Book Review – Nihon no Bi: Nihonto

Finally received my copy of Gakken’s latest sword publication Nihon no Bi: Nihonto (The Japanese Sword) the other day (thanks to Jason). To tell you right away, I really really appreciate the approach of this book as it is the first in this category (of books coming from Japan) that comes fully bilingual. That means it is not, as so often, a sword book in Japanese with just an English index and here and there some half-hearted English captions, no, it is as mentioned truly bilingual. Or almost, as the descriptions of the tsuba and kodôgu were not translated. But not a big deal and I am aware of the fact that sometimes concessions have to be made to layout and to extent of a publication and that the focus was clearly on swords. Also Paul Martin did a great job with the translations and I am very glad the he did this as he is an expert himself and knows his stuff, i.e. we are luckily not dealing with “outsider” translations that leave ambiguities. This becomes the more evident in the extensive 40+ pages terminology section at the end of the book. So if you grab a copy, you not only have depictions and explanations of the great swords (with which I will deal in the following), you also get a detailed and comprehensive sword glossary that works as a fine reference by itself.

Book1   Book2


Book4   Book5

Now to the book itself, which is four-sectioned (or at least that is how I see it, your mileage may vary). First section introduces about 30 renowned blades in color and with certain parts in full size. Depending on the sword, also its mounting is depicted in color. This section is concluded by several fine koshirae with excellent details of their highlights and masterly tsuba and fittings. As most of them are also blown up to 200~300% (135~185% when it comes to tsuba), you can really appreciate subtle details in workmanship. The second section are the pullout pages which present 1:1 color pictures of about a dozen of renowned swords and their mountings. And this section is great as it gives newbies and others who don’t have access to handle and study superior Japanese swords in person a good feel of the excellence and what makes the fascination of these superior and so much more than edged weapons. Thus one tip: Some of the swords might look at a glance delicate and fragile for beginners when you open the book but when you pull out the pages fully and place them vertically on a (preferrably empty) table or on the floor and approach them just as you would pick them up at a sword appreciation (kantei) session, you will realize how magnificent and breathtaing they actually are! The third section provides the explanation of the blades introduced in sections 1 and 2 and comes in an appealing layout as each one page is reserved for one blade and due to the bilingual approach with the Japanese text and Paul’s translation right next to each other, this also provides a great exercise for those who are about to dig deeper into the subject of translating nihontô-related texts. And section four is the aforementioned terminology part.


My conclusion: This book should be found in every nihontô library as it also excellently serves as a teaser if someone interested asks you to tell him or her more about this fascinating subject and you can show him or her, via catchy pictures, what this is all about. The only small downer is that you can’t easily order it outside of Japan for example from But it is relative easy to create an account on (no, your account won’t work for that and you need to register with a different email address) and order it from them. Five of five stars.


KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #10 – Awataguchi (粟田口) School 5

We continue with the Awataguchi main line which was succeeded after Kunitomo by his son Norikuni (則国). The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that he was born in Jô´an four (承安, 1174) and that he died in Ryakunin one (暦仁, 1238) at the age of 65. Traditionally he is dated around Jôkyû (承久, 1219-1222) although some put him around Katei (嘉禎, 1235-1238), that means with Norikuni, we are slowly approaching mid-Kamakura. His first name was Tômanosuke (藤馬允) and like his uncle Kunitsuna (国綱) and his cousin Kagekuni (景国), he was part of the Oki-goban-kaji group. It seems that Norikuni has focused more on the production of tantô, or at least he is the early Awataguchi master of whom the most tantô are extant. But we are lacking a sound quantitative evidence base to say for sure what his main focus was and if the increased tantô production started with him or if the tantô production increased at all at a certain point in time or if there are just no such blades of the earlier smiths extant. To my knowledge, there are four signed Norikuni tachi going round, the most representative one being the kokuhô that was once a heirloom of the Ikeda (池田) family, the daimyô of the Tottori fief (鳥取藩) of Inaba province (see picture 1). This blade keeps despite of the suriage some of its originally deep koshizori, features a ko-kissaki, and is overall quite elegant and of a very harmonious tachi-sugata. The kitae is a very dense ko-itame with fine ji-nie and chikei and appears as nashiji-hada and the hamon is a ko-nie-laden hoso-suguha-chô with a little shallow notare sections that is mixed with ko-midare, ashi, and frequent kinsuji. The bôshi is sugu and shows a ko-maru-kaeri with kinsuji. In general we can say that Norikuni’s interpretations are a hint more nie-emphasized than that of his successors Kuniyoshi and Yoshimitsu. The tang is as mentioned suriage but its original katte-sagari yasurime can still be made out. The niji-mei is preserved at the very tip of the tang.


Picture 1: tachi, kokuhô, mei “Norikuni” (則国), nagasa 74.7 cm, sori 2.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, please click here to see get some close-ups of the blade

Following the kokuhô, there are two tachi of Norikuni that bear the status of jûyô-bunkazai which I want to introduce in the following. One of them (see picture 2) is owned by the Atsuta-jingû but preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum. It is also slender and elegant and almost ubu, that means it retains its deep koshizori and also its funbari. The kitae is a dense ko-itame in nashiji with ji-nie and a faint nie-utsuri. The hamon is a suguha-chô in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-chôji, ko-midare, ko-ashi, and kinsuji and the bôshi is notare-komi with a somewhat pointed ko-maru-kaeri.


Picture 2: tachi, jûyô-bunkazai, mei “Norikuni” (則国), nagasa 72.1 cm, sori 2.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The other jûyô-bunkazai (see picture 3) is preserved in the Konda-Hachimangû (誉田八幡宮, Ôsaka Prefecture). This tachi is with a nagasa of 81.1 cm rather long and has a wide and noticeably tapering mihaba (from 3.2 cm motohaba to 1.7 cm sakihaba), a koshizori, a thick kasane, plenty of niku, and a ko-kissaki. The kitae stands a little more out than at the aforementioned two blades and shows some masame towards the ha but is overall forged as itame with chikei and plenty of ji-nie. The hamon is a suguha in ko-nie-deki with a somewhat subdued nioiguchi that is mixed with ko-midare and many ko-ashi and that starts with a hint of yaki-otoshi. The bôshi is sugu with a wide ko-maru-kaeri and the tang is ubu and shows a shallow kurijiri. In addition, the name of the donator to the shrine is inlayed in gold in a carved out recess on the tang and the whole kinzôgan-mei reads “Ôhashi Nyûdô Shikibu Kyô Hô’in Ryûkei” (大橋入道式部卿法印竜慶, the donator) on the one, and “Kenjô Konda-Hachimangû moshi sejin kore o obau kami no bachi o ukubeki nari” (献上誉田八幡宮世人若奪之可受神罰也, “offered to the Konda-Hachimangû and if stolen, the stealer should receive divine punishment”) on the other side. Incidentally, Ôhashi Ryôkei (1582-1645) was a renowned calligrapher and tea master of the early Edo period. He served Hideyoshi and Ieyasu and the blade had been a family heirloom since the Muromachi period. The jûyô-bunkazai designation mentions that the tachi was handed down under the nickname Karigiri (鐘截, lit “temple bell cutter”) within the Ôhashi family.


Picture 3: tachi, jûyô-bunkazai, mei “Norikuni” (則国), nagasa 81.1 cm, sori 2.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Picture 4 shows a signed tokubetsu-jûyô tachi that is ubu too, slender, and highly elegant. It shows a deep koshizori with funbari and a ko-kissaki and the kitae is an itame mixed with mokume that features plenty of ji-nie, chikei, and a faint nie-utsuri. The hamon is a hoso-suguha-chô in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-midare, ko-chôji, ko-gunome, ashi, hotsure, uchinike, nijûba, and fine kinsuji. The bôshi is sugu and runs out as yakitsume. Please note that this blade too shows a brief yaki-otoshi and a thin and short koshibi just like the one on blade 2 by his father Kunitomo in the first Awataguchi chapter. And in direct comparison (see picture 5) the similarities become even more obvious (e.g. also the kijimono-style finish of the tang). By the way, this tachi of Norikuni had been a heirloom of the Kitabatake family since Kitabatake Akiie (北畠顕家, 1318-1338) had received it as a present from Emperor Godaigo.


Picture 4: tachi, tokubetsu-jûyô, mei “Norikuni” (則国), nagasa 77.7 cm, sori 2.3 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune


Picture 5: Comparison Kunitomo top, Norikuni bottom.

Now to Norikuni’s tantô. A representative piece is the signed tokubetsu-jûyô (see picture 6) that ws once a heirloom of the Kuroda (黒田) family, the daimô of the Fukuoka fief (福岡藩) of Chikuzen province. The blade has normal proportions, i.e. mihaba and nagasa are neither wide nor sunnobi respectively, and an uchizori. The kitae is a dense ko-itame mixed with mokume and nagare and we see plenty of ji-nie and fine chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden suguha-chô to slightly undulating notare that is mixed with a conspicuous amount of ko-gunome, ko-ashi, and some nie-suji. The nioiguchi is rather wide and the bôshi is notare-komi with brief ko-maru-kaeri. Both sides show gomabashi which are close together and arranged more towards the mune, a feature that is typical for all Awataguchi horimono on tantô. And we find another Awataguchi featuere at Norikuni, namely that in many cases the smiths of this school added the exact same kind of horimono on each side whereas for their Rai colleagues engraved for example a suken on the omote and gomabashi on the ura side. But there are also exceptions to this “rule” as seen at a tokubetsu-jûyô mumei tantô attributed to Norikuni that shows a suken on the omote and a shôbu-hi on the ura side.


Picture 6: tantô, tokubetsu-jûyô, mei “Norikuni” (則国), nagasa 24.2 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune (with wide top surface)

Last but not least it should not go unmentioned that again, we are facing slightly different signature styles but which are thought to go back to the different stages in the career of a single smith. There are somewhat larger and somewhat smaller mei and by trend we can say that he signed his tachi with a thinner chisel than his tantô which show a relative thickly chiselled signature. There was a ken of Norikuni discovered in recent years during repair works at a hall belonging to the Yokawa (横川) temple unit of the Enryaku-ji on Mt. Hiei that was hidden in a Buddhist statue. The ken (see link here) is now designated as cultural property of Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture, as it is preserved in the local history museum and it shows the same thick mei as seen on tantô. Also interesting to note is that his character for “Kuni” is very similar to that of his son Kuniyoshi (see picture below). Both signed the left inner part of the box radical as three more or less horizontal and parallel strokes, met underneath by a pronounced arc that starts to the top right of the separating central stroke.


Norikuni mei left, Kuniyoshi mei right.

On vacation…

With this post I leave for a short vacation and will be back in office on Oct 19th. Thank you all for your loyalty as blog stats are pretty impressive (for me personal and also from the point of view that this is a nihontô blog in particular) by now keeping an average of about 6,000~8000 views per month. Top ten readers come from (from top to bottom): USA, Germany, UK, France, Japan, Netherlands, Italy, Australia, Poland, and Canada. You want more stats? Most search terms that lead to my site are “markus sesko” followed by “kotegiri masamune”, “honshu masamune”, “kuji kiri”, “higo koshirae”, “masamune hamon”, “hamon masamune, “a real masamune sword hamon”, and “masamune oshigata.” So I guess Masamune is still pretty omnipresent 🙂 After my return we will continue with the Awataguchi School and of course with other interesting articles. So stay tuned and see you all towards the end of October.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #9 – Awataguchi (粟田口) School 4

Kunitsuna (国綱), the youngest of the Six Awataguchi Brothers, was a very interesting figure. The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen states that he was born in Chôkan one (長寛, 1163) and that he moved at the request of the bakufu to Yamanouchi (山内) to the outskirts Kamakura when he was 42 years old, what would mean in Genkyû two (元久, 1205). The latter quote is found for the first time in the Muromachi-era sword publication Nôami Hon Mei Zukushi (能阿弥本銘尽, publ. 1483) by the way. At that time, Hôjô Tokimasa (北条時政, 1138-1215) was regent of the Kamakura-bakufu but most other sources quote Hôjô Tokiyori (北条時頼, 1227-1263) as the one who invited Kunitsuna – during the Kenchô (建長, 1249-1256) era – to Kamakura. The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen again says that Kunitsuna died in Kenchô seven (1256) at the age of 93. This would mean that he was working only about six or seven years for Tokiyori, what might be just enough when we bear in mind that he acted there as co-founder of a group of outstanding swordsmiths who developed a new forging tradition. In addition, Tokimasa was the very first Hôjô regent and held this post for less than two years. So it seems rather unlikely that it was him who invited all the swordsmiths as he was surely more busy with getting established the shikken regency of his family. And apart from that, we know that Tokiyori was one of the most renowned sword connoisseurs of his time. Incidentally, the Kenchô era equals his time as shikken. So either Kunitsuna did all what he did in Kamakura at a very high age and over the very last years of his life, or he was not born in 1163 as stated by the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen. But we also can’t rule it out completely as Tokiyori did not randomly recruit smiths but selected the greatest masters of his time, for example also Saburô Kunimune (三郎国宗) and Ichimonji Sukezane (一文字助真) from Bizen Province, and it is assumed that he as sword expert and political key figure of Kamakura not only wanted to have superior cutters but blades that would impress his circles on the basis of their aesthetical appearance. Thus it is possible that he asked the old master Kunitsuna and last survivor of the Six Awataguchi Brothers if he would come to Kamakura to lead a group of local smiths. There is, or rather was, a jûyô-bijutsuhin ôdachi (nagasa 114.5 cm) from the former possessions of the Uesugi (上杉) family that is regarded as kind of proof of Kunitsuna being in Kamakura around Kenchô but the whereabouts of the blade are unfortunately unknown (it is said that it had been confiscated by the occupying forces after WWII). The mei of the blade reads “Kamakura-jû Tôroku Sakon Kunitsuna” (鎌倉住藤六左近国綱) and the date “Kenchô gonen hachigatsu hi” (建長五年八月日, “a day in the eighth month Kenchô five [1253]”). The records of the Uesugi claim that this ôdachi was made by Kunitsuna at the same time he made the Onimaru for Hôjô Tokiyori and that it was handed down within the family at the latest since the old times they held the post of Kantô Kanrei, i.e. the Kantô region deputy of the shôgun, what was at the beginning of the Nanbokuchô period. But the records even claim at another point that the blade was initially owned by the ancestor of the family, Shigefusa (上杉重房, mid-Kamakura), when he moved from Kyôto to Yamanouchi during the Kenchô era. Well, the blade is lost as mentioned so not much can be said about the authenticity of its mei. Also that it once got the status of jûyô-bijutsuhin doesn’t mean much because at pre-WWII times, coming from a big daimyô collection often weighed more than actual quality and authenticity. There are a few tantô with the mei “Yamanouchi-jû Kunitsuna” (山内住国綱) going round but most experts agree that they were made noticeably later, i.e. end of Kamakura to Nanbokuchô, and, if authentic, might be works of a local descendant of Awataguchi Kunitsuna.


Picture 1: ôdachi, jûyô-bijutsuhin, (hardly legible) mei as stated above.

But let us see things from the point of view of Tokiyori. As a man of his rank, he had no other choince other than picking the crème de la crème of what was available his time, and this was Yamashiro, Bizen and Bitchû. We don’t know why he didn’t pick one of the great Ko-Aoe masters who had acted as goban-kaji too but as far as Yamashiro is concerned, only the Awataguchi school was active at that time as the de facto Rai founder Kuniyuki (国行) was just at establishing his school (he was active around Shôgen [正元, 1259-1260]). Of course there were also other skilled smiths active at that time, e.g. from the Hôju, Môgusa, or Ko-Naminohira schools, but none of them was so to speak “worthy enough” in terms of then ranks of craftsmen to aid the Kamakura regent with creating a new forging tradition. The same applies to the time-honored Yamato tradition. Many smiths were working in Yamato province since earliest times but their greatest masters were active significantly later than Tokiyori had started his initiative, for example the Tegai school founder Kanenaga (包永), the Shikkake school founder Norinaga (則長), and the Taima school founder Kuniyuki (国行) around Shôô (正応, 1288-1293), and the Hoshô school founder Kunimitsu (国光) around Kôan (弘安, 1278-88). While on the subject of Kunitsuna’s career, his name is also found on the questionable list of the six goban-kaji who allegedly worked for Gotoba in Jôkyû two (承久, 1220) in his exile on the island of Oki. Kunitsuna was granted with the honorary title Sakon Shôgen (左近将監) and bore the first name Tôroku (藤六) (also as background info for the Uesugi blade introduced in picture 1).

Due to his long life and his move to Kamakura, we are facing two different styles and differences in signature when talking about Kunitsuna. That means a slender and more elegant Yamashiro and Awataguchi style from his earlier years, and a more powerful style that emerged with his move to Kamakura. Well, this is the commonly forward theory but signed works of Kunitsuna are very rare (only eight are in existence to my knowledge) and so we can’t nail down for sure his exact artistic stages and the chronological backgrounds for his change of workmanship and signature but fact is, that the majority of extant works shows a more powerful style. That means, if he had worked most of his life in Kyôto and moved only towards the very end of his life to Kamakura, then actually more true Awataguchi-style blades should be extant. But on the other hand, it is also possible that he was more productive after having arrived in Kamakura, or that these blades were held in higher esteem and thus more often handed down than his earlier Yamashiro blades. Or the traditions are incorrect and he arrived in Kamakura at the prime of his career. Anyway, the first blade that I want to introduce is one that is thought he made whilst still in Kyôto (picture 2). It is a relative short jûyô-bunkazai tachi with an elegant and slender sugata with a koshizori and a pronounced funbari. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie and a nie-utsuri and the hamon a ko-midare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with kinsuji and whose nie increase noticeably from the monouchi upwards. The bôshi shows nie-kuzure and has a ko-maru-kaeri. The tang is ubu, relative long and in kijimonmo-gata. It has to be pointed out that the niji-mei is somewhat smaller than the other known mei. The blade was once worn by shôgun Tokugawa Yoshimune (徳川吉宗, 1684-1751) and Ienari (徳川家斉, 1773-1841) and was submitted for jûyô-bunkazai by Tokugawa Iesato (徳川家達, 1863-1940) in 1931. Since postwar times, it is preserved by the Tokugawa Reimeikai Foundation.


Picture 2: tachi, jûyô-bunkazai, mei “Kunitsuna” (国綱), nagasa 65.0 cm, sori 2.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

His most famous work is of course the aforementioned Onimaru (鬼丸) which can be seen in picture 3. Unlike the small Awataguchi-style tachi from picture 2, it is wide and magnificent. It has a deep toriizori with pronounced funbari, plenty of hira-niku, does not taper that much, and has a chû-kissaki that tends a hint to kamasu. The kitae is a ko-itame mixed with ko-mokume, plenty of jinie, and some jifu and the hamon is a wide notare-based midareba in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with chôji, ko-ashi, and . A prominent feature of this blade is the diagonal yubashiri-based koshiba that appears somewhat above the ha-machi, an approach in hardening, that is seen in slightly different ways also on his other Kamakura-style blades. Please note that the term “Kamakura-style” is not really a fixed nihontô term. I just use it here to distinguish between his early elegant and his late powerful blades. The bôshi of the Onimaru is a widely hardened midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri and much nie. The tang is ubu, curves strongly, ends in a kurijiri, and shows shallow katte-sagari yasurime. After being a heirloom of the Hôjô, the sword was owned by the Ashikaga family and went later through all the “prominent stations,” i.e. Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, Ieyasu, and was later presented by the Tokugawa to Emperor Meiji.


Picture 3: tachi, gyobutsu, mei “Kunitsuna” (国綱), nagasa 79.2 cm, sori 3.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune


Picture 4: The Muromachi-era kawa-zutsumi tachi-koshirae of the Onimaru-Kunitsuna

A blade that is close to the Onimaru in terms of workmanship and mei (although the tang has suffered somewhat in that area) is the tokubetsu-jûyô shown in picture 5. The blade is a little tired and lost some substance towards the tip but is otherwise outstanding. The kitae is a somewhat standing-out itame with nagare and ô-hada along the omote side and shows ji-nie and a faint nie-utsuri. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha-based ko-chôji mixed with some gunome, ko-midare, ashi, , and sunagashi and kinsuji along the lower half. The bôshi is sugu and has a ko-maru-kaeri. The nie-utsuri forms a kind of mizukage-like appearance at the base, that means we see a certain approach in hardening that Kunitsuna’s later blades seem to have in common. The sword was once a heirloom of the Nishitakatsuji (西高辻) family that served on a hereditary basis as shintô priests the Dazaifu Tenmangû on Kyûshû.


Picture 5: tachi, tokubetsu-jûyô, mei “Kunitsuna” (国綱), nagasa 85.8 cm, sori 3.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Next the jûyô-bunkazai that is preserved in the Hie-jinja (日枝神社) (picture 6). The blade is suriage and shows a dense ko-itame with plenty of fine ji-nie and a chôji-midare with ashi and that gets more nie-laden and displays conspicuous kinsuji and sunagashi along the lower half. The bôshi appears as somewhat undulating sugu-chô or notare-komi with a rather wide ko-maru-kaeri and some hakikake on the omote side. Interesting here are the horimono in the form of a futasuji-hi with bonji and suken on the haki-omote, and a bonji and a shiketsu on the ura side, the end of both lower engravings running due to the suriage into the tang. There was some discussion about if this might be a work of a different smith with the same name, mostly because the uncommon horimono and the relative sophisticated hamon, but in the meanwhile, it is accepted that it is a work of Awataguchi Kunitsuna.


Picture 6: tachi, jûyô-bunkazai, mei “Kunitsuna” (国綱), nagasa 69.4 cm, sori 1.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The next tachi is a tokubetsu-jûyô and is more slender, deeply curved, and ends in a ko-kissaki. The jigane is a rather stading-out itame that is mixed with nagare, mokume and ô-hada and plenty of ji-nie, some chikei, and we see again the mizukage-like feature at the base that turns here into a jifu-utsuri which runs then all over the blade. The hamon is a widely hardened and nie-laden suguha-chô mixed with some notare, ko-chôji, ko-midare, thick ashi, , sungashi, kinsuji, and some hotsure, uchinoke, and yubashiri in places. The bôshi is sugu with a short ko-maru-kaeri and a hint of hakikake. The prominent jigane distinguishes Kunitsuna from his older Awataguchi brothers and the jifu-utsuri and strong nie (with visible ha-nie) make this blade look like Ko-Bizen or Ko-Hôki at a glance. But Ko-Bizen works from that time show a brighter nioiguchi and although they do show nie, they do not occur in that amount like here. And for a Ko-Hôki work, the steel is too bright, i.e. Yasutsuna and his contemporaries forged a more blackish jigane and their hamon has a more subdued nioiguchi. Apart from that, their works show more ha-hada, an overall even more standing-out hada, and have altogether a more rustic appearance.


Picture 7: tachi, tokubetsu-jûyô, mei “Kunitsuna” (国綱), nagasa 67.3 cm, sori 2.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

And finally I want to address the fact that there are several blades going round, some quite old and of highest quality, that are signed with the niji-mei “Kunitsuna” but not attributable to Awataguchi Kunitsuna, at least not according to modern standards. The blade shown in picture 8 was a heirloom of the Ii family and offered by Ii Naonori (井伊直憲, 1848-1904) to the Iinoya Shrine (井伊谷宮) where it is preserved today. The records of the shrine say Awataguchi but this is dismissed and the jûyô-bunkazai designation also says “Kunitsuna, Kamakura period, province unknown.” The blade is a little suriage but maintains its elegant and tapering sugata with the koshizori that bends down towards the tip and the pronounced fubari that dates it at the latest to the early Kamakura period. So if it should turn out that it is a work of Awataguchi Kunitsuna, then surely from his early artistic period. The kitae is a dense but standing-out itame with some masame and fine ji-nie. The hamon is a midare that gets gradually wider towards the tip and that is mixed with chôji, even some kawazu-no-ko chôji, ashi, , kinsuji and sunagashi. There are nie which also appear in the bôshi. The bôshi is notare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri. The signature is large and noticeably different from the other Kunitsuna mei. Incidentally. The jûyô-bunkazai designation says about the attribution that there were, among others, also a Bizen, Yamato, and an Iga Kunitsuna but it is difficult to say whose work it acutally is.


Picture 8: tachi, jûyô-bunkazai, mei “Kunitsuna” (国綱), nagasa 79.8 cm, sori 2.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

And then there is a jûyô-tachi whose signature is smaller and somewhat different (especially the character for “Kuni”) but of about the same typeface as the Onimaru and the tokubetsu-jûyô from picture 5, but which still got a conservative attribution via “Den,” i.e. “Kunitsuna (Den Awataguchi).” The blade is slender, has a deep koshizori that bends down towards the tip, a ko-kissaki, and interestingly a maru-mune. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with ji-nie and a jifu-utsuri and the hamon is a suguha-chô mixed with ko-midare, ko-chôji, many ashi and , and fine sunagashi and yubashiri. The nioiguchi is wide and the ha is full of nie. The bôshi is sugu with a short ko-maru-kaeri. The shinsa placed this blade on the basis of its jiba and sugata into the Awataguchi vicinity, i.e. to the earlier phase of Kunitsuna. The blade was once a heirloom of the Date (伊達) family who had received in from the court noble Konoe Motohiro (近衛基熈, 1648-1722).


Picture 9: tachi, jûyô-tôken, mei “Kunitsuna” (国綱), nagasa 68.6 cm, sori 2.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, maru-mune


Now we are through with the Six Awataguchi brothers and next post will continue with the Awataguchi main line, i.e. Norikuni (則国), Kuniyoshi (国吉), and Yoshimitsu (吉光) before we close the school with the remaining noteworthy Awataguchi masters.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #8 – Awataguchi (粟田口) School 3

Now to the third of the Six Awataguchi Brothers, Kuniyasu (国安), who bore the first name “Tôsaburô” (藤三郎), the honorary title of Yamashiro no Kami (山城守), and who was goban-kaji smith of the fourth month. He is traditionally dated around Shôji (正治, 1199-1201), that means to the very end of the Heian and the beginning of the Kamakura period. Accordingly, we can see at him a shift towards wider and somewhat more magnificent blades. In short, he made elengant and slender but also relative wide and long tachi with a chû instead of a ko-kissaki, the former being close to works of his older brothers Kunitomo and Hisakuni. He also added relative often bôhi. In addition, we know blades with a fine jigane but much more with a rather standing-out itame that tends to nagare and even ô-hada in places. That is why Kuniyasu is known as forging the most standing-out jada of all Six Awataguchi Brothers. That all and the fact that we are facing slightly different signature stiles and relative many extant works has lead to a two generations theory in which the alleged second generation is dated around Kenchô (建長, 1249-1256). But it is well possible that there was just one Kuniyasu, in other words, he might had been active somewhat longer than some of his brothers and just reacted towards the end of his career to then trends in sword fashion. Incidentally, the Kotô Mei Zukushi says that the youngers of the six, Kunitsuna, died in Kenchô seven (建長, 1255) at the age of 93, what calculates his year of birth as Chôkan one (長寛, 1163). Also Kunitsuna, who moved later to Kamakura, made magnificent and powerful blades. So if we assume that the Six Brothers were born not that far apart, Kenchô seems perfectly fine as career end and there is no need for introducing a second generation Kuniyasu.


Picture 1: Characteristic features of Awataguchi Kuniyasu’s workmanship.

Apart from the above mentioned features, i.e. hada for Awataguchi-mono rather on the rough side and often bôhi, Kuniyasu hardened mostly a sugha-chô that is mixed with ko-midare, ko-chôji, and ko-gunome of which the individual elements are densely arranged and tend to appear in a connect manner, especially the ko-gunome. Besides of that, we see kinsuji and sunagashi (sometimes prominent) and small uchinoke-like elements atop of the yakigashira which are referred to as karimata (雁股, bifurcated arrowheads). These karimata were later adopted by Rai Kuniyuki (来国行) and became one of his characteristic features but they can also be seen on some swords of Ayanokôji Sadatoshi (綾小路定利). In addition, Kuniyasu’s nioiguchi is not as clar as at Hisakuni. That in turn means, you can mix up his works with that of Ayanokôji Sadatoshi as Sadatoshi too is known for applying groups of several ko-gunome and/or ko-chôji elements embedded into a rather subdued nioiguchi and accompanied by yubashiri and nijûba that create that peculiar “layered” appearance of the ha. Major difference between their works is the bôshi as Sadatoshi’s bôshi is noticeably more nie-laden and shows hakikake and nie-kuzure. Kuniyasu’s bôshi is more calm and appears as only slightly undulating sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. However, some blades of Kuniyasu also show hakikake and a more wide kaeri, so some of his works are pretty close to Sadatoshi. But apart from that we can say that Kuniyasu’s entire ha is a little more calm than that of Ayanokôji Sadatoshi, that means we see a hint more ups and downs at blades of the latter. The more standing-out hada of Kuniyasu might also remind of Ko-Hôki Yasutsuna (安綱) but Yasutsuna’s blade are overall more rustic, i.e. they have a darker steel, a jifu-utsuri with antai (what gives the ha a rather “brindled” appearance), and ha-bie and hotsure that are interwoven into a conspicious ha-hada. As for Kuniyasu’s tangs, they mostly tend to kijimono, show katte-sagari yasurime, and a kurijiri. There are only niji-mei of Kuniyasu known which are signed with a kind of semi-cursive character for “yasu” with large curves for the vertical strokes, although we can see some differences (but which probably go all back to different phases in the career of a single smith). Please note that Ko-Bizen Kuniyasu signed in a similar manner (see picture 2). So watch out but Ko-Bizen Kuniyasu’s blades should be different in terms of hamon (more flamboyant) and sugata (he was active in the mid-Kamakura period).


Picture 2: mei comparison, to the left Awataguchi Kuniyasu, the one to the right Ko-Bizen Kuniyasu

The blade shown in picture 3 was a former heirloom of the Mizuguchi family (溝口), the daimyô of the Shibata fief (新発田藩) of Echigo province, and is today designated as jûyô-bunkazai. It is a little on the wider side but is overall very elegant, shows funbari, and ends in a ko-kissaki. The kitae is a dense itame with plenty of ji-nie and the hamon is a ko-nie-laden ko-midare to suguha-chô along the upper area that is mixed with some prominent ko-chôji and that comes with a rather subdued nioiguchi. We also see some kinsuji and sunagashi and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri.


Picture 3: tachi, jûyô-bunkazai, mei “Kuniyasu” (国安), nagasa 79.3 cm, sori 2.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Next I want to introduce a tachi of Kuniyasu that is preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum but that has no whatsoever designation. It is again a little wide, has a deep koshizori with funbari, and a compact chû-kissaki and the kitae ist a rather standing-out ko-itame with ji-nie. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with ko-midare, many ko-ashi and , kinsuji, and sunagashi and the bôshi is midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri. Please see here to get some impression of the steel of this blade and its overall perfect condition.


Picture 4: tachi, mei “Kuniyasu” (国安), nagasa 79.4 cm, sori 2.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

And as last work of Kuniyasu I want to introduce the jûyô-bijutsuhin tachi that was once owned by the Matsudaira branch (松平) which was in control of the Tsuyama fief (津山藩) of Mimasaka province and which is now preserved by the NBTHK. It is shows a standing-out itame mixed with mokume and nagare and also fine ji-nie, chikei, and a faint nie-utsuri appear. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha-chô mixed with plenty of ko-ashi and , kinsuji, sunagashi, and discontinuous yubashiri and nijūba along the yakigashira that create the very “layered” apperance. The ha does not show conspicious ups and downs and its midare elements are densely arranged. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and please note that this blade bears futasuji-hi.


Picture 5: tachi, jûyô-bijutsuhin, mei “Kuniyasu” (国安), nagasa 71.4 cm, sori 2.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune


Kuniie’s fourth son was Kunikiyo (国清). He bore the first name Tôshirô (藤四郎) and the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that he also signed with “Shirôbei” (四郎兵衛) and that he was around Genryaku (元暦, 1184-1185) 30 years old. As for Kunikiyo, we only have two authentic signed and a few ô-suriage mumei works attributed to him to work with. The jûyô-bunkazai tachi (picture 6) was once owned by the Satake (佐竹) family, the daimyô of Akita, and handed down within them as Awataguchi work since the early Edo period. The other signed work is a jûyô-bijutsuhin but which bears quite a differently chiselled mei. It was once owned by the pre-WWII collector Saitô Moichirô (斎藤茂一郎), who owned several bunkazai, bijutsuhin, and kokuhô, but Honma said that its provenance is unclear. However, he also says that despite of the differences in their mei, both blades are more classical than Rai works and he has no problem with seeing them as Awataguchi-mono. Honma was not sure if the blades go back to the same smith but for him, the differences in mei are too great to see them as just going back to different phases of a single smith’s career. And in this course he was also not sure which one was the fourth of the Six Awataguchi Brothers. Tanobe too remarks the somewhat “hesitatingly” chiselled mei of the jûyô-bijutsuhin but rather tends to think that we are facing signatures of two different active periods of a single smith. Incidentally, there was another Awataguchi Kunikiyo but he was a student of Kunitsuna and active too late (around Kôan [弘安, 1278-1288]) for attributing any of these blades to him.

Anyway, the jûyô-bunkazai is elegant, has a rather shallow sori, funbari, and a ko-kissaki. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with fine and bright ji-nie and shows a faint but beautiful nie-utsuri. The hamon is a ko-chôji in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-midare, ko-gunome, karimata-like elemements, small tobiyaki and yubashiri atop of the yakigashira in places, ashi, , sunagshi and kinsuji. The ha is quite complex and its elements are densely arranged and we can see a strong resemblane to works of Kuniyasu. Kunikiyo’s ha is just a little wider, the sori more shallow, and the shinogi-ji somewhat broader. Please note that Tanobe describes this blade at one place as having a deep koshizori but what is probably a mistake.


Picture 6: tachi, jûyô-bunkazai, mei “Kunikiyo” (国清), nagasa 79.4 cm, sori 2.2 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Picture 7 shows a tachi of Kunikiyo that is tokubetsu-jûyô and attributed via “Den” to Awataguchi Kunikiyo. It has a deep koshizori that bends down towards the tip and shows a rather standing-out itame mixed with some nagare, plenty of ji-nie, and much chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden suguha-chô mixed with some notare, ko-midare, gunome, ashi, some yubashiri along the monouchi, kinsuji, and many fine sunagashi. The nioiguchi is bright and clear and the bôshi is sugu with a short maru-kaeri and nijûba. The tang is ô-suriage, shows a shallow kurijiri, and shallow katte-sagari yasurime. This blade was once a heirloom of the Sakai (酒井) family, the daimyô of the Himeji fief (姫路藩) of Harima province.


Picture 7: tachi, tokubetsu-jûyô, mumei “Den Awataguchi Kunikiyo” (伝粟田口国清), nagasa 69.8 cm, sori 2.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune




Arikuni (有国) was the fifth son of Kuniie and his first name was Tôgorô (藤五郎). Unfortunately, there is only one signed blade known by him, a tachi (picture 8) that had been shortened to an uchigatana (per nagasa definition a wakizashi today) but whose signature was preserved via orikaeshi. It was once owned by a certain Nakasawa (中沢) from Nagoya but who offered it to the Ise Shrine. The blade remains despite of the suriage an elegant shape that still gives you an idea of the noble and refined original tachi-sugata. It shows a compact ko-kissaki with a hint of ikubi and a dense ko-itame that is mixed with some nagare and masame and that appears with its abundance ji-nie as nashiji-hada. The hamon is a hoso-suguha in ko-nie-deki and the bôshi has a ko-maru-kaeri. Please note that there was another Awataguchi Arikuni smith active from whom a blade dated Kagen two (嘉元, 1304) is extant. Some see him as a possible later generation of Kuniie’s son but the Kokon Meizukushi Taizen lists him in its genealogic section as son of Kunitsuna, although beneath of Kunitsuna’s alleged other son, Kunihiro (国弘), what means that he possibly could have been Kunitsuna’s grandson.


Picture 8: wakizashi, jûyô-bunkazai, orikaeshi-mei “Arikuni” (有国), nagasa 56.3 cm, sori 0.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune


Next time I will introduce Kunitsuna (国綱), the sixth and youngest son of Kuniie, before we continue with the Awataguchi main line after Kunitomo and sons and students of the Six Brothers.


New Site!

With an upcoming crowdfunding project in mind and finishing certain things before our first vacation since one and a half years (separate note will follow), I decided to create a separate site where I make available for free all stories that were published in my two books Legends and Stories Around the Japanese Sword and Legends and Stories Around the Japanese Sword 2, so to speak as a present to the Nihontô community and to generate more interest in the fascinating subject of the Japanese Sword. You can find the page as shown below and via a link at the blogroll at the very bottom of this site.


Japanese Sword Legends

The site will be updated from time to time with additional legends and stories and I will make a short announcement on any substantial update on this site too. So please spread the word and have fun!