Omori Terumitsu

period: Edo (ca. 1780)
designation: NBTHK Hozon Tosogu
mei: Omori Terumitsu (kao)
fuchi: 36mm x 20.5mm
kashira: 32.5mm x 15.5mm
price: -hold-

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. I will however use Terumitsu herein to maintain compatibility with various English language books and translations.

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, 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 Teruhide when he died in 1798 at the age of 69 passed the master position to Terumitsu, sometimes called Hidemitsu or Eiman. 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.

Terumitsu signed with two styles, one of which featured an abbreviated "mori" character as can be seen in the Juyo reference item to the right and is the same as this work.

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.


Omori Terumitsu Kozuka

Terumitsu'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 Terumitsu'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).

For me, I am often trying (along with a lot of others) to get examples of the Omori school. This is the fifth one I was able to locate over many years that is signed and legitimate (the world is drowning in Omori fakes, especially of Teruhide). Good, signed, papered, legitimate Omori work is very difficult to get one's hands on, and this is the first time I've been able to get the 3rd master Terumitsu.

The theme of this kozuka is ki-rin over waves, and it shows the Omori technique for carving waves very well. The waves style fittings I have seen out of this school have had a variety of subjects, from dragons to sea creatures, to coral and rocks. This is the first time I've seen ki-rin. The ki-rin are a slightly blue-black patina that causes them to stand out from the background ever so slightly. With good Omori work, touches of hands over the years will buff the patina ever so slightly on the high points of the waves, and this causes them to take on a bit of a lovely silvery appearance much like the crests of real waves breaking. It seems like it was consciously designed as such, so that the highest parts of the carving depth-wise are the crests of the waves and this allows Omori work to age beautifully. It's something to keep in mind when comparing against the numerous fakes and copies.

Whatever technique Teruhide invented and handed down through his students, it allowed them to generate waves with a degree of chaos and irregularity, making no two quite alike. The copies and fakes tend to become trapped in regular repeating patterns that lack the complexity of true Omori carving.

Condition wise this kozuka is in fairly goodshape, the front is in fact excellent though the back has some scratches on it and a couple of dings from a lifetime of use. Given the difficulty of finding signed and authenticated waves-style work, this would be a small coup for any fittings collector.

This kozuka comes in a custom-fit box which also bears a hakogaki by Sato Kanzan, one of the founders of the NBTHK. The lid reads, “Signed: Terumitsu, kozuka depicting Kirin.” Under the lid it says, “Shakudo with wave ground, takabori-iroe, signed Omori Terumitsu. Spring in the year of the hare of the Showa era (1975), Kanzan (Kao).” (赤銅波地高彫色絵銘大森英満昭和乙卯春寒山誌「花押」)