Short summer break

I give you notice that it´s time for a short summer break. I am still around and work on other projects but my holiday starts towards the end of next week and on this occasion I will pause this blog from today until our return around mid July. In the meantime I wish all readers pleasant summer days and I will be back with more interesting articles in a couple of weeks. Many thanks for your attention!


The Kotegiri-Masamune

This time I would like to introduce another Masamune whose attribution is dubious, namely the meibutsu „Kotegiri-Masamune“ (籠手切正宗, lit. „kote cutter Masamune“). Today the sword is in the imperial collection since it was presented by the Maeda family (前田) to emperor Meiji in 1882 but preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum. The sword came into the possession of the Maeda at the time of the 2nd Kaga-daimyô Maeda Toshitsune (前田利常, 1594-1658). It is said that back than it already bore the Masamune appraisal by the 8th Hon´ami mainline-generation Kôsatsu (本阿弥光刹, 1518-1581). But we can assume that the origami on Masamune was issued either shortly before the death of Kôsatsu or by another Hon´ami member. Because when Kôsatsu died in Tenshô nine (天正, 1581), Sano Nobuyoshi (佐野信吉, 1566-1622), the previous owner of the Kotegiri-Masamune, was only 15 years old. Nobuyoshi was the daimyô of the Sano fief (佐野藩) located in Shimotsuke province and when he owned the blade, it bore an attributed to Masamune´s supposed father Yukimitsu and was therefore called „Sano-Yukimitsu“ (佐野行光). I assume that the sword came into the possession of the Maeda family after Nobuyoshi´s death and that it was in this course that Toshitsune „had“ a later Hon´ami member than Kôsatsu issuing an origami to Masamune.

Before Nobuyoshi, the sword was treasured by Ôtsu Denjûrô Nagamasa (大津伝十郎長昌, ?-1579). Denjûrô in turn received it as a gift from Oda Nobunaga of whom he was a page and close retainer since Eiroku eleven (永禄, 1568). At that time he was responsible for the issuing of important tax documents but was appointed to the post of inspector ten years later in the course of the attack of Kanki Castle (神吉城) in Harima province in Tenshô six (1578). Right afterwards he was entrusted with a guarding post of Takatsuki Castle (高槻城) in Settsu province which was held back then by father and son Takayama Tomoteru (高山友照, ?-1595) and Takayama Ukon (高山右近, 1552-1615). However, Denjûrô died of an illness in Tenshô seven (1579).

The present-day condition of the blade goes back to the time of Nobunaga and Ôtsu Denjûrô as does its signature which reads: „Asakura Kotegiri-tachi nari – Tenshô sannen jûnigatsu – Ubakka suriage – Ôtsu Denjûrô hairyô“ (朝倉篭手切太刀也・天正三年十二月・右幕下御摺上・大津伝十郎拝領, „this Kotegiri-tachi from the Asakura [family] was shortened by Oda Nobunaga in the twelfth month of Tenshô three [1575] and presented to Ôtsu Denjûrô“). Please note that the character „ko“ in the nickname „Kotegiri“ (籠手切) is written on the tang with the character (篭). „Ubakka“ is an abbreviation of the title of „Ukon´e no daishô“ (右近衛大将), a title given to Nobunaga in the eleventh month of Tenshô three (1575), that means one month before the inscription was chiselled onto the bew tang. According to the records, the blade was before an ôdachi measuring 3 shaku 2 sun (~ 97,5 cm). Since the ô-suriage it measures 2 shaku 2 sun 6 bu 5 ri (~ 68,6 cm).


Picture 1: oshigata of the Kotegiri-Masamune

From the mei we also learn that the sword came from the Asakura family of Echizen province and was already nicknamed by them „Kotegiri“. Well, in the Kusakabe genealogy („Kusakabe-keizu“, 日下部系図) – the Asakura were descendants of the Kusakabe – we read that Asakura Ujikage (朝倉氏景, 1339-1405) wore a tachi of Sadamune (貞宗) when he was departing for the front on the 15th day of the second month Bunna four (文和, 1355) for fighting at Kyôto´s Tôji (東寺). Ujikage was, according to the Japanese way of counting, 17 years at that time and it is said that he severed with the blade the arm of an enemy right at his yugake glove (鞲). The genealogy also mentions that Ujikage had thereupon the nickname „Yugakegiri“ (鞲切) chiselled onto the tang of the ôdachi. Oda Nobunaga captured the sword when he defeated Ujikage´s descendant Asakura Yoshikage (朝倉義景, 1533-1573) and destroyed the Asakura clan. So when Nobunaga had the blade shortened by about 30 cm, the entire original tang and thus a possible mei of Sadamune and the inscription of the nickname „Yugakegiri“ were of course lost. It is assumed that the new nickname „Kotegiri“ was chosen in the course of the shortening, i.e. in this very case as a contracted version of „yugote“ (弓籠手) which in turn is another term for „yugake“.


Picture 2: The entry from the Kusakabe genealogy concerning Ujikage (from a 1910 reprint). The mention of the name „Sadamune“ is highlighted in red.

By the time Ujikage wore the sword at one of his earliest battles, only about three decades have passed since the height of Masamune´s, and about two decades after the height of Sadamune´s active period. That means back then, Masamune was surely a master smith but there was not that hype around him as it was towards the end of the Momoyama period. And even by the time of Sano Yoshinobu the name „Masamune“ was quasi out of question. It took until the Edo period and the time of Maeda Toshitsune until Masamune came into play. Well, based on gut feeling and the oversized nanbokuchôesque sugata with the wide mihaba and the ô-kissaki I would first of all rule out Yukimitsu but also Masamune. So Sadamune might be the man but of course I am far away from making such a judgment from my computer never having the blade in hand 😉


Picture 3: Kotegiri-Masamune

Chinkyû´s enkô-hogetsu motif

Whilst doing some research on Satô Chinkyû (佐藤珍久), I found three tsuba of him with the same sujet of which two are almost identically interpreted. First of all, his name is often also read as „Yoshihisa“ and not much is known about his life and career. We do know that his civilian name was „Satô Yagobei“ (佐藤弥五兵衛). His father was, according to transmission, a certain Shôami Shirô´emon (正阿弥四郎右衛門) who was supposedly active around Kanbun (寛文, 1661-1673) but of whom nothing is known except this connection to Chinkyû. Well, the date Kanbun might be dismissed for the following two reasons: Chinkyû studied later in Edo under Nara Toshiharu (奈良利治). His year of death is unknown but due to an extant work with the signature „gyônen nanajûissai“ (行年 七十一歳, „at the age of 71“) and the date „Kanbun-san koyomi-rokugatsu“ (寛文三暦六月, „sixth month of the third year of [1663]“), we can calculate his year of birth to Bunroku two (文禄, 1593). There exists a further work which is signed with the information „at the age of 85“, that means Toshiharu was active at least until around 1678, i.e. until the second half of the Enpô era (延宝, 1673-1681). And Chinkyû´s famous student and son-in-law Tsuchiya Yasuchika (土屋安親) was born in Kanbun ten (1670). So if Chinkyû was the son of Shôami Shirô´emon, the latter was surely not active around Kanbun as otherwise his son would not have been able to get in touch with Nara Toshiharu and would have been too young to be the master and father-in-law of Yasuchika.


Picture 1: Nara-style tsuba of Chinkyû, spring scenery, signed „Chinkyû“, iron, nadekaku-gata, takabori-iroe, sukashi, one hitsu-ana (plugged).


Picture 2 and 3: Shôami-style tsuba of Chinkyû, writing utensils, signed „Chinkyû“, iron, tatemaru-gata, takabori-iroe, one hitsu-ana (plugged at one tsuba)

Anyway, Chinkyû brought the Nara style to his home of Shônai (庄内) in Dewa province and is therefore regarded as the founder of the Shônai branch of the Nara school. That means his works are of course strongly Nara-influenced what concerns first and foremost those from his earlier period which are done in iron. A good example from this artistic period can be seen in picture 1. But the two very similar tsuba I mentioned before (pictures 2 and 3) were probably made even before his studies in Edo as they show pretty good the Shôami influence of his supposed father. Both show on the right side of the omote a so-called „kenbyô“ (硯屏), a decorative small table screen which protects the writing area from dust and the like. On the left side we see ink and on the ura a brush and an inkstone. That means writing utensils (bunbôgu, 文房具) or calligraphy in general are the motif of the tsuba. The interpretation is tasteful and the workmanship surely of a certain quality but most interesting is the monkey depicted on the table screen. It sits on a small rock with some grass highlighted in gold and stretches his rather long arm out to the left, the area of the screen which is not seen because of the seppa-dai. The same monkey in the very same posture (also with the rock and the gilded grass) is namely seen on Chinkyû´s most famous tsuba (picture 4), the suaka-tsuba with the so-called „enkô-hogetsu“ motif (猿猴捕月).


Picture 4: Yasuchika-style tsuba of Chinkyû, enkô-hogetsu motif, signed „Chinkyû kore o horu“ (珍久彫之), suaka, takabori-iroe, suemon, one hitsu-ana (plugged)

The term „enkô-hogetsu“ derives from an Buddhist parable where a monkey tries to catch the reflection of the moon in the water. The picture stands for the useless attempt of striving after goals which are beyond the limits of oneself or the human nature in general as the limit of the monkey´s smartness is to realize that there is nothing in the water he can catch even if it is shining. The name of the sujet is also quoted in slightly different formulations like „enkô-sokugetsu“ (猿猴捉月), „enkô shugetsu“ (猿猴取月) or just „enkô ga tsuki“ (猿猴が月), where „enkô“ means „monkey“ and „ho/torae(ru)“ (捕), „soku/torae(ru)“ (捉) and „shu/to(ru)“ (取) „to grasp, to catch“. The style of Chinkyû´s enkô-hogetsu tsuba anticipates what is later one of the most representative styles of his master-student Yasuchika. That means the shape of the monkey, the obviously too large pine needles and bamboo grass bushes on the ura play with a pretended „amateurishness“ but are of course perfectly executed. Also very subtle is the contrast between the black shakudô monkey to the right and the deliberately applied shakudô plug of the hitsu-ana to the left. The moon is found on the very left bottom of the omote and please note also the delicate sukinokoshi-mimi at the bottom right area which is a continuation of the rock on which the monkey sits. That means with this and the small gilded bamboo grass elements, the artist obviously tried to make the monkey not appear as if he is sitting somewhere on a high cliff which would make his attempt of „catching the moon“ innately impossible. Thus this small detail also shows the attentiveness of Chinkyû regarding the effect and impression of his motif. There is also a different approach to this motif where the monkey hangs down from a branch with one hand trying to catch with the other one the moon in the water which is depicted more or less directly beneath him.


Picture 5: Detail of all three monkeys.

So the enko-hogetsu motif forges an interesting bridge between Chinkyû´s early period and his full artistic maturity when he was already training his student Yasuchika. And when we give free reign to our imagination we might assume that Chinkyû had this table screen somewhere at his home, seeing it every time when writing and having him inspired to use the very same motif for some of his tsuba. Maybe he still had and used this table screen later in his life and he once again decided to make a tsuba with a motif so familiar to him…

„Mondo no Shô“ and „Shume no Kami“

In the last but one issue of the Tôken-Bijutsu (No 676), Hinohara Dai (日野原大) forwarded a very interesting theory on why Masakiyo (正清) and Yasuyo (安代) received the uncommon honorary titles „Mondo no Shô“ (主水正) and „Shume no Kami“ (主馬首) respectively. I want to present you a brief outline of his article, introducing all relevant approaches. First of all we have to elaborate on the notorious forging contest initiated by the eighth Tokugawa-shôgun Yoshimune (徳川吉宗, 1684-1751). Yoshimune was unhappy with the general decline in the quality of blades and, in Kyôhô four (享保, 1719), he ordered his elder Kuze Shigeyuki (久世重之, 1659-1720) to register all the swordsmiths in the fiefs with an income of more than 10.000 koku, a project which was called “Kyôhô-shokoku-kaji o-aratame” (享保諸国鍛冶御改). Shigeyuki compiled a list of 277 smiths (other sources mention 257 smiths) of which 48 presented a sword for the qualification. In early spring of Kyôhô six (1721), that means two years after the project was started, the actual contest took place at the Hama-goten (浜御殿), the residence of the shôgun at the mouth of the Sumida River. As we know, Masakiyo and Yasuyo from Satsuma, Nobukuni Shigekane (信国重包) from Chikuzen, and the 4th generation Nanki Shigekuni (南紀重国) turned out to be the winners of this contest. All of them received permission to engrave one leaf of the Tokugawa aoi crest on their tangs and got ten pieces of silver as additional price. Masakiyo and Yasuyo did especially well and received thereupon the aforementioned honorary titles and were supported by a program of orders and recommendations after the contest. But why such uncommon titles “Mondo no Shô” and “Shume no Kami” and not something straightforward like “Yamato no Kami” or “Kawachi no Kami”? For Hinohara´s theory, we have to go back a bit.

The first honorary titles conferred to swordsmiths date back to the Kamakura period and some assume that they originate in the goban-kaji project of the abdicated emperor Gotoba (後鳥羽天皇, 1180-1239, r. 1184-1198). At that time, almost all honorary titles conferred to swordsmiths were from the so-called „kyôkan“ sphere (京官) of court offices. The term „kyôkan“ referred to all offices which resided permanently in Kyôto and which were responsible for issues dealing with the capital itself. For examplies the so-called „Eight Minstries“ (hasshô, 八省), the gate-keeper and bodyguards (emonfu, 衛門府) or the palace guards (konoefu, 近衛府). As we know, the swordsmiths bearing these titles did not have any special rights or functions connected with the actual office. They were as the name suggests „honorary“ titles. By the end of the Muromachi period and the total decline of imperial power, there was a shift in the granting of honorary titles towards the then more influental so-called „gekan“ (外官). The term „gekan“ referred to all offices which resided and/or were responsible for issues outside of the capital Kyôto. For example the provincial (kokushi, 国司) or district governors (gunji, 郡司). Of course by then, most of the gekan had lost their powers and had become merely a shadow of what they had been originally when they were established in the course of the ritsuryô system.

By the Muromachi period, many of the earlier kyôkan titles had been adopted to be used in first names, not only among swordsmiths of course. That means palace guard titles like „saemon no jô“ (左衛門尉), „uemon no jô“ (右衛門尉) or „hyôe no jô“ (兵衛尉) were now used as part of the first name by adding it either to the so-called „haikô“ (輩行) or the clan name like „Minamoto“ (源, also read as „Gen“) and „Taira“ (平, also read as „Hei“ or „Hyô“). The haikô by the way was the system to call sons according to the order they were born, i.e. „Tarô“ (太郎) for the first-born son, „Jirô“ (次郎) for the second son, „Saburô“ (三郎) for the third son and so on. Thus people frequently named their sons on the basis of combinations like „Tarôzaemon“ (太郎左衛門) or „Genbei“ (源兵衛), occasionally also with the suffix „“, for example the swordsmiths Jirôzaemon no Jô Katsumitsu (次郎左衛門尉勝光) or Gorôzaemon no Jô Katsumitsu (五郎左衛門尉清光). So these names like this were actually no granted honorary titles but earlier honorary titles used as part of a first name.

Besides of the stimilus for the craft of sword forging, Tokugawa Yoshimune introduced an array of economic policies called „The Kyôhô Reforms“ (Kyôhô no kaikaku, 享保の改革). The reforms were aimed at making the bakufu financially solvent but also included an appeal to all daimyô and vassals to remember the old values of the bushi and act firm, prudent and modest. In a document which deals with the swordsmiths mentioned in the Kyôhô-shokoku-kaji o-aratame project, the “Kyôhô-chô tôkô-meiba” (享保調刀工名簿), we find an interesting entry which alludes to the motivation of Yoshimune in having Masakiyo and Yasuyo conferred the honorary titles “Mondo no Shô” and “Shume no Kami”. In this document we find namely the comment “Gotoba´in no kyûrei o motte chokkyo no yu” (後鳥羽院以旧例勅許之由), “[the conferring of the honorary titles] was inspired by the old example of ex-emperor Gotoba.” So Tokugawa Yoshimune knew that at his time it long had become custom to grant swordsmiths gekan-related honorary titles and that kyôkan-related honorary titles conferred by Gotoba were a too common occurrence as they were used as part of first names. Out of this “dilemma” and because he wanted to especially honour these smiths as a symbol for the revival of the craft of sword forging and as an incentive for the then bushi to remember the old values, he had chosen old kyôkan titles which were totally uncommon for swordsmiths so far. Incidentally, Mondo no Shô was in earlier times the head of the imperial water office, an office which was introduced in the course of the ritsuryô system towards the end of the 7th century. Back then the title was „mondo no tsukasa“ (主水司), also read „muitori no tsukasa“ or „shusui-shi“. And Shume no Kami was the officer responsible for the horses, carriages and affiliated equipment of the court. The title was also read „mikoshimiya no uma no kami“.

That means the titles “Mondo no Shô” and “Shume no Kami” were a very special honor and definitely not second or third-class titles because Masakiyo and Yasuyo lacked the talent to receive common titles like “Yamato no Kami” or “Kawachi no Kami” and the like as one might think uncommon titles “Mondo no Shô” or “Shume no Kami” suggest. This special honor is also underlined by the fact that these titles were not conferred to any swordsmiths before and after these two great masters. Thanks to Hinohara Dai for pointing that out because I was asking myself a long time why exactly those titles. More details on the life and work of Mondo no Shô Masakiyo and Shume no Kami Ippei Yasuyo can be found in my Nihon-shintô-shi.

On Sengoku-era inscriptions on Nobuie-tsuba

According to Katsuya Toshikazu´s (勝矢俊一) article “New Studies on Nobuie” (“Nobuie no shin-kenkyû”, 信家の新研究), the 1st generation Nobuie (信家) was active around Eiroku (永禄, 1558-1570), Genki (元亀, 1570-1573), and Tenshô (天正, 1573-1592) in Kiyosu (清洲) in Owari province. That means he lived right in the turbulent period when the so-called “Three Unifiers”, i.e. Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, brought a close to the no less turbulent Sengoku period. We know that the Sengoku period, which arouse out of the local Kyôto Ônin War (Ônin no ran, 応仁の乱, 1467-1477), brought a century of political instability and warfare, but not of constant warfare as some suppose. However, it was a time when old power structures were overthrown, the “underlings were conquering the overlords” (gekokujô, 下克上), and an almost entirely decentralized state system under more or less independent warlords had emerged. Living over three or more generations in uncertainty about whom to serve and where resulted in a very own world of ideas and taste. The Sengoku period was also a great stimulus for the changes in Buddhism and the shift towards Zen and aestheticization. That means many formerly religious or upperclass activities “slopped over” to the common warriors and common people, for example the tea ceremony, painting and poetry. In terms of painting, landscapes and other secular subjects were increasingly depicted. That all resulted in certain guiding concepts of the arts, namely wabi (侘び, the spirit of quiet simplicity), sabi (寂び, aesthetic melancholy), and yûgen (幽玄, the unfathomable mystery). In that age of struggle, when warriors often risked death and witnessed the rise and fall of their friends and foes, constant awareness of and preparation for death were necessary and the impermanence of human life and achievement was omnipresent. In short, the inevitability of death was fully accepted and lived, supported by then very modern approaches of Zen Buddhism of a total affirmation of human life just as it is and regarding all daily activities as Zen-Buddhist practice.

Tsuba were of course not excluded from these changes. By the time of Nobuie, more attention was paid to a “perfected imperfection” in the aforementioned sense of wabi and sabi, i.e. a work which looks as if created with no ulterior motives and no preconceptions by nature but by the use of perfected craftsmanship. In short, slightly irregular shapes and an uneven surface and rim were desired by those following this approach. With this in mind, Nobuie´s tsuba have much in common with tea ware because with the forging and hardening of the iron, many aspects show up only at the finished piece just like it is the case at firing a tea bowl. As indicated before, also the tea ceremony had experienced a shift from an expensive and exclusive furnishing to simple and kind of everyday implements, brought into a certain concept by Murata Jukô (村田珠光, 1423-1502), Takeno Jôô (武野紹鴎, 1502-1555) and Sen no Rikyû (千利休, 1522-1591). But with this article I want to focus on the inscriptions found on Nobuie-tsuba which transport perfectly the attitude of the Sengoku period.

First I want to start with a tsuba of Nobuie which shows the inscription “Namu Hachiman Daibosatsu” (南無八幡大菩薩) on the ura and carvings of a bow and arrow on the omote (picture 1). The inscription means “Hail Hachiman, the God of War”, but with the depiction of bow and arrow, the motif represents the so-called “Yumiya-Hachiman” (弓矢八幡), i.e. Hachiman in his function as God of Archery. The name “Yumiya-Hachiman” was also called when a warrior was taking an oath. The Yumiya-Hachiman approach was also adopted by the next tsuba (picture 2). It bears on the side with the mei the inscription “un wa ten ni ari” (運有天, “Fate lies with heaven”) and on the other side the hiragana inscription “Yumiya-Hachiman – kamafu-maji hito ga kamahaba kamafu beshi“ (ゆみやはちまん・かまふまじ人がかまはばかまふべし) which means about „one should only interefere when asked“. That means all three inscriptions are not connected to each other and have to be interpreted as an arrangement of Sengoku-era proverbs or mottoes. The same arrangement of the un wa ten ni ari motto can be seen on the next tsuba (picture 3) which comes in a quite pronounced mokkô-gata. The ura side of this piece bears the Buddhist prayer “Namu Myôhô Renge Kyô” (南無妙法蓮華経, “Glory to the Sutra of the Lotus of the Supreme Law”). This prayer or mantra is chanted as the central practice of Nichiren Buddhism and is referred to as “daimoku” (題目). That means a tsuba with daimoku motif depicts the Nichiren-mantra “Namu Myôhô Renge Kyô”, and if the ends of the strokes are noticeable elongated, we speak of a so-called “hige-daimoku” (髭題目, lit. “daimoku with beard”). The daimoku is also the central motif of the two tsuba shown in picture 4. Both are in mokkô-gata, although not that pronounced as the last piece, and show a ko-sukashi opening in the form of an axe. The axe has to be seen in the aforementioned context of depicting ordinary everyday objects.


Picture 1


Picture 2


Picture 3


Picture 4

The tsuba shown in picture 5 has a two-segmented so-called “ryô-mokkô-gata” (両木瓜形) but rotated about 45 degrees counterclockwise. It bears the inscription “kirimusubi-tachi no shita koso jigoku nare, fumikomi yukeba ato wa gokuraku (切り結ぶ太刀の下こそ地獄なれ踏み込みゆけばあとは極楽). This is a proverb from swordsmanship and means “to be under crossed swords is hell, to make a sudden attack is heaven”. Also there exists a maru-gata tsuba of Nobuie with the inscriptions „ie ga mazushikunatta, tomo wa sukunai“ (家貧双月少, once a family becomes poor, friends will make themselves scarce“) on the omote and side „yabureta koromo no nakaba ni, shirami ga ôi“ (衣破半虱多, “in badly damaged clothes, there are many lice“) on the ura side, inscriptions which can be considered as general warnings. A mokkô-gata tsuba shows a waka poem of the Zen priest Ikkyû Sôjun (一休宗純, 1394-1481) which goes „yakeba hai umeba tsuchi to naru mono nani ga nokorite, tsumi to naruran“ (焼けば灰埋めば土となるものを何が 残りて罪となるらん, „when everything is burnt to ash and buried under the earth, all what remains is the sin“). Sôjun was well known for such nihilistic and drastic poems. Another inscription on a Nobuie-tsuba goes „ningen-banji saiô ga uma“ (人間萬事塞翁馬) which means „inscrutable are the ways of heaven“ or „fortune is unpredictable and changeable“. Literally, the characters mean „all things (banji, 萬事) of mankind (ningen, 人間) are like the horse (uma, 馬) of the old man from the border area (saiô, 塞翁)“. This saying refers to a story from ancient China when an old man living near the northern border of the country once lost his horse, but as soon as it escaped, it came back with another horse. This shows how close sometimes fortune and misfortune are and the saying is also used as warning that the people’s fortunes can´t be predicted. The piece shown in picture 6 combines the Nichiren-mantra “Namu Myôhô Renge Kyô” with the inscription “shôja-hitsumetsu“ (生者必滅, „all living things must die“), another reminder for the transitoriness of life. And tsuba with an irregular mokkô-gata combines the provers “un wa ten ni ari” with the sentence “gusoku wa shichiya ni ari” (具足有質屋, lit. “the armour is in the pawnshop”). It is assumed that the latter inscription refers to the large number of poor samurai who had to pawn their armour and when that was not enough even their swords.


Picture 5


Picture 6

And last but not least I would like to introduce two Nobuie-tsuba which represent the transitoriness of life not via inscriptions but via a pictorial design. At the first one, the motif is quite obvious as we see on the ura side two skulls. But we also see stylized and on the omote side non-stylized water wheels. Water wheels are usually called “suisha” (水車) but when they show ladles (hishaku, 柄杓) like here, also the term “tsuchi-guruma” (槌車) is used. The wheel stands for the continuous carmic rebirths within the six domains (rokudô, 六道) of the desire realm (yokukai, 欲界). By the way, the gold plugs of the tsuba shown in picture 7 were added by Kanô Natsuo (加納夏雄). He signed the one plug with “Natsuo” using the characters (なつ遠).


Picture 7


Picture 8

I hope this was an interesting trip into the world of ideas of Sengoku-period bushi as seen on Nobuie-tsuba and I would like to continue this matter in the future by presenting some tsuba with inscriptions by Tsuchiya Yasuchika (土屋安親).

On the supposed missing link Sukenaga

As I have pointed out in my „Nihon-shintô-shi“, there are basically two approaches about the origins of the Ishidô school. One says that the Ishidô ancestors were successors of Bizen smiths like Katsumitsu (勝光), Munemitsu (宗光) and Yoshitsugu (吉次) who had followed the army of Akamatsu Masanori (赤松政則, 1455-1496) to his field camp at Magari (鈎) in Ômi province when the latter was fighting for the Ashikaga (足利) against the local Rokkaku family (六角). For example the contemporary early to mid Muromachi period chronicle “Inryôken-nichiroku” (蔭凉軒日録) lists apart from Katsumitsu and Munemitsu about 60 smiths following the army in question. The other approach names a concrete smith, namely Sukenaga (助長) who was active around Meiô (明応, 1492-1501). This article seeks to shed some light on this Sukenaga. First of all I would like to take a chronological look at the transmissions concerning Sukenaga. It seems that he does not appear in the sword books before the late Edo period at all. It all starts with the “Kotô-mei-zukushi taizen” (古刀銘尽大全) published in Kansei four (寛政, 1792) which says that he was a student of Takagi Sadamune (高木貞宗), the son of Takahiro (高弘), active around Jôwa (貞和, 1345-1350), that he signed with „Gôshû Gamô-jû Sukenaga“ (江州蒲生住助長), and that there were local smiths with that name also later active around Meiô (明応, 1492-1501). Further it says that his sons were Sukehisa (助久) and Suketsugu (助次), his grandson was Sukeyoshi (助吉), and his great-grandson was Murayoshi (村吉). Apart from that it also lists Sukemitsu (助光) as Gamô smith. Next the „Honchô-kaji-kô“ (本朝鍛冶考) published in Kansei eight (1796). The relevant section starts with the statement that the Gamô smith Kanro Toshinaga (甘呂俊長) was the student of Takagi Sadamune, followed by a listing of Sukenaga right below with the comment that he became a student of Toshinaga during the reign of emperor Go-Komatsu (後小松天皇, 1377-1433, r. 1392-1412) and after the Eitoku era (永徳, 1381-1384) and that he was from Bizen but lived at the Ishidô-ji in the Gamô district of Ômi province. Not mentioning Sukehisa, the smiths Suketsugu, Sukeyoshi, Murayoshi and Sukemitsu are listed in the same way as in the “Kotô-mei-zukushi taizen”. Now we come to the “Kokon-kaji-bikô” (古今鍛冶備考) published in Bunsei three (文政, 1820). This work says that works signed with „Gôshû Sukenaga“ have their roots in the Bizen Fukuoka-Ichimonji school as this smith was a late descendant from the lineage of Fukuoka-Ichimonji Sukemune (助宗) who was active around Jôji (貞治, 1362-1368) and Ôan (応安, 1368-1375). Further it says that works signed with „Gôshû Gamô-jû Sulenaga saku“ have their roots in the Bizen Osafune school as this smith, who was also a later descendant of Ichimonji Sukemune, moved to Ômi province to settle before the gates of the Ishidô-ji (石塔寺) in the Gamô district as his lineage was declining in Bizen. The entry ends with the comment that this Ishidô temple is also written with the characters (石堂) and (石道) and that Sukenaga, supposedly active around Meiô (明応, 1492-1501), was thus the ancestor of all the later Ishidô schools. The „Kôsei Kokon-kaji-mei hayamidashi“ (校正古今鍛冶銘早見出) from Kaei two (嘉永, 1849) follows basically this entry but says that Sukenaga was active around Ôei (応永, 1394-1428). However, it also says that there exists a blade dated Meiô eight (1499, picture 1), that he came originally from Bizen and that he was the ancestor of the Ishidô school, next to the info that „Ishidô“ was also written with the characters (石堂) and (石道).


Picture 1: The mei in question from the “Kôzan-oshigata” (光山押形).

So we can see a certain change in these references. Initially (~ 1792), Sukenaga was just considered to be a student of Takagi Sadamune but soon (~ 1796) the theory was forwarded that his roots were in Bizen. Later on (~ 1820) the approach with Takagi Sadamune was completely dismissed and more attention was paid to the Bizen origin as it was now stated that he was a late smith from the lineage of Ichimonji Sukemune and that he was the ancestor of the Ishidô school. Let us take a look at the workmanship. The “Nihontô-taikan” comments in the blade dated Meiô eight (1499) that some works from that time are extant and that they display a workmanship similar to contemporary Mino blades. Also Okada (岡田) writes in his “Gôshû-tôkô no kenkyû” (江州刀工の研究) that the Muromachi-period Sukenaga works do not display and Bizen-like workmanship but resemble more Yamato or Hokkoku blades. Before we continue and for a quick overview, I want to present in picture 2 a blade from about that time. It is signed “Gôshû Gamô-jû Sukenaga”, has a short nagasa of 59,7 cm, a relative deep sori of 2,05 cm, and a comparatively short nakago of 13,0 cm. It tapers noticeable and displays a high shinogi. So all in all we have here a typical uchigatana of around Eishô (永正, 1504-1521) and Daiei (大永, 1521-1528). The kitae is a densely forged ko-itame with masame in the shinogi-ji, chikei and some shirake. The hamon is a ko-gunome mixed with chôji, some togari elements, a noticeable amount of ko-ashi and and kinsuji. The nioiguchi is somewhat subdued and quite narrow and all in all the elements of the hamon are rather densely arranged.


Picture 2: wakizashi, mei „Gôshû Gamô-jû Sukenaga“

Well, Okada speculates that Sukenaga came from the lineage of Takagi Sadamune, namely based on the transmission that the latter bore in his early years the name „Sukesada“ (助貞). That means he sees a connection via the same character for „Suke“. And Okada, Ogasawara Nobuo (小笠原信夫) and Iida Toshihisa (飯田俊久) suggest that the whole Bizen approach must be treated with due caution. Kondô Hôji (近藤邦治) in turn, the head of the Gifu branch of the NBTHK, sees a connection to Mino, based namely among other things on the interpretation of the character for „Ga“ (蒲生) in „Gamô“. Sukenaga chiselled namely the lower right vertical stroke of the radical (甫) in an elongated manner, a peculiarity which can also be seen at some Mino smiths like Jumyô (寿命) or Kanetsune (兼常) (see picture 3). That means let us take a look at Mino. Mino bordered on Ômi province and in the lineage of the so-called „Nishigôri“ or „Saigun smiths“ (西郡) we find a similar name, namely those of Sukemune (助宗). The Nishigôri/Saigun lineage goes back to Tofuji (外藤) and gave rise to the Jumyô lineage of which Sukemune was the supposed 7th generation. The Saigun genealogy says that Sukemune was the son of the 6th generation Munetsugu (宗次) but also that the 8th generation Muneyoshi (宗吉) was also the son of Munetsugu. In short, Sukemune and Muneyoshi were brothers, and the succession of the latter implies that Sukemune had no son. Another brother of Sukemune was the Kakitsu-era (嘉吉, 1441-1444) Mino smith Suketsugu (助次). And there exists the transmission that Sukenaga was the son of this Suketsugu. Suketsugu´s successors moved later to the Gamô district of Ômi province and as mentioned in the beginning, Sukenaga´s son bore the name „Suketsugu“ too.


Picture 3: mei comparison; “Ga” in “Gamô” by Sukenaga, Jumyô and Kanetsune


Picture 4: Map of the area in question (© Google, ZENRIN)

Now let us face the circumstances from the point of view of then warfare. I have said earlier that about 60 Bizen smiths came with the army of Akamatsu Masanori, the then shugo military commander of Bizen province, to Magari in Ômi province. It is assumed that some of them stayed there when the campaign of Chôkyô three (1489) was given up when Ashikaga Yoshihisa (足利義尚, 1465-1489) died on a disease in the field camp in Magari at the young age of 23. But not only Bizen smiths were hired to accompany those armies fighting against the Rokkaku. There is the theory that Saigun Sukemune accompanied the then Mino shugo Toki Masafusa (土岐政房, 1457-1519) in Chôkyô two (1488) to Ômi. Also Masafusa fought then for shôgun Yoshihisa against the Rokkaku. This theory is supported by the meikan records which list a signature of Sukemune under his name “Jumyô” made in a field camp during the battle of Aonogahara in Mino province (Aonogahara ni oite go-jin saku, 於青野ケ原御陣作). Aonogahara was located at present-day Ôgaki City of Gifu Prefecture, i.e. about 15 km to the south of Saigun. But the Toki and Rokkaku were closely related by marriages and adoptions of heirs and it is possible that some Saigun smiths like Sukemune moved to Ômi in the course of a peaceful exchange of craftsmen. Later and when things got more complicated, their names were probably removed from the records as the Toki tried to minimize exposure against the shôgun.

Personal conclusion: The workmanship and signature of the Meiô-era Sukenaga is similar to contemporary Mino-mono. There is the transmission that his supposed father Suketsugu´s successors moved to the Gamô district of Ômi. There was a certain connection between the Mino, i.e. the Saigun smiths and Ômi province. There is no signature of these smiths known which actually mentions the Ishidô temple. On the other hand, Osafune smiths came at about the same time to Ômi too. There was the well-nown Kamakura-period lineage of Fukuoka-Ichimonji Sukemune. Later when the ancestry of the Ishidô school was investigated, they had no blades signed „Ishidô-ji“ but blades from that area, i.e. from the Gamô district, signed by Sukenaga. Maybe they discovered that Sukenaga was the son of Suketsugu who in turn was the brother of Sukemune. Maybe they did not have the information that this Suketsugu/Sukemune lineage was from Mino as contemporary data was destroyed by the Toki family. Thus just with the names Sukenaga, Suketsugu and Sukemune at hand and the Bizen workmanship of the Ishidô school in mind, the most obvious connection for them was probably the Fukuoka-Ichimonji Sukemune line. Well, we can not rule out that the earlier, i.e. the Nanbokuchô-era Sukenaga from the Takagi Sadamune and Kanro Toshinaga circle was from Bizen province. But as no works are extant it remains to be seen if he existed or if he was connected to the later Muromachi-era Sukenaga at all. At such considerations we always have to keep an eye on the fact that during the Edo period and the handing-over of lineages to the bakufu, the schools tried to present themselves in the very best possible light. So if you make Ichimonji-style blades and claim to descend from the Ichimonji school, it is better for you to provide a link to that school in your ancestry. So the Ishidô schools have probably Bizen origin but I would say that we can rule out Gamô Sukenaga in this respect.

The Hasebe School and Hasebe Kunihira

The 1st generation Kunishige (国重) is considered to be the founder of the Hasebe school. There exists the transmission that he came originally from Yamato province, namely from Hatsuse (初瀬), which is located in Sakurai (桜井) in Nara Prefecture, about 20 km to the southeast of the centre of the city of Nara (picture 1). Hatsuse was later pronounced as „Hase“ and so it is assumed that the supposed family name „Hasebe“ of Kunishige (and the later name of the school) goes back to this place Hase, even if it is written with different characters (長谷部). In Hase there is also the famous Hasedera (長谷寺) which in turn is written with the same characters for „Hase“ as in „Hasebe“. The little hill Haseyama on which the main hall of the Hasedera was erected in the 8th century is again written with the characters (初瀬山). That means it is safe to assume that all these names have a common etymological origin and the approach that Kunishige got his family name from that place can not be dismissed just on the basis of the use of different characters. Apart from that, this transmission says also that Kunishige was the son of Senjû´in Shigenobu (千手院重信) or that his roots were at least in the Senjû´in or the Taima school of Yamato. This Shigenobu is dated around Kagen (嘉元, 1303-1306) and the 1st generation Kunishige around Kenmu (建武, 1334-1338), what matches.


Picture 1: Hase in Nara Prefecture (© Google Earth).

But there exists another transmission on this family name. This transmission sees his origins in the vicinity of Shintôgo Kunimitsu (新藤五国光) who also bore the family name „Hasebe“. That means it is even speculated that Kunishige was the son of Kunimitsu. Well, as Shintôgo Kunimitsu was active around Shôan (正安, 1299-1302), Kunishige must had been a late son, an approach which is supported by this transmission. The meikan records by the way actually list a Hasebe Shintarô Kunishige (長谷部新太郎国重) as son of Shintôgo Kunimitsu. According to transmission, this Kunishige was active around Karyaku (嘉暦, 1326-1329) and it is said that he signed in his early years with „Kunimitsu“, the name of his supposed father. But most of the old sources list Hasebe Kunishige as one of the Ten Students of Masamune (正宗) who was also active around Karyaku. In any case, Kunishige was influenced by the Sôshû tradition and judging from the quality and production time of his extant works, probably direct and locally by one of the great masters of that time. From all the older and newer sources it seems that there were three generations Kunishige active, namely the first as mentioned around Kenmu, the second around Enbun (延文, 1356-1361) and the third around Ôei (応永, 1394-1428). In picture 2 I would like to present the entry of all relevant kotô-smiths with the name „Kunishige“ from the „Kokon-mei-zukushi“ (古今銘尽).


Picture 2: The relevant passage on the Kunishige smiths reads: „Kunishige – Sôshû one person, Shintôgo; Yamato two persons, father and son; Higo one person; Bizen one person“ (國重 相刕一人 新藤五 大和二人父子 肥後一人 備前一人).

After his studies in Sôshû, Kunishige moved to Kyôto where he settled in the vicinity of the intersection of the Gojôbômon-kôji (五条坊門小路) and the Inokuma-kôji (猪熊小路). Fujishiro speculates that his leaving of Kamakura is connected with the destroying of the Hôjô clan, the former regents, when Nitta Yoshisada (新田義貞, 1301-1338) entered Kamakura in the second year of Shôkyô (正慶, 1333). This would match with his supposed active period. The Inokuma-kôji still exists today but the Gojôbômon-kôji was what is now the Bukkôji-dôri (仏光寺通). The intersection is located today in the Nakakyô Ward (中京区) to the west of the Horikawa-dori (堀川通り) and to the south of Nijô Castle (picture 3). A picture of that Gojôbômon road how it looked like in the mid 16th century can be seen in picture 4. It comes from a pair of folding screens with scenes from in and around Kyôto (rakuchû-rakugai-zu, 洛中洛外図屏風) dated Daiei five (大永, 1525).


Picture 3: The intersection Inokuma-kôji Gojôbômon-kôji (© Google, ZENRIN).


Picture 4: Detail from the right panel of the jûyô-bunkazai folding screen pair.

Back to the Hasebe school. I did all this research when I was compiling our first Nihonto Club Catalogue in 2011 as it introduces a jûyô tachi of Hasebe Kunihira (長谷部国平). The research was done in order to gather background info for myself and was never meant to be in the catalogue for reasons of space. But recently this rare blade came into my mind again and I thought my blog might be a good opportunity to share the research in question. According to transmission, Kunihira was the third son of the 1st generation Kunishige and active around Enbun (延文, 1356-1361), but it is said that he had also studied under Hasebe Kuninobu (国信), the second son of the 1st generation Kunishige. The blade of our catalogue has an itame mixed with masame and a conspicious amount of nagare. The sugata is very elegant and does not look like Nanbokuchô-heyday at a glance. The hamon is suguha-chô mixed with a little ko-gunome and ko-midare and along the subdued nioiguchi we see ashi, hotsure, yubashiri, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The blade is tempered in nioi-deki but still with a considerable amount of nie, especially in the ha. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. This deki is quite different from what we would expect from a Hasebe work of this era and from Kunihira in particular, what would be namely a hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi in hitatsura, almost hitatsura or some kind of hako-midare (picture 9). The jûyô paper says that it is therefore a very precious reference not only for Kunihira but because it is one of the very rare extant tachi of the Hasebe school. Also the paper mentions that it is similar to a tachi of Kuninobu which is preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum. This tachi is shown in picture 5 and I will leave it to the reader to ascertain the similarity of the two blades.


Picture 5: tachi, mei „Hasebe Kuninobu“ (長谷部国信), nagasa 76,7 cm

The Kunihira-tachi was also put out at a kantei session in Tôkyô of which I have the protocol. It says that there were neither atari nor dôzen and because of the itame-magare and the suguha-chô, most of the participants focused on Tegai Kanenaga (手掻包永) or went also for Ko-Aoe (古青江) or Naminohira Yukiyasu (波平行安). In the case of Kanenaga we would expect more Yamato characteristics, both in sugata and in the jiba. A Ko-Aoe work would show more nie and some jifu, sumigane and/or a dan-utsuri. Also an old Kyûshû work would show more Yamato characterstics. And as there are perpendicular ko-ashi, we can see some hints of the Yamashiro tradition but obviously most of the participants hesitated to go for Yamashiro as they would expect a densely forged kitae or a true nashiji-hada for a blade with that sugata and supposed production time. But the nie are not so intense as for example at Ayanokôji Sadatoshi (綾小路定利) or Ryôkai (了戒) and the tempering in nioi-deki speaks, according to this protocol, anyway for a later work than Kamakura.


Picture 6: tachi, mei „Hasebe Kunihira“, nagasa 72,2 cm, sori 2,1 cm, motohaba 2,5 cm, sakihaba 1,6 cm, kissaki-nagasa 2,4 cm, nakago-nagasa 17,6 cm, nakago-sori 0,2 cm


Picture 7: oshigata from the jûyô paper of the Kunihira-tachi


Picture 8: Another oshigata of the same Kunihira-tachi.


Picture 9: „Typical“ work of Hasebe Kunihira.

In short, we have here as mentioned a very rare blade and the NBTHK confirmed the authenticity of the signature by issuing a jûyô paper. And its even rarer over here in Europe as I can´t remember handling any Hasebe-tachi at all so far. And I am pretty sure that I would have failed very hard at that kantei

Hirayama Kôzô


Picture 1: Hirayama Kôzô

This time I want to tell you from the life of the swordsman Hirayama Kôzô (平山行蔵, 1759-1829). He was born in the ninth year of Hôreki (宝暦, 1759) as eldest son of the bakufu-gokenin (御家人) Hirayama Jingozaemon Katsutoshi (平山甚五左衛門勝籌, ?-1806). Later he worked as dôshin (同心, a low-ranking policeman) for one of the four teppô guards of the bakufu, namely the so-called „Iga-kumi“ (伊賀組). The task of his unit was to guard the major three gates of Edo Castle and escort the shôgun when he was visiting either the Kan´ei-ji (寛永寺) or the Zôjô-ji (増上寺). But this post was with 30 hyô and a stipend for the support of two persons not very well paid. Therefore he erected a dôjô at his house, or rather turned his house into a dôjô, where he trained students for money. Kôzô himself was well-versed in most of the major martial arts, namely besides of swordsmanship also in military science (strategy and tactics), jûjutsu, iaidô, sôjutsu (fighting with the yari), fighting with the naginata, gunnery (of course, this was his job), combat swimming, riding, archery and bôjutsu (fighting with the stick). But he also studied Confucianism, agriculture and civil engineering. Students reported that his living room was a big mess of several long swords, bokutô, shinai, naginata, yari, large-calibre weapons, rifles and the like, stored more or less in wooden boxes or armor chests and similar devices. Also his garden was covered with weeds. By the way, Katsu Kokichi (勝小吉, 1802-1850), the father of the famous Katsu Kaishû (勝海舟, 1823-1899) had trained under Kôzô. Apart from that, Kôzô was together with the bakufu-retainer and explorer Kondô Jûzô (近藤重蔵) and the explorer and spy Mamiya Rinzô (間宮林蔵, 1775-1844), one of the so-called „Three Zô of the Bunsei Era“ (Bunsei no sanzô, 文政の三蔵) or „Three Zô of the Ainu Lands“ (Ezo no sanzô, 蝦夷の三蔵). This grouping with the two explorers goes back to the fourth year of Bunka (文化, 1807) when the Russian-American Company attacked the Japanese garrison on Kuril island Iturup (jap. Etorofu-tô, 択捉島). The bakufu sent troops and both Rinzô and Jûzô as they had mapped the Ainu lands before. Kôzô was the one who forwarded their reports to the bakufu.


Picture 2: Kôzô with his ôdachi.

Despite of his rather small stature, he had chosen an oversized ôdachi of Samonji (左文字) with a nagasa of 3 shaku 8 sun (~ 115 cm) in a plain black koshirae as his main sword (picture 2). Apart from that he also wore an ôdachi with the same length of Niô Kiyonaga (仁王清長) which was mounted in a red-lacquered saya. When he got up in the morning, the first training was to wield a 7 shaku long (~ 212 cm) 500 times and to draw a 4 shaku long (~ 121 cm) and 3 sun (~ 9 cm) wide iaitô 200 to 300 times. Whilst reading, he constantly boxed with both fists against a zelkova board to toughen his hands. Until the age of 61, he slept on the bare floor with no mattress, cushion or blanket. He stacked the bags of rice he received as payment just in the entranceway and cooked the unpolished brown rice without pre-treatment as it was. But he had a liking for cold sake and had therefore a 72-litre sake bottle installed in the closet of his living room. He did not give up this lifestyle even after it became quite uncomfortable when he suffered from a paralysis (presumably from a stroke). It is said that he had the habit of calling people by default „moron“ and that he constantly complained about the trend towards effeminacy of his time. Kôzô died on the 14th day of the twelfth month Bunsei eleven (文政, 1828) at the age of 70. His civilian first-name was „Shiryô“ (子龍) and he used the pseudonyms „Heigen“ (兵原) and „Hei´an“ (兵庵) and his name „Kôzô“ is quoted in some puclications as „Gyôzô“ and also „Yukizô“ and „Ikuzô“ but „Kôzô“ should be considered as the correct reading.

I came across Hirayama Kôzô during my research on the life of the swordsmith Kiyomaro (清麿) for my book Legends and Stories around the Japanese Sword 2. Kôzô lived namely in a so-called „kumi-yashiki“ (組屋敷), a house provided by the bakufu for all those policemen doing office in a kumi (like Kôzô for the Iga-kumi). His kumi-yashiki was located in Kitaiga-machi (北伊賀町) along the Inari-yokochô (稲荷横丁) in Edo´s Yotsuya district (四谷) and this was namely only about 60 m to the north where Kiyomaro lived later in Yotsuya (picture 3).


Picture 3: Map of Yotsuya. 1: Kôzô´s former place of residence, 2: Kiyomaro´s former residence (© Google, ZENRIN)