Ishiguro Masachika Daisho SoroikanaguIshiguro Masachika

periodLate Edo (ca. 1810)
designationNBTHK Hozon Tosogu Daisho Soroikanagu
mei 石黒政近 (花押)
Ishiguro Masachika (kao)
tsuba 7.5 x 6.9 cm (dai) 7.45 x 6.8 cm (sho)
fuchi 3.9 x 2.2 cm (dai) 3.9 x 2.2 cm (sho)
kashira 3.6 x 1.9 cm (dai) 3.6 x 1.9 cm (sho)

The Ishiguro school was founded by Masatsune, a student of Kato Naotsune and Yanagawa Naomasa. He took his name from one character of each of his teachers. Masatsune was born in 1760 and his Ishiguro school is a direct offshoot of the Yokoya school, as Naomasa was the best direct student of Yokoya Somin.

The Ishiguro school's style is based in the work of Somin as a result of this, and over time developed its own themes, frequently representing birds and peaceful scenes of great beauty. Their primary material is gold on shakudo, but they took it to flamboyant and gorgeous styles which were distinct from the work of their ancestors in Yokoya.

Though Masatsune was far above average in skill, he trained two extremely and equally talented masters in Masayoshi and Masaaki that would stand at the very pinnacle of Edo period tosogu craftsmanship. During their time the Ishiguro school became quite famous and featured many other highly skilled smiths, including two additional generations of Masatsune, Koretsune, Yoshitaka, Moriaki, Masaharu, Teruaki, Koreyoshi, Yoshitaka, Yoshitsugu, Masaharu, Masahiro, Masachika, and Teruaki. When Masatsune gave out characters of his name to those he taught, he used the Masa (政) character for his students and Tsune (常) for his blood relatives. So in this was we know that Koretsune is among the children of Masatsune.

fuchigashira box
Juyo Ishiguro Masayoshi
Juyo Ishiguro Masayoshi

Masatsune lived between 1760 and 1828, dying at the age of 69. The second generation Masatsune took over the school, but this did not last long and is likely due to his early death. This made Ishiguro Masayoshi the third head master and recorded this fact in his signature. The final master of the school was the third generation Masatsune.

Masatsune had what seems to be two sons, Koretsune who was the oldest, and the nidai Masatsune who originally had a name of Masamori. Koretsune did not inherit the school which seems to also indicate an early death for him, possibly before the Shodai Masatsune himself died. No birth and death dates are known for the 2nd generation Masatsune either. So it would seem unusual to have two generations of Masatsune working at the same time, and an alternate explanation for this is simply that Koretsune signed daimei for his father. Or as above, he may not have existed and is a transcription error in later works of the Shodai's original name.

Masayoshi signed into his mei that he was the 3rd generation Ishiguro master on some pieces. So it seems then that Koretsune, then Masatsune first generation, then Masatsune second generation all died in rapid succession. This left Masayoshi standing as the senior student and the inheritor of the school while the third generation Masatsune was too young to do so.

One of the direct students of the first generation Masatsune was Masahiro, who was given the responsibility of training the third generation Masatsune after the deaths of the first and second generation Masatsune. The third generation Masatsune originally had the name of Shigetsune and is the son of the second generation Masatsune. When Shigetsune was old enough he changed his name to Masatsune and took over the Ishiguro school from Masayoshi some time in the middle 1800s as its fourth master. He would work until the Meiji era.

tsuba box
Edo Kinko Meifu
Edo Kinko Meifu

Ishiguro Masachika

Kinko Tanki
Kinko Tanki

Ishiguro Masachika had the personal name of Toyojiro (豊次郎) and had the go of Ryokuten (柳翁軒). He is one of the direct students of Ishiguro Masatsune and in fact one of the earlier ones. He seems to rank as the second student after Masayoshi, who was the senior student of Masatsune apart from the possible existence of Koretsune.

Haynes, the Kinko Jiten, and Fukushi references state Masachika is a student of the first Ishiguro Masatsune with Fukushi saying he was the senior most of the students (this may just mean in the first group). The Toso Kodogu Kosa and the Kinko Meikan list him as a student of Masahiro which is incorrect and based on a mistaken reading of early books and then bad information being referenced going forward. and the Kinko Meikan gives him a ranking of Ryo-ko for superior craftsmanship.

I spotted the discrepancy in the references, and asked Markus Sesko for his opinion. Markus looked up two old references which establish the truth of the matter. Markus will likely do an expanded blog post on the structure of the Ishiguro school at a later date. The conclusions below are mine.

The earliest reference that illustrates the school is the Edo Kinko Meifu which was written in 1810, during the lifetime of Ishiguro Masatsune. As such it is the most accurate reference for understanding the early Ishiguro school as it would be based on first hand information gathering (i.e. the author could just knock on the door and ask Shodai Masatsune what is going on). At this point in time the school is not as large as it would end up being later and Masatsune and eight followers are listed. In order they appear as:

  1. Masatsune, with early mei of Koretsune [note: shodai]
  2. Masamori, student of Masatsune [note: became Masatsune nidai]
  3. Masayoshi, student of Masatsune
  4. Masatsugu, student of Masatsune
  5. Masachika, student of Masatsune
  6. Masateru, student of Masatsune
  7. Nagayoshi, student of Masayoshi
  8. Masaharu, later student of Masatsune, originally Mito school Yoshinari

In this we can see that the original group of Ishiguro smiths is Masatsune (founder), Masamori (son), Masayoshi (senior student, first follower), Masatsugu (second student), Masachika (third student), Masateru (fourth student), Nagayoshi (first student of Masayoshi), Masaharu (fifth student and recent transfer from the Mito school).

The note under Masatsune also says that he originally signed with Koretsune.

The first son of Masatsune is supposed to be Koretsune, inheriting this name from his father's original mei. Masamori listed above is thought to be the second son of Masatsune. So we have an uncomfortable situation in that Koretsune the first son, is not listed in the school at the time that the second son is active. So this gives us two possible conclusions for his omission, both of which are valuable information:

  1. Koretsune never existed and those works signed Koretsune are all early works of Masatsune, and later reference works created his existence out of error.
  2. Koretsune was already dead by 1810, possibly recently, and his name was not mentioned out of courtesy or remorse.

In the second case of Koretsune being dead and omitted because of this, the two students he is said to have had, Koreshige and Koreo, may have been absorbed into the students of Masatsune and undergone name changes as a result. All of this is worth more research. The point that later references contradict each other on some of the facts which are clarified by earlier references means that we really need to go back to these early references to sort the matter out.

Masachika went on to have two sons that worked at or before the Meiji period as well in the Ishiguro school: Chikayoshi and Toshichika. Regardless that these sons have to have existed and worked at and before the Meiji period clarifies that Masachika is an early artist of the Ishiguro school.

The Kinko Tanki follows in 1839 and lists a dramatically expanded school. This points to the rapid rise of Ishiguro and its popularity at the time. This reference still shows Masachika as one of the early students of Masatsune. The first page is mostly devoted to the family of Masatsune with students beginning at Masanaga. These earlier references than modern books, especially the Kinko Meifu being from the time period of the establishment of the Ishiguro school are critical in understanding its structure.

Masachika's year of death is inconsistently listed as 1825 (likely the case) or else the Meiji period (which is from the erroneous references). An 1825 death also places his death earlier than the Shodai Masatsune.

Masachika made a Juyo set of tosogu for the Iyo-Saijo Matsudaira clan, which is one of the branches of the Tokugawa. Another Juyo set of daisho tosogu was made for the Tokugawa clan featuring the Aoi mon and is done with great technical skill. About this set the NBTHK writes:

The metal fittings are a work that shows the height of Masachika's skill, which shows he inherited the skill of the Ishiguro school.

Among the rest of his work we frequently find daimyo mon for the Tokugawa and other high ranking clans, so this seems to have been a specialty of his. It would seem then that he worked for the Matsudaira or the Tokugawa and this work was done to decorate daisho and katana being used as gifts. At this point in time his peer Masayoshi was working for the Satsuma Shimazu daimyo clan, while he was resident in Edo. Some of Masayoshi's work is done with dimensions and style that are suitable for Satsuma style koshirae as a result of this. So we know for sure the daimyo were very interested in Ishiguro school work.

Other than the traditional style shakudo work featuring daimyo mon, Masachika also worked in the traditional themes of the Ishiguro school, including birds such as peacocks and nature scenes. Today Masachika's work can be found in the Museum of Fine Art in Boston and the Walter's Art Museum.

Currently there are nine sets of tosogu that have passed Tokubetsu Juyo from this school, which makes it clear that they are held in high regard. These are divided between Masayoshi and Masatsune. There are another 65 from the school that have passed Juyo.

Ishiguro work is often found in sets of mitokoromono or else in daisho presentation of tsuba, or if lucky in a larger set of soroikanagu. There are at times individual kozuka or menuki to be found.

At the time of its peak, Ishiguro was very popular for its richness, extravagance and beauty. Today the school is as popular as ever with collectors for the same reasons, and is often difficult to find on the open market.

Dai TsubaSho Tsuba
Ishiguro Masachika Daisho Soroikanagu Dai FuchigashiraIshiguro Masachika Daisho Soroikanagu Sho FuchigashiraIshiguro Masachika Daisho Soroikanagu Origami

Hozon Ishiguro Masachika Daisho Soroikanagu

This is a very nice daisho sorikanagu from Ishiguro Masachika. I think it is worth submitting to Juyo and is the most complete and best example I've been able to locate by the smith. The material is gold inlay on shakudo and has a primary subject of pine trees, with reeds, waves and I boats off in the distance. This theme is called Hamamatsu (浜松), Pine Grove by the Sea. This shows all the highlights of Ishiguro work and the other daisho examples I've been able to locate by this smith are all typically daimyo mon. So this is something where he is crafting something in the themes that made Ishiguro famous, and as such I think is an important set for his body of work.

The style of shakudo and gold is the most typical style of the Ishiguro school. Pine themes seem to have been pioneered by Ishiguro Masayoshi as they feature frequently in his work. However it is important to interpret this work from the standpoint of the early references and to understand that Masachika and Masayoshi are peers in time and fellow students so this kind of style is something that would have been developed as a group effort.

A daisho set like this from Ishiguro Masayoshi at this point in time has become rather remarkably expensive. Juyo mitokoromono are in excess of 7.5 million yen, if one can find any for sale anymore. Even 10 years ago I saw a nice complete daisho set of Ishiguro Masayoshi tosogu in Japan and the price on those was 20 million yen, at the time that was over $200,000 USD. Masayoshi though is the premier smith of the school.

The recent exhibition of Ishiguro works and the accompanying book has further increased the profile of Ishiguro, and the style of the school has universal appeal among art admirers outside of those who specialize only in tosogu collecting. Prices have been increasing, making it difficult for dealers to obtain them and a lot of items are trading quietly without getting to the open market as savvy collectors have staked out some important pieces and others the owners simply will not let go at any price. Though Masachika is not at the same level as Masayoshi, this is master work of the smith and I think stands a decent chance of qualifying as Juyo. Regardless of Juyo it represents very well the essence of the Ishiguro school and for a collector interested in Ishiguro, it's a chance to get a really nice set in a style that will be very difficult to obtain again in the future.

This set is currently ranked Hozon and I will guarantee Tokubetsu Hozon of course or else a full refund will be offered. I think this is actually a good example of why people need to be able to understand that swords and tosogu that come out of Japan ranked at Hozon are not necessarily there because of quality, but just because someone wanted only to confirm the signatures with minimal additional expense. When this set came to me the condition was compromised, and top class restoration work has been done over the course of the last year by Brian Tschernega on my behalf, and the results are very good. It still shows signs of use, as it should as it was at some point mounted and used, so the condition is not mint. Dark shakudo like this is very difficult to photograph because it's like taking a picture of the night so requires some careful exposure balancing to come out correctly. In the hand it's always better than photos.

Fuchigashira ShifukuTsuba Shifuku