The „invincibility tsuba“

This time I want to elaborate on the so-called „makezu no tsuba“ (まけずの鍔), lit. the „invincibility tsuba“ (picture 1). First of all on the piece itself. It is a plain iron tsuba in maru-gata which shows all over so-called „Eiraku-Tsûhô“ coins (永楽通寳, picture 2) inlayed in silver, namely six on the omote and seven on the ura side. The entire interpretation and workmanship speaks for a straightforward Shôami attribution and is not that exciting at all. The jûyô-bunkazai designation – it became even kokuhô at first instance in 1920 – goes solely back to its provenance. It was namely worn by the great warlord Oda Nobunaga (織田信長, 1534-1582) himself and later offered by his descendant Oda Noto no Kami Nobukado (織田能登守信門, 1662-1716) to the Sôken-ji (摠見寺). Nobunaga himself once donated the Sôken-ji to Azuchi Castle (安土城) in the Tenshô era (天正, 1573-1592).


Picture 1: jûyô-bunkazai tsuba from the possessions of Oda Nobunaga, 8,4 x 8,3 cm

EirakuCoinPicture 2: Eiraku-Tsûhô copper coin.

Regarding the motif, the case is as follows: In the fifth month of Eiroku three (永禄, 1560), Nobunaga was about meeting Imagawa Yoshimoto (今川義元, 1536-1560) and his huge army of about 40.000 men (the transmissions range between 25.000 and 45.000 men) at the upcoming Battle of Okehazama (桶狭間の戦い). He was only able to gather about 2.500 men and went thus to the close Atsuta-jingû (熱田神宮) to pray for victory. He asked the gods for giving him a sign if his prayer is answered, grasping a handfull of Eiraku-Tsûhô coins and tossing them into the air. When they came down, every single one was showing heads. Thus he told his men that their victory is assured and really, Nobunaga was able to win and become one of the most influental warlods of his time. So he used from that time onwards the Eiraku-Tsuhô coins as motif of one his banners (picture 3) and had them inlayed on the tsuba of the sword he was wearing during the battle. There exists also a slightly different transmission on this incident. It says that Nobunaga addressed his men after praying at the Atsuta-jingû by saying the gods are with us when the coin will show head. He tossed it (this time only one coin) into the air and showed head. After the victory, the Oda retainer Hayashi Hidesada (林秀貞, ?-1580) confirmed that truly the gods have spoken through the coin. But Nobunaga replied with the Zen proverb „ware tada taru o shiru“ (吾唯知足) and showed Hayashi the coin which had heads on both sides. The proverb means „I only know what is enough“ or „I only know that I´m okay with what I got.“ But it is assumed that this version of the coin-toss transmission of Nobunaga goes back to a merging with the coins showing these characters, i.e. „ware tada taru o shiru“. These coins (picture 4) have a square hole in the middle which represents the radical (口). The four characters of the proverb all bear this radical and the parts (五), (隹), (止) and (矢) and are arranged around the central square to become (吾), (唯), (知) and (足). Incidentally, this coin too was used as family crest by several warriors.


Picture 3: The Eiraku-Tsûhô banner (Eiraku-sen no hatajirushi, 永楽銭の旗印).


Picture 4: The ware tada taru o shiru coin.

So after Okehazama, Nobunaga was able to win several successive battles and thus he called the tsuba the „invincibility tsuba“. Regarding the motif of the tsuba in question and his banner, there is also another approach about its meaning. The Eiraku-Tsûhô copper coins were minted in China by the third Ming emperor Yônglè (永楽帝, jap. „Eiraku“) but imported on a large scale during the Muromachi period. They were in circulation all over the country until their use was officially stopped by the bakufu in Keichô 13 (慶長, 1608). That means some speculate that Nobunaga tried to express via his Eiraku-Tsûhô coin banner that his power will spread all over Japan just like the coins. Others in turn see the use of the coin as symbol in connection with his economic policy. To stimulate business, Nobunaga introduced namely a free market system called „rakuichi-rakuza“ (楽市楽座) which abolished and prohibited monopolies and opened guilds (za, 座) and removed other barriers and taxes. This rakuichi-rakuza policy meant an important boost for the Momoyama-era economy and was the first step for a nationwide economy, although later again strictly regulated by the bakufu. So probably all these factors played a role when in 1920 a quite mediocre Shôami-tsuba was designated as kokuhô.

By the way, if you ever come along the town of Azuchi in Shiga province, try the sweets based on the makezu no tsuba.


The „wrong“ Ebina-Kokaji?

Many of you might know the famous meibutsu Ebina-Kokaji (海老名小鍛冶, picture 1), a tantô which is famous since the Muromachi period as it was worn successively by each Ashikaga-shôgun.  In an entry concerning New Year´s garments from the „Chôroku ninen irai môshitsugi-ki“ (長禄二年以来申次記, the second year of Chôroku was 1458) and the „Jishô´in-dono nenchû-kôki“ (慈昭院殿年中行事)  we find namely the following entry about the eighth Ashikaga-shôgun Yoshimasa (足利義政, 1436-1490, r. 1449-1473): „This sword is called ebina-kokaji. It is used on the 30th day. It measures 1 shaku 2 sun 3 bu (~ 37,3 cm) and with the saya 1 shaku 5 sun 6 bu (~ 47,3 cm). Regarding its mounting, it has a tsuka and saya in nashiji and is mounted with kojiri and kashira made en suite of shakudô. The menuki depicted gilded kiri crests in the round and the kôgai too depicts the kiri crest. This sword is worn together with a formal hitatare (直垂) at New Year.“ However, the origin of the nickname „Ebina“ is unclear and the blade suffered a fire damage at the fall of Ôsaka Castle in 1615 and had to be re-tempered by the then best man for this task, Echizen Yasutsugu (越前康継). By the way, Yasutsugu made several copies of the blade when re-tempering it. One of the copies can be seen in picture 2.

EbinaKokaji Picture 1: The meibutsu Ebina-Kokaji signed „Munechika“ (宗近).


Picture 2: Copy of Yasutsugu signed: „Echizen no Kuni Yasutsugu – Honda Hida no Kami shoji-nai“ (越前国康継・本多飛騨守所持内, „from the possessions of Honda Hida no Kami“), „nanbangane – Sanjô-Kokaji haku“ (なんはんかね・三条こかち迫, „[forged with] nanban-gane, tribute to Sanjô Kokaji [Munechika]“), nagasa 29,7 cm

The Ebina-Kokaji as seen in picture 1 measures today 9 sun 8 bu (~ 29,7 cm) but the „Kyôhô-meibutsu-chô“ (享保名物帳) lists it with a nagasa of 1 shaku 1 sun 2 bu (~ 34,0 cm), that means we have a difference of about 4 cm. Well, the blade has four mekugi-ana and was obviously shortened so this difference is nothing to write home about. But there is the oshigata collection „Hasegawa Chû´emon-katanaezu“ (長谷川忠右衛門刀絵図) from the ninth year of Genna (元和, 1623) which shows another Ebina-Kokaji (picture 3), that means the depicted blade is labelled „Ebina-Kokaji“, which has the same length as stated in the „Kyôhô-meibutsu-chô“, i.e. 1 shaku 1 sun 2 bu (~ 34,0 cm). This blade does not resemble the Ebina-Kokaji in katakiriba-zukuri as we know it today but is similar to another meibutsu of Munechika, the so-called „Takanosu-Kokaji“ (鷹の巣小鍛冶) or „Takanosu-Munechika“ (鷹の巣宗近) depicted in the „Kôtoku-katanaezu“ (光徳刀絵図, picture 4) of which the first edition was published in Tenshô 16 (天正, 1588). The latter is a hira-zukuri wakizashi with a sunnobi-sugata signed “Sanjô” and a nagasa of 1 shaku 5 sun 2 bu (~ 46,0 cm). Interestingly, the Takanosu-Munechika is also depicted in the „Hasegawa Chû´emon-katanaezu“, also with the same nagasa of 46,0 cm, that means the latter publication obviously did not mix-up the Ebina-Kokaji with the Takanosu-Munechika as it introduces both blades.  Incidentally, Hasegawa Chû´emon was a renowned sword appraiser from the early Edo period.


Picture 3: The unsigned Ebina-Kokaji from the the „Hasegawa Chû´emon-katanaezu“. To the left we read the nickname „Ebina-Kokaji“ noted as (えびな小かち).


Picture 4: The Takanosu-Munechika signed „Sanjô“ from the „Kôtoku-katanaezu“.

The question now is, was the Ebina-Kokaji from the Muromachi-era records with a nagasa of  1 shaku 2 sun 3 bu (~ 37,3 cm) in katakiriba-zukuri signed „Munechika“ and shortened to 1 shaku 1 sun 2 bu (~ 34,0 cm) and later again to the present 9 sun 8 bu (~ 29,7 cm), or was it in hira-zukuri and shortened from 1 shaku 2 sun 3 bu (~ 37,3 cm) to 1 shaku 1 sun 2 bu (~ 34,0 cm)? And the second question is, when the Muromachi-era records referred to the latter blade as the Ebina-Kokaji, when did the present-day katakiriba-zukuri Ebina-Kokaji became the Ebina-Kokaji? The first time a drawing of the present-day Ebina-Kokaji appears is in the „Kokon-mei-zukushi“ (古今銘尽) which was published in Manji four (万治, 1661) (picture 5). But there are no whatsoever comments on its nickname and the name „Ebina-Kokaji“ does not appear at any point in connection to this blade. Incidentally, although the „Kokon-mei-zukushi“ was published in Manji four, it shows the features of the katakiriba-zukuri Munechika blade from before the fall of Ôsaka and its fire damage as the oshigata used for the publication date back to Keichô 16 (慶長, 1611). Well, the unsigned hira-zukuri blade depicted in the „Hasegawa Chû´emon-katanaezu“ is no longer extant today and from today´s point of view we have to end our speculations if it was the one mentioned in the Muromachi-era chronicles as Ebina-Kokaji. But I think I can rule out the approach that the signed katakiriba-zukuri was the one mentioned in the chronicles, namely by a reconstruction of the supposed original nagasa of 37,3 cm. When we take a look at picture 6 (top) it becomes clear that with that nagasa, the mei „Munechika“ would have been just above the habaki and on the blade itself. Also for a original nagasa of 34,0 cm as stated in the „Kyôhô-meibutsu-chô“ the signature seems too high. I would say that the original nagasa of the present-day katakiriba-zukuri Ebina-Kokaji was somewhere around 32 cm or below because it seems that the tang itself was not that much shortened. Another hint for the shortening of the 34,0 cm hira-zukuri is the continuation of the hamon from the ha-machi into the nakago. When you take a look at the reconstruction in picture 6 (bottom) you will see that the hamon would match well with the supposed original length of 37,3 cm.


Picture 5: The present-day Ebina-Kokaji as depicted in the „Kokon-mei-zukushi“ but without this nickname.



Picture 6: Blade length reconstruction of the present-day Ebina-Kokaji (top) and the Ebina-Kokaji from the „Hasegawa Chû´emon-katanaezu“ (bottom).

And I also think I can answer question two, i.e. when the present-day Ebina-Kokaji became meibutsu Ebina-Kokaji. It was namely Ôgi Hirokuni (仰木弘邦) in his publication „Kotô-mei-zukushi taizen“ (古刀銘尽大全) from Kansei four (寛政, 1792) who adopted the drawing from the earlier „Kokon-mei-zukushi“ but added the nickname „Ebina-Kokaji“. However, we don´t know if he mixed the blade up with the unsigned hira-zukuri just because of the same number of mekugi-ana and/or if he did not pay attention to the nagasa as mentioned in the Muromachi-era chronicles. Or maybe he was so convinced because of the presence of the signature „Munechika“ that this must be the famous blade worn by the Ashikaga-shôgun. In conclusion I dare to say that the present-day Ebina-Kokaji is not the Ebina-Kokaji worn by the Ashikaga-shôgun but I am not able to say if it was the one depicted in the „Hasegawa Chû´emon-katanaezu“.

New bôshi

I guess everyone knows that Japanese swords were and are re-tempered, a process which is called „saiha“ (再刃) or „yaki-naoshi“ (焼き直し). But there is also a way, even a bit more difficult, to re-temper just the bôshi, and this process is called „yakitsugi-bôshi“ (焼継ぎ帽子, lit. „patched bôshi“). Usually it can be detected by a considerably weaker nioiguchi from where the smith decided to have his re-tempering started. Apart from that, a mizukage might appear just like at the ha-machi at a full yaki-naoshi. But a yakitsugi-bôshi is more rare than a complete saiha and I haven´t seen a blade showing this feature so far. However, it was not uncommon in the past when swords were actually used. That means when a certain sword got damaged at the tip and it was decided that it is good enough to be used again on the battlefield, it is possible that the repairing smith suggested having only the concerned kissaki section re-tempered and not the entire blade.


Schematic oshigata of a yakitsugi-bôshi.

Another possibility to „add“ a new bôshi is by needling but this process called „kaki-bôshi“ (描き帽子, lit. „drawn bôshi“) is just of a cosmetical nature. Here the polisher is able to reconstruct the bôshi by adding small dents with a fine needle. In the light, these dents appear just like nioi and I can tell you, I have seen a needled bôshi and it is really hard to tell at a glance that it is cosmetic, i.e. that there is no hardened area present. When it is well done by the polisher, you have to take a really close look under the light to see the small needle punctures.

A very golden armor

One of the first things we associate with Kaga (加賀藩) is gold. Well, the armor I introduce in this post dates before the establishment of the fief but matches insofar as all of its major parts are gilded. The iron sabiji 62-plate suji-kabuto was made by Myôchin Yoshitsugu (明珍義次). The Masuda-Myôchin genealogy says that he lived in Iwaki (岩城) in the northern Ôshû province around Eiroku (永禄, 1558-1570) and that he was the son of Yoshimichi (吉道) and a student of Yoshimichi (義通). But as the latter was active around Daiei (大永, 1521-1528) and Kyôroku (享禄, 1528-1532), a master-student-relationship might be ruled out. The gilded nimai-dô is a so-called “Niô-” (仁王胴) as it resembles the naked chest of the strong guardian deity Niô. Basically it is an embossed hotoke-dô (仏胴) and there exists also the term “abara-dô” (肋骨胴, lit. “rib-bone cuirass”). The differences between Niô- and abara-dô are not clearly defined but Sasama suggests that the former applies to which are not that strongly embossed and the latter to where the rib-bones stand out prominently. Anyway, the lacing is light crimson and goes very well with the gilded and gilded lamellae of the shikoro, sode and kusazuri. Also the ieji of the kote and suneate is of the same color. The lowermost row of the kusazuri is furnished with white fur and very striking are the bright haidate.


Let us now turn to the connection with the Kaga fief. This suit was once a present of Katô Mitsuyasu (加藤光泰, 1537-1593) to Murai Nagayori (村井長頼, 1543-1605) and this is why the janome bull´s eye (蛇の目) crest of the Mitsuyasu branch of the Katô is seen around the navel. Incidentally, Nagayori´s crest was a butterfly in a round. Mitsuyasu was born in Mino province where he became a retainer of the then local hegemon, the Saitô clan (斎藤). After the Saitô were defeated by Nobunaga in 1564, Mitsuyasu became a retainer of Nobunaga´s retainer the young Hideyoshi. He did well in the various battles of Hideyoshi and eventually ended up with the lands around Kôfu Castle (甲府城), Kai province, with an income of 240.000 koku. He got these lands as exchange for his former possessions in Mino province which were given by Hideyoshi to his adopted son Hashiba Hidekatsu (豊臣秀勝, 1569-1592). After redirecting his functions to his younger brother and to his adopted son, he followed Hideyoshi´s call for military commanders leading his Korean campaign. But he died abroad in a fieldcamp of an illness and his body was brought home to be buried in his home lands. Well, there was some speculation that he was poisoned by Ishida Mitsunari but several military commanders got sick in the same campaign Mitsuyasu participated. By the way, because of this rumour, his second son Sadayasu (加藤貞泰, 1580-1623) changed sides to Ieyasu to fight against Mitsunari at Sekigahara.


Katô Mitsuyasu

It is unknown at which occasion the armor was presented to Murai Nagayori. Nagayori was initially in the service of Maeda Toshiie´s older brother Toshihisa (前田利久, ?~1583/87) but Nagayori came into the service of Toshiie when Nobunaga decided that the latter should take over the Maeda clan. Toshiie trusted him a lot and even granted him the character “Mata” (又) from his own first name “Matazaemon” (又左衛門) whereupon Nagayori took the first name “Matabei” (又兵衛). Nagayori fought subsequently on the side of the Maeda in their major battles, for example against the Ishiyama-Hongan-ji and at Nagashino. When Toshiie became the daimyô of the Kaga fief, Nagayori was promoted to the rank of karô (家老, house elder) and played an important role in forming the foundations of the fief after Sekigahara. After Toshiie´s death, his wife Matsu (まつ, 1547-1617), her Buddhist name was “Hôshun´in” (芳春院), assured the safety of the Maeda clan by voluntarily going as a Tokugawa-hostage to Edo. Nagayori accompanied her to the new capital where he died in Keichô ten (慶長, 1605).


Murai Nagayori


Matsu aka Hôshun´in

The golden armor was inherited within the Murai family which belonged with Nagayori´s appointment to karô to the so-called group of the „Kaga-hakka“ (加賀八家), the eight house elders of the Kaga fief. With Nagayori´s son Nagatsugu (村井長次, 1568-1613) as new 1st generation of the Kaga-hakka-Murai, the family received the honorary title „Bungo no Kami“ (豊後守) and an income of 16.500 koku. To strengthen the connection between the Maeda and the Murai, even Toshiie´s daughter Chiyo (千世, 1580-1641) was divorced from Hosokawa Tadaoki´s son Tadataka (細川忠隆, 1580-1649) and married to Nagatsugu. The eleventh and last of the Kaga-hakka-Murai line was Nagaakira (村井長在, 1836-1893). Maeda Yoshiyasu (前田慶寧, 1830-1874), the last Kaga-daimyô, ordered Nagaakira to support the bakufu troops in 1868, leading reinforcements sent by the fief to Kyôto. But on his way, he was informed that the bakufu troops lost the Battle of Toba-Fushimi (鳥羽・伏見の戦い) and thus returned to Kaga. After the Meiji Restoration the new government appointed Nagaakira to governor of the Kaga fief until the han were abolished in 1871. Nagaakira´s successor Chôhachirô (村井長八郎) got the artistocratic rank of baron in 1900.

Leitfaden zum japanischen Schwert

Durch Umstrukturierung einiger Projekte freue ich mich Ihnen mitteilen zu dürfen, dass das angekündigte Buch “Leitfaden zum japanischen Schwert” nun früher als geplant fertig geworden ist. Auch hat es anstatt der 350+ nun 548 Seiten, ist also deutlich umfangreicher. Ich zitiere den Klappentext:

“Dieses Standardwerk bietet dem Anfänger gesammelt und in einem Band vereint sämtliche relevante Informationen zum Thema „japanisches Schwert“, dem „nihonto“, und dient dem Fortgeschrittenen und erfahrenen Sammler als unverzichtbares Nachschlagewerk. Um diesem Ziel gerecht zu werden, wurden sämtliche das japanische Schwert und seiner Teile betreffenden Fachbegriffe, Erklärungen zu den Klingencharakteristika wie hamon, hataraki und boshi, Klingenformen, Schmiedetechniken und Schwertmontierungen und -beschläge aufgenommen, ergänzt durch einen detaillierten Abschnitt über die historischen Hintergründe, Hintergrundinformationen zum Thema Schwertbegutachtung, einer umfassenden Liste der wichtigsten Schmiedeschulen und vielem mehr.”

Hardcover, s/w-Bilder, 15,24×22,86 cm, Preis 79,90 €

Erhältlich hier und in Bälde auf

Unten die Inhaltsangabe und eine aussagekräftige Vorschau als PDF.




Announcement New Publication

This announcement is addressed to my German readers.

Nächsten Monat wird ein neues Werk auf Deutsch erscheinen. Auf Anfrage habe ich ein in sich geschlossenes Referenzwerk zum Thema “Japanisches Schwert” zusammengestellt. Es wird sämtliche Fachbegriffe, Erklärungen zu den Klingencharakteristika, Formen usw., einen detaillierten historischen Hintergrund, sowie Kapitel über das Schmieden, Schwertmontierungen, Schwertbegutachtung und die wichtigsten Schmiedeschulen beinhalten. Ziel war es, ein in sich geschlossenes Werk zu erstellen, das für den Anfänger sämtliche das japanische Schwert betreffende Informationen bereitstellt, aber auch dem Fortgeschrittenen als Nachschlagewerk dient. Natürlich finden darin auch einige Abschnitte aus meinen anderen Büchern, vor allem was den Abschnitt “Schwertmontierungen” betrifft.

Das Buch erscheint in Hardcover, wird sich preislich deshalb um die 70~80 Euro bewegen und wird voraussichtlich um die 350+ Seiten mit s/w-Abbildungen umfassen. Nebenbei erwähnt, der von mir gewählte Titel “Leitfaden zum japanischen Schwert” hat nichts mit dem gleichnamigen Werk zu tun, dass ich vor einiger Zeit übersetzt und im kleinen Kreis vertrieben habe. Wie gesagt, lediglich der Titel ist identisch.

Mehr dazu hier sobald das Buch in den Druck gehen kann.

From the life of Fujieda Tarô Teruyoshi

Again I want to elaborate on the difficult time of the bakumatsu and subsequent Meiji era, this time using the swordsmith Fujieda Tarô Teruyoshi (藤枝太郎英義) as example. Teruyoshi was born in the sixth year of Bunsei (文政, 1823) as first-born son of the local swordsmith Gyokurinshi Terukazu (玉鱗子英一, civilian name „Suzuki Masa´emon“, 鈴木政右衛門) in the village of Kawai (川井, also written with the characters [川合]) in Kôzuke province.  At that time, his father was already 35 and his mother Mie (みゑ) 27 years old. That means the couple was blessed with a son rather later and so they had already adopted Kamekichirô Eiji (亀吉郎英二) as successor. But in Bunsei nine (1826), they got another son, Masanosuke Hidetoshi (政之助英利), who took later the name „Suzufuji Yûjirô“ (鈴藤勇次郎). And in Bunsei eleven (1828), their third son Masanojô Hideoki (政之丞英興, his name might also read as „Teruoki“) was born. That makes with the adopted Eiji four sons, and with the students living at their home, the family faced of course a great financial burden. Incidentally, Eiji was 16 years older than Teruyoshi.

The Suzuki family were local farmers for many generations and the old records mention them with the comment „family with a pedigree“. That means we can safely assume that they were a well-known family in that area. His father wanted to become a swordsmith already at a young age and it is possible that also his ancestors made swords as a sideline to support their livelihood as farmers. But Terukazu was not only a swordsmith, he also devoted himself to scholarship. He had studied under the then famous Confucian teacher Ettsumi Sekizen (江積積善) of Kôzuke´s Takasaki fief (高崎藩). Sekizen saw his dilligence and talent and married him to his daughter Mie. That means Teruyoshi´s father and mother came from a highly educated family and so it is only logical to assume that besides of his training as a swordsmith, he got a profound education from his parents. In Tenpô eight (天保, 1837), his father Terukazu was adopted into the Fujieda family (藤枝) and was employed by the Kawagoe fief (川越藩) as gunsmith (teppô-kaji, 鉄砲鍛冶). From that time, i.e. with the employment, the family changed its name from „Suzuki“ to „Fujieda“ and moved from Kawai to Maebashi (前橋). Terukazu decided that the adopted son Eiji should stay in Kawai to take over the Suzuki family but the then 15 years old Teruyoshi accompanied his father to Maebashi. Terukazu had gained some fame as swordsmith within the fief and this came eventually to the attention of the then lord, Matsudaira Naritsune (松平斉典, 1797-1850). He wanted to convince himself of Terukazu´s skill and so he invited him, his son and two students in the fifth month Tenpô eleven (1840) to Kawagoe Castle to display their craft of sword forging. This was a great opportunity for Terukazu and Teruyoshi. Terukazu was rewarded for that not only with fame but also with a promotion from the rank of a craftsman to the rank of a petty official (koyakunin, 小役人). In the records of the Matsudaira family we read that Terukazu received as reward 3 ryô of gold, his son Shigetarô (i.e. Teruyoshi) 200 hiki (= 2.000 copper coins) and 1 ryô 2 bu of gold, and his two students together 5 ryô. Performing his craft in front of the fief´s lord was a great honour for the young Teruyoshi and compared to what was the „uijin“ (初陣), the first battle, for a young warrior in earlier times. That means it was a baptism of fire and decisive for his future career as a swordsmith.

After the training under his father, Teruyoshi travelled around to learn also from other masters. The smith Nankai Tarô Tomotaka (南海太郎朝尊) refers to this time in his „Shintô-meishû-roku“ (新刀銘集録) as follows: „He learned initially from his father. Around the Tenpô era (1830-1844) he was invited by a certain Oka (岡) of the Sakura fief (佐倉藩) of Shimôsa province to stay there for some months to forge ten swords for him. At that time, he signed with ´Musashi no Kuni Haruhiro´ (武蔵国治広). Later he traveled around and became eventually a student of [Hosokawa] Masayoshi (正義).“ And in the document Teruyoshi handed over to his student Masaki Tatsunosuke Hidetoki (正木辰之助英辰) in the course of his initiation, he outlined his own training days as follows: „I visited and trained at the forges of 36 smiths all over the country. I can´t point out a particular master except Masayoshi. At the time I traveled around I signed with the name ´Haruhiro´“. In another document he writes: „I was initiated by Masayoshi, took a character of my father Terukazu and one of my master Masayoshi and changed my name later with becoming a retainer of the Kawagoe fief to ´Tarô Teruyoshi´. Later I went again from Kawagoe to Edo to the Nishinokubo-Kamiya district (ニシノクボ神谷町) from where I am studying at home.“ We know that Teruyoshi was initiated by Masayoshi only after the very short training time of about one and a half year. To understand why Teruyoshi gained a foothold in Edo that fast and arranged a training with the famous master Masayoshi we have to take a look at a certain phase of his father´s career. Terukazu had to interrupt his training because his master Shinrinshi Katsuichi (震鱗子克一), who worked for the Takasaki fief (高崎藩) of Kôzuke province, was in some difficulties and fled. He was wandering through several provinces to avoid arrest. So Terukazu had no choice but to study by his own. But he did his best as a local swordsmith, facing all the difficulties and hardships. His efforts became eventually known within the fief and paid off in the end, because as mentioned, his talent came eventually to the attention of Matsudaira Naritsune. This autonomy and self-reliance must had rubbed off on Teruyoshi. Anyway, we also read in the „Shintô-meishû-roku“ that Teruyoshi became a disciple of the famous sword tester Yamada Asaemon (山田浅右衛門) and that he „beared the sharpness of his blades in mind“. That means he had also a practical approach to his work and was full of enthusiasm. It is interesting how detailed Nankai Tarô Tomotaka deals with Teruyoshi in this work. In another passage he writes: „His swords focus solely on practical use and there is no single blade which does not cut well. Further, one does not have to worry that the blades of this at the moment unrivalled Edo master bend. Besides of that he is in the prime of his life and is still striving for the utmost forging quality.“ So Tomotaka´s publication surely contributed greatly to Teruyoshi´s fame and we can assume that both smiths exchanged experiences.

In Kaei six (嘉永, 1853), the fief ordered Teruyoshi to change his inherited profession from gunsmith to swordsmith. So probably the fief reacted appropriately as they had a promising smith in their ranks. But there is also another point of view on this changing of profession. On Teruyoshi´s tombstone we read: „He made on orders of his lord 200 nagamaki, katana and naginata each …“ This could suggest that his lord had him changed profession just for the porpose that he equips the fief with weapons in larger numbers. However, the Matsudaira chronicles do not deal with the exact reasons. Of course Teruyoshi made blades for the fief in larger numbers and there is a considerable number of specimen extant which proof this. The vast majority of them are naginata which are simply signed with „Bu Teruyoshi“ (武テルヨシ, in katakana syllables) or „Teruyoshi“ (英義) and showing for example the numbers 11, 19 or 31 engraved at the area of the habaki or a little below. In the „Hanshi-daijiten“ (藩史大辞典, an encyclopedia on the history of the fiefs) we read that the Kawagoe fief installed in the eleventh month of Kaei six arsenals on the coast at Kami-Shingashi (上新河岸) and Shimo-Shingashi (下新河岸) and that material and men were sent to guard the fort in Edo´s Takanawa (高輪). At that time, the Shingashi river was a main artery for transportations between the Kawagoe fief and Edo. In the sixth month of that year, Commodore Perry had landed at Uraga (浦賀) and so it is likely that Teruyoshi´s ordered change of profession was a measure of the trend to rearmament of those days.

Teruyoshi was eventually elevated from the rank of a craftsman to a bushi and his inherited salary of 12 koku and the stipend for the support of three persons was increased to 15 koku and 1 to. What about Teruyoshi´s private life. He married a daughter of the Mizuno family (水野) from the same fief. The couple remained childless for some years and so they adopted the student Yamaguchi Suekichi (山口末吉). But on the first day of the second month Bunkyû one (1861), their son Heiji (兵次) was born. In the family register we see that the name of his second wife Mino (み乃), the daughter of Watanabe Shôbei (渡辺庄兵衛) from the same fief, was added for the 15th day of the second month Bunkyû three (1863). That means it is likely that his first wife died right or shortly after giving birth. On the 19th day of the third month Genji one (1864), Mino gave birth to their first daughter Mutsu (むつ) and on the 24th day of the seventh month Keiô two (慶応, 1866) to Teruyoshi´s second and her first son Torazô (寅三). So Teruyoshi faced the same experiences as his father: Being childless for a longer time, adopting a heir, and being later blessed after all by own children. Well, the Matsudaira family ordered in the tenth month of Keiô two (1866) all their retainers to relocate to Maebashi, the new center of the fief. From the Matsudaira chronicles we learn that the retainers received allocated sites of residence. In the same document we find that also Teruyoshi was given a piece of land but also that he asked for another place because the sandy soil hindered him to carry out his profession properly. This was granted and so he moved to Maebashi´s Tachikawa-machi (立川町) whereas it is assumed that he turned his back on Edo and went to Maebashi to erect his house and forge in the third year of Keiô (1867).

With the end of the Tokugawa-bakufu and the abolition of the han system in 1871, also Teruyoshi had as a craftsman of a fief to leave his residence so we can imagine that he cherished the strong wish to return to his hime village of Kawai. But when his father started to work for the Kawagoe fief in Tenpô eight (1837), his older stepbrother Kamekichirô Eiji – who had been left in charge of the family in Kawai – entered the service of the fief and moved to Maebashi shortly later. So the household was dissolved and nothing was left in Kawai where he could have returned. After leaving his home village at the age of 15, about 34 years had passed and Teruyoshi was now without a job. There is a request extant from the 14th day of the tenth month Meiji four (1871) where Teruyoshi asks the fief for the permission to move to the grounds of the Jion-ji (慈恩寺) in the village of Itakura (板倉) in the Nawa district (名和). Itakura was namely the neighboring village of Kawai. It is likely that he had some connections to the people of Itakura which go back to the time when the family lived in Kawai. So Teruyoshi eventually restored a row house in front of the Jion-ji and settled there. Fujieda Akihiro (藤枝昭広), one of Teruyoshi´s successors, described that the row house was very old and that they had to borrow the village´s wooden mochi mortar as replacement for the rotten lower part of a pillar. And when at the end of the year the time of mochi making came, the villagers were a little upset that their mortar was „misused“ in the Fujieda house. And Akihiro narrated that the villagers helped the family to lift up the building so that the pillar could be restored and complained jokingly that they fell behind their work schedule because of this. When Teruyoshi came to Itakura, his oldest son Heiji was about ten years old. It is said that Heiji always wore a sword when he played with the other kids. That means the family really didn´t like the idea to give up the samurai status.


Picture 1: Teruyoshi´s declaration.

From the time the feudal han system was abolished until the new government was formed, the now unemployed samurai were in a kind of „vacuum“. To demonstrate this I want to introduce a document preserved in the Fujieda family (picture 1). In the seventh year of Meiji (1874), all samurai which had an income below of 100 koku were informed that the government grants them a lump sum in the amount of what they would have received in the subsequent six years. The mentioned document is Teruyoshi´s official declaration that he assigns 5 koku from his salary of 15 koku 1 to to the new Imperial government. Subsequently, he received from the government 187 Yen 62 sen 4 ri as well as government bonds in the amount of 75 Yen. This was the mentioned six-years lump sum payment and using the Consumer Price unit, 187 Yen would be today around 770.000 Yen or around $ 8.000, and the government bonds around % 3.000. However, it is unclear to what extant this was of help for the Fujieda family but in the Matsudaira records we find a lot of entries of people who ask for the permission to buy waste land or forests in the possession of the government to cultivate it and making so their new living before they run out of the lump sum. This too tells us in what difficult situation the ex-bushi were at that time. We also get a vivid picture of this situation from an extant document of Teruyoshi´s successor Torazô. In the 36th year of Meiji (1903) he asked for a government allowance to settle debts but he was informed two years later by the then Minister of Finance that his request was rejected.

The transmission says that Teruyoshi did not forge swords or maintained a forge after he moved to the village of Itakura. But in fact there are two blades from the eighth month of Meiji six (1873) extant. One was made by an order from the former Kawagoe´s chief steward Saitô Noritake (斉藤記武), and the other one by the chief shintô priest Mr. Wada (和田) who ordered it as an offering sword for the Karai-jinja (火雷神社). Both are wakizashi but have a deep sori, are signed with a tachi-mei and show also a tachi-sugata. So even if they are smaller they were nevertheless very carefully made and we can easily imagine that Teruyoshi knew that they were probably the last two blades he was going to make. In short, he must had operated a small forge in Itakura too. Fujieda Akihiro said that his ancestor Teruyoshi was called „sensei, sensei“ by the villagers of Itakura and that they asked him for help and to act as mediator in some cases. In the third month of Meiji nine (1876), the ban on swords, the haitôrei edict (廃刀令) was issued. It is said that he was very disappointed about that. More and more depressed he fell ill and died on the 24th day of the fifth month of the same year at the age of 54. But he was able to look back to an eventful life. First he had as a young man the great honour to demonstrate his craft in front of his lord. Then he left his home and became eventually a student of the famous master Hosokawa Masayoshi. A contemporary swordsmith called him „at the moment unrivalled Edo master“. He trained many students and left us many masterworks. He perfectly fulfilled responsible tasks entrusted to him by the fief and was granted therefore among other things with a the bushi rank and a family crest. He managed to survive the great difficulties of swordsmiths and former samurai after the feudal system was abolished. But we can assume that he stayed always friendly and was held in high esteem within the village community in his later years.

Former prices of noted swords

Whilst looking for a certain article, I found an interesting list in the October 1992 issue of the Tôken-Bijutsu. Uemori Taijô (上森岱乗) gathered data from sword auctions from 1925 to 1939. This was namely a time when large former daimyô collections had to be sold by their descendants to put cash back in the till. Uemori focused on those blades which are today designated as kokuhô, jûyô-bunkazai or jûyô-bijutsuhin and arrived at a number of 69 pieces. With Mr. Uemori´s data as a basis, I converted the then highest bids for what the blades were sold to the current amount using the Consumer Price unit provided by Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, “Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a Japanese Yen Amount, 1879 – Present,” MeasuringWorth, 2013. The list begins with the year of the auction, the name of the smith, the length, a comment if sold with shirasaya (s) or koshirae (k), the seller, the then price, the calculated present amount, and finally the approximate amount in Euro.

 FormerSwordPrices (PDF)

Well, we don´t know anything about the condition of the blades, the number of bidders or other circumstances at the auction which could have effected the end price. But the list contains nevertheless a lot of interesting information. First of all, the Akimoto family (秋元), then of viscount rank (shishaku, 子爵), must really had been in the need for money as their swords were sold for a ridiculously low amount. Imagine to get now a signed Rai Kunimitsu (来国光) tantô for 6.000 € which is of such a quality that it gets jûyô-bunkazai. Or an Awataguchi Kuniyoshi (粟田口国吉) tantô for 8.500 € which gets jûyô-bijusuhin. Also the swords sold by the Kishû-Tokugawa family were relative cheap. The kokuhô Hyûga-Masamune (日向正宗) tantô was sold for around 23.000 €. Incredible. The Hoshô Sadatsugu (保昌貞継) tachi left the Kishû-Tokugawa family for about 6.100 €. This low price can be explained by the fact that it had an unknown provenance. After the auction it turned out to be an authentic work from the early Kamakura period and was right away designated as jūyō-bunkazai! Nezu Kaichirô (根津嘉一郎, 1860-1940), the founder of the Nezu Museum, made good money with his Ichimonji Sukekane (一文字助包). He bought it at an auction in 1919 from the collection of the Inaba-Ikeda family (池田) for 11.000 Yen and sold it 15 years later for almost three times as much. And the Itô family (伊東) made a fortune of a bargain they bought from the Akimoto. It was the Bizen Mitsumori (光守) wakizashi with orikaeshi-mei. In 1931, the price was only 255 Yen (today 374.000 Yen or 2.900 €). The Itô family submitted it later for jûyô-bijutsuhin, it passed, and the price increased twelvefold to 3.500 Yen (today 4.590.000 Yen or 35.300 €). And last but not least, the high price of the Kanehira (包平, see picture 1) is explained by its provenance. It came from the former possessions of the Takeda family (武田) and was once, according to transmission, worn by Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (源義光, 1045-1127).


 Picture 1: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tachi, mei „Kanehira“ (包平), nagasa 75,1 cm

On the practical use of Edo-period armor

Many tend to think that with the peaceful Edo period, no longer much attention was paid to armor and that they were made in fancy variants to dress up at special occasions and parades. Well, there was a certain trend in this direction but I want to demonstrate with an example that it was actually not that bad and that there were definitely several renowned persons and craftsman active which racked their brains over the practical use of armor. There are namely records extant in the Libraries of Kanazawa City which deal with the production of armor in detail. These records are called „Goyô-nai tome-chô“ (御用内留帳) and are an official protocol of Arisawa Takesada (有沢武貞, 1682-1739, more on him later) who was a military scientist of the Kaga fief. Therein we find the transcription of a discussion between him and Maeda Yoshinori (前田吉徳, 1690-1745), the fifth Maeda-daimyô of the Kaga fief, on the interpretation of an armor. A characteristical feature of Kaga-gusoku, i.e. Kaga armor, was that the lower part of the shows two or three visible rows of lamellae laced in kebiki-odoshi even when the remaining part of the is actually constructed from plates and not from kozane lamellae. Yoshinori was worried about the weight of the armor to be made for him, especially when it comes to these two or three rows of kozane. So he said to Takesada that he wants a plain and leather-covered okegawa-dô instead. Incidentally, at an okegawa-dô, the plates of the cuirass are not laced but rivetted together. Takesada replied that leaving laced rows of lamellae at the waist of which mostly only the heads of the kozane are visible is of a much more magnificent appearance than covering the whole front section of the with leather. Upon this suggestion, Yoshinori in turn replied that then more braids have to be used which increase the weight. But Takesada explained that the overall weight is about the same at two or three kebiki-laced lamellae rows or two or three horizontal iron plates with leather cover. This resulted in a detailed discussion on the actual weight of braids, also taking into consideration that the kozane had to have holes for the lacing which makes them in turn somewhat lighter than a solid plate. But on the other hand, they were laced in an overlapping manner what suggests that there was actually more iron present in the end. This discussion, which went so far as to count and weight braids as mentioned, shows us that Yoshinori wanted an as effective armor as possible. Or the other way round, he would not have made a big thing out of the weight of the two or three lowermost rows of the when he was convinced to just wear a fancy armor on horseback at the parades.

The gilding of the ´s inside of armors of higher and medium ranked Kaga warriors was another thorn in the side of Yoshinori. He stated that he wanted his inside just lacquered black but Takesada replied that, according to transmission, the gilding helps the armor stay more cool in the summer. And by the way he said, all the armors of the predecessing Kaga-daimyô had this feature, namely not only at the but also at the inside of the helmet bowl. However, it is assumed that this gilding has not much to do with cooling the suit but was applied to achieve a luxusious appearance. But when we read between the lines of this discussion, we learn from Yoshinori´s main task which was to reduce the expenses and the ongoing costs of a giant fief as Kaga was with its nominal income of 1.000.000 koku. He introduced new instruments and measures but continued basically the course set by his father Tsunanori (前田綱紀, 1643-1724). It worked well for a while but slowly the gold and silver deposits of the Kaga mines were running out and a resistance formed against his aide Ôtsuki Denzô (大槻伝蔵, 1703-1748). Many Kaga-retainers had a problem with Ôtsuki because he pushed some reforms on his own even he was of ashigaru origin and because it was assumed that Yoshinori protected and promoted him just as he was his gay lover. Well, Ôtsuki Denzô was banned to Gokayama (五箇山) in Etchû province after Yoshinori´s death.

A great success of Yoshinori´s father Tsunanori was to strengthen the arts and crafts performed at various places in the fief by erecting a central workshop, the so-called „o-saiku-sho“ (御細工所). With this he continued his grandfather Maeda Toshitsune´s (前田利常, 1594-1658) initial steps to attract as many influental artists as possible. That means Toshitsune has prepared with hiring and inviting famous masters like Hon´ami Kôetsu (本阿弥光悦, 1558-1637), Gotô Kakujô (後藤覚乗) and Kenjô (後藤顕乗) or Tawara Sôsetsu (俵屋宗雪) the base for a highly recognized centre of art and craftsmanship. Regarding armor, Toshitsune hired the Haruta armorer Narui Katsumitsu (成井勝光) who played an important role within the armor-related workshops of the o-saiku-sho. Soon the latter became a vital factor for the income of the fief. Responsible for the compound of workshops was the so-called “o-saiku-sho bugyô” (御細工所奉行), the workshop magistrate, and the most famous of them was the aforementioned Arisawa Takesada (有沢武貞, 1682-1739). The Arisawa were once retainers of the Dohi family (土肥) of Etchû province and came via the Uesugi (上杉) and Mogami (最上) families eventually into the service of Toshitsune who hired Takesada´s father Nagasada (有沢永貞, 1638-1715) in Enpô five (延宝, 1677) as military scientist and strategist for an income of 300 koku. Nagasada had studied the Kôshû-ryû (甲州流), i.e. the tactics which go back to the famous Takeda family from Kai province (= Kôshû), under his uncle Sekiya Masaharu (関屋政春, 1615-1686) who worked for the Kaga fief too. But he learned also from Masaharu´s master Yamaga Sokô (山鹿素行, 1622-1685), who in turn got the teachings of the Kôshû-ryû first hand from a former Takeda retainer, namely from Obata Kagenori (小幡景憲, 1572-1663). Incidentally, Nagasada´s deep studies of tactics went even as far as becoming a land surveyor, geographer and urban developer to incorporate geographical knowledge into his body of thoughts.

Takesada succeeded his father in Shôtoku five (正徳, 1715), receiving the same salary of 300 koku. He was the o-saiku-sho bugyô for ten years, namely from Kyôhô nine to Kyôhô nineteen (享保, 1724-1734). With Nagasada´s studies, the Kôshû-ryû taught in the Kaga fief was also called „Arisawa-ryû“ (有沢流), and Takesada was in the same way eager to refine the tactics as was his younger brother Munesada (有沢致貞, 1689-1752). By the way, the two brothers and their father were known throughout the country as „The Three Sada from the Arisawa family“ or „The Three Sada from Kaga“.

Fighting with the ôdachi

To get an idea of the fighting techniques with the ôdachi, we have to make a detour via China of the late 16th century as hardly anything is known on this topic from the time this sword stlye emerged, i.e. the Nanbokuchô period. Japanese pirates (wakô, 倭寇, Chin. wokòu) were raiding the coastlines of China and Korea for almost three centuries from the Kamakura period onwards. There were of course several attempts to get a grip on this situation. One of the most successful Ming-dynasty military leaders appointed to deal with the wakô was general Qi Jìguang (戚継光, 1527-1588). In Eiroku four (永禄, 1561), Qi Jìguang captured from Japanese pirates a mokuroku catalogue (目録) of the Kage-ryû (影流) of swordsmanship, although there is some discussion about what such a document is doing on a pirate ship. Some say Aisu Hisatada (愛洲久忠, 1452-1538), the ancestor of the Kage-ryû was himself a pirate. There are namely records extant which show that Hisatada made it over to Ming-China as a young man. Others assume that Qi Jìguang bribed several pirates to bring him as much information on Japanese warfare as possible to be used by him against the wakô.

However, the data from this mokuroku was worked into Qi´s later 14-volume „Kikô-shinsho“ (紀効新書, Chin. „Jìxìao Xinshu“) from 1588. The first 18-volume edition from 1560 does not contain the mokuroku. Later the Ming-officer Máo Yúanyí (茅元儀, 1594-1640?) worked the „Kikô-shinsho“ in 1621 into his epic 240-volume standard work „Bubi-shi“ (武備志, Chin. „Wûbèi-zhì“).  The „Bubi-shi“ in turn was reintroduced to Japan and republished, for example by Matsushita Kenrin (松下見林, 1637-1704) in Genroku one (元禄, 1688) in his work „Ishô-Nihon-den“ (異称日本伝). Via this way, the early mokuroku of the Kage-ryû was again in circulation in its native country. In the same year as Máo Yúanyí, i.e. in 1621, the Shaolin warrior-monk Chéng Zongyóu (程宗猷, 1561-?) published his „Tantô-hôsen“ (単刀法選, Chin. „Dandao-fâxûan“) in which he introduced 22 kata forms for using a Japanese sword (in a later edition, these kata were extended by two to altogether 24 forms).

Interesting is now first, that general Qi´s studies on Japanese swordsmanship based on the captured Kage-ryû mokuroku had a great influence on Chinese martial arts and artists, and second, that Chéng Zongyóu mentions in his „Tantô-hôsen“ that the kata for the ôdachi are meant to ward off attacks with the yari. Incidentally, the Chinese version of the ôdachi is called „cháng-dao“ (長刀, see picture 1). It is assumed that the cháng-dao was not just a copy of the Japanese ôdachi because very similar swords were used in China since earlier times as anti-cavalry swords (zhânmâ-dao, 斬馬刀). Another derivative of the overlong cháng-dao or zhânmâ-dao was the miáo-dao (苗刀), although this sword form appeared somewhat later. The entire mounting of the cháng-dao is strikingly similar to Japanese swords (see also pictures of the kata forms at the end of the article). That means they have wrapped hilts, narrow saya with kurigata, a habaki and a small and roundish tsuba. However, at the Chinese variant the hilt narrows somewhat down towards the tsuba and the tip also narrows down almost in shôbu-zukuri manner.


Picture 1: Two extant cháng-dao.

Chéng´s emphasis on a yari defence goes probably back to the 13th century when the Mongols invaded China. Back then the long spear turned out to be very effective for larger armies of foot soldiers. Thus some assume that the emergence of the ôdachi in Japan is connected to the Chinese experience when namely at the same time the so-called „kikuchi-yari“ (菊池槍) was introduced on the Japanese battlefield. Apart from that also the Japanese pirates made frequent use of the ôdachi. We know that from mainland chronicles which write that specialized men of their smaller units used it to break or just cut open doors or walls of houses with these oversized swords which were then ransacked. In picture 2 we see at least one pirate who is carrying a longer than usual sword. It is also said that the ôdachi were used to cut in half the long poles with which the people from the mainland tried to keep away the Japanese pirate boats. Picture 3 shows such a scene where wakô are fighting against Koreans, although they are wielding standard-length swords and one pirate even wields two swords of the same length.


Picture 2: Japanese pirates attacking a mansion.



Picture 3: Koreans trying to keep away Japanese pirates.

Let me recapitulate. Overlong swords were known and used in China since at least since the Han Dynasty (漢, 206 BC – 220 AD) as we find names like zhânmâ-dao in later records on that time. Later it gained again popularity when the Mongols attacked the Jin Dynasty (金, 1115-1234). The zhânmâ-dao and cháng-dao were namely used to attack horses and ward off and cut in half enemy yari. With the use of kikuchi-yari and the changes in warfare during the Nanbokuchô period, the ôdachi entered the stage of the Japanese battlefield whereas fighting with this kind of sword should become soon the strong point of the Kage-ryû. Connected or not remains to be seen but the Japanese pirates of the 16th century made also frequent use of the ôdachi. When general Qi captured a mokuroku catalogue of the Kage-ryû from Japanese pirates, he made the overlong sword again popular in his own country and used the new style of fencing against the raiders. On the other hand, the ôdachi was never used in larger scales in Japan, even with the changes in warfare and the focus on yari during the Muromachi period. It is assumed that this is directly connected to the quality standard and forging techniques of the nihontô. That means it was just too expensive and time consuming to equip larger troops with ôdachi.  But with Qi´s capturing of the Kage-ryû mokuroku and the subsequent publications we have at least a small insight on the pre-Muromachi period swordsmanship using the ôdachi. That means there was definitely a certain training with this weapon and it was not just giving them to low-ranking foot soldiers so that they can swing them around in the hope to hit some horse´s legs. Apart from that we know several accounts of famous bushi using the ôdachi as main weapon and their heroic deeds with them. But I want to introduce these accounts on another occasion.

Below some kata depictions from the „Tantô-hôsen“.