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.



One thought on “The sword polisher Takeya Rian and the Twenty-six Martyrs of Nagasaki

  1. Pingback: The Twenty-Six Martyrs of Nagasaki | Aliens in This World

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