About the goban-kaji

In my recent article on Kamakura-sugata I have referred to the retired Emperor Gotoba (後鳥羽天皇, 1180-1239, r. 1184-1198) and his so-called „goban-kaji“ (御番鍛冶) project. The list of all the different goban-kaji is otherwise available and I do not want to quote it here again. This time I would like to take a look at the circumstances under which the goban-kaji worked. First to the old sword script „Kanchi´in-bon mei-zukushi“ (観智院本銘尽) of which the oldest extant copy dates to the 30th year of Ôei (応永, 1431). Therein we find a list of magistrates (bugyônin, 奉行人) and twelve swordsmiths which has the long title „Gotoba´in-miu ni meshinukaseru kaji jûnika-getsu ketsuban-shidai“ (後鳥羽院御宇被召抜鍛冶十二月結番次第). The title translates as: „Fixed sequence of certain swordsmiths for twelve months which were invited to the residence of the retired Gotoba.“ Most of the listed magistrates were historically documented figures and confidants of Gotoba. Before we continue it has to be mentioned that the goban-kaji and magistrate list differs from historical sword publication to historical sword publication. It is assumed that the magistrates had a kind of executive or supervising function because at that time it was very common for the Japanese court bureaucracy to assign posts for each and everything. This would also explain why there was a magistrate for every month. That means it was rather a honorary thing than an actual executive post as it would have surely been no problem if one or two court aristicrats were in charge of the smiths over the whole year. Incidentally, Sai´on-ji Kitsune (西園寺公経, 1171-1244), the first magistrate on the list, raised an objection to Gotoba when he learned that the retired emperor planned to recruit an army. He was thereupon arrested but later released when the Jôkyû Disturbance was over. And Asukai Masatsune (飛鳥井雅経, 1170-1221), the magistrate for the ninth month, was by the way an ancestor of the poet Asukai Masaaki (飛鳥井雅章, 1611-1679) which I have mentioned in the next to last article on Hosokawa Yûsai and the kokin-denju.


Picture 1: Emperor Gotoba.

Well, the place where all the forging took place was called „onba-dokoro“ (乳母所, lit. „place of the nurses“). Two sword polishers were employed there for the whole year. Places like the onba-dokoro and for example the so-called „waka-dokoro“ (和歌所, lit. „place for waka poetry“) were officially subordinate to the facilities of an abdicated emperor, the so-called „in“ (院). Each smith who was invited received a set of white and plain ritual clothing (jô´e, 浄衣), a short-sleeved kimono (kosode, 小袖) and a light summer kimono (katabira, 帷子) when he arrived at the in. When he had to leave the palace area he was ordered to wear a formal hitatare (直垂) and matching kobakama (小袴). Apart from that he was provided with the charcoal and all the tools he needed to do his job. When the goban-kaji project started, Gotoba was not even 30 years old. We know from contemporal historical records like the „Gukan-shô“ (愚管抄) and the later early Muromachi-period „Masu-kagami“ (増鏡) that Gotoba was not happy that at certain times, like for example at a Buddhist requiem mass in 1207, so many bushi gathered at the in practicing archery just to kill time. Also the aristocrats complained that the bushi were of no use there as all they did was devoting themselves day and night to their arms and martial arts. It is also mentioned that they showed their swords to one another and some of them even made primitive and basic appraisals. We can assume that this was not what Gotoba wanted, as he had a more noble approach to swords. In short, the in was a busy place with all the annual events but the goban-kaji had their sacred onba-dokoro where they were able to retreat and work with the young and ambitious ex-emperor. Well, there is also the known list of his goban-kaji during his exile on the island of Oki called „Oki ni oite teichi bankaji no shidai“ (於隠岐定置番鍛冶之次第). This list is found in the volume „Keizu-hidan-shô“ (系図秘談抄) of the seven-volume sword publication „Kokon-mei-zukushi“ (古今銘尽) and does not appear in documents from before the Muromachi period. So most historians agree that the list must be fictitious as Gotoba was strictly watched and guarded by the bakufu in his exile and was surely not allowed to have several swordsmiths working there for him.

Finally I want to clarify some terms concerning the swords made in the process of the goban-kaji project. First the well-known term „Kiku-Ichimonji“ (菊一文字). It is just used for blades which actually bear a kebori carving of a chrysanthemum on their tangs and which were made by the Ichimonji smiths on the goban-kaji list. Kiku-Ichimonji are often mixed-up with the so-called „kiku-gyosaku“, „kiku-gosaku“ or „kiku-onsaku“ (菊御作, see picture 2). The latter term refers namely to blades which were actually tempered by Gotoba and which might also bear a chrysathemum on the tang. Synonymously also the terms „gosho-yaki“ (御所焼) and „gyo-seisaku“ (御製作) were in use for such blades whereas „gosho“ (御所) means „imperial palace“. But some historical documents also quote occasionally the terms „gyosaku“ (御作) and „gosho-kitae“ (御所鍛). It is important to bear in mind the context. Very similar terms like „kiku-zukuri“ or „kiku-saku“ (菊作 or 菊造) refer namely in most cases to sword mountings which show fittings with a chrysanthemum motif. So one has to be careful when translating old entries on swords.


Picture 2: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, nagasa 78,1 cm. Detailed picture here.


Picture 3: Tang of the blade from picture 2.


Picture 4: Tang of another kiku-gyosaku.


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