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Nodachi Tsuba

Nodachi tsuba (野太刀鐔) of Rinpō sukashi (輪宝透) motif. Nodachi is a generic term, in use from at least the late Heian period, denoting a war sword / field sword utilized by ranking samurai.  By modern convention, it would be termed a ko-katchushi tsuba. This tsuba is massive - by far the largest tsuba I have handled.  Likely this would have been mounted on a large blade, perhaps an ōdachi or nagamaki, and used by or against horsemen.  Rinpō motifs were favored by samurai as representations of esoteric Buddhist teachings of the 'Wheel of Law' and the 'Noble Eight-Fold Path'.  The rim of the tsuba is actually a thin iron fukurin, and the plate is secured within it by hammering around the spokes.  I am aware of only one other example with such a rim.  Noteworthy is that the plate incurred battle damage by puncture and breakage of several cross-bars, while the rim remained fully intact. The tsuba was mended around the damaged area by crude hammering and patching - likely a field repair. The majority of the patch was lost to time, with only a couple of small areas seemingly still intact.  Iron quality, color / patina are very good, trace black lacquer remains in areas. Clear fold lines are visible throughout. The extreme size, the unusual rim, the sustained field damage and the attempted repair, and lack of hitsuana all distinguish this piece.  To my knowledge this is likely the largest and earliest tsuba of its kind. 

It is difficult to overstate the rarity and significance of this tsuba.  Likely less than one dozen, early massive iron tsuba (>11 cm) survive, making this a highly important point of reference.  I count only 8 published massive iron tsuba, believed to date to the early Muromachi or earlier - several of which are shown below in relative size.  Only one has undisputed provenance (Yoshimitsu Marishiten tsuba) to the Nanbokuchō period, while others have questionable links to late Heian / Kamakura historical figures, and likely date slightly later than attested.  Ōyamazumi Jinja has one unpublished massive iron tsuba of kuruma sukashi form, attributed to the late Heian / Kamakura, that I have personally seen.  Only 4 of these documented 9 pieces are currently in private collections. All surviving examples are considered ubu (original condition). The presence of hitsuana on some would thus suggest they were mounted on large early uchigatana.  Others could have been mounted on nodachi, ōdachi or possibly nagamaki / naginata.  Interestingly, the motifs on all but one of the known examples are Buddhist.  The reality is that there are too few remaining examples to speak with definition on the subject, and we are left to educated reasoning. 

Truly a once in a lifetime piece, for an advanced collection.

Measurements: 13.1 cm x 13.2 cm x 0.55 cm

Kamakura - Nanbokuchō period (鎌倉 - 南北朝時代), 13-14th century

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Nodachi Rinpo Sukashi Tsuba_Obv_1300px 

Nodachi Rinpo Sukashi Tsuba_Rev_1300px 

Ashikaga Takauji 

Nanbokuchō period painting of Kō no Moronao (d. 1351 -- previously it was thought this painting was of Ashikaga Takauji). Note the large field sword over his shoulder, with the massive kuruma sukashi tsuba.


Large Tsuba Combo_900px 

Comparison massive iron tsuba, organized by assumed age and corrected to show relative size.  [1] Rinpō sukashi tsuba, smaller brother to one on offer, was likely mounted on a large uchigatana (11.8 cm), thought to pre-date the Yoshimitsu tsuba. This piece is currently in a private collection.  [2] Yoshimitsu's Marishiten sukashi tsuba (11.5 cm) was donated by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu the 3rd Ashikaga shogun (r. 1368 - 94) to Hataeda-Hachimangu in Kyoto, and is reliably dated to the Nanbokuchō period; [3] Tsuba attributed to Musashibō Benkei (d. 1189) is preserved in Chūson-ji in Hiraizumi.  It was badly damaged by weather and fire, making it impossible to compare materially. The hitsuana, plate characteristics, and the sukashi text likely post-date the Nanbokuchō (13.6 cm).


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