Omori Eiman TsubaOmori Eiman

periodEdo (ca. 1790)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Tosogu Tsuba
dimensions7.7 cm x 8.0 cm
price -sold-

Before beginning, a note on names. Omori Teruhide is better known in Japan as Omori Eishu. This is in fact the better way of referring to him, with Teruhide being the alternate pronunciation of Eishu, but more commonly understood in the west. Omori Terumitsu, the subject of this listing, similarly can be referred to as Omori Eiman and it is probably more appropriate to do so.

The Omori school is famous for its carving and particular for deeply carved wave patterns. Its roots are with a swordsman: Omori Shirobei from Sagami (Soshu). He began making fittings around 1700 but it is his son Omori Shigemitsu who is recognized as founder of the school so he is likely to be the first who received high level training as he studied under Masayoshi Ichirobei and Yasuchika of the Nara school. He died in 1726 and his work is all in Nara style. His son Terumasa (Omori Eisho) studied under Yokoya Somin and Yanagawa Naomasa but his work is not as highly regarded as those two. His nephew Teruhide though would rise to eminent levels and be considered the greatest of the Omori masters. Teruhide actually had a samurai as a student, Chizuoka Hisanori, who was a retainer of the Mito Daimyo. He gained a fairly high level of skill studying under Teruhide.

One of the styles we see in the Omori school aside from the famous waves patterns is the traditional pairing of botan (peony) with shi-shi (also referred to simply as lions, fu-dogs, or lion-dogs). These symbols are quite ancient, with the shi-shi having originated in India, passing through China and arriving in Japan in the Nara period (roughly a 1300 years ago). They are Buddhist designs invoking Monju the Bodhisattva of wisdom, which are symbols of protection and power. The botan is considered the Queen of Flowers and thus associates well with the shi-shi, or King of Animals. We also see the shi-shi in front of temples and shrines, where they serve to scare off demons (with an open mouth) and keep in good spirits (with a closed mouth).

Teruhide was born in 1730 with the personal name of Kisoji, and he is also known with an alternate pronunciation of his name: Eishu. In Japan this is more frequently used, though in the west we usually use Teruhide. Though he was the nephew of Terumasa he was adopted somewhere along the line and is considered the second mainline master of the Omori school and its finest artisan.

His enhancement to the wave pattern style began by Terumasa was to make extremely deep carvings and undercuts, which had to take a considerably longer time due to the amount of material which had to be cut away to produce the dramatic three dimensional sculpture. These wave pattern items usually feature some kind of sea creatures and can be quite stunning.

One of his famous techniques is makie-zogan which involves hammering gold into the existing shibuichi ground and afterwards polished to a high gloss.

He continued the style of his father [... enhancing it with ...] a so-called "nashiji-zōgan" (梨子象嵌) or "makie-zōgan" (蒔絵象嵌) technique where fragments of gold foil are hammered on the prepared surface. The latter is polished and so a magnificent effect is created which reminds us of the makie lacquer technique and some style elements from paintings. Markus Sesko, Kinko Kodogu

Omori Eishu when he died in 1798 at the age of 69 passed the master position to Eiman, sometimes called Hidemitsu or Terumitsu. He was the 5th son of Teruhide and worked in the late 1700s. Eiman signed with two styles, one of which featured an abbreviated "mori" character. For some reason when he died himself he never appointed a successor so the Omori mainline officially ends with him, though Omori Mitsutoki was in turn his primary student and probably would have been the candidate for becoming the 4th master of the school. His skill certainly speaks to this opinion.

Omote and Ura side by side

The legacy of the Omori school threw a large shadow of influence and the waves pattern work that Teruhide made famous was copied by many artists who came after him. Many of these copies had no signature or had signatures removed, and both types were targets for adding fake Teruhide signatures. These fakes are quite common and in spite of the bad signatures they are often passed along as "Omori school" works or even demand a fair amount of money just because the style is so popular. Though Teruhide made the waves style famous, his work in the other typical Omori styles seems to be at least or even more common than waves style.

Tokubetsu Hozon Omori Eiman TsubaOmori Eiman Tsuba OrigamiOmori Eiman Tsuba Compton

Omori Eiman Tsuba

Eiman's first name was Manzo and changed it to Kisoji sometime later in life. It's not clear when he was born but we know he lived at least to 61 because he documented that on one of his works. He is technically the last head of the Omori school but several other Omori smiths followed in his path with a great degree of talent so it's not clear why he is considered the last of the Omori masters.

Like his father, though the Omori school was famous for its waves, this subject does not seem to dominate Eiman's output. There are three Juyo examples of his work (out of 26 total Juyo achieved by the school... and note that there are 10 Juyo swords for every one Juyo fitting).

This tsuba is a rather large and interesting tsuba measuring 8 cm. It features the typical and sought after deep Omori wave carvings in a base of iron. It must have been fun to carve those out of iron. Most Omori work is in soft metal shakudo so this piece seems to be an unusual exception. The koi are in shibuichi on one side and shakudo on the other I think, and there is a pleasant and subtle difference in color between them and the ground. It seems to form one panorama when flipped, as the waves look like they match up between the sides.

Finding an Omori tsuba rendering waves like this is quite difficult, this is only the second one I have been able to locate.

This tsuba as well has excellent provenance coming from the collection of Dr. Walter Compton who is the most famous American collector of Japanese samurai art. It is listed in the Compton catalog from Christie's. Dr. Compton retains particular fame due to the fact that he discovered a National Treasure (Kokuho) Bizen Kunimune tachi in the USA that was one of the swords taken from Japan during the war. Rather than keep this sword he graciously returned it to Japan in 1953 as a gift. For his act of selflessness and kindness he is remembered very fondly by all. The blade was looted from the Terukuni shrine where it had been donated by the Shimazu daimyo, and was sold at a military base junk sale for $10. The blade was obtained by one of Dr. Compton's pickers for $50. The value of this sword is likely well north of one million dollars. So, please understand the quality of the gesture.

The photo to the left is Honma Junji, Walter Compton, Sato Kanzan and Murakami Kosuke.

This tsuba comes in a custom box. Eiman signed the reverse side so it's been presented here with the unsigned side forward.

Omori Eiman Tsuba in Box