I got a lot of positive feedback about my recently published kantei volumes and at the same time many suggested to have a reference work compiled where all the various hamon and bôshi are sorted by shape/interpretation. The general response was namely to have specific examples to compare and not only schematic representations of hamon and bôshi.

As your wish is my command, I am going to compile such a reference work and below you will find a preview of how this project might look like.


Thank you and Happy Easter to all of you!

Sorting out legends around Ôhara Sanemori

During my research for one of my more or less recent publications, the Legends and Stories around the Japanese Sword 2, I came across a number of legends and transmissions regarding the swordsmith Sanemori (真守) which are interesting enough not to be dismissed right away. In chapter 2 on the famous Kogarasu-maru (小烏丸) I introduced the sword Nuke-maru (抜丸) which was once in the possession of Taira no Tadamori (平忠盛, 1096-1153). Some later chroniclers cunfused the Nuke-maru with the Kogarasu-maru as it was once called „Kogarashi“ (木枯), but most experts assume that the Kogarasu-maru and the Kogarashi were two different swords, which were both handed down within the Taira family. Another „proof“ that there were two swords are their different provenances after the time of Tadamori as the latter bequeathed the Kogarasu-maru and the Kogarashi to his oldest son and heir Taira no Kiyomori (平清盛, 1118-1181). More details can be found in my book and I want to continue with another transmission which says namely that the Nuke-maru was a work of Ôhara Sanemori (大原真守), the supposed son of the famous Yasutsuna (安綱). According to that transmission which is also found in the „Kokon-mei-zukushi“ (古今銘尽) from Manji four (万治, 1661), Sanemori made the Nuke-maru as “protective sword” (mamori-gatana, 守刀) for emperor Saga (嵯峨天皇, 786-842). Well, this can be ruled out as also Yasutsuna´s active period has been dated around the mid Heian period and the late 10th century. And as more recent sword publications date Sanemori even around Hô´en (保延, 1135-1141) it is, at least from the point of view of time, possible that he made the Nuke-maru for Taira no Kiyomori.


Picture 1: kokuhô, tachi, mei: Sanemori tsukuru (真守造) – mune-mei: Ôhara (大原), nagasa 76,7 cm, sori 1,9 cm.

There are blades extant by Sanemori which are signed with „Hôki Ôhara Sanemori“ (伯耆大原真守). Because of these signatures and as it is obvious, most experts assume that he lived in the village of Ôhara in Hôki province which was located about 10 km to the southeast of present-day Yonago City of Tottori Prefecture. However, Sanemori did not explicitly mention „jû“ (住), i.e. „resident of“. This doesn´t have to mean anything but leaves nevertheless room for speculation. By the way, the blade shown in picture 1 bears the supplement „Ôhara“ on the back of the tang what is quite uncommon. One such a speculation takes us to the village of Ôhara of the same name, not in Hôki but in former Yamashiro province. This Ôhara was located on the main road which connected Kyôto with Wakasa Bay and just about 6 km to the south was the Enryakuji (延暦寺) on Mt. Hiei. And now things are becoming interesting. There in Ôhara, or to be more precise in the present-day Ôharanomura-chô (大原野村町, see picture 2) exists a legendary stone and well. The flat natural stone is namely called „Sanemori-kanatokoishi“ (真守鉄盤石, lit. „Sanemori´s anvil“, see picture 3), and the well „Sanemori no i“ (真守の井, lit. „Sanemori´s well“, see picture 4). Already the old local history „Sanshû-meiseki-shi“ (山州名跡志, „Famous Ruins from Yamashiro Province“) from the first year of Shôtoku (正徳, 1711) mentions this stone and well and says that once the house of the swordsmith Sanemori was erected at this area, that he used the stone as anvil, and that is why he was called „Ôhara Sanemori“ (see picture 5). On the other hand, the much later „Kyôto-minzoku-shi“ (京都民俗志) written by Inoue Yoritoshi (井上頼寿, 1900-1979) says that the well or the well water respectively is called „Kokaji no mizu“ (小鍛冶の水, lit. „Kokaji´s water“), as another legend says that the water was used by the famous Kyôto smith Sanjô Kokaji Munechika (三条小鍛冶宗近). Inoue also writes that the local people still arrange shimenawa around the well at New Year. Besides of that he quotes the stone as „Taira no Kiyomori kanatokoishi“ (平清盛鉄盤石, lit. „Taira no Kiyomori´s anvil“) what would close the circle to the transmission that Kiyomori owned the sword Nuke-maru by Ôhara Sanemori given to him by his father Tadamori.


Picture 2: Map of the relevant places

sanemorinoiPicture 3: Sanemori´s anvil


Picture 4: Sanemori´s well


Picture 5: Relevant passage of the „Sanshû-meiseki-shi

But there is more speculation. Some blades of Sanemori are signed with „Shô/Kachi/Katsu“ (勝, lit. „victory“) (see picture 6). Well, it is unclear of this supplement has a literal meaning, was a nickname or a family name. Used as family name this character would read „Katsu“ or „Kaji“ and might be a pun and stand for the homonymous „kaji“ (鍛冶) which means „smith“ as we know. But some see this character in the context of Ôhara in Yamashiro province and assume that it is an abbreviation, namely an abbreviation for the local Tendai temple Shôrin´in (勝林院, see picture 7) located only about 1,5 km to the northeast of the well. Father and son Tadamori and Kiyomori had some disputes with the Tendai-monastery Enryaku-ji what shows us that they were at least in that area. So if we let our thoughts run free it is possible that Tadamori had the local smith Sanemori make him a sword when he was around and Sanemori was somehow affiliated with the Shôrin´in, but most experts assume that the legend with the well and the old smithy of Sanemori emerged much later and just because of the same name „Ôhara“ and further they assume that the smith neither worked nor lived there.


Picture 6: kodachi, mei: Hôki Ôhara Sanemori (伯耆大原真守) – Shô/Kachi (勝), nagasa 61,9 cm, sori 1,8 cm


Picture 7: Shôrin´in

But there is another interesting sidenote. We know that the Etchû-smith Norishige (則重) tried to reproduce the old Ko-Hôki style and several extant blades definitely show his approach. And there exists a tokubetsu-jûyô tantô of Norishige which also bears the character „Shô/Kachi“ (see picture 8). Like on the Sanemori blade seen in picture 6, the character in question is chiselled above the mekugi-ana, that means not directly connected to the name of the smith. So maybe this character was a way for Norishige to show that he knows Sanemori´s blades very well. Anyway, the reproduction of the Ko-Hôki style by Norishige and this single character known to be used by Sanemori is in my opinion too much to be just a coincidence.

norishige1Picture 8: tantô, mei: Shô/Kachi Norishige (勝・則重) – Shôwa sannen jûichigatsu-hi (正和三年十一月日, „a day in the eleventh month Shôwa three [1314]“), nagasa 22,4 cm

Kantei Supplement 1

The first supplement volume to my set Kotô-kantei and Shintô & Shinshintô-kantei is out now. It contains 61 blades (koto, shintô and shinshintô). A second supplement volume will not be published before the very end of the year.

It can be obtained at via this link.

There is also an eBook available here.

And the German version can be found here.


Paperback, 152 pages, b/w, 8.26 wide x 11.69 tall, 42.00 $ or 39.90 €

Table of contents


Maeda Toshiie taking heads

It is widely known that samurai were keen to take the heads of their enemies as a way to prove where they were victorious. Reports on taking heads go way back to the mid Heian period but a kind of ritualized aspect of this act did not emerge until about the Genpei War which marked the end of thei Heian and the beginning of the Kamakura period. That means the more taken heads a warrior was able to present at the end of a battle, the more likely it was he was rewarded by his lord. Now I would like to introduce a more modern but still very graphic rendering of this bloody tradition. The picture shown below depicts the young Maeda Toshiie (前田利家, 1538-1599) returning victorious from the Battle of Okehazama. When Imagawa Yoshimoto (今川義元, 1519-1560) was on his way entering Kyôto in Eiroku three (永禄, 1560), he had to cross the territories of Oda Nobunaga in Owari province who of course wanted to stop him. It is said that Toshiie was not allowed by Nobunaga to participate in this battle but he nevertheless did, taking one enemy head right in the morning and two during the main battle. But Nobunaga was angry and did not allow him to come back into his service. But one year later Toshiie again decided for himself to participate in the Battle of Moribe (森部の戦い) where he took the head of Adachi Rokubei (足立六兵衛), a retainer of the Hibino family (日比野) and a tough hero nicknamed „Kubitori-Adachi“ (頸取足立, „the head-severing Adachi“). But Toshiie was also able to take another head in this battle and for these deeds he was finally rewarded by Nobunaga by an increase of his salary by 300 kan.

Well, apart from the head taking reports of Toshiie, he also got the nickname „yari no Mataza“ (槍の又左, „Mataza the Spear“) as „Matazaemon“ (又左衛門) was one of his first names. This nickname goes back according to transmission to the Battle of Ukino (浮野の戦い) which took place in the first year of Eiroku (1558) when Toshiie was 21 one years old. He was namely wielding a yari with a 6 m 30 cm long shaft in this battle and decided to make the spear his main weapon.

maedahead2 MaedaHead1

Picture 1: Maeda Toshiie Okehazama gaisen no zu (前田利家桶狭間凱旋図) by Ganryô, ink and colours on silk. The depiction is actually an exaggeration of Toshiie´s merits as it shows four taken heads whereas the Nobunaga chronicle „Shinchô-kôki“ (信長公記) speaks „only“ of three taken heads as mentioned above.

The picture came from the possessions of a later Maeda retainer and was clearly ordered for boosting the morale and fighting spirit. The artist chosen for fulfilling this task was Ganryô (岸良, 1798-1852). Ganryô was born as „Hamatani Gorô Masayoshi“ (濱谷五郎昌良) in Kyôto. His nicknames were „Shirô“ (子良) and „Saeki Ganryô“ (佐伯岸良) and he also bore the pseudonyms „Ga´un“ (画雲) and „Jôkaku“ (乗鶴). He entered an apprenticeship under master Ganku (岸駒, 1756-1749), the famous founder of the Kishi school (岸) of painting, and married his eldest daughter Tei (貞). Later he worked for the Imperial Arisugawa-no-miya family (有栖川宮) but was somehow outshined by Ganku´s son and heir Gantai (岸岱, 1782-1865). Well, Ganryô did not focus on the traditional „Kishi tiger motif“ but followed more the style of the Nanpin school (南蘋派). The latter goes back to Chinese artist Shěn Nánpín (沈南蘋, 1682-?) who worked basically in academic Ming styles. Shěn Nánpín stayed from 1731 to 1733 for two years in Japan and his paitings became very popular as the Japanese taste developed more and more towards realism in the 18th century and also because the novelty of his style and its decorative appeal. Thus also Ganryô´s paintings are more realistic and his trong points were depictions of figures and the so-called „bird-and-flower genre“ (kachô-ga, 花鳥画).

Incidentally, as Maeda Toshiie was born in the village of Arako (荒子) somewhat to the southwest of Nagoya (it is now a part Nagoya), the city commissioned the sculptor Tabata Isao (田畑功, 1955- ) in 2007 with a bronze statue of the young Toshiie riding into his first battle with his spear. You can see the statue when you take the Aonami Line from Nagoya Station and leave at Arako. It was erected right in the centre of the traffic circle in front of the station (see picture 2).


Picture 2: Statue of the young Toshiie

The Inoshishigiri and the travels of Masazane

Sakai Tadatsugu (酒井忠次, 1527-1596), one of the so-called „Four Guardians of the Tokugawa“ (Tokugawa-shitennô, 徳川四天王), was born in Mikawa province and appointed by his lord Tokugawa Ieyasu to castellan of Yoshida (吉田城) in Eiroku eight (永禄, 1565) which was located in the eastern part of Mikawa. The castle town of Yoshida was insofar important as it had via the Toyokawa River access to the sea (Mikawa Bay) and as it was located at the Tôkaidô, the main road which connected Kyôto with the Kantô area. Now whilst ruling Yoshida Castle, Tadatsugu killed – according to transmission – with one of his swords a boar whereupon the katana got the nickname „Inoshishigiri“ (猪切, lit „boar cutter“). The nickname was inlayed via kinzôgan on the tang. The blade came eventually in the possession of Tadatsugu´s fourth son Matsudaira Jinzaburô Hisatsune (松平甚三郎久恒, 1584-1652). When Tadatsugu´s grandson Tadakatsu (酒井忠勝, 1594-1647) became daimyô of the Shônai fief (庄内藩) of Dewa province in Genna eight (元和, 1622), he made his uncle Hisatsune castellan of Kamegasaki (亀ヶ崎城) and later in Kan´ei six (寛永, 1629) his karô elder. The sword remained in Hisatsune´s family, according to transmission until the last karô Matsudaira Jinzaburô Hisaatsu (松平甚三郎久厚, ?-1921).


Picture 1: Inoshishigiri by Masazane

The blade itself is a work of Masazane (正真) on whom I would like to make some observations. It is said that Masazane was a late Tegai smith who lived in the old Fujiwara district (藤原) of Nara in Yamato province. From there he visited Kyôto where he became a student of the Eishô-era (永正, 1504-1521) Heianjô Nagayoshi (平安城長吉) with whom he travelled a lot. Their first destination was Kuwana (桑名) in Ise province where they worked together with Muramasa (村正). Well, it is unknown who actually learned from whom but we can definitely see similarities in the workmanship of Masazane, Nagayoshi and Muramasa. After their stay in Ise they went further eastwards, namely to Mikawa province, and as the Tegai school was also called „Monju school“ (文珠), the lineage of Masazane was later also called „Mikawa-Monju“ (三河文珠). But that was not enough as both travelled along the Tôkaidô up to Odawara (小田原) in Sagami province. This can be confirmed by signatures of Nagayoshi and Masazane which mention „Sôshû-jû“ as place of production.


Picture 2: The travels of Masazane and Nagayoshi. In red the Tôkaidô.

There is some confusion about the Kanabô smith Masazane of the same name. He was active somewhat later, i.e. around Tenbun (天文, 1532-1555), and was according to transmission the son of the Eishô-era late Tegai Masazane. He did not accompany his supposed father on his journeys but moved later from Fujiwara to the Kanabôtsuji (金房辻) district of Nara which earned the Kanabô school its name and which was later adopted as family name. He signed for example with „Kanabô Hayato no Suke Masazane“ (金房隼人佐正真) and his signatures are clearly different from the earlier Masazane. Also from the point of view of workmanship the theory that the Eishô-era Masazane and Kanabô Masazane were the same person can be dismissed. Around Tenshô (天正, 1573-1592) there was a 2nd generation Kanabô Masazane, presumably the son of the 1st generation. Well, the 1st generation Kanabô Masazane had according to transmission a younger brother who also bore the name „Hayato no Suke“ but wrote his name „Masazane“ with the characters (正実), or in the old and unsimplified form (正實). The latter Masazane was active around Eiroku (永禄, 1558-1570) and his successor of the same name around Keichô (慶長, 1596-1615).


Picture 3: Signature comparison. Top row four signatures of the Eishô-era Masazane with the mei of the Inoshishigiri to the left. Bottom row two signatures of Kanabô Masazane.

So when Masazane was active around Eishô (永正, 1504-1521) and Sakai Tadatsugu was born in Daiei seven (大永, 1527), it can be ruled out that the latter ordered the blade from Masazane whilst he stayed in Mikawa. Thus the blade must had been in the possession of the Sakai before the time of Tadatsugu. At the time Tadatsugu was born, his father Tadachika (忠親) ruled Ida Castle (井田城) in Mikawa province which was located about 30 km to the northwest of Yoshida and along the Tôkaidô. From Kuwana to Ida is about 80 km. As it is unlikely that Masazane and Nagayoshi traveled with a bunch of blades we can assume that they might had just some presentation pieces to demonstrate local rulers their skill. So maybe Tadachika was impressed by Masazane and ordered the later Inoshishigiri from him. If this was the case, then the blade was forged at Ida Castle. Incidentally, Tadachika´s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were Yasutada (康忠), Tadakatsu (忠勝) and Ujitada (氏忠, ?-1470) respectively. As the exact dates of Yasutada and Tadakatsu are unknown, it is also possible that the contact to Masazane came about through Tadachika´s father Yasutada or even grandfather Tadakatsu. All of them were castellans of Ida in succession.

But I don´t want to leave out the most famous work of Masazane, the yari Tonbôgiri (蜻蛉切). Honda Tadakatsu (本多忠勝, 1548-1610), another Tokugawa-shitennô, wore this yari at the Battle of Hitokotozaka (一言坂の戦い) in Genki three (元亀, 1572) and forced with it his way through the line between the enemy and the allies by wielding it overhead. It has to be mentioned that the shaft of the spear was 6 m long! (The blade itself has a nagasa of 43,8 cm.) According to transmission, once a dragonfly (Jap. tonbô) tried to land on the yari but was cut in two halves and that is why it got the nickname „Tonbôgiri“ (lit. „dragonfly cutter“).


Picture 4: Tonbôgiri

Another different oshigata

Had a root canal treatment earlier today so I will be brief as I don´t want my painkillers to gain the upper hand over my writing. In my article on the Musashi-Masamune I presented four different oshigata to the very same blade. As I had to look for something in older Token Bijutsu magazines, I found another oshigata to a blade of Kotetsu I introduced in my recent publication Shinto & Shinshintô-kantei (number 236.665). I was surprised how different the reproduction of the monouchi section is. Well, we can agree that the bôshi and the connected gunome-protrusion right before the yokote match but then it seems that the hamon take way a different course. It seems at a glance that the hamon on the upper oshigata is slightly compressed but after a closer look we learn that also the course after the second connected gunome-protrusion differs. At the upper oshigata, four bumps follow after the protrusion before the hamon lowers a little. At the lower oshigata, there is one large bump and two smaller before the lower section starts. Just on the basis of these oshigata alone I would say we are facing two different blades but I double-checked the descriptions. Both blades have exactly the same measurements and exactly the same tameshi-mei. Please not that at the lowermost oshigata of the tang, the maker saw a kind of yakikomi at the habaki area whereas the hamon continues as suguha and even goes down on the upper oshigata. For your information, the oshigata I used in my Shintô & Shinshintô-kantei was published in issue 665 (June 2012) of the Token Bijutsu. The other one is from issue 581 (June 2005). So I guess the differences can´t be explained by a new polish.


Picture 1: Comparison of two Kotetsu-oshigata. The uppermost monouchi-oshigata belongs to the lowermost nakago-oshigata.

Suehirogari – A small but fine tsuba by Natsuo

A long time ago, that is to say in 2006, I had to translate the description of a tsuba by the great master Kanô Natsuo (加納夏雄, 1828-1898). It crossed my mind recently when I had to find out something about the construction of Japanese fans. As I was fond of the story behind the motif, I would like to introduce it here. The motif is called „suehirogari“ (末広がり) what means literally „something that opens “, but it is also the title of a short and humorous waki-kyôgen play of an unknown author. The first stage adaption was called „Wakamidori Suehirogari“ (稚美鳥末広) and had its première in Ansei one (安政, 1854) at the kabuki theatre Nakamuraza (中村座) in Edo. The composer was Kineya Rokuzaemon (杵屋六左衛門), the lyricist Sakurada Jisuke (桜田治助) and the choreographer Tôma Kanjûrô (藤間勘十郎).

The play is about an errand who was wrong but manages it to bring it to a happy ending. A certain lord called „Kahômono“ (果報者) is in the middle of preparations for a banquet and needs some presents for his guests. The present for his elder should be a folding fan, a suehiro, whose name goes back to the aforementioned literal meaning „something that opens“. Thus a folding fan is a symbol for the growing and prosperity of a family. So he calls for his errand Tarôkaja (太郎冠者) and tells him to go downtown and buy „a suehiro with a paper of decent quality and a playful painting“. Well, Tarôkaja sets out for the shopping streets but is actually not aware what a suehiro is. Downtown he asks through but comes to the wrong person, a slicker called „Suppa“ (すっぱ) who tells him that the old umbrella he sells is a suehiro. Well, the thing with the „opening“ makes sense for Tarôkaja and the „friendly hawker“ teaches him a song to sing with such an umbrella. And at the persuasion scene of Suppa, a pun on what Kahômono said is made. Kahômono told him „with a playful painting“, in Japanese „zare´e“ (戯れ絵), but when Tarôjaka asks Suppa if the suehiro has a zare´e, the slicker replies „yes, it has“, but refers to a „playful handle“, also pronounced as „zare´e“ (戯れ柄).

Back in the residence of his lord, Tarôkaja proudly hands over the umbrella as he was sure that he got the right thing but Kahômono gets very angry and tells him off. And now Tarôkaja´s talent comes into play. He starts namely to sing the song Suppa taught him before which goes: „Kasa o sasunaru Kasugayama, kore mo kami no chikai tote, hito ga kasa o sasunara, waga mo kasa o sasô yo, geni mo saari, yayo gari mo sô yo no!“ (傘をさすなる春日山、これもかみのちかいとて、人が傘をさすなら、我も傘をさそうよ、げにもさあり、やよがりもそうよの!) „The divine Mt. Kasuga opens like an umbrella, the people open their umbrella all the time, but when I open an umbrella, I get scolded!“ And here we have another pun. Tarôjaka is now aware of the difference between a suehiro folding fan and an umbrella, a kasa (傘), and ostentatiously emphasizes the latter word in this song. By the way, it was said that the Kasuga mountain range in Nara has the shape of an umbrella, that´s why it occurs in that song. Kahômono cheers up and joines his errand singing and dancing. So the moral of this short and humorous play is that it is the thought that counts. Often namely such waki-kyôgen have a lord or master who has to organize stuff and everything ends in a mess. Sometimes the arrogance of the lord is the reason for the mess and sometimes also the incompetence of his servants but there is always a happy end.


Picture 1: „Suehirogari“ ukiyo´e print by Tsukioka Kôgyo (月岡耕漁, 1869-1927) from his series „Nôgaku-zue“ (能楽図絵, „Pictures of Nô Plays“), 1898. We see Tarôkaja with the umbrella, his lord Kahômono already dancing and at the top right symbolically two suehiro folding fans.

The tsuba is of iron, in aori-gata, has an uchikaeshi-mimi and a takabori-zôgan-iroe ornamentation. It was ordered by the Katô family (加藤) and finished and delivered in the first month of Man´en one (万延, 1860). So it is noted by Natsuo´s third son Akio (秋雄, ?-1950) in the hakogaki. It is assumed that the piece was commissioned one year before, i.e. in Ansei six (安政, 1859), the year in which Natsuo married, as many orders by the Katô were placed to support the artist. Often Natsuo had free choice of the motif and interpretation of the tsuba he made for his patron. The entire right side of the omote is occpuied by the joyfully dancing Tarôkaja wearing a loud stage outfit. The ura side is calm and shows a young pine, a New Year´s decoration as the banquet in question was a New Year´s banquet. Fascinating for me is the interplay of so many facets just on such a small but fine tsuba. We learn about the life circumstances of the artist by the mention of the name of the client, we have the hakogaki by the master´s son which confirms the date the piece was completed, than we have a peephole through which we can see the late 19th century world of waki-kyôgen, and we learn something about the then humour and the plenty use of puns. That means tsuba can be so much more than simple hand guards.


Picture 2: tsuba by Kantô Natsuo with the mei „Katô-shi no motome ni kotae – Natsuo“ (応加藤氏需・夏雄, „made by Natsuo according to an order of the Katô family“)

On the nickname of the Ogaki-Masamune

A few weeks ago I posted an article on the Musashi-Masamune and I now would like to share some thoughts on the Ôgaki-Masamune. First of all about the blade itself. It has a rather wide mihaba, a thin kasane, a shallow sori and the tip might be classified as a just slightly elongated chû-kissaki. Of particular note is the very low suguha-chô with one major protrusion on the same area of each side and otherwise only small ups and downs. This is not the most representative style of Masamune and rather calm for him but we can see the typical sunagashi and yubashiri and the plentiful of nie which spill into the ji, especially towards the base of the blade. And in the bôshi, we can see a similar approach of the smith as at the Musashi-Masamune, i.e. it is rather wide and shows some isolated unhardened areas. So far so god. The blade was shortened to a nagasa of 63,9 cm and has today tokubetsu-jûyô papers.


Picture 1: Ôgaki-Masamune, mumei, nagasa 63,9 cm, sori 0,8 cm

In the „Kyôhô-meibutsu-chô“, it is listed with the nickname „Ôgaki-Masamune“ (大垣正宗), and the entry says that the sword was at the time of the compilation of the meibutsu-chô in the possesion of Uesugi Yoshinori (上杉吉憲, 1684-1722), the then fourth Uesugi-daimyô of the Yonezawa fief of Dewa province. It is also mentioned that apart from the present owner, the provenance of the piece is unknown. Well, so far it was assumed that the nickname goes back to Ôgaki in Mino province where the castle of the same name of the Toda family (戸田) was located. Toda Ujitetsu (戸田氏鉄, 1576-1655) presented the sword to shôgun Tokugawa Hidetada (徳川秀忠, 1579-1623) who in turn presented it to Uesugi Kagekatsu´s (上杉景勝, 1556-1623) son Sadakatsu (定勝, 1604-1625) on the occasion of the genpuku ceremony of the latter. These were the research results of Tsujimoto Tadao (辻本直男) published in his 1970-work „Zusetsu tôken-meibutsu-chô“ (図説刀剣名物帳). But in 1973 Satô Toyozô (佐藤豊三) from the Tokugawa Museum Nagoya found the Ôgaki-Masamune listed in the „Sunpu o-wakemono tôken-motochô“ (駿府御分物刀剣元帳), the protocol of the estate of Ieyasu´s swords. That means the sword must already had been in the possession of the Tokugawa in 1616, i.e. the year Ieyasu died. Apart from that, Toda Ujitetsu did not enter Ôgaki Castle before Kan´ei twelve (寛永, 1635). In 1635 in turn, Hidetada was already dead and so the assumption that the blade got its nickname on the occasion of the presentation to Hidetada can be dismissed. In short, the Ôgaki-Masamune must had got its name before the death of Ieyasu.

But when? As explained in my first volume Legends and Stories around the Japanese Sword, Ishida Mitsunari (石田三成, 1560-1600) lost two Masamune in the course of the turmoils before and during the battle of Sekigahara. One of them was the meibutsu „Hyûga-Masamune“ (日向正宗) (see picture 2). Interestingly, this blade is sometimes also referred to as „Ôgaki-Masamune“. I think that the naming of the Ôgaki-Masamune katana introduced here is directly connected to the Hyûga-Masamune but let me explain why I think so. The tantô Hyûga-Masamune was once a present of Mitsunari to  Fukuhara Naotaka (福原直高・長堯, ?-1600), the husband of his younger sister. Naotaka was a vassal of Hideyoshi and ruled a fief in Bungo province and fought of course on the side of the Western Army at Sekigahara. Together Kakemi Iezumi (垣見家純, ?-1600) and Kumagai Naomori (熊谷直盛, ?-1600) – both long-standing vassals of Hideyoshi too – he was detached to support the strategically important and aforementioned Ôgaki Castle which was then held by Itô Morimasa (伊藤盛正, ?-1623). Ôgaki was attacked by an alliance of several daimyô and Naotaka and Morimasa had to give up and surrendered the castle. Naotaka asked if he is permitted to enter priesthood but because he was via his wife a relative of Mitsunari this was not granted and he had to commit seppuku. One of the attacking generals of the Eastern Army was Mizuno Katsunari (水野勝成, 1564-1651), who made sure that he got hold of Naotaka´s Masamune-tantô at this occasion. I think it is quite possible that after the fightings, both blades – i.e. the katana and the tantô – were named for the time being after the surrendered castle. When the katana was presented to Ieyasu, it kept its nickname but the tantô was later renamed when Mizuno Katsunari, since 1601 holder of the title „Hyûga no Kami“, presented it to the Kii-Tokugawa family.


Picture 2: kokuhô Hyûga-Masamune, mumei, nagasa 24,8 cm


Picture 3: Ôgaki Castle before the main tower burned down after an air raid in 1945.

And here a link to a blade of Horikawa Kunihiro which is thought to be inspired by the Ôgaki-Masamune. We can see the narrow suguha-based hamon but the protrusions occur on other areas and the hi are different (although the hi on the Masamune might be atobori) and so it is not a 1:1 utsushimono but a faithful hommage.

A brief outline of the changes in workmanship of the later Bizen tradition

I want to continue my last entry with some thoughts on the workmanship of the later Bizen tradition. But first some supplements to the genealogy. „Our“ survivor, i.e. Tôshirô Sukesada, was the successor of Shichirô´emon Sukesada (七郎右衛門祐定) who also beared the first name „Tôshirô“ in early years. This Shichirô´emon Sukesada in turn was the fourth son of the 2nd generation Genbei Sukesada (源兵衛祐定) but was later adopted by his own older brother, the Tenshô-era (天正, 1573-1592) Shichirō´emon Sukesada (七郎右衛門祐定) who worked for Kobayakawa Hideaki. It was this adoption by which Tôshirô´s father changed his name from „Tôshirô“ to „Shichirô´emon“. Incidentally, Genbei Sukesada was after the 1st generation Yosôzaemon (与三左衛門祐定) and the 1st generation Hikobei Sukesada (彦兵衛祐定) the most talented Sukesada smiths of the late Muromachi period.

The first Bizen Sukesada mentioned in the genealogy belonged to the Kozori group whereas the term „Kozori“ itself was and is not exactly defined. It is, grossly simplified, applied more or less to late Nanbokuchô-era Osafune smiths whose affiliation is unknown. The Kozori smiths adopted about the style of the dominating Osafune main line, which was then represented by master Kanemitsu (兼光), but gave it a trend towards the so-called „koshi-no-hiraita gunome-midare“, i.e. a gunome-midare whose bases (koshi, 腰) are noticeably wider (hiraita, 開いた) as the tips (yakigashira, 焼頭). This trend can be seen for example at Kozori Moromitsu (師光, picture 1).


Picture 1: tachi of Kozori Moromitsu dated Eiwa two (永和, 1376)

When the turmoils of the Nanbokuchô era were over, the bushi with their new base in Kyôto again started to focus on the more elegant sword interpretations of the Kamakura period. That means slender and elegant blades came into fashion and this trend was grasped by the young Ôei-Bizen school (応永備前), named after the Ôei era (応永, 1394-1428) it emerged. The Ôei-Bizen smiths oriented themselves towards the glorious Ichimonji style or the style of the Osafune school at its height. But the trend to wider koshi started by the Kozori smiths just before was adopted and refined. We also see a trend towards , that means nioi formations within the ha detached from the habuchi. This feature can be seen on a blade of Ôei-Bizen Morimitsu (盛光, picture 2) for example.


Picture 2: tachi of Ôei-Bizen Morimitsu dated Ôei twelve (1405)

With the Eikyô era (永享, 1429-1441), the individual gunome-midare elements get gradually smaller and more narrow and the valleys go more down towards the ha. As the change in style is quite noticeable, the term „Eikyô-Bizen“ was introduced. Eikyô-Bizen marks about an intermediate step from Ôei-Bizen to Sue-Bizen. Picture 3 shows a blade of Iesuke (家助) dated Eikyô nine (1437). The continuous trend to is apparent.


Picture 3: tachi of Osafune Iesuke dated Eikyô nine (1437)

The Osafune smiths of the early 16th century kept all these stylistic elements but started to combine the koshi-no-hiraita gunome-midare to characteristic groups of two or three. Representative for that trend were apart from Sukesada also Katsumitsu (勝光), Munemitsu (宗光) and Harumitsu (治光, picture 4).


Picture 4: gassaku-katana of Katsumitsu and Munemitsu dated Bunmei 19 (1487)

Towards the end of the Muromachi period, the trend of a more complex gunome was still forwarded what resulted in the case of the Sukesada line in the so-called „kani no tsume“ (蟹の爪), the famous „crab claws“, where individual koshi-no-hiraita gunome-midare elements open towards the top and end in chôji-yakigashira which remind as the name suggests of crab claws (see picture 6).


Picture 5: katana of Gorôzaemon Kiyomitsu (五郎左衛門清光) dated Tenbun 24 (1555)


Picture 6: Schematic representation of a Sue-Bizen-hamon with kani-no-tsume. We can easily see how the isolated of the Ôei-Bizen smiths become again dividing elements on nioi basis (i.e. ashi) and give so a further complexity to the koshi-no-hiraita gunome-midare.

With the mass-production of the Sengoku era and the accompanying changes in steel and blade production the jigane of the Sue-Bizen smiths looses its original „oily“ appearance what was so typical for earlier Bizen blades. Utsuri is rare too and appears mostly in a faint manner. The hamon shows more and more nie and numerous Sue-Bizen smiths also started to temper in hitatsura. The styistic changes of the shintô era go back to those Bizen smiths who had moved long before the flood of the Yoshii River to Ishidô in Ômi province. With the urbanization of the Edo period, the Ishidô school split up to quite successful branches like the Ôsaka-Ishidô, Edo-Ishidô and Fukuoka-Ishidô lines. They oriented towards the famous Ichimonji style with which the Bizen tradition became famous. But some few outstanding Ishidô masters like Tatara Nagayuki (多々良長幸) did also continue the koshi-no-hiraita gunome-midare of the Sue-Bizen and Sukesada smiths. The Ishidô masters also understood to reproduce utsuri but the most noticable changes in the shintô-Bizen style are – apart from the steel – a yakidashi, a sugu-bôshi in the case of a midareba and a rather „stiff“ looking hamon with lesser hataraki within the ha. As mentioned, this was a rather brief outline of the changes in later Bizen style from the Muromachi to the early Edo period and more details on the Ishidô school can be found in my book „Nihon-shintô-shi“ which will be finished soon.

The great flood of the Yoshii River

Most sword collectors know that the Bizen tradition was wiped out by a single large calamity towards the end of the Muromachi period. This calamity was the great flood of the Yoshii River (吉井川) which hit Bizen province on the 15th day of the eighth month Tenshô 18 (天正, 1590), at least this is what the topography „Tôbi-gunson-shi“ (東備郡村志) from Tenpô eight (天保, 1837) says which bases largely on oral transmissions from the region. Other sources mention the 19th year of Tenshô (1591) as year of the flood and the topography „Biyô-kokushi“ (備陽国志) published in the fourth year of Genbun (元文, 1739) quotes the Daiei era (大永, 1521-1528). Well, the Yoshii did burst its banks in the Daiei era but the village of Osafune was not destroyed and the then flood „just“ caused a modification in the river course. We also can say for sure that Osafune was still the sword centre of Bizen province after Daiei as numerous dated blates from later eras are extant. In short, we can narrow down the calamity to the years 1590~91. However, it is interesting that the historic sources disagree on such a major incident which happened not that long ago.


Picture 1: The left circle along the Yoshii River marks the dikes at Tennôbara. The old village of Osafune was located to the right (highlighted by the right circle). And the white dot to the north is Mt. Kumayama (508 m high).

Well, the old Osafune was actually located on a somewhat elevated place to the east of the Yoshii River. That means the village usually survived the regular floodings with only minor damages. And also a simulation with a sea level raised by 9 m (see picture 2) shows that Osafune would not have been affected that much. The reason namely for the destruction of the village was a massive landslide of Mt. Kumayama (熊山) located about 2 km to the north of Osafune. The resulting mudslide in turn broke the dikes at Tennôbara (天王原) and forced its way unstoppably towards the east destroying the villages of Osafune, Hatakeda (畠田) and Fukuoka (福岡). Since the pictures of the 2011 Tsunami we all know how devastating such a mudslide or mud-filled river can be.

flut3-9maPicture 2: Simulation of the sea level raised by 9 m. To the left again the dikes at Tennôbara and somewhat to the right the theoretically spared Osafune.

Let us continue with the historical records. The „Biyô-kokushi“ and the „Tôbi-gunson-shi“ say that in Osafune just one swordsmith family had survived, namely those of Yokoyama Tôshirô Sukesada (横山藤四郎祐定). But the sword publication „Kibi-tôken-kô“ (黄微刀剣考) states that there were two surviving families of smiths in Osafune and one in Hatakeda. As the mudslide took so many lives it is assumed that the landslide on Mt. Kumayama happened in the middle of the night. But we know that also the swordsmiths Jûrôzaemon Harumitsu (十郎左衛門春光) and Saemonshichirô Harumitsu (左衛門七郎春光) must had survived as there are dated blades extant from after Tenshô 19. And the meikan records also say that Tôshirô Sukesada´s younger brother Yosabei Sukesada (与三兵衛祐定) was still active after the flood. The „Biyô-kokushi“ and „Tôbi-gunson-shi“ elaborate on the incident. The former says that Tôshirô Sukesada was washed up 4 km away at the Kakiyama (蠣山) whereas the latter says that he only reached the safe shore at Nishikôzaki (西幸崎). Well, this seems rather unlikely because Nishikôzaki was located at the river mouth of the Yoshii and that means about 15 km to the south of Osafune. Local historians now assume that the last description must not be taken literally and speculate that he was washed up at the Kakiyama but found shelter at relatives in Nishikôzaki.

Again, the „Biyô-kokushi“ says that Tôshirô Sukesada, his oldest – at that time 15-years-old – son Shichibei (七兵衛), and the third and fourth son Genzaemon (源左衛門) and Sôzaemon (惣左衛門・宗左衛門) respetively had survived. According to the topography, Sukesada´s second son Gorô (五郎) drowned in the masses of water and mud. Interestingly, the meikan records do list Gorô Sukesada, namely as being active around Kan´ei (寛永, 1624-1644) and even with a 2nd generation. That means he probably had survived too. The transmissions also say that Tôshirô Sukesada took on the task of reviving the old-established Bizen forging tradition in Osafune. But we can imagine that this was not easy with just a handful of surviving families of swordsmiths. He erected his first new forge at an elevated spot about 200 to 300 m to the south of the old centre of Osafune and the next nine or ten years the smiths just tried to survive. At the time of the calamity, the lands were ruled by Ukita Hideie (宇喜多秀家, 1572-1655) who was the castellan of Okayama (岡山城). After Sekigahara all the lands of the Hideyoshi-ally were confiscated and the newly established Okayama fief (岡山藩) with the high income of 510.000 koku was entrusted to Kobayakawa Hideaki (小早川秀秋, 1582-1602). Hideaki hired Tôshirô Sukesada for a salary of 200 koku but died two years later without heir. Thereupon the Tokugawa government decided that the fief should be given nominally to the then underage Tadatsugu (池田忠継, 1599-1615), the second son of the loyal Ikeda Terumasa (池田輝政, 1565-1613). In this course, the income of the fief was newly evaluated to 280.000 koku. Terumasa was a sword lover and kept Sukesada as smith as he was one of the last who knew first-hand about the old Bizen tradition. But his son Tadatsugu died young and so the bakufu decided that Ikeda Tadakatsu (池田忠雄, 1602-1632), the then daimyô of the Sumoto fief (洲本藩) of Awaji province should be his successor. When Tadakatsu died in turn in Kan´ei nine (寛永, 1632), his oldest son and heir Mitsunaka (池田光仲, 1630-1693) was a small child and the bakufu again had to intervene in the fates of the Okayama fief. Mitsunaka had to change fiefs with his cousin Ikeda Mitsumasa (池田光政, 1609-1682), i.e. the underage Mitsunaka was now the nominal daimyô of the Tottori fief (鳥取藩) of Inaba province and Mitsumasa the new lord of Okayama. From that time onwards, the Ikeda branch of Mitsumasa ruled the Bizen-Okayama fief with an income of 315.000 koku continuously until the end of the Edo period.

In the course of these turmoils, the family of Shichibei Sukesada, Tôshirô´s son, followed the Ikeda branch which moved to Tottori in 1632. But the new daimyô Mitsumasa was also a sword lover and managed it that Sukesada was able to come back from Tottori to Osafune. Well, at that time, i.e. around Kan´ei (寛永, 1624-1644), Bizen had been outdated by the new sword centres of Ôsaka and Edo and this can be seen by the fact that Mitsumasa employed Sukesada for the peanuts of just a stipend for five persons. This was certainly not beneficial for the constant output of high-quality blades. That the situation remained bad can also be learned from extant requests of Nizaemon (仁左衛門祐定) and Shichirô´emon Sukesada (七郎右衛門祐定), the son and grandson of Tôshirô´s fourth son Sôzaemon, in which they asked for the permission to work for the Tokushima fief (徳島藩) of Awa province as they were awaiting better working conditions there. And from the rejection of the bakufu we also learn that not much was cared about the last Osafune smiths at that time. Incidentally, Nizaemon and Shichirô´emon Sukesada were active around Genroku (元禄, 1688-1704) and Genbun (元文, 1736-1741) respectively. However, Shichirô´emon´s second request from the fifth month of Shôtoku two (正徳, 1712) to become a sickle smith (kama-kaji, 鎌鍛冶) in the village of Nishikatayama (西片山) in Bizen´s Wake district (和気郡) was eventually granted.

Other smiths of the Sukesada line changed their profession and became gunsmiths or blacksmiths for farming tools, and others in turn focused on a mass-production of blades, the so-called „kazuuchi-mono“ (数打ち物), as did their Sengoku-era predecessors. That means they tried to survive by a maximum output. For example the physician and scholar Tachibana Nankei (橘南谿, 1753-1805) who was famous for his travelogues wrote later romantically about how busy Osafune was and that blades were forged in each and every corner. This picture of the somewhat later Edo period Osafune and the mass-production can be confirmed by contemporary records of the wholesaler Okamoto (岡本). Okamoto came on a regular basis from Nara to Osafune where he bought bare blades in masses and transported them home on three horses. Back in Nara he had them signed by local craftsmen according to their appearance, that means gimei of more or less famous masters were added to the tangs which matched more or less with the characteristics of the blade. These fakes were sold all over the country and soon they were pejoratively called „Nara-mono“ (奈良物).

The only Sukesada lines which were able to stand their grounds in Osafune and made it into the shinshintô era were those of Tôshirô and of his third son Genzaemon. As mentioned, the lineage of his fourth son Sôzaemon ended when the grandson of the latter became a sickle smith in 1712. Shichirô´emon Sukesada, the son of the same name of the sickle smith was merely on the paper the 4th generation of that line but his younger brother Gengorô Sukesada (源五郎祐定) had a talented son. So the later Shichirô´emon adopted his nephew as successor. This 5th generation Sukesada from the lineage of Sôzaemon entered later in Tenmei eight (天明, 1788) an apprenticeship under the Satsuma-master Yamato no Kami Motohira (大和守元平). Motohira bestowed him the character for „hira“ and he changed his name thereupon from „Sukesada“ to „Sukehira“ (祐平). Sukehira, who died in Bunsei twelve (文政, 1829) at the age of 75, is regarded with his second son Sukenaga (祐永, 1795-1851) as the driving force behind the success of the shinshintô Bizen-Yokoyama smiths. Sukehira´s first son Shichibei Sukemori (七兵衛祐盛) by the way took over the Sukesada main line of Tôshirô as 11th generation. The very last Sukesada smith was Yokoyama Gennoshin (横山元之進) who was the 8th generation of the line of Genzaemon. He died in 1930 at the age of 75.

For a better overview, I have compiled the relevant genealogies of the Sukesada lineage(s) here: