About kakikudashi-mei

When I was compiling my recently published KOTO-MEIKAN, I had to go through my entire sword archive, or at least through the folders which contain the koto blades. In this sense, I came once again across the rare signature form where all information – e.g. name of the smith, place of residence, and date – is chiselled onto the same side of the tang. This signature form is called kakikudashi-mei (書下し銘) and in most of the cases all information is presented in one line, i.e. name of smith and date below or vice versa, and in some cases the smith left a little space between his name and the date. So whilst preparing the files for the book, I asked myself what prompted a smith to sign this way and I checked the relevant literature but did not find any explanation. But what I was able to find is an article by Yokota Takao (横田孝雄) in Tôken-Bijutsu #536 on the subject. Well, right away in his introductory words Yokota writes that he too was unable to find any explanations so I was kind of relieved that there is no commonly accepted and well-known theory which I just overlooked. The interesting thing about Yokota’s article is that he provides a quantitative overview of kakikudashi-mei, sorted chronologically and according to production site. So with his research – he presents 84 examples of koto-era kakikudashi-mei which can be considered as pretty representative as I doubt that that many more can be found which would throw over quantitative observations – we have at least a decent starting point.

On the basis of the 84 koto-era kakikudashi-mei he found, the following table can be created:

Province Heian Kamakura Nanbokuchô Muromachi Total
Bitchû 4 18 22
Bizen 13 4 17
Yamato 6 8 2 16
Yamashiro 12 12
Chikuzen 2 2 4
Ôshû 2 2
Etchû 2 2
Suô 2 2
Bingo 1 1
Ômi 1 1
Tosa 1 1
Hizen 1 1
Higo 1 1
Satsuma 1 1
Sagami 1 1
Total 1 43 38 2 84

According to the table, the majority of all kakikudashi-mei is found on Bitchû swords, i.e. on swords from the Aoe school, followed by Bizen, Yamato, and Yamashiro. That means we can see first of all an obvious concentration on the Kinai area and on the two koto-era Kibi-area sword centers Bizen and Bitchû. Also we learn right away that kakikudashi-mei were basically in use during the Kamakura and Nanbokuchô eras. There is no gradual increase from the Heian to the Kamakura and no gradual decrease from the Nanbokuchô to the Muromachi period. So the phenomenon kakikudashi-mei seemed to have popped up in Kamakura times and disappeared again, rather abruptly, when the empire was unified again by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利義満, 1358-1408), or in other words with the transition to the Muromachi period. We learn further that Yamashiro and Bizen smiths were the first to sign with a kakikudashi-mei, that the Aoe smiths used this signature variant mainly in the Nanbokuchô era, and that in Yamato blades were signed on just one side about uniformly throughout the Kamakura and Nanbokuchô era. But it must be mentioned that in Yamato, kakikudashi-mei are mostly found on tantô and ken, what is uncommon, because the vast majority of all other schools and smiths applied such a signature to long swords and naginata only.

Next, let us take a look at the kakikudashi-mei by smiths outside of Bitchû, Bizen, Yamashiro, and Yamato. The four from Chikuzen are all found on blades by Jitsu’a (実阿). Accoding to tradition, Jitsu’a was the son of Sairen (西蓮) and the last of the Chikuzen masters who worked in the traditional and classical Ko-Kyûshû style which has as we know much in common with the Yamato tradition. The two Ôshû kakikudashi-mei are found on Hôju (宝寿) blades and these smiths also had a certain connection to Yamato. The two from Etchû go back to Norishige (則重) who has no Yamato connections. The two Suô blades are from Kiyotsuna (清綱) and Kiyohisa (清久), both Ko-Niô smiths, a school which also is stylistically connected to the Yamato tradition. The one from Bingo goes back to Kokubunji Sukekuni (国分寺助国). The Kokubunji temple where Sukekuni worked had strong bonds to the Tôdaiji in Nara, Yamato province. The kakikudashi-mei from Ômi is found on a tachi by Akimitsu (顕光) and one theory about his supposed master Kanro Toshinaga (甘呂俊長) says that Toshinaga was related to a certain Taima Toshinaga (当麻俊長). This Taima Toshinaga is not found in the meikan records but Toshinaga’s blades do show Yamato characteristics. The Tosa blade is from Tosa Yoshimitsu (吉光) and his roots are said to go back to Yamato too (to be more precise either in the Senju’in or in the Tegai school). As for Hizen, the kakikudashi-mei is from a blade by the 1st generation Suesada (末貞) whose master Norisue (則末) came according to tradition from the Naminohira school which, again, has certain connections to the Yamato tradition. The Higo blade is from Enju Kunitoki (延寿国時) and the scholastic roots of the Enju school are said to be found in both the Rai and the Senju’in school. The example from Sagtsuma is the only one from Heian times, i.e. from Heiji one (平治, 1159), found on a blade by Ko-Naminohira Yukimasa (行正) and the oldest extant date signature on a nihontô at all. As mentioned, the Ko-Naminohira school had connections to the Yamato tradition. And last but not least the blade from Sagami, found on a blade by Mitsufusa (光房) who is said to have been a student of Sôhû Yukimitsu (行光). The kakikudashi-mei of Mitsufusa is from Kôan three (弘安, 1280) and is the oldest known date signature on a Sôshû work. So except for Norishige and Mitsufusa, we can draw to all above mentioned smiths some Yamato connections and Enju Kunitoki might have inherited the kakikudashi-mei “habit” either from his Yamato or his Yamashiro roots, if we assume that this signature form has something to do with scholastic tradition.

When it comes to the mei itself, we learn that the majority of those Yamato smiths who applied kakikudashi-mei did so by starting with the date and chiselling their name at the bottom. The Yamashiro smiths usually started with the name and had the date follow, except for Ryôkai (了戒) who also did it the “Yamato way.” The same applies to Bizen whose smiths usually also started their mei with the name and place of residence if present. Exceptions here are Yoshioka-Ichimonji Sukeyoshi (助吉), Tsunemitsu (恒光), and Nakahara Kunimune (中原国宗) who also signed in Yamato-manner with the name last. Except for one naginata by Naotsugu (直次), all Aoe smiths started with the name and place of residence. Jitsu’a, Suesada, Enju Kunitoki, Tosa Yoshimitsu, Suô Kiyotsuna, Kokubunji Sukekuni, Norishige, Hôju, and Kanro Akimitsu signed their kakikudashi-mei in the Yamato way. Only Niô Kiyohisa, Naminohira Yukimasa, and Sôshû Mitsufusa did it the other way with the name last. Please bear in mind that these observations base only on the 84 blades collected by Yokota. Another peculiarity is that eight of the 18 Nanbokuchô-era Aoe blades with kakikudashi-ei are from the relative short Jôwa era (貞和, 1345-1350) which lasted only six years.

 kakikudashiRai                                            kakikudashiYamato

Picture 1 (left), kakikudashi-mei of Rai Kunitoshi, dated Genkô one (元亨, 1321)

Picture 2 (right), kakikudashi-mei of Tegai Kanetsugu, dated Genkô three (元弘, 1333)

My very own conclusion is that it is obvious that kakikudashi-mei were mostly in fashion among the Kamakura-era Rai and the mid-Nanbokuchô Aoe school. For Bizen, we can’t see any specific acculumation at a certain school or smith but for Yamato, a kakikudashi-mei was most common for the Tegai school. Also quite obvious for me is the Yamato connection of the “rural” smiths who signed occasionally in kakikudashi-mei although this connection might be rather weak in places where the Yamato roots were lying too far back. In other words, it is hard for me to imagine that for example Kanro Akimitsu suddenly reminded himself of his master Toshinaga’s (supposed) Yamato roots and decided to sign some blades in kakikudashi-mei just because some earlier Yamato smiths did. So there might had been another reason. As for Aoe, I can imagine that the custom of signing tachi in kakikudashi-mei during the Nanbokuchô era might be connected to another custom, namely that their Kamakura-era Ko-Aoe predecessors signed their tachi in katana-mei, i.e. with the signature on the inside of the tang, facing the wearer’s body when the sword is suspended from the belt edge down. So maybe it was now “decided” to better leave blank the side facing the wearer where their predecessors used to sign? When it comes to Yamato, I have mentioned that a great number of their kakikudashi-mei is found on tantô and ken and with their temple connection it is conceivable that leaving one side of the tang completely blank and signing also the date on the other side, even if space is limited at a tantô-nakago, might have had some religious reason in the beginning. As for the Rai school, their kakikudashi-mei focus around Rai Kunitoshi (来国俊), the latter half of his active period, and his sons/students from that time (i.e. Kunimitsu and Ryôkai). Back to the reason why to sign all information on just one side of the tang. As we talking, except for the Yamato smiths, basically of Kamakura and Nanbokuchô period tachi, maybe certain smiths thought that it was kind of repectful to leave the side of the tang empty which faces the wearer? And as we are talking here of master swords – the majority of the 84 examples collected by Yokota are by very high ranking smiths and classified as jûyô, tokubetsu-jûyô, jûyô-bijutsuhin, jûyô-bunkazai, and even kokuhô – the custom of kakikudashi-mei might go back to considerations of leaving one side of the tang blank so that the owner or his successors can record their glorious merits they achieved with the swords. On the other hand, no blade signed in kakikudashi-mei is known where the other side of the tang bears acually any description. Interesting, but maybe this has nothing to say at all, the oldest date signature of the Ko-Naminohira Yukimasa blade comes in kakikudashi-mei and its ura side actually bears an inscription, namely the name “Kuniyasu” (国安), which is thought to be the name of the owner of the sword. So maybe it started all with leaving one side of special blades empty so that the name of the owner can be perpetuated on the other side? Anyway, we might never get an answer to this question unless an old official, maybe local administrative documents are discovered in which swordsmiths are required or encouraged to sign in kakikudashi-mei. If anyone has another interesting theory, I would love to hear it. So please don’t hesitate to use the comment function. 😉

The sword polisher Takeya Rian and the Twenty-six Martyrs of Nagasaki

My 2010 published book Genealogies and Schools of Japanese Swordsmiths starts with a brief introduction to the history of Japanese sword literature. Therein I mentioned a certain Takeya Sôzaemon no Jô Rian (竹屋惣左衛門尉理安) who published during the Tenshô era (天正, 1573-1592) the sword book Shinkan Hiden Shô (新刊秘伝抄). Incidentally, his name “Rian” is sometimes also quoted with the characters (理庵). It is said that Takeya’s family descended from the famous early Muromachi-period sword appraiser Utsunomiya Mikawa Nyûdô (宇都宮三河入道) and that they changed their family name from “Utsunomiya” to “Takeya” after settling in the Takeya-machi (竹屋町) district of the same name of Kiyosu (清洲) in Owari province. An Edo-period genealogy of the Takeya even claims that the family goes back to the noble Takeya family of the same name, being the descendants of Ôsumi no Suke Nobutoshi (大隈介信俊) who was, according to this genealogy, the youngest brother of the court noble Takeya Kanetoshi (竹屋兼俊, ?-1447). But no such Nobutoshi is found in the official genealogies of the aristocratic Takeya family so this genealogy is obviously a fake. Well, Nobutoshi did exist but he was “just” a local Owari sword polisher and appraiser who was later employed by the Tokugawa-bakufu as sword polisher. Back to Rian. Not much is known about his life and so I try with this article to shed some light on the circumstances of the Takeya family of sword polishers at his time. One of the most important references is in this context the genealogy of the Owari-Takeya family found in the document titled Meikyô (銘鏡, also read as Mei Kagami) from the archives of the NBTHK. Therein we find the following information:

1st generation Takeya Chûzaemon Unsetsu (竹屋忠左衛門雲節): Lived in Kiyosu’s Takeya-machi and worked as a stipended sword polisher for Oda Nobunaga. Also did service on campaigns on several occasions.

2nd generation Takeya Roku’emon Dôya (竹屋六右衛門道也): Also worked as sword polisher for Oda Nobunaga.

3rd generation Takeya Genzaemon Fushi’ in (竹屋源左衛門ふし印): Adopted son of Roku’ emon. Formerly called Kasuya Gonnosuke (粕谷権之助). Came originally from Harima province.

4th generation Takeya Kyû’emon Dôi (竹屋九右衛門道意): Son-in-law of Genzaemon who was adopted as successor of the family. Came originally from Mino province and from the Mitsuma family (三間, also read as Mima). Died in Genroku 16 (元禄, 1703) at the age of 78.

5th generation Takeya Kyû’emon Jôgen (竹屋九右衛門浄玄): Adopted son of Kyû’emon Dôi. Came originally from Mino province and died in Kyôhô twelve (享保, 1727) at the age of 7?.

6th generation Takeya Kyû’emon Dôyu (竹屋九右衛門道由)

7th generation Takeya Kyû’emon Dôju (竹屋九右衛門道寿)

8th generation Takeya Kyû’emon Dôya (竹屋九右衛門道屋)

9th generation Takeya Kyû’emon Dôgen (竹屋九右衛門道玄)

As the 1st generation Takeya Unsetsu is listed as living in Kiyosu and working for Nobunaga, we can narow his active period down to the time from when Nobunaga entered Kiyosu, which was in Kôji one (弘治, 1555), to his death in Tenshô ten (天正, 1582). And when also the 2nd generation Dôya was directly hired by Nobunaga, he was probably active from Tenshô (天正, 1573-1592) to Keichô (慶長, 1596-1615). And as Takeya Rian published his Shinkan Hiden Shô as mentioned during the Tenshô era, he was a contemporary of Unsetsu and Dôya. Some assume that Rian was actually the first generation of the Owari-Takeya family and Unsetsu the second but when we take a look at these dates, this approach seems rather unlikely. However, we can’t dismiss for now another theory, namely that Rian and Unsetsu were the same person. There was also an Edo branch of the Takeya family which was founded by Takeya Jinsa (竹屋尋佐) who was active around Keichô and who did not come from the Owari-Takeya family. A document of the Takeya Mikinosuke Kôki (竹屋造酒之助光輝), the second son of the 7th Edo-Takeya generation Sekô (施光), also preserved by the NBTHK, claims namely that also the Edo-Takeya family goes directy back to Utsunomiya Mikawa Nyûdô. By the way, if the names of the Edo-Takeya heads were not but formal civilian names, their reading would be “Hirosuke” for Jinsa, “Mitsuteru” for Kôki, and either “Toshimitsu,” “Nobumitsu,” “Harumitsu,” “Masumitsu,” or “Mochimitsu” for Sekô.

So far so good. The Takeya were obviously in the possession of the documents and the knowledge of Utsunomiya Mikawa Nyûdô, had the honor to work as sword polishers directly for Oda Nobunaga, and were one of the togi-sanke (研ぎ三家), the “Three Famous Families of Sword Polishers.” The others were the Hon’ami and the Kiya (木屋), and all three were later working for the Tokugawa-bakufu. And we know from several accounts that not only the Hon’ami but also the Takeya and Kiya and other polisher families also appraised swords at the side. But not commonly known is the fact that the late Muromachi and Momoyama-era Takeya family was closely linked to Christianity in Japan. A group of Christians, all Franciscan missionaries, was executed by crucifixion in Nagasaki in Keichô two (1597) on orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The group went down in history as the Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan (Nihon Nijûroku Seijin, 日本二十六聖人) and one of them was a certain St. Cosmas Takeya who is quoted in some sources as St. Cosme Takeya. The Japanese rendering of his name is Sei Kosume Takeya (聖コスメ竹屋). In contemporary records we read that this Takeya came from a noted family of Owari province and was a swordsmith. He was baptized by a Jesuit and became later a interpreter and catechist for the Franciscans and eventually preached in Ôsaka where he was arrested and brought down to Nagasaki to be crucified. Experts assume that “swordsmith” goes back to a wrong transcription. The entry in question reads tôken-shi (刀剣師) but as the term tôken-shi is quite odd for referring to a swordsmith, it is very likely that actually tôken-togishi (刀剣研師), i.e. “sword polisher” was meant. According to records of the Catholic Curch, Cosmas Takeya was beatified in 1627 by Pope Urban VIII and canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1862. In an annual report of Keichô two which refers to the crucifixion we find a very interesting entry: “He [Cosmas Takeya] was the brother of Takeya Leon (in Japanese Takeya Rean, タケヤ・レアン), a major figure in Christinanity in Owari province, who had died in the previous year [Keichô one, 1596].” From another record we know that this Takeya Leon fell ill in Sakai in the seventh month of Keichô one and died after receiving the remote sacrament from the Jesuit Missionary Gnecchi Soldi Organtino who preached at that time in Kyôto.

The family name “Takeya” appears already in an earlier Jesuit report from Tenshô 15 (1587). In this report in turn we read that Takeya Leon had been baptized before Tenshô ten (1582) in the castle town of Azuchi. Furhter we read that he was a swordsmith (here the same applies as mentioned before) but had moved to Kyôto and left his house in Kiyosu to Catholic priests. In Kyôto he had built a new house where he accomodated Evangelists and Catholic priests and allowed them to celebrated the Mass. There he acted as preacher under the name Takeya Cosme/Cosmas. So according to this report, Takeya Leon and Takeya Cosmas were one and the same person. But this does not match with the record that Leon was Cosma’s brother and died one year before the latter was crucified in Nagasaki. Anyway, it is likely that the name “Takeya Leon,” or in Japanese “Takeya Rean,” refers to Takeya Rian as the Christian name Leon was often also transcribed as “Riyan” and “Rian,” using the very same characters (理安). Also the reference to the Takeya as a sword polishers is striking.

But that’s not enough. We find two more, different historical records on Takeya Cosme/Cosmas and Rian. The first says that Cosme/Cosmas was a Korean who had came to Japan at the age of eleven and had been baptized in Nagasaki where he later lived. There he accomodated a Dominican friar and was therefore arrested and burned to death in Genna five (元和, 1619). His wife Ines and his twelve-year-old son Francisco died a martyrs’ death in Genna eight (1622). The other record tells of a Takeya Gonshichi (竹屋権七) who was the son of a Korean prisoner of war from one of Hideyoshi’s Korean campaigns who had become naturalized and got the Japanese family name “Takeya.” Gonshichi was arrested for accomodating a missionary and arrested and executed in Genna nine (1623). He died as martyr and his Christian name was “Rian” (理安). The connection to the Korean campaigns is insofar interesting as it opens the perspective that one or more members of the Takeya family went there as “field” sword polishers.

As mentioned, the Muromachi and Momoyama-era Takeya family was closely linked to Christianity. As we know, Christianity was banned after the Shimabara Rebellion and this would be an explanation why we don’t find Takeya Rian or Cosme/Cosmas in the Edo-period Takeya genealogies. Back then it was surely not a good thing to point out in an official genealogy that certain ancestors of the family were influental Christians. Well, this is pure speculation but the Takeyas’ connection to Christianity could also be an explanation for the fact that they did not play that an important role as sword polishers and appraisers as the Hon’ami did later throughout the Edo period. So maybe their sword polishing and knowledge of swords was held in high regard, they were as mentioned actually employed by the bakufu, but were rather “recommended” to stay in the background.

The picture below shows the monument built in 1962 in Nagasaki to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the canonization of the Christians executed there in 1597. And below detail of St. Cosmas Takeya.



Tameshigiri Preorder Update

Dear preorderers of my Tameshigiri book, I want to inform you that one half of the signed copies will be shipped later today and the other half tomorrow. I thank you all for your patience but I had to change plans as I am in the US now and Lulu.com shipping is unusually slow to Austria and the books didn’t make it in time there so I had to ship them all to my place here in NC. My sincerest gratitude to all preorderers and supporters of my work and I hope you enjoy the book!

Late Edo period nyûsatsu-kantei

One opportunity to refine your skills in judging a Japanese sword in a playful or competitive manner is nyûsatsu-kantei (入札鑑定), lit. “bidding kantei,” where you submit your answers to a designated judge who acts as head of the session. According to your bid, the judge gives you a certain and today standardized response by which you should be able to narrow down your bid and nail down the smith in the ideal case. A detailed list of these replies can be found for example at the end of Kokan Nagayama’s standard work The Connoisseur’s Book of Japanese Swords. Well, we don’t know exactly when nyûsatsu-kantei were held for the first time. Fukunaga Suiken says in his Nihontô Kantei Hikkei (日本刀鑑定必携, 1985) that they were quite in fashion during the Edo period and suggested by the Hon’ami family as good kantei practice. Hon’ami Mitsuhiro (本阿弥光博) writes in his Nihontô Kantei Hô (日本刀鑑定法, 1973) that evidence of nyûsatsu-kantei goes at least back to the bakumatsu era, although he states at the same time that the practice is definitely older. And Satô Kanzan wrote in his Nihontô Kikô (日本刀紀行, 1976) that nyûsatsu-kantei has a long tradition which even predates the Edo period. Anyway, references are limited but alone on the basis of the large number of relevant publications like simple kantei guides, meikan, and mei-zukushi released in the late Edo period we can conclude that nyûsatsu-kantei were popular all over Japan at that time.

This time I want to introduce one of the rare extant written records of late Edo period nyûsatsu-kantei. We are talking about several documents found among the records of the Furugaki family (古垣). The Furugaki were retainers of the Miyakonojô branch (都城) of the Shimazu family (formerly Hongô family, 北郷) who ruled the Miyakonojô territory of the same name which was located in Hyûga province and which was one of the semi-autonomous sub-territories of the large Satsuma fief. Incidentally, the Miyakonojô-Shimazu were pretty well off as their lands were nominated with an annual income of 36,000 koku. The kantei documents in question go back to a certain member of the Furugaki family, to Furugaki Genjûrô Toshiaki (古垣源十郎俊彰, 1839-1877), who belonged initially to the cavalry corps of the Miyakonojô-Shimazu holding the fifth of ten of the local samurai rank. Toshiaki was trained in the Tenshin-ryû (天真流) of swordsmanship (which he later mastered) and became in Ansei two (安政, 1855), aged 17, a page of the then Miyakonojô lord Shimazu Hisanaga (島津久静, 1832-1862). Later he was promoted to the rank of bettô (別当), serving at the machi-bugyô office, and after that he was able to get the post of bugashira (武頭) which means that he was the head of the various local samurai kumi units. When he became an escort of Hisanaga’s successor Hisahiro (島津久寛, 1859-1884), he was able to often visit the capital Kagoshima where he refined his fencing and riding skills. He participated in the Anlo-Satsuma War which took place in 1863 and fought in the course of the Boshin War at several places in the northern Ôshû region, that means on the opposite end of Japan. When the Satsuma Rebellion broke out in 1877, Toshiaki was appointed second lieutenant of the government troops and fouht thus against the army of Saigô Takamori. During this campaign, a bullet pierced his chest and killed him. This was on the 16th day of the sixth month Meiji ten (1877). He was only 39 years old.


Picture 1: Furugaki Genjûrô Toshiaki.

So far the resume of Furugaki Toshiaki’s short but eventful life. As for the kantei-related documents extant from his possessions, we are talking about five writings, namely two nyûsatsu-kantei lists titled Tôken Nyûsatsu Kantei Ichiranhyô (刀剣入札鑑定一覧表), notes to the kantei sessions titled Katana Mekiki Ichijô Oboetome (刀目利一条覚留), a dôzen list titled Tôken Nyûsatsu Kantei Dôzen Chô (刀剣入札鑑定同然帳), an abbreviated version of the sword publication Kotô Mei Zukushi Taizen titled Kotô Mei Zukushi Taizen Nukishô (古刀銘尽大全抜集), and a mnemonic song on kantei titled Katana Mekiki Kuniwake no Uta (刀目利国分之歌). The latter consists of 29 verses on how to memorize the characteristic of different provinces and was written down by a member of the Ano family (阿野) from southern Satsuma province.


Picture 2: The Katana Mekiki Kuniwake no Uta.

nyupic3a nyupic3b

Picture 3: The two extant Tôken Nyûsatsu Kantei Ichiranhyô lists (click to enlarge).

We learn from the kantei notes that the first mentioned lists are two out of nine nyûsatsu-kantei sessions. One list is dated with the 22nd day of the sixth month Bunkyû one (文久, 1861) and shows the inscrpition “Furugaki-shi kai” (古垣氏会) which means “meeting at Furugakis’.” It is assumed that these lists were kept by the person who held the kantei session at his house, i.e. in our case by Furugaki Toshiaki. As mentioned, the one sheet is undated but we find in Toshiaki’s kantei notes a matching entry for the names of the smiths which is dated Man’en one (万延, 1860). And as the second sheet was preserved with the first one, it is safe to assume that this kantei session was also held at Furugakis’. Also we learn from the kantei notes that judges at the two sessions in questions were a certain Iguro (伊黒) and a certain Ôkawara (大河原). The third name we find in the documents pointing out a judge at a kantei is Yamada (山田). So these three “guys” were replying on a rotating basis to the participants of the nine nyûsatsu-kantei sessions. Incidentally, Iguro must had been a kind of teacher or mentor to Toshiaki as we read in the “imprint” to his handwritten abbreviated version of tghe Kotô Mei Zukushi Taizen that the original was a loan from Iguro. Well, we don’t find given names to any of these three judges so we can’t say for sure who they were but at least we find all three family names in the list of retainers of the Miyakonojô-Shimazu family. But back to the actual lists. When you take a look at the boxes (see picture 4) you will find one to four names of swordsmiths which shows us that there were rounds at the nyûsatsu-kantei. The boxes at the bottom of each column show the names of the bidders, that means at the session held in Man’ en one there were four blades and four participants and at the session held in Bunkyû one there were five blades and six participants. The first column to the very right shows what blades were presented for the kantei. To give you a feel for how close the participants were, I want to paraphrase the two kantei lists in the following:


Picture 4: Detail of one of the lists. Box 1 contains the names Kanemitsu (兼光) and Nagamitsu (長光) and box 2 the names Mihara-mono (三原物), Shizu (志津), and Yamato-mono (大和物).

Session from Man’en one (1860):

1st kantei blade: Norimitsu (則光). Jôzaburô (城三郎) bade subsequently on Yoshiie (吉家), Norimune (則宗), and Motoshige (元重). Hachirô’emon (八郎右衛門) bade on Sa (左), Ko-Bizen (古備前), Kagemitsu (景光), and Norimitsu, i.e. got eventually an atari. Genjûrô (i.e. Furugaki Toshiaki) bade on Chôgi (長義) and on Sukesada (祐定). And Shinnosuke (新之丞) bade on Nagamitsu, on Sukesada but which was crossed-out and changed to Tomomitsu (倫光), and to Sukesada again.

2nd kantei blade: Tegai Kanenaga (包永) [written on the list with the wrong characters 兼永]. Jôzaburô bade on Mihara-mono, Shizu, and on Yamato-mono. Hachirô’emon bade on Ko-Seki (古関) and on Masaie (正家). Genjûrô bade on Kunihiro (国広), Nagamitsu, and Ko-Seki. And Shinnosuke bade on Katsumitsu (勝光) and on Kanenaga which was atari. Please note that in the box of the bids, Shinnojôs bid on Kanenaga is noted with the correct characters for the smith.

3rd kantei blade: Sukesada (祐定) [written on the list with the wrong characters 助定]. Jôsaburô bade on Kanemitsu and Nagamitsu. Hachirô’emon on Katsumitsu. Genjûrô on Iesuke (家助) and atari on Sukesada. And Shinnosuke bade on Kanesada (兼定) and atari on Sukesada. Please note that here too, the atari bids of Genjûrô and Shinnosuke were noted with the correct characters for the smith.

4th kantei blade: Takada Nagamori (高田長盛). Jôsaburô bade on Masafusa (正房), Kanesada (兼定), Ko-Seki, and finally on Takada. Hachirô’emon bade on Gokaji (五鍛冶, what refers to the five Kyôto-based smiths Tanba no Kami Yoshimichi, Ômi no Kami Hisamichi, Ikkanshi Tadatsuna, Iga no Kami Rai Kinmichi, and Shinano no Kami Nobuyoshi), on Sukesada, and on Sadamune (貞宗). Genjûrô bade on Shizu, Sue-Sôshû, and on Yukihira (行平). And Shinnosuke bade on Tadatsuna (忠綱), Mihara, and on Kyô-mono.


Picture 5: Detail of one of the lists. Box 1 shows the character da(su) and box 2 the character son(jiru).

Session from Bunkyû one (1861):

1st kantei blade: Kôshû (Ômi) Tsuguhiro (江州次弘). Genjûrô bade on “Mitsu/Kô-rui” (光類), Ko-Tamiyama (古谷山), and Ko-Seki. “Mitsu/Kô-rui” means “one of the Mitsu” and in Genjûrô’s dôzen list we find a corresponding entry which lists under the title “Mitsu/Kôrui” about 40 smiths like for example Sukemitsu (祐光), Norimitsu (則光), Katsumitsu (勝光), and Kiyomitsu (清光). No Ôei-Bizen or Kozori name like Morimitsu (盛光), Yasumitsu (康光), Moromitsu (師光), Shigemitsu (重光), or Toshimitsu (利光) appears in this list and so it refers to Sue-Bizen only. And the term “Ko-Taniyama” refers to the production site of the Naminohira school of the same name, i.e. Taniyama. Thus this entry is equivalent to “Ko-Naminohira.” The next participant Naokurô (直九郎) bade on Kiyomitsu and on Ko-Seki. Hachirô’emon did not bid on this one as he was the owner of the blade, marked with da(su) (出) which can be translated as “submitter” (see picture 5). Shinnosuke bade on Ichimonji, Aoe, and Yamato-mono. Hikoji (彦次) on Sukesada (祐定) and Norimitsu (則光), and Jôsaburô on Yamato-mono, Ko-Taniya, and on Heianjô (平安城). It is not sure which Tsuguhiro was submitted because there is no such smith using these characgters found working in kotô-times in Ômi province. There were Tsuguhiro (次弘) working in Bizen, Bitchû, and Iwami and it is also possible that this entry actually refers to a Tsuguhiro who wrote his name with the characters (次広), although no such smith is found for Ômi province either. But in Genjûrô’s kantei notes he had pointed out that the blade lacks nie, has a thick kasane, is of high quality, and shows a ko-midare which is similar to Biyen-mono. So his bid on “Mitsu/Kô-rui” is understandable.

2nd kantei blade: Motohira (元平). Genjûrô bade on the Oku school (奥), which should actually be atari, but continued bidding on Heianjô and on Mizuta-mono (水田物). Naokurô did not bid this time because he was the owner of the blade. Hachirô’emon bade on Sôshû-mono, Masayoshi (正幸), Yoshitake (吉武), and finally atari on Motohira. Shinnosuke bade on Gokaji, on o-kuni-mono (御国物, local Satsuma-shintô or shinshintô smiths), and on Banshû-mono (播州物, Harima-province work). Hikoji bade on Masayoshi (正幸) and atari on Motohira. And Jôsaburô bade on Yoshitake (吉武), Hirokuni (広国), and on Gokaji.

3rd kantei blade: Tsuguhiro (継広). Genjûrô bade again on Mitsu/Kô-rui, on the Oku school, and on Seki. Naokurô bade on Echizen-mono and on Mitsu/Kô-rui. Hachirô’emon bade atari on Tsughiro but continued to bid, for whatever reason, to o-kuni-mono, Kunihiro (国広), and on Ôsaka-uchi (大坂打, i.e. an Ôsaka-made blade). Shinnosuke did not participate as he already knew the blade, marked with the character son(jiru) (存) in the corresponding box. Also Hikoji did not bid as he was the owner and Jôsaburô bade on Seki, Sôshû-mono, and on Masahiro (正広).

4th kantei blade: Bizen Ômiya Kunimori (大宮国盛). Genjûrô bade on Echizen-mono, Taniyama, and Gokaji. Naokurô did not bid as he already knew the blade. Hachirô’emon bade on 2nd generation Shizu, on Senju’in, and on Naminohira. Shinnosuke bade on Naminohira, Echizen, and on Seki. Hikoji bade only once and on Sôshû-mono. And Jôsaburô bade on Niô (二王), Yukihira (行平), and on Kotetsu.

5th kantei blade: unsigned Echizen-mono. Genjûrô bade on Echizen-Seki, Taniyama, and Gokaji. Naokurô bade on Shimosaka (下坂) and on Hôjôji (法城寺). Hachirô’emon bade on Ôsaka-uchi, Shimosaka, and Takada. Shinnosuke did not bid as he was the owner of the blade. Hikoji bade on Echizen-Seki. And Jôsaburô bade on Masahiro (正広), Seki, and on Ôsaka-uchi.

Also interesting to observe on these two lists are the numerical remarks in red ink. For example we find the character for “ten” (, 十) written over Hachirô’emon’s first-bid atari on Tsuguhiro at the Bunkyû one nyûsatsu-kantei session. So an atari at the first bid counted ten points. The number eight (hachi, 八) is found over Genjûrô’s Oku bid on Motohira and on Hikoji’s second atari bid on Motohira. That means a dôzen at the first bid and an atari at the second bid counted both eight points. Four points were given for example to Shinnosuke when he bade at the second round on o-kuni-mono for Motohira. Also four points were given to Hachirô’emon when he got atari for Motohira at the fourth round and to Jôsaburô for his Yamato-mono bid after the third round for the Kanenaga blade. However, what we don’t know is why some kept bidding even after receiving atari and why on three occasions four rounds were allowed when the maximum number of bids is in all other cases three. Maybe if you were close with your last bid you got a final chance but as all these three cases are only seen at Hachirô’emon, it is also possible that he was a beginner and got thus by default four bids. Another questionable point is why the character da(su) was written over Genjûrô’s bid box for the Ômiya Kunimori blade. If it was his blade, why did he bid three times not even close to atari? So maybe this da(su) must had been some kind of mistake. Or the blade was signed “Kunimori” and Genjûrô did not know which Kunimori and submitted it therefore to see the opinion of the other participants or of the judge. Anyway, Shinnosuke was the winner of the Man’en one nyûsatsu-kantei session. His final score of 20 points (弐拾) is written on top of his column. Well, the Bunkyû one session did not show any winner. Maybe because it was thought that this session was kind of unbalanced as it consisted largely of submitters and of participants who already knew the certain blades.

Let us go over to Genjûrô Toshiaki’s Katana Mekiki Ichijô Oboetome notes. We find therein 53 blades and it is interesting to see that most emphasis was laid on the hamon and bôshi. That means measurements, sugata, nakago finish, and hataraki are not addressed at all. Also the jihada is hardly mentioned, just four times we read masame-hada and matsukawa-hada. But we find for example several times the entries nuritô (ぬりとふ) and jiiro-migoto (地色見事, lit. “steel color magnificent”). It is assumed that, written with the kanji (塗砥), the first term refers to a simple Edo-period way of finishing, namely by applying hazuya over both ha and ji after the blade was polished to the uchigumori step. Incidentally, hazuya is usually used for the ha only. So at nurito (which means literally “greased/greasy/smeared/blurred polish”) not too much attention was paid to the appearance of the blade, but we learn that also such pieces were submitted to nyûsatsu-kantei, causing problems for the participants in properly judging the blade in question. What Toshiaki also noted in his Katana Mekiki Ichijô Oboetome was, on 29 occasions, the name of the owner of the blade and which ones he owned himself and submitted to one of the nine nyûsatsu-kantei sessions (eleven pieces). So he practically provided at least one blade per session and sometimes even two. Some of the 29 recorded names appear in the retainer list of the Miyakonojô-Shimazu family and were rather high-ranking samurai. This shows us how much Furugaki Toshiaki was trusted to loan him precious blades for his kantei sessions. When it comes to the balance of the sessions, we arrive at an about 50:50 ratio of kotô to shintô, although the majority of the kotô blades are Muromachi and only a handful dates back to Kamakura or Nanbokuchô times. For example and apart from the aforementioned Tegai Kanenaga and Ômiya Kunimori, we find in Toshiaki’s kantei notes for Kamakura and Nanbokuchô a Senju’in katana, an Akihiro tantô, a Hiromitsu wakizashi, a Sa wakizashi (mumei, attributed), a Sadamune katana (mumei, attributed), and a Shizu katana (also mumei and attributed). As for shintô, we find names like Dewa no Daijô Kunimichi, Ikkanshi Tadatsuna, Ômi no Kami Hisamichi, or Hizen Yukihiro, but no blades of local smiths like Izu no Kami Masafusa, Mondo no Shô Masakiyo, or Ippei Yasuyo. Instead we find relative many blades of smiths from the Oku school, like Tadashige (忠重), Tadakane (忠金), Kunihira (国平), and the aforementioned Motohira. Also no local Naminohira blades are found, neither for kotô nor for shintô, even if some of the participants were bidding on them on several occasions. Maybe the famous award winning smiths Mondo no Shô Masakiyo and Ippei Yasuyo were just too high-priced for local samurai. And except for the few Kamakura and Nanbokuchô-era smiths, there are hardly any big names found in Toshiaki’s notes what tells us apart from the borrowed blades about the average quality of rural late Edo period nyûsatsu-kantei sessions. In other words, there were just no large numbers of “daimyô quality” blades available but it was obviously tried hard to display the best of what was going round among middle and lower-ranking samurai.


Picture 6: Example page from the Katana Mekiki Ichijô Oboetome.


Picture 7: The Tôken Nyûsatsu Kantei Dôzen Chô.

Toshiaki’s dôzen list is dated Ansei three (安政, 1856), that means he copied or compiled the list for his own use when he was just 18 years old. The way it is bound and folded shows us that it was designed for single-handed use. So we can assume that Toshiaki used it as a quick reference browsing through it with the left hand whilst holding the sword in the right. It does not only contain a simple dôzen list but also presents smiths sorted according to certain features like “shallow hi,” “thick kasane,” “unokubi-zukuri interpretation,” “high shinogi,” or “koshiba or midareba from the center of the blade upwards,” and it is easy to understand how much effort Toshiaki put into this document to make it an as useful as possible reference. As for the abbreviated copy of the Kotô Mei Zukushi Taizen Nukishô, we learn that he basically copied volumes 1 and 4 of the Kotô Mei Zukushi Taizen which contain the chapters “Basics of Sword Judgement,” “Step-by-step How to Judge a Sword,” “Differentiation of kotô and shintô,” “Superior Smiths from all Provinces”, and “Average and Inferior Smiths.” He diligently copied the pictures and paid much attention to the accurate reproduction of the hamon and bôshi.


Picture 8: Cover and sample page of Toshiaki’s Kotô Mei Zukushi Taizen Nukishô.


In conclusion it can be said that although the data seems to be quite limited at a glance, i.e. just a few sheets and booklets written by a rural lower-ranking Satsuma-samurai, it gives us nevertheless quite an insight into late Edo period kantei sessions. We learned that blades were borrowed from higher-ranking, mostly local samurai, that it was tried that each session was balanced and that at least a minimum of high-quality blades was presented, that points were awarded and a winner was selected, that some of the participants made minute notes of the kantei blades, and that the sessions were held at irregular intervals but several times a year (in Toshiaki’s kantei notes we find the dates fall Man’en one, and first month, fourth, sixth month, and seventh month of Bunkyû one) and at different locations with different persons acting as judge. So apart from the private aspect of holding the meetings in the house of the organizer, these nyûsatsu-kantei sessions were held pretty much the same way as we do it today. So if you are attending a meeting of one of the sword associations or local sword clubs and listen to the discussions about how to get grasp of high-quality blades and who can bring what for the next kantei, bear in mind that it had always been that way and that also Edo-period samurai put on their pants/hakama one leg at a time.