Korean style Ryujin Shinkou tsuba
Region: Japan or Korea
Period: Edo period or Joseon Dynasty , 18th century
Materials: Iron, Silver, Gold
Over centuries, many sailors, merchants and colonial dignitaries crossed the oceans to trade with Asian countries. The cross-cultural influence is an interesting part of this period of war and trade. The word ‘Nanban’, or also spelled ‘Namban’ can be literary translated as: ‘Western Barbarian’, a term the Japanese locally used when they spoke of traders from Europe and other continents. The tsuba (sword guards) are a typical fitting of the Japanese sword. Since the trade began, an influence of different cultures and religion were mangled with the Japanese examples. Besides manufacturing in their own country, sword guards were often made in Vietnam, China, Korea and even Sri-lanka.
The decoration on this tsuba is likely Japanese made, but has strong Korean influence, especially with the overlay silver decoration and general shape. The front depicts two mirrored waterdragons which are considered water gods in the Japanese Ryujin Shinkou (竜神信仰) belief. One is decorated in overlay gilding, the other in overlay silver. Dragons are a commonly chosen motif on Samurai sword parts due to their auspicious reputation. The borders are decorated with a design called ‘Raimon’ (雷文) pattern which represents a rolling thunder and lightning pattern giving rain, which keeps everything alive. The ‘Raimon’ motif is everlasting and therefor stands for longevity and prosperity. The background is decorated with a silver ‘Karakusa’ (唐草) pattern which can be translated as ‘Chinese plants’ and is another auspicious symbol for longevity and prosperity.
The back of the tsuba is decorated with wide range of auscpicious symbols, with again, a ‘Raimon’ and ‘Karakusa’ background. From the top right, clockwise can be seen: Makimono scrolls (巻物), Fundou (分銅), Kinnou (金嚢),Chouji (丁子) and Shippou (七宝).
The ‘Makimono’ scrolls stand for knowledge and wisdom, the ‘Fundou’ is a coin weight, which stands for wealth. ‘Kinnou’ means a wonderful cloth purse which contains coin, herbs or amulets, ‘Chouji’ is a well sought after spice in the 17th and 18th century and which is known for its medicinal characteristics. The ‘Shippou’ pattern is a circle shaped pattern with an auspicious meaning in Asian culture. The combination of a wide variety of symbols is called ‘Takara Dukushi’ (宝尽くし) which is believed to bring good fortune.
A rare type of tsuba which features a large number of auspicious elements, combined with wonderful craftsmanship aesthetics. Due to the overlay decoration, most of these found examples suffer from major condition issues such as oxidation and loss of material. This example is a fine example of its kind, with cross cultural elements which makes it a desirable piece.
Condition: Very good, silver and gold decorations good order, comes with kiribako.
Provenance: Dutch Private Collection
– The Metropolitan Museum of Arts New York, A Korean made tsuba with similar style decoration acc.nr. 2019.163.2
– Museum of Applied Arts Vienna, similarities in decoration acc.nr. OR 1565
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