A Rare Nanban Daisho set of Tsuba

Off the coast of Nagasaki lies an island named Hirado. Until the early Edo period it had been a port of call for ships from all over Asia since the Nara period. Its relevance as a port was magnified with the increased trade with Korea and China in the 14th and 15th centuries, and eventually the Dutch East India Company under the supervision of the Matsuura Clan in the early 17th century.

The Dutch and Portuguese stylistic influence on Japanese sword fittings of the were manifested through this trade and a style of work collectively known as “Nanban” (or alternatively “Namban) was popularized in Japan during this time. The European style was exotic and fashionable to the Japanese in many respects and also influenced style of clothing to a lesser extent, and even Japanese armor can be seen to exhibit elements of the European style armor. The trade by Dutch and Portuguese enabled an exchange of both finished products and raw materials between Europe, Japan, China, India, and Southeast Asia. Iron was surprisingly one of the raw materials that some Japanese swordsmiths implemented enthusiastically, and finished sword blades were prominently inscribed as having been forged from “nanban tetsu” or “foreign iron”. Japanese exports of paper were sought out by European artists and Rembrandt used them as he admired the color and texture over European papers. Porcelain was also a popular Japanese export to Europe and the examples of it were even depicted in paintings by Vermeer.

Sword fittings made in foreign style were also often imported, or even copied by some Japanese makers. The majority of imported works hold a style that more closely resembles Chinese/Cantonese aesthetic, with some occasionally sometimes blended with a European taste. However, the fitting shapes were set for the method of construction and use on Japanese swords. Rarely, one can find a guard such as a clamshell type from a European rapier that has been altered to accommodate mounting on a Japanese sword.

Tsuba, particularly among all sword fittings, were a way to display the wearer's tastes, connections, and fashion. They are after all, the most immediate and conspicuous element of a wearer's sword and because of this it was common for tsuba to be somewhat of a billboard expressing the most important element or message that the wearer wanted in view. It could hold upon it designs of family mons identifying clan, affiliations, and loyalties, or elaborately decorated high quality piece by a prominent artist expressing a charming or historic theme. They could also be an expression of religious belief, or as in the case of Christians, hold hidden or cryptic elements. A tsuba might also serve as a medium for extravagant display of wealth and success, or social position.

Nanban designs were a fashion statement. They were exotic imports and as such, displayed the wearer's social attentions, and ability to acquire such items, and in some cases, their connections with an intriguing faraway land. Their designs and method of manufacture set them characteristically apart from all other designs of tsuba. They most often carry a deeply carved iron and pierced lattice structure of vines and dragons, with a jewel at the 12 o'clock position. Very often inside this jewel is a hollowed compartment that holds a round steel ball loosely, seen in a small round window and heard softly rattling when shaken gently. Rims are adorned with round lobes that somewhat resemble a rosary. A mechanical method of fixing gold leaf to the surface called nunome zogan is the normal method of adding color and definition to the work.

Matched daisho tsuba sets are not at all frequently seen. Nanban tsuba can be found for sale without much difficulty, but a matched set is a different matter.

The measurements for these are:

These tsuba currently have no papers, but certainly are good candidates for submission.

Pair Offered on Consignment: $800.00 USD or best offer. Shipping added.