The last of the Kanesada

The last master of the time-honoured lineage of Kanesada swordsmiths was the 11th generation of the Aizu branch. When I speak of the Kanesada lineage, I refer to the Bunmei-era (文明, 1469-1487) Mino Kanesada as ancestor and as 1st generation of the Seki main line. His son, the 2nd generation, was the famous No-Sada and his grandson, that means the son of the 3rd generation, founded the Aizu branch. According to transmission, the Aizu-Kanesada ancestor was hired in the second year of Kôji (弘治, 1556) by the Ashina family (蘆名) and moved to their lands in Aizu, in the northern Ôshû region. Well, the 11th generation Aizu Kanesada was born in Tenpô eight (天保, 1837) in Aizu-Wakamatsu´s Jôkôji-machi (浄光寺町) which is located just a little over 1 km to the northeast of Wakamatsu Castle. He started his apprenticeship as swordsmith under his father at the age of 14. Two years later, in the eleventh month of Kaei five (嘉永, 1852), he got the opportunity to display his skills in front of higher officials of the fief. He performed well and was thus allowed to take over the business of his father whereupon he received a stipend for the support of one person. This was also the time when he took the name „Kanemoto“ (兼元). The following years he made a lot of daisaku-daimei works for his father. It is assumed that he changed his name to „Kanesada“ somewhere between the seventh year of Ansei (安政, 1860) and the third year of Bunkyû (文久, 1863). It is difficult to nail down the exact year because from extant dated blades we know that he used parallel both names. In the first year of Bunkyû, an incident occured for which he was punished. At that time, he got several orders from samurai of the fief to forge blades with the addition of gold (ôgon, 黄金). This pecularity was to a certain extent in fashion at that time and also called „dôtetsu-hada“ (銅鉄肌, lit. „copper-iron-mix hada“). It appears as dark, thick and wavy areas in the ji whose own structure is muji. Anyway, one of his students told others that his master always kept the koban gold coin he received from his customers for the ôgon forging. That means the student claimed that his master did not really work the gold into the steel at the oroshigane process. Kanesada rebuked him but the student even offended a fellow student and runned out of the forge heading for his family. The master ran down after him and catched up with him. It started to rain whilst they exchanged some „nice words” but the student was unimpressed and turned away which was a gross discourtesy to his master. Thereupon Kanesada drew his sword and killed him cutting down right through the young man´s umbrella.

In the seventh month of Bunkyû three (1863) he went to Kyôto for the purposes of refining his craft under either the 10th generation Iga no Kami Kinmichi (伊賀守金道) or under Ômi no Kami Kaneyuki (近江守金行).  And in the twelfth month of that year he received eventually the honorary title „Izumi no Kami“ (和泉守). This was a special honor as no one except him and the famous No-Sada ever received this title from the Kanesada lineage. He was 27 years old at that time. Out of gratitude he forged three tachi, one for the emperor, one for the crown prince and one for the crown prince´s wife. And the fief rewarded him with two ryô of silver.

His employer the Hoshina family (保科) was related to the family of the shôgun and had therefore changed its name at the end of the 17th century to „Aizu-Matsudaira“ (会津松平). Because of this relationship, the family was deeper involved in the turmoils of the bakumatsu era than some other daimyô. The last Aizu-daimyō Matsudaira Katamori (松平容保, 1836-1893, see picture 1) was appointed in Bunkyû two (1862) to the newly created post of Kyôto Military Commissioner (Kyôto-shugo, 京都守護). With this post he was responsible for public order and had to struggle with the upcoming royalists. He brought some of his own retainers but recruited also men from the Shinsengumi and even employed some rônin. Thus there was a demand for swords in that context and Kanesada had to stay in Kyôto. When the so-called „Hamaguri Gate Rebellion“ (Hamaguri-gomon no hen, 蛤御門の変) took place in 1864 where royalists rebelled against the Tokugawa at the Hamaguri Gate of the Imperial Palace, Kanesada was allowed to stay within the palace, even he was a swordsmith, to support the imperial guards. Incidentally, the favorite sword of Hijikata Toshizô (土方歳三, 1835-1869), the vice-commander of the Shinsengumi, was a work of Kanesada. It is still preserved by the Hijikata family. Well, Kanesada returned to Aizu in the first year of Keiô (慶応, 1865).


Picture 1: Matsudaira Katamori three months after he became the Kyôto Military Commissioner.

Back in Aizu he made first and foremost chûmon-uchi, swords ordered by customers and not for the arsenal of the fief. But the situation became critical when the Aizu fief got involved in the Boshin War (戊辰戦争) in the fourth month of Keiô four (1868). Four months later Aizu-Wakamatsu Castle was besieged and Kanesada, who was in the castle at that time, was ordered to cast rifle bullets. In the end, Katamori had to surrender and Kanesada was placed under house arrest. When the political situation had calmed down, the new Meiji government sent him to Kamo (加茂・賀茂) to Echigo province where he was able to work until Meiji seven (1874). In the meanwhile, Echigo province had been turned into Niigata Prefecture by the way. Works from these five years are called „Kamo-uchi“ (加茂打ち). Most of them are undated and as Echigo was and is one of Japan´s „rice bowls“, it is assumed that he worked mostly for wealthy landowners and rice traders. In Meiji seven he returned to Aizu-Wakamatsu and was two years later employed by the newly founded Fukushima Prefecture, namely as low-ranking government official in the building authorities. It is said that he did not give up sword forging but no signed works are known from the following 20 years or more. It is said that he reused and refined old iron during these years and focused on copies of mumei suriage-kotô blades. In order to get himself back on the map, he forged in 1892 a sword as present for the then crown prince Yoshihito (嘉仁), the later emperor Taishô (大正天皇, 1879-1926). The present was favorably received and he was rewarded with a 10 Yen gold coin. Using the Consumer Price unit, 10 Yen would be today around 45.000 Yen, i.e. around $ 450.


Picture 2: Kanesada in his mid fifties.

From extant documents and letters we know that he still trained some students after that time, Kanemitsu (兼光), civilian name „Sawada Yoshitarô“ (沢田吉太郎), and Kaneshige (兼重), civlian name „Sugei Usaku“ (菅井宇作), for example. When the local ex-samurai Shiba Gorô (柴五郎, 1860-1945) served in the First Sino-Japanese War and acted as military attaché at the Japanese legation during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, Kanesada forged him for free a guntô to support his fellow Aizu countryman. There is a theory that this sword was brought by GI´s to San Francisco after World War II. Shiba attempted suizide after the surrender of Japan and died four months later of his wounds. However, Kanesada worked from the first month of Meiji 36 (1903) for the newly founded Army Artillery Weapons Factory (Rikugun-hôhei-kôshô, 陸軍砲兵工廠) in Tôkyô as they was a forge erected there. There are also blades extant on which he mentions this employer on the tang (see picture 3). It was in general a time of military build-up and thus a lot of guntô, also traditionally forged ones were needed. Many high-ranking persons and members of the new aristocracy visited this forge but Kanesada was not able to show his full skill as he died suddenly on the 28th day of the third month of the very same year (1903) at the age of 67. It is said that he was working on swords for the prime minister and a British ambassador at that time which he was unable to finish. He must had enjoyed a certain fame as several newspapers in Tôkyô mentioned his passing in detail.


Picture 3: „Tôkyô hôhei-kôshô ni oite Kanesada kore o tsukuru“ (於東京砲兵工廠兼定造之, made by Kanesada at the Tôkyô Artillery Weapons Factory“) – „Meiji sanjûrokunen nigatsu-hi“ (明治三十六年二月日, „on a day of the second month Meiji 36 [= 1903]“), nagasa 63,6 cm, sori 1,2 cm

Wooden fittings

The Kanazawa College of Art owns quite an interesting dansu drawer (see link here). It comes from the Mizuno family (水野) of shirogane-shi for the former Kaga fief, or to be more precise from the Genroku line (源六) of the Mizuno. This drawer contains a large number of full-size wooden models for sword fittings. There are altogether 391 wooden kashira, 518 wooden fuchi, 57 wooden tsuba, and several wooden kojiri, other fittings and resin castings of fittings. Apart from these wooden models, there are also some copper pieces with cut-out design which are the models for the sukashi-tsuba. There exist basically two theories on the background of these wooden fittings. One say that they served as demonstration models to show potential customers from which they were able to pick what they wanted, and the other assume that they served as patterns for their own craftsmen. Most of the pieces bear ink inscriptions on the back which mention their size and some show other inscriptions like names of motifs or „nanako“ (七々子) to point out certain interpretations. I can understand both approaches but these inscriptions bring me to the assumption that they were demonstration models for customers. From patterns for craftsmen I would expect much more detailed inscriptions like the usage of what metal to be applied where. Also for a pattern a detailed drawing would be sufficient I think, but for a customer, it is nicer to have something in the hand, maybe also to put it at the hip to see how it might look when mounted on a sword. But the lowermost drawer with the resin castings in turn speaks for an use in the workshop. Or maybe the castings were just put there later.

The founder of the Mizuno school was Yoshihide (良栄) whose civilian name was „Mizuno Genji“ (水野源次). He was once a retainer of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and from Ôsaka but became a rônin after the death of the latter. He decided to go to Kyôto to become a kinkô artist and entered an apprenticeship with Kôjô (後藤光乗), the 4th generation of the Gotô mainline. Other transmissions say that he studied under Kôjô´s son Chôjô (長乗) or under Enjô (演乗), the 2nd generation of the Kanbei line. Sometime during the Keichô era (1596-1615) he was hired as silversmith by Maeda Toshinaga (前田利長, 1562-1614) and received a stipend for the support of five persons. During the Genna era (1615-1624) the Mizuno family moved to Kanazawa in the Kaga fief. Yoshihide died in the second year of Keian (1649). The mainline of the Mizuno family was succeeded by Yoshihide´s eldest son. He and his successors all used the hereditary first name „Genji“ (源次) and it has to be mentioned that, apart from some exceptions, no craftsman names were used or are known respectively. From the 9th generation onwards, craftsman names are known. The ninth generation of the Genji line was Katsuhiro (克弘). He was succeeded by Katsumasa (克正) and Katsunori (克則). Katsunori, the 11st and last generation, died in 1909. The second line of the Mizuno family was founded by Yoshihide´s second son Yoshifusa (良房) whose first name „Genroku“ (源六) served as the hereditary name of the line. The Genroku line of the Mizuno family was founded by him in the first year of Kan´ei (1624) and he and his successors worked as silversmiths for the Kaga-Maeda family too. The stipend was also identical to the Genji line, i.e. a support for five persons. Contrary to the Genji line we know all the individual craftsman names. The 10th and last generation was Akira (朗, 1886-1965), the son of the 9th generation Mitsuyoshi (光美, 1868-1938).

About reisho script on shinshintô swords

With Tairyûsai Sôkan (泰龍斎宗寛, ?-1883) as a starting point, I would like to shed some light on the late Edo period developments of the reisho (隷書), the clerical script. We know namely that Sôkan changed his signature from the regular regular kaisho script (楷書) to reishô in the fourth year of Ansei (安政, 1857) and passed this tradition on to his son Tairyûshi Hirotsugu (泰龍子寛次) and his student Issensai Hiroshige (一専斎寛重). Among calligraphers, there was namely a noticeable trend towards reishô at the very end of the Edo period. For a understanding of that trend we have to go back to the beginning of the Edo period. The reishô itself appeared sometime in the 3rd century BC but I want to leave aside the theories on its origins. Interestingly, the clerical script was known in Japan but virtually neglected until the Muromachi period. The increasing popularity of reisho from the early Edo period onwards is almost wholly attributable to the scholar Ishikawa Jôzan (石川丈山, 1583-1672) who was of warrior origin. Jôzan became a close retainer of Ieyasu in 1598 and after the Fall of Ôsaka and the promotion of Neo-Confucianism by the bakufu, he studied this philosophy under Fujiwara Seika (藤原惺窩, 1561-1619). Seika´s famous student Hayashi Razan (林羅山, 1583-1657) was namely Jôzan´s friend. In earlier times, Confucianism was not much popular in Japan but with the mentioned promotion by the bakufu, contemporary scholars became once again aware of the ceremonial solemnity of Han-dynasty officials who made much use of the reisho. Before that time the stern and motionless reisho did no match with the typical lyrical softness of Japanese calligraphy. Soon the script was also adopted by famous tea masters like Kobori Enshû (小堀遠州, 1579-1647). This adoption of the reisho by tea masters must be seen in the context of the trend of that time to import tea-unrelated things from China and use them for the tea ceremony. In short, the appreciation of reisho goes back to the appreciation of non-native objects „converted“ into tea utensils.


Picture 1: reisho calligraphy by Ichikawa Bei´an

But studying early Chinese scripts was quite difficult during the Edo period as the vast majority of scholars and calligraphers had to rely on ink rubbings of famous Chinese monument inscriptions. There were several books published on this subject but data was quite limited and so emphasis was layed on copying the rubbings as exact as possible. These circumstances stayed basically the same until Ichikawa Bei´an (市川米庵, 1779-1858) who started again some systematic studies on reishô and other older scripts. At his time, the quasi-official oie-ryû (御家流) writing style used by the bakufu, the warrior class and the common people was predominant. Chinese-style scripts were more the thing of Confucian scholars and intellectuals. But Bei´an opened up his calligraphy school „Shôsanrin-dô“ (小山林堂) in Kansei eleven (寛政, 1799) in Edo at the young age of twenty.  Five years later he travelled to Nagasaki to study Chinese calligraphy at first hand under the Chinese physician and calligrapher Hú Zhàoxin (胡兆新). Zhàoxin stayed in Nagasaki from 1803 to 1805. As it is said that Bei´an trained over 5.000 students, it is not unreasonable to assume that Tairyûsai Sôkan was one of them. However, there are no records which show if or where the swordsmith studied calligraphy. But it suggests itself as he obviously jumped on the bandwagon of the then trend towards Chinese-style scripts as he changed towards reisho in his signatures in 1857.  Or at least we can assume that he was somehow inspired by this trend and had probably friends in academic circles. By the way, Bei´an died one year later and his father´s name was „Kansai“ (寛斎). When we now give free rein to our imagination, we can assume that Sôkan studied under Bei´an for a while and got from him one character, i.e. „Kan“ (寛), from his father´s name.

But back to the facts. Things changed significantly with the Meiji Restoration when the people were allowed to travel freely. For the first time in a long time, Japanese calligraphers were able to visit China and study there at the source. Also several Chinese calligraphers were invited to stay in Japan for a survey of the then state of affairs of Japanese Chinese-style calligraphy. One of the most famous of these Chinese visiting professors was Yáng Shôujìng (楊守敬, 1839-1915) who taught amongst others Kusakabe Meikaku (日下部鳴鶴, 1838-1922), one of the three major calligraphers in Japan at that time. We have learned from him in my article on the Musashi-Masamune.


Picture 2: Three signatures of Tairyûsai Sôkan in reishô. The one on the right mentions that his son Tairyûshi Hirotsugu engraved the horimono.

Finally, I would like to point out some interesting sidenotes. Ichikawa Bei´an´s late-born son Man´an (市河万庵, 1838-1907) worked for the bakufu and studied Western artillery under Egawa Tarôzaemon Hidetatsu (江川太郎左衛門英龍, 1801-1855) who was a major figure in the Japanese coastal reinforcement against the West. Hidetatsu in turn had studied calligraphy under Man´an´s father Bei´an and was himself a well-educated man. A smith who worked for a while for Egawa Hidetatsu and who also signed in reisho was Ikkansai Yoshihiro (一貫斎義弘). Another smith who worked for Hidetatsu was Ogoma Sôta Tanenaga (小駒宗太胤長). Hidetatsu met him when he learned sword forging from the then famous master Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤) of whom Tanenaga was a student at that time. Naotane dismissed Tanenaga because of his drinking problem but Hidetatsu felt pity for him and gave him a job as swordsmith in his residence in Nirayama (韮山) in Izu province. But it is assumed that Hidetatsu, student of Bei´an, brought his fondness for calligraphy (and probably reisho) into the Naotane school. Another Naotane-student, Shinkei Tanemitsu (心慶胤光), signed namely in reisho too.


Picture 3: Signature of Ikkansai Yoshihiro (left) dated Tenpô nine (天保, 1838) and of Shinkei Tanemitsu (right) dated Bunkyû three (文久, 1862).

Again we have here with Tairyûsai Sôkan and other contemporary smiths a case which shows us how closely connected the art of sword forging is with other fields of Japanese culture. Or in other words, just from the fact that a smith changed his signature style we can learn a lot on the currents of his time. That means the subject nihontô is so profound and, if time allows, I can warmly recommend not to stop at forging techniques and blade characteristics. You will not be disappointed.

Gotô Chôjô – The secret saver of the Gotô family?

With this article I would like to deal with the circumstances of the Gotô families moving from Kyôto to Edo. Of vital importance for the Gotô family was the time of the 5th master Tokujô (徳乗, 1550-1631). When Tokujô´s grandfather Jôshin (乗真, 1512-1562) died in Eiroku five (永禄, 1562), his father Kôjô (光乗, 1529-1620) moved the home village of his mother (i.e. Jôshin´s wife) to Kyûshû. But Kôjô eventually returned to Kyôto in Tenshô nine (天正, 1581) to serve – the Gotô were from the bushi class – and work for Oda Nobunaga. One year later Toyotomi Hideyoshi appointed him as supervisor of the prodution and minting of ôban coins and fundô weights. Kôjô was 71 years old when Sekigahara took place and so it is assumed that he did not participate. But his son Tokujô did, being 50 years old, and due to the former employment by Hideyoshi on the side of Ishida Mitsunari. 14 years later at the Siege of Ôsaka, Tokujô and his son and heir Eijô (栄乗, 1577-1617) still sided with the Toyotomi faction and were thus placed under hourse arrest for a while by Ieyasu which was a common milder punishment for bushi. The then Gotô residence was since Kôjô´s return from Kyûshû located in Kyôto´s Yanagihara district (柳原, present-day Kamigyô district). And this is when Chôjô came into play.

Chôjô (長乗, 1562-1616) was Kôjô´s second son, i.e. Tokujô´s younger brother. He too spend some years on Kyûshû with Tokujô and helped him when they returned to Kyôto but it turned out that he had a knack of economy and business. Apart from that he was a prominent figure of the then art scene and well versed in calligraphy, painting and poetry. For example a close friend of him was the “all-round artist” Hon´ami Kôetsu (本阿弥光悦, 1558-1637). But more important for the continuation of the Gotô is that he became also a close friend of Ieyasu for whom he worked since the eighth year of Keichô (慶長, 1603), beginning with a post in the Foreign Office. He managed it through negotiations with Ieyasu´s successor Hidetada (徳川秀忠, 1579-1632) one year after the fall of Ôsaka in 1616 that the Gotô main line got back all their lands and their annual income of 250 koku. Unfortunately he died right after this success, namely on the 26th day of the third month of the very same year. It is assumed that he died of his chronic stomach problems as we know a report of the 2nd generation of the famous physician Masane Dôsan (曲直瀬道三, 1507-1594) in which he wrote that he treated him on the 15th day of the ninth month Keichô six (1601) on his severe vomiting. Anyway, it was a wise decision of Chôjô to side with Ieyasu right after Sekigahara. Maybe they were in contact before the battle but not much is known about that early phase of Chôjô´s career. In Keichô 15 (1610), he was again favorably treated by Ieyasu and received from him a property only about 300 m to the northeast of the Shirôbei main line residence. There was a temple at that site, the Gansui´in (岩栖院), which was transferred by Ieyasu to the grounds of the Nanzen-ji (南禅寺) before he granted the plot to Chôjô. According to contemporary records, the plot of land measured 7.260 m². Picture 1 shows the area as depicted in the old map „Kan´ei-go Manji-zen ryakuchû-ezu“ (寛永後萬治前洛中絵図, „Map of Kyôto from after the Kan´ei and before the Manji era“). We can see from left to right the houses of Chôjô (1), Shôjô, (昌乗, Chôjô´s fourth son) (2), Kakujô (覚乗, Chôjô´s second son (3), Matazaemon (又左衛門, Chôjô´s third son Jô´en, 乗円) (4), and of Shichirôbei (七郎兵衛, Chôjô´s first son Ryûjô, 立乗) (5).

 GotoMapChojo1Picture 1. Detail of the Gansui´in area.

The shaping of the area goes back to Hosokawa Mitsumoto (細川満元, 1378-1526) who was kanrei (管領, deputy of the shôgun) at that time. He erected there a mansion from wood which was left from the construction of the famous Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺). After his death the mansion was turned into the Gansui´in temple. Chôjô remodelled the area and had a new garden with a pond arranged, the so-called „Yôsui´en“ (擁翠園). He was financially and artistically supported by the wealthy Kaga-daimyô and Gotô-patron Maeda Toshitsune (前田利常, 1594-1658) and the famous tea master Kobori Enshû (小堀遠州, 1579-1647). A nice picture of the Yôsui´en can be seen here at the site of the Kyôto-blogger Amadeus.

At the time Chôjô died and the Gotô main line was rehabilitated, Edo was so to speak „still under construction“. The art world was quite sceptical about the new capital and cultured people from the old Kyôto called the Edo-residents even „eastern barbarians“ (azama-ebisu, 東夷). A first step of the bakufu was the Edo-zume (江戸詰), the order for daimyô to maintain a residence in Edo where they had to stay in the course of the sankin-kôtai system. The Edo-zume order for the Gotô main line came in Kan´ei two (寛永, 1625) at the time of the 8th generation Sokujô (即乗, 1600-1631) who was the second son of Eijô. But he was granted with a residence which was located in the Hon-Shirogane district (本白銀町, present-day Chûô district). In Meireki two (明暦, 1652) and at the time of the 10th generation Renjô (廉乗, 1627-1708), the Gotô got an exlusive contract with the bakufu and became their purveyor. With this, a larger residence was given to them which was located in Kanda´s Nagatomi district (永富町). Well, one year later the residence and most of the family records were destroyed by the Great Fire of Meireki (Meireki no taika, 明暦の大火). The house and workshop were rebuilt and in Kanbun two (寛文, 1662), the headquarters of the Gotô main line were eventually officially transferred from Kyôto to Edo (that means now the main line lived there permanently and not temporarily). With this, all lands were returned to the bakufu and a new residence was given to them in exchange which was located in the Shin-Ryôgae district (新両替町, present-day Ginza district).

Regarding the initial scepticism towards Edo, we find an entry in the „Enpeki-kenki“ (遠碧軒記, 1675) which goes: „Once, no one from the Gotô family went to Edo, because they had for this duty their clerk Shôzaburô.“ With Shôzaburô, Hashimoto Shôzaburô (橋本庄三郎, 1571-1625) is meant who was the clerk (tedai, 手代) of the Gotô family at the time of Tokujô. Shôzaburô met Ieyasu personally in Bunroku two (文禄, 1593) and became the official Edo represesentative of the Gotô two years later. With this important appointment he was allowed to bear the family name „Gotô” and their 3-5-3 kiri crest and got also the name „Mitsutsugu“ (光次). By the way, there was once a document issued by Tokujô and Chôjô in Bunroku five (1595) which stated that the granting of the name „Gotô“ shall not be hereditary, but this „restriction“ was later ignored as Ieyasu supported Shôzaburô in this respect. In Edo he was first and foremost responsible for the minting of koban coins. Being deeply involved in the finances of the bakufu and head of the gold guild (kinza, 金座), he travelled a lot and established Gotô branches in Suruga and on the island of Sado. There were altogether 14 generations of the Gotô Shôzaburô branch. The kinza was confiscated later by the Meiji government and the last head of the line, Mitsuhiro (光弘, 1834-1893), was put under the supervision of the newly founded money, currency and coinage office (kahei-tsukasa, 貨幣司). Well, this office was given up in 1869 and all employees formerly working for the kinza were dismissed. And in 1872, Mitsuhiro had to move out of the Gotô Shôzaburô residence in Honchô (本町), It was namely an old bakufu property and had to be handed-over to the government.

Now we can speculate what the fate of the Gotô family would have been without Chôjô and when both the main line and Ieyasu were stubborn. Maybe they would have stayed in Kyôto or had entirely entered the service and employement of the Kaga-Maeda family as did a later branch of the Gotô. But this is of course only speculation. There was a continuous demand for classical Gotô-style sword fittings which would have guaranteed their survival and we must not forget that they held the hereditary post responsible for minting ôban and fundô weights. Also they had absolutely no financial problems. Besides of their annual income from their lands, the Gotô main line made obviously a fortune with their fittings and the coinage as they were counted to the so-called „Three Kyôto Millionaires“ (Kyôto no san-chôja, 京都の三長者). The other two were the merchant families Chaya Shôjirô (茶屋四郎次郎) and Suminokura Ryôi (角倉了以). Also the Shôzaburô line in Edo became quite wealthy as head of the kinza. So I think that Ieyasu and Hidetada were clever enough to leave the money-related offices where they were and did not replace the Gotô by complete newcomers.

By the way, Chôjô loved the famous Kamo horse race (Kamo no kurabe-uma, 賀茂の競馬) which was once held on the fifth day of the fifth month of every year at the grounds of the Kamigamo-jinja (上賀茂神社) which was located just 2,5 km to the north of his residence. Well, at Chôjô´s time, the horse race was hardly ever carried out and so he took on the task to revive it. He rounded up sponsors, also from the bakufu and the imperial court. Of gratitude, he sponsored every year a spectators lounge of the size of one tsubo (3,3 m²) and prize money in the amount of 200 hiki of gold.


Picture 2: Wooden statue of Chôjô (left) and his wife Tsuru (ツル, ?-1640) preserved in Kyôto´s Jôtoku-ji (常徳寺).

Detailed info about the Gotô family in general and all the genealogies can be found in my book The Japanese toso-kinko Schools.

Genji-hachiryô – The Eight Armors of the Minamoto

We find ourselves in the time right before the Hôgen Rebellion (Hôgen no ran, 保元の乱) which took place in the first year of Hôgen (1156). According to the „Hôgen-monogatari“ (保元物語), Minamoto no Tameyoshi (源為義, 1096-1156), the grandson of the famous Minamoto no Yoshiie (源義家, 1039-1106), dreamed that the eight famous armors inherited by his Seiwa-Genji line (清和源氏) of the Minamoto would be scattered to the four winds. Well, he turned out to be right in the end. Tameyoshi handed half of them secretly over to his oldest son Minamoto no Yoshitomo (源義朝, 1123-1160) and kept the remaining four. The ones he handed over were the Genta-ga-ubukinu (源太が産衣), Hizamaru (膝丸), Omodaka (沢瀉) and Hachiryô (八龍). He was now in charge of the Usukane (薄金), Tatenashi (楯無), Tsukikazu (月数) and Hikazu (日数). Tameyoshi lost his armors right in the turmoils of the Hôgen Rebellion and when Yoshitomo was defeated at the subsequent Heiji Rebellion (Heiji no ran, 平治の乱) of the first year of Heiji (1160), the armors where left back when he and others fled from Kyôto and were struggling through a snowstorm in the mountains of Mino on their way to the eastern provinces. Yoshitomo was killed while fleeing in Owari province. As usual, there exist several transmissions and theories on the whereabouts of the armors. In the following I would like to present the most common ones. I follow the order by which the armors are introduced in Ise Sadatake´s (伊勢貞丈, 1718-1784) publication „Genkô-hachiryô no yoroi-kô“ (源家八領鎧考, 1776). By the way, „Genkô-hachiryô“ (源家八領) was apart from „Genji-hachiryô“ (源氏八領) and „Genji-hakkô“ (源氏八甲) another term for these eight armors.

The Genta-ga-ubukinu (源太が産衣) was the armor worn by the eldest Minamoto son and heir at the so-called „yoroi-ki-zome“ (鎧着初), the ceremony when a 13 or 14 year-old son of a warrior family put on an armor for the first time. It is said that prince Atsuakira (敦明親王, 994-1051), the son of emperor Sanjô (三条天皇, 976-1017), presented it to his loyal retainer Minamoto no Yoriyoshi (源頼義, 988-1075) on the occasion of the birth of his son Minamoto no Yoshiie. Yoshiie´s youth name was „Genta“, thus the nickname „Genta-ga-ubukinu“ which means lit. „clothes for the newborn Genta“. The chronicles say that the armor showed the deities Amaterasu and Hachiman on the muna-ita and the left and right sode were laced to represent Wisteria blossoms. Well, it is said that at the time of the Heiji Rebellion, the Genta-ga-ubukinu was worn by the then 12 years-old Minamoto no Yoritomo (源頼朝, 1147-1199). Yoritomo was the son of Yoshitomo. The armor was lost when he had to take it off on their flight in the mountains of Mino province to be faster.

The term „usukane“ (薄金) was used to refer to a yoroi whose lamellae consisted entirely of thin metal plates. Therefore the name appears in several records what makes it a bit difficult to trace down the Usukane armor of the Minamoto. For example the „Taihei-ki“ (太平記) says it was later worn by Nitta Yoshisada (新田義貞, 1301-1338) but another transmission says that Minamoto no Yoshiie presented it to Ban Jirô Sukekane (伴次郎助兼) due to his military achievements and bravery in the Later Three-Year War (Gosannen no eki, 後三年の役) which took place in the late 1080s. Sukekane was hit by a stone-throwing ishiyumi crossbow. The helmet was destroyed but Sukekane survived and so he offered the armor of gratitude to the Sanage-jinja (猿投神社, Aichi Prefecture). An armor and the written provenance of this offering is still preserved in the shrine and the suit is designated as jûyô-bunkazai but it is doubted that it is the Usukane from the Genji-hachiryô. The extant armor is depicted below.


Picture 1: kashidori-ito-odoshi yoroi (樫鳥絲威鎧) preserved in the Sanage-jinja

As the provenance of the Sanage-jinja´s armor is doubted, we come to the one and only extant armor from the Genji-hachiryô, the Tatenashi (楯無). The nickname goes back to the saying that the armor is so robust that otherwise no (nashi, 無) shield (tate, 楯) of whatever kind is necessary. Like the Genta-ga-ubukinu, it was worn at the time of the Heiji Rebellion by Minamoto no Yoshitomo but had to be left behind in the mountains of Mino. However, this does not match with the aforementioned transmission which says that the Tatenashi stayed with Yoshitomo´s father Tameyoshi. Another transmission says that after the flight, the armor was rediscovered by Takeda Nobumitsu (武田信光, 1162-1248) who made it a heirloom of his family. But Nobumitsu was not even born when the Heiji Rebellion took place and so this transmission can be dismissed. The Takeda family in turn claims that the Tatenashi was in their possession since the time of their ancestor Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (源義光, 1045-1127), the third son of Yoriyoshi and the younger brother of Yoshiie. Takeda Shingen (武田信玄, 1521-1573) offered it later to the Kandaten-jinja (菅田天神社, Yamanashi Prefecture) but when the Takeda were destroyed, his son Katsuyori (武田勝頼, 1546-1582) ordered that it should be buried under a cedar at the grounds of the Kôgaku-ji (向嶽寺, Yamanashi Prefecture). When later Tokugawa Ieyasu occupied Kai province, he had the armor excavated and offered it once again to the Kandaten-jinja. During the Edo period the armor was damaged by a theft and some transportations and had to be repaired several times. In 1952 it was designated as kokuhô as kozakuragawa-odoshi yoroi (小桜韋威鎧). The suit is still preserved in the Kandanten-jinja and not on public display but a replica can be seen in the Yamanashi Prefectural Museum. Link to the repica.


Picture 2: kozakuragawa-odoshi yoroi preserved in the Kandanten-jinja

The Hizamaru (膝丸) has its name from the transmission that it was made of durable leather from the knees (hiza, 膝) of thousand oxen. Therefore purification rituals were required so that the spirits of the animals did not devolve upon the armor and bring bad luck. It was lost after the Heiji Rebellion.

The Hachiryô (八龍) is one of the more famous armors of the Genji-hachiryô. It has its name from the kanamono decorations in the form of the Eight Great Dragon Kings (hachi-dairyû-ô, 八大龍王). One dragon was the tatemono of the helmet, two were on the fukigaeshi, two on the kanmuri no ita of the sode, one on the munaita, one on the saidan no ita and one was on the kyûbi no ita. The „Genpei-seisui-ki“ (源平盛衰記) says that it was not lost but later eventually in the possession of Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源義経, 1159-1189) who presented it to a certain Kobayashi Jingo Muneyuki (小林神五宗行) for his military achievements during the Battle of Yashima (屋島の戦い, 1185). However, in later times the name „Hachiryô“ was used for other armors with an ornamentation of multiple dragons. The modern armorer Miura Suke´ichi (三浦助市) made in the Shôwa era a faithful reconstruction of the Hachiryô.


Picture 3: Replica of the Hachiryô by Miura Suke´ichi.

According to the „Heiji-monogatari“, the Omodaka (沢瀉) was worn during the Heiji Rebellion by Minamoto no Tomonaga (源朝長, 1143-1160), the second son of Yoshitomo. It was named after the the triangular multi-color lacing which should resemble the leaf of an omodaka (water-plantain). Such a lacing was quite common at that time and called „omodaka-odoshi“ accordingly.

The Tsukikazu (月数) was worn during the Hôgen Rebellion by Tameyoshi´s fourth son Minamoto no Yorikata (源頼賢, ?-1156). According to transmission, its lacing was of brownish (kuchiba, 朽葉) braids made of twilled silk fabric imported from China with a hemp core. Such a lacing was called „kara´aya-odoshi“ (唐綾縅) in earlier times. The name „tsukikazu“ (lit. „number of months“) goes back to the multi-colored lacing of the sode which consisted namely of twelve different colors. Another theory says that the name came either from the twelve hoshi rivets per plate of from the twelve plates the helmet bowl was made of.

And last but not least the Hikazu (日数). It was worn during the Hôgen Rebellion by Tameyoshi´´s fifth son Minamoto no Yorinaka (源頼仲, ?-1156). The transmission says that the name „hikazu“ (lit. „number of the days“) goes back to the incredibly high number of about 360 hoshi rivets on the helmet. But such an interpretation was totally uncommon during the Heian period, thus the origin of the name is doubted.

Kiyomaro oshigata comparison

Again I want to present a comparison of two oshigata which show considerable differences. First of all something about the blade. It is a tantô in yoroidôshi style by Kiyomaro but from his early years. It is dated Tenpô five (天保, 1834) and signed with his former name „Hidetoshi“ (秀寿), that means he made the piece when he was 22 years old and after he signed with „Masayuki“ (正行). When you take a look at the oshigata depicted below you will see that the blade is obviously interpreted in the Sôshû tradition, or to be more precise in the style of Samonji (左文字). There are plentiful of nie and nie-based hataraki like conspicious kinsuji and sunagashi. Also we see some tobiyaki and yubashiri. By the way, Kiyomaro used that name „Hidetoshi“ only in that very year Tenpô five and this is also the only known work of him which is entirely interpreted in pure Sôshû tradition. Another sidenote: There exists a second blade dated Tenpô five signed with „Hidetoshi“ but this one, a tantô, is completely different as it is forged in the Inshû-Hamabe style (因州浜部) of his master Toshitaka (寿隆), i.e. it shows a chôji-based midareba in nioi-deki. That means this yoroidôshi-style tantô is an important reference for this phase of his career where he aimed at the Sôshû tradition and was just at developing his own style.


Picture 1: tantô, mei „Minamoto Hidetoshi“ (源秀寿) – „Tenpô gonen chûtô“ (天保五年仲冬, „mid-winter of Tenpô five [1834]“) – „Tôsai-shujin no tame ni kore o tsukuru“ (為濤齋主人作之, „made for the head of the Tôsai family“), nagasa 22,8 cm, some uchizori, hira-zukuri, iori-mune

Interesting at this comparison is that we see this time how differently the blade was „read“. At the older oshigata depicted above, obviously more attention was payed to the supposed course of the hamon. That means hataraki like tobiyaki and yubashiri were interpreted as togari elements belong to the actual hamon (see picture 2, marked in red). Also the ashi were seen as indentation of the hamon and reproduced that way (marked in blue) on the upper oshigata. Apart from the fact that the lower oshigata is much more detailed, we have again a discrepancy in the course of the hamon itself, even the two oshigata are pretty identical in proportions. The area up to the blue marks (from the side of the kissaki) are matching but then the creator of the oshigata above „saw“ the third togari-like element marked in red at a considerable distance whereas the subsequent course is again about identical.


Picture 2: Questionable discrepancies.

I assume that this might go back to the massive kasane of this tantô. That means when the blade is laid down on the table padding, you either have to put something under the ha so that the ji lies parallel to the table, or you have to stop drawing from time to time and rotate the blade so that you can see all details. Maybe this is the reason for the discrepancy here because otherwise I can´t explain why the course of the hamon shifts all of a sudden right before the third togari element in question.

By the way, a detailed biography of Kiyomaro can be found in my work Legends and Stories around the Japanese Sword 2.

The difficulties with elegance

Regardless of whether translating texts on swords or sword fittings, it is often difficult to convey precisely what the author meant. The problem is not that you don´t understand what is written but to find „correct“ or most suitable equivalents of certain Japanese terms. The consequence is that some texts may sound awkward, clumsy or just monotonous, or – the other way round – too confusing by trying to explain as much as possible. One such example is translating words like „elegance“. Here the Japanese offers a variety of subtle differentiations on the basis of which a native speaker is able to grasp right away what the author is trying to say. As translator you usually have to use word combinations like „classical elegance“ or „unobtrusive elegance“ to stick as much as possible to the original text. However, often a term or a context is too complex to fit into a simple word combination and you have to use footnotes as an alternative.

At this point I would like to focus as indicated on the term „elegance“. A prime example can be found in Sasano Masayuki´s (笹野大行) 1993 ed. of his „Sukashi-tsuba“ (透鐔). Therein he writes: „Shodai Hikozô wa kôga, Matashichi wa seiga to iu naraba, shodai Kanshirô wa fûga de aru.“ (初代彦三は高雅、又七は清雅というならば、初代勘四郎は風雅である。). These three terms kôga, seiga and fûga are more or less just translated as „elegance“, depending on how sophisticated your dictionary is. Trying to convey what Masayuki´s says, this sentence might be best translated as: „When the works of the 1st generation Hikozô are of noble/refined elegance and those of Matashichi of pure/clear elegance, than those of the 1st generation Kanshirô might be described as being of tasteful elegance.“ As one can see, the fundamental part is here „miyabi/ga“ (雅), or as adjective „miyabiyaka“ (雅びやか), which means itself „elegant“, „gracious“, „graceful“ or „refined“. Starting with these three word combinations I would like to introduce some of the difficult to translate terms which have the part „miyabi/ga“ as basis.

kôga (高雅) – The emphasis here is on „noble“, „classy“, „refined“ or „grand“, that means the term can be translated as „noble elegance“ or „refined elegance“. The term kôga is often used to describe tachi-sugata of the mid or late Heian and subsequent Kamakura period for example as they are noble and classy but no longer of the ancient or archaic elegance of tachi prior to the early Heian period.

koga (古雅) – By using the prefix „ko“ (古, old), the emphasis is on „ancient“. That means the term koga describes an object or feature whose elegance is largely attributable to age. For example Heian-period or earlier swords or tôshô or katchûshi-tsuba are often described as having koga.

fûga (風雅) Fûga describes an elegance which is bit more deliberately achieved or individual, either through a surface treatment, lacquer finish, choice of clothes, or choice of words in a poem/text and so on. That means in this case terms like „fashion“ or „personal taste“ of the artist come into play.

bunga (文雅) – By the prefix „bun“ (文, literature), the term bunga might be translated best as „poetical elegance“ or „poetically elegant“. It is often used to describe a tsuba with a motif of poetical or lyrical background or which can be associated with classical poetical sujets.

tenga (典雅) – „Ten“ (典) means „ceremony“, „law“ or „rule“ so the term tenga describes, if you like, a „classical proper elegance“. That means tenga implies certain classy expectations towards a dance, dress or feature of an object.

yûga (優雅) and yûbi (優美) – These terms refer, in the sense of an object, much more to an elegance achieved by the artist or craftsman. For example an old, plain and simple ko-tôshô-tsuba would rather not be described as yûga or yûbi as much elegance caused by the charme of age comes here into play.

toga (都雅) – The prefix „to“ (都) refers to Kyôto (京都), that means the term toga describes the classy elegance which was preferred in the old capital. For example the well-known tsuba of Umetada Myôju (埋忠明寿) might be circumscribed by using terms like toga.

onga (温雅) – „On“ (温) means „warm“ and thus the essence of the meaning is towards a „gentle“, „unobtrusive“ or „peaceful“ but also towards a „familiar elegance“. That means a tsuba with flower motif for example is often described by using the term onga.

kanga (閑雅) – By the prefix „kan“ (閑) which means „leisure“ or „calm atmosphere/mood“, a „calm and unobtrusive elegance“ is described with this term. For example a blade in suguha by a shinshintô smith who worked mostly in a more flamboyant style might be described as kanga, but rather not a classical kotô Rai or Awataguchi-suguha for example as this was anyway the „default“ and basic style of these schools. Explained in an exaggerated manner, the Rai or Awataguchi smiths did not have to restrain themselves to achieve a calm suguha.

As you see it is rather difficult to explain these terms without context and I did not try to present here clear definitions. My intention was basically to make readers aware of a certain aspect of a translator´s problem but not to „create panic“. That means often terms like „elegant“ or „graceful“ are adequate and when you read of an „elegant sukashi design“, there is usually not a myriad of hidden meanings. In other words the design is just elegant, period.


Out now, the English version of my recently published Nihon-shinto-shi.

I quote from the blurb:

“This book should bring the reader more near to the no less interesting era of the „New Sword“, the shinto. With the transition to the peaceful Edo period, the Japanese sword experienced considerable changes which are briefly touched in some other sword publications. This book now tries to present the historical and scholastic changes of the shinto in a comprehensive manner. The reader should get an idea about the activities of the Edo-period swordsmiths in all the provinces and how – if at all – they were connected in terms of school or workmanship. The classification based on the traditional gokaden is no longer applicable in shinto times and so a more geographical processing suggests itself. In the beginning we have the large sword centres of Kyoto, Osaka and Edo. Subsequently, all other provinces follow, arranged according to their „significance“ in the sword world and in context with each other to avoid as much as possible big geographical and theoretical jumps.”

Paperback, 440 pages, b/w pictures, 7.44 wide x 9.68 tall, $75.00

It can be obtained here.

And the eBook version here.


Swords from the Nihonto-Club Germany 2

After about two years we are proud to present the second catalogue of the Nihonto-Club Germany. Again, and with the support of our members, we have collected and catalogued altogether 31 blades whereas this time tsuba and kodogu also appear in the catalogue. This publication not only introduces „well-known“ and „classical“ items but also fine blades by rare masters like Jitsu´a, Ko-Hoki Sadatsuna, or the 3rd generation Hizen-Tadayoshi for example. The order follows the usual way, i.e. Koto, Sue-Koto, Keicho-Shinto, Shinto, Shinshinto, and Gendaito.

Again, I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to all those who contributed to the compilation of this catalogue, and also to those who have taking an active part in our club meetings by providing blades, articles, tips, and advice.

The English version is available here.

And the German one here.


The tabe of contents can be seen here.


From the life of Unno Shômin 2

To show some more aspects of Unno Shômin´s live, I would like to translate parts of an extant correspondence of the master with Mitsumura Toshimo´s manager Matano Kagetaka (俣野景孝). As mentioned in the earlier article, Toshimo was one of Shômin´s „bulk buyers“ and played so surely an important rule in supporting the artist. Somewhat later than the Kanzan and Jittoku tsuba, Toshimo placed an order for a suaka-tsuba in mokkô-gata with hell motif (jigoku, 地獄) whose mei is: „Meiji sanjûnana-nen kika Mitsumura Toshimo-kun no motome ni kotae“ (明治三十七年季夏応光村利藻君之需) –  „Teishitsu-gigei´in shô-roku´i Unno Shômin rokujûichi“ (帝室技芸員・正六位海野勝珉六十一), „Made according to an order of Mr. Mitsumura Toshimo in late summer of 1904, Unno Shômin, Imperial Craftsman and holder of the sixth court rank at the age of 61.“ One letter of Shômin to Kagetaka from April 20th of 1904 reads:

„I gratefully received your registered mail with the attached cheque of 335 Yen. As planned, I was able to basically finish the figures of the God of Wind and Thunder and apart from that I also started with the preparatory work for silver tachi mountings for which I already have been paid for. The tsuba in question with the hell motif is, as you surely know, a very costly and sophisticated work and just recently I was able to finish the carvings for the ground plate. I am an old man with increasing difficulties to use my hands and thus I also had to reject orders for an exhibition held by a local dealer. With my situation in mind I would ask you to transfer the outstanding amount so that I am able to finish all the pieces [for Mr. Toshimo] without delay. I also have to pay the assistents I had to hire especially for the preparatory work of the zôgan inlay. Thus I humbly ask for your understanding. The work on the tachi-koshirae will be finished soon and if everything runs smoothly I will send it to you right after it is finished. Again I ask you to take into consideration my situation. Yours faithfully, Unno Shômin.

Post scriptum and to Dr. Matano Kagetaka in person: Regarding the gold mitokoromono set with the bird motif, I just finished the preparatory work.“

And in a letter from April 25th we read:

 „With regard to your request to hurry up with the tsuba in question I must inform you that I work on it all day and night to finish it as soon as possible. One side which shows the ´Expulsion from Hell´ will be finished around the tenth of the next month and the other side with the hell itself probably around the twentieth of the same month.“

On June 25th Shômin wrote:

„Dear Mr. Kagetaka. I have taken note of your reprimand regarding my demand for a loan of several hundred Yen to finish the tsuba in question. I only did this because of the circumstances and was by no means meant to make extra personal profit out of the tsuba with hell motif. All money will be spent for the completion of the piece and I really had difficulties to pay my students their wages.“

And from a postcard dated June 29th we learn about the completion:

„Dear Mr. Kagetaka. I completed the tsuba with hell motif yesterday but had to add some additional coloring. Regarding the slight delay, I had to finish two habaki for Mr. Shimaya (嶋屋) which I had to deliver to him together with a shirasaya. Yours sincerely.“

In 1905, one year after the order for the tsuba with hell motif was placed, the Japanese government commissioned Mitsumura´s Kôbe-based company Kansai Shashin Seihan Insatsu (関西写真製版印刷) to document the Russo-Japanese War in the Lüshunkou District, the former Port Arthur. That means we can assume that he was quite busy at that time and did not wait every day at the doorstop for the tsuba to arrive. But maybe he did, as he was an enthusiastic collector. We further learn that his manager also had to deal with the artwork commissioned by his boss. By the way, Toshimo published in 1904 the first two volumes of the fancy tôsôgu set „Tagane no hana“ (鏨廼花, lit. „Flowers of the Chisel“). In 1919 the other four volumes followed and a limited special edition of 500 copies of all the six volumes were reprinted in 1971 by the publisher Tsuru Shobô (鶴書房). Some pics of the latter publication can be found here.


Mitsumura Toshimo (left), Matano Kagetaka (right)