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Ichinomiya Sadanaka Tsuba

Ichinomiya Tsunenao Frog Tsuba

This Tsuba is a very interesting Machibori piece and worked nearly exclusively in iron. It comes from the hands of Ichinomiya Sadanaka, likely the same artist as Ichinomiya Tsunenao, both mentioned as students of Ichinomiya Nagatsune.

Ichinomiya Nagatsune (一宮長常) was born on the fifth day of the fourth month of Kyōhō six (1721) as the son of a sake dealer in Echizen province. Early on, he was adopted son by the gilder Ichinomiya Nagayoshi and soon went to Kyoto, in order to train as a kinkō artist under Yasui Takanaga (保井高長), who himself was a student of Furukawa  Yoshinaga (古川善長). The Furukawa school 

descended from the great Yokoya Somin  and many artists, such as Yoshinaga, also trained under Gotō masters like Gotō Ryūjō (隆乗).

Ichinomiya Nagatsune was highly talented and quickly mastered his craft, especially creating outstanding katakiri-bori works. While the katakiri-bori of Somin lays on a clean metal plate and lives only from the cut strokes, his scholars who went on to form the Furukawa school, began to inlay various alloys into a shibuichi ground plate. Nagatsune mastered this approach and many of his most prestigious works lay shakudo, gold, silver, or copper into a perfectly polished shibuichi ground plate. However, the enormous creativity of Nagatsune, as also visible in his sketchbook, led to the innovative, highly individual and sought-after works that are connected to the Ichinomiya school today.

Nagatsune taught several students, one of them being Ichinomiya Tsunenao (一宮常直). He came from Takatsuki in Setsu province and it is believed he is the same person as Ichinomiya Sadanaka (一宮貞中), albeit this has not been fully clarified yet. Sadanaka (I will use this name for the remaining text) seems to have teached other students of Nagatsune as well and his works are generally similar in style to those of his master. The exact dates of his birth and death are unknown, but it is likely that he was active throughout the second half of the 18th century. Sadanaka came from the Iwamoto family (岩本) and signed with „Sadanaka + kaō“, „Iwamoto Sadanaka + kaō“, or also with his gō „Banryūken“ (蟠龍軒). His kaō is similar to that of Nagatsune, and that of Tsunenao resembles rather the kaō on pieces signed with „Setsusan“

The present Tsuba is one of the very creative and unusual works we find in the Ichinomiya school. Famous for its animal depictions, three toads form this Tsuba, assembled around a finely carved, yet massive seppa-dai. The iron is bold with a great texture and carries a very dark, glossy, chocolate tone. The surface treatment is great and the detail on the toads excellent while retaining a soft, glossy appearance - just like a wet toad. The Tsuba is signed with his full signature Banryūken Sadanaka + kaō, (蟠龍軒 貞中 + kaō), with the latter inlayed in gold. The kaō is, as noted previously, quite similar to that of Nagatsune.

Beside the gold kaō, the only soft metal parts are the copper Sekigane and the very skillfully done eyes. These are inlayed in silver that show a blueish patina and have a very precisely set gold pupil. This also applies to the third, small toad at the bottom which is portrayed completely different in a non-naturalistic manner. While the two big toads resemble toad anatomy and appearance very well, the lower one is sort of a humorous cartoon, holding its enormous belly and 'shrinking under the weight of the seppa-dai'.

This might be a humoristic side note to the story behind this Tsuba. While Toads and frogs are generelly considered a symbol of luck for travelling / travellers, there is a popular folktale about two frogs (or toads) travelling. Briefly summarized, independent from each other, two frogs, one from Kyoto, one from Osaka, plan to go on a trip to visit the respective other city, a place they have never been to. Coincidentally, both meet on a mountain top, right in the middle of their journey, a place both cities are visible from. They get to know each other and their plans and after a while they decide to support each other by grabbing the others shoulder to stand up on the backfeet, able to see their respective destination. 

What a pity we are not bigger,” said the Osaka frog; “for then we could see both towns from here, and tell if it is worth our while going on.”

Oh, that is easily managed,” returned the Kyoto frog. “We have only got to stand up on our hind legs, and hold onto each other, and then we can each look at the town he is traveling to.”

The frog of Kyoto turned its nose to Osaka, and the frog of Osaka turned its nose to Kyoto, but the foolish creatures forgot that their big eyes were in the back of their heads when they stood up, and that although their noses pointed to the places they wanted to go, their eyes saw the places they had come from.

Dear me!” cried the Osaka frog, “Kyoto is exactly

like Osaka. It is certainly not worth such a long

journey. I shall go home!

If I had had any idea that Osaka was only a copy

of Kyoto I should never have traveled all this way,”

exclaimed the frog from Kyoto.

They took a farewell from each other and then

turned back to their hometowns, spending the

rest of their days in the strict believe that Osaka

and Kyoto are just the same. Of note, the cities of

Kyoto, the old residential and temple city, and Osaka, a great city of trade and merchants were back then the very opposites of how cities could have looked.

This story is still popular in children songs or books in japan today, carrying an important lesson:  How easily wrong perception and misconceptions may disappoint our expectation and lead us astray. A remark to not be easily disappointed and to always make sure that we are not fooled in our perception. Also, just because another person is sharing your view on the same or a similar subject, this person may also be mislead and shall not be blindly listened to.

Finally, this Tsuba is a really unique piece that stands out in any collection as something interesting, highly individual and also a t(o)ad unusual. It is backed with a lovely story and very good craftsmanship that lets us think of the commission of this piece. Was it a wealthy, yet wandering merchant, or maybe a samurai with a good sense of humor and clear goals? We will never know, but it is a joyful thought.

Ichinomiya Tsunenao Frog Tsuba
Ichinomiya Tsunenao Frog Tsuba
Ichinomiya Tsunenao Frog Tsuba







Ichinomiya Tsunenao Frog Tsuba
Ichinomiya Tsunenao Frog Tsuba

The humorous cartoon of a toad - look how finely the belly texture is carved. And how ridiculously he is holding his belly and butt.

Ichinomiya Tsunenao Frog Tsuba
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