正阿弥 鉄地 透かし鍔 、 桃山 ～ 江戸初球時代 – Shôami tetsu ji sukashi tsuba, Momoyama to Edo shoki jidai.
This is a large and handsome tsuba, as graceful as it is simple. At 8.8 cm’s in diameter and 0.5 cm’s thick, this is a bold work. The iron is dark and for the most part homogenous. The mimi is maru 丸耳. There are no signs of tsuchime or tekkotsu. The iron however is obviously forged and slightly granular. The ryohitsu shi 両櫃仕 are large and nicely formed.
I believe it is probably the lack of any tekkotsu and tsuchime that precludes this tsuba from being labeled Ko Shôami.
The description “kawari” as used by the NBTHK indicates an unusual interpretation or version of a design. The jûji mon has long been associated with the Shimazu family 島津氏, the daimyô of the Satsuma han 薩摩半島 in Kagoshima 鹿児島.
This simple cross design was the main kamon used by this family and it was introduced in the Kamakura period by Shimazu Tadahisa 島津忠久. There is a suggestion that this design hints at a dragon. Later it seems, sometime around the 16th century, the surrounding circle was added to the design. This may have been done during the reign of the 19th head Yoshihiro 義弘 around the time of the battle of Sekigahara.
Kawari I believe in this instance, refers to the difference in thickness of the cross bars. The main design is there, it appears to just be a variation on that theme.
Another suggestion for this design is a Kutsuwa 轡 or horse bit and this design is often thought to be one or the other (jûji or ku tsuwa). This is an interesting read and one I have not totally discounted. Perhaps one could argue it is a combination of both designs ? perhaps the tsuba of a mounted samurai of Satsuma who has an association with the great family.
Saigo Takamori (1828-77), the last samurai of Kagoshima who is considered the very last warrior samurai of Japan was the main character in the 2003 movie ‘The Last Samurai’. Saigo is portrayed in print with the kutsuwa-mon seen clearly in his banners.
To further add fuel the fire, Kagoshima was an early and significant centre for Christian activity. When Christianity was forced underground in Japan, Christians developed a secret method to identify themselves to each other. Many argue that many of these messages were hidden in kodôgu.
In the West, Christians forced into hiding used the Anchor Symbol as their secret identifying symbol. In Japan, they used the Kutsuwa symbol, since this so closely resembles a Christian cross.
There are several interpretations of this design obviously, and I have seen several variations of this guard design in the last month alone. It is an interesting argument the Christian one, with many believing there are no such things as hidden motifs, and other believing strongly in it. I think, as there was a strong Christian influence even though it was a relatively short period of time, that there must have been some signs of faith for those that believed.
Maybe in the future more evidence will come to light on this matter.
Thank you for reading.