo, Teijo, Etsujo, Enjo) and provided houses and lots for them. Therefore, this group prospered in this area and people said them "Kaga Goto".

Mino area

Mino (present Gifu Prefecture) is a key junction of trafic since early times, and near from Kyoto, so that metal-carving had developed in this region. We categorize as "Ko-Mino" which were made before the Momoyama period (1573 - 1600), and categorize as "Minobori" which were made after that period. The features of Minobori are that (1) Shakudo or Yamagane (=coarse copper) is mostly used as ground metal. Iron is seldom used. (2) Autumn flowers are heavily used for design. (3) Regarding tsuba, most part of one is chiseled down except Seppa-Dai and Mimi.

The Kitagawa school

Soheishi Soten, an inhabitant of Hikone in Ohmi Province (present Shiga Prefecture) mostly produced tsuba. He was good at expressing Samurai warriors in armor and mountain hermits in engraving or in inlay on iron ground.


Choshu Domain (=Now Yamaguchi Prefecture) encouraged to produce tsuba and export them to other provinces for the sake of securing financial resources. As a result, Choshu produced many tsuba craftsmen and pieces of works. People said "Aizu in the East, Choshu in the West". Choshu-Tsuba cannot be categorically described in one phrase because there are not a few styles in this area. Though, the families of the Kawaji, Nakai, Okamoto, Okada, Kaneko, Nakahara, Fujii, Inoue and Yamichi are relatively famous.

Hizen Province

Hizen Province was the areas of present Saga and Nagasaki Prefectures combined. This province was governed separately such as Saga area by the Nabeshima daimyo family (330 koku of rice), Hirato area by the Matsuura daimyo family, Karatsu area by the Doi and Mizuno daimyo families. The Jakushi family at Saga and the Yagami school at Yagami are well-known as good tsuba craftsmen. And, in Nagasaki where was singular port opened to overseas during the Edo period, the peculiar tsuba that were imitated Chinese sword guard became fashionable. This style of tsuba is called "Nanban-Tsuba".


Higo Province (=Now Kumamoto Prefecture) was governed by the Hosokawa daimyo family during the Edo period. Because Hosokawa Tadaoki, the father of Hosokawa Domain, was not only a great commander in battlefields but also good at tea ceremony, Japanese poem and some other arts, so that the caltural level of this region was high even though it is far from Edo or Kyoto. In the tsuba world, this region produced many master craftsmen. We categorize their works as "Higo-Tsuba" and tsuba lovers today praise their works.

Satsuma Province

Satsuma Province (=Now Kagoshima Prefecture) which yields 770 thousand koku of rice was governed by the Shimazu daimyo family from age to age. This province produced plenty of tsuba which are powerfully-designed on iron metal. Naotaka, Naonori and Naokata of the Oda school are best known for master tsuba craftsmen in this province. And the Chishiki school occupies the next place to the Oda. The founder Kanenori, the 2nd head Kanetake and the 3rd head Kaneatsu are famous in this school.