KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #4 – Gojô (五条) School

We have arrived at the one and only direct Sanjô offshoot, the Gojô School. According to tradition and as seen in the Sanjô Genealogy presented here, the offshoot was founded by Sanjô Arikuni’s (有国) son Kanenaga (兼永) who lived and worked in the vicinity of Kyôto’s Gojô axis, what earned the school its name. Traditionally Kanenaga is dated around Chôgen (長元, 1028-1037) but what has to be seen in the context of bringing him in about “grandson-distance” to Munechika who, as we know, is traditionally dated around Ei’en (永延, 987-989). Before we continue I have to address an obvious thing, and that is the course of this series. As you can easily see, talking about the early schools – i.e. everything that comes with a “Ko-” prefix (like here Ko-Kyô-mono) – means dealing with a big lack of extant references. So no one can avoid making his or her way, hand over hand, along the very same few blades and matching them as good as possible with the written references (which on top of that differ from each other). Apart from that, the historic references were often written in a rather flowery style and early oshigata were highly subjective copies of a blade’s characteristics. In addition, there had been this “need” among upper (warrior or aristocratic) classes from the earliest times on for having swords by certain famous master in their collection. This lead to many counterfeit signatures and attributions of unsigned blades to famous names which in turn later entered the annals as alleged original references themselves. And when we combine all this, it should be easy to imagine that we are facing a huge hodgepodge of data and it is not surprising that many unsigned blades that are attributed to a certain smith or school do not really match the interpretations of the very few extant signed specimen.


Picture 1: The two “unshakeable” Kanenaga mei; left the jûyô-bunkazai, right the jûyô-bijutsuhin

As for Kanenaga, there are only five signed blades extant, or just two if you rule out the three where only the character for “Kane” is left (at two of them the blade is shortened up to the character of “Kane,” both are jûyô, and at the other one, which is tokubetsu-jûyô, only the “Kane” character is illegible of the niji-mei). The two “unshakeable” ones are designated as jûyô-bunkazai and as jûyô-bijutsuhin respectively whereas they signature differs (see picture 1). The former is signed in an overall somewhat larger manner than the latter and also the lower part part of the character “Kane” (兼) is chiselled in a different manner. The jûyô-bunkazai tachi (picture 2) is slender and has a deep koshizori with funbari and a ko-kissaki. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie, fine chikei, and faint nie-utsuri. The hamon is a ko-chôji in ko-nie-deki with a rather wide nioiguchi that is mixed with ko-midare, ko-gunome, ko-ashi, and kinsuji. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri, nijûba, and hakikake. The tang is entirely ubu and has a kurijiri and one mekugi-ana. The blade has an elegant and very classical shape but again we have here (see chapter on Sanjô Yoshiie) some characteristics that make one think of Bizen, for example the relative large amount of “real” chôji (i.e. not just chôji ashi along a suguha-chô but “actively” protruding chôji tassels), especially along the monouchi where the hamon shows conspicuous ups and downs. So the overall quite sophisticated interpretation of the jiba speaks on the one hand for a later production time, i.e. rather early Kamakura than mid-Heian, but the classical shape and the nijûba along the bôshi which tie the blade to the Sanjô school on the other hand speak for Heian. Thus we maybe meet in the middle, which would be late to very end of Heian.


Picture 2: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei “Kanenaga” (兼永), nagasa 77.1 cm, sori 2.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [owned by the NBTHK, former collection of Kimura Tokutarô (木村篤太郎, 1886-1982)]

I don’t have any information on the jûyô-bijutsuhin so I want to focus on the tokubetsu-jûyô of which the second character is illegible but which is otherwise ubu. Please note that the NBTHK is, as often in such high spheres, careful and gives an attribution to Gojô as there also other Gojô artists active whose names start with “Kane,” e.g. Kanetsugu (兼次) and Kaneyasu (兼安). Well, these smiths quasi only exist on paper as no signed blades are extant by them, but it is true, you just can’t make a straightforward Kanenaga attribution if you are not entirely sure. So the tokubetsu-jûyô (picture 3) also has an elegant sugata with a strong koshizori, funbari, and a ko-kissaki. The jigane is an itame with ji-nie and a faint nie-utsuri. The hamon shows this time not so many chôji. It is a suguha-chô in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-chôji, ko-midare, and plenty of ashi and . The nioiguchi is rather tight but tends to be dull along the monouchi. The bôshi is sugu with a short ko-maru-kaeri.


Picture 3: tokubetsu-jûyô, mei “Kane…” (兼◯), nagasa 77.4 cm, sori 1.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune


Now to Kanenaga’s alleged son Kuninaga (国永) with whom we are facing the very same difficulties. He is listed, as mentioned, as son of Kanenaga but some see him as his younger brother. Traditionally he is dated around Tengi (天喜, 1053-1058) but problem here is that several of Kuninaga’s works even look a hint more classical (i.e. old) than works of Kuninaga. But again, evidence base is very limited. As for “unshakeable” signed Kuninaga works, there are only six known, and within these six, we can make out four different signature variants with experts being in disagreement on the dating or attribution to different craftsmen and/or generations. Let’s start with Kuninaga’s famous work, the imperial treasure (gyobutsu) Tsurumaru-Kuninaga (鶴丸国永) (see picture 4), whose mei makes up one of the four categories by itself. Well, at least most experts agree that the Tsurumaru is not only the best work of Kuninaga but the best of all Ko-Kyô-mono in existence (and some even say that it is the best Yamashiro work of all). The blade is ubu and kenzen, i.e. in perfect condition, what adds to the value of the piece, and shows an elegant sugata with funbari and a deep koshizori that bends down towards the tip. The kitae is a very densely forged ko-itame with fine and beautiful ji-nie and the hamon is a suguha-chô with ko-midare and ko-chôji in thick nioi, plenty of ko-nie, and kinsuji. The bôshi tends to sugu and has a ko-maru-kaeri. So the Tsurumaru shows overall a more sophisticated workmanship than the Mikazuki-Munechika and dates therefore somewhat later.


Picture 4: gyobutsu, tachi, mei “Kuninaga” (国永), meibutsu Tsurumaru-Kuninaga, nagasa 78.8 cm, sori 2.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Category two of the known Kuninaga-mei contains two blades, a tachi that is preserved in the Ise Shrine and a jûyô-bunkazai ken (see picture 5) that was once owned by the tôsôgu expert Kokubo Ken’ichi. Unfortunately, I have no picture of the Ise Shrine blade but want to assume for the time being that the workmanship is similar to that of the ken as also the mei is very similar. My assumption bases on the following two factors: One is the statement of Honma sensei who was of the opinion that the Ise Shrine tachi is the oldest extant signed work of Kuninaga. And the other factor is that we can see a lot of the very classical, “naturally layered” approach of the ha at the ken. This feature can also be seen on the works of Sanjô Munechika what supports an earlier production time. The Ise Shrine tachi is slender and shows a koshizori and a ko-kissaki The kitae is itame that is mixed with ô-hada in places and the hamon is a nie-laden hiro-suguha-chô that is mixed with ko-midare and ko-chôji that comes with a more subdued nioiguchi. The ken shows a noticeable amount of masame along the kitae what makes it kind of yamatoesque. This and the fact that it is, well, an old ken, might add to the subjective “old feel” of the blade and Tanobe sensei assumes that ken had always been forged in a more classical way because making them had a strong religious and ceremonial character and did not leave much artistic freedom or room for trying something new. Apart from that, Tanobe also assumes that the subdued nioiguchi and thus more ancient feeling hamon of the Ise Shrine tachi goes back to a loss of hira-niku and that the hamon might once had been similar to that of the Tsurumaru. And Tsuneishi Hideaki (常石英明), the author of the Nihontô no Kenkyû to Kantei and Nihontô no Kantei to Kansho, even assumes that mei of category two go back to a third generation Kuninaga. Tsuneishi also says that the Tsurumaru-mei dates to the later years of a the first generation Kuninaga.


Picture 5: jûyô-bunkazai, ken, mei “Kuninaga” (国永), nagasa 32.1 cm, ryô-shinogi-zukuri [once owned by Kokubo Ken’ichi]

Also rather classical is the tachi whose mei forms category three. The blade was once a heirloom of the Bizen-Ikeda (備前池田) family and is completely ubu (see picture 6). It is slender, has a deep koshizori that bends down towards the tip, funbari, and a ko-kissaki. The kitae is itame and the hamon is a suguha-chô that is mixed with ko-midare and plenty of ha-nie, ashi and and that turns into a nidan-ba in places, i.e. a two-layered ha that consists (in this case) of a ko-midare-chô with much nijûba that makes it look like as if a “second” ha, a suguha, runs atop of it. Tsuneishi attributes this blade to the early period of Kuninaga.


Picture 6: tachi, mei “Kuninaga” (国永) [heirloom of the Bizen-Ikeda family]

And category four is formed by two blades, a jûyô-bijutsuhin tachi that was once owned by Itô Miyoji (伊東巳代治, 1857-1934) and a jûyô-bijutsuhin tachi that was once a heirloom of the Uwajima-Date (宇和島伊達) family. Tsuneishi says that the mei of this category go back to the second generation Kuninaga and Tanobe suggests that their workmanship can be considered as a kind of precursor of the later Yamashiro smiths, e.g. Ayanokôji Sadatoshi (綾小路定利) and Awataguchi Kuniyasu (粟田口国安). The tachi of Itô Miyoji (see picture 7) has an elegant sugata with some traces of funbari and shows a very densely forged ko-itame with penty of ji-nie and fine chikei. The hamon is a suguha-chô with ko-midare, plentiful of ko-nie, mixed with ko-chôji, and shows many hataraki in the form of yubashiri and repeated ashi especially in the area of the monouchi at the haki-omote side. In addition there are small and faint yubashiri and tobiyaki which run parallel to the ha but not in a continuous manner. The nioiguchi tends to be subdued. The other jûyô-bijutsuhin, i.e. the one from the possessions of the Uwajima-Date family, is suriage and shows the remnants of a relative wide and deeply cut suken on the one, and a koshibi with atop a bonji on the other side. It has a fine ko-itame with some nagare and plenty of ji-nie and yubashiri which tend to form an utsuri over almost the entire blade. The hamon is a nie-laden ko-chôji with many fine kinsuji and the bôshi is like at the Itô Miyoji blade more calm than the rest of the hamon and appears with as midare-komi with a short ko-maru-kaeri. So all in all, these two blades make with their rather flamboyant hamon a more sophisticated impression than the Bizen-Ikeda blade whereupon I don’t follow the approach of Tsuneishi of the latter being a work of a third, and the former two a work of a second generation, although I tend to think (for the time bing) that there was probably more than one generation Kuninaga as the mei and the workmanship show significant differences.


Picture 7: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tachi, mei “Kuninaga” (国永), nagasa 75.4 cm, sori 2.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [once owned by Itô Miyoji]


Picture 8: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tachi, mei “Kuninaga” (国永), nagasa 69.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [heirloom of the Uwajima-Date family]


For a better overview of all this “confusing” information, I have arranged above a large pic with the four mei categories in its center with all the so-far introduced blades connected to them so that you see it for yourself. So click on it, zoom in, and enjoy J. Last but not least I want to introduce a blade that is attributed to the Gojô school, i.e. not differentiating between Kanenaga and Kuninaga, but which is in my opinion insofar important as it forms kind of a link to the Sanjô school. It shows a nie-laden ko-midare that is mixed with ko-chôji, ko-ashi, fine kinsuji and sunagashi, and prominent yubashiri, nijûba and sanjûba (especially along the upper half of the blade) that create this “layered” appearance, although here no longer as ancient looking as at Munechika (but still pretty much classical). For a more detailed write-up and excellent pictures of the blade and its hataraki (highly recommended), please go to Darcy’s page here. That should do it for today and with the next part we are slowly entering Kamakura times when I will talk about the Ayanokôji school.


Picture 9: jûyô, tachi, mumei “Den Gojô” (伝五条), nagasa 68.7 cm, sori 1.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Gendaito Project Update


I just want to give you another short update on my upcoming Gendaito book. As some of you already know via direct correspondence with me, I had to rethink and postpone the project due to an unexpected “setback” when it comes to references. This of course does not apply do those who already and unhesitantly shared their information with me and who offered me further support when the project is entering the final and crucial phase of writing. But I have collected enough so far and kind of started to sort out data a while ago. After finishing my revised Swordsmiths of Japan and taking the info on the gendai guys therein as a basis, I arrived at about 1,100 smiths for the upcoming book. Of course I will not have pictures and reference blades/oshigata for all of them. Also I had to sort out whom to include and whom not and came to the following conclusion: Included will only be smiths whose career (or major part of the career) started after the ban on wearing swords (1876) as there were just too many shinshintô smiths active who were still making swords in the early years of the Meiji era and who I don’t want to include as they really don’t classify as gendaitô smiths. Also I will not include smiths whose career only started after WWII. But there might be some exceptions to these limits. Apart from that, I was experimenting with the layout and came to the conslusion that the book has to be two-part, that means it will consist of a large picture reference part and a part with basic info on those smiths of whom I don’t have any blade pictures of. Both parts will be structured alphabetically and aim of the second part is, as good as possible, not to leave any smith out. So the two pictures below are a very first attempt to see how this all might look like in the end. So to all of the gendaitô collectors out there, there is still enough time to give me feedback and forward me material as the crucial writing phase will not be started for a while. Also please note that in case you send me files, descriptions and further info to “gendaitoproject@gmail.com” (and I would appreciate that everything is going there and not to my regular address), everything is gathered there fore the time being and I will only reply later on to say thank you (and if there are further questions). Oh, and if anybody wants to financially support the preparative work on this project in the form of a small donation, what would be very very much appreciated, there is a humble button at the very end of this site for this 😉 Thank you all for your attention!




The wakizashi

Inspired by an article that appeared in the Tôken Bijutsu about a year ago and on which I will elaborate in the second part of this post, I was once again reflecting on the entire topic of the wakizashi (脇指・脇差). Well, due to the nature of the article, I was first focusing on mere blade lengths and restrictions but as my thoughts were spreading wider and wider, I thought it might be a good idea to write all that down in order to provide a general overview of this sword type. I guess when the term wakizashi is dropped, most of us automatically think of the shorter twin brother of the katana that represents one half of the famous daishô (大小) sword pair. Also many know that the wakizashi emerged sometime during the Muromachi period and that later on, it was so to speak the “maximum” of a sword a civil person was allowed to carry. This is all correct, so nothing has to be set straight right away, but the matter is of course much more complex. First of all, some etymological explanations. In earlier times, especially before entering the mid to later Muromachi period, the term katana (刀) was not referring to the katana as we know it today but to a short, dagger-sized and single-edged blade, or to a dagger in general if you want, and was mostly used as suffix (also with the Sino-Japanese reading ) in a compound term. For example, in historic sources we find terms like koshigatana (腰刀), uchigatana (打刀), tsubagatana (鐔刀), futokorogatana (懐刀), chiisagatana (小サ刀), wakigatana (脇刀), kogatana (小刀), or shôtô (小刀). From the context we often get a pretty good idea about what kind of sword or dagger was meant but many entries are ambiguous, e.g. when a later edition of a work quotes the very same paragraph with a different term than the initial one. The matter is further complicated by the fact that some terms were just used interchangably and that there were no universal dictionaries that defined terms and made their use mandatory, at least not until rather recent times. The first real scientific approaches that tried to put all that together, i.e. doing etymoligical studies and comparative researches of the sources, do not date before the mid-Edo period. So we are entirely relying to context interpretations of the original sources on the one hand, and on the more or less accurate views and interpretations of Edo period experts on the other hand. And with experts I mean that the Edo period scholars who wrote down their definitions were usually not sword but military historians and experts on the warrior class. Also important to note is that when reading their texts, we learn that by the mid-Edo period, that means at a time when the country had seen no larger battle for at least over a century, a great deal of sword and armor knowledge of the past had already been lost as some of them openly admit that they are merely guessing on what certain elements and features were for or how and by whom certain sword forms were worn and used. But we are not entirely groping in the dark, that means due to many many studies we have today a quite decent overview of what was going on in terms of swords for each era.

Actually, it is all not that complicated if you leave aside the Japanese terms for the time being and think in general sword/weapon terms. The pre-Edo period warrior, i.e. we are talking about the times before the big regulations came into play with the Tokugawa-bakufu, had (when it comes to swords) basically the following options: Long sword, shorter side, companion or ersatz sword, and dagger. It was now up to the rank, wealth, social status, field of application of his military unit, occasion, and other factors for what sword or what combination of swords a warrior was going. Over time, different terms came into use to refer to different interpretations and to different fields of application but basically they were all just talking about the one or other of these basic three sword types or sword combinations. All that we have to do is to find out what time, what clientele or wearer (aristocracy, bushi, or civilan class), and what occasion (e.g. battle, ceremony, civil service, private life) we are facing to break down the different terms. So there were approaches to classify these three sword types according to length, or to blade length to be precise, what resulted in the umbrella terms daitô (大刀) for the long sword, shôtô (小刀) for the shorter side, companion or ersatz sword, and tantô (短刀) for the dagger. Others tackled this need for proper naming from the point of view of use and introduced the term honzashi (also pronounced honsashi) (本差) for the the main, the longer sword, and the terms wakizashi (脇指・脇差), wakigatana (脇刀), wakimono (脇物), or sashizoe (差添), for the companion or ersatz sword. Incidentally, it is assumed that the terms wakizashi and wakigatana were actually shorter forms of the term wakizashi no katana (脇差の刀), for example noted that way in the late 14th century epic Taiheiki (太平記) wherein we read that “[when the tip of Fuchibe’s sword broke,] he threw it away and drew his companion sword” (sono katana o nagesute, wakizashi no katana o nuite, その刀を投げ捨て、脇差の刀を抜いて). And as the text is referring to the person in question wearing the other sword in a pocket at his chest, we learn that the ersatz sword was in this case a dagger and not a wakizashi-length companion sword. So as mentioned, we are talking about (more or less neutral) umbrella terms and terms like honzashi or wakizashi do not make clear without context to what kind of sword they are referring to, only that it was either the main or the side/companion/ersatz sword.


Picture 1: Higher ranking samurai wearing an ô-yoroi.

Back to the sword form wakizashi. Companion swords were worn early on to the main sword when going into battle. The main sword had, as far as battles are concerned, always been the tachi (and later on to a certain extent also the uchigatana) and the companion sword was by default a dagger. Please note that I stick to the Japanese way of addressing and also refer to daggers as “swords” in the first place. Well, some bushi opted for longer companion/ersatz swords, occasionally even to go with rather than instead of the initial companion dagger, and it is assumed that the origins of this trend have to be found within the turmoils of the Sengoku era. With all that had happened after things were escalating in Kyôto during the Ônin War, warriors of all ranks were eager not to be caught off guard at any time and have an “as full as possible” ersatz sword in case something happened with the main sword. Let me demonstrate that on the basis of some illustrations as a picture is worth a thousand words. In picture 1 we see the so to speak default armament of a mid to higher ranking mounted warrior throughout all periods. The armor and armor parts changed of course over time so please don’t pay too much attention to details of the armor shown. As you can see, the warrior is wearing a tachi suspended from the belt via two hangers and a companion sword, in this case a koshigatana-style dagger, that is thrusted through the belt. The bow was the main weapon, the tachi was for for attacking and defending at closer ranges (and of course for possible duels), and the dagger was an allpurpose “tool” and used as last resort in hand-to-hand combat and when the tachi was, for whatever reason, not available or applicable.


Picture 2: Warriors wearing companion swords that are conspicuously longer than daggers.


Picture 3: Uchigatana in aikuchi-style mounting intended to be worn thrusted edge-up through the belt as companion sword to the tachi.

Picture 2 now shows about how the Muromachi-period trend of wearing longer side swords had looked like. These swords were pretty much what we understand today of early wakizashi but please note that back then, the term wakizashi was a more neutral one as for example also an uchigatana mounted with a 70 cm long blade could have come under the category of side/companion/ersatz sword. To avoid confusion, it has become custom to refer to these longer swords by their other term sashizoe instead of wakizashi but strictly speaking, something like seen in picture 2 would come, when worn with the tachi, under the category of a wakizashi as it was not the main sword. Well, it is unclear when the term wakizashi became synonymous for companion swords that were in terms of length somewhere in between the main, i.e. the long sword and the dagger but reading between the lines of historic documents and analyzing their context, it seems that this “shift” in meaning took place sometime between the Momoyama and the early Edo period. Probably this was connected to the development of the “civilian samurai uniform” consisting of a kataginu/hakama ensemble and a pair of swords thrusted edge-up through the belt that took place at that very time (please see here for additional information). It was namely then when a quasi more standardized side sword started to form, or in other words, with entering the Edo period and the establishment of the daishô, it was no longer ambiguous to what kind of sword the term “side/companion word” was referring to and so the neutral term wakizashi slowly became the synonym for the smaller companion sword of the sword pair. And with that we are right at where for the first time nationwide sophisticated sword laws were issued.

So with the establishment of the Tokugawa-bakufu, the Tokugawa government regulated now very strictly all swords, i.e. how long a sword had to be, who was allowed to wear what kind of sword, and when certain swords had to be worn by whom. The honzashi of the samurai, i.e. the katana, was limited to a blade length of 2 shaku 8 sun (~ 84.8 cm) and the wakizashi to 1 shaku 8 sun (~ 54.5 cm). However, these measurements were slightly adjusted later. In the eighth year of Kanbun (寛文, 1668), the Tokugawa-bakufu issued the so-called mutô-rei (無刀令) with which it prohibited all persons not belonging to the samurai class to wear swords with a blade length over that of a ko-wakizashi (小脇指). Therefore a ko-wakizashi blade was determined to measure maximally 1 shaku 5 sun (~ 45.5 cm). Later this law was relaxed and so travellers of the partial dangerous Tôkaidô – the then main road between Kyôto and Edo – were allowed to wear swords with a nagasa up to 1 shaku 8 sun (so to speak a wakizashi instead of a ko-wakizashi) for their self-defence. So basically the Tokugawa government was saying that as a civilian, you were legally maximally allowed to carry the side/companion sword of a samurai. Everything between a wakizashi and a honzashi, i.e. a sword with a blade length of 54.5 to 60.6 cm, was classified as ô-wakizashi (大脇指). Please note that these measurements varied over time. For example, we also find law texts wherein a ko-wakizashi is defined as measuring maximally 1 shaku 3 sun (~ 39.4 cm) instead of the aforementioned 1 shaku 5 sun (~ 45.5 cm). Also please note that for wakizashi that measured in between a ko-wakizashi and an ô-wakizashi, also the more specific term of chû-wakizashi (中脇指) existed.

But although these laws sound quite strict, the transition between ko-wakizashi, chû-wakizashi, and ô-wakizashi were fluid and even if the eyes were surely on the bushi who were walking through the streets of Edo during their sankin-kôtai stay, there was no official “sword police” going through the rural fiefs making all samurai unsheath their swords and measure the nagasa of their mounted blade. So basically it was like no plaintiff, no judge and when there was no sword incident caused by a civilian that had to be officially investigated, it can be assumed that no one would take notice if you wore a chû-wakizashi instead of a ko-wakizashi on one particular day. When I say “sword incident caused by a civilian,” I am also referring to the fact that civilians were not only allowed to arm themselves with wakizashi because of robbers and similar risks but also to defend themselves against members of the samurai class who were going to make (unjustified) use of their right of kirisute-gomen (切捨御免), their right to strike with sword anyone of a lower class who compromised their honor. Parallel to the rigid hierarchic social class structure that was eventually cemented in the Edo period, underground organizations and outlaws were emerging in not to be underestimated numbers. There were for example gamblers (bakuto, 博徒) and peddlers (tekiya, 的屋) whose partially strict internal codes made them the predecessors of the modern yakuza. “Heroic” members of these groups who defended the “poor” townsmen against unlawful and arbitrary acts of local samurai were romantized as kyôkaku (侠客), lit. “men of chivalry.” Of couse these kyôkaku did not follow the law and as they actually saw themselves as “Robin Hoods,” they were wearing longer than allowed (often handachi-style mounted) wakizashi (see picture 4), which were not named ô-wakizashi but naga-wakizashi (長脇指・長脇差) in this context. In addition and in order to restore local peace, the bakufu had sometimes no other choice than granting the heads of these “organizations” certain rights so that they were at least able to keep other underground groups in check, and one of these rights was actually the permission to carry a naga-wakizashi instead of a ko-wakizashi. As you can see, the bakufu sometimes rather preferred to turn a blind eye to certain things as long as they were no longer bothered with it. Incidentally, these kyôkaku were thus also referred to as naga-wakizashi, i.e. about “those with the long wakizashi.” As these naga-wakizashi were from their outward appearance pretty much identical to a katana, also terms like ipponzashi (一本差) and ippongatana (一本刀) came in use to refer to the kyôkaku. These terms have to be understood as allusion to the term nihonzashi (二本差), lit. “the two sworders” or “the two-sword-wearers,” which was another name for a member of the samurai class.


Picture 4: Tattooed kyôkaku with a handachi-style mounted naga-wakizashi.


But naga-wakizashi were not only worn by outlaws. They could also have been the choice for a samurai who preferred to wear, for whatever reason, a longer sword pair. And with this we arrive at part two of this post. Sometimes it is hard to tell if a shinogi-zukuri blade, or a shinogi-zukuri shintô or shinshintô blade in particular, that measures slightly less or slightly over 2 shaku was intended as katana or as wakizashi. As mentioned earlier, transitions were fluid and the historic sword order I am introducing next is an important reference as it does not leave any doubt about what we are facing. It is a sword order placed by the Saga fief to two of their smiths, the 2nd generation Kawachi no Kami Masahiro (正広, 1627-1699) and the 4th generation Tadayoshi (忠吉, 1669-1747), who are addressed as Hashimoto Kawachi (橋本河内) and Hashimoto Shinzaburô (橋本新三郎) respectively, and reads:


Picture 5: Extant sword order from the archives of the Masahiro lineage (preserved in the Saga Prefecture Library (佐賀県立図書館).

一 長サ 弐尺壱寸七分 弐腰
一 反  少しすくめニ
一 刃  得手次第
打立可被差上候 以上
霜月六日 牟田七郎左衛門
Namigitae naga-wakizashi chûmon
• nagasa 2 shaku 1 sun 7 bu – futakoshi
• sori sukoshi sukume ni
• ha ete shidai
Migi no tôri hitokoshi ate kitto deki 
uchitate sashiagarubeshi-sôrô, ijô.
inu no
shimotsuki muika Muta Shichirôzaemon
Hashimoto Kawachi dono
Hashimoto Shinzaburô dono 
Order for ordinary forging quality naga-wakizashi:
two blades with a nagasa of 65.7 cm
• sori rather on the shallow side
• ha(mon) dependent upon the forte of the smith
Please make each sword according to these points.
Year of the dog (Genroku seven, 1694)
Sixth day of the eleventh month, Muta Shichirôzaemon (probably an official of the Saga fief)
to Mr. Hashimoto Kawachi
to Mr. Hashimoto Shinzaburô


wakizashi6-NidaiMasahiroPicture 6: 2nd generation Hizen Masahiro.

Hizen mainline swords in particular are very good for distinguishing between short katana and oversized wakizashi as their tangs were strictly finished according to the intended use. This means, blades that were intended as long swords or honzashi, in short as katana, were signed in tachi-mei, i.e. on the side of the tang that faces towards the wearer when wearing the mounted sword thrusted edge-up through the belt. Apart from that, the tangs of honzashi were finished with a somewhat roundish nakago-mune. Wakizashi in turn were signed in katana-mei and finished with a flat nakago-mune. So if you find a Hizen- with a nagasa of about 2 shaku and you are not sure if it is a katana or a wakizashi, check for these two features and they tell you exactly what the sword initially was.

As for the wakizashi-sized blades in general, there are certain rules of the thumb that can be applied to find out what the sword initially was. If you have a shinogi-zukuri shôtô that is obviously longer than dagger (e.g. sunnobi-tantô) size and shorter than katana size and that dates from the early to the late Muromachi period, you can assume that it was worn as wakizashi or sashizoe just like shown in picture 2. And the longer the blade, the more likely it is that they were mounted with a tsuba. If the blade is shorter and in hira-zukuri, it was probably worn as koshigatana like shown in picture 1. Please note that there were also longer, for example 45~50 cm measuring shôtô in hira-zukuri worn as wakizashi/sashizoe. Now with the approaching the Momoyama era, chances are increasing that a shinogi-zukuri shôtô was worn as wakizashi to the civilian samurai uniform. If you have a later Muromachi blade but that predates the Momoyama era and that measures somewhere around or slighty lesser than 2 shaku and comes with a relative short nakago, you are most likely facing a katateuchi. Katateuchi were intended for single-handed use, thrusted edge-up through the belt, and often worn as wakizashi/sashizoe to the honzashi, the tachi. So these blades too were worn just like shown in picture 2, although with the difference that katateuchi were by default mounted with a tsuba. Entering the Edo period, it is, as indicated, sometimes hard or even impossible to tell if a blade that measures somewhere around 2 shaku was ordered by a member of the samurai class to be his hon or his wakizashi. Many factors like personal preferences, body height, fencing style and so on come into play that might have influenced his choice of wearing an over or an undersized daishô pair. Also it is very difficult to tell in concrete numbers how strong the “impact” of kyôkaku and other outlaws were on the output of around 2 shaku measuring blades but the fact that the term naga-wakizashi was synonymously in use to refer to these guys suggests that there must had been a considerable number of such blades made for them.


Picture 7: Wearing the kodachi.

And then there is another category of swords that must be addressed when talking about side swords, and that is the kodachi (小太刀), the lit. “small tachi.” A theory says that the kodachi was born from the necessity that aristocrats wanted longer blades than koshigatana to wear in coaches (kuruma, 車) for their self-defence, i.e. after having handed over the main sword, the tachi, to the sword bearer. Therefore also the terms kuruma-gatana (車刀) and kuruma-dachi (車太刀) were in existence for shorter swords which were no daggers. Kodachi blades measure somewhere between 1 shaku 7 sun (51.5 cm) and 2 shaku (60.6 cm) and what distinguished them from contemporary uchigatana was that they were interpreted in shinogi-zukuri and basically maintained the proportions of a tachi. Uchigatana in turn were made prior to Muromachi times in hira-zukuri and were usually rather wide. Well, some speculate that kodachi were smaller tachi of the younger sons of the aristocracy or higher-ranking bushi (or especially for their genpuku ceremony) whilst others even assume that they were worn by women. The former approach and the approach that kodachi were alternative swords of higher-ranking persons is supported by the fact that many of the extant and unaltered kodachi were made by great master smiths, although it is of course quite possible that all the others, i.e. the ones that were not cherished as treasures, were just lost over time. Interesting is that also the term hakizoe-kodachi (佩き添え小太刀) existed what means that some kodachi were worn – edge down suspended from the belt as the prefix haki (佩き) implies – worn as side/companion/ersatz sword to a honzashi. Problem again is here the very limited evidence base, and that is especially true for kodachi-koshirae. But it is most likely that the kodachi was worn as seen in picture 7, i.e. with a simple hanger-system to formal and semi-formal outfits. One of the major references in this respect is the signed kodachi by Rai Kunitoshi (来国俊) that was once offered with its koshirae to the Futarasan-jinja (二荒山神社, Tochigi Prefecture). As experts assume that the mounting is original to the blade, the sword as a whole, i.e. not only the blade, was designated as kokuhô. The koshirae is interpreted in hirumaki style (蛭巻), that means hilt and saya were spirally wrapped with leather which was lacquered black. The fittings are of yamagane and the fukurin of the tsuba, the seppa, and the kabutogane were gilded. The area between the two ashi hangers bears a red-lacquer inscription which reads: “Kishin-tatematsuru Kaneko Genchû + kaô” (奉寄進金子玄忠). So it is assumed that this Genchû was the one who offered the sword to the shrine and that he was one of the ancestors of the Kaneko Tôdayû (金子頭太夫) family which later held one of the shrine offices. Very interesting historical piece but way too unique to draw conclusions on the appearance of kodachi in general.


Picture 7: kokuhô, kodachi, mei: “Rai Kunitoshi” (来国俊), nagasa 54.4 cm, sori 1.67 cm, motohaba 2.3 cm, sakihaba 1.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, very dense and fine ko-itame with ji-nie, suguha in ko-nie-deki with a rather tight nioiguchi, ko-ashi, sunagashi, and kinsuji.wakizashi9-kodachi

Picture 8: kokuhô, kuro-urushi hirumaki tachi-koshirae (黒漆蛭巻太刀拵), overall length 88.8 cm


I hope I was able to give you a decent insight into the vast world of the side sword, the wakizashi, and I should be back in a little with the next part of the Kantei series.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #3 – Sanjô (三条) School 3

With this chapter, I would like to close on the Sanjô School. Apart from Munechika and a few blades of (one) Yoshiie that are most likely Sanjô works, there are really not that many blades extant from this school. One Sanjô smith by whom at least a handful of works are known is Chikamura (近村) who is traditionally listed as son of Munechika. Well, some sources say he was the son of Yoshiie and the grandson of Munechika and in terms of workmanship, his blades come indeed pretty close to those of Gojô Kanenaga (兼永) who was the son of Munechika’s son Arikuni (有国) and Munechika’s grandson accordingly. In terms of sugata, Chikamura’s blades show an elegant and conspicuously curved tachi-sugata that is typical for early Yamashiro works but they are not that slender as those of Munechika. So we have here again a certain gap that speaks more for the grandson than for the son approach. The probably most famous blade of Chikamura is the one that was once preserved in the Tanzan-jinja (談山神社, Nara) and that went into the possession of the Imperial family before it was transferred into the Tôkyô National Museum where it is preserved today (picture 1). It shows a somewhat standing-out itame with ji-nie and a ko-midare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with many ko-ashi and , kinsuji, and nijûba along the monouchi. The nioiguchi is rather subdued and hajimi appear in places but it has to be mentioned that the blade is a little tired. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and shows some nijûba too. The tang is ubu, tapers to a shallow kurijiri, shows kiri-yasurime, and bears over the mekugi-ana a large and finely chiselled niji-mei that is positioned more towards the nakago-mune.


Picture 1: tachi, mei “Chikamura” (近村), nagasa 78.1 cm, sori 2.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

In picture 2, that shows another signed Chikamura tachi, you can seen some remnants of the “multi-layered” aproach of Munechika but not that “extreme” as it is the case at the Sanjô founder. On the other hand, Chikamura’s blades have in general a more ancient feel than those of Yoshiie and if I had to decide whether Chikamura or Yoshiie was the son of Munechika, I would go for Chikamura for the time being. The blade seen in picture 2 shows an itame with plenty of ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is nie-laden ko-midare that is mixed with kinsuji, yubashiri and plenty of sunagashi. The bôshi is a narrow sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. The tang is a little machi-okuri, has a shallow kurijiri, katte-sagari yasurime, and bears just like the former gyobutsu a large and fine, ancient looking niji-mei that was chiselled above the initial mekugi-ana and towards the nakago-mune.


Picture 2: tachi, mei “Chikamura” (近村), nagasa 68.8 cm, sori 2.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

When we are talking about Chikamura, the famous mei has to be mentioned that gave birth to some controversial theories in the Meiji era. The original signature was “Chikamura tatematsuru” (近村上), “offered/presented by Chikamura” (i.e. either to a high-ranking client or to a religious facility), but someone later added the character for “Mune” atop of it to allude to Munechika and to create the mei (宗近村上). This mei was then interpreted by some as “Munechika Murakami,” i.e. the character “mura” (村) from Chikamura and the character “tatematsuru” (上) which also reads “kami” were interpreted as the family name Murakami and the theory was forwarded that this must had been Munechika’s family name. But comparative studies have shown that, as mentioned, the character for “Mune” was a later add-on as another blade of Chikamura was discovered that was signed “Chikamura tatematsuru” (see picture 3). Incidentally, this kind of mei is not that uncommon. For example, there are also offering/presentation blades with the prefix or suffix tatematsuru extant by Rai Kunimitsu and Fukuoka-Ichimonji Sukeyoshi (助吉).


Picture 3: The enlarged Chikamura mei right and the other “Chikamura tatematsuru” mei left.

Well, when it comes to Chikamura and to several of the other Sanjô smiths – first of all Yoshiie as mentioned in the last chapter – we are facing one interesting similaritiy, namely that were homonymous early Bizen smiths active for many of them. For example, there was a Ko-Bizen Chikamura who worked, depending on source, around Genkyû (元久, 1204-1206) or Bunryaku (文暦, 1234-1235). The same goes for Munetoshi (宗利), Muneyasu (宗安), Munenori (宗則), Sanenori (真則), and Sanetoshi (真利). And then there were the two smiths who had a certain relation to Kawachi province, Arikuni (有国) and Arinari (有成), who are listed as students or sons of Munechika. So some say that Arinari came originally from the northern Ôshû Môgusa group and that he went to Kyôto to study with Munechika before he eventually settled in Kawachi. And Arikuni was either a student who moved later to Kawachi where he studied with Arinari or that there were two Arikuni, a Sanjô smith who never left Kyôto and a Kawachi smith who belonged to the school of Arinari and who was not directly connected to Munechika. Another interesting coincidence is that several of the early northern Ôshû smihs are listed as having moved down to Bizen where they acted as co-founders of the Ko-Bizen group. For example, Arinari’s initial master Arimasa (有正) was, according to tradition, also the master (or even father) of the famous Ko-Bizen Masatsune (正恒). This suggests that either (a) these northern Môgusa smiths were much more predominant than we think of them today and spread to all provinces where they greatly contributed to the establishment of the most renowned schools (e.g. Sanjô, Ko-Bizen), or (b) that at least some of the early Yamashiro smiths moved later to Bizen province, (c) that all these identical smith names are just a big coincidence, or (d) that some of these homonymous smiths were later “invented” by chroniclers to establish certain connections or fill genealogic gaps.


Picture 4: tachi, mumei, Ishikirimaru, attributed to Kawachi/Sanjô Arinari, nagasa 76.1 cm, sori 2.5 cm, preserved in the Ishikiritsurugiya-jinja (石切剣箭神社, Ôsaka)

Anyway, as far as all the other recorded Sanjô smiths are concerned, there are as mentiond in the beginning next to zero works of them extant. One of the several swords nicknamed Ishikirimaru (石切丸) is attributed to Arinari (see picture 4). So there is not much to add from a kantei point of view, except for the fact that it is anyway extremely unlikely to come across one of these earliest Yamashiro blades in the wild (and outside of Japan). For an overview of the Sanjô School and also in view to the upcoming chapter that deals with the Gojô School, I add their common genealogy below.

Genealogy Sanjo/Gojo Scjool