越前  記内

Malcolm and Sueko Cox

Nihonto-no-Bi website: 2006


Introductory Note

This summary is based on the book “Echizen Kinai Tsuba” 1998, by Nobuo and Nobuhide Tsuruwaka. Dr Nobuo Tsuruwaka has spent 50 years researching temple, local government and personal records to derive the findings in the book.  These notes are not a direct translation of the book, but a summary of the main features of this school.  


History of Each Generation

Ko-Kinai Ishikawa Family 

古 記内 石川

There are examples of tsuba with three different forms of “Kinai”, with different “ki” all of which probably came from Kyoto:   Kinai  紀内,  Kinai  喜内,  and the Echizen Kinai  記内.  There was a Kinai group (木内) who did horimono, however, Tsuruwaka consider this is a different family.


Shodai Ishikawa

He started making tsuba in the late Muromachi (ca. 1560-1570) and was a student of Kyō-Shōami school in Kyoto.  He therefore has a very strong Kyō-Shōami influence in his work.  At the end of the Muromachi (ca.1573-4) due to wars, and a major earthquake the shodai moved to Gōshū (Ômi Province).  There is a tsuba with omote mei “Gōshū”, “Kinai” from this pre-Echizen period, with design of ji-sukashi wooden bucket with flowers and vine.  Because of this he is known as “Gōshū Kinai”.  There are many mumei examples of this design. Apparently, soon after this he moved to Ichijōtani, Echizen, and then to Fukui, Echizen.  He was accompanied by Akao Jinzaemon Yoshitsugu (shodai Akao), and these families continued a close relationship for many generations.  Gōshū Ishikawa usually signed omote mei, but one example “Echizen no Jū”  “Kinai Saku” is ura mei and considered to be a special order or gift.  The design of this tsuba is ji-sukashi of the metal fittings on a saddle.  The year he died is not recorded, but is likely to have been the late 1500’s. 


Nidai and Sandai Ishikawa

The period of work for these generations was one of warfare in Echizen with the rise of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  Apparently both these tsubakō took refuge for “some time” (presumably a number of years) in Kashū (Kaga no Kuni).  Also of significance is Hideyoshi’s invasion of Korea in 1592.  It is believed the large naval vessel Nihon Maru with a dragon bow, inspired the famous dragon tsuba of these two tsubakō, from the period 1592-1598.  The nidai seems to have produced the earliest Kinai dragon.  Their typical dragons look to the right and the tsuba do not have circular rims; the dragon have a big face, big lower jaw, and no ears, horns or tusks, and tend to be katachi bori with minor ji sukashi. 


Tsuruwaka also show an example of a tsuba with the mei Kinai  紀内, which they attribute to the sandai Ishikawa.  This tsuba is a large sukashi dragon with a circular rim.  The dragon is of a different style with a wild look, facing to the right, has horns and claws, with a large ken tail.  It has omote mei  “Echizen no Jū” 越前住  “Kinai Saku”  紀内作.  No reason for use of this mei or the change of design is suggested.


Yondai Ishikawa

His early work were large tsuba with dragon design, but gradually he was influenced by Kyō-Umetada and there was a change from his typical two or three dragon designs.  Possibly the three aoi leaf design started here, with the start of the Tokugawa era from 1600.  The aoi is the mon of the Tokugawa family.  The Kinai tsubakō became firmly established back in Fukui from this time.  In his mei, the yondai has an extra small stroke in one or two of the kanji “echi”, “zen” or “jû” (usually to right), and is squarish and strongly cut.  Often there was also an extra stroke in the kanji “nai”.  He did not use “saku”. He used gold zōgan on some tsuba.  Tsuruwaka consider he may also have signed some tsuba as Kinai  喜内.  [Could this have been at the end of his career?]


Godai Ishikawa

Little is recorded for him, except he was established in Fukui.  His early work was omote mei, but he changed to ura mei (most examples seen are omote).  He used a strong Shōami style, and also used gold zogan.  His mei was strongly cut. Godai has many similar features to his father, and his early work is seen as transitional to the yondai (omote mei, no saku).  [Could this be before he became sensei?]


Rokudai Ishikawa

This tsubakō made a strong impact, and had a long working life.  He died in Enpō 18 (1681, September, 18).  He specialised in dragon designs, which made up 50% of his work.  They are mostly wild looking, with obvious large divided horns, and claws, within a circular rim; some dragons look to the left.  He produced a lot of tsuba, but also many in Shōami style.  There was a gradual change in his mei from early to late period with the kanji “echi”  where the strokes on the right (4th, 5th and 6th) change.  As the rokudai had no heir, he took his best deshi as his adopted son, to continue the Kinai tradition.  The adopted son Gonbei became the first of the Takahashi family line.


Echizen Kinai Takahashi Family

越前  記内 高橋

Shodai Takahashi

His name was Takahashi Yoshitsugu Gonbei, and he became known as “Gonbei Kinai”.  The name Yoshitsugu is related to the Akao family.   He lived in Matsuya-machi, Fukui-ken, and died relatively young in Genroku 9 (1696, September 17).   No grave is known for him.  Gonbei is said to have been very skilled, but somewhat irresponsible as he had a problem with sake, which probably shortened his life and he was often in debt.  There are several examples of tsuba signed “Echizen no Jū” “Kinai Gonbei Saku”.  He also did dragon, with prominent horns, on which the small divided horn points backwards; also the spiked eyelid usually covers the eye.


Nidai Takahashi

When Gonbei died, his oldest son had already died, and his son (Gonbei’s grandson), was too young to follow as the next generation.  As a result Gonbei’s younger son took over the family responsibility, and also to train his nephew as well as his own son.  His name was Ōhashi Tajurō.  He was not originally trained as a tsubakō, but as a bamboo craftsman, in which he had a good business.  As a result of this complex situation and not being the oldest son, Tajurō was never formally acknowledged as nidai, even though he was very skilled.  There are “nidai” period tsuba signed “Echizen no Jū”  “Kinai Saku” which are attributed to Tajurō.   One of these is a tsuba made by order (which is stated on omote), and on ura is the date “Shotoku Go Nen” (1715), and signed “Echizen no Jū Kinai Saku”.  This tsuba is of a carp design.  Tajurō seems to have retained both the tsuba and bamboo craft businesses, but may have died relatively young.  He produced many designs, including dragons, with prominent horns, on which the small divided horn points forwards to distinguish from the shodai’s work.  It is not known whether Gonbei’s older son ever made tsuba. 


Sandai Takahashi

Tajurō’s nephew, and Gonbei’s grandson, continued as sandai.  He seems to have been successful and produced tsuba that are mostly large, often with a wide circular rim, and strong clear designs.  Common designs are kiku (chrysanthemum), take (bamboo), aoi, plum, dragon and cloud, an uncomplicated Phoenix bird, plus many others, mostly ji-sukashi.  He signed ura mei “Echizen no Jū” “ Kinai Saku”.  He died in 1760 (Hōreki 10, or Hōryaku 10).


Yondai Takahashi

He had a very long working life of over 50 years and produced many tsuba.  Mostly the tsuba are large, and have strong designs, and there are many patterns, aoi, kiri, bird, horse, dragon, wave and bird, lobster, river and snow; his work shows a strong Kyō-Shōami influence. Some designs were a bit unusual for Kinai, such as prayer strips (tanabata), also bunbōgu (stationary).  He signed ura mei “Echizen no Jū” “Kinai Saku”.  Earlier in his career his mei is of large squarish characters, strongly cut; in his later career the mei is narrower and more delicate, and the whole signature is longer.  In particular the “echi” kanji changes.    He died in Bunka 6 (1809, January 3).


Godai Takahashi

This tsubakō had a short life, and died only 9 months after his father, the yondai, in Bunka 6 (1809, October 27).  Of course, he did produce tsuba before becoming the sensei, and these cover many designs.  He has tsuba with variations of  1, 2 and 3 aoi leaves, a big mushroom, ginko nuts, oak leaves, pine and bamboo, rice stalks, clam (hamaguri), eggplant, dragon, wave and dragon, bird and Mt Fuji, monkey sukashi,  abalone (seem common), noshi (envelope and ribbon).  He made some square tsuba also (nagegaku gata).  He signed ura mei “Echizen no Jū” “Kinai Saku”, and used a distinctive “kinai” (called “Iri Kinai”).


Rokudai Takahashi

This generation introduced a dynamic and prosperous period, in which there was both rapid production of pre-made tsuba, as well as quality ordered work.  The rokudai was also a good business man and employed at least 6-7 deshi, who produced much routine work.  As production was high, it is difficult to know who produced what, although quality is a guide.  Some of this work was also produced to sell in Edo (Tokyo).  The mass produced deshi work is quite variable but often technically inferior, and is called “decchi-Kinai”.  These tsuba tend to be small with omote mei.  In this dai it is hard to know the tsubakō; there were several different mei styles, even on the same design.  This was especially so with the aoi, a very common design because it was that of the Fukui Han mon.  Many variations of the aoi design were made; in this dai even the poorer quality work is signed.  It is of note that several designs used by the Kinai group were also used by Shōami tsubakō.


These pre-made tsuba gave a poor name to this dai, especially the mass produced ones, however, good quality tsuba were also made.  Most tsuba are ji-sukashi, but there are also katachi nikubori, such as shells and shitake.  Most rokudai period tsuba have omote mei.  Rokudai Takahashi died in Bunsei 4 (1821, April 10).  [Tsuruwaka (1998) p.23 table, misprint with kanji as Bunka.]


 In this period we often see “Echizen Akao” mei; an example is an omote mei on a small tsuba (“koburi no tsuba”).  These tsuba are from the associated Akao family.  They are very good at Kyō-Shōami design, but slightly different style, typical is big dried fish (big teeth), aoi, scallop shells, horse tools.  Important is that the Akao worked in collaboration with rokudai Takahashi.


Nanadai Takahashi

This last generation was born in 1818 (Bunsei gannen, first year). [Tsuruwaka (1998) p. 23: kanji as Bunka].   There is no record at the temple, but in Echizen he is referred to as “Meijin Kinai”, which is a very respectful term and means “exceptional person” due to his skilful work.  This was the Bakumatsu period at the end of the Tokugawa era.  His father died when he was 4; his wife (Waka) was possibly a daughter of the Myōchin family of  tsubakō, and they had a son, Torakichi.


He produced more smaller tsuba than larger.  Often the colour of the metal is said to look newer and not have the dark patina.  Two points of his mei can be recognised: “kinai” is iri kinai; “saku” is cut with top strokes looking like an umbrella (sloping down) as in [here called “kasa saku”].  However, during this period there are some extremely well made, and elegant tsuba.  Common in these designs are, flying cranes, noh mask sukashi, autumn flower and insect sukashi, cows with detail, plus shellfish, butterfly, lobster, rice stalks, locust, grass hopper, Phoenix bird, dragon and waves, cloud and dragon sukashi, marrow, gingko, kiku, bamboo bush, pine leaves, cherry blossom, eggplant, and others.  One unusual tsuba is a kanji sukashi design.


As the demand for tsuba production declined from the Bakumatsu to the Meiji, and the nanadai started drinking and gambling, and got into debt.  He is known to have left Echizen in Meiji 5 (1872) at 55 years of age, leaving his wife and son.  There is no record of him after that or when or where he died.


General Features of Echizen Kinai

Iri Kinai Tsubakō

Characteristic of godai Takahashi and nanadai Takahashi is they used the “Iri Kinai” mei usually as ura mei.   They signed “Kinai Saku”   記内 , but for the “kinai” the “nai” kanji (the two inside strokes (3rd and 4th) read as “iri”  ), are reversed with the longer stroke on the right  (as in ). Quite a few late Echizen Kinai tsuba of quality work are signed as Iri Kinai.  Many are artistic designs, such as lobster, flying bats, rice stalks and maple leaf.  Nanadai Takahashi had a number of talented co-workers or collaborators, referred to as “Iri Kinai”, although he did not have the large number of deshi as the rokudai period.   Some recorded Iri Kinai who worked with the nanadai, are,


     presumably a relation, an example has omote mei “Echizen no Jū”, and ura mei “Takahashi Kinai Munemitsu Saku Kore”


     an example of a small nademaru gata tsuba has a Phoenix design and ura mei “Echizen no Jū” “Koshitsugu Saku”.  Other known designs of his were dragons and flying cranes.


     tsuba signed “Echizen no Jū” “Kōka” 


     name is Kinai Ōhashi Kōtō, an example of a sukashi design of five noh masks, a small tsuba, with mei both sides.  Same name as the nidai Takahashi, and presumably a relation.


Points on Kinai Mei

·  All the sensei used “Kinai”, but often some characteristic feature

·  For those with long working lives, may be a gradual change in mei

·  Co-workers, including family used “Kinai”

·  By collaboration some other families also used “Kinai”, for example the Myōchin and the Akao families, but may be a subtle difference (e.g. Iri Kinai).

·  There are obvious gimei “Kinai”


Only two Echizen Kinai tsuba from either family are know to be dated, one is 1644 (Shōhō 1) by rokudai Ishikawa,  although this was made in the godai period, and 37 years before his death.  This is signed ura mei on a sukashi tsuba of a wild dragon with horns and whiskers; the mei is “Shōhō, Gan San Gatsu Kichi Jitsu, Echizen Jū Kinai Saku”.  The other dated tsuba is by “nidai” Takahashi (Tajuro), 1715 (Shotoku 5).


The Ko-Kinai Ishikawa family from shodai to yondai used omote mei, but there are a few exceptions.  The early godai used omote, but changed to ura mei (there seem to be few omote mei).  The rokudai is all ura mei.  On some tsuba the sandai may have signed “Kinai Saku”  紀内作, and the yondai may have signed some as Kinai  喜内.  [MC: is this related to an Umetada influence on these particular tsuba].


The Takahashi Kinai family all use ura mei, except the rokudai period.  The use of omote mei here seems to be for the mass produced Decchi Kinai works, but special works by the rokudai may be ura mei.  The reason for the signature on the back (ura) is to show respect, which was of special importance as most of the customers were samurai from the local Han. The ura mei was also used respectfully on a special order tsuba.   In addition, the aoi was a common design, as it was the mon of the Tokugawa families.  The godai and the nanadai both used “Iri Kinai”, and the nanadai also had the umbrella-shape “saku”.


Note:  the features of tsuba style and mei outlined above, are probably true for around 90% of cases, but as with all things related to Nihonto, there are exceptions.


Features of Kinai Tsuba

There is a strong influence in style from Kyō-Shōami tsuba, as well as from Umetada school and Akao school.  Ko-Kinai (Ishikawa) tsuba are usually large, and many are mumei.  Tsuruwaka consider that often, many mumei  Ko-Kinai tsuba are attributed to Kyō-Shōami due to their similar style.  In general the ji-sukashi tsuba have bold designs of objects arranged in a display or scene, such as animals, or flowers and trees, often with waves; many have a circular rim.  There are the well known “dragon tsuba” of this group by the nidai-sandai, which are solid, quiet and in which the design forms the rim; later variations by the Takahashi Kinai have a circular rim, and the dragon has a wild look.  The dragons of the Takahashi tend to have more prominent horns, and some of those of the shodai (Gonbei) and nidai (Tajurō) also had a divided horn.


General Comments

There were quite a few major family groups producing tsuba in Echizen during the Edo period, and they often they took each others younger generations as deshi, or even adopted them.  The main families are Kinai, Akao, Myōchin and Haruta.  There was also marriage between the families.  As many of the families initially came from Kyoto, and interacted, there were often similarities in their work, plus common designs, often with minor variations.


The Akao Ha was founded by Akao Jinzaemon Yoshitsugu.  This is the shodai Akao 赤尾 who studied in Kyō-Shōami with shodai Ishikawa Kinai.  He may also have studied for a time with Umetada Myōju.  The Akao group later developed a good business in both Echizen and Edo, but work from Echizen is considered superior.  There are 17 recorded tsubakō signing with Echizen Akao up to the Meiji.  There was a strong link with the Echizen Kinai tsubakō, and also between Akao and Umetada.





越前  記内



Ko-Kinai ISHIKAWA Family  

古 記内 石川


No.   Kanji         Dai            Name                     Period                   Mei                     Saku


1       初代          shodai        Gōshū Kinai           (1580)                    omote (ura)         x         


2       二代          nidai                                         (1600)                    omote                  saku


3       三代          sandai                                       (1620)                    omote                  x


4       四代          yondai                                      (1640)                    omote                  x


5       五代          godai                                        (1660)                    ura (omote)         saku (x)


6       六代          rokudai                                     d. 1681                  ura                      saku



Echizen Kinai TAKAHASHI Family

越前  記内 高橋



No.   Kanji         Dai            Name                     Period                   Mei                     Saku


1       初代          shodai        Gonbei                   d. 1696                  ura                      saku


[2]     二代          nidai           Tajurō                    (1720)                    ura                      saku


3       三代          sandai                                       d. 1760                  ura                      saku


4       四代          yondai                                      d. 1809                  ura                      saku


5       五代          godai          (iri kinai)                 d. 1809                  ura                      saku


6       六代          rokudai       Rokudai                 d. 1821                  omote (ura)         saku

                                             Decchi Kinai           (1821)                    omote                  saku


7       七代          nanadai       Meijin Kinai            1872                      ura                      saku

                                             (iri kinai)                                                              [“kasa saku”]



Date in (brackets) is estimated end of working period, based on 20 years per generation.