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.

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