Shakudo Tsuba Signed "Hokugakushi Gasan Masahide" with NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu
Shakudo tsuba signed "Hokugakushi Gasan Masahide" with Kao with NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu. Decorated with the story of Ama, a beautiful tale of a mother that sacrifices her life for the prosperity of her son.
Not much is known by this artist other than that he was active around 1850. There are few of his works recorded, including two tsuba in the collection of Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Both with the same style of waves and similar dragons as the one presented. However it seems that this particular piece is of higher quality than any other work of this craftsman I was able to find. This tsuba might not represent the prevailing style of the times it was made, with every single millimeter of the piece covered with huge amounts of detail. To the point that it looks like a full size canvas not a small metal plate. I fairly believe that this was a conscious choice of the craftsman, who wanted to show devotion to the theme by making this tsuba as challenging and time consuming as possible. He was making a sacrifice that corresponded with the one from the story. I am sorry if I am not able to properly convey my thoughts here, however I hope that they can be understood to some degree.
This tsuba depicts the story of Ama, a female diver who managed to retrieve the stolen jade from a Dragon King. It is a somewhat complicated story of a mother that sacrifices her life for the prosperity of her son, who in turn prays for his mother, allowing her to become a dragon herself. It is a beautiful tale of the relationship between mother and son. While this is a popular Noh story, it is extremely rare to see this motive on sword fittings. I believe this is one of very few themes on sword fittings that we can relate to so strongly today.
Here is a full version of the story, however please keep in mind that there are many versions so a lot of details may vary.
According to the story, the younger sister of court minister Fujiwara no Fuhito traveled to China to marry Chinese Emperor T'Ang. Who sent three treasures to the Fujiwara clan temple in Nara. Two of those arrived, however the third one was stolen in the Shido bay by the Dragon King. Fuhito traveled there to retrieve a stolen jade. There he married a female diver with whom he had a child, Fujiwara no Fusasaki. When a child was born he told his wife the purpose of the trip and asked her to retrieve a stolen jade from an underwater castle of the Dragon King. She agreed under the condition that her son will become a rightful hair of the Fujiwara clan, which would never have happened otherwise, as he was born from a mother who was a commoner. She managed to get back the stolen jade by cutting her chest open and hiding it inside. Unfortunately she died as a result of her wounds. Thirteen years later Fujiwara no Fusasaki traveled to Shido bay and recited the Lotus Sutra to free his mother's soul. Because of the chant she became a "Dragon Daughter" and reached buddhahood.
Made around 1850
Size: 76 mm x 70 mm x 4,5 mm
With Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu and a custom made kiri box.
While watching the tsuba please keep in mind that it is 76 mm x 70 mm. Some details might look strange with huge close ups. In reality, just about everything on this tsuba is extremely small. To give some context, the head of the diver is 4 mm x 3 mm.