Shogunal Support Program


A little over two years ago I wrote this article about Mondo no Shô Masakiyo (主水正正清) and Ippei Yasuyo (一平安代), their role in the famous sword forging contest held by the eighth Tokugawa-shôgun Yoshimune (徳川吉宗, 1684-1751), and the uniqueness of their honorary titles and added a little later a follow-up article on one of the other winners of this contest, Nobukuni Shigekane (信国重包). In the latter article, I was already talking about the support Shigekane received by orders from high-ranking persons but this time I want to examine this “support program” in view of Masakiyo and Yasuyo. Stumbling block was that I actually came across the relative unknown terms by which these “support blades” are referred to as, namely either as kinmei-uchi (鈞命打・欽命打) or as taimei-uchi (台命打). Both kinmei and taimei mean “order from the emperor, the Imperial family, from an aristocrat, or from the shôgun,” and uchi being in this case the prefix for “sword” or “make.” As seen in the follow-up article on Shigekane, the blade introduced there is signed with the supplement taimei, i.e. it was directly ordered by the shôgun, by Yoshimune to be precise.

Let me begin with Masakiyo. The blade shown in picture 1 has a nagasa of 76.6 cm, a sori of 1.2 cm, and is signed “[aoi-mon] Mondo no Shô Fujiwara Masahiro” (主水正藤原正清) and “Haruka ni kinmei o hôjite Sasshu ni oite kore o tsukuru, Kyôhô kinoe tatsudoshi” (遥奉鈞命扵薩刕作之・享保甲辰年, “made in the year of the dragon of the Kyôhô era [1724] on orders of the shôgun in distant Sastuma province”). Remember, the contest has taken place three years earlier in 1721. The extant original sayagaki tells us that the blade had been polished and presented to the shôgun on the third day of the tenth month of that year. It remained in Tokugawa possession until WWII. Please note that this katana is signed tachi-mei, that means the smith switched out of respect for the high-ranking customer to the ura side of the tang. That means, the name of the swordsmith should not come first but be found on the back side of a blade’s tang. Well, this was no strict rule but nevertheless a common practice throughout all times. So these blades must not be classified as tachi even if they are signed in tachi-mei and also the NBTHK clearly states “katana” on all papers concerning these kinmei-uchi. Also the wakizashi of Shigekane introduced in my above mentioned article is signed tachi-mei. However, there are also post-contest blades with aoi-mon extant which are signed in katana-mei and I thus think for the time being that only those made for the highest-ranking customers, i.e. the “true” kinmei-uchi or taimei-uchi, were signed tachi-mei.


Picture 1: kinmei-uchi by Masakiyo

So following these observations, i.e. katana being signed in tachi-mei and bearing an aoi crest (what identifies them as post-contest works), it is safe to assume that also the blade shown in picture 2 is a kinmei-uchi. This one has a nagasa of 77.1 cm, a deep sori of 3.2 cm, and is signed “[aoi-mon] Miyahar Mondo no Shô Fujiwara Ason Masahiro” (宮原主水正藤原朝臣正清) and “Kyôhô kyûnen nigatsu” (享保九年二月, “second month Kyôhô nine [1724]”), that means it was made in the very same year as the previous blade. Very interesting is that this blade was, together with the Ippei Yasuyo introduced next, presented by the then Satsuma lord, Shimazu Tsugutoyo (島津継豊, 1702-1760) to the court noble and kanpaku regent Konoe Iehisa (近衛家久, 1687-1737). Let me go a little into detail and explain how Tsugutoyo and Iehisa were related. Iehisa was married twice, his first wife Kamehime (亀姫) was a daughter of Tsugutoyo’s grandfather Tsunataka (島津綱貴, 1650-1704), and his second wife Mangimi (満君, not sure about this reading) was a daughter of Tsugutoyo’s father Yoshitaka (島津吉貴, 1675-1747). In other words, Mangimi was Tsugutoyo’s aunt and Konoe Iehisa his uncle. Iehisa’s two daughters Takagimi (好君) and Tsûshi (通子) in turn were married to Tokugawa Munechika (徳川宗睦, 1733-1800) and Tokugawa Munetake (徳川宗武, 1716-1771) who were the 9th head of the Owari-Tokugawa and the founder of the Tayasu-Tokugawa lineage respectively. And Shimazu Tsugutoyo’s second wife Takehime (竹姫) was an adoptive daughter of shôgun Tsunayoshi. This was how the feudal alliances worked, i.e. everyone tried, by marrying their sons and daughters and by adopting, to get as closely tied to the house of Tokugawa as possible.


Picture 2: kinmei-uchi by Masakiyo

Now to Ippei Yasuyo. The blade shown in picture 3 is the one that was presented together with the Masakiyo from picture 2 to Konoe Iehisa. It has a nagasa of 75.35 cm, a sori of 2.6 cm, and is signed “[aoi-mon] Tamaki Shume no Kami Fujiwara Ason Ippei Yasuyo” (玉置主馬首藤原朝臣一平安代) and “Kyôhô kyûnen Sasshû Kiire-gun ni oite kore o saku” (享保九年於薩刕給黎郡作之, “made in Kyôhô nine [1724] in the Kiire district of Satsuma province”). Incidentally, there are written records extant which tell us that Iehisa really enjoyed Yasuyo’s blades and presented him with hakugin (白銀, ellipsoid silver coins worth 3 bu wrapped in paper and used as a gift) and calligraphies joint written and signed by court nobles. This all speaks volumes for the impact and success (although limited in time) Tokugawa Yoshimune had – unhappy with the general decline in the quality of blades at his time – with his project that peaked in the 1721 sword forging contest. Before that time higher ranking daimyô and persons from the vicinity of the shôgun were usually sticking to kotô blades of renowned masters when it comes to sword gifts and gifts-in-return. This all went back to a century old practice of circulating swordsmith rankings and the well-established origami valuation practice of the Hon’ami, i.e. kotô sword gifts were a pretty common and transparent thing. But now newly made swords, shinsakutô, by smiths far from the capital and without having fancy lineages were considered worthy enough to be chosen as sword gift for the highest ranking persons! And for Shimazu Tsugutoyo, who succeeded as fifth Satsuma daimyô in the very year the contest took place, it was a stroke of luck being the employer of two winners of this contest.


Picture 3: kinmei-uchi by Yasuyo

The next blade (picture 4) is quasi the twin of the Masakiyo shown in picture 1. It signed the very same way “Haruka ni kinmei o hôjite Sasshu ni oite kore o tsukuru, Kyôhô kinoe tatsudoshi” (遥奉鈞命扵薩刕作之・享保甲辰年, “made in the year of the dragon of the Kyôhô era [1724] on orders of the shôgun in distant Sastuma province”) and was presented to the shôgun on the very same day, i.e. on the third day of the tenth month of 1724. It has a nagasa of 76.0 cm, a sori of 1.5 cm, and is signed tachi-mei “[aoi-mon] Shume no Kami Ippei Fujiwara Yasuyo” (主馬首一平藤原安代).


Picture 4: kinmei-uchi by Yasuyo

And the blade shown in picture 5 has to be seen as sibling of the Nobukuni Shigekane utsushi as it was also made on-site in Edo, although the month before. It is thus signed the same way “Uyauyashiku taimei o hôjite Tôbu ni itari kore o tsukuru, Toki Kyôhô roku kanoto-ushidoshi nigatsu” (恭奉台命至于東武作之・旹享保六辛丑年二月, “made in the second month of Kyôhô six [1721], year of the ox, in Tôbu [= Edo] by respectfully following the shôgun´s order”).


Picture 5: taimei-uchi by Yasuyo

A katana-mei signed blade by Yasuyo with a nagasa of 76.5 cm and a sori of 1.6 cm that is not dated and just signed “[aoi-mon] Shume no Kami Ippei Yasuyo” (主馬首一平安代) is shown in picture 6. Please note that it also comes without any additional mei supplements like “Fujiwara” or “Ason.” The old sayagaki of the blade says that it was once presented by Shimazu Tsugutoyo on the twelfth day of the third month Kyôhô seven (1722) to shôgun Yoshimune. The original wording on the saya is “Matsudaira Ôsumi no Kami tatematsuru” (松平大隅守上, “presented [to the house of Tokugawa] by Matsudaira Ôsumi no Kami”). Ôsumi no Kami was the honorary title of Tsugutoyo and Yoshimune granted him the use of the Tokugawa-related clan name Matsudaira.


Picture 6: Shume no Kami Ippei Yasuyo

Well, the kinmei-uchi program continued for the rest of the lives of the two smiths. Masakiyo died on the sixth day of the sixth month Kyôhô 15 (1730) at the age of 61 and Yasuyo on the 28th day of the eleventh month Kyôhô 13 (1728) at the relative young age of 49. The blade show in picture 7 is dated with the eight month Kyôhô 13, that means Masakiyo made it two years before he died. Again, it is signed in tachi-mei what suggests that we are facing a kinmei-uchi, although it is unknown to whom it was presented. FYI: Works of Masakiyo are rarer in general than those of Yasuyo and that applies the more to dated works but there is a blade extant that is dated second month Kyôhô 15, i.e. made just four months before his death. And Yasuyo’s kinmei-uchi of picture 8 is dated lucky day of the third month Kyôhô twelve, so it was made the year before his death. There are later dated blades of Yasuyo extant, for example from the second and eighth months of Kyôhô 13, so made just nine and three months before his death, but they are signed katana-mei and thus I think they do not classify as kinmei-uchi. So maybe the two blades shown below are the latest ones going round that were made in the course of the shogunal support program.


Picture 7: kinmei-uchi by Msakiyo


Picture 8: kinmei-uchi by Yasuyo

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