Omori Mitsutoki

period: Late Edo (ca. 1800-1830)
designation: NBTHK Juyo Toso
dai: 98.5cm
sho: 46.5cm
dai sori: 4.6cm
sho sori: 0.6cm
dai tsuka: 24.6cm
sho tsuka: 12.2cm
dai saya: 76.3cm
sho saya: 33.5cm
price: -sold-

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 studied under Yokoya Somin and Yanagawa Naomasa but his work is not as highly regarded. 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, 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).

Omori Teruhide when he died, passed the master position to Terumitsu, sometimes called Hidemitsu. He was the 5th son of Teruhide and worked in the late 1700s. 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.

Omori Mitsutoki was born to the Yanaginuma family in Kanda-Yanagibashi on the lower reaches of the Kanda river in Tokyo. He made mostly tsuba, kozuka and fuchigashira.

Mitsutoki's style followed the school faithfully and he executed the wave patterns the school is famous for, and his own subjects were hawks and waves, shi-shi, peonies on rocks, shishi with peonies, reed and plovers, warriors and boars, the night attack at Horikawa, Chinese figures, bamboo, and family crests. He made sparrows and bamboo as well, which is considered a friendly subject as the sparrow seeks out bamboo branches which bend rather than break under its weight. He worked in Edo likely from the very end of the 1700s up until his death in 1832, though it is not clear how old he was at the time of his death. His typical work is in shibuichi and he developed a pickling process that produced a light green patina. His work can be found today in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Field Museum of Chicago and in the Baur collection.

Omori Mitsutoki Daisho

We frequently see menuki, or kogai, etc. by themselves available for purchase, and more rarely in futatokoromono (a matched pair), or mitokoromono (a matched triplet). It is very nice though to get a complete set made for one sword, and then the daisho sets are the most rare. In this case as we see from the very few that have obtained Juyo, something like this where the daisho set is not only complete and matched but rather extensive, mounted and signed by a high level maker is the holy grail.

Often the style of daisho is based on those that were prescribed for use in Edo castle by the Tokugawa. These are black lacquered items with horn kashira and kojiri. The kojiri of the dai was to be flat and the kojiri of the sho was to be rounded. Outside of the castle or on duty it was possible to wear any style, and we are lucky to see sets like this that follow some of the same principles (note the different shapes on the kojiri, with the tanto's being rounded and the katana's being flattened) but taken to a different level of artistic expression. The cost, materials, and high quality of this work reflect someone of a very high degree of wealth and this would not be the average samurai who possessed this.

katana koshirae

The lacquer on the saya, if you step back, will snap into focus as well as being in the pattern of peony flowers and perfectly compliments the tosogu. The materials to make this set are gold, silver, mother of pearl, shakudo (an alloy of copper, gold and arsenic which patinates to jet black), and shibuichi (an alloy of silver and copper that can take on colors from pink, to gray, to green depending on its composition and treatment). The sageo (cords) are also original, which is quite rare. These the NBTHK stated were of Korean manufacture.

The tsunagi of the tanto is about 27cm and the katana is about 70cm, and to me it appears to match a late Kamakura / early Nanbokucho suriage katana and tanto pair. I speculate it held something like Rai Kunimitsu or Osafune Kagemitsu but there is now no way of knowing what the swords were. Most often swords and koshirae when high level have been separated when items were sold from the original collections as this maximized value for whichever owner did this. It is a shame, but the economic reality tends to be that koshirae collectors will devalue the sword portion and sword collectors devalue the koshirae portion, so this forces someone to split sets up to maximize value.

tanto koshirae

The attention to detail and the extensive nature of the tosogu on this daisho are unlike any I have ever seen. There are silver rivets which hold the same of the tanto koshirae in place (seen in the slideshow below as they are on the opposite side vs. the photo above), and the mekugi of the tanto koshirae rather than being of simple bamboo is made in shibuichi and screws together with beautiful butterflies on either side. The photographs and its Juyo status I think pretty much speak for themselves. It is a very rare coup and would be an incredible display piece for anyone and one of the rare surviving examples of high level artistic daisho koshirae. The kojiri on their own are incredible artworks, appearing to be alive with lustrous shibuichi petals wrapped around the gold inner parts of a peony (seen clearly in the photos below).

kozuka

The condition is simply outstanding, appearing as if it has never been handled, and I am enthralled by the shi-shi that appear throughout as rather than frolicking as we often see them we see them fighting in some cases and in other cases there is a turmoil that with fanged faces appearing in the midst. Yet this is balanced by the beautiful and peaceful peony flowers.

Even the kozuka is unusual, signed by Nobukuni Mitsumasa and inlaid in gold. He was a Chu-jo level swordsmith of the late 1700s and I have photographed one of his swords in the past which was very nicely made.

dai tsuba

The plugs in the ana are made from black shakudo and they bear botan (peony) decorations. This same application is seen in the seppa. It is likely that these items were made in the Goto workshop because this is one of their signature styles. This would have been from the last stage of mounting the blades into their new koshirae.

sho tsuba

Of the 55 complete Juyo daisho koshirae, this is the only one that obviously feature a tanto. This one is the only one done in this style with an unwrapped tsuka. There are a couple more that look like they may be laid out for a katana and tanto rather than katana and wakizashi but they seem to be very rare (maybe 3 candidates, other than this one which is surely to be for a tanto). Furthermore, there are only two Juyo daisho koshirae from the Omori school, with the other one being a gold family mon style mounted set by Teruhide.

I cannot speak highly enough about this set as it is exactly to my personal tastes, and I admire this kind of work the same way I would admire the work of a top Swiss jeweler. Everything about this set is unusual and extremely high quality. This daisho, being only one of two available from the Omori school at the Juyo level, would be Mitsutoki's masterpiece and one that carries the banner for Omori.

Juyo Toso

Appointed on the 18th of October, 2010

Daishô-koshirae with yellow lacquer saya, mother-of-pearl and peony crest lacquer applications and en suite fittings of Ômori Mitsutoki.

The tsuba of the dai, both fuchi, and the kozuka of the shô are signed “Ômori Mitsutoki + kaô” (大森満辰)

Keijo

The tsuka of the dai is covered with white same and wrapped with a navy-blue cord in tsumami-hishimaki, the tsuka of the shô is unwrapped, covered with white same, and decorated with silver rivets

The daishô-fuchi are of shibuichi, with a nanako ground, and show a peony and shishi lion motif worked in takabori, suemon-zôgan, gold, silver, and shakudô-zôgan-iroe, both are signed “Ômori Mitsutoki + kaô”

The daishô-gashira are of shibuichi and worked in takanikubori, gold, silver, and shakudô-zôgan-iroe

The daishô-menuki are of shibuichi and show a peony and shishi lion motif worked in katachibori and gold, silver, and shakudô-zôgan-iroe

The ura-menuki of the shô depicts a butterfly, is of shibuichi, and worked in katachibori and gold nunome-zôgan, there are positive and negative stems interpreted as suaka screws on the menuki of the shô

The tsuba of the dai is in mokkô-gata, of shibuichi, with a nanako ground, and shows a peony and shishi lion motif worked in takabori, gold, silver, shakudô and suaka-zôgan-iroe, it has a kaku-mimi ko-niku and two hitsu-ana which are both plugged with shakudô, the mei reads “Ômori Mitsutoki + kaô”

The tsuba of the shô is in hamidashi-gata, of shibuichi, with a nanako ground, and shows a peony motif worked in takabori, gold, silver, and shakudô-zôgan-iroe, it has a nikubori-mimi and a kozuka-hitsu recess but is unsigned

The kozuka of the shô is of shibuichi, with a nanako ground, and shows a peony and shishi lion motif worked in takabori, gold, silver, and shakudô-zôgan-iroe, the back plate is gilded and signed “Ômori Mitsutoki + kaô”

The kurigata of the daishô are of shibuichi, unsigned, and show a shishi lion motif worked in takanikubori, gold, silver, shakudô, and suaka-zôgan-iroe

The uragawara are of shibuichi, with a nanako ground, unsigned, and show a shishi lion motif worked in takanikubori, gold, silver, and shakudô-zôgan-iroe

The kojiri of the daishô are unsigned, of shibuichi and show a peony motif in katachibori with gold iroe

The saya of the daishô are yellow lacquered and decorated with mother-of-pearl and peony crest lacquer applications

The daishô pair features each four gilded suaka seppa

The sageo of the dai is of white and light blue vertically striped and Korean made, the sageo of the shô is also navy blue and Korean made and shows a rain dragon design

Time of Production

End of the Edo period.

Setsumei

The daishô is a pair of swords, namely of an uchigatana and a wakizashi, and the emergence of such a daishô or rather the combination of these swords to a daishô is dated to the end of the Muromachi period. In the Edo period, strictly regulated daishô mountings were introduced which had to be worn when at official occasions. These special daishô-koshirae were called kamishimo-zashi (裃指, lit. “worn with the kamishimo”, the official dress of the samurai) or banzashi (番指, lit. “worn at official occasion” or “worn when on duty” in or around Edo Castle).

According to the Bakugi-sankô (幕儀参考) which describes bakufu-related uniforms and the like, such a kamoshimo-zashi or banzashi had to composed of gloss black-lacquer saya with a straight kojiri for the dai and a round kojiri for the shô. The tsuka had to be covered with white same and wrapped with a black cord in hishimaki. The kashira had to be of black-lacquered horn and the fuchi of polished or nanako-accentuated shakudô. The tsuba had to be of polished shakudô, i.e. they had to be so-called kenjô-tsuba (献上鐔), and the mitokoromono high-quality Gotô works. The only other decoration allowed for the fittings were gold iroe family crests. The sageo had to be black or purple if such a daishô was intended as gift. However, all other daishô worn by samurai were not regulated but we find various daishô interpretations which are based on this formal kamishimo-zashi/banzashi.

This daishô-koshirae comes with en suite fittings of botan and shishi lion motif made by Ômori Mitsutoki. The tsuka of the dai is wrapped but the tsuka of the shô was left unwrapped: something that is rather uncommon for a daishô-koshirae. Both saya are yellow lacquered and decorated with mother-of-pearl and peony crest lacquer applications. Mitsutoki was a student of Ômori Teruhide´s (大森英秀) son Terumitsu (Hidemitsu) (英満) and was very skilled in continuing the carving tradition of the Ômori school. The bold lacquer applications of the peony crests goes perfectly with the fittings with their magnificent takabori ornamentation. It is a truly gorgeous daishô-koshirae.