Copper for the kinkô artists

A few days ago I had to do some research on iron mining and the production of ferric oxide in relation to ancient Japanese place names of Mino province. In the course of this research I stumbled upon Edo-period copper production and as I am of course also interested in the old kinkô craft, I was curious about how the old kinkô artists got their raw materials. Well, as I am quite busy at the time I focused just on copper and more details on other metals might follow in the future.


Picture 1: Casting of the saodô

One of the largest copper mines was in Besshi (別子) in Iyo province on Shikoku. The mine was discovered in the third year of Genroku (元禄, 1690) and opened one year later by the Sumitomo family (住友), yes the Sumitomo family which was one of the most significant zaibatsu in the early decades of the 20th century. From the mine the raw copper (sodô, 粗銅) was shipped along the Seto Inland Sea to the Ôsaka Bay and via the Nagahorigawa (長堀川), a river which became a road in 1964, up to the Unagidani district (鰻谷) of Ôsaka. There the raw copper was processed to refined copper (seidô, 精銅) and casted according to the intended use. The Besshi copper mine was very lucrative for the bakufu as it exported thousands of tons to China and Holland via Nagasaki. Accordingly, a distinction was made in Ôsaka between the bakufu export copper (goyô-dô, 御用銅) and the copper distributed and sold on the domestic market. In concrete terms, the casters of Unagidani (see picture 1) casted basically three forms of refined copper: The saodô (棹銅, lit. „pole copper), teidô (丁銅, lit. „block copper“) and marudô (丸銅, lit. „round copper“). The saodô poles (see picture 2) were the form for the export and it was strictly forbidden to sell them at the domestic market. They measured about 23 cm, had a diameter of about 1,5 cm  and weighed about 250 ~ 300 g. For the export, 200 of them were put into special boxes of 100 kin (斤, ~ 60 kg) (see picture 3). These boxes were shipped from Unagidani to Nagasaki. The teidô plates (see picture 4) were used for the production of tiles or tools like pick hammers. The marudô (see picture 5) in turn was the form which was used by the kinkô artists, kettle makers and the like.

Well, that´s enough on that subject for the moment and more articles will follow next week when I have more time.


Picture 2: saodô pole


Picture 3: Storage box for 60 kg of saodô copper poles


Picture 4: teidô plate


Picture 5: Two marudô of different size

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.


Hosokawa Tadaoki´s hot temper and his Higo-koshirae

I want to stay with the Hosokawa family a little longer. The aesthetical aspects of Higo-koshirae are discussed quite often and I also dedicated them a chapter in my recent publication Koshirae – Japanese Sword Mountings. In this article, I want to deal with the rather brutal context of some of the well-known Higo mountings. But first some words on Tadaoki´s childhood. He was born on the 13th day of the eleventh month Eiroku six (永禄, 1563) as oldest son of Fujitaka and Jakô (麝香, 1544-1618), the daughter of Numata Mitsukane (沼田光兼) who was the castellan of Kumakawa (熊川城) in Wakasa province. His youth names were „Kumachiyo“ (熊千代) and later „Yoichirô“ (与一郎). Two years after his birth his father Fujitaka was involved in continuous fightings on behalf of the Ashikaga-shôgun and Tadaoki was put in the care of the Hosokawa-retainer Nakamura Shinsuke (中村新助) who lived in a small and inconspicious house outside of Kyôto. It was a life of hiding and when Fujitaka returned from the fightings, Tadaoki was already five years old. Regarding his hot temper there exists an anecdote for the third year of Genki (元亀, 1572) when a dispute arouse between Hosokawa-retainers from the Ueno (上野) and the Arakawa family (荒川). It is said that Tadaoki, nine years old at that time, sided with the Arakawa and drove out the Ueno. Fujitaka was quite angry about that and one year later Tadaoki was put in the care of his uncle Gyokuhô (玉峯) who was a priest at Kyôto´s Eigen´an (永源庵). However, it is unknown if this has something to do with the Ueno-Arakawa dispute but we do know that his temper must had been that hot even as a young boy that the chronists found it necessary to record it.

His first battle took place in Tenshô five (天正, 1577) when he was fifteen years old. It was in the course of Oda Nobunaga´s subjugation of Kii province. Tadaoki, back then still under the name „Yoichirô“, accompanied the campaign against Kaizuka (貝塚) in Izumi province where they were fighting against troops of the Saiga-ikki and followers of the Negoroji. Shortly later he and his younger brother Okimoto (興元, 1566-1919) were the first to arrive at the rebelling Kataoka Castle (片岡城) in Yamato province. For his achievements during the severe fightings for the castle the young Yoichirô received a letter of acknowledgement from Nobunaga. Well, to go into battle at the age of fifteen was not uncommon for his time but he did especially well and Nobunaga confirmed his vassal-status by granting him the character for „Tada“ from his son Nobutada (織田信忠, 1557-1582). Well, already three years before these fightings Nobunaga suggested that Tadaoki should be married with Akechi Mitsuhide´s (明智光秀, 1528-1582) daughter Tama (玉, 1563-1600) but his father Fujitaka refused because – according to the Hosokawa chronicles – of his son´s „too strong character“ (gôkyô ni suguru, 剛強に過ぐる). However, we all know that the wedding took place, just somewhat later, namely in Tenshô seven (1579), and we also know that Tama was the famous Gracia. By the way, at the time of the marriage Tadaoki received from Nobunaga the kuyô family crest. There exists the anecdote that this was because some years before, Tadaoki or rather Yoichirô had seen this crest on a kozuka of Nobunaga and told him that he liked it a lot.


Picture 1: Portrait of Hosokawa Tadaoki by Ôbuchi Genkô (大渕玄弘) made five years after his death.

So far the early years of Tadaoki until his marriage. That his hot temper did not stop even in his later years and after being a renowned tea master and student of Sen no Rikyû (千利休, 1522-1591) can be learned from the nicknames of some of his sword mountings. First the famous so-called „Kasen-koshirae“ (歌仙拵, see picture 2). Tadaoki had retired in Genna six (元和, 1620) and handed-over the leadership of the Hosokawa family to his son Tadatoshi (細川忠利, 1586-1641). Twelve years later he moved to Yatsushiro Castle (八代城) where he wanted to spend his last years with tea and the arts. But he was somehow worried about that the politic of his son did not make progress. So he made an example, called for Tadatoshi, and executed 36 criminals with his own sword, a number which reminded him of the so-called „Thirty-six Immortal Poets“ (sanjū-rokkasen, 三十六歌仙), a group of poets from the Nara and Heian periods. So the mounting got the nickname „Kasen-koshirae“. The blade itself is a work of Kanesada (兼定, No-Sada), who was famous for making blades with superior sharpness (see picture 3). Picture 4 shows the so-called „Nobunaga-koshirae“ (信長拵). Well, this one got its name from the blade it mounts and has nothing to do with Tadaoki´s hot temper. But I want to present it here for the sake of completeness as it is very similar in interpretation to the Kasen-koshirae. Nobunaga, the maker of the blade, was active around Ôei (応永, 1394-1428) in Kaga province. Family records of the Hosokawa say that Tadaoki defended his life with this blade during the battles of the Genki (元亀, 1570-1573) and Tenshô eras (天正, 1573-1592). However, as his first battle was as mentioned in Tenshô five (1577), the former can be dismissed but if the transmission is nevertheless true, than he used that blade in his first actions on the battlefield. By the way, it is said that Tadaoki had these subtle and tasteful koshirae made on the basis of instructions of his tea master Rikyû.


Picture 2: Kasen-koshirae, overall length 88,0 cm


Picture 3: katana, mei „Nôshû Seki-jû Kanesada saku“ (濃州関住兼定作), nagasa 61,0 cm


Picture 4: Nobunaga-koshirae, overall length 91,8 cm


Picture 5: wakizashi, mei „Nobunaga“ (信長), nagasa 48,3 cm


Picture 6: Kishuso-koshirae

The so-called „Kishuso-koshirae“ (希首坐拵, see picture 6) has its name from the fact that Tadaoki killed with the sword an impolite and disrespectful Daitokuji-monk (大徳寺) called „Kishuso“. The blade itself is a work of the local Higo smith Fujiwara Nobusada (藤原宣貞) and has a nagasa of 56,5 cm, that means it is an ô-wakizashi. And last but not least there is the nagamaki-naoshi wakizashi by the 2nd generation Samonji (左文字). It is called „Shisô-ken“ (晴思剣) and has its name from killing a spy disguised as tea servant (chabôzu, 茶坊主), on which Tadaoki held a grudge for several years. The legend says that Tadaoki´s mind (, 思) brightened (shi, 晴) when he slayed this person. Therefore the name „Shisô-ken“.

Often a sword got its nickname from killing this or that warrior in a battle or cutting through helmets, armors, horses or whatever. And koshirae were often named according to their famous wearer, to their magnificent interpretation or fittings they were equipped with. But Tadaoki did not pick the swords with the Kasen-koshirae or Kishuso-koshirae in the morning with killing someone later that day in mind or going into a battle. These were his everyday swords and accordingly mounted in a tasteful and expensive manner. And this demonstrates us on the one hand how hot his temper was and on the other hand that he was truly a warlord born and raised in the turmoils of the Sengoku period.