Volume 2 – Tosogu Classroom

Update on the project:

Volume 2 has just been completed and I am placing orders for members who have prepaid as we speak. That said, if you are going volume by volume, you can get in touch with me at your convenience to order Volume 2. Members of the three associations who organized this project – which are the JSS/US, NTBHK/AB and NBTHK/EB – can order Volume 2 for just the cost of printing and shipping, which is $44 within the US and Canada. If you are not a member, the price is $64 per copy. Slightly different prices apply for outside of the US so please get in touch with me to talk about details. As you can see in the preview below, Volume 2 is with almost 700 pages quite substantial. It is the second volume that deals with artist who worked in iron. Volume 3 and 4, which should follow in the coming months, will deal with the kinkō guys and Volume 5 is the color volume.

Thank you for your attention.

Volume 2 Contents


KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #34 – Heianjō (平安城) and Go-Sanjō (後三条) Schools 1

With the Heianjō and Go-Sanjō Schools we are facing the well-known problem of historic records going very far back in time but with the exception of a very few “outliers,” on which the experts even have differention opinions on, the extant body of works does not go back farther than the early Muromachi period. Now you could just say it like that and go ahead by introducing these extant works, which is usually done in most of the sources, but if you follow my series you will know that I don’t want to skip these considerations on the origins of certain things as such a habit can give the reader the idea that swordsmiths schools just popped up out of nowhere and nothing is connected with anything.

The Heianjō and Go-Sanjō Schools are insofar also a kind of a special case because we know that they were working closely together in the mid-Muromachi period but we don’t know how far back this relationship goes, or if these smiths were connected to their earlier namesakes at all, but more on this later. Although period sources suggest that the Heianjō lineage is older than the Go-Sanjō lineage, I nevertheless want to start with the latter because it appears that the oldest extant blades signed with the very same name used by the main line, Yoshinori (吉則), are on the Go-Sanjō side.

For some reason, most of the older sword sources don’t deal in detail with the Yoshinori lineage. The Kokon Mei Zukushi Taizen, whose information has to be taken with a grain of salt (for reasons mentioned earlier in this series), briefly says that Yoshinori (吉則) was born in Jōwa five (1349) and died in Ōei eight (1401) at the age of 52. The Kokon Kaji Mei Hayamidashi is to my knowledge the earliest relevant publication that presents a specific genealogy for the Yoshinori lineage in which it dates its first generation to Kenmu (1334-1338) and its second generation to Jōji (1362-1368). If this genealogy is correct, the Kokon Mei Zukushi Taizen is referring to the second generation, an approach by which also Satō Kanzan goes. As a reference, I want to introduce that genealogy of the Kokon Kaji Mei Hayamidashi below.


Sanjo Yoshinori Genealogy


At this point, the oldest extant signed Yoshinori blade comes into play. It is a jūyō-bunkazai tachi (see picture 1) preserved in the Sakakiyama-jinja (榊山神社), Gifu Prefecture, which is introduced by the experts as follows: Honma says early Nanbokuchō (corrected his previous Nihon Kotō Shi statement where he had dated the blade to the late Nanbokuchō period); Satō says end of Kamakura and probably a work of the Kenmu-era first generation; Tsuneishi says end of Kamakura too; the jūyō-bunkazai designation says early Nanbokuchō; and the prewar kokuhō designation (that blade had been kokuhō before WWII) from 1928 says end of Kamakura to Nanbokuchō and if the traditional counting of generations is correct (first generation Kenmu and second generation Jōji), somewhere in between those two but with a hint more towards the first master. Incidentally, the designation says that the blade was once a heirloom of the Tōyama (遠山) family, the daimyō of the Naegi fief (苗木藩) of Mino province, and was offered to the Sakakiyama-jinja during the Meiji era by the twelfth and last Naegi daimyō Tōyama Tomoyoshi (遠山友禄, 1819-1894).


Picture 1: jūyō-bunkazai, tachi, mei: “Yoshinori” (吉則), nagasa 75.8 cm, sori 2.5 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, sakihaba 1.8 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, on both sides a bōhi that ends in marudome in the tang


Let us address the workmanship of this blade. It displays an elegant tachi-sugata that fits very well to the given time frame, i.e. end of Kamakura to early Nanbokuchō, and it is assumed that its original nagasa was somewhere close to 90 cm. It has a deep koshizori, tapers noticeably, and ends in a compact ko-kissaki. The jigane is a somewhat standing-out itame that is mixed with mokume and nagare and that displays ji-nie. The hamon is a classical ko-midare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-chōji and ashi and whose elements are rather densely arranged. The ha gets wider towards the yokote and ends in a nie-laden and wide bōshi with hakikake which almost appears as ichimai. In the preward kokuhō designation we read that the classical interpretation of the jiba does speak for Kyō-mono but that the hamon is somewhat more narrow and the nioiguchi partially somewhat harder than that of contemporary Yamashiro (e.g. Awataguchi, Rai) masterworks, although the blade itself is of course an outstanding masterwork too, just not at Awataguchi or Rai level, and its jiba is kenzen (in perfectly healthy condition).

In conclusion, there is agreement that the blade is in Yamashiro tradition, a Kyō-mono, and Tsuneishi goes so far to place it in the vicinity of the Ryōkai School, what brings us to the origins of the Sanjō Yoshinori lineage. To make it short, nobody knows but it is assumed that there was no connection whatsoever to the early Sanjō School. To keep them apart, the lineage of Yoshinori is also referred to as Go-Sanjō (後三条), “later Sanjō.” The Meikan list a Yoshinori from the early Sanjō School who was supposedly active around Chōkyū (長久, 1040-1044) but this early Yoshinori entry might just be an attempt to connect the Go-Sanjō with the initial Sanjō School. Others suggest that Yoshinori might have been a student of the Awataguchi Yoshimitsu-student Yoshimasa (吉正) who was active around Kōan (1278-1288). Would match in terms of active period and the use of the character Yoshi but that might actually be the only reason for this theory.

There is supposedly a Yoshinori blade extant which is dated Ōei two (1395) and which is the oldest dated work of that lineage but I wasn’t able to find it in my references so the next blade that I want to introduce is a jūyō-bijitsuhin tantō (see picture 2) that is dated to around the same time, that is end of Nanbokuchō to early Muromachi. This blade is also one of the earliest ones that is actually signed with the prefix “Sanjō” and it might be a work of the third generation, possibly second generation. The blade has an uncommon shape, kata-shōbu-zukuri, i.e. one side in hira and the other side in shōbu-zukuri, and sows a relatively narrow suguha-chō that is mixed with ko-gunome and a few sunagashi and kinsuji and that features an undulating bōshi with sunagashi that runs back with a pointy ko-maru-kaeri.


Picture 2: jūyō-bijutsuhin, tantō, mei: “Sanjō Yoshinori saku” (三条吉則作), nagasa 29.4 cm, mitsu-mune


Now we arrive at blade three. It is a katana signed “Yoshinori” which Satō dates after the jūyo-bunkazai of the Sakakiyama-jinja but not later than early Muromachi. The blade is shortened and its bōhi ends in marudome in the middle of the tang whereupon it is sometimes confused at first glance with the jūyo-bunkazai but which is a tachi (notice the tachi-mei). Blade number 3 shows a standing-out ko-itame that is mixed with with masame and a ko-midare hamon that is mixed with ko-gunome and that gets wider and features more hataraki along the monouchi, an approach that can also be seen at the previous two blades. The bōshi is midare-komi and runs back with a ko-maru-kaeri with hakikake.


Picture 3: katana, mei: “Yoshinori” (吉則), nagasa 72.2 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune


Picture 4, from left to right: mei of the jūyō-bunkazai, of the Yoshinori katana from picture 3, mei of the jūyō-bijutsuhin, mei of an Ōei dated Yoshinori work.


With this I want to come back to the question of succession of generations and do some signature comparison. Picture 4 shows the mei of the three so far introduced Yoshinori blades plus that of a tantō dated Ōei 26 (1419). As you can see, there are some unique features. At the first blade, the lower (口) radical of the Yoshi character is noticeably angular and the right radical (リ) of the nori (則) character has a vertical and relatively long left stroke. At the second blade, the right edge of the (口) radical ends in a noticeably pronounced manner, similar to how the katakana syllable se (セ) ends its horizontal stroke. At the character for nori, the left stroke of the right radical (リ) is still executed vertically but somewhat shorter. Also, the longer right stroke of that radical starts as a corner (𠃍) whereas at the previous mei, there is some little extension like (丁). At the third blade, the (口) radical does not show that pronounced edge and at the nori character, the left stroke has become a very small dot. At the fourth blade, the (口) radical apprars to remain the same but the left stroke of the (リ) radical is again longer but is executed in a diagonal manner. This all combined, plus other subtle differences like the curve of the long right stroke of the (リ) radical, makes it not too unreasonable to assume that we are facing here four generations, the first four, arranged chronologically.

I want to conclude this chapter by introducing the fourth blade shown in the signature comparison. It is a hira-zukuri sunnobi-tantō whose sugata is typical for the Ōei era. It shows a ko-itame that is mixed with nagare and that features ji-nie and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha-chō that is mixed with some shallow ko-notare, gunome, and some fine kinsuji. The nioiguchi is rather compact but subdued and the bōshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. On the omote side we see a suken and on the ura side gomabashi. The tang is ubu (just the jiri was cut off a little) and as you can learn from the interpretation of the jiba and sugata, we find some points in common with the contemporary Nobukuni School.


Picture 4: jūyō, sunnobi-tantō, mei: “Yoshinori” (吉則) – “Ōei nijūrokunen jūnigatsu hi” (応永廿六年十二月日, “a day in the twelfth month of Ōei 25, 1419).


Next chapter will deal with the Yoshinori generations who were active from the early Muromachi period onwards. So please stay tuned.

Kasuga-taisha Find Update

A brief update to this post from 2016.

Several Japanese news outlets reported today that one of the swords that were discovered during 1939 repair measures of the Kasuga-taisha turned out to be a Ko-Hōki (古伯耆) from the end of the Heian period, possibly a Yasutsuna (安綱), dating back to the birthplace of the nihontō. The blade was polished recently, is ubu I think, and has a nagasa of 82.4 cm. Its kokushitsu-tachi koshirae (黒漆太刀拵) dates to the 14th century and it is assumed that the sword was offered to the shrine some time in the Nanbokuchō or at the latest at the beginning of the Muromachi period. Below are some links with pictures and please also check out the video that the Nara Television Channel put on YouTube.





The “new” oldest extant sword document

On December 18, the Saga Prefectural Government issued a press release on what appears to be a pretty important, or at least highly interesting find for the sword world. That find was made by Yoshihara Hiromichi (吉原弘道), associate professor at the basic education center of Kyûshû Sangyô University. He discovered in the Prefectural Library, which preserves, amongst others, about 130,000 locally transmitted historic documents, a so-called Mei Zukushi (銘尽), the forerunner of the later Meikan (銘鑑), i.e. lists of smiths that contain, depending on the source, more or less information like where and when a smith worked etc.

Now the very Mei Zukushi was found within the archives of the Ryûzôji (龍造寺) family, a powerful clan from Kyûshû. This archive consists of 277 documents and the Mei Zukushi is written on the back of two so-called Môshijô Dodai (申状土代), drafts for official petitions. Paper was relatively valuable at that time, what is also one reason for the text being so cramped together, and it is not uncommon that documents that are of no more use were reused by writing on their back side. The press release states that although the 277 documents of the Ryûzôji archives are designated as a jûyô-bunkazai as a whole, not all back sides have been checked in detail so far.

The Mei Zukushi is dated Kan’ô two (観応, 1351) and as it is part of the Ryûzôji archives as mentioned, it got the working title Ryûzôji Bon Mei Zukushi (龍造寺本銘尽). The so far oldest extant sword publication or rather sword document was the Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi (観智院本銘尽) which I have introduced in this article from 2014. The Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi is believed to be a fair copy of a sword data from 1316 but as the copy itself is from 1423, the Ryûzôji Bon Mei Zukushi beats it as “new” oldest extant sword document. At the moment, it is thought that either Ryûzôji Iemasa (龍造寺家政) or a person close to him had copied a precious sword document that was brought by Ashikaga Tadafuyu (足利直冬, 1327~1387/1400?) or one of his staff to a camp that Iemasa visited that year, Kan’ô two. I will omit historic details at this point but want to state that Tadafuyu was a son of the famous Ashikaga Takauji. So, both he and Iemasa were clearly in the league of high-ranking persons who needed a sword guideline, either for themselves or, more likely, to pick proper presents to reward allies and vassals.

Ashikaga Tadafuyu

The two sheets of the Ryûzôji Bon Mei Zukushi measure about 33 x 48~49 cm each and contain the names of about 280 swordsmiths, even of some which are not listed in the Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi. They will be on display in the Saga Prefectural Museum until February 4, 2018. Also on display will be three swords: A tachi with the shu-mei “Kuniyuki” (国行) (Rai), a tachi with the shu-mei “Rai Kunimitsu” (来国光), both jûyô-bunkazai of Saga Prefecture, and a zaimei tantô by Awataguchi Yoshimitsu (粟田口吉光). Pictures of the sheets and a (Japanese) transcription are provided in the press release but I will provide direct links below:

The Ryûzôji Bon Mei Zukushi

I will go into details on the content of the sheets at some later point in time as I first want to get access to the research report once finished. And yes, Masamune’s name appears in the document 😉

Book Review: The Yonezawa Matchlock

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I was able to finish a highly interesting lecture which I have received a couple of weeks ago but which I didn’t want to read in a rush. What I am talking about is my friend Jan Pettersson’s book The Yonezawa Matchlock – Mighty Gun of the Uesugi Samurai, which deals, nomen est omen, and in a nutshell, with how the Uesugi dealt over the centuries with equipping their men with firearms.

But that’s not it, that is, the book does not only focus on the mere “equipping process” but introduces in incredible detail the approach of Yonezawa, the domain of the Uesugi, to stay on focus, i.e. their teppô, throughout the entire feudal period. In about 250 pages, Jan is not only able to narrate but to take us on a vivid journey through that history, which is in my opinion one of the strong points of the book (you will surely come to recognize Jan’s effort to exactly do so in each chapter).

As addressed by Piers Dowding in the foreword to the book, Jan had the great opportinuty to do on the spot research in Yonezawa, interviewing and inquiring all the local authorities on the field. You can believe me, from my own experience, proceeding with such an undertaking takes a considerable amount of sincerity and will (and I guess some balls too, if you allow my language) to get that all together like Jan did, i.e. receiving this accolade so to speak to tell that history for non-Japanese readers. You also have to bear in mind, it’s not that there is a ton of books in Japanese on that topic, on the contrary, Jan’s book can even be considered a novelty in general, not just outside of Japan.

So in short, if you are only remotely interested in this topic, the book is a must, and it goes without saying that this is particularly true if you are interested in teppô. Also, if you have read Noel Perrin’s Give Up the Gun: Japan’s Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879, and enjoyed it, Jan’s book makes a very nice (and not only a specific but also a general) supplement to that topic. As for the book itself, it is hardcover 6×9” and contains 26 b/w illustrations, so focus is obviously on text.

[Disclaimer: I translated a few texts for Jan that went into his book but I am not involved in any sales of the book nor did I receive any payment for this review whatsoever: This review is honestly done from the point of view of a person interested in this topic!] (Non-book pictures courtesy of the author Jan Pettersson.)


This monument is erected on the spot where the first local gun-forge was built in 1604.

eBook Super Sale 2017



As it is now kind of a tradition, I will start another -50% off eBook Super Sale before the DAI TOKEN ICHI that goes 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 Black Friday, until Nov 24, 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





Email troubles

Last night I painfully learned that due to my computer system change in early August, I overlooked several client emails. Tried to catch up last night but if you were trying to reach me during that time and haven’t heard back from me until now, please drop me another email. Specifically, this concerns emails send between August 1 and 15 that went unanswered. I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience!!


Report: Samurai Art Museum Berlin

A while ago, I promised you dear followers and readers a report on my job at the new Samurai Art Museum in Berlin. After returning from the official opening the other week, I thought this should be a good opportunity to give you a little insight into that venture. First of all, you have to understand that I am only a small cog in the wheel of the superb museum and several other experts (e.g. Dave Thatcher, Zenon van Damme, Thomas Schulze, Ian Bottomley) are involved to make this all happen and I will go ahead with a kind of chronology of events from my very personal perspective.

The initial contact was made by the Japanese sword and armor dealer Thomas Schneider and in April 2016, I got personally in touch with Mr. Peter Janssen, the collector and the owner of the museum, who subsequently commissioned me with a documentation/cataloging of all the objects in his collection. The museum was still in its building phase at that time so the first possible date for me to actually visit the facility was in February 2017. Mr. Janssen had sent me pictures of some of the highlights of his collection in advance but boy was I impressed when I entered the gates of the museum for the very first time: What an impressive place and what a consistently high quality on display! Most of the armor-related objects, i.e. full suits, helmets and face masks, had already been put up in the showcases, that is, the objects had already been moved from Mr. Janssen’s private estate to the museum before I showed up in February. Now I was there for a week so I immediately started to take pictures and notes of all the objects in the showcases and the storage rooms. This task occupied two and a half days and fortunately, my friend Uwe joined me later that week with whom I was going once more through the cabinets to check which items (mostly helmets and masks) are signed.

The remaining two and a half days were then spent on documenting the swords, over 170 in number, most of them in koshirae. The sword part was tough too as (of course) every single sword had to be fetched from the storage shelves, photographed as a whole, photographed drawn and with the hilt off, and photographed in detail, e.g. blade details, signature, tang, hilt, tsuba, saya, etc. All in all, I was taking more than 4,000 pictures that week, not even touching the tôsôgu collection as there was just not enough time at my initial stay back in February. The job was aggravated by a nasty cold that I suffered from and I surely drove the whole team crazy with my coughing fits 😉

Back home I started to work at the documentation/cataloging and I honestly have to admit, I underestimated the job, for example when it comes to determine certain materials like gold/brass or iron/shakudô. Also, I took pictures of the armors already put up in the showcases as mentioned, so sometimes it was difficult back home in my office to judge subtleties about e.g. cuirass constructions. Anyway, aim was first and foremost to record the entire collection as details are being worked out as we speak. I did assessments/documentation/cataloging of collections before but not to that extent (at the time this post is written, we are talking about 700 objects!). So, lesson learned.

That said, I have to refer to Mr. Janssen, Peter, once more. He made sure that all parties involved were lacking nothing when working down in the museum (it is subterranean). Staying at the very facility, we had breakfast, lunch, dinner, and coffee breaks (with delicious cake) throughout the day (as well as movie nights in the in-house movie theater). And fun of course as – and I take the liberty to speak for all of us – we had an excellent time.

Peter and Ian putting the important Katô armor back in the showcase that Dave relaced.

This brings us right to what is going on from here. So, the museum just officially opened on October 5, 2017 and if you want to get some impressions from the opening, please check the Facebook page of the museum here. Before anything else, Mr. Janssen hired Ms. Martyna Lesniewska as a curator who is now working (amongst other things and partly on the basis of my cataloging) on making the museum and its exhibits accessible to the viewer and to convert my humble writings into a curatorial system. It is amazing to see how thoroughly Martyna has thrown herself into the field of Japanese arms and armor and I am sure she will do an excellent job at the museum! Also catalogs are in work although the content and extent has yet to be determined. I will keep you updated. Apart from that, and this is a very important point, Mr. Janssen is eager to make the museum an event venue and hub for international research and activities in this field, beginning with The Gathering 2 in May 2018, although I think that there is a NBTHK-EB meeting taking place before that time. The museum is in my opinion predestined for these events/meeting, for the following reasons: 1) It is a privately run facility, so no government clearances/bureaucracy necessary. 2) It is solely dedicated to the field, i.e. no “also ran” department cramped into for example a local museum. 3) The collection is enormous as mentioned. You can believe me, there is plenty to see and enough stuff available to fill many many focused study meetings in the future. 4) Berlin is kind of central for international visitors, e.g. from the UK, Scandinavia, France, Italy, and Eastern Europe and it goes without saying a location worth visiting by itself. So planning a family trip or elongated weekend around one of the future events kills two birds with one stone. 5) Last but not least, Mr. Janssen is a very generous gentleman and he will make sure that events/lectures will be very worthy to attend.

So, check out the homepage of the museum linked at the beginning, get in touch with me if you have any questions that concern my job at the museum (otherwise I may ask you to contact Ms. Martyna Lesniewska through the museum website and consult the NMB and Facebook here and here for upcoming events). I hope that some of you can visit the place in the future, and hey, take it easy: The museum literally just opened 😉 Final words: I am glad that I was able to see so many of my friends again at the opening!

PS: The pictures are a mix of mine and what I have received from friends. To be honest, I forgot who took which picture so please let me know if one of them is yours and you don’t want to have it online. Thx.

The blade with which Sen no Rikyū committed seppuku

I have introduced a couple of swords here and here within the context of being around “on the eve” of a famous historical incident and the piece that I am going to introduce here joins these ranks, although it was literally directly involved in such a famous historical incident.

To let the cat out of the bag, and as the title already gives it away, the blade that I want to introduce here is the blade with which the famous tea master Sen no Rikyū (千利休, 1522-1591) committed on the 28th day of the second month Tenshō 19 (天正, 1591) seppuku. The circumstances for his ritual suicide are widely documented and so I rather want to focus on the sword in question whose blade is a work by no less than one of the greatest swordsmiths in Japanese history, Awataguchi Tōshirō Yoshimitsu (粟田口藤四郎吉光). Kind of fitting to commit seppuku with when you are the greatest tea master in Japanese history. The sword, obviously a tantō, is nicknamed Kobuya-Tōshirō (こぶや藤四郎・こぶ屋藤四郎) and there are several contradictory traditions out there about its background and provenance.


Picture 1: jūyō-bijutsuhintantōmei: “Yoshimitsu” (吉光), nagasa 25.0 cm, sunnobi-sugata, dense ko-itame with ji-niesuguha in ko-nie-deki which narrows down along the monouchi. Honma Junji writes that the jiba of the blade shows some tiredness (tsukare) but that it is nevertheless a very important reference because of its provenance and deserves thus special recognition amongst the numerous works extant by Yoshimitsu.


Now the contradictory things concerning this sword are first the origins of its nickname and second, who made or was in charge of making its koshirae. As for the former, Kobuya was a merchant family from Kanazawa in Kaga province, most likely dealing with the edible konbu algae which is also referred to as kobu in Japan (and as kombu in the West). So, the blade was designated as a jūyō-bijutsuhin on September 5, 1938 and was then owned by Yoshida Yoshimichi (吉田由道) who became later, in 1949, the initiator and first president of the Kyōto branch of the NBTHK. The brief explanation to the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation says that the blade was owned by Sen no Rikyū, that Rikyū commissioned Hon’ami Kōsa (本阿弥光瑳, 1573-1637) with making its koshirae, and that it was later handed down within the Kobuya family from Kanazawa in Kaga province which earned it its nickname. The explanation to the designation also says that the sword is accompanied by three letters from Hon’ami Kōho (本阿弥光甫, 1601-1682) to Sen no Sōshitsu (千宗室, 1622-1697), Rikyū’s great-grandson. Just to connect the dots here, Kōsa was the third and Kōho the fourth generation of the Kōji line of the Hon’ami family which was, due to its second head and Kōsa’s adoptive father Kōetsu (本阿弥光悦, 1558-1637), very much involved in the art world of that time. Also, the Kōji-Hon’ami enjoyed a lucrative hereditary employment by the wealthy Kaga fief which provides us with a local connection to the Kobuya family.

So far, so good. The catalog to the 1990 special exhibition Sen no Rikyū – The 400th Memorial of the Kyōto National Museum however records the provenance of the sword somewhat differently. Therein it is stated that the Yoshimitsu blade was first owned by the Kobuya family, that it was acquired by Rikyū, and that Rikyū commissioned Hon’ami Kōtoku (本阿弥光徳, 1552-1619) with making a koshirae for it. Kōtoku was the ninth head of the Hon’ami main line and in course of having the koshirae made, he contributed, as a gift to Rikyū, the shakudō menuki which depict plum blossoms on a branch.

Now as for who is “right,” it is difficult to say. On the one hand, you have the explanatory comments to the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation, and on the other hand you have the exhibition catalog published by the Kyōto National Museum (which owns the sword today by the way). As we know, sword studies have greatly advanced since the time of the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation in 1938 and therefore I tend to follow the Kyōto National Museum for the time being. However, there is a big question mark here and that is the three letters by Kōho to Rikyū’s great-grandson Sen no Sōshitsu which were in the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation “bundle” and which might reveal more about the provenance. Well, I would like to know inhowfar these letters were incorporated into the recording of the provenance, i.e. if they actually contain anything about the provenance (probably I guess) and if they were actually checked by the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation committee and/or the team that made the Kyōto National Museum catalog. So, one scenario would be that the teams drew different conclusions from the content of the letter and another one would be that the letters were put unread into the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation “bundle”, that just an old tradition about the provenance was followed then, and that the letters were later read and studied by the Kyōto National Museum and that is why they came to realize that the sword has a different provenance. Incidentally, I do have pictures of the letters (from the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation) but they are too small to read anything (see picture 2).


Picture 2: The letters of Kōho to Sen no Sōshitsu.


Anyway, I want to conclude this article by paying some attention to the koshirae of the sword. As you can see in picture 1, the saya is a simple black-lacquer saya and all the fittings, i.e. koiguchikurigatafuchi and kashira are of black-lacquered horn. The hilt is wrapped in rattan and all in all, we have here a very tasteful and unobtrusive mounting which totally reflects the then tea taste. By the way, the koshirae is nicknamed Rikyū-koshirae (利休拵) accordingly and it is virtually identical to the so-called Waifu’ya-koshirae (隈府屋) (see picture 3) which is said to have been worn by Hosokawa Sansai Tadaoki (細川三斎忠興, 1563-1646) when he was pursuing falconry. Only difference here is that the Waifu’ya-koshirae features menuki in the form of the kuyō crest (九曜) of the Hosokawa and a kozuka made of black-grained komadake (胡麻竹) bamboo. It is no surprise that Tadaoki had himself a tantō mount the same way Rikyū had his Yoshimitsu mounted as Tadaoki was one of the so-called Rikyū-shichitetsu (利休七哲), the “Seven Master Tea Disciples of Rikyū.”


Picture 3: Copy of the Waifu’ya-koshirae.


Just a final note in this context, it is unknown which blade is/was mounted in the Waifu’ya-koshirae as the whereabouts of the sword are unknown since at least the 1920s. All we have today are several copies (one of them shown in picture 3) and period descriptions (for example in the Higo Tōsō Roku [肥後刀装録] published in 1934).



KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #33 – Hasebe (長谷部) School 4

The last Hasebe master that I would like to introduce is Kunihira (国平). He is said to have been the son of Kunishige, which either makes him the nephew or the brother of Kuninobu, depending on the tradition you follow. As for his active period, we know date signatures from Enbun two (延文, 1357), Jôji three (貞治, 1364), and Jôji six (1367). That is, he was active at about the same time as Kuninobu and their workmanship is also very similar. By the way, the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that Kunihira was born in Ôchô one (応長, 1311) and died in Enbun four (1359) at the relatively young age of 49 but this is of course not sustainable if we have date signatures from later than Enbun four.

There are far less (signed) works of Kunihira extant than of Kunishige and Kuninobu what would support the tradition that you died relatively young, although surely not in Enbun four as mentioned, or that he was mostly assisting his father in running the school. As for Kunihira’s characteristic features, Tsuneishi writes that he made more smaller dimensioned tantô than Kunishige, some of them even featuring a takenoko-zori, but it is hard to locate those because the short swords that I have in my references are of typical sunnobi shape and not noticeably small. Tsuneishi further states that Kunihira’s kasane is not as thin as that of Kunishige and Kuninobu but as seen later, there are Kunihira works around which feature a very thin kasane. Anyway, his hamon is generally a hint less nie-laden and a little more calm than that of his father and uncle/brother.

The first Kunihira sword that I want to introduce is a quite elegant tachi that doesn’t look like Nanbokuchô-heyday at glance. It has a standing-out itame mixed with nagare that also features ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is a suguha-chô mixed with a little ko-gunome and ko-midare and along the subdued but wide and nie-laden nioiguchi we see ashi, hotsure, yubashiri, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The bôshi is sugu and has a brief ko-maru-kaeri. Incidentally, this Kunihira-tachi was once put out at a kantei session in Tôkyô of which I have the protocol. That protocol says that there were neither atari nor dôzen and because of the itame-magare and the suguha-chô, most of the participants focused on Tegai Kanenaga (手掻包永), or went for Ko-Aoe (古青江) and Naminohira Yukiyasu (波平行安). In the case of Kanenaga we would expect more Yamato characteristics, both in sugata and jiba. A Ko-Aoe work would show more nie and some jifu, sumigane and/or a dan-utsuri. Also an old Kyûshû work would show more Yamato characterstics. And as there are perpendicular ko-ashi, we can see some hints of the Yamashiro tradition but obviously most of the participants hesitated to go for Yamashiro as they would expect a densely forged kitae or a true nashiji-hada for a blade with such a classical sugata (leading one into the wrong period, i.e. too early).

Picture 1: tachi, mei “Hasebe Kunihira” (長谷部国平), nagasa 72.2 cm, sori 2.1 cm, motohaba 2.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The next blade (picture 2) is one of the known dated work of Kunihira. It is a wide sunnobi-tantô with a relatively deep sori for its nagasa and with a wide top surface of its mitsu-mune. The kitae is a standing-out itame that is mixed with large-structured mokume and with masame towards the ha and the mune. Ji-nie appears and the hamon consists of angular and kata-yahazu-like gunome elements which are connected with shallow sections of ko-notare. The ha is nie-laden and shows sunagashi, yubashiri, tobiyaki, and muneyaki, i.e. it appears overall as hitatsura. The bôshi is a wide and wildly hardened midare-komi whose kaeri connects with the muneyaki.

Picture 2: sunnobi-tantô, mei: “Hasebe Kunihira”  (長谷部国平) – “Jôji sannen nigatsu hi”  (貞治三年二月日, “a day in the second month Jôji three [1364]”), nagasa 30.3 cm, sori 0.6 cm, motohaba 2.85 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune

The last Kunihira blade (picture 3) is a slightly longer sunnobi-tantô, or hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi if you want, that has a wide mihaba, a very thin kasane, and some sori. The jigane is a standing-out itame that is mixed with nagare and masame, in particular on the omote side. Also ji-nie and chikei appear and the hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with protruding angular gunome, chôji, dango-chôji, yahazu, yubashiri, tobiyaki, muneyaki, sunagashi, and kinsuji so again, we have overall a hitatsura. It is interesting that the bôshi is interpreted differently on both sides. On the omote we see a widely hardened kaen-style bôshi with a wide kaeri and on the ura a low midare-komi with an extremely late starting and pointy ko-maru-kaeri.

Picture 3: sunnobi-tantô, mei: “Hasebe Kunihira”  (長谷部国平), nagasa 32.9 cm, sori 0.5 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune


Last but not least I want to introduce two works of some of the more rare smiths of the Hasebe School, namely Munenobu (宗信) and Shigenobu (重信). Picture 4 shows a tantô by the former smith who is said to either have been the son of Kuninobu or the second son of the second generation Kunishige. The blade has a relatively moderate shape and shows a rather standing-out itame that is partially mixed with nagare and that features ji-nie. The hamon is a nie-laden suguha-chô that tends a little towards a shallow notare and that is mixed with some gunome, sunagashi, hotsure, uchinoke, nijûba, and yubashiri. The bôshi has a somewhat pointy ko-maru-kaeri and shows hakikake. As you can see, the deki is quite calm for a Hasebe work and reminds more of a Yamato or Yamashiro work.

Picture 4: tantô, mei: “Hasebe Munenobu” (長谷部宗信), nagasa 29.8 cm, sori 0.2 cm, motohaba 2.65 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

And the last work (picture 5) is a tantô by Shigenobu who is said to have been a student of the first generation Kunishige. There were supposedly two generations Shigenobu but the jûyô papers say that this one is Nanbokuchô what basically makes it a first generation work. The blade is in katakiriba-zukuri, has a relatively wide mihaba and no sori. The kitae is an itame with ji-nie that appears as masame towards the ha and the mune. The hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with gunome and much sunagashi and the bôshi is sugu with a long running-back ko-maru-kaeri. The omote side shows a bonji and the ura side a gyô no kurikara.

Picture 5: tantô, mei: “Hasebe Shigenobu” (長谷部重信), nagasa 27.0 cm, muzori, motohaba 2.7 cm, katakiriba-zukuri, mitsu-mune


Below is the genealogy of the Hasebe School as I see it at the moment. As mentioned in the first chapter of the school, it is difficult to tell with certainty how the succession of generations went down. What I want to mention is that if you follow the tradition the Kuninobu was not the younger brother but the second son of the first generation Kunishige and that he later succeeded his father as head of the school, it would bring in line the traditions that Rokurôzaemon was so to speak “both” the second and third generation, i.e. he was the second generation Kunishige and the third generation Hasebe. Be that as it may, I think it is safe to assume that the Hasebe was organized like most of the other dominating schools of that time, and that is, a grand master who was supervising several smiths, some of them his sons (or even brothers), who either produced in his name, which was the brand name, or occasionally also under their own name.


Genealogy Hasebe School