Tsuba: Yamashiro Tenpo / Tempo / Tembo 山城 天保 

Tenpo Tsuba

pron Tenpou (also Tempo; Tembo)

These tsuba were initially made in Yamashiro 山城. They are a robust forged iron plate (ita gane) made from the Muromachi period and well into the Edo period. They are considered to have originally been made by armour makers (katchushi), and usually have the typical raised or thickened rim (mimi) known as sukidashi. Occasionally these tsuba are signed; usually Tenpo or Tenpo Yamashiro 天保 山城. In “Nihonto Koza vol VI: Kodogu” it states that the Tenpo group was started by Sanada Tenpo who was affiliated with the Saotome Ryu (katchushi), and in Edo period moved to Sagami Province 相模(Kanagawa).

The tsuba of the Saotome group 早乙女 of armour makers were the genesis of the Tenpo tsuba. They usually have raised mimi, and folded or rolled rims (uchikaeshi mimi) at the four corners, often with a pattern of angled grooves filed across the rim. These tsuba may also have some ko-sukashi designs (mushroom is common). “Tsuba Geijutsu-ko” (Torigoye; Torigoye & Haynes) notes in later work Saotome ha introduced kokuin (hot stamps), which included 花 (hana, a flower), 風 (kaze, wind) and 春風 (haru kaze, spring wind). Many of these type have features of both Saotome and Tenpo tsuba.

These ita gane Tenpo tsuba are of quite variable quality but the early ones are made of well forged iron (tetsu). Most of these Edo period tsuba are basic and made for practical purposes, but many are also of pleasing design with a strong feeling of “budo”. They were produced all through the Edo period, and in the later periods many were mass produced, plus many imitations of the original work, especially into the early-mid 1800’s.

The majority are mokko gata (4 lobe shape), but also nagegaku gata (rounded square) which are mostly later work; many are quite large and often over 8.0 cm in size. Some Tenpo tsuba have sukashi designs, often of Buddhist symbols or possibly mon. The most striking feature are the “hot stamps” (kokuin); some of these stamps are the symbols of the natural elements. Stamps include 天 ten (heaven/sky), and a common stamp is two characters 大 tai (great) and 土 tsuchi (earth) which would be read as 大 土 “dai tsuchi” or “great earth”. Later work includes two characters 大 (dai) with 士 (shi) which probably has a Buddhist association. (Difficult to distinguish tsuchi and dai on some stamps: see figure). Other common symbols are 風 kaze (wind), 金 kin (metal or gold) and ki (wood). One uncommon kokuin is a stylised version of “kotobuki” 壽 which means good luck.

There are a number of stamps of crossed lines, referred to here as kakine (fence): 2-bar kakine (”hatch” #), and 3-bar kakine (top left in figure). Those of two pairs of lines at an angle may represent i-geta, the frame or fence around a water well. There are various versions of this design which are used as kamon. (Wells are considered as special places, as spirits may live within them.)

Two other stamps (top right in figure) are slightly different, and may represent the first two kanji (na mu) in a Buddhist sutra 南無阿弥陀仏; these can be as separate stamps (”na-mu”) or together in one stamp, as in figure.

A known signed example of a Tenpo tsuba is 8.7 x 8.3 cm with mei 天保 山城, and six different stamps each side (ten, tsuchi, kin, kaze, mizu (possible) and another unclear. There are other tsuba with the three kanji for “Saotome”.

It is likely that there is some significance of size and characters on stamps as to period and different tsubako, but such information has not been located. Possibly they are sub-groups within the Yamashiro Tenpo group, and later imitations. For example, the kaze 風 tsuba look of similar construction, and tend to be thinner.

Some Tenpo tsuba have brass applied (zogan) as pins, or foil; these are from different periods. Those of later work may be thinner; some have very large “#” stamps and appear rather crude.

The following page by Jim Gilbert “Saotome-Tembo Tsuba” has some good examples and explanatory text:
located in Richard Stein’s website: The Japanese Sword Guide

Examples of Tenpo Tsuba

Saotome Tenpo Tsuba

Saotome tsuba, mokko gata,iron plate, 8.70 x 7.80 x 0.3-0.45 cm. Has typical folded rim (uchikaeshi) at the four “corners” with grooves around mimi, two hitsu (one kozuka and one kogai of suhama gata). Brass linning at seppa dai. There are punch marks of sakura flower, but no kokuin. Ura mei of “Saotome” 早乙女 “Iyesada” 家貞, one of the main names of Saotome tsuba. This is attributed to yondai Iyesada.

Saotome Tenpo tsuba for wakizashi, mokko gata, medium iron plate, 8.20 x 7.55 x 0.40 cm. Has typical folded rim at the four “corners” with grooves diagonally around mimi, two hitsu (one kozuka and one kogai). There are two medium size stamps which are unusual; these may be sao 早 and tome 乙 (like a large “Z”).

Ten Stamp

Tenpo tsuba for katana, mokko gata, thin iron plate, 8.20 x 7.55 x 0.35 cm. Two hitsu, one kozuka and one kogai. Numerous stamping of a small ten 天 stamp.

Tenpo tsuba for katana, mokko gata, 8.7 x 8.4 x 0.45 cm. Two hitsu ana. Numerous stamping of a small stamps of ten 天 and kaze 風. Unusual as signed “Yamashiro (no) Ju” “Tenpo”. Very irregular surface.

Tenpo mokko gata tsuba, kozuka and kogai hitsu ana, 8.6 x 8.3 x 0.55 cm. Mumei, irregular hammered surface (tsuchime). Kokuin of ten 天 and another slightly larger? Probably late Edo.

Mokko gata Tenpo tsuba for katana, height 8.4 cm, thinner plate with slight thickening of rim, stamps appear to be ten 天 and tsuchi 土

Tenpo tsuba for tanto, mokko gata, thin iron plate, folded rim, but not greatly thicker at mimi, 5.7 x 5.2 x 0.35 cm, hitsu kozuke (of hitsu kogai shape); numerous overlapping stamping probably of a small ten 天 stamp.

Tenpo tsuba for tanto, nagegaku gata, sukidashi mimi, one hitsu ana, slots for sekigane, 4.8 x 4.65 cm, thickness nakago ana = 2.0 mm, mimi = 4.5 mm. Stamps: omote 天 ten (style of character is like calligraphy with short stroke on right), 月 tsuki (moon) (same as gatsu for month), ura 5-6 stamps but not clear.

Dai-Tsuchi Stamp

Large Tenpo tsuba for katana, mokko gata, 9.25 x 8.7 x 0.45 cm, well forged plate, two hitsu ana, three large stamps: dai-tsuchi 大土, kaze 風 and large #

Mokko gata Tenpo-Saotome tsuba for katana, kaku-sukidashi mimi, 8.8 x 8.3 x 0.40 cm, no hitsu ana, dai-tsuchi 大土 stamp, and large # stamps, mid-Edo period.

Thick Tenpo tsuba, mokko gata, 8.8 x 8.0 x 0.5 cm, two holes of hitsu ana one with gold coated copper plug, mimi is thickened, stamps of dai-tsuchi 大土 and #.

Tenpo tsuba, mokko gata, two hitsu ana, kogai hitsu ana umegane is gold coated with raised pattern, mimi is thickened sukidashi, 8.1 x 7.35 x 0.4 cm, stamps of dai-tsuchi 大土 and large #.

Mokko gata Tenpo tsuba of 8.8 x 8.3 cm, has thick stamps of dai-tsuchi 大土 and a remnant of a gold zogan design.

Tenpo tsuba for katana, thick iron plate, mokko gata, 8.65 x 8.00 x 0.50 cm, two hitsu ana, unclear stamping of combined dai-tsuchi 大土, sukashi design of suhama (”sandbar” which is a mon), and ko-sukashi of two batons/counting sticks.

Aoi gata Tenpo tsuba for katana, ura, 8.5 x 8.0 x 0.3 cm. Small hitsu ana for kozuka. Stamps are dai-tsuchi 大土 and #.

Tenpo tsuba for wakizashi, of rounded square shape (nagegaku gata) with large kozuka hitsu and dai-tsuchi 大土 stamp. Thickened rim (sukidashi)

Tsuba for katana, of rounded square shape (nagegaku gata) with large kozuka and kogai hitsu ana (both suhama shape). Two large clearly applied stamps dai-tsuchi 大土 and another similar to #.

Extremely large mokko gata tsuba of 10.7 x 10.3 cm with thickened sukidashi rim, large kozuka and kogai (suhama) hitsu ana. Two stamps
dai-tsuchi 大土 and 3-bar hatch (kakine). Probably early Edo. The original nakago hitsu is around 3.8 cm long, and been shortened with copper sekigane to 2.7 cm; possibly originally mounted on a nodachi.

Hamidashi tsuba with sukidashi rim and open kozuka ana, 5.1 x 3.8 cm. Omote has stamps of dai 大 and tsuchi 土, and partial stamps of a circle? Ura has 3 stamps that look like stylised “i” the zodiac sign of wild boar. Nakago ana shows the blade was very thick (possibly yoroi doshi).

Kaze Stamp

Mokko gata Tenpo tsuba for katana, one hitsu ana (suhama), sukidashi mimi, groups of kaze 風 stamps.

Mokko gata Tenpo tsuba, 8.00 x 7.65 x 0.30 cm, thin plate with thin sukidashi mimi, kozuka ana and kogai ana with copper plug (umegane), stamps of kaze 風, copper sekigane. Mid-late Edo.

Mokko gata, sukidashi mimi, two hitsu ana, 8.20 x 7.60 x 0.35 cm, groups of kaze 風 stamps. Two udenuki ana (holes for wrist cords) with shakudo linning. Probably mid-Edo.

Tenpo tsuba for katana, shape is kaku mokko gata, flat iron plate only slightly raised rim, kozuka and kogai hitsu, 8.40 x 7.90 x 0.45 cm, stamps of kaze 風 and tsuchi

Tenpo tsuba for katana, maru gata (slightly oval), thinner iron plate, 8.60 x 8.15 x 0.35 cm, two kogai-shape hitsu, numerous stamps of kaze 風

Na-Mu Stamps

Mokko gata tsuba of 9.1 x 8.5 x 0.45 cm, kozuka hitsu ana, a pair of cord holes (udenuki ana) which are punched, but not enlarged. Unusual shapped hole on right is not a kogai ana, but could be a large udenuki ana. The kokuin is a large stamp with two characters considered to be “na-mu” 南無.

Ura of Tenpo tsuba of 9.0 x 8.6 cm, mokko gata with two character “na-mu” 南無 stamp. Large kozuka hitsu and unusual sukashi design of heart-shaped inome (boar’s eye).

Mokko gata tsuba, 8.65 x 8.00 x 0.4 cm, two hitsu ana, sukidashi mimi, two cord holes, two character “na-mu” 南無 stamp, late Edo period.

Dai Shi Stamp

Tenpo-Saotome style tsuba for katana, mokko gata, kaku-sukidashi mimi, 9.20 x 8.50 x 0.40 cm, two hitsu ana, dai-shi 大士 stamp, sukashi conch (horagai) and two batons? (another possibility is sangi, or counting sticks). Mid-Edo period. This tsuba has Saotome style rim of uchikaeshi mimi, but pattern is partly carved.

Tenpo tsuba for wakizashi or small katana, rounded square shape (nagegaku gata), rather thick plate, rim not greatly thickened
and stamp is dai-shi 大士

Large Tenpo tsuba for katana, mokko gata, 9.20 x 8.50 x 0.45 cm, well forged, one kozuka hitsu, sukashi of two small hearts or boar’s eye (inome), large stamp of combined dai-shi 大士

Omote of large Tenpo tsuba, aoi gata, no hitsu ana, stamps of dai-shi 大士 and large 3-bar kakine hatch.

Tenpo tsuba for katana, nagegaku gata, iron plate, 8.50 x 8.15 and thickens to 0.55 cm on rim. Rim is folded and has rope style striations along the rim. Two hitsu, one kozuka (brass lined) and one kogai. Numerous stamping of a small combined dai-shi 大士, plus another large stamp ~1.5 cm, unidentified, like a “C” (on both omote and ura).

Other Stamps

This very large iron tsuba, 10.7 x 10.2 cm with thickened (sukidashi) rim. Has several chrysanthemum (mon) stamps as well as ten 天 and tsuchi 土; it is mokko gata and has an two hitsu surrounded by sukashi design. May be a presentation tsuba.

A large mokko shape iron tsuba, 9.3 x 8.6 cm, sukidashi mimi, two hitsu ana, with dai-tsuchi 大土 stamp, and another more detailed stamp (not sure of design).(image from JapaneseSword.com)

Tenpo tsuba, rounded square shape (nagegaku gata), thin iron plate (ita gane), 8.60 x 7.80 x 0.35 cm, rim is kaku mimi and not thickened. Two hitsu ana, kogai is suhama gata. Mumei, mid Edo. Stamps are dai-shi 大士 and kotobuki 壽 (good luck).

Tenpo tsuba, mokko gata, forged iron plate (ita gane), 8.5 x 8.0 cm, maru mimi. Two hitsu ana with copper edge on seppa dai. Mumei, mid Edo. Two stamps of dai-shi 大士? and kotobuki 壽 (good luck).

Small, thick tanto tsuba, hamidashi shape, thick tanto tsuba with raised rim, 5.00 x 3.85 x 0.40. On front are four stampings of a stylised “kotobuki” 壽 (see figure), plus three “flower” stamps. On rear two stampings of one character (not recognised).

Tenpo tsuba aoi gata, sukidashi mimi, 8.50 x 7.75 x 0.45 cm, kozuka and kogai hitsu ana both with iron plugs (umegane) of iron with hammered finish (tsuchime). The kokuin is a three bar kakine (fence) stamp. mid-late Edo. numerous stampings of a large “#”.

Tenpo tsuba mokko gata, sukidashi mimi, 7.6 x 7.0 cm, kozuka ana with shakudo plug, numerous stampings of a large “#”. [Hageyama@mindspring]

Mokko gata, sukidashi mimi, very large 10.0 x 9.5 cm, kozuka and kogai ana,on each side 4 stamps of pairs of clouds? Kozuka and kogai hitsu ana (suhama); omote mei “Masada” “Tenpo”. Gold plated copper pins representing dew. Looks to be better quality earlier work.

Brass Zogan

Tenpo tsuba for katana, mokko gata, 9.32 x 9.14 x 0.50 cm, with brass film (zogan) worked into the iron plate and latter punched; numerous small stamps of ten 天

Tenpo mokko gata tsuba, 8.3 x 8.1 cm, brass film (zogan), two stamps, mumei, a large square (plain?) stamp, and a smaller ki 木 (wood) stamp on top. Mid-late Edo.

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