“Historic” References

Some of you who are also on the NMB might remember this great post from a while ago. After Chris made nihontô enthusiasts aware of the many digitized online references that come free of charge, I got quote some inquiries about adding indices to some of these sources or rather as copyright has expired anyway, to provide some full translations. And as you know, your wish is my command. So over the months, I started to tackle Ogura Sô’emon Yôkichi’s Akasaka Tankô Roku and Wada Tsunashirô’s Sôken Kinkô Zufu but I didn’t want to make a booklet or a PDF that you have to use at the side and where you have to work again with two things. No, I wanted to provide a single and complete copy or eBook that works by itself. Accordingly, I added all the pics (which are digitally enchanced in Wada’s Sôken Kinkô Zufu). So if you are interested, you can get these two and their eBook versions via the links below. I priced them according to what I think is fair for to the translation/compilation work I have invested. If you are fine with Japanese or just want to browse through the pics from time to time, you will find all related links along the NMB thread. Thank you for your attention.


Akasaka Tanko Roku

E Akasaka Tanko Roku


Soken Kinko Zufu

E Soken Kinko Zufu


Short Update

First of all, I have to apologize, again, for the troubles with the latest Japan’s Most Important Sword Fittings booklet. It is like with my Masamune book, no whatsoever system changes here and black and white books work perfectly fine, e.g. no problem my three-volume, 1,500 pages Swordsmith Index. It only concerns color prints. But anyway, the problem should be solved now and a new order can be placed. I have to see how to solve this in the future because this time, I waited the suggested time until the file was fully processed on their servers to see if it worked before making the announcement. I was even waiting another day, to be sure, just to get their error message the night after… So next time, I will wait even longer before making any announcement.

Other thing and something positive: By sponsoring of James Lawson, the NBTHK Shinsa standards for swords on nihontocraft.com were completed with the standards for tôsô (koshirae) and tôsôgu, and not only that, also the very recent amendments (May 2015) are now included. The standards can be found here:


Thank you.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #2 – Sanjô (三条) School 2

This time I want to talk about Yoshiie (吉家), the smith who is usually mentioned right after Munechika when it comes to introducing the Yamashiro tradition. Now Yoshiie is traditionally listed as Munechika’s eldest son but this is where the problems begin. Today we are looking at two kinds of extant Yoshiie works: Such interpreted in a way that speaks for mid-Kamakura Fukuoka-Ichimonji works, and such which speak for early Yamashiro, but not that early which would place them in the direct vicinity of Munechika. This state of facts gave rise to several theories and the today widely accepted theory is that there were most likely two Yoshiie, a Sanjô Yoshiie and a Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshiie. Others say that Sanjô Yoshiie moved later in his career to Bizen where he changed to more flamboyant interpretations but if that is true, then he was surely not the son of Munechika as there is a gap in production times of about two centuries (Yoshiie is dated around Kenryaku [建暦, 1211-1213]). Some say that there was no Sanjô Yoshiie and that the classical, Yamashiro-like works of Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshiie go back to the early years of this smith. But this approach is rather unlikely because those classical works are not just “Yamashiro-like,” they are fully-grown Sanjô works. That means, I don’t think that a Bizen smith started to work entirely in a classical Yamashiro style that feels at least hundred years older than the work of his contemporaries and then “cought-up” and worked in the Fukuoka-Ichimonji style. Incidentally, there are indeed some more classically interpreted Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshiie works extant and these might well go back to the early years of a Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshiie.

Also there are some who say that Yoshiie was the name Munechika used in his later years but that does not go in accordance with those (signed) Yoshiie blades that are Sanjô works for chronological reasons. Well, we can’t rule out that Munechika did change his name to Yoshiie in later years but it seems that this approach goes just back to another try to link the extant Yoshiie works somehow to Munechika. An issue that somewhat complicates the matter is the fact that the signatures of presumably Sanjô works are rather close to those which are presumably Fukuoka-Ichimonji works. Incidentally, we know two kinds of signature variants, namely niji-mei “Yoshiie” and sanji-mei “Yoshiie saku,” and a theory says that blades with the suffix saku in the mei go back to the hand of Sanjô Yoshiie and those in niji-mei to Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshiie. But as pointed out by Tanobe sensei in his Gokaden series, this is not really a valid rule as similarities between mei of many early smiths can be made out, e.g. Gojô Kuninaga and Kanenaga signed their character for “naga” in a very similar way as Tegai Kanenaga did and these guys were for sure not the same smith(s).

Next and on the basis of concrete examples, I want to elaborate on the workmanship of Sanjô Yoshiie and forward some of the most obvious differences to the blades of Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshiie. The blade shown in picture 1 is one of those where there is consensus on the attribution to Yoshiie from the Sanjô school. It has a normal mihaba, a high shinogi, a chû-kissaki, and due to the suriage there is only a hint of funbari left. The kitae is a fine and densely forged ko-itame with fine ji-nie and a faint jifu-utsuri and the hamon is a ko-chôji mixed with some rather small dimensioned and densely arranged ko-midare and ko-gunome elements. Further we see plenty of ashi and , a few sunagashi and kinsuji, and an arrangement of yubashiri, tobiyaki and nijûba that can be regarded as a reminiscence of Munechika’s “layered” appearance of the ha, although here, and as you can see, already in a noticeably more thought out and sophisticated manner. In other words, the blade is surely an early Yamashiro work but does not have the ancient feel that would date it back deep into the Heian period. But everything from end of Heian to very early Kamakura seems legit and so his dating around Kenryaku is pretty much spot on. By the way, some sources date him around Hôgen (保元, 1156-1159) what might be still in the realm of possibilities but the date around Kankô (寛弘, 1004-1012) that is found in some older sources is as mentioned above surely a try to link him to Munechika. The nioiguchi by the way is wide and shows ko-nie and the bôshi appears as a somewhat undulating hakikake-bôshi with a few kinsuji.


Picture 1: tachi, mei: Yoshiie (吉家), nagasa 70.6 cm, sori 2.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [former heirloom of the Kajiki-Shimazu (治木島津) family]


Picture 2: tachi, mei: Yoshiie saku (吉家作), nagasa 76.9 cm, sori 3.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [former heirloom of the Matsudaira family]

The Yoshiie blade shown in picture 2 is also attributed to Sanjô Yoshiie. Well, the mei is hardly illegible and it was later altered to “Amakura” (天座) but still traces of the initial characters “Yoshi” and “ie” can be made out. It is of a classical interpretation showing a dense ko-itame with fine ji-nie and a nie-like utsuri in combination with a ko-chôji-midare hamon that is mixed with many ashi and , strong kinsuji and some sunagashi at the base and which runs out as a calm suguha towards the tip. The nioiguchi is bright, wide, and nie-laden and Honma writes that the blade really has a classical “Kyô feel,” in other words, early Yamashiro tradition. The bôshi is sugu and has a very smallish kaeri. This blade is precious because it has an ubu-nakago with one mekugi-ana. The tang has a pronounced ha-agari kurijiri and faint kiri-yasurime can be made out.


Picture 3: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei: Yoshiie saku (吉家作), nagasa 74.5 cm, sori 2.3 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, sakihaba 1.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [former heirloom of the Shimazu family]

The blade shown in picture 3 is attributed to Sanjô Yoshiie but if you look at the yakiba as a whole, it is relative wide and magnificent and although the sugata is indeed elegant, it has also a magnificent feel that rather speaks for Kamakura than Heian. The jigane is a dense ko-itame with fine ji-nie and the hamon a densely arranged and nie-laden ko-midare mixed with chôji and ko-ashi/ The bôshi is midare-komi and the tang that is somewhat suriage shows shallow katte-sagari yasurime. So this could well be an earler Fukuoka-Ichimonji work what makes me think that maybe there was even an third, a Ko-Ichimonji Yoshiie whose existence could easily explain these intermediate interpretations and edge cases. And last but not least I want to show you in pictures 4 and 5 two of those Yoshiie blades that are today attributed to the Fukuoka-Ichimonji smith. The first one shows a flamboyant ô-chôji-midare with a prominent midare-utsuri and just by looking at the hamon at a glance you surely would not think of a late Heian Yamashiro work.


Picture 4: tachi, mei: Yoshiie saku (吉家作), nagasa 76.1 cm, sori 2.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mun [former heirloom of the Chichibunomiya (秩父宮) family]


Picture 5: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei: Yoshiie saku (吉家作), nagasa 70.4 cm, sori 1.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, dense itame with ji-nie and a clearly visible midare-utsuri, ko-midare in ko-nie-deki mixed with gunome along the upper half and with chôji-midare along the haki-omote side, also some kawazu-no-ko chôji in places, the ha is altogether rather flamboyant but does not have that many ups and downs


So in conclusion I tend to think for the time being that there was a Sanjô Yoshiie and a Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshiie and that the former was, if at all, the grandson of Munechika and not his son as his works are just too far away from the highly classical, “ancient” interpretations of Munechika. Well, there is another thing that complicates the matter. If Sanjô Yoshiie was the son or grandson of Munechika, then his works should be somewhat more classical or at least on the same level as those of Gojô Kanenaga (兼永) and Kuninaga (国永). And when you take a look at these Gojô works (I will talk about them in one of the next posts), it seems in their case too that we are facing a few different approaches in workmanship or aesthetics. That means, some of them are highly classical whilst others show prominent gunome and/or chôji and look like early Kamakura works at a glance. And that makes me think that either these smiths, i.e. Gojô Kanenaga and Kuninaga and Sanjô Yoshiie, made at some time a great progress in their craft, or that there was one or two more generations active of each of these smiths. Well, this is just a thought and not substantiated by any deeper studies but the gap of not only age but also of refinement in craftsmanship between these smiths and Munechika who was supposedly their father or teacher puzzles me. Dating the Gojô smiths and Yoshiie to the end of the Heian period would make sense to me as that would allow us to accept that they might have worked right into early Kamakura. But this would mean that we also must date Munechika later what in turn does not go in accordance with his blades as they indeed look significantly older and nothing like transition from Heian to Kamakura. You can now see the problem we have with these early smiths and their handed down active periods and if you want to read a little more about these difficulties, I did a write-up on Ô-Kanehira a while ago here that deals with the same issues. Anyway, I will be back in a little and introduce some more Sanjô smiths before we arrive at their offshoot, the Gojô school.

Japan’s Most Important Sword Fittings

Update: As a reference, I compiled a brief booklet that contains all 27 sword fittings that are by today designated as jûyô-bunkazai, enlarged by 28 items that got jûyô-bijutsuhin. As mentioned, it is just a reference for those who always wanted to know what kind of sword fittings and tsuba are regarded by the Japanese government, or Bunkachô in particular, as being of greatest importance. The booklet comes in color and is in letter format. Price is just a little more than the printing costs and I also uploaded an eBook version of course (see links below). Thanks for your attention!

Japan’s Most Important Sword Fittings (color paperback)

Japan’s Most Important Sword Fittings (eBook)


Some thoughts on Wada-sukashi

It has now been almost ten years since I have translated Itô Mitsuru’s first book on the Higo masters, Works of Kanshirô Nishigaki, and as Higo-tsuba are quite a world of their own, this translation and the translation of the subsequent two Higo volumes gave rise to several fruitful discussions and Itô’s books were undoubtedly a big success in giving collectors a greater understanding of these very special tsuba which are so sought after since the time they left the workshops of the masters. It is only natural that many questions remain, be it about attributions based on sophisticated differences in workmanship or about historical aspects. Well, this time I want to forward some thoughts on a question that rather belongs to the smaller unsolved mysteries when it comes to Higo-tsuba, and that is the question on why are Wada-sukashi (和田透し) named that way.


Picture 1: Wada-sukashi tsuba

First, what are Wada-sukashi at all? Wada-sukashi belong to the group of symmetrical ô-sukashi that occupy a majority of the left and right surfaces of a tsuba. That means the general term for such an openwork design is sayû-ô-sukashi (左右大透し, lit. “left and right ô-sukashi”). For example, also the famous namako-sukashi (海鼠透し) design comes under that category and it seems that such large and symmetrical ô-sukashi designs originated in Higo in the first place. Another way to describe Wada-sukashi tsuba in a neutral way would be futatsu-mokkô otafuku-gata, i.e. “two-segmented mokkô-gata in otafuku shape.” So why Wada-sukashi? Numata Kenji (沼田鎌次) writes in his two-volume Tsuba-Kodôgu Gadai Jiten (鐔・小道具画題事典, Yûzankaku 1998) the following:

“It was custom since olden times for the Hosokawa family to name these tsuba that way and thus the term was locally in use in the Higo area but the origins and the reasons of this naming are unclear. So the meaning of ‘Wada’ is unclear. As seen in the picture, both the shape and the sukashi design of the tsuba actually don’t have any specific highlights and are hard to grasp but there is something in the quality of the iron and the way the niku is distributed that attracts ones attention. So they belong to the realm of the so-called mysterious tsuba and more and more people get attracted by their hidden charme. This tsuba shown here is according to tradition a work of Hosokawa Sansai.”

So starting with Numata, every reference you consult for Wada-sukashi says that the meaning of this term is unclear but interesting is, that the term is quasi accepted as it is and for example also the NBTHK issues papers that say straightforward Wada-sukashi (see picture 2). Now when one reads this term, you think first of all of the common family name “Wada” but after doing some research, I was not able to come up with any historic member of any of the Wada branches that was somehow in a master-vassal relationship to the Hosokawa. Also none of the Higo-kinkô lineages was from the Wada family and it seems anyway odd to name this rather plain sukashi motif after a person, except for if this person was the inventor of this design. Next thing to check is to see if Wada is a place name and refers to some town or region in former Higo province but again, no result.

Picture 2: NBTHK hozon paper to Higo, work described as “Wada-sukashi tsuba” (和田透鐔)

So what remains when “Wada” neither refers to a family nor to a place name? Time for the dictionaries and a neutral, i.e. hiragana search for the term wada (わだ), and lo and behold, both the Ôbunsha Zen’yaku Kogo Jiten (旺文社全訳古語辞典, Ôbunshas’ Dictionary for Classical Japanese) and the dictionary Kôjien (広辞苑) contain an (almost identical) entry on wada. According to these dictionaries, the term wada was written with the character (曲) and means “curved terrain,” e.g. “inlet.” Both sources quote a poem from the Man’yôshû as major reference for the use of this old term which goes:

Sasanami no Shiga no ohowada yodomu tomo mukashi no hito ni mata mo ahame ya mo.


“The water with its gently rippling waves on the great inlet at Shiga is still, so how could we meet the people of the past?”

This poem is by the Asuka poet Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (柿本人麿・柿本人麻呂) who was the most prominent of the poets included in the Man’yôshû and who is ranked as one of the Thirty-six Immortans of Poetry. Hitomaro wrote this very poem when he was travelling along Lake Biwa and passed the former capital of Emperor Tenchi (天智天皇, 626-672) who had installed his court at what is present-day Ôtsu (大津) at the southern end of Lake Biwa, i.e. the area which Hitomaro refers to as “great inlet” (ohowada). Only five years after Tenchi had made Ôtsu imperial capital, Emperor Tenmu (天武天皇, 631-686) attacked that court, seized power, and relocated the imperial capital back to Asuka. Now Hitomaro was serving Tenmu’s successor, Empress Jitô (持統天皇, 645-703) and writing in a sentimental manner (“how could we meet the people of the past?”) about the former enemies of his then quasi employer was a sensitive thing (“water is still” is a metaphor for “standstill” or “no progress” in a wider sense). But Jitô was actually Tenchi’s daughter and maybe his poem was welcomed by her rather than seen as poetical attempt to long for the regency of the past.


Picture 3: The Wada-sukashi tsuba shown in the Higo Kinkô Roku which is attributed to Hayashi Matashishi. The note reads tagane (タガネ), i.e. it is worked off along the inner edges in tagane-sukashi manner as seen for example on some Akasaka-tsuba.

The Man’yôshû and all the other anthologies of this caliber were classics and every person and bushi of good breeding knew them so to speak inside out. Hosokawa Sansai was born into a family that was for generations deeply involved in cultural matters (more on that here) and was accordingly educated. What I now think is that maybe the curved, somewhat narrowing openings of the sayû-ô-sukashi tsuba in question might have reminded Sansai of inlets but as he was a man of vast reading, he just did not name them irie (入り江) what is the so to speak “normal” term for “inlet.” He was probably more thinking in terms of the old classics and thus referred to an inlet by the poetical term wada (わだ・曲). Well, we don’t know anything about how and when this term was written down when it comes to tsuba but the later and present-day way of writing of this sukashi design with the characters (和田) for wada does not make any difference. There are namely the so-called Man’yôgana (万葉仮名), an ancient writing system that employs Chinese characters to represent Japanese language. That means, most of the old classics can entirely be written in Man’yôgana and the above quoted poem of Hitomaro that starts with “Sasanami no Shiga…” could also be found like this (with the term wada highlighted):


In short, the Man’yôgana allowed poets to use phonetic homonymous kanji characters for the Japanese hiragana syllables, i.e. the kanji are used for their sounds and not their meanings. There was no standard and different kanji could be used for each sound so wa could have been written with the characters (和・丸・輪) and da/ta with the characters (太・多・他・丹・駄・田・手・立) and any combination was possible to represent wada. Well, most common Man’yôgana replacements for wa and da/ta were (和) and (太・田) and that is in my opinion how the sukashi design that reminded of inlets, wada (わだ・曲), was eventually written (和田). Please note, it does not necessarily mean that Sansai or whoever from the Hosokawa family had the Man’yôshû and Hitomaro’s poem in mind when seeing or trying to see something in these tsuba. It is as mentioned just that he or they were thinking in poetical terms and named them wada instead of irie. When thinking of inlets along the coast of Higo, the Shirakawa that runs along Kumamoto Castle, the Midorikawa to the south, or the Kumagawa with its small Mugi Island at the gates of Yatsushiro Castle come to mind, alhough I am not sure how these regions looked like at the beginning of the 17th century. Or Sansai really thought of Lake Biwa when seeing Wada-sukashi tsuba and remembered Hitomaro’s poem? I guess we will never know but for the time being, the approach with the old poetic term for “inlet” makes more sense to me than too look for a person or place named Wada to find out the backgrounds of the naming of this motif. In other words, the sukashi design of Wada-sukashi tsuba resembles as much inlets (or even lake Biwa with a little imagination, see picture 4) as namako-sukashi resemble sea cucumbers. And maybe after writing the old term wada with Man’yôgana over several centuries, the connection to the initial reference “inlet” got lost.


Picture 4: Wada-sukashi next to Lake Biwa.


Picture 5: Both sides of a Wada-sukashi tsuba that papered straightforward to “Higo.” Please note the delicate silver nunome patches and the subtle file marks at the bottom mokkô indentation that is so often seen on Higo-tsuba (i.e. namako-sukashi) of that interpretation.

So far my thoughts on this topic and last but not least I want to introduce in picture 5 the fine Wada-sukashi tsuba that goes with the above shown paper. Also I want to sincerely thank its owner for putting many pictures of his Higo-tsuba collection at my disposal and for stimulating the question on why Wada-sukashi tsuba are actually called Wada-sukashi tsuba.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #1 – Sanjô (三条) School 1

I would like to add a few introductory words before we start with the Sanjô school. First of all and speaking of the gokaden in my last post, the Japanese swordsmiths school are usually introduced via the aforementioned goki-shichidô system. That means even if the gokaden are so dominant when it comes to kotô times, the swordsmiths schools are usually not introduced in the gokaden order Yamashiro → Yamato → Bizen → Sôshû → Mino → Rest of the Sword World but, either starting with Yamashiro or Yamato, worked off province by province for each goki-shichidô entity. So Bizen comes way after Yamashiro and Yamato as the system first goes eastwards from the Kinai region, then north, and then quasi comes back and goes west and down to Kyûshû. You might imagine this system as a clock, with Kinai in its center and a shichidô circuit as its hand, starting with the Tôkaidô and working-off anti-clockwise the Tôsandô, Hokurikudô, San’indô, San’yôdô, Nankaidô, and Saikaidô, i.e. Kyûshû (see picture below). Well, some publications don’t stick strictly to this clock-system and might introduce the Hokurikudô schools before those along the Tôsandô but going anti-clockwise is how the order of school introduction basically works. Also there is no rule with which of the two major Kinai-based traditions, i.e. Yamashiro and Yamato, to start. Some use a chronological approach and say Yamato is the oldest tradition and start so with the Yamato schools but there is actually not that a big time difference between the emergence of the earliest Yamashiro (i.e. Kyôto-based) and Yamato (i.e. Nara-based) schools. The historical and geographical backgrounds for the development of each of the first indigeneous schools of sword making (e.g. Yamashiro, Yamato, Ko-Hôki, Môgusa, Ko-Kyûshû) are sophisticated topics on their own and should be omitted here. Anyway, like you already noticed, I want to start with Yamashiro. Oh, and a last note before we start: I will present the blades here for a better readbility of the posts and due to reasons of space in a horizontal manner. This was quite a difficult decision as I break away from the standard rule to present blades vertically to get an instant feel for the sugata and proportions but the blog posts will just become too lengthy and too confusing with all the scrolling. But everyone is free to download the pics and rotate them. I apologize for the extra work.



The Sanjô school was founded by Munechika (宗近), nickname Kokaji (小鍛冶), who is traditionally dated around Ei´en (永延, 987-989), what means he worked at about a time when Kyôto had been the new imperial capital for two centuries and roughly 250~300 years after the youngest swords in the Shôsô’in Repository had been made. So Munechika’s works are considered to be one the earliest extant specimen of a fully developed nihontô, what is a single-edged and curved blade in (as far as long swords are concerned) shinogi-zukuri, and standing in front of for example the meibutsu Mikazuki-Munechika (三日月宗近), it really looks its age (see picture 1). I say “standing in front of” on purpose because chances to study a Munechika hands on or come across one in the wild are virtually zero. All known blades are either in temple possession, imperial treasures (gyobutsu, 御物), or preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum. But the ancient, highly dignified, and graceful look of the Mikazuki-Munechika does not only go back to its age as for example Ko-Hôki and Ko-Bizen blades that date back to around the same time are so to speak more “substantial,” although being still pretty elegant at the same time. The highly dignified and graceful look of the Mikazuki-Munechika has to be seen in its contemporary cultural context as experts agree that it was most likely not made as a war sword. Of course it also has lost some substance due to the polishes that were necessary over ten! centuries but it never had been massive in the first place. At the time it was made, the good old Heian culture was at its peak. The famous Pillow Book and Tale of Genji were written when Munechika was active and the court was full of refined aristocrats for whom swords were merely symbols of their rank and obligatory accessories. Apart from one major disturbance, the rebellion led by Taira no Masakado (平将門) in 939/40, the imperial capital was quite peaceful up to the time of Munechika and although the first dark clouds were gathering over the aristocracy, there was yet no sign that the just briefly forming military class was ever becoming so strong that it takes over the entire country. It goes without saying that most of the then swordsmiths were indeed producing weapons but the largest customer base for Munechika and his contemporary Kyôto-based colleagues was the aristocracy. Accordingly and apart from the graceful sugata, a blade not only had to be masterly crafted but also had to be refined and beautiful as everything rural, rustic, and uncouth was usually frowned upon in noble circles. So Munechika’s blades show basically a soft looking and beautiful jigane with a fine ko-mokume in combination with a relative narrow suguha-based hamon that is hardened in ko-nie-deki. There are actually quite many hataraki like nijûba, sanjûba, uchinoke, ko-ashi, , yubashiri, kuichigaiba, muneyaki, inazuma, kinsuji, ji-nie, and chikei and the suguha is livened up by ko-midare and even subtle ko-chôji elements. Also the hada varies in density and shows here and there larger structures but all these hataraki and features are very natural, unaffected, and unsophisticated and put pointly, his blades make the overall impression of being works of one from a group of the earliest outstanding smiths that had just mastered their craft but for whom it was yet not time to experiment with forging and hardening techniques from an artistic point of view. Or in other words, Munechika would not even come up with the idea of hardening a flamboyant ôbusa-chôji even if he was probably technically capable of doing so. Munechika and his colleagues put on the clay coat how they knew it will work for the hardening process, maybe with some accentuations here and there, but the principal job in creating the hamon was left to the metallurgical – back then “magical” – interplay between steel and heat treatment. Incidentally, there is the tradition that Munechika was a court noble himself who started to forge swords as a pastime in his residence along Kyôto’s Sanjô. It turned out that he was very talented and soon took orders from his noble colleagues and even from the emperor, but just as it is the case with Masamune, there are so many legends and plays around Munechika that we do not longer know which tradition has a core of truth and which one is just pure fiction.


Picture 1: kokuhô, tachi, mei: Sanjô (三条), meibutsu Mikazuki-Munechika, nagasa 80.0 cm, sori 2.7 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, sakihaba 1.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [Tôkyô National Museum]


Picture 2: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei: Mune… saku (宗◯作) (Den Munechika), nagasa 78.8 cm, sori 3.2 cm, motohaba 2.8 cm, sakihaba 1.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [Wakasahiko-jinja, Fukui Prefecture]


Picture 3: gyobutsu, tachi, mei: Munchika (宗近), nagasa 78.4 cm, sori 2.4 cm, motohaba 2.85 cm, sakihaba 1.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [imperial treasure]


Picture 4: Characteristic features of Sanjô Munechika’s workmanship.

I have already described the characteristic features of Munechika’s workmanship above but want to point them out in detail in picture 4 on the basis of the oshigata introduced in picture 3. As you can see, there is a general trend towards more horizontal hataraki and towards a “multi-layered” hamon. Before we continue with other smiths of the Sanjô school, I want to deal with Munechika’s tang finish and signatures. The tangs of the Mikazuki-Munechika and of the gyobutsu are in kijimono-gata whereas the others are just tapering and slightly curved. Due to the age the yasurime are hardly discernible but some tangs of Munechika do show katte-sagari yasurime. If the tip of the tang is not chamfered as on the Mikazuki and the jûyô-bunkazai seen in picture 5, it is usually a shallow kurijiri. Munechika either signed with a fine and smallish chiselled niji-mei “Munechika” on the haki-omote, or with a somewhat larger dimensioned niji-mei “Sanjô” on the haki-ura side. (The jûyô-bunkazai seen in picture 2 was long thought to bear a niji-mei but traces of the character for “saku” can be seen between the top and the second, the ubu mekugi-ana. The later added upper mekugi-ana goes goes through the now no longer legible character for “chika.”) There is no definite answer so far that explains the question why he either signed with “Munechika” or “Sanjô” and why he switched between the haki-omote and haki-ura side. Also we will probably never able to tell for sure if there were two or even three generations with that name as some assume. Please note that there are actually many blades with the yoji-mei “Sanjô Munechika” going round but they are basically all ruled out as gimei. Well, and then there is the meibutsu Ebina-Kokaji on which I did a write-up a while ago here.


Picture 5: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei: Sanjô (三条), nagasa 78.2 cm, sori 3.3 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [Nangû-taisha, Gifu Prefecture]


Picture 6: The signatures of Munechika. From left to right: Mikazuki-Munechika, jûyô-bunkazai of the Nangû-taisha, gyôbutsu, jûyô-bunkazai of the Wakasahiko-jinja

As this series is on kantei, I don’t want to just forward characteristics in workmanship and that’s it but in the case of these very early smiths it isn’t easy at all to give kantei tips as hardly any of their works are accessible anyway and as I so have to rely heavily on what is written in the references. Now Sanjô Munechika, Ko-Bizen Tomonari (古備前友成) and Ko-Hôki Yasutsuna (古備前友成) are often mentioned in the same breath when it comes to the founder generation of the nihontô that is known by name. First of all, Munechika’s and Tomonari’s workmanships are closer together than they are with the workmanship of Yasutsuna. Both Munechika and Tomonari forged a ko-mokume but that of Munechika is by trend somewhat finer whereas it stands more out at Tomonari. Also the ji-nie is more evenly distributed over the blade at Munechika than it is at Tomonari where we can also see some utsuri and jifu in turn. Yasutsuna then again mixed in some larger ô-hada structures and principally rather forged in itame than in ko-mokume. Also his ji-nie is more rough and visible than that of Munechika and Tomonari as his entire jiba is way more nie-laden than it is at the former two smiths. When it comes to the hamon, Tomonari’s ha tends more to nioi, i.e. the order goes Yasutsuna → Munechika → Tomonari in terms of the intensity of the nie. Munechika’s hamon appears with its majority of horizontal hataraki more “layered” whereas we see a hint more fully formed ko-chôji and ko-midare at Tomonari and not this “layer effect” and more sunagashi and hotsure at Yasutsuna which give his ha a somewhat more frayed appearance. Apart from that, Yasutsuna’s hamon usually starts with a prominent yaki-otoshi. But most obvious are the differences in sugata as Munechika’s blade are as mentioned very graceful and slender whereas those of Tomonari and Yasuchika are more magnificent and wide and show a way more pronounced koshizori than it is the case at Munechika.


In the next part I will continue with the sons and students of Munechika before we come to the Sanjô descendant, the Gojô school. I hope you like so far where this kantei series is going and the next post should follow in a little.