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The Namban Group of Japanese Sword Guards: A Reappraisal [Hard Cover]
Dr John Lissenden

Our Price: 5.99 USD

ISBN-10: 1-55404-365-4HC
ISBN-13: ----
Genre:  Non-Fiction/Historical
eBook Length:  200  Pages
Published:  July 2006

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Prior to their redefinition by Ogawa in 1987, the Namban group of tsuba had received scant attention from scholars. In part, this had been due to the lack of a clearly defined categorisation, making systematic attribution of the group difficult and thus preventing coherent study of the corpus as a whole. Dr John Lissenden uses this redefinition as the starting point in his accessible, creative and thoroughly researched study of Namban tsuba, for which he was awarded the degree of Master of Arts in East Asian Studies by the University of Durham in 2002.

The author has made good use of the research that has been previously done by European and Japanese students, but has also been originally critical of some of the established scholarship. This approach has allowed him to present interpretations of Namban tsuba that are indeed new. Among collectors and curators, some aspects of this study will be debated ? even contested ? but the clarity of the author’s position will cause them to reconsider some of their originally held beliefs.

Collectors also will value this study because it presents an innovative categorisation of this previously neglected group of sword guards, and serves to clarify the diversity and relationships of the Namban style. Including, as it does, expositions on both gilding and casting as related to this group of tsuba, the author’s reappraisal also uses the data on sword furniture as a new source of insight and information on historical developments in East Asia during the 16th to 18th centuries.


Within the last decade Namban tsuba, also called Nanban tsuba, have received considerably more academic attention. Yoshimura Shigeta published his small Nanban Tsuba book in 1998, and Dr. John Lissenden’s excellent The Namban Group of Japanese Sword Guards: A Reappraisal in 2006 has been a most welcome English text on the subject.

Dr. Lissenden’s text covers many aspects of Namban tsuba and is a pleasure to read as it addresses topics that tsuba enthusiasts have discussed privately but never put into publication.

Dr. Lissenden’s book is an excellent work. I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in Namban tsuba.

posted by Curran @ 9:17 AM 0 comments links to this post  


The following research thesis was submitted in January 2002 for the degree of Master of Arts of the University of Durham, and was accepted the following August.  Based upon a study of that group of Japanese sword guards that has long been known, both in Japan and Europe, as the Namban group of tsuba, it had as its inception a paper that I read before the Northern Tô-Ken Society on Tuesday 2nd December, 1997.
            Originally defined, in common with other Japanese artefacts of a similar nomenclature, as 'work exhibiting foreign influences', this group comprised a corpus that was both unmanageably large and contained an unacceptable number of disparate sub-groups.  Thus the work of any one of the existing schools ? almost 100 in number ? could in theory be counted as 'Namban' if its work demonstrated this foreign influence.  Combined with several additional contributing factors, these taxonomic problems have resulted in the relative neglect of the group for many years.  While readily acknowledging that Namban tsuba seldom excel as works of art, as a student of tsuba I was distressed by this neglect.
            In 1987, Ogawa proposed a redefinition of the group that, while not in accord with the generally accepted interpretation of the term 'Namban', has resulted in a smaller and much more unified group of tsuba.  In the light of this proposal, I have studied in detail this group of tsuba ? as newly defined ? both in the literature and by the examination of a number of the major collections in Europe.
PART 1 of this thesis introduces the Namban group of tsuba, places Ogawa's redefinition in its context, and examines the corpus in the light of these new definitions.
I outline, in the INTRODUCTION, the historical background to the classification of Namban tsuba as they were originally defined.  I also discuss the various and universally unsuccessful attempts by a number of earlier collectors, both in England and in Europe, to create some sort of order out of the chaos of this disparate group.  Ogawa's redefinition is introduced and discussed; this is seen as a way of rationalising this group of tsuba, and I list a number of identifying characteristics of the group, as newly defined.
            I then discuss the ATTRIBUTION OF NAMBAN TSUBA, consequent upon the recognition of these identifying characteristics.  The problems associated with attempts to attribute this group of tsuba, either by their maker or their date of manufacture, are described and comparisons are made between the products of the three main loci that have been identified with their production.
            An ANALYSIS OF TSUBA IN EUROPEAN COLLECTIONS follows.  This opens with a description of the METHODOLOGY of this study.  I then discuss, as a result of the examination of a total of 273 Namban tsuba, the results of a descriptive analysis of the group and compare these results to Gunsaulus' 1923 analysis of a mixed group of 746 tsuba in the collection of the Chicago Field Museum.  There is reason to question Gunsaulus' figures and, after testing these against a mixed group of 1,045 arbitrarily selected tsuba, these questions remain unresolved. Possible reasons for the limited value both of measurements and weights, and of statistical techniques, in the study of a group of artefacts such as tsuba are suggested in an OVERVIEW OF STATISTICAL ANALYSIS.  This chapter concludes with a brief consideration of some modern methods of PHYSICAL EXAMINATION in archaeology, and I discuss the relevance of these to the study of the Namban group of tsuba.  I conclude that the level of scholarship concerning this group is presently insufficient to enable the optimal use of the results of such methods.
PART II examines the various physical features that characterise the newly defined group, and confirmation is sought in the field work for some of the hypotheses that are proposed in this section.
            The DECORATIVE FORM OF SEPPA-DAI ? one of the defining characteristics of this group ? is examined in some detail, and I propose an attempt at the classification of this multitude of different shapes.
            NAMBAN HITSU-ANA present a number of enigmas to the student, and hitsu-ana in general are not without their problems; these are discussed.  The features associated with the HIRA AND MIMI DESIGN of this group of sword guards are then examined.  This examination includes the openwork and undercutting techniques that are defining characteristics of Namban tsuba; in particular the recurring themes of the dragon and of the karakusa-moyô are studied.
The various gilding methods used extensively in this group are also discussed; the occasional use of mercuric gilding appears to be one of these, but this is only possible on silver or on copper-containing bases and not directly onto iron.  The application of a copper foundation on Namban tsuba, prior to their gilding, is a possibility; this is debated and I suggest an achievable method of physical analysis in order to resolve the questions related to the use of fire-gilding on this group of tsuba. 
            I propose a re-naming of the uncommon sub-group of AURICULATE TSUBA, which is analysed in some detail.  The form of the weapons that were introduced into Japan by the Portuguese is examined, and a reference is made to Sawasa  ware.  Evidence is presented to suggest that those selected auriculate guards that have been attributed by the N.B.T.H.K. ? the Society for the Preservation of Japanese Art Swords ? to the Momoyama period, should rather be attributed to the Edo period.  In spite of its numerical scarcity, with its European ? rather than Chinese ? influence, this sub-group is considered to be of sufficient interest to justify this attention, as is the important r?le of the DUTCH EAST INDIA COMPANY in its production.
PART III concerns itself with the processes involved in the manufacture of Namban tsuba, and includes a discussion relating to NAMBAN IRON and its apocryphal presence as a constituent of this group of tsuba.  This discussion is preceded by a BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO IRON TECHNOLOGY, which may be required reading for some students in order to achieve a clearer understanding of its more technical aspects.
I then discuss, in general, the APPLICATION OF CASTING METHODS TO TSUBA ? this is a subject that is almost a taboo for scholars of tsuba in general, but cannot be ignored with reference to the Namban group.  The possible use of these methods in the CASTING OF NAMBAN TSUBA is examined.  Absolute and relative indicators of casting are listed ? as revealed by magnification under a bright light ? and such an examination of an arbitrarily selected corpus of Namban tsuba indicates the widespread use of casting in their production.
            There is, in collections, a surprising shortage of ADDITIONAL NAMBAN KODOGU and of EN-SUITE MOUNTINGS in the Namban style; I consider this shortage and examine some possible reasons for it.  A SEARCH FOR A SOLUTION considers the r?le of the non-samurai classes in creating the large demand for Namban tsuba and, in the light of this, I suggest possible solutions to several of the enigmas associated with this group.
In the CONCLUSION I consider the new, inferred meaning of the term 'Namban influence'.  The possibility is then discussed of further studies, both to define the use of mercuric gilding in this group of tsuba and to investigate the use of casting as a means to the production of other groups.  I also review both the advantages and disadvantages of Ogawa's redefinition of the Namban group of tsuba: while accepting its possibly limited value for large museum collections, I underline its relevance to smaller, private collections.
The ENDMATTER includes photographic PLATES of tsuba that, for various reasons, I consider especially interesting, and a BIBLIOGRAPHY has been appended.  The APPENDIX includes a LIST OF NAMBAN TSUBA EXAMINED for the statistical analysis and SAMPLE DATA SHEETS, as used to record the results of these examinations.
In any specialised dissertation of this type, the use of technical terms is difficult to avoid ? such avoidance resulting in the tedious repetition of long, descriptive passages.  Inevitably many of these terms are Japanese, and their use has been kept to a minimum.  Where I considered them necessary, however, they are printed in italic form and, on their initial appearance, a shortened definition is given either in parentheses or as a numbered footnote.  Fuller definitions of such terms are included in the Appendix, in the final GLOSSARY OF JAPANESE AND CHINESE TERMS.  Readers who are students of nihon-tô ? the study of the Japanese sword ? will already be familiar with these terms.  Other readers may initially find them an irritating distraction; for this I apologise.