The Yamatorige/Sanchōmō (山鳥毛)

Many of you who follow the “sword news” have surely heard that the city of Setouchi, Okayama Prefecture, is currently attempting to purchase the famous national treasure sword Yamatorige/Sanchōmō-Ichimonji in order to bring it home to where it was once made more than 700 years ago. The city has started a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and please follow the links below (the second one is to the official Facebook page) if you want to contribute and know more details about the project.

 

 

I also want to link below to the article Paul Martin, who is on board with the project, has written for JAPAN-Forward (Sankei Shinbun) that also gives you an overview of what it is all about.

 

 

Now in my humble article here, I would like to provide some more historical background and sum up the provenance of the sword. The first time the sword appears on the scene, as far as extant historic records are concerned, is the mid-16th century. The sword register of the Uesugi (上杉) namely, the Uesugi-ke Tōken Daichō (上杉家刀剣台帳), states the following on how it came into the possession of the family:

“When Uesugi Kenshin (上杉謙信, 1530-1578) (then named Nagao Kagetora, 長尾景虎), set out in the tenth month of Kōji two (弘治, 1556) to Kōzuke province where the local castellan of Shiroi Castle (白井城) and relative of Kenshin, Nagao Norikage (長尾憲景, 1511-1583), presented him with a sword by Kanemitsu (兼光). The sword was nicknamed Sanshōmō/Sanchōmō, either because its hardening pattern resembles a forest fire (shō, 焼) on a distant mountain (san, 山), or because it resembles the beautiful tail feathers (mō/ge, 毛) of a copper pheasant (yamadori/yamatori/sanchō, 山鳥).”

 

Uesugi Kenshin (left), Uesugi Kagekatsu (right)

 

So, already the Uesugi records are aware of the ambiguity of the blade’s nickname and some even interpret it as “mountain that appears to be on fire due to the evening sun” or as “resembling the controlled burning of dead grass on a hillslope (yamayaki/sanshō) in spring (in order to stimulate growth).” However, that ambiguity goes to a certain extent back to how Kenshin’s son Uesugi Kagekatsu (上杉景勝, 1556-1623) recorded the blade when he made his famous list of the 35 greatest treasure swords in his possession (he had inherited the blade afer his father’s death). That is, Kagekatsu used the archaic way (山てうまう) (see picture below) to note the term Sanchōmō, i.e. teu (てう) being an archaic hiragana variant of chō(ちょう) and mau(まう) of (もう). So without kanji characters, the exact meaning is unclear.

 

The red arrow marks Kagekatsu’s Santeumau notation.

 

In short, Sanshōmō became Sanchōmō and the latter then also became Yamatorige, with no one being able today to say with certainty what the actual origins of that nickname are. To me personally, the hamon of the blade sure looks more like fire but with some imagination, I can also see the resemblance to the staggered, graded tail feathers of a copper pheasant (see picture below). Also, as you may have noticed in the above quote, the blade was once attributed to Osafune Kanemitsu and handed down within the Uesugi family as such. When Emperor Meiji visited the Uesugi on their lands in Yamagata in Meiji 14 (1881), he was shown the Sanchōmō/Yamatorige as he was known to be a great sword lover, which was then still labeled as Kanemitsu.

 

 

Then in 1937, when Count Uesugi Noriaki (上杉憲章, 1876-1953), the then head of the Uesugi family, received the satus of a jūyō-bijutsuhin (Important Art Object) for the sword plus its mounting, it got attributed to the Ichimonji School, which is appropriate because the blade does indeed look much much more like an Ichimonji/Fukuoka-Ichimonji than a Kanemitsu work (well, Kenshin and Kagekatsu had a liking for Kanemitsu so this may have played into the provenace but that is a topic for another post). Three years later, the sword was designated as a jūyō-bunkazai (Important Cultural Property) and finally in 1952 as kokuhō (National Treasure). Now in the kokuhō designation, the owner of the sword is listed as Okano Taromatsu (岡野多郎松, 1900-?). Okano was one of Japan’s biggest sword collectors in the mid-1900s and owned a large number of jūyō-bunkazai and kokuhō blades. So Uesugi Noriaki, or his family, obviously sold the sword some time between 1940 and 1952 to Okano. The sword was then featured in the catalog to Okano’s collection, the Bizan Aitō Zufu (備山愛刀図譜), published in 1958 by Satō Kanzan in. Ten years later, in 1968, it was on display at the National Treasure special exhibition of the NBTHK where it was introduced as being owned by Okano Mitsuhiro (岡野光弘), who I assume was Taromatsu’s son.

 

The Sanchōmō in its present condition.

The Sanchōmō when it was designated as a kokuhō in 1952.

Koshirae of the Sanchōmō.

 

In recent years, maybe three or four years ago if I remember correctly, the current owner (of whom I do not have any information) made the attempt to sell the sword to a museum, institution, or facility located either where the blade was made or were the former lands of the Uesugi were. Eventually negotiations were made with the city of Jōetsu, Niigata Prefecture (former Echigo province and thus historical Uesugi territory), but the deal was cancelled in 2017. And this is where Setouchi City comes into play as one of the owner’s desired destinations of where the sword should be preserved for posterity. As indicated at the very beginning of this post, please refer to the links to get the first-hand information of Setouchi City and all parties involved.

For some additional reading on the Sanchōmō/Yamatorige and its place within the Uesugi family, please see my alternative Sword Legends site here.

 

 

 

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The correct reading of certain names

This is just going to be a very brief post but upon suggestion, and also upon working on the Gotō chapter of Volume 3 of the Tosogu Classroom project a while ago, I want to urge collectors, scholars, and connoisseurs to refer to two Gotō artists in particular by their correct name, i.e. the correct reading of their characters.

One is the 11th Gotō main line generation Tsūjō (後藤通乗, 1664-1721). His official first name was (光寿) which is often erroneously read as Mitsutoshi because toshi is the most common name reading of the second character (寿), or unsimplified (壽). However, the correct reading is MitsuNOBU. This is pointed out by Fukushi Shigeo via the furigana (reading aids of syllables printed next to kanji) Mi-tsu-no-bu (みつのぶ) in all of his publications on the Gotō School (see picture below).

Readings1

Also the Sano Museum uses the proper Mitsunobu reading in their catalogs (see picture below).

Readings2

The Tōsō Kodōgu Kōza (again, see below) goes into detail and says the following: “It is common to refer to Mitsunobu to as Mitsutoshi but period documents of the Gotō family quote his name with the furigana Mitsunobu.” So, at least the Gotō family should know how to read the name of one of their main line masters, right?

Readings3

 

Another name that is often quoted wrongly, and I did so myself in the past, is the official first name of the 16th main line master Hōjō (後藤方乗, 1816-1856). The kanji for his name are (光晃) and are correctly read Mitsuakira. There is some discussion about him being the only Gotō main line master who read the second character of his official first name with three syllables, a-ki-ra, whereas all others just used two-syllable readings, e.g. no-bu as in the previous case. Due to this oddity, it was suggested that his name should be read Mitsuaki, an approach which I followed myself for a while. However, Fukushi Shigeo, the Sano Museum, and Hajime Zenzai from Ginza Chōshūya (see pictures below) all quote his name as Mitsuakira (みつあきら) and therefore I am positive that this is the correct reading.

Readings4

Readings5

Readings6

 

As mentioned at the beginning, let us all be careful not to mislearn certain name readings as it is so difficult to correct and “unlearn” later, talking from my own experience.

And whilst we are on the topic, I want to point out two more misreadings I see all the time on the net. One is yasurime, yasuriME, ME, and not yasuriMEI. Nothing to do with mei, i.e. it is not “file signature” (鑢銘, yasurimei) but “file marks/strokes” (鑢目). And the other one is Kiyomaro, KiyoMARO, MARO, and not Kiyomaru.

Gotō soroi-kanagu (後藤揃金具)

After roughly a century of peace (with the exception of the Shimabara Rebellion) and stability after the Tokugawa had taken over in 1600, the affluent Genroku era (元禄, 1688-1704) is considered as the Golden Age of the Edo period. However, this period did not last very long as financial miscalculations on part of the bakufu caused an abrupt inflation and much went so to speak downhill from there until rock bottom was hit in the mid to late 1800s. I don’t want to go into too much detail here but suffice to say, and focusing on the ruling bushi class, we see the divide between rich and poor growing gradually bigger from after Genroku onwards.

Well, the super rich were still very rich and when you were from a well-off and high-ranking samurai family, dealing with the issue of luxurious gifts and return-gifts was the order of the day. So apart from swords (I have talked about sword gifts on numerous occasions), what do you give a daimyō son as his wedding gift, e.g. when you are a daimyō or high-ranking hatamoto yourself? Well, from the second half of the 18th century onwards, it became fashionable, i.e. when you really had to leave an impression, to present a complete set of fittings of all Gotō generations. For example, one kozuka, kōgai, pair of menuki, or a full mitokoromono set by each and every one of the Gotō main line generations that existed up to that time. These sets are referred to as Gotō XX-dai soroi-kanagu (後藤◯◯代揃金具), with the XX referring to the then total number of main line generations of course. If its “just” kozuka, a full set may be referred to as Gotō jūrokudai soroi kozuka (後藤十六代揃小柄), as seen here.

This “fashion trend” among the rich goes hand in hand with the practice of the Gotō to issue origami appraisals/evaluations and add motif elements by an earlier generation to a newly made kozuka or kōgai, and signing so on the reverse, e.g. “Mon Teijō – Mitsutaka + kaō (紋程乗 光孝「花押」), which translates as “Motif element by Teijō, (attributed so by) Mitsutaka” (see picture above). Such signatures are referred to as kiwame-mei (極め銘) and newly made kozuka/kōgai with motif elements by an earlier generation to as kiwame-mono (極め物).

Now that all said, main reason for why I made this post is because I want to introduce one way of how such Gotō soroi-kanagu were stored (and presented). So, this is for those who have never seen such sets and I thought that might be interesting to share when I was handling a few of these boxes the other day at The Metropolitan Museum of Art whilst studying sword fittings. For those who have been to the Met by the way and checked out the Japanese arms and armor galleries, the Gotō sets that are on display are to a large extent stored in such boxes (now you know), But let’s start.

The picture below shows the large and heavy wooden box which is inscribed “Gotō-ke jūgodai menuki” (後藤家十五代目貫), “menuki by the 15 Gotō generations.” ↓

When you take off the lid, you see a nice little bundle which you pull out by the lateral purple cloth straps. ↓

Below is the inner chest taken out of the wooden box, still in its custom made cloth cover. ↓

That cloth cover taken off, a black-lacquer chest appears. ↓

Opening its lid, you see more cloth and opening the uppermost cover, another black-lacquer box appears which is labeled origami (折紙). ↓

As you have already guess, it is full of origami for each piece in the set. ↓

Under the origami box is another black-lacquer chest, wrapped in a separate piece of cloth. ↓

The lid of this chest is labeled “Iebori o-menuki” (家彫・御目貫) and taken off, it reveals three drawers with five sections each what brings us to the total of 15, i.e. one section for each Gotō generation, starting with the first generation Yūjõ (祐乗, 1440-1512) on top left (you have to read the names from right to left) and ending with the 15th generation Mitsuyoshi (光美, 1780-1843) aka Shinjō (真乗). ↓

And the picture below shows the whole ensemble. Can you put everything back together? 😉 These were just the menuki and The Metropolitan Museum of Art is in the possession of some more boxes with different sorts of Gotō fittings sets. Last but not least, an extravagant set is owned by the Sano Museum (see here). Their set consists of mitokoromono by the first 14 main line generations.

eBook Super Sale 2018

 

ebooksale-dti1

The DAI TOKEN ICHI is around the corner and it is time for another eBook Super Sale that gives you 50% off. As usual, it works directly via me (i.e. I’m not going to manually change all the prices on Lulu.com and then change them back when the sale is over). I provide a list of all my eBooks below, showing the regular and the reduced prices. I also linked them so that you can check what the description says but again, DO NOT buy over there at Lulu.com this time. Get in touch with me via “markus.sesko@gmail.com” and pay me directly, either by PayPal using the very same email address or by check or credit card (using the donate button at the very bottom of this page) and I’m going to send you over the eBook. And anyway, if you gave a question, just drop me a mail.

So grab this chance to fill up your tablets/phones with all references you need, if you are attending to the DTI. Should be handy to look up artists or backgrounds on the spot. In this sense, the eBook Super Sale will be up until the end of the month and the next one will not come until next easter.

Thank you for your attention!

Akasaka Tanko Roku ….. $8.90 – $4.50
Encyclopedia of Japanese Swords ….. $24.90 – $12.50
Geneaogies and Schools of Japanese Swordsmiths ….. $19.90$10
Genealogies of Japanese Toso Kinko Artists ….. $19,90$10
Identifying Japanese Cursive Script ….. $14.90$7.50
Identifying Japanese Seal Script ….. $14.90$7.50
Japan’s Most Important Sword Fittings ….. $14.90$7.50
Jukken ….. $14.90$7.50
Kano Natsuo I ….. $59.90$30
Kano Natsuo II ….. $59.90$30
Kantei Reference Book – Hamon & Boshi ….. $19.90$10
Koshirae – Japanese Sword Mountings ….. $19.90$10
Koshirae Taikan ….. $59.90$30
Koto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45
Koto Meikan ….. $39.90$20
Legends and Stories Around the Japanese Sword ….. $9.90 – $5
Legends and Stories Around the Japanese Sword 2 ….. $9.90 – $5
Masamune ….. $29.90$15
Masters of Keicho Shinto ….. $19.90$10
Nihon-koto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Nihon-shinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Nihon-shinshinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Shinshinto Meikan ….. $29.90$15
Shinto Meikan ….. $29.90$15
Shinto Shinshinto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45
Signatures of Japanese Sword Fittings Artists ….. $89.90$45
Soken Kinko Zufu ….. $9.90 – $5
Swordsmiths of Japan ….. $89.90$45
Tameshigiri ….. $29.90$15
The Honami Family ….. $19.90$10
The Japanese Toso Kinko Schools ….. $24.90$12.50

German Titles:

Die Honami Familie ….. $19.90$10
Geschichten rund ums japanische Schwert ….. $9.90 – $5
Geschichten rund ums japanische Schwert 2 ….. $9.90 – $5
Koto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45
Nihon-shinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Nihon-shinshinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Shinto Shinshinto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45

 

 

Oroshigane mentioned in signatures

Translating a signature the other day in which the swordsmith refers to a particular steel he used to make that very sword, I remembered that I had a halfway finished article on a related topic on my HD, and that is the use of oroshigane, or more precisely, on smiths explicitly mentioning in their mei the use of such.

First of all, I want to explain what oroshigane is, and many of the experienced collectors may already know that. Oroshigane is a steel that is produced or refined by the swordsmith himself, or such process, which is called oroshigane as well (the process is sometimes also referred to as jigane-oroshi). In a nutshell, oroshigane basically has two meanings: One is the smith just refining the tamahagane steel he has received from the tatara furnace and that he is going to use for certain parts of the blade, and the other is the smith making the steel for the sword himself, from scratch, i.e. he is making his own tamahagane for which he may use for example steel from old nails, old swords, old castle gate fittings, you name it. Note here: The very term oroshigane does not mean “steel making” per se. So when you read oroshigane in a signature, it means that the smiths wants to stress that he paid special attention to the steel he used for that blade. Several modern swordsmiths today for example go into great lengths (even combined with academic research on iron and steel) to produce their own steel, and proudly mention that in their signatures.

Now in earlier kotō times, going through the process of oroshigane was the norm, that is, a swordsmith had to refine the steel he received through his local supply chain. Today, the steel making process run by the NBTHK via their tatara in Shimane Prefecture is that optimized and sophisticated that the end product, the tamahagane, is basically ready for use by the swordsmiths, i.e. they only have to check and sort it on the basis of its carbon content (different parts of the blade require a steel with a different carbon content, but you already know that). The first time something like a centralized tamahagane production was achived was in the former half of the 16th century. Does that ring a bell? Yes, that came along with the mass production of swords in course of the ongoing wars, a time which went down in history as Sengoku period. Even the initiator of the shinshintō era of sword making, Suishinshi Masahide (水心子正秀, 1750-1828), noticed that and writes in his Tōken Jitsuyō Ron (刀剣実用論, Essay on the Practicality of Swords):

From around Tenbun (天分, 1532-1555) onwards, the steel produced by the centralized production centers could be used as is and this is when the process of oroshigane started to decline. It was then revived around Keichō (慶長, 1596-1615) by the Kyōto-based master Horikawa Kunihiro (堀川国広, 1531-1614) and was also frequently used by the Ōsaka swordsmith Tsuda Sukehiro (津田助広, 1637-1682) when he tried to recreate works of the Muromachi-period Mino smith Izumi no Kami Kanesada (和泉守兼定). However, the process of oroshigane fell again into oblivion from around Genroku (元禄, 1688-1704) onwards.

This entry is very interesting as it perfectly sums up and corraborates these certain parts in the history of Japanese sword making. That is, with the centralization of steel making and the mass production of swords, local characteristics in the jigane of blades start to blur and followed by a thorough but brief attempt to recreate old kotō masterworks during the Momoyama era, about one hundred years of peace brought forth by the Edo period left the majority of swordsmiths with not really an incentive to go the extra mile to painstakingly refine the already pretty much refined steels they received through their supply chain.

 

Picture 1: jūyō-tōken, katana, mei: “Tsuda Echizen no Kami Sukehiro – Enpō shichinen hachigatsu hi jigane oroshi o motte kore o tsukuru” (津田越前守助広・延宝七年八月日地鉄研造之), nagasa 65.2 cm, sori 1.6 cm

So far the background of oroshigane but I actually wanted to point out the different ways swordsmiths mentioned that process/steel in their signatures. First of all, and probably due to obvious reasons stated above, I have not yet come across a kotō blade that mentions oroshigane in the mei. Picture 1 shows a blade dated Enpō seven (延宝, 1679) where the aforementioned master Sukehiro states in the signature: “Jigane oroshi o motte kore o tsukuru” (地鉄研造之), “made by using (or applying the process of) oroshigane.” Sukehiro here uses the character (研) which does not read oroshi per se (it reads ken or migaku/togu/suru) but which was used by “borrowing” one of its meanings, which is “to refine,” what brings us again to refined steel.

At this point, you may ask yourself, what does the very term oroshigane actually mean. I mean, gane is clear, it means “steel”, but oroshi? In our case, the term oroshi is assumed to come from the term fuki-orosu (吹き下す) which means “blow down upon,” and was probably chosen because it resembles the way the smith blows air into the prepared steel/charcoal arrangement for the oroshigane process in his furnace. Strong and dangerous winds blowing down the slope of a mountain are referred to as oroshi as well, written with the character (颪), which has to be taken literally so to speak, i.e. “down” (下) and “wind” (風). Tsuda Sukenao (津田助直, 1639-1693/94?) for example, a student of Sukehiro, used that very character when referring to oroshigane (see picture 2).

Picture 2: jūyō-tōken, katana, mei: “Tsuda Ōmi no Kami Sukenao – Genroku ninen nigatsu hi jigane oroshi o motte kore o tsukuru” (津田近江守助直・元禄二歳二月日以地鉄颪作之, “made by Tsuda Ōmi no Kami Sukenao on a day in the second month of Genroku two (1689) by using oroshigane), nagasa 62.4 cm, sori 1.6 cm

Other possible variants of quoting oroshigane seen in period signatures and documents are (卸し鉄), (卸鉄), (卸鋼), (をろし鉄), and (おろし鉄), and I am sure there are some more, so if you come across one, please let me know. Another way to refer to the process of oroshigane can be seen at the example of the northern Ōshū-based swordsmith Kunitora (国虎, 1658-1718) who was studied with master Inoue Shinkai (井上真改, 1630-1682). In the signature of the blade shown in picture 3, he states “oroshi yutetsu o motte kore o tsukuru” (以颪湯鉄作之) which means “made by refining pig iron.” In other words, he refined, via the oroshigane process, the pig iron he had received. And there even exists a blade by Kunitora, see link here, where he states in the mei that he refined nanban-tetsu via the oroshigane process to make it.

 

Picture 3: jūyō-tōken, katana, mei: “[kikumon] Izumi no Kami Fujiwara Kunitora – Oroshi-yutetsu o motte kore o tsukuru” (「菊紋」和泉守藤原国虎・以颪湯鉄作之), nagasa 73.8 cm, sori 2.0 cm

Gotō Ichijō’s personal sword

Before we start, I want to apologize for my recent posts being more brief than usual. Those who follow my page know why and when things have calmed down, i.e. when I have settled in with my new job, and place, I will get back to more detailed and “substantial” articles.

Now this time I want to introduce the tantō that Gotō Ichijō (後藤一乗, 1791-1876) had received as a gift from the bakumatsu era master swordsmith Koyama Munetsugu (固山宗次, 1803-?) and which he owned for the rest of his life. So let’s portray the careers of these two artists.

Picture 1: tantō, mei: “Bizen no Suke Munetsugu kore o saku – Kōka sannen hachigatsu hi – Zō Ichijō Hokkyō” (備前介宗次作之・弘化三年八月日・贈一乗法橋) – “Made by Bizen no Suke Munetsugu on a day in the eighth month of Kōka three (1846) as a gift for Ichijō Hokkyō”; nagasa 31.2 cm, sori 0.2 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune

First of all, both Ichijō and Munetsugu were already renowned artists at the time the blade was made, which was in Kōka three (弘化, 1846), and very busy with fulfilling orders. That is, Ichijō was 56 and Munetsugu 44, following the Japanese way of counting. Let me begin with Koyama Munetsugu. Munetsugu started his career as smith for the Shirakawa fief (白河藩) of northern Mutsu province which was then ruled by the Hisamatsu-Matsudaira (久松松平) family. So far so good but in Bunsei six (文政, 1823), the bakufu decided that the Hisamatsu-Matsudaira needed to be transferred, and that is, to the Kuwana fief (桑名藩) of Ise province what basically cut their annual income by half. There are some theories why this happened but I don’t want to go into too much detail here and suffice to say, Munetsugu remained employed and was able to keep his job. However, he did not proceed to Kuwana right away but stayed for six more years in Shirakawa, i.e. his move down to Ise took place in Bunsei twelve (1829). Just two years later, he got the chance to go to Edo to work for the fief from its capital premises, which means that Munetsugu was now “where everything happened.” Well, there was a brief break from that as in Tenpō six (天保, 1835), Munetsugu worked for an unknow but short period of time for the Owari-Tokugawa family, i.e. directly from Owari province. We can only speculate why that employment did not continue (maybe it was a temporary contract in the first place) but the then Owari-Tokugawa head, Nariharu (徳川斉温, 1819-1839), tried to revive the economy of his fief but failed first badly as he was wasting so much money with his own ventures. In short, Nariharu eventually received a stern warning from his imperial tutor and obeyed so Munetsugu was probably laid off and that is why he returned to Edo and back into the employment of the Matsudaira.

Well, Munetsugu was just looking back at a very successful time in his career and one year before the blade introduced here was made, i.e. in Kōka two (1845), he had received the honorary title Bizen no Suke (備前介). In concrete terms, we are talking about the Tenpō era (天保, 1830-1844) and a large number of Munetsugu’s works and also of his greatest masterworks go back to that period. Or in other words, it was a few years in the Tenpō era when his career really took off. Incidentally, that was also the time when Munetsugu started his cooperation with the Yamada Asa’emon (山田浅右衛門) family of sword testers.

Picture 2: Gotō Ichijō

Back to Gotō Ichijō. The time the blade was made, the artist had been working for about two decades under his Ichijō name and that with holding the Buddhist priest rank of a hokkyō. He had received that rank after making in Bunsei seven (文政, 1824) the fittings for a tachi of Emperor Kōkaku (光格天皇, 1780-1817). When we look at Ichijō’s career through the lens of extant dated (and precisely datable) works, we recognize two small breaks, one from 1829 to 1832 and one from 1843 to 1846 (the year the very blade introduced here was made). As mentioned, this observation bases on dated/datable works so Ichijō may well have been very busy but did not finish works during these years, possibly working on too many projects at the same time. Also, the Gotō were going through kind of a difficult time right after 1845 as the bakufu discovered a major corruption scandal around one of them, Gotō San’emon Mitsumichi (後藤三右衛門光亨, 1796-1845), who was the 13th Gotō head of the bakufu mint and who was sentenced to death and decapitated in 1845 for his involvement. We don’t know if that incident affected Ichijō at all but it is surely not helpful if one of your relatives, and your family name, is – in that negative manner – all over the news.

This bring is right back to the blade. It is interesting to see that it was a gift as mentioned and we know that Munetsugu and Ichijō were working together on sword orders so this was not a one-time brief touching point of the career of these two artists. Also we know that Ichijō owned that sword until the end of his life, and wore it too (more on this shortly), so we may imply that it had a special meaning for him. So maybe this gift was Munetsugu saying “Hang in there!” and Ichijō was indeed going through difficult times. Or maybe it was all completely different and everything was perfectly fine and the blade was just a nice gesture on part of Munetsugu. Or, another theory, it marked the start of a successful cooperation and friendship.

Picture 3: koshigatana-koshirae with birch andfuemaki flute-style saya which is a work of master lacquer artist Hashiichi (橋市) who lived close to Ichijō, fittings en suite of polished oborogin with gold and silver hira-zōgan ornamentation (menuki and kozuka of shakudō with nanako ground)

In any case, Ichijō made his own fittings for the blade and the full koshirae can be seen in picture 3. The dashi-menuki on the unwrapped hilt depict pairs of 3-5-3 kiri crests for which the Gotō family became famous for, e.g. Tokujō (後藤徳乗, 1550-1631) designing it for Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and on the kozuka we see kuyō crests, i.e. the crest of the Gotō family of kinkō artists worn by them since at least the time of their ancestor Yūjō (後藤祐乗, 1440-1512) (see picture 4)

Picture 4: Gotō Yūjō

Now we don’t know if Ichijō made the fittings, and had the koshirae parts made, right when he got the blade from Munetsugu, if he mounted it a certain way for the time being and redid everything at a later point, or if he had just kept the blade in shirasaya for some time and then decided to have it mounted with his own fittings at one point in his life. What we do know for certain is that he was wearing the blade in this koshirae as there exists “photo evidence” for that (see picture 6). A hint on when he made the fittings (and had Munetsugu’s gift blade mounted) may be hidded in the fittings as kurigata, kashira, and kojiri bear the inscription sen-kannin (専堪忍) (see picture 5) which basically means “forbearance/patience.” So, we can speculate that Ichijō chose these characters after going through some kind of difficult times in the mid-1840s, and Munetsugu did indeed present him with this blade to cheer him up, or much later when he was looking back on a very successful career and chose “forbearance/patience” as motto of life. As mentioned, just speculations, but it is so enjoyable and rewarding to reflect on these things.

Picture 5: kurigatga, kashira, and kojiri

Picture 6: Portrait of Ichijō wearing the sword in question.

It is assumed that picture 6 was taken when Kyōto Prefectural Governor Hase Nobuatsu (長谷信篤, 1818-1902) entrusted Ichijō in Meiji six (明治, 1873), i.e. three years before his death, with a post at the Meiji Restoration’s Encouragement of Industry venture which turned into the concrete first Exhibition for the Industrial Promotion of the Country (kokunai-kangyō-hakurankai, 国内勧業博覧会) two years after Ichijō died (and where subsequently many of the famous kinkō artists of the Meiji era participated).

Alteration vs. Correction

I have written a couple of times about the issues of removing signatures from swords, for example here and here. Now in these two examples, the signature was removed due to lack of knowledge in the one case, and due to criminal activities in the other case. This time, I would like to introduce a blade where not its signature per se but a kinzōgan-mei attribution was removed, and that not because of ignorance but more as a correction, thus this title of this post.

The blade in question is a tachi that has been shortened to a katana and that was tested by the famous early Edo period sword tester Nakagawa Saheita (中川左平太, ?-1653), cutting with it with just one hand through a body (katate-dō, 片手胴). At the time the cutting test was performed, the blade was attributed to Rai Kunitsugu (来国次) and inlaid so in gold on the other side of the nakago. The blade is of quite an elegant shape, tapers noticeably, keeps despite of the ō-suriage a deep sori, and ends in a ko-kissaki, or a very compact chū-kissaki if you will. It shows a fine and densely forged ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie and a ko-nie-laden suguha-chō to slightly undulating notare with a wide nioiguchi that is mixed with ko-gunome, a few ko-midare elements, sunagashi, and small yubashiri. The bōshi is sugu and shows a ko-maru-kaeri and a bōhi is engraved on both sides which runs with kaki-nagashi into the tang.

Now Rai Kunitsugu is known as a Rai smith who incorporated more than his school colleagues the Sōshū tradition and so a blade like here with such a dense ko-itame and a calm suguha-chō is atypical for him. This was also recognized by the NBTHK when the blade passed jūyō in 1975 and the kinzōgan-mei attribution (not the cutting test and the information on the owner) was put in the certificate with reservation, i.e. as to kinzōgan-mei ga aru (と金象嵌銘がある). The state of the blade as it passed jūyō is shown below.

Picture 1: jūyō in 1975, nagasa 71.5 cm, sori 2.2 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, sakihaba 1.7 cm, moto-kasane 0.6 cm, kissaki-nagasa 2.3 cm, nakago-nagasa 19.2 cm

Two years later, the blade passed tokubetsu-jūyō, and here comes the part which this brief article is about. As you all know, you just don’t submit a blade for tokubetsu-jūyō because you are in a good mood. There are high chances a blade may not pass and it also has to be assessed if such a submission makes sense from an economical point of view. In short, some blades are strong candidates whilst with others more or less barely passed jūyō and it is better to save the money/hassles/time to opt for tokubetsu-jūyō. So, you have to decide case by case.

Here at this sword, the owner and probably experts he asked for advice must have recognized its quality and its chances to pass but I guess no one was happy with the period attribution to Rai Kunitsugu. As mentioned, even the NBTHK had reservations when they had awarded it jūyō status two years before. So ultimately it was decided to have the kinzōgan-mei removed and submit again. I already told you that it passed tokubetsu-jūyō, and it did so with the attribution “Den Awataguchi Hisakuni” (伝粟田口久国). Well, quite nice result if you ask me (don’t get me wrong, a Rai Kunitsugu attribution is not bad either). The NBTHK justifies its attribution as follows: “The shallow suguha-chō with its strongly sparkling nie, the densely forged ko-itame, and the very clear steel reflect very well the typical characteristics of this school,” i.e. Awataguchi. The state of the blade as it passed tokubetsu-jūyō is shown below.

Picture 2

Last but not least some info on the previous owner of the sword who is mentioned in the kinzōgan-mei as: “Matsudaira Uemon no Suke Tadamasa kyō shoji” (松平右衛門佐忠政卿所持), “owned by Lord Matsudaira Uemon no Suke Tadamasa.” Tadamasa is better known under his name Kuroda Tadayuki (黒田忠之, 1602-1645) who was the second Kuroda daimyō of the Fukuoka fief (福岡藩) of Chikuzen province (see picture 3) and son and heir of the famous warlord and daimyō Kuroda Nagamasa (黒田長政, 1568-1623), fathered with his second wife who was an adoptive daughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tadayuki participated in his first battle when he was just twelve years old (or 13 according to the Japanese way of counting), leading an army of about 10,000 men into the Ōsaka Winter Campaign in 1614. Tadayuki went to Ōsaka instead of his father as Ieyasu had made Nagamasa caretaker of Edo Castle at that time. To go into this battle, Nagamasa presented his son with the nanban-kabuto with golden fern maedate he had received from Ieyasu at Sekigahara.

Picture 3: Kuroda Tadayuki

When Tadayuki succeeded as head of the Kuroda in 1623, he received from Ieyasus’s successor Hidetada (徳川秀忠. 1579-1632) the character for tada (忠) and successively took the names Tadanaga (忠長), Tadamasa (忠政) (the name that is mentioned on the sword), and Tadayuki. Incidentally, up to that granting of the tada character, he went by the name Mantokumaru (万徳丸). After Ōsaka, he also fought in 1637 in the Shimabara Rebellion and died 1652 in Fukuoka Castle. Last but but not least, and kind of a coincidence considering the new attribution at tokubetsu-jūyu, Kuroda Tadayuki owned “another” Awataguchi blade. It is a tantō by Awataguchi Norikuni (粟田口則国) which is shown in picture 4 and which is today designated as a jūyō-bijutsuhin. He had once received it as a gift from the Tokugawa family, possible at the time he received the tada character.

Picture 4: jūyō-bijutsuhin, tantō, mei: Norikuni (則国), nagasa 24.8 cm

Mukansa/Ningen-Kokuhō List

Please note: Apart from swordsmiths, this list in work in progress and will be updated as soon as more detailed information is located. To the very left, the year the rank was granted is listed. The dates to the very right are the years of birth and death.

Swordsmiths (刀匠)

Mukansa (無鑑査)

1958 – Takahashi Sadatsugu (高橋貞次) – 1902-1968
1960 – Miyairi Akihira/Yukihira (宮入昭平・行平) – 1913-1977
1967 – Gassan Sadaichi (月山貞一) – 1907-1995
1967 – Sumitani Masamine (隅谷正峯) – 1921-1998
1970 – Imaizumi Toshimitsu (今泉俊光) – 1898-1995
1972 – Kawashima Tadayoshi (川島忠善) – 1927-1989
1973 – Amata Akitsugu (天田昭次) – 1927-2013
1973 – Ōsumi Toshihira (大隅俊平) – 1932-2009
1981 – Endō Mitsuoki (遠藤光起) – 1904-1997
1981 – Sakai Ikkansai Shigemasa (酒井一貫斎繁正) – 1905-1995
1981 – Yakuwa Yasutake (八鍬靖武) – 1909-1984
1981 – Hokke Saburō Nobufusa (法華三郎信房) – 1909-2000
1982 – Yoshihara Yoshindo (吉原義人) – 1943-
1982 – Yoshihara Kuniie (吉原国家) – 1945-
1982 – Gassan Sadatoshi (月山貞利) – 1946
1985 – Tanigawa Moriyoshi (谷川盛吉) – 1920-1990
1985 – Kanbayashi Tsunehira (上林恒平) – 1949-
1986 – Yamaguchi Kiyofusa (山口清房) – 1932-
1987 – Kawachi Kunihira (河内国平) – 1941-
1987 – Ōno Yoshimitsu (大野義光) – 1948-
1989 – Takahashi Tsuguhira (高橋次平) – 1927-1996
1990 – Sō Tsutomu (宗勉) – 1926-2015
1995 – Mikami Sadanao (三上貞直) – 1955-
1995 – Miyairi Norihiro (宮入法広) – 1956-
1996 – Enomoto Sadayoshi (榎本貞吉) – 1908-2000
1996 – Seto Yoshihiro (瀬戸吉広) – 1945-
1996 – Hiroki Hirokuni (広木弘邦) – 1948-2013
2000 – Miyairi Kozaemon Yukihira (宮入小左衛門行平) – 1957-
2000 – Ōkubo Kazuhira (大久保和平) – 1944-2003
2003 – Yoshihara Yoshikazu (吉原義一) – 1967-2018
2006 – Ogawa Kanekuni (尾川兼圀) – 1925-2012
2006 – Sō Masachika (宗昌親) – 1954-
2010 – Furukawa Kiyoyuki (古川清行) – 1948-
2010 – Ogawa Kanekuni (尾川兼国) – 1953-
2010 – Matsuda Tsuguyasu (松田次泰) – 1948-
2014 – Matsuba Kunimasa (松葉国正) – 1959-
2017 – Kubo Yoshihiro (久保善博) – 1965-

Ningen Kokuhō (人間国宝)

1955 – Takahashi Sadatsugu (高橋貞次) – 1902-1968
1963 – Miyairi Akihira/Yukihira (宮入昭平・行平) – 1913-1977
1971 – Gassan Sadaichi (月山貞一) – 1907-1995
1981 – Sumitani Masamine (隅谷正峯) – 1921-1998
1997 – Amata Akitsugu (天田昭次) – 1927-2013
1997 – Ōsumi Toshihira (大隅俊平) – 1932-2009

Teishitsu-gigei’in (帝室技芸員)

1906 – Miyamoto Kanenori (宮本包則) – 1830-1926
1906 – Gassan Sadakazu (月山貞一) – 1836-1918

 

Polishers (研師)

Mukansa (無鑑査)

? – Sugihara Hiroshi (杉原弘) – ?-
2003 – Mishina Kenji (三品謙次) – 1951-
? – Yanagawa Kiyotsugu (柳川清次) – ?-
? – Saitō Tsukasa (斎藤司) – 1953-
? – Abe Kazunori (阿部一紀) – 1954-?
2012 – Sugihara Sōto (杉原宗都) – 1967-

Ningen Kokuhō (人間国宝)

1975 – Hon’ami Nisshū (本阿弥日洲) – 1908-1996
1975 – Ono Kōkei (小野光敬) – 1913-1994
1996 – Fujishiro Matsuo (藤代松雄) – 1914-2004
1998 – Nagayama Kōkan (永山光幹) – 1920-2010
2014 – Hon’ami Kōshū (本阿弥光洲) – 1939-

 

Tsukamaki (柄巻)

Mukansa (無鑑査)

1997 – Mitani ‘Tsukashū’ Shūji (三谷「柄秀」修史) – 1935-
? – Sakairi ‘Tsukashin’ Masayuki (坂入「柄真」眞之) – 1947-
2003- Tōyama Yasuo (遠山康男) – 1946-

 

Tōshinbori (刀身彫)

Mukansa (無鑑査)

1997 – Yanagawa Senju (柳村仙寿) – 1945-

 

Chōkin / Kinkō / Shirogane
(彫金・金工・白銀)

Mukansa (無鑑査)

? – Koyama ‘Jozan’ Yoshikazu (古山「如山」義和) – 1948-2017
? – Tamaoka Toshiyuki (玉岡俊行) – 1949-
1998 – Miyajima Hiroshi (宮島宏)
2009 – Naruki Issei (成木一成) – 1931-
? – Hagawa Yasuho (羽川安穂) – ?

 

Higo-zōgan/sukashi (肥後象嵌・透)

Ningen Kokuhō (人間国宝)

1965- Yonemitsu Mitsumasa (米光光正) – 1888-1980

 

Sayashi (鞘師)

Mukansa (無鑑査)

1983 – Takayama Kazuyuki (高山一之) – 1940-

Early sukashi motifs 1

A few weeks ago, I skimmed through a Japanese blog post and briefly had to halt at an expression, a kind of a tongue-twister, because I was sure I have read that somewhere before but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now after clearing a few things off my desk, I checked my archive, and as it is quite well organized, I did indeed find the very expression, and this is the whole background for this article.

Now some of you may have wondered about what the symbolism of the openwork design (sukashi, 透かし) of some very early tsuba, e.g. Ko-Katchūshi (古甲冑師) or Ko-Tōshō (古刀匠) might be. Well, in books, also in my own books as well as in some of my articles, these plain motifs, appearing to depict things from everyday life, are usually described as reflecting the then mindset of samurai facing uncertain times, death on an everyday basis, and all of that filtered through period Zen-Buddhism etc., you get the idea.

This is still all correct and in this article, I just want to take a closer look at one, or rather two of these simple early openwork designs, like I tried to shed more light on another, a similar aspect five years ago here. As it initiated the whole article, I want to start with the sickle, Japanese kama (鎌), as an early openwork design. Now the sickle is often depicted on early tsuba in combination with the gorintō (五輪塔), the five-story Buddhist pagoda usually seen along temples and in cemeteries. In short, and leaving out Buddhist and other context that you can find here and here, the gorintō may be equated with a gravestone. So, such a gorintō on a tsuba is associated with death. Imagine a medieval knight having his armor decorated with gravestones. There is not much range of interpretation as this is a pretty straightforward symbolism, and this is how a gorintō was understood in medieval Japan.

Back to the sickle. When someone was killed by a sword or edged weapon, people made comments like: “Toki-koto rikama no gotoki” (説き(利き)こと利鎌のごとき), which, when you try to read it out loud and fast, is the tongue-twister I was talking about at the beginning of this article (and which I found again in the Tōsō Kodōgu Kōza, Volume 1, p. 39). The comment literally means “effective like a sharp sickle” and may be interpreted in a similar way as the Western proverb “live by the sword, die by the sword.” In other words, sickles next to a pagoda on a tsuba represent death and the way you are gonna die, i.e. from an edged weapon. Very fitting for a medieval samurai, isn’t it? However, there is of course some scope for interpretation. The sickle is also an agricultural symbol. For example, after a rice harvest, Japanese farmers sometimes put one of the sickles used into the tokonoma alcove, after it was purified, together with like red rice beans and/ormochi, as an offering to the God of Agriculture, a custom that is referred to as kama-iwai (鎌祝い), lit. “sickle celebration/prayer.” There is also some religious context here. For example, Hachiman (八幡) is said to have been an agricultural deity before he became the God of War, and in the case of the deity Suwa (諏訪), it was exactly the other way round. Thus, the sickle on a tsuba may also be interpreted as representing the “choice” of a farmer becoming a warrior and accepting so his ultimate fate, death, or as the prayer of a warrior to maybe escape war and death and eventually being able to lead a peaceful agricultural life on the countryside.

Let’s check out another early openwork design, the so-called kukurizaru (括り猿), also sometimes seen in combination with a gorintō as shown below. Kukurizaru means literally “tied up monkey,” i.a. a monkey who is restrained by binding his hands and feet together with a rope. Often, the term kukurizaru is just translated as “talisman” but there is more to it, of course. The kukurizaru symbolism has to be understood as a mirrored reference, that is, although the monkey being the animal that is closest to us humans, it will be an animal at the end of the day and even if we are human, you just have to push certain buttons and we will fall back to the realm of animals. So, the tied up monkey means that you should remember that you should try to be above of that and supposed to control your desires and your lust. In other words: Never be caught off guard or loose control. In combination with the gorintō, this symbol quasi acts as a reminder for medieval warriors: If you are cought off guard or loose control, you die!

The kukurizaru charm left, the sukashi design right.

In conclusiuon, I just wanted to write this brief article to provide some further information, scratching the surface a little for those who are asking themselves: “Why is there a sickle?” or “Kukurizaru is just a lucky charm so what?” That said, I very much want to extend that topic in the future and go a little deeper when time allows as it is also very interesting for me because after all, nothing was applied to tsuba or sword fittings, or swords in general, for no reason. In other words, you can kind of compare the Muromachi-period sukashi symbolism with “old school” sailor tattoos, that is, there was a limited set of designs, born from superstitions etc., that everyone then understood and that you could choose from. So when I come across another interesting context, I will continue from here.

 

Setouchi City Crowdfunding #1

Some of you might be aware of the plans of Setouchi City trying to raise finds through crowdfunding to but the famous meitō Sanchōmō (山鳥毛). I am not directly involved in the crowdfunding but was approached by the city in order to share the project among possible donors outside of Japan. If you have a couple of minutes, please take the survey below that helps the city of Setouchi to plan in more detail their upcoming crowdfunding (will be announced separately here). Thank you!