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Namban Dragons & Tama Tsuba



An unusual namban tsuba, a solid plate with takabori dragons with gilt eyes chasing a gilt tama, with an open work boarder.  8.12 cm x 7.59 cm x 3.3 mm.  The dragons, having neither the three or five toes associated with China and Japan, rather tentacles.   This tsuba is obviously an import, from the Asian mainland.  Precisely from where, I cannot say. 


Information from James McElhinney:

Those are not dragons but Nagas--a mythological Indochinese snake-like guardian creature. In India they are portrayed more as multi headed cobras. In Indochina--Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam they are given leonine heads with long forelocks. My guess is that this design originates somewhere like Cochinchina, or even Malacca. Japanese swords had been exported since the mid Muromachi jidai to India, Thailand and Vietnam , during which period discoid sword guards became popular in these regions. From this period on, many swords produced for local markets were fitted with discoid guards. If this piece did not have a conventional Japanese seppa-dai hitsu configuration, I might set its date much earlier. as it stands, but with the archaic wave pattern on the seppa-dai, I would guess this was in the mid-late 18th century. 

The the sea-monster appearance lead me to suspect that the design is a conflation of the Sino-Tibetan dragons/tama "Kanton" style tsuba and the great Naga King of the Eastern Sea, master of storms and all things marine. This and the wave-pattern mimi hint that this guard was made to appeal to seafarers, of which there were many--both legal and piratical--in the region where this may have been made. The design is not Japanese. The workmanship is more offhand than most Japanese tsubako. While it could be an import, my guess is that it was produced in Hizen, based on the seppa-dai and you hitsu. I have seen hitsu on imported guards that were purely decorative, but they are also usually impractical. This setup looks Japanese, even though the rest of the guard does not. So--Hizen copy of an Indochinese guard, made with conventional ryo-kogai-hitsu. 


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