The Musashi-Masamune – One blade, four oshigata

Some time ago I had to do some research on the meibutsu Musashi-Masamune (武蔵正宗) but apart from the interesting story of its later history which I will introduce here too, I was surprised to find four different oshigata drawings to that blade. But first the history. The „Kyôhô-meibutsu-chô“ (享保名物帳) – a list of all noted swords (meibutsu, 名物) in the country commissioned by the eighth Tokugawa-shôgun Yoshimune (徳川吉宗, 1684-1751) – lists the sword under the mentioned name “Musashi-Masamune”. Well, there are basically two theories on the origin of that nickname. One says it comes from the fact that the sword was once worn by the most famous swordsman of all times, Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武蔵, 1584-1645). But in records of the Kii branch of the Tokugawa family we find a protocol where it is mentioned that the sword was presented to the Edo Tokugawa main line, i.e. the family of the shôgun. Edo was located in Musashi province and this is the other origin of its nickname. Also internal records of the Hon´ami family (本阿弥) of appraisers and sword polishers from the early Edo period say that the piece was once owned by the Kii-Tokugawa branch. However, this does not rule out that it somehow came from Miyamoto Musashi into the possession of the Kii-Tokugawa but as long as no more documents are discovered, we just have to end our speculations at this point.

Of particular interest is as mentioned the later history of the sword. When the Meiji Restoration was in full swing, Tokugawa Iesato (徳川家達, 1863-1940), the adopted son of the last Tokugawa-shôgun Yoshinobu (徳川慶喜, 1837-1913) and the first Tokugawa head after the feudal system was abolished, studied in Great Britain from 1877 to 1882. When he came back to Japan, it was a big concern of him to thank Yamaoka Tesshû (山岡鉄舟, 1836-1888). Tesshû had been the elite bodyguard of his adoptive father Yoshinobu but played also a major role in negotiating with Saigô Takamori (西郷隆盛, 1828-1887) for the peaceful surrender of Edo Castle to the imperial forces. So Iesato presented Tesshû the Musashi-Masamune what was in his eyes a worthy gift for the great swordsman. But Tesshû insisted on having just done his duty and, modest as he was, did not feel comfortable to own such a famous meibutsu. Thus he passed it on to the statesman Iwakura Tomomi (岩倉具視, 1825-1883) who had visited the US and Europe some years before Iesato in the course of his famous Iwakura Mission. So Tesshû felt that Iwakura had done much more for the new state than himself. Iwakura now entrusted his close friend Kagawa Keizô (香川敬三, 1841-1915), a former retainer of the Mito fief, with the blade to have it examined and appraised by Hon´ami Chôshiki (本阿弥長識, ?-1893). The origami issued by Chôshiki mentions the date „third day of the first month Meiji 16 (明治, 1883)“. Thereupon it was decided that the essential conversation with Tesshû should be written down to preserve it for posterity. The sinologist Kawada Takeshi (川田剛, 1830-1896) was ordered to compose a text in classical Chinese and Iwaya Ichiroku (巌谷一六, 1834-1905) was chosen to write it down in Chinese block script. Iwaya was at that time one of the three major calligraphers of Japan. The other two were Kusakabe Meikaku (日下部鳴鶴, 1838-1922) and Nakabayashi Gochiku (中林梧竹, 1827-1913). Later the family of Tomomi had to sell the sword but it was bought by another Iwakura branch as namely duke Iwakura Tomohide (岩倉具栄, 1904-1978) appears in the certificate for the designation as jûyô-bijutsuhin from 1937. After World War II it was finally sold by the Iwakura and purchased by the businessman  and publisher Fujisawa Otsuyasu (藤澤乙安) who died in 2000. Otsuyasu´s adopted son Motoo (藤澤玄雄) finally donated the Musashi-Masamune to the NBTHK.


Picture 1: The persons around the Musashi-Masamune. From left to right: Tokugawa Iesato, Yamaoka Tesshû, Iwakura Tomomi, Kagawa Keizô, Iwaya Ichiroku, Iwakura Tomohide, Fujisawa Otsuyasu

Well, there was some discussion about this blade at the time it was submitted for jûyô-bijutsuhin and later. Some remained sceptical about its authenticity as they assumed that there are no blades by Masamune extant which show an ô-kissaki and a wider mihaba. But this approach was later refuted as there are well some works from his later artistic period which show where the development was going, namely right into the Nanbokuchô period (see picture). Incidentally, Masamune is dated around Karyaku (嘉暦, 1326-1329), i.e. at the edge from the Kamakura to the Nanbokuchô period.


Picture 2: Musashi-Masamune (top) compared to the Ikeda-Masamune (池田正宗) (bottom)


Picture 3: oshigata of the Musashi-Masamune

The Musashi-Masamune measures 74,0 cm in nagasa, has a sori of 1,2 cm, a motohaba of 2,91 cm and a moto-kasane of 0,53 cm. The kissaki measures 5,53 cm. The workmanship with its abundance of ji-nie and chikei is as typical for Masamune as the vivid notare-hamon with its brilliant nie, the kinsuji and the sunagashi, and the bôshi with the peculiar isolated area of unhardened steel. By the way, the bôhi ends noticeably before the ko-shinogi. In the following I want to present four different oshigata to the Musashi-Masamune (three for the omote side and another one for the ura side).What attracts attention is the course of the yokote but this might go back to the hand of the draughtsman. The individual oshigata might not be in perfect scale to each other but I want to demonstrate the reader how different a blade can be „read“. All these oshigata were drawn by experts who knew what they were doing. Drawing oshigata can namely be highly subjective depending on factors like how familiar the draughtsman is with the smith and his works, the condition of the polish (especially on a freshly polished blade some hataraki might be emphasized stronger and a blade „calms down“ over the years), or the draughtsman´s condition on the that day. I now invite the reader to get a picture of his own about the subtle differences in the condition of the hamon, hataraki and bôshi.


Picture 4: Kissaki and monouchi of the Musashi-Masamune (omote side). The uppermost oshigata belongs to the lower oshigata of the ura side in picture 5.


Picture 5: Two oshigata from the ura side.

10 thoughts on “The Musashi-Masamune – One blade, four oshigata

  1. Fascinating! I wonder, was the blade polished in-between some of these oshigata? That may explain differences for example as shown on the ura side, in the tip section: One of them may represent a slightly deeper layer, now exposed. On a finely layered sword, I’ve seen pattern layouts change quite a bit after some polish and I can imagine this even goes -to some extent- for the effects of the hardening.

    • I am positive that the blade was polished at least one time between these oshigata, that is, my most likely scenario would be an oshigata made from an old polish, then one right after it got polished, and one several decades later with a “new generation set of eyes” so to speak.

  2. Well, sincerest of gratitude, for the indepth info, that was the only source I came across, that would be of a real aid, provide assistance, to assess, with some confidence, that the WW2 US,,confiscated and reissued to one of their service men. After coming across the lost swords of Japan’s most revered sword maker, and the likelihood they are just resting, in some US residence. Got me thinking about a treasured heirloom I have had tucked away for some time. Initially, I began today’s sword search information quest, with my pride and joy, a legendary sword, crafted by a skilled Japanese family, with a line of multi-generational, passed down, deep understanding, wisdom, and technique, for crafting modern master pieces, of the sword. They spent some years, with their business, operating just a 20 minute drive from where I have spent my life, in eldorado county, California. The tale of destined fate, the gifting, or chance aquistion, of my Easter Sunday 2018, Devine Easter egg, left by the universe, would,truth be told, not be believed by anyone, unless, of course, is of the few, close, individuals, with the strange brand of luck, to be some one that knows me! Well, it wouldn’t surprise me if the other sword, that’s just been ,,resting, safe and sound, could be biding time, in my care, until it’s possible chance that it proves fo be potentially ,profound, and I mistifying! I would love to se’nd you some pics, of this truly remarkable sword, in all its glory, and splendors!


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  4. I am really curious as to how Masamune came to make his blades in the Soshu kitae format and how it is done, as well as how long the process takes. also I am curious if he ever made an odachi as I have not seen anything so far to say he had.

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