Sword News

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I just want to inform those who haven’t heard yet, the NBTHK has a new president. At the end of July, Sakai Tadatsugu (酒井忠次, 1946- ) took over the post from Ôno who had been in charge since 2012.  To provide a little background, Mr. Sakai is the 11th generation of the Sakai family, the former daimyô of the Shônai fief of Dewa province. Apart from acting as trustee of the local Honma Museum of Art, of which Dr. Honma Junji was the first president by the way, Sakai san runs (with his son Tadayori [酒井忠順, 1974- ] as director) the private Chidô Museum of Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture, which was founded by his grandfather Count Tadayoshi (酒井忠良, 1888-1962).

I had the honor to meet Mr. Sakai at one of Mr. Kurokawa’s DTI after parties, I think it was in 2008. I had a brief chat with him as I had visited his museum I think six years earlier, knowing that it owns two kokuhô swords, a Nobufusa (信房) tachi and a Sanemitsu (真光) tachi (which I have introduced a while ago here). Oh, and if you are in Japan in fall and can manage it to visit Yamagata, the two swords are on display from October 1 to 30 (see here), plus the jûyô-bunkazai meibutsu Shinano-Tôshirô (信濃藤四郎).

That should do it for today’s news and I will report back asap with some more articles.

Honma Junji’s “Kun” in “Kunzan”

This is just a very brief post but I thought that it might be of interest. As most of you know, Dr. Honma Junji (本間順治, 1904-1991) used the  Kunzan (薫山), which means literally “fragrant mountain.” Kind of odd meaning, isn’t it. But background is the following: Dr. Honma had a certain habit when examining swords, namely making sniffing noises all the time he focused on the blade. Now sniffing is kunkun (クンクン) in Japanese, an onomatopoeic expression, and one day one of his colleagues at the board for the protection of cultural assets (for which he worked from 1950 to 1960) gave him the nickname Kun-san (クンさん), which means “Mr. Sniff.” So Dr. Honma took this nickname and made Kunzan out of it, or that is at least what he told Mrs. Watanabe from the Sano Museum about the origins of his 🙂

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Tobari Tomihisa (戸張富久)

A while ago, the late Edo period kinkô artist Tobari Tomihisa landed on my desk, that is in the form of a research request. So I was once again going through all the relevant sources and I captured the gist of his career in my 2012 published The Japanese toso-kinko Schools. Now I want to first forward what we know about this artist from the mentioned relevant sources and second, based on my recent research, to provide you with some possible scenarios that could explain what was really going on. So please sit back and follow me on another journey into the fascinating world of Japanese sword fittings from a broader, cultural point of view (as we did it here, here, and here).

The foundation of what we know on Tobari Tomihisa is the entry in the Kinkô Tanki (金工鐔寄) which was published in Tenpô ten (天保, 1839), i.e. only 14 years after Tomihisa’s death. I want to cite the whole entry as it contains information we will come back to later (the square brackets are my comments):

Student of the Gotô family, skilled, Kisôji (喜惣次), for some reason, he broke up with the Gotô and lived henceforth in Zôshigaya (雑司ヶ谷), later on however, he returned to Kyôbashi (京橋) [where the Gotô family lived], did the preparatory work for dragons and shishi lions [for the Gotô family] but also designed his own pieces, for example a kozuka that shows a morning glory winding around a bamboo pole that bears the haikuAsagao ya – kurikara-ryû no – yasasugata” (蕣やくりから龍のやさ姿, “The morning gory, of the graceful figure of a kurikara-ryû winding around a sword”) on the back side.

Before we continue, I want to introduce one of these morning glory kozuka. There are several going round, so he must have made a bunch of them and as even the Kinkô Tanki mentions this very interpretation, it must have been much celebrated amongst his customers. Side note: Tomihisa’s works are all top-notch, i.e. he was truly highly skilled. To the right of the kozuka, a kurikara-ryû engraving as we know if from swords, i.e. what came to Tomihisa’s mind when he looked at morning glories. On the other hand, a kurikara-ryû was an in-house kozuka motif of the Gotô School and maybe Tomihisa got his inspiration from preparing such pieces for the Gotô and thought to himself one day, let’s convert that into a morning glory.

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Anyway, the Kinkô Tanki does not mention his concrete master but it was the 13th Gotô generation Enjô (後藤延乗, 1721-1784), also named Mitsutaka (光孝). Now we know that Tomihisa died in Bunsei eight (文政, 1825), that is a considerable time after his master had passed away. We don’t know when he was born though but here is where my theories start, also incorporating the fact that we know of a very limited number of dated works, i.e. from Bunka six (文化, 1809), Bunka eight (1811), and Bunsei four (1821). When we assume that he lived to the age of 70 we arrive somewhere around Hôreki five (宝暦, 1755) for his year of birth. This would mean he was about 30 years old when his master Gotô Enjô died. And when we assume that he died at the age of 60, he was born somewhere around Meiwa two (明和, 1765) and was about 20 when Enjô died.

Taking another lead from the relevant sources, that is that Tomihisa also ran a soba noodle restaurant, our journey continues. Digging into that soba matter I learned that Tomihisa did not just open a noodle restaurant because he “felt like to,” no, I found out that he was actually the fourth generation of a successful soba business that was located, get this, in Zôshigaya. From here, we have to take a detour to Edo period soba culture as it is in my opinion essential for the understanding of the whole career of Tomihisa. It is thought that soba noodles were introduced around the beginning of the Edo period and the first real soba shop or restaurant was opened, in Edo, during the Kanbun era (寛文, 1661-1673). Later on, Edo had everything from small and ultra-portable soba stands to large-scale restaurants that offered seating for many dozens of customers. Zôshigaya was a little special. The area started as a small village of the same name located about 3.5 miles to the northwest of downtown Edo. There was some much frequented temple and falconry grounds of the bakufu out there and after the Great Fire of Meireki had destroyed much of Edo in 1657, several bushi decided to rebuild their residences in the suburbs. As a result, the village of Zôshigaya gradually developed into an Edo outskirt and by the mid-1800s, it was officially acknowledged as a district (machi/chô, 町) of Edo. But it was still quite rural and woody and it even hardly made it onto the much later, the famous Kôka era (弘化, 1844-1848) map of Edo that is shown below (the circle marks Zôshigaya).

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Now we know how refined high Edo culture was and how sophisticated many of the higher-ranking bushi were. Like today, cuisine played an important role of daily life and it is no wonder that soon the Edo dandy’s were sharing “insider’s tips.” By the mid-1700s, Zôshigaya was home to several soba shops and as it was a woody area as mentioned, the term Yabu soba or Yabu no soba (藪蕎麦) was coined for their noodles which means “thicket soba” or “soba in the thicket.” And the dandy’s appreciated yabu soba as bring “real rural original” soba as it should be, not like the fast food they offer around downtown Edo. So this local Zôshigaya soba restaurants were quite popular. Below a print of a downtown Edo soba and udon shop as seen in the Ehon Sakaegusa (絵本三家栄種) from 1771.

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The soba shop run by Tomihisa in fourth generation went by the name Kisôji (喜惣次), spelled as the entry in the Kinkô Tanki. Interesting is that Tobari Tomohisa signed his kinkô works with the characters (喜三治) for Kisôji and there is also a receipt for a menuki order extant which he signed that way. But such “misspelling” of names was actually pretty common and for the time being, I think that the one here (i.e. the use of the character [惣] for [三]) goes back to a humorous poem that the famous poet and fiction writer Ôta Nanpo (大田南畝, 1749-1823) once dedicated to Tobari Tomihisa, who was his friend and drinking buddy. This poem goes:

Miwataseba mugi no aoba ni yabu no soba, kori mo koko e Kisôji.
見渡せば麦の青葉に藪の蕎麦、狐狸もここへ喜惣治
If you look over you see the soba place in the thicket of fresh wheat, it is Kisôjis’, where even foxes and racoons stop by.

And this brings us back to Tomihisa’s career. Renowned soba restaurants like that, or insider’s tips, were places with an endless coming and going of people from all walks of life, from the common servant to the high-ranking bakufu official. We know that Tomihisa became later a relatively well-known figure in the cultural circles of Edo, making acquaintance with several daimyô, and writing poetry himself under the pen names Shôseisai (松盛斎), Kôsôken (貢僧軒), and Senri (仙里), and some suggest that “Tomihisa” was actually one of his , what would mean that it should be read “Fuku.” He also became a friend of the famous Rinpa School painter Sakai Hôitsu (酒井抱一, 1761-1829). Incidentally, there is a memorial stone within the grounds of the Zôshigaya Hômyôji (法明) that bears the aforementioned asagao poem of Tomihisa, his name, and a morning glory as once painted by Hôitsu (see picture below). Now with that information, i.e. that the depiction of the morning glory on the memorial stone goes back to Hôitsu, and seeing striking similarities in interpretation, it is very likely that the morning glory on Tomihisa’s famous kozuka bases on a drawing or sketch that he received from his painter friend.

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Below I want to present two ukiyoe prints by Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広重, 1797-1858) where he features Zôshigaya. On the one hand as a reference, i.e. to show you the atmosphere of the then Zôshigaya neighborhood, but on the other also because the bottom one that has a view of Mt. Fuji shows at the very bottom, lo and behold, morning glories! So these flowers were around where Tomihisa ran his soba restaurant. With this in mind, I think that he was kind of inspired by them, maybe they reminded him of his time as an apprentice with the Gotô family (more on this in a little), i.e. preparing and handling kozuka with kurikara-ryû motifs, and so he combined all that, that is his inspiration, the fact that he was involved in the kinkô craft, and his poetry, asked then his friend Hôitsu for a sketch for a morning glory on a pole, and turned all that into a nice little kozuka series. But you have to understand, asking Hôitsu for a sketch does not mean that Tomihisa was incapable of drawing one himself. No, such collaborations were very common and a vehicle to honor all involved artists and craftsmen.

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Finding out all this, I will reconstruct Tomihisa’s career for the time being as follows: He was born into a family that run a successful soba place in Zôshigaya. I guess they have been well off, able to support their son’s passion for sword fittings and arranging an apprenticeship with the renowned Gotô family. But when his master Enjô died in 1784, Tomihisa was either around 20 or 30 by that time, he decided to return to Zôshigaya to take over his family business in fourth generation. Therefore I think there was no real “break” with the Gotô family, as for example Kuwahara Yôjirô (桑原羊次郎) suggests in his 1941 published Nihon Sôken Kinkô Shi (日本装剣金工史). Tomihisa just went back to his initial family business from where he was also able to cultivate and intensify his contacts with persons from culture, business, and government. 

Maybe somewhat later in his life he decided to once more focus on his passion of making fine sword fittings and so he returned to Kyôbashi. I guess that the Gotô gave him permission to work from their workshop as Tomihisa’s son, Yoshihisa (喜久), studied with the Gotô family too. However, we know that Yoshihisa later opened his own kinkô workshop in the Suidô-chô (水道町) neighborhood which is about halfway between Zôshigaya and downtown Edo. Also we know that the Kisôji soba shop went out of business at the end of the Bunsei era (文政, 1828-1830), what basically means to me shortly after Tomihisa died. Thus we might assume that facing the end of his career, Tomihisa shifted more towards the kinkô profession and had his son continue that rather than the soba family business (we know dated works of Yoshihisa from 1828 and 1841, so he surely did not give up the craft after only a few years when his father passed away). But many scenarios are possible, for example the one that other soba local restaurants gained “supremacy,” pushing the Tobari family out of business. Or maybe Tomihisa was just tired of running such a bustling place and wanted to focus on the quiet and solitary fields of poetry and craftsmanship.

Again, a highly interesting topic. You do some research on a single kinkô artist and all of a sudden you find yourself in the middle of Edo period soba noodle culture and history. Heck, I even ordered an issue of a monthly soba magazine (yes, there is something like a Soba Monthly) that featured a brief article on the then local Zôshigaya soba places.🙂

Ishiguro Exhibition Catalog

Let me introduce the hot-off-the-press catalog to the currently running Ishiguro exhibition that I had the honor of translating for the NBTHK. The exhibition started two weeks ago but will be up until October 30. So if you are in Tokyo at that time, I would highly suggest to visit the NBTHK (aka The Sword Museum).

The catalog turned out really nice! High quality hardcover in about letter format with great pictures of the fittings, also featuring some stunning close-ups. The catalog is basically divided into four chapters: 1. Masatsune, Masatsune II, and Koretsune, 2. Masaaki, 3. Masayoshi and Koreyoshi, and 4. Okamoto Shûki. Okamoto Shûki was the son of Ishiguro Masayoshi but became a painter. Kubo Yasuko, the senior curator at the NBTHK, dedicted Shûki a detailed chapter in the catalog. The catalog has 95 pages and can be ordered from amazon.co.jp for just 2,500 Yen here.

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Note: I just got the catalog the other day and browsing through the pages, I learned that it was messed again with the text that I had delivered, and that multiple times. I had my translation proofread, of course, and I understand very well that passages are subject to change at the last minute but the passages that I found that do not correspond to the text that I forwarded to the NBTHK rather seem to contain arbitrary changes (for example sometimes just certain words were deleted what makes the sentence(s) in question odd, at best, or straightforward wrong in the worst case). I mean, not a big issue taking into consideration the quality of the catalog as a whole but it kind of bugs me because its also about my very own humble reputation as a translator. Anyway, I still highly recommend the catalog but wanted to have that out. Well, this time its at least not as bad as with the last catalog (please read here), but still…😉

Samurai Stubbornness

A few weeks ago, I was translating material for my friend Jan Petterson whom I met at our armor symposium in Florence. To provide you with some context, Jan is going to write a book about the matchlock history of Yonezawa during the Momoyama and Edo period and visited the very site earlier this year. There he had the chance to get in touch with the local groups and experts and if you want to learn about his awesome trip (with Jan himself actively participating in the annual teppô events), I would highly recommend to register with The Samurai Armour Forum and check out the thread labeled “The viking raid of 2016!” Great read!

Now as Jan is writing his book, I am not going into too much detail here but in one of the relevant source texts, I came across a kind of funny story that I want to share with my readers (Jan is in the loop). To provide some background, the Uesugi (上杉), the daimyô of the Yonezawa fief (米沢藩), were early adopters of the teppô as one of their famous ancestors, Uesugi Kenshin (上杉謙信, 1530-1578), was among the then powerful Sengoku daimyô who recognized the powerful potential of this new weapon. Uesugi Kagekatsu (上杉景勝, 1556-1623), Kenshin’s successor, was actually the first of the family to enter Yonezawa and he too focused very much on having firearms incorporated into his army, much supported by his retainer and confidant Naoe Kanetsugu (直江兼続, 1559-1620). So they hired gunsmiths and shooting instructors and all that stuff and had teppô drills pushed and production sites established on their lands. Kanetsugu by the way compiled a 15-article teppô practice curriculum, the so-called Teppô Keiko Sadame (鉄砲稽古定), which interestingly pretty much grasps all the relevant gun safety issues in effect today.

About a decade after the Ôsaka campaigns of 1614/15 and when everything had calmed down, Kagekatsu’s successor Uesugi Sadakatsu (上杉定勝, 1604-1645) was facing his share to rule of the fief and introduced an event called teppô-jôran (鉄砲上覧) which was an biennial demonstration of all matchlock, hand cannon, and cannon using troops that was witnessed by the daimyô. The teppô-jôran was of course a big thing for the local bushi and a great honor and practice motivation for all participating units. But as more and more importance was attached to that event over the years, an honorable demonstration of skill turned into a dispute between two units about who makes the start. As some of you might know, who is first has ever been a very important issue among samurai armies, i.e. those guys who were leading a vanguard and be the first into battle were usually the ones who entered the history books. So this dispute has to be seen in this context.

Now the fight was between the two units of the o-umamawari-gumi (御馬廻組) and the gojûki-gumi (五十騎組), the former going back to the 100 mounted warriors that were once chosen by Uesugi Kenshin to form his (banner-bearing) elite guard, and the latter to the mounted hatamoto group of 50 which was carefully selected by Uesugi Kagekatsu from his highest ranking and most bemedaled retainers. In short, both units were standing relatively high within the Yonezawa army hierarchy and belonged to the so-called san-tegumi (三手組), a military organizational group within the retainer structure of Yonezawa with the Yoita-gumi (与板組, an infantry unit) being the third party.

Stumbling block for the whole “who comes first at the teppô inspection” dispute was the Kan’ei four (1627) inspection when the gojûki-gumi was about to make the start depite the fact that the o-umamawari-gumi‘s name was on top of the (written) san-tegumi list. So that record was taken literally. The gojûki-gumi however pointed out that it had been in the vanguard at the Ôsaka Winter Campaign and so it was eventually decided in favor of this unit making the start and that the two groups start from now on alternatingly. Well, things heated up again when it came to who performs first at a teppô-jôran after a hatsu-nyûbu (初入部). A hatsu-nyûbu was when the Yonezawa daimyô visited his fief for the first time, i.e. having been raised and living in the Edo mansion of the fief until the succession. So performing first at the first teppô inspection of a newly inaugurated daimyô was even a greater honor for these units. The hatsu-nyûbu thing came up when the sixth Yonezawa daimyô Uesugi Munenori (上杉宗憲, 1714-1734) entered Yonezawa in Kyôhô eleven (1726) and when it was decided that the o-umamawari-gumi should make the start at the first teppô inspection after a hatsu-nyûbu. The gojûki-gumi protested as they had that honor at the last and second last first inspection after a new lord had been appointed. In short, the agreement on the alternating performance was jeopardized by making the first event after a hatsu-nyûbu so special.

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The dispute flared up again when Uesugi Harunori (上杉治憲, 1751-1822), aka Yôzan (鷹山) (see picture above), entered Yonezawa in Meiwa six (1769) and the gojûki-gumi made the start. Now the o-umamawari-gumi emphasized that it had been settled since Munenori that they have that honor at the very first event following a hatsu-nyûbu regardless of whose turn it would be following the alternating order. Yôzan addressed the commanders of each unit and brought all parties to the table but no one gave in and things were escalating, with friends and relatives not wanting to sit next to each other up to having daughters divorced.

This whole situation troubled Yôzan very much and he tried again to bring the two units together, also including the Yoita-gumi this time. When they were discussing things Yôzan forwarded that competition is in the nature of a bushi but that they were all still retainers at the end of the day and that they thus have to bear in mind the welfare of the fief as top priority. So more energy should be put into daily teppô practice and a major and long lasting dispute like this has the potential to destroy a fief. With the Yoita-gumi mediating, Yôzan was waiting for a response from the two parties. But when the o-umamawari-gumi was objecting many points of the written reply the gojûki-gumi had submitted, Yôzan’s patience was wearing thin and he had the head of the o-umamawari-gumi removed from his post and the head of the supposedly mediating Yôita-gumi placed under house arrest. After that, both parties were requested to submit another written reply and as this time the one from the gojûki-gumi was nothing more than a stubborn copy of their first reply, the fief’s elder recommended Yôzan that nothing will help but to abolish the whole official teppô inspection. Well, Yôzan wanted to give that issue a last try because him not being able to ressolve this issue would on the one hand worsen the discipline of the entire teppô practice, but would be on the other hand always something that will be associated with his name and function as a daimyô for generations to come. So he openly informed the two parties about these considerations. This was effective, both heads resigned and telling their members about their daimyô’s words, the bushi were deeply impressed but also ashamed that it came so far, replying that from now on, the gojûki-gumi should have the honor of making the start and the o-umamawari-gumi will perform second without further hassle. Yôzan expressed his gratitude to the o-umamawari-gumi and put into effect that the gojûki-gumi will henceforth be the unit that opens the official teppô inspection.

So this whole story tells you that the teppô-jôran was not just seen as a blown up circus event. The units were taking that performance very seriously, even after 150 years of peace. And it also tells you that once achieved merits were resonating strongly within hereditary samurai units. By the way, Jan informed me that the present-day teppô-tai that go back to these two units are still bitter rivals and that they never perform at the same event🙂

Homepage of the Yonezawa Han Koshiki Hôjutsu Hozon Kai (米沢藩古式砲術保存会) click here.

Videos of the annual event an be found here.

The pitfalls of removing signatures

At the Orlando Sword Show last weekend we were briefly talking about the issue of mei removing on swords. Nowadays this issue is fortunately more and more approached very cautiously but it hasn’t always been like that. As emphasized by Mike Yamasaki at our little round table lecture, you have to be very very careful when considering having a signature removed and in this brief article I want to provide you with a concrete example why this is so true.

There is a tantô by Enju Kunisuke (延寿国資) that was originally dated “Karyaku ni jûnigatsu hi” (嘉暦二十二月日, “a day in the twelfth month of Karyaku two [1327]”), i.e. the smith omitted the character for “year” (nen, 年). Now this date was later interpreted as being “Karyaku nijû” (i.e. Karyaku 20, the “ten” from the twelfth month shifting to the year, making 20 out of 2), and as the Karyaku era obviously did not last for 20 years, the year part was removed. Well, the tantô still passed jûyô, with its date now quoted as “Karyaku ?? nigatsu hi” (嘉暦〇〇二月日, “a day in the second month Karyaku ?”) (see picture below).

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Picture 1: The tantô in question before (left) and after (right) the characters “two” and “ten” were removed.

Reason why I picked this particular blade or case is because it is a perfect example for making a decision on the basis of insufficient references. Namely, we are facing here a local peculiarity in dating swords. For example, there exists a blade by Enju Kunitoki (国時) that is just dated “Kôkoku san ni kyû” (興国三二九), i.e. “Kôkoku third (year, 1342) second  (month) ninth (day)” (see picture 2) and one by the same smith that is dated “Engen ? jû ni go” (延元〇十二五) (see picture 3). Now the mekugi-ana goes through the first number of the latter but the Engen era only lasted for four years, from 1336 to 1340. However, the subsequent part leaves room for interpretation as it might either be the fifth day of the twelfth month of the 25th day of the tenth month.

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Picture 2: tachimei: “Kôkoku san ni kyû Kunitoki” (興国三二九国時)

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Picture 3: tantômei: “Hishû Kikuchi-jû – Engen ? jû ni go Kunitoki” (肥州菊池住・延元〇十二五国時).

So if you have a signed blade and are looking for a second and a third opinion about its authenticity and things point towards gimei and if you have in mind of having the blade papered, and that doesn’t work with a gimei as everybody knows, please be careful and even get a fourth and better a fifth opinion as you are messing with a historical piece and might destroy an important reference. The first blade passed jûyô in 1977 and I have no information about when exactly the mentioned parts in the date were removed but it is not hard to imagine that somebody just saw a good jûyô candidate in the blade and didn’t do his homework, i.e. he stopped at counting the years the Karyaku era lasted and as that did not match what he saw in the date, had it removed. Incidentally, the NBTHK words its jûyô description in a way that might be interpreted as side blow by stating: “Date signatures are rare among this school what makes this tantô a valuable reference. However, it is truly regrettable that relevant parts in the date are hardly legible.” So maybe they knew that just by doing some more research on the Enju School, and I mean real research and not only superficial one as not all Enju smiths did this abbreviation thing of the year and month kanji, the initial mei could have been preserved.

And this is where the present-day and my very own efforts come into play again. What I try to say is that I have a certain mission, and that mission is to make available as much references as possible, either publically and for free via my site or for a reasonable price via my books (and eBooks). And this mission is very much about accessible data. Imagine the 1970s. You have this Kunisuke tantô and think it is a very good blade. So you bring it to all the meetings and people keep telling you that it is a jûyô candidate but some raise the issue of the date signature. So you try to do some research and buy all the relevant books (if you don’t have them in your library already). You find some Enju references of course but doubt remains and so you write some letters, yes, it was real letters back then, and people with only little more references than yourself quasi confirm your initial concern that the date is “doubtful” and that you might have it removed if you want papers, just “to be safe” so to speak and not to have it returned as “no pass.” So here we go and an important reference is lost forever (well, the early oshigata still exists but nobody knows for how long). I don’t say that my books are the end to all the problems, of course not, really, they might only be the start. But with start I mean a good start and maybe a better start than ever before, and we are talking about the West here. So now there is hardly any excuse for not doing your homework when thinking about having a signature removed and as this is Nihonto 2.0, I and other guys putting their entire lives into Japanese swords are just an email away. So if you have a question, have doubts about stuff in my books, and/or need further explanation on the one or other issue, just drop me a mail and we can proceed from there. And I am not the only one as mentioned. If you are still having a signature or parts of a signature removed because one or two parties told you so, it’s now, in 2016, more then ever your fault if it turns out that the mei was actually good and you were jumping into conclusions. Sorry for the harsh words but we really have to watch out not to loose any more references (as the majority of important blades has been discovered by now and you can take it for granted that on the concrete example of Kunisuke, not that many more are going to pop up that are dated). Of course, there are mei that need further study, gimei, and pretty obvious gimei and this entire post aims at the first one mentioned. Just to have that said as I am not talking about clumsy Kotetsu or Masamune gimei this time that can be identified as such immediately.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #26 – Nobukuni (信国) School 1

The Ryôkai offshoot of Nobukuni was one of the schools that firmly established the Sôshû tradition within Kyôto, i.e. Yamashiro, but there is this decade-long discussion about its ancestor. Basic problem is that the earliest extant Nobukuni blades do not directly link to the alleged scholastic backgrounds and that the historic sources are either contradicting or so broadly defined that so to speak anything could be possible (for example that several Ryôkai smiths also signed with Nobukuni at a certain point in their career). The most common tradition says that the 1st generation Nobukuni was one of the “Three Great Students of Sadamune” (Sadamune-santetsu, 貞宗三哲) and that he was active around Kenmu (建武, 1334-1338) in Kyôto, at the instersection Gojôbômon (五条坊門) and Horikawa (堀川). This background is found in the Nôami Hon Meizukushi (能阿弥本銘尽) which was written in 1483, i.e. about a century after the first Nobukuni smiths had been active. This source also does not refer to his other scholastic background, the Ryôkai School, which is found for the first time in the Genki Gannen Tôken Mekiki Sho (元亀元年刀剣目利書) from 1570. This source sees the 1st generation Nobukuni as son of Ryô Nobuhisa and grandson of Ryô Hisanobu. The Kokon Mei Zukushi in turn whose data goes back to 1611 says that the tradition with Nobukuni being the son of Nobuhisa is incorrect and that he was actually the son of Ryô Kunihisa, i.e. Hisanobu’s brother and Nobuhisa’s uncle. And the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen lists him as direct student of Ryôkai whilst the Nihontô Koza says “either the son of Ryôkai or of Ryô Hisanobu.” And then Nobukuni Yoshisada (信国吉貞, ?-1640), the founder of the shintô era Chikuzen-Nobukuni School, stated in his genealogic claims from 1602 that his ancestor became during the Gen’ô era (元応, 1319-1320) a late student of Ryôkai and worked henceforth for several decades under the name of Nobukuni along Kyôto’s Gojôbômon. As indicated above, the statement of the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen that Ryô Hisanobu signed from the Jôwa era (貞和, 1345-1350) onwards with Nobukuni and that his son Nobuhisa did so too from the age of 43 onwards does not make things easier.

So how about the facts? The earliest extant date signature is from Enbun three (延文, 1358), followed by dates from Kôan one (康安, 1361), Jôji five (貞治, 1366), Ôan ? (応安, 1368-1375, the part with the year is illegible), and Eitoku three (永徳, 1383) as very last one that possibly attributes to the 1st generation. All these dates mean heyday Nanbokuchô and support at first glance the widespread assumption that there is too much a gap between the 1st generation Nobukuni and his alleged masters Ryô Hisanobu (or Ryôkai himself) and Sadamune. But only at first glance because I think that actually it all might go together. Just as a sidenote before we continue: I stated at the very beginning of this Kantei series that I will omit for the most part the biographical data of the smiths and that I am not going too much into historic detail, with the disclaimer that unless it is necessary for the understanding of what I am trying to communicate. Well, I broke that “promise” pretty quickly after we started because I realized that I don’t want to use a cookie-cutter approach and just throw in things like “sugata XY, kitae XY, hamon XY, bôshi XY…” What I want to provide is something comprehensible, replicable, something that allows you to follow my trains of thought rather than makes you feel urged to start from scratch by yourself. In other words, I do speculate quite often but I always try to provide an understandable foundation for my speculations. But let’s return to the topic.

Now the dismissal of the early Nobukuni always goes like “records say that the 1st generation was active around Kenmu (建武, 1334-1338) but there are no Nobukuni blades extant that can be dated back that far,” concluding from there that the 1st generation was active much later. But for me actually nothing speaks against the assumption that the 1st generation Nobukuni studied around 1320 with the Ryôkai School when master Ryôkai was in his latest years (as the Chikuzen-Nobukuni genealogy says), that he learned from Sôshû Sadamune much later, and that he enjoyed a long life and was still alive in the early 1380s. Sadamune was active from the very end of the Kamakura period, i.e. around Karyaku (嘉暦, 1326-1329) and Gentoku (元徳, 1329-1331), until about the Nanbokuchô-period Jôwa era (貞和, 1345-1350). Even when we dismiss the 1320 date and assume that Nobukuni emerged somewhat later from the Ryôkai School, we are still in the picture, i.e. him being active in Kenmu and being either the son of Ryô Hisanobu or Kunihisa. And another statement from the Kokon Mei Zukushi which says that Nobukuni started forging swords when Sadamune was of an old age and active around Enbun (延文, 1356-1361) does only dismiss the approach that he directly learned from master Ryôkai but fits in smoothly into everything else. Thus for the time being I think that there was indeed a Nobukuni who was active in the Kenmu era, that this nengô is maybe just placed too early and does not refer to his main active period, that he learned the Sôshû tradition of sword forging from Sadamune, and that he was still active when the Nanbokuchô period had passed its zenith.

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But let me underline all that, i.e. my above mentioned approach, on the basis of concrete works. Picture 1 shows the earliest dated work known by Nobukuni. It is a tantô that is designated as jûyô-bijutsuhin, signed in niji-mei “Nobukuni,” and dated “Enbun sannen jûnigatsu hi” (延文三年十二月日, “a day in the twelfth month Enbun three [1358]”). It has a nagasa of 27.5 cm, is in hira-zukuri, has a rather wide mihaba and a sunnobi-sugata, features a relative thin kasane, and a hint of a sori. So the sugata is typical for pre-heyday Nanbokuchô, i.e. pre-Enbun-Jôji. The jigane is a rather standing-out itame with some masame-nagare towards the ha and shows plenty of ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is a classical Yamashiro-like chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that comes with a rather tight nioiguchi, starts with a yakikomi over the machi, shows only little hataraki like ko-ashi, and that ends in a sugu-bôshi with a relative wide and long running-back ko-maru-kaeri. The blade was once a heirloom of the Shimazu (島津) family, the daimyô of the Satsuma fief, and speaks truly for Yamashiro Rai at first instance and with the nagare-masame along the ha for Ryôkai at second glance.

Nobukuni1

Picture 1: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tantô, mei “Nobukuni” (信国), date see text above, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, nagasa 27.5 cm, a hint of a sori

Next in picture 2 I want to introduce the blade with the second eldest known date signature. It is a sunnobi-tantô or hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi with a nagasa of 31.2 cm, a wide mihaba, a noticeable sori, and a thin kasane. The jigane is a rather standing-out itame with masame towards the ha, plenty of ji-nie, and chikei. The hamon is a hoso-suguha in ko-nie-deki that shows some hotsure along the monouchi and the bôshi is sugu with a smallish ko-maru-kaeri that features some hakikake. On the omote side we see a katana-hi with a soebi and on the ura side just a katana-hi. Please note that the tang is judged as ubu, although with the tip cut off, i.e. the hi are supposed to run like that into the nakago. Again, this blade is clearly more Ryôkai than Sôshû.

Nobukuni2

Picture 2: jûyô, tantô, mei “Nobukuni” (信国) – “Kôan gannen ni…” (康安元年二…, “second [month] Kôan one [1361]”), nagasa 31.2 cm, sori 0.2 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

After that, i.e. some time in the mid 1360s, Nobukuni finally started to apply the techniques of the Sôshû tradition which he had learned from Sadamune. The next known dated work namely (see picture 3), a jûyô-bunkazai tantô, shows a finely forged itame but which comes with an abundance of ji-nie and a ko-notare hamon in ko-nie-deki with a wide nioiguchi that is mixed with ashi and yubashiri. The bôshi is midare-komi and features a wide but rather pointed kaeri.

Nobukuni3

Picture 3: jûyô-bunkazai, tantô, mei “Nobukuni” (信国) – “Jôji gonen jûgatsu” (貞治五年十月, “tenth month of Jôji five [1366]”), nagasa 27.9 cm, sori 0.1 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

And then he went so to speak “full” Sôshû, as seen in the jûyô-bunkazai introduced in picture 4 which is regarded by many as the best work of Nobukuni. It is a wide hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi with a relative deep sori and shows a dense but overall rather standing-out itame that is mixed with a little ô-hada in places and that features plenty of ji-nie, chikei, and jifu, and Tanobe even mentions a nie-utsuri that appears towards the mune. The hamon is a quite nie-laden notare that is mixed with gunome, ko-midare, much sunagashi, some ara-nie, and a few kinsuji and the tobiyaki and yubashiri that appear along the yakigashira anticipate in certain areas a hamon interpretation that is often found on Nobukuni blades, and that is yahazu. In other words, the longer areas of yubashiri and tobiyaki that float in Sôshû-style over the gunome or ko-midare merge later with the ha and form gunome or ko-midare that fork into dove-tail shaped elements. The bôshi of the jûyô-bunkazai runs back in a long manner and shows hakikake and ara-nie. On the omote side we see a futasuji-hi and on the ura side a katana-hi with inside a suken as relief and a short soebi at the base. With this we have another approach that should become a characteristic feature of the Nobukuni School, and that is the trend to horimono. Incidentally, this masterwork was once a present of the Bizen Okayama daimyô Ikeda Tsunamasa (池田綱政, 1638-1714) to the Tokugawa family on the occasion of the birth of Tokugawa Ienobu’s (徳川家宣, 1662-1712) son Iechiyo (家千代, who died at the age of only two months). From that time on, the blade was a heirloom of the Tokugawa main line.

Nobukuni4

Picture 4: jûyô-bunkazai, tantô, mei “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 36.6 cm, sori 0.6 cm, motohaba 3.2 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

A very good example of the aforementioned trend towards elaborate horimono is the jûyô-bunkazai hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi that is shown in picture 5. It is basically of the typical 1st generation Nobukuni interpretation of the Sôshû tradition, i.e. dense ko-itame with chikei and plenty of ji-nie in combination with a ko-notare-based hamon in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-gunome, ko-midare, and sunagashi and a bôshi with a rather wide kaeri that features hakikake. The blade is shortened and bears a kinpun-mei attribution to Nobukuni on the omote and a no longer legible kinpun inscription on the ura side. As for the horimono, we see a ceremonial hat, a bonji, a rendai, kuwagata and a suken with elaborate sankozuka hilt on the omote, and a katana-hi with inside bonji and a suken as relief on the ura side.

Nobukuni5

Picture 5: jûyô-bunkazai, kinpun-mei “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 38.1 cm, sori 0.6 cm, motohaba 3.4 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

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 When we take a look at the entire body of work of Nobukuni, and not only of the 1st generation but of the entire school, we learn that they placed a firm focus on shorter blades, i.e. sunnobi-tantô and hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi. Long swords are rare, and this is all the more true when we go back to the early Nobukuni smiths who had their main active periods before Ôei (応永, 1394-1428). So looking at these very rare Nanbokuchô-era tachi reveals that unlike short blades, it seems as if the 1st generation Nobukuni no longer used his Ryôkai-based Yamashiro style for them, i.e. they are all pretty much soshuesque, at least as far as the hamon is concerned. Picture 6 shows a tokubetsu-jûyô tachi that is ô-suriage and that comes in the typical heyday Nanbokuchô sugata which is a wide mihaba, a relative shallow sori, a thin kasane, and an elongated chû-kissaki. The kitae is an itame mixed with masame that shows ji-nie and chikei and the hamon is a nie-laden shallow notare that is mixed with gunome, ashi, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The nioiguchi is wide, bright, and clear and the bôshi runs on the omote side with a yakikomi over the yokote into a suguha and appears on the ura side as notare-komi, both running back with a ko-maru-kaeri.

Nobukuni6

Picture 6: tokubetsu-jûyô, katana, mumei, attributed to Nobukuni, nagasa 69.7 cm, sori 1.5 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

A more flamboyant long sword of the 1st generation can be seen in picture 7. The blade is ubu, has a tachi-sugata with a toriizori, a relative thick kasane, and a chû-kissaki and shows a kitae in itame that tends to nagare on the omote side and that shows much chikei and plenty of ji-nie. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with gunome, ko-gunome, ashi, connected , sunagashi, kinsuji, and some gunome that are about to turn into yahazu (but not yet fully). The bôshi is midare-komi with a brief ko-maru-kaeri. So from the overal sugata and the interpretation of the ha we can place this blade to the latest active period of the 1st generation and it connects very well to the works of his immediate successors.

Nobukuni7

Picture 7: tokubetsu-jûyô, tachi, mei “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 67.9 cm, sori 2.6 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The last blade that I want to introduce for today is more Sadamune-like in terms of its sugata and ha (see picture 8). It is an ô-suriage tachi with a relative wide mihaba, a shallow sori, and a very much elongated chû-kissaki that might already come under the category of an ô-kissaki. The jigane is a rather standing-out itame but which tends very much to nagare-masame and that shows ji-nie. The hamon is a nie-laden shallow ko-notare that is mixed with gunome, kinsuji, and sunagashi and the bôshi is sugu-chô to midare-komi that features a pointed and late starting kaeri with hakikake. On both sides we can see towards the bottom of the tang the remnants of the suken relief in the bôhi.

Nobukuni8a

Nobukuni8b

Picture 8: jûyô, wakizashi, mumei, attributed to Nobukuni, nagasa 54.5 cm, sori 1.4 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

 

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I have saved the discussion about the succession of generations or rather the counting of generations for the next part as it would have been too confusing to pack all that into this first chapter. Also horimono and the distinguishing features of Nobukuni signatures will be addressed next time so please stay tuned.

Brief Update

Dear Readers, I want to give you a brief update what is going on at the moment and what is partially propagated via Facebook and the Nihonto Message Board. First of all, we have a green light with the Nobuie project, the translation of a 40+ article series Itô Mitsuru san (the author of the three Higo books) published starting over 15 years ago in the Tôwa Magazine. I really (and I mean really) appreciate the fact that we have more than 60 participants in this project and I hope that we are able to maintain this “momentum” for other upcoming projects. As indicated, I have already started with working on the project and I will be provided with further (color) pictures from Itô’s collection of Nobuie tsuba. These pics are not featured in the original series but should show you our effort to make this project as comprehensive as possible (by adding more pictures for your reference). And I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate my friend Eckhard Kremers, the initiator of the whole Nobuie project, for being elected new president of the European Branch of the NBTHK.

Apart from that, I would like to inform you that I was just commissioned by the NBTHK with translating the catalog to the upcoming special exhibition on the Ishiguro School that will be held from July 27 to October 30th at the Sword Museum. A great honor of course for me and everyone who is into Edo kinkô and machibori should watch out not no miss this one as the Ishiguro School is so to speak as good as it gets in this respect.

In this sense, June will be pretty tight for me and I honestly thank you in advance for your understanding if certain things might take longer as usual. Well, I know that I have been quite slow lately but this is because I still work wholeheartedly on other projects too, like Fukushi and my very own Gendaito one. Also my Kantei series will be continued as I am writing the first chapter on the Nobuie School these days. And on top of that, I will be in Orlando next month and I look very much forward to meet my friends and all of you who make it to the show!

An interesting gassaku

In the last Tôken Bijutsu, the May issue of 2016, Imoto Yûki (井本悠紀) introduces a gassaku, a joint work between Mishina Kaneyuki (三品金行) and the 11th generation Aizu-Kanesada (会津兼定), which is insofar very interesting as one side of the blade shows a kitae in itame mixed with mokume whilst the other side is in pure masame. Now some might wonder how to forge a blade so that one side has a completely different forging structure than the other one. But if you remember all the different blade constructions, it is actually pretty simple and I like to take this brief article of Imoto as an opportunity to elaborate a little on that and on the context of this gassaku.

Now first about the forging. We know several blades of Kanesada where he explicitly states on the tang that they are forged in hon-sanmai (本三枚), although he uses the term shin-sanmai (真三枚). For example, a katana that he made in Ansei four (安政, 1857) at the age of 20 which is featured in Toyama Noboru’s book on Kanesada that I had the honor to translate a couple of years ago (and which can be purchased here). And Imoto introduces a mei of Kanesada bearing that supplement which is dated Meiji 35 (明治, 1902) and which also comes with the information that he made it at the age of 66. As most of you know, the forging technique of hon-sanmai uses three different steels, two outer layers of kawagane, a shingane core, and an additional hagane at the cutting edge (see picture below). Usually the smith forges the two outer kawagane layers identically but from this gassaku we learn that one smith, Kaneyuki, forged the one layer whilst the other, Kanesada, forged the other one, by each of them sticking to their traditional technique (well, Kanesada also often worked in other kitae but masame was one of his trademarks). And the blade is also signed that way, i.e. Kaneyuki signing on the omote, the side which is in itame-mokume, and Kanesada on the ura, which is the one in masame. So either one of the two, and I assume it was Kaneyuki, took all the prepared steels, bundled them up (the process called tsukuri-komi [造り込み] or kumi-awase [組み合わせ]), and forged this bundle into a blade. The blade itself by the way is a hira-zukuri wakizashi with a nagasa of 39.4 cm, a sori of 0.7 cm, showing a nie-deki hamon where gunome sections are connected with notare and suguha-chô and which is mixed with togariba and plenty of kinsuji and sunagashi.

hon-sanmai

And as mentioned above, I want to elaborate on the context of this joint work a little. I have already stated in this article that Kanesada proceeded to Kyôto in the seventh month of Bunkyû three (文久, 1863) where he received five months later the honorary title Izumi no Kami (和泉守). The Mishina family was, as we know, so to speak in charge of handling the awarding of honorary titles with the court, expressed through their own special honorary title of Nihon Kaji Sôshô (日本鍛冶宗匠・日本鍛冶惣匠). Now we know from records that Kanesada worked in the tenth month of that year in the residence of Kaneyuki and it is assumed that such a stay belonged to the procedure of receiving a honorary title. In other words, the Mishina family probably wanted to see live the talent of the smith before forwarding any suggestions to the Imperial household. Usually, these stays are always described as “someone refining his craft in Kyôto” but most of the smiths doing so were already fully trained masters at the height of their career. This just as a side note.

Now Kaneyuki had studied with the 10th generation Iga no Kami Kinmichi (伊賀守金道) whom he later succeeded, under the name of Kinmichi, as 11th generation of that lineage. He himself had received his honorary title of Ômi no Kami (近江守) on the 20th day of the tenth month Bunkyû three (1863), i.e. at the very time Kanesada was staying in his house. Now we don’t know exactly when he succeeded as 11th generation Kinmichi (Fukunaga Suiken assumes it took place before Keiô two [慶応, 1866]) but what we do know is that the gassaku wakizashi is already signed with the additional honorary title Nihon Kaji Sôshô, which he had received from Kinmichi two months earlier, in the eighth month of Bunkyû three (1863). Also we know that Kanesada returned to Aizu in the second month of Keiô one (1865) what allows us to narrow down the production time of the undated gassaku wakizashi between the twelfth month of Bunkyû three (1863), the time Kanesada had received the title Izumi no Kami and by which the blade is signed, and the second month of Keiô one (1865) when Kanesada left Kyôto.

Last but not least I want to introduce another interesting anecdote in this context. In my above linked article on the last of the Kanesada, I mentioned that Kanesada witnessed the so-called “Hamaguri Gate Rebellion” (Hamaguri-gomon no hen, 蛤御門の変) which took place in 1864 and where royalists rebelled against the Tokugawa at the Hamaguri Gate of the Imperial Palace. Now in the course of this incident, the residence of the Mishina family caught fire and was seriously damaged (as were large parts of Kyôto, see picture below). After the rebellion was over, the Mishina family sent out letters to all their former students, who had scattered all over the country in the meanwhile by the way, not asking for but (by their choice of words) rather demanding a contribution to the reconstruction of their forge😉

HamaguriFire

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #25 – Ryôkai (了戒) School 2

Ryôkai was succeeded by his son Hisanobu (久信) who is – due to the fact that he often signed just with the prefix “Ryô” – mostly referred to as Ryô Hisanobu (了久信). The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that he was born in Kagen one (嘉元, 1303) and died in Ôan seven (応安, 1374) at the age of 73. Again, we have here dates which don’t add up and apart from that, the source also mixes up Hisanobu with Nobuhisa (信久). That is, it lists Nobuhisa as son of Ryôkai and Hisanobu as his successor whereas all other sources state it the other way round, i.e. Nobuhisa being the son of Hisanobu. Hisanobu being the son of Ryôkai is also proven by dated and signed works which will be addressed in the following. First, there is a pretty famous tachi extant (see picture 1) which is signed kakikudashi-style “Ryôkai Kagen sannen sangatsu hi” (了戒  嘉元三年三月日, “Ryôkai, on a day of the third month Kagen three [1305]”) on the haki-omote, and “Yamashiro no Kuni-jûnin Kurôza…” (山城国住人九郎左…) (rest cut off) on the haki-ura side. This mei was for a long time interpreted as showing Ryôkai’s first name, being Kurôzaemon or Kurôzaemon no Jô but in more recent years another tachi has been found (see picture 2) which is signed “Kurôzaemon no Jô Hisanobu saku – Kagen ninen uzuki hi” (九郎左衛門尉久信作・嘉元二年卯月日, “on a day of the fourth month Kagen two [1304]”). So Kurôzaemon no Jô was obviously the first name of his son Hisanobu and not of master Ryôkai and the Kagen three tachi is thus obviously a gassaku. Incidentally, the Kagen two tachi by Hisanobu bears somewhat apart from the actual mei and interpreted in a completely different way the name “Ikkai” (一海). Some speculate that this was the nyûdô-gô of Hisanobu but the NBTHK says that it is a kiritsuke-mei, i.e. added later. Well, and “final proof” for Hisanobu being the one of Ryôkai delivers a naginata (see picture 3) which is signed “Ryôkai shisoku Hisanobu – Tokuji sannen tsuchinoe-saru jûgatsu muika” (了戒子息久信・徳治三年戊申十月六日, “Hisanobu, son of Ryôkai, on the sixth day of the tenth month Tokuji three [1308], year of the monkey”).

Now let me introduce all these blades, beginning with the gassaku which is designated as a jûyô-bunkazai, owned by the Atsuta-jingû, but preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum. It must have had a magnificently long nagasa because it measures 82.6 cm in its shortened condition. It has a deep sori that tends to koshizori, maintains a little funbari, tapers noticeably, and ends in a ko-kissaki. The jigane is a ko-itame that is mixed with masame-nagare and fine ji-nie as well as a shirake-utsuri appear. The hamon is an overall rather subdued suguha to hoso-suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-midare, some ko-chôji, ko-ashi, and that features a rather tight nioiguchi, and the bôshi is a thin sugu to midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri.

RyoHisanobu1

Picture 1: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei see text above, nagasa 82.6 cm, sori 3.0 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, sakihaba 1.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The Hisanobu tachi with the Ikkai supplement is shown in picture 2. This blade too is with a nagasa of 84.0 cm pretty long. It has a wide mihaba that tapers noticeably, a deep koshizori with funbari, and end in a ko-kissaki. The jigane is a ko-itame that is mixed with a conspicuous amount of masame and features fine ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri. The hamon is a suguha-chô in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with some ko-gunome, ko-midare, ko-chôji and ko-ashi and has a subdued nioiguchi. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and tends to a little bit to a sansaku-bôshi. The omote side bears a bonji with below a suken, and the ura side a bonji with below gomabashi, both of them running as kaki-nagashi into the tang.

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Picture 2: jûyô, tachi, mei see text above, nagasa 84.0 cm, sori 2.8 cm, motohaba 2.95 cm, sakihaba 1.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

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Picture 3: The naginata which explicitly states that Hisanobu was the son of Ryôkai. It is owned by the Tokugawa Museum, has a nagasa of 42.8 cm, and is interpreted in the typical Ryôkai style.

Another signed tachi of Ryô Hisanobu is introduced in picture 4. It has a long nagasa too, tapers noticeably, but the kissaki tends to chû. Its jigane is a standing-out itame that is all over mixed with nagare-masame and that features ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri. The hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-gunome, hotsure, ashi, , and sunagashi and appears subdued in places. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-mar-kaeri.

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Picture 4: jûyô, tachi, mei “Ryô Hisanobu” (了久信), nagasa 83.7 cm, sori 2.6 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, sakihaba 1.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

An interesting blade is shown in picture 5 (click on the pic to get to the website), interesting insofar as that it is very similar to the shôbu-zukuri tachi of Ryôkai shown in picture 8 of the previous chapter. Hisanobu’s blade is ubu but unsigned, has a nagasa of 67.3 cm, a high shinogi, and shows a ko-itame that is mixed with much nagare-masame and some ô-hada in places, even formingsome mokume swirls here and there. This time a faint nie-utsuri appears and the hamon is a subdued hoso-suguha with ko-ashi, and the bôshi is sugu too and runs out as yakitsume.

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Picture 5: tachi, mumei, attributed to Ryô Hisanobu, nagasa 67.3 cm, sori 2.5 cm, motohaba 2.94 cm, shôbi-zukuri, iori-mune

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Now let’s talk about Hisanobu’s tantô. An often quoted work is the tantô shown in picture 6 that is dated Enkyô three (延慶, 1310). It is a so to speak standard hira-zukuri tantô for that time, showing moderate to smallish dimensions, an uchizori, and a jigane in dense ko-itame that tends to nagare along the mune and that displays a midare-utsuri. This midare-utsuri is in my opinion linked to the interpretation in midareba. I mean, we see a ko-notare-based ko-gunome in nioi-deki that is mixed with ashi and that features a mizukage, thus quite a flamboyant interpretation for the Ryôkai group. The bôshi is midare-komi too and runs back in a ko-maru-kaeri. So when we bear in mind that the latest known date signature of Rôkai is from the previous year and take into consideration that not that many works of Hisanobu are extant, we can speculate that he might have mostly worked for his father. This is also supported by the fact that we are facing a pretty inconsistent signature style of the characters for Ryôkai, I am hinting at daisaku-daimei, and this might go hand in hand with the tradition that Hisanobu signed himself with “Ryôkai” one or two years after his father had died, so at least according to the Goto Tebiki Shô (如手引抄). Well this work was published in the Kan´ei era (寛永, 1624-1644), more than 300 years after Hisanobu’s active period. Incidentally, the known date signatures of Ryô Hisanobu, which are pretty rare, span just from Kagen (嘉元, 1303-1306) to Enkyô (延慶, 1308-1311).

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Picture 6: tantô, mei “Ryô Hisanobu” (了久信) – “Enkyô sannen jûnigatsu muika” (延慶三年十二月六日, “sixth day of the twelfth month Enkyô three [1310]”), nagasa 23.9 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, iori-mune, preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum

But the majority of Hisanobu’s tantô is in suguha, like for example the blade shown in picture 7. It is with a nagasa of 26.2 cm of standard length has no sori. The motohaba is with 2.42 not really on the narrow side for a tantô but when you take a look at the width of the tang, the condition of the ha-machi, and the thinness of the ha, I think that this blade has lost some substance. It shows a finely forged ko-itame that is mixed with ko-mokume and nagare and features ji-nie, a shirake-utsuri, and even a few chikei. The hamon is a hoso-sugha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with sunagashi and fine kinsuji and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri.

RyoHIsanobu7Picture 7: tantô, mumei, attributed to Ryô Hisanobu, nagasa 26.2 cm, muzori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

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Genealogy of the Ryokai School

Now Ryô Hisanobu was succeeded by his son Nobuhisa (信久) who lived, according to the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen, from Bunna one (文和, 1352) to Ôei 26 (応永, 1419). He signed in the syntax of his father, i.e. with “Ryô Nobuhisa” (了信久) and worked allegedly also in the same style, although I have never come across any of his works. Well, Tsuneishi goes pretty much into detail but the problem is, he just addresses a “3rd generation Ryôkai” and does not say if he means Nobuhisa or not. Apart from that, most other sources don’t count an exact succession of generations of the Ryôkai lineage or just say that Ryôkai was the 1st generation and Ryô Hisanobu the 2nd, period. Tsuneishi introduces even more generations, i.e. a 4th generation who was active around Jôji (貞治, 1362-1368) and a 5th generation who was active around Ôei (応永, 1394-1428). For a better overview, I have compiled a genealogy of the Ryôkai School that is provided above. So Tsuneishi describes the 3rd generation as working basically in the style of his father and grandfather, hardening a hoso-suguha but which shows less nie and that comes close the a pure nioi-deki. He further states that his nioiguchi is not tight and dull (he uses “dim, blurred”), that most extant works show a “tired yakiba,” a weak and roughish hada, much masame towards the mune, and a shirake-utsuri. His tantô are smaller dimensioned and show a hoso-suguha that is mixed with ko-gunome-midare which is more “busy” than the ha of the 1st and 2nd generation. And he concludes that the 3rd generation also does not match the quality of his two predecessors.

Anyway, the old-established Yamashiro schools were all fading by the end of the Nanbokuchô period. The Awataguchi School had “long” been gone. The Rai School had just “disappeared” or had scattered to the four winds (Nakajima, Echizen, Higo) and its remaining smiths were outshined by masters, for example from the Hasebe and the Nobukuni School, who adjusted their work very much to the new Sôshû tradition. The Ryôkai School shared the same fate. Their own offspring Nobukuni overshadowed all other Ryôkai students and the son of Hisanobu’s student Yoshisada (能定), i.e. the 2nd generation Yoshisada, moved eventually down to Kyûshû where he became the ancestor of the so-called Tsukushi-Ryôkai group.