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 „jô“, 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.