Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) whose art name was Niten, achieved great fame as a master swordsman. In the seventeenth year of Kan-ei (1640), he accepted an offer from lord Hosokawa Tadatoshi, and moved to Higo where he taught military strategy. In the second year of Shoho (1645), in the sixth year of his residence there, he died at age 62. Today it is not possible for us to know the extent of his skill as a swordsman, however the statue of Fudo-myo-o made by Musashi gives us an idea. The perfection and strong determination that the statue conveys to the observer must have been at least part of Musashi’s mastery.
Miyamoto Musashi left several paintings. Using the subject of flying birds and running horses as subjects, he was able to capture the movement of the animals very precisely. Strong in brush stroke, observation and concentration of the subject, these characteristics of his paintings would have great influence on his swordsmanship.
Musashi made several tsuba and other sword fittings during his six year residence in Higo. During that time he probably became acquainted with several smiths including the first Jingo, the second Hikozo, the first Kanshiro, and Hayashi Matashichi. He would certainly have developed a strong interest in designing and making tsuba. This work of Musashi is not severe but has warmth and sophistication, the same artistic sense as his painting of later years; strong and mature with the restrained taste of the times.
All of the items below have been certified as genuine by the NBTHK in Japan and most have been exhibited and shown in publications over the years.
The above namako-sukashi tsuba (海鼠透鐔) tsuba is one of the three most famous tsuba by Miyamoto Musashi. It has been published in many books and writings including Higo-kinkô roku and it was also a treasured piece in the collection of the late Sasano Masayuki, the renown tsuba expert. The iron is black and not very glossy and the twofold mokkô-gata has namako-sukashi opened to the left and the right. The inward plane of the sukashi is strongly and sharply bevelled and provides variety and tension. The rim was worked with the hammer and has some folded-over areas. The piece itself has a subtle flickering appearance and some delicate kebori elements towards the top and bottom areas. This is a tsuba that suggests Musashi’s mind and world of ideas. To produce such a highly spiritual piece is probably left to a man of the martial arts like Musashi.
The above iron tsuba is a namako-sukashi tsuba (海鼠透鐔) made of iron with a two fold mokkô-gata. The background of this tsuba is unknown. The iron is glossy, sharp, strong, and vehement, and it has a tight and powerful roughness that is created by the frontal working of the piece. The sukashi look improvised and quickly made, and the strong yakite treatment gives this tsuba a power that enthrall the viewer. The thickness of the rim is not uniform and reminds one of Musashi’s most famous tsuba of this style. This masterpiece confronts us with the person Musashi himself as a man who achieved the essence of budô-The Way of the Warrior- by transcending worldly ideals.
The above tsuba is a namako-sukashi tsuba (海鼠透鐔) made of yamagane (unrefined copper) with a two fold mokkô-gata. As with the other examples of Musashi’s tsuba of this style, it exudes strength, power, and boldness. This one, however, because of the use of soft metal also conveys a feeling of warmth. The patination of the metal is truly a wonder to behold and to my eye it shows the teachings of the Higo masters with whom Musashi is thought to have studied while he was under the patronage of the Daimyo Hosokawa Tadatoshi.
The above sobun-fuchigashira (素文縁頭) consists of a fuchi made of brass and a kashira made of suaka (pure copper) in a fukamaru-gata shape. This fuchi is identical with the fuchi mounted on a famous Musashi-goshirae left by the Terao family. It can be found in the book, Higo Tôsôgu (肥後刀装具). The brass comes close to copper and is shaped to a tori-gata that is finished with lacquer. A piece just like this- with an overwhelming and present peculiarity- clearly shows the world of martial arts in which Musashi moved. The accompanying suaka kashira has a good shape and a bright atmosphere and is thought to be the work of Hirata Shôzaburô.