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).

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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“.

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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 😉

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Picture 3: Kotegiri-Masamune

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One thought on “The Kotegiri-Masamune

  1. Hi Markus – very enjoyable write up and a good challenge to the attribution of this piece!

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