"CORRECT PLACEMENT OF MENUKI" VS "HISTORICALLY MORE ACCURATE MENUKI PLACEMENT" IN SPECIFIC KOSHIRAE STYLE.*
S. Alexander Takeuchi, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology
University of North Alabama
January 27, 2003
I. Introduction: Which way is "correct"?
Just like anything about Nihon-to that shows considerable variations,
“appropriate” menuki placement on
Nihon-to - culturally, historically, and functionally - does vary widely
depending on the reference to which (or the context in which) the particular
style of koshirae is studied. That is
because the variations of Nihon-to koshirae
that we know in existence today have developed largely out of the combination of
the followings (Hirato, 1994; Kokubo, 1993; Ogasawara, 1994; Tsuji,
a) functional demand (e.g., Kurourushi-tachi koshirae, Kawazutsumi-tachi koshirae, Toppei-koshirae, Shingun-to koshirae),
b) ritualistic demand (e.g., Hyogokusari-tachi koshirae),
c) bureaucratic requirement (e.g., Eifudachi koshirae, Tojo-zashi koshirae, Kenjo koshirae)
d) regional sub-culture (e.g., Ezo koshirae, Higo koshirae, Owari koshirae, Satsuma koshirae, Shonai koshirae, Yagyu koshirae),
e) associated school of sword art (e.g., Jigen ryu for Satsuma koshirae, Yagyu Shinkage ryu for Yagyu koshirae, Keishicho ryu for Junsa/Saber koshirae),
f) historical period and popular culture of the era (e.g., Keicho koshirae, Momoyama koshirae, Tensho koshirae),
g) artistic expression (e.g., dashizame-tsuka aikuchi koshirae),
h) political/ideological expression (e.g., Kobusho koshirae)...
[And the list goes on... Also, this is why it is critical to also select a proper set of koshirae kanagu in the same tradition/koshirae style if one is to make an artistically tasteful yet historically accurate and “culturally correct” koshirae for an antique Nihon-to. (See, Hiroi, 1994).]
II. The Evolution of the Functions of Menuki and the Emergence of Morphological Patterns.
From a pure functionalist point of view, menuki was basically born out of rather pragmatic demand to serve primarily as “mekugi osae” or the cover (or lid) over mekugi pin. Examinations of old Kara-tachi and Kazari-ken koshirae made in Nara through early Heian periods, such as the ones in Shosoin Museum and Tokyo National Museum, tend to confirm this functional origin of menuki among the earliest styles koshirae. (See Ogasawara, 1994 for photos.)
However, soon its secondary function to serve as a pair of ornaments began to be emphasized equally (Suzuki, 1995). Additionally, many other “latent functions (i.e., not originally intended or obvious but still important eu-functions)” were discovered (e.g., tactile indicators to tell the correct orientation of the edge or correct “tenouchi,” palm swells, status/rank symbols, religious charm, etc.). Then over the course of the evolution of Nihon-to koshirae, those secondary and latent functions of menuki seem to have taken over its “manifest function (i.e., originally intended and well recognized purpose)" completely.
This kind of phenomenon and the transformation of secondary or latent functions into manifest functions is commonly observed with any material culture/cultural artifact that has one thousand years of evolutionary history... However, the functional evolution of menuki and its placement in the context of specific style of koshirae it is not all random, either. Over the course of its evolution, placement of menuki has certainly developed morphological patterns that can be recognized in each style of koshirae. (See for example Takeuchi, 2003, on historically more accurate menuki placement in two different versions of so called “katate-maki.”)
III. Historical Accuracy.
Today, depending on the function(s) that the particular style of koshirae emphasizes, “historically accurate” (rather than the “correct”) placement of menuki can vary, yet still be *identifiable* to a certain extent (Hirato, 1994). Based on the shared norm amongst the makers and the users of the Nihon-to (in the particular koshirae), it is possible to identify the most “stereotypical” or “popular” placement of menuki in that particular style of koshirae. Interestingly enough, there is even a particular style of traditional Nihon-to koshirae that does not use menuki at all. Since the recent release of a book by Zusho (2003) entitled Satsuma koshirae, this particular style of koshirae has gained some attention of Nihon-to collectors and craftsmen. Actually, many “duty spec”simple Satsuma koshirae that were developed to meet specific demands of Jigen ryu samurai were equipped with rather simple steel fuchi/kashira, and they were completely “menuki-less” (Kokubo, 1993; also see Zusho, 2003 for detailed information on Satsuma koshirae and it relationship with two schools of Jigen ryu). Thus, even a "menuki-less" koshirae of this genre, if made according to Jigenryu-Satsuma koshirae tradition, is "historically accurate"...
Does this mean the most “stereotypical” or “popular” placement is the only “correct” one? Most Nihon-to experts would agree that it is not the case. What we can say, however, is that such a placement of menuki is “more accurate historically” with some confidence.
IV. "Okite" or Traditional Rule on the Orientation of Properly Placed Menuki.
While I mentioned that the recognizable patter of placement menuki does vary significantly depending on the specific style of koshirae, one thing that seems to be very consistent across various styles of uchigatana koshirae is the “orientation of heads/tails of menuki” on tsuka (Hirato, 1994; Suzuki, 1995). At least among the variations of uchigatana koshirae that are worn in edge-up position, the normative orientation of menuki, according to "okite or traditional rule of koshirae making, is as follows (Suzuki, 1995):
a) in case of an animal motif, the “heads” should be oriented toward fuchi while the “tails” should be oriented toward kashira;
b) in case of a plant motif, the “roots” should be oriented toward fuchi while the flowers, leaves or fruits should be oriented toward kashira.
[Note. The rule applies to menuki on both "omote (front)" side and "urau (back)" side.]
Of course, just like anything with Nihon-to, exceptions to this rule still do exist among antique koshirae. However, according to one of the most sought after koshirae-shi of the Showa period, Koichi Hirato (1994), the reversed orientations of menuki on some antique koshirae seem mostly due to the craftsman’s lack of knowledge of proper orientation...
Hirato, Koichi. (1994). "Saya: Koshirae shitaji. [Scabbard: Koshirae wood core.]" In Tadashi Oono (Ed.), Nihon-to shokunin shokudan. [The tales from Nihon-to craftsmen.] (1st Ed.). Pp.155-168. Tokyo, Japan: Kogei Shuppan. ISBN 4-7694-0051-9.
Hiroi, Shinichi. (1994). "Saya. [Scabbard.]" In Tadashi Oono (Ed.), Nihon-to shokunin shokudan. [The tales from Nihon-to craftsmen.] (1st Ed.). Pp.141-154. Tokyo, Japan: Kogei Shuppan. ISBN 4-7694-0051-9.
Kokubo, Kenichi. (1993). Zukan toso no subete. [The complete illustrated book of the Japanese sword furnishings.] Tokyo, Japan: Kogei Shuppan. ISBN4-7694-0094-2.
Ogasawara, Nobuo. (1994). Nippon no bijutsu 1, No. 332: Nihon-to no koshirae. [The art of Japan 1, No. 332: The mountings of Japanese swords.] Tokyo, Japan: Shibun Do.
Suzuki, Takuo. (1995). "Toso o tsukuru. [To make sword furniture]." In Sakuto no dento giho. [The traditional methods of sword making.] Chapter 5. Tokyo, Japan: Rikogaku Sha. ISBN 4-8445-8563-0.
Takeuchi, S. Alexander. (2003). "Typology of katate-maki (i.e., battle wrap) and its relevance to historically accurate menuki placement." In Dr. T’s Nihon-to Random Thoughts Page. University of North Alabama, Florence Alabama, USA. http://www2.una.edu/Takeuchi/DrT_Jpn_Culture_files/Nihon_to_files/Katate_maki.htm
Tsuji, Kyojiro. (1994). "Tsuka maki. [Handle wrapping.]" In Tadashi Oono (Ed.), Nihon-to shokunin shokudan. [The tales from Nihon-to craftsmen.] (1st Ed.). Pp. 169-179. Tokyo, Japan: Kogei Shuppan. ISBN 4-7694-0051-9.
Zusho, Ichiro. (2003). Satsuma koshirae. Tokyo, Japan: Ribun Shuppan. ISBN4-89806-192-3.
* Edited and reprinted from the author's original posts on Bugei Sword
Copyright © by S. Alexander Takeuchi, Ph.D.