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 yô, 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 yô, 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.