KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #14 – Aburanokôji (油小路) School

Strictly speaking, Aburanokôji does not refer to a school in the proper meaning of the word but to a loose group of swordsmiths which was active somewhere along Kyôto’s Aburanokôji street. This street runs in a north-south direction and parallel (and pretty close) to the Horikawa-dôri that passes Nijô Castle to the east. Satô Kanzan mentions that the group was working near the Ayanokôji School and when we take a look at the map of Kyôto we learn that the Aburanokôji crosses the west-east running Ayanokôji street somewhere halfway between Nijô Castle and the Nishi Honganji. The meikan associate the Aburanokôji smiths with the Awataguchi School but the workmanship and other genealogical considerations suggest that they were rather linked to the Ayanokôji School, thus my brief detour into geographical details.

Well, when we look into the meikan, only a handful of Aburanokôji smiths can be found, so this group was pretty minor. And when we take a look at these few smiths we learn that half of them are dated into the late Kamakura period, to be precise around Shôô (正応, 1288-1293), and the other half into the early to mid Nanbokuchô period, i.e. around Kenmu (建武, 1334-1338) and Enbun (延文, 1356-1361). And not really a connection is drawn between these “sub groups.” Anyway, one clue on the affiliation of this group is offered by the Kokon Mei Zukushi which introduces the smith Tadaie (忠家) in the Ayanokôji genealogy, namely as son of Ayanokôji Sadaie (定家) and as being active around Enbun. The meikan list Sadaie as son of the famous Ayanokôji Sadatoshi and mostly date him around Kagen (嘉元, 1303-1306). The Kokon Mei Zukushi says that he was active around Shôô (正応, 1288-1293) and Einin (永仁, 1293-1299), so not that far away from Kagen. Enbun seems a bit too far from Kagen (or even Einin) for Tadaie being the son of Sadaie but when we look again at the actual genealogy of the Kokon Mei Zukushi, we learn that a “daughter” is slid-in between Sadaie and Tadaie. This most likely means that Sadaie did not have a son but adopted his grandson as heir. And with this in mind the about 50~60 years of difference between Sadaie and Tadaie don’t sound that bad anymore.

Now there is a tantô extant which is signed “Aburanokôji Tadaie tsukuru” (油小路忠家造) and dated “Enbun sannen chûshun no hi” (延文三年仲春日, “a day in the second month Enbun three [1358]”) (see picture 1). This tantô is the only blade known by Tadaie and is not only a very precious reference piece for this smith but also for the entire group as it actually bears the name Aburanokôji in the mei and as it is dated. Experts assume that the Tadaie who is listed at the end of the Kokon Mei Zukushi’s Ayanokôji genealogy refers to the maker of this tantô, Aburanokôji Tadaie, and this assumption is not solely based on the identical name and the identical nengô (i.e. both genealogy and tantô say Enbun) but also on similarities in workmanship. That is, although this tantô comes in a pretty obvious Enbun-Jôji-sugata, i.e. in a sugata we won’t associate with the classical Ayanokôji School at a glance, both jigane and hamon are basically following the Ayanokôji forging tradition. The kitae is a stanting-out itame with nagare and masame towards the ha and ji-nie as well as some shirake appear. The hamon is a hoso-suguha in ko-nie-deki and the bôshi features a short ko-maru-kaeri. The omote side shows a katana-hi with below a suken as relief and accompanied by a soebi, and the ura side a shôbu-hi. Incidentally, this blade was once a heirloom of the Tsuchiya family (土屋), the daimyô of the Tsuchiura fief (土浦藩) of Hitachi province. Later on it was owned by the Shizuoka Prefecture industrialist Yabe Toshio (矢部利雄, 1905-1996) who had a pretty impressive collection (e.g. he also owned the famous yari Tonbogiri).


Picture 1: tantô, mei “Aburanokôji Tadaie tsukuru – Enbun sannen chûshun no hi,” nagasa 28.4 cm, sori 0.3 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune

Apart from that tantô, we know, or rather knew, a jûyô-bunkazai tachi signed “Tadayoshi” (忠吉) that is attributed to Aburanokôji Tadayoshi (see picture 2) Incidentally, there was obviously a third character below “Tadayoshi” but which is lost due to corrosion. So the blade was originally most likely either signed “Tadayoshi saku” or “Tadayoshi tsukuru.” The tachi was owned by the Suwa-taisha (諏訪大社, Nagano Prefecture) but was unfortunately stolen and its whereabouts are unknown. It has a koshizori that bends down towards the tip, a ko-kissaki, and shows a standing-out itame with some nagare, ji-nie, and a midare-utsuri. The hamon is a suguha-based chôji in nie-deki that is mixed with kawazu no ko-chôji and kinsuji. The elements of the ha are rather smallish and densely arranged and the nioiguchi is subdued. The bôshi features a ko-maru-kaeri but almost tends to a kuzure-like ichimai. The tang is suriage and has kiri-yasurime. So like the tantô introduced above, the workmanship of this tachi does not link to Awataguchi at all, as the meikan suggest for the affiliation of these two smiths. By the way, it is said that Tadayoshi, who is dated around Kenmu, was the father of Tadaie. If this is true and we want to bring that in line with the genealogy of the Kokon Mei Zukushi, Tadayoshi must have been married to Ayanokôji Sadaie’s daughter.


Picture 2: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei “Tadayoshi” (忠吉), nagasa 74.3 cm, sori 2.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Well, what about the other Aburanokôji smiths who appear in the meikan? There was an Aritada (有忠) who is dated to the Jôji era (貞治, 1362-1368) who was most likely linked to Tadayoshi and Tadaie. Apart from that, we find a Tadatsugu (忠次) and a Sadakage (定景) who are both dated around Shôô (正応, 1288-1293). The use of the characters “Tada” and “Sada” do suggest a connection to Ayanokôji (e.g. Sadatoshi, Sadayoshi, Sadaie) on the one, and to the later Aburanokôji group (e.g. Tadaie, Tadayoshi, Aritada) on the other hand. But due to the lack of extant works and records, I have to end this brief chapter here and with the next part we arrive at a very successful Yamashiro school, namely at Rai.

The Momoyama Era Art World

With a focus on Sôtatsu, Kôetsu, and Myôju

When I was in DC over the Thanksgiving weekend, it goes without saying that I visited the ongoing Sôtatsu: Making Waves exhibition at the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Outstanding works of art from a time in Japanese history which I like very much, especially as my favorite tsuba maker and one of my most favorite Japanese artists were active then, Umetada Myôju (埋忠明寿) and Hon’ami Kôetsu (本阿弥光悦). Back home, I was once again going through some of my earlier drafts to remember how they all, i.e. Sôtatsu, Kôetsu, and Myôju were connected and whilst I was bringing together and restructured half-finished articles, I thought I better post the result on my site rather than leaving it, again, hidden somewhere on my HD. In this sense, I would like to proceed by introducing each of the artists for himself and working out their relation at the end of each corresponding section. But first of all, I would like to introduce an artwork from the exhibition which impressed me the most, and which is not even by Sôtatsu himself (it is from his studio).



It has the brief title Trees and is a pair of six-panel folding screens that depicts a variety of evergreen trees lined up across a gold-foil ground, to quote from the catalog. One of the screens is filled with trees whilst of the other more than half is left empty, leaving just the golden ground as decorative element. The trees are interpreted in a very realistic manner and even if the emphasis is on presenting the widest variety of evergreens, they go so perfectly together as if you are standing in front of a forest that naturally grew that way. You just have to see it in person, that means from the distance it was meant to be appreciated, namely in a dimly lit room with the gold acting as intensifier for each and every light source and being so to speak a true successor of the grandeur of the Momoyama era (the screens are dated to the Kan’ei era [1624-1644] by the way). That means, the decorative effect is kept but the realistic interpretation already goes in a different direction, away from the bold interpretations of the Momoyama era. For a better understanding of the art, and of paintings of the Momoyama era in particular, you must not only focus on what was going on at that time but you also have to look back. In the Kamakura period, painting had been very much influenced (and commissioned) by the clergy, or had been narrative, but the China-orientation of the Ashikaga-bakufu during the Muromachi period created a boom in secular paintings depicting just landscapes, the four seasons, trees or flowers for example, all of that primarily drawn from trigger words of Chinese legends. In the course of this development, painters eventually started to go “fully secular” towards the end of the Muromachi period. For example, screens with not just legendary Chinese but with concrete Japanese sites appeared that were made for not more and not less than admiring domestic beauties of nature. Of course, the effect of many of these paintings was intensified with the help of Japanese sentiments, i.e. a solitary pine on a rock was not just a beautiful pine but alluded to loneliness. You get the picture. This impressionistic approach runs like a continuous thread through all of Japan’s high art anyway, first by formulated scenes from the classics, later merely by allusions.

Then the chaos of the Sengoku era was ended by Nobunaga and his successor Hideyoshi and a phase of prosperity and extraordinary amount of construction took place. That means, when Nobunaga finally ended all the mess that was going on due to the power vacuum left by a weakening to virtually non-existing Ashikaga-bakufu (and local hegemons getting stronger and stronger, trying to come into power) and Hideyoshi continuing his policies, people, especially in Kyôto, felt that this might be peace after all. I mean, Hideyoshi’s campaigns to unify the country were still going on until 1590 but that concerned first and foremost the more remote regions like Kyûshû and Kantô. At the same time, the mentioned local hegemons constructed enormous castles and residences to underline their status, capability and wealth, and this is especially true for Hideyoshi and his projects in and around Kyôto. In addition, Nobunaga and Hideyoshi have sponsored renovations and reconstructions of countless palace and religious facilities to get as an exchange court titles and lands. And all this lead to a unprecedented number of patrons who were more diverse than ever before. Now not only the bakufu employed artists like that of the Kanô and Tosa Schools were thriving but independent artists were able to get a foot in the door and that more or less just on the basis of their talent (and the ability to sell oneself of course).


Chinese Lions, Kanô Eitoku, Imperial Household Collection, Late 1580s


Landscape with the Sun and Moon, jûyô-bunkazai, unknown artist, mid-16th century, Kongôji (Ôsaka Prefecture)

It has to be mentioned that the course was basically dictated. That is, all the golden screens and paintings with their prima facie easy-to-grasp ornamentation were born to a certain extent out of the need to create artworks that are visually perceptible and appreciable from a certain distance for the ever growing rooms and halls. One of the greatest trendsetters was, of course, an established, prestigious painter from one of the main lines, Kanô Eitoku (狩野永徳, 1543-1590), who had the honor of working directly for Nobunaga and Hideyoshi. But even Eitoku, see picture above, referred to extant interpretations like for example to the early Muromachi period Landscape with the Sun and Moon screens from the Ôsaka Kongô-ji that already introduces some gold (see bottom picture above, and don’t compare the two screens directly, just their aesthetical concept). So as indicated, the ornamental path was kind of laid out, i.e. the Momoyama artists did not start to paint in that ornate way out of the blue, but it was the unique background of peaceful and thriving Momoyama-era Kyôto that created such a highly fascinating momentum in Japanese art history. And this does not only apply to paintings but also two sword fittings. One of the first (and probably the most famous) of the new and independent, that means non-bakufu employed painters, was Hasegawa Tôhaku (長谷川等伯, 1539-1610). Tôhaku was a professional painter from Noto province who moved to Kyôto to study under the Kanô School and when his contemporary Eitoku died in 1590, he found himself as official painter for Hideyoshi. His most representative “Momoyama Kanô-style” work is shown below. Well, many many books have been written on each of these artists and aspects and I tried to break down the background of the Momoyama era (visual) art world as much as possible for the introduction to this humble article.


Maple, kokuhô, Hasegawa Tôhaku, 1592/93, Chishaku’in (Kyôto)


Tawaraya Sôtatsu

And with this we arrive at Tawaraya Sôtatsu. Surprisingly little is known on the person Sôtatsu for an artist of his influence (three of his works are designated as kokuhô for example). First of all, we don’t know when he was born and when he died but as his son and successor Sôsetsu (宗雪) was granted with the honorary Buddhist title of Hokkyô in Kan’ei 19 (1642), a title that had been granted before to his father, it is assumed that Sôtatsu had either died shortly before or retired and died shortly later as Sôsetsu moved for good to Kanazawa the following year. The first time Sôtatsu appears in written history is when he was repairing famous late Heian sutra scrolls for Fukushima Masanori (福島正則, 1561-1624) in Keichô seven (1602). Masanori was at that time the daimyô of the Hiroshima fief of Aki province and the scrolls, that were preserved in the local Itsukushima-jinja, so to speak under his jurisdiction. So Masanori paid for the repair work but did not go to Kyôto himself to pick a fan painter (more on that soon) to work on “his” treasured scrolls. It was the Kanô school painter Kaihô Yûshô (海北友松, 1533-1615) and favorite of Hideyoshi and Emperor Go-Yôzei (後陽成天皇, 1571-1617) who had travelled to the Itsukushima-jinja in 1598 to study the famous scrolls. So it was him who “convinced” Masanori to have them repaired and it is safe to assume that it was him too who suggested a capable artist to go with for this project. Anyway, we know that Sôtatsu ran the Tawaraya (俵屋) at that time, a painting shop that – unlike the large, bakufu and court serving Kanô studio – focused on ready-made objects. The Tawaraya, Sôtatsu’s family name was Nonomura (野々村) by the way, was first and foremost a fan shop but also sold smaller art objects like hanging scrolls and poetry sheets. Back then, quite an importance was attached to fans. They were a fashion accessory that not only demonstrated style but to a certain extent also social status and the very mood at that day. They were also perfect gifts as their decorations often bear subtle messages, transported through visual quotations from classical literature, narratives of war, and romance, to use again words from the catalog to the Sôtatsu exhibition. With the Tawaraya’s customer base in mind, i.e. the local machishû (町衆), the Kyôto upper class to put it simply, it is understandable that artistic objectives were set very high. I mean, these customers were well-versed in art and the classics and to not hold up to ridicule among their circles, they were only going for the best of the best. We don’t know much about the ventures of Sôtatsu in the first two decade of the 17th century but we do know from records that at the latest by Genna two (1616), Emperor Go-Mizunoo (後水尾天皇, 1596-1680) was aware of the work produced by the Tawaraya. Also we know that Sôtatsu had became a very close friend of courtier, poet, and painter Karasumaru Mitsuhiro (烏丸光広, 1579-1638) by then and it is assumed that it was Mitsuhiro who provided all the good connections. It is unclear when Sôtatsu had fully arrived in court circles but usually the Genna era (1614-1625) is quoted in this respect. In 1630, he received the aforementioned honorary title of Hokkyô, a great and unusual honor for an “outsider” artist like him and by then, he had virtually became a court painter, carrying out commissions for the highest of the highest clientele.



Hon’ami Kôetsu

Kôetsu (see picture above) was born in Eiroku one (1558) into the prestigious Hon’ami family of sword appraisers and sword polishers to the bakufu. The Hon’ami lineage into which Kôetsu was born, the Kôji (光二) lineage, was primarily working for the wealthy Kaga Maeda family, receiving impressive 200 koku per year. Kôetsu however, the second generation of the relative young Kôji lineage, did not focus that much on swords but turned out to be an allround artist and besides calligraphy, he was a passionate potter, a lacquer artist, publicist, and follower of the tea ceremony, mastering each of these arts entirely. By the way, it is assumed that he had passed on all his professional sword obligations to his adopted son-in-law Kôsa (光瑳, 1574-1637) who succeeded as third generation Kôji-Hon’ami. When it comes to painting, there is the theory that Kôetsu has been a student of the aforementioned Kaihô Yûshô and that it was the latter who introduced him to Sôtatsu. Like it is the case with Sôtatsu, Kôetsu’s exact connections remain to a certain part unknown but what we do know is that he was independent by nature, and a versatile genius with an unfailing sense of taste. So whilst Kôetsu was strengthening his cultural and business relations in Kyôto in the decade after Sekigahara, Ieyas was about wiping out the remaining important members and abiders of the Toyotomi clan. And when he finally did so by capturing Ôsaka Castle in 1615, he offered Kôetsu an official position in the bakufu for 300 koku per year, 100 koku more than the Maeda were paying him. But Kôetsu declined with thanks as he avoided going to Edo by all means as the new and hardly developed capital was then totally uninteresting for an artist like him. As “compensation,” Ieyasu granted him a plot of land, Tagamanine (鷹峯), located on the northern outskirts of Kyôto and on the northeastern slopes of Mt. Daimonji (about 5 miles from present-day Kyôto Station). Well, there are now two approaches to explain this gift: One says that it was really a gift of Ieyasu, the lands of yielded later decent 176 koku per year and had tax exempt status. But the other one says it was more like an exile to keep Kôetsu out of Kyôto politics because Ieyasu did not fully trust him. One of Kôetsu’s close friends namely, tea master and warrior Furuta Oribe (古田織部, 1544-1615), had just been forced to commit seppuku because of his alleged loyalty to the Toyotomi so everyone with whatsoever ties to this family was treated by Ieyasu with suspicion. Anyway, Kôetsu turned Takagamine into an artist community with a relative strong religious touch, housing more than 200 residents and also agricultural fields. Incidentally, the records differ on the size of Takagamine and either list 30 or 25 ha for the entire plot. Invited to live there and provided with a house were for example Kôetsu’s paper and brush makers, makie artists, members of his own family and of the Hon’ami main line, and the wealthy draper Ogata Sôhaku (尾形宗伯, 1570-1637) who had excellent relations to the Imperial family and who also was Kôetsu’s nephew. Sôhaku’s father Dôhaku (道伯) was married to Kôetsu’s older sister and his grandson Kôrin (光琳, 1658-1716) went down in history as name giver of the Rinpa School (琳派) of painting. Sôtatsu’s collaboration basically took place before the establishment of Takagamine but some of the last joint artworks date 1615 or shortly after. Recent studies strongly suggest that both artists must have worked simulatenously in a session or at least very closely together on these artworks, the famous scrolls with the gold and silver paintings (by Sôtatsu) and poems (by Kôetsu). (I have used one of them, the Crane Scroll, which is pre-1615 by the way, as cover for my book on the Hon’ami family.) Incidentally, we find on the map of the allocations of the houses in Takagamine the name of the weaver Hasuike Tsuneari (蓮池常有) of whom some assume that he was somehow related to Sôtatsu. Reason for this assumption is that Sôsetsu’s successor of the Tawaraya, Sôsetsu (相説), was from the Kitagawa family (喜多川) and the Kitagawa were a branch of the Hasuike.


Takagamine as seen in the Miyako Meisho Ezu (都名所絵図, 1780)


Umetada Myôju

Myôju was born in the same year as Kôetsu, Eiroku one (1558), and his family too was working on a hereditary basis for the bakufu. The Umetada were not only swordsmiths but also made certain sword fittings and were also responsible for arranging koshirae. That means, the Umetada received the blade from the smith, or in the case of an old blade from the customer, and the tsuba and the other sword fittings from the tsuba and sword fittings maker respectively, for instance from other prestigious bakufu-employed lineage like the Gotô (as far as sword fittings like mitokoromono are concerned). In a next step, the Umetada first equipped the blade with a new habaki as the habaki has to be tailor-made to the blade and as a proper saya can not be made before the blade has a tailor-made habaki. The tsuba was adjusted to the blade either by punches around, or by inserting soft-metal pieces on top and bottom of the nakago-ana. The wood and lacquer work and the hilt wrapping and so on was commissioned to family members or sub-contracting craftsmen and the Umetada family had, depending on the specification of the customer, more or less artistic freedom in arranging the koshirae. And then there were two important task which connected the Umetada to the Hon’ami family. One was the shortening of blades, and the other one was to inlay (in gold or silver) the attribution of a sword the Hon’ami had forwarded them on its tang. We know from records that the Umetada family also dealt with swords, or bought up “hidden treasures” to submit them to the Hon’ami for authentication and attribution – the kinzôgan-mei carried out in the own workshop of course – to sell them later for five times the purchase price for example. So the two families were pretty closely linked. But back to Myôju. We don’t know for sure when and how he came in touch with Kôetsu but we can try to guess what was going on. Myôju started his career as a swordsmith and the earliest extant dated swords are from Keichô two (1597), from a time when he signed with “Muneyoshi” (宗吉). He was already 40 years old at that time. Also we learn from a signed sword by one of his master students, Hizen Tadayoshi (肥前忠吉), that when Tadayoshi came to Kyôto to learn from the Umetada in Keichô one (1596), still Myôju’s father Myôkin (明欽) was the head of the family. The name change to “Myôju” took place two years later, in Keichô three (1598), and it is assumed that this was the time when he took over the forge. But then something odd happens, that is, a gap of almost ten years from which no swords are known. The next known dated blade after the Keichô three one is from Keichô twelve (1607). I mean, there was Sekigahara going on just two years after his succession as Umetada head and there was thus surely a need for newly made swords. Well, it is possible that he was forced to produce in masses for a certain time and to deliver the majority of these blades unsigned as it was customary for fulfillments of bakufu orders. But after everything had calmed down, we are still facing a gap of at least five or six years and this phase of “unproductiveness” seems rather odd for a master swordsmith like him. Now we know that he handed over the management of the Umetada forge and workshop to his younger brother Jusai (寿斎) some time during the Keichô era (1596-1615) and everything points towards that he did so to have more time to cultivate his contacts with the then Kyôto art world. At this point it has to be mentioned that there are outstanding tsuba extant by Myôju that really take up the unique style of the Momoyama era (see picture below) and thus we may assume that he gave up the forge right after Sekigahara to focus for several years on developing a very special kind of tsuba. It has to be mentioned that Myôju was also a great engraver (horimono-shi) and that he trained several craftsmen in this art who turned out to become masters themselves. In other words, Myôju was well versed in working with steel and soft metal, in performing gold inlays, and he knew how to guide a chisel.


tsuba with oak motif, jûyô-bunkazai, mei “Umetada Myôju,” Momoyama era, brass with a slightly raised shakudô hira-zôgan ornamentation and ko-sukashi, owned by the Hôeidô Corporation

Now how does Myôju go in line with Takagamine? Well, Kôetsu and Myôju knew each other pretty well, that is from their related jobs and from the fact that they both lived in Kyôto and moved in the local machishû circles. And by the way, the Hon’ami residence was just across the Horikawa-dôri from the Nishijin district where the Umetada workshop was located, i.e. just a stone’s throw away. It is unclear if Myôju made all of his Momoyama-style tsuba in the “ten year break” from sword forging or if he made them at the side until the end of his career. The year after the break, i.e. 1608, must have been a busy one as far as sword forging is concerned as about one third of all known dated blade goes back to that year. Also we know that his training of horimono-shi concentrated on the later years of the Genna era (1615-1624). Apart from that, he never gave up sword forging because there exists a blade, a ken, that was made just two months before his death, which was in Kan’ei eight (1631) by the way (Kôetsu died six years later in Kan’ei 14, 1637).

A very interesting entry is found on an extant map of Takagamine that mentions all the house owners of the community. Therein we find a certain “Umetada Dô’an” (埋忠道安) who lived in the town house directly opposite from the residence of Kôetsu (see detail below). Now the name Dô’an does not appear in any of the Umetada genealogies but experts assume that it is either an otherwise unknown pseudonym of Myôju or that a very close family member of Myôju lived in that house. The former approach, i.e. Dô’an being a pseudonym of Myôju, is explained by the religious orientation of Takagamine. We know that Kôetsu was a faithful Nichiren (Hokke) follower and that he also acted as a spiritual leader of the artist community. At that time, “Dô” (道) was a popular character to form one’s Hokke name from and it is possible that Dô’an was the lay name of Myôju that he used in Takagamine after Kôetsu had “convinced” him to follow the religious orientation of the community when residing in Takagamine.


Detail of the Takagamine map: (1) Residence of Kôetsu, (2) townhouse of Dô’an, please note that the name is quoted as “Mumetada Dô’an” (むめたゝ道安).


What an exciting time the Momoyama era was for the Japanese art world! I want to deal with Takagamine in more detail at some time in the future and apart from that, I want to dedicate Umetada Myôju one day a book within my series that focuses on certain artists, i.e. in the style of my publications on Kanô Natsuo and Masamune.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #13 – Awataguchi (粟田口) School 8

With this post I will close the chapter on Awataguchi and after introducing some works of the more or less “also ran” smiths of the school who have not been introduced so far, I want to add some concluding thoughts on why the school did not make it into Nanbokuchô times.

Let me begin with Tôbei Kunimitsu (藤兵衛国光), the younger brother of Awataguchi Kuniyoshi (国吉) who bore the honorary title Sahyôe no Jô (左兵衛尉). There is some confusion about his active period as the meikan date him traditionally around Kenchô (建長, 1249-1256) but there is a ken extant signed “Sahyôe no Jô Fujiwara Kunimitsu” (左兵衛尉藤原国光) which is dated Shôwa ten (正和, 1321). Please note that the mekugi-ana of this ken goes right trough the year and that the very area of the tang shows considerable corrosion and so some interpret the date as Shôwa one (1312) (see picture 1). Apart from that, there are allegedly also works going round which are dated with the Einin era (永仁, 1293-1299) and then there is the jûyô tantô that was discovered in recent years which is dated Kôan eleven (弘安, 1288) (see picture 4). So either Kunimitsu enjoyed a really long life, or there was a second generation, whereby also the theory was forwarded that Kunimitsu was not the son of Norikuni but of Kuniyoshi. Interestingly, the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen – which lists him next to Kuniyoshi but with no reference of being his brother or a student of Norikuni – says that he was born in Jôgen one (承元, 1207) and died in Kangen two (寛元, 1244) at the young age of 36. Kunimitsu is listed in this source with the first name Tarô (太郎) and with the rank of a shinshi (進士), a person that passed certain tests of the Imperial school of civil servants during the ritsuryô era. However, most meikan date this Shinshi Tarô Kunimitsu to the Kenmu era (建武, 1334-1338). So we don’t know for sure how many Kunimitsu have been active within the Awataguchi school and what their exact relations were within the lineage. Maybe Tôbei Kunimitsu was Norikuni’s second son but had his own son, maybe the Tarô Kunimitsu, trained by his older brother Kuniyoshi. Or Tôbei Kunimitsu was indeed Kuniyoshi’s son and was followed by a second generation of the same name, maybe the Tarô Kunimitsu. But we will probably never know…


Picture 1: ken, mei “Sahyôe no Jô Fujiwara Kunimitsu” “Shôwa jû/gannen jûnigatsu hi (+ 2 bonji),” nagasa 20.3 cm, ko-itame with masame and ji-nie, suguha-chô with some ko-notare and plenty of nijûba

As for Awataguchi Kunimitsu’s extant works, there are two tachi which are famous, a jûyô-bunkazai that is preserved in the Yôrô-ji (養老寺, Gifu Prefecture), and a jûyô-bunkazai that is owned by the Kurokawa Institute of Ancient Cultures. Both blades are slender, elegant, show a relative shallow sori, traces of funbari (both blades are surage), a rather wide shinogi-ji, and a ko-kissaki that tends towards chû and a hint towards ikubi, a feature that was popular in mid-Kamakura times. Also the interpretation of the jiba is very similar. We see a densely forged ko-itame with fine ji-nie and a nie-utsuri, a ko-nie-laden hoso-suguha with a rather wide nioiguchi, and a ko-maru-bôshi with a relative wide kaeri. The former, i.e. the Yôrô-ji tachi shows a few ashi and seems to be a little more nie-emphasized as there are some chikei and kinsuji. The interpretation places the two blades perfectly into the principal stylistic approach of the Awataguchi school.


Picture 2: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei “Kunimitsu” (国光), nagasa 73.2 cm, sori 1.3 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, horimono of a suken towards the base of the omote side, preserved in the Yôrô-ji


Picture 3: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei “Kunimitsu” (国光), nagasa 80.3 cm, sori 1.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, owned by the Kurokawa Institute of Ancient Cultures

Picture 4 below shows the aforementioned tantô of Kunimitsu. It is quite graceful and has lost some substance – leaving only traces of the once engraved suken on the omote and the gomabashi on the ura side – but with the jiba very well preserved. The kitae is a ko-itame with masame-nagare that features plenty of ji-nie and fine chikei and the steel is extra bright and clear. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha with a little notare that is mixed with a little ko-gunome on the ura side. The nioiguchi is wide and the suge-bôshi shows a wide ko-maru-kaeri. Based on this work, it seems as if Awataguchi Kunimitsu’s tantô are a little more nie-emphasized than his tachi. Please check out Darcy’s site here for some excellent pictures of the blade and the steel.


Picture 4: jûyô, tantô, mei “Kôan jûichinen – gogatsu ichinichi Kunimitsu” (弘安十一年・五月一日国光, “a day of the fifth month Kôan eleven [1288]”), nagasa 21.7 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, iori-mune

Now there were some theories forwarded in the past that Awataguchi Kunimitsu and Shintôgo Kunimitsu were the same smith but these are dismissed today as their signature style differs significantly (note the left inner part of the character for “Kuni” and the upper part of the character for “mitsu”) (see picture 5). Well, the theory of course suggests itself as Shintôgo has his roots in the Awataguchi school but apart from the signature, the blades of Awataguchi Kunimitsu just don’t show enough chikei and kinsuji to pass for Shintôgo (the steel is different too) and they belong within the Awataguchi school to the least nie emphasized blades at all. So if you add up all kantei points for Awataguchi Kunimitsu, you arrive at: Slender tachi-sugata with a rather shallow sori and a somewhat wider shinogi-ji in combination with a nashiji or nashiji-like hada, a noticeably narrow suguha-based hamon, and a bôshi with a relative wide kaeri (see tantô in picture 4). Again, the jiba does not feature much nie what gives the blades a more unobtrusive overall appearance.

AwataRest5Picture 5: Awataguchi Kunimitsu left, Shintôgo Kunimitsu right


There are a few blades extant by Kunisada (国定), a student of Awataguchi Kuniyoshi’s student Kuninobu (国延), but as he moved later to Ayabe (綾部) in Tanba, I want to introduce him when we arrive at this province. The same applies to Kagenaga (景長), the son of Awataguchi Yoshimasa (吉正) who in turn had studied under Tôshirô Yoshimitsu, who founded the Inaba-Kokaji (因幡小鍛冶) lineage. So we will talk about him in the course of when we learn about what was going on in Inaba province. However, last but not least I want to introduce Awataguchi Kagehisa (景久) as there is a single tantô of him known (see picture 6). In other words, there are virtually zero blades of all the other Awataguchi smiths extant who are quoted in the genealogy but who were not the famous masters of the school. So Kagehisa is said to have been the student of Tôshirô Yoshimitsu and he is traditionally dated around Kôan (1278-1288) or Shôan (正安, 1299-1302). The tantô in question is in hira-zukuri, small and elegant, and has a hardly tapering tang that tends to furisode. The kitae is a very fine ko-itame with a little nagare, plenty of ji-nie, and a little chikei. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden ko-midare mixed with ko-notare at the base, gunome-ashi, fine sunagashi, some kinsuji, and nijûba in the upper half. The bôshi is midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri with hakikake. The blade features a very bright nioiguchi and Satô Kanzan speaks of it “as might be excepted, of high quality.” In short, it fits into the legacy of the Awataguchi school and the tradition that Kagehisa had learned from an outstanding mastersmith. Also backing the tradition is the noticeable tendency towards midare in the ha and towards furisode in the nakago. The latter shows kiri-yasurime and a small and quite finely chiselled niji-mei.


Picture 6: jûyô, tantô, mei “Kagehisa” (景久), nagasa 22.6 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, iori-mune



It is difficult to say how or if at all the Awataguchi main line was carried on after Yoshimitsu. Incidentally, if we count Kuniie (国家) as first generation Awataguchi, Yoshimitsu would have been the fifth generation main line. The school itself had existed for about a century at the time of Yoshimitsu. Well, before I come up with some attempts at explanation, I want to introduce what the historic sources say about what was going on after Yoshimitsu. In the earliest extant sword publication, the Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi, there isn’t any mention at all in this respect and Yoshimitsu is even listed in line with Kuniyoshi and Kunimitsu. Therein the main line goes Kuniie → Kunitomo → Norikuni → Kuniyoshi, period. Yoshimitsu is seen as contemporary or, if you want, as younger brother of Kuniyoshi. In the Kokon Mei Zukushi, Yoshimitsu is succeeded by Nobumitsu (延光) who again has four smiths under him, Masamitsu (正光), Yoshimasa (吉正), Yoriie (頼家), and Kunisumi/Kunizumi (国純), although it is not mentioned who his official successor was or if one of them succeeded him as head of the Awataguchi school at all. Tsuneishi introduces in his Awataguchi genealogy two students of Yoshimitsu, namely Yoshikuni (吉国) and the aforementioned Kagehisa (景久). And the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen lists Masamitsu, Yoshimasa, Nobumitsu, and Kunichika (国近) below of Yoshimitsu.

Let us focus on the tradition of handing over one character to the next generation for a little. When we look at the Awataguchi genealogy we learn that in many cases, the first character of the master’s name was used as second character of the successor’s name, e.g. KUNItomo → NoriKUNI → KUNIyoshi → YoshiMITSU or AriKUNI → KUNIhisa. So in the case of Yoshimitsu, we would expect some name like MITSUxxx. Interestingly, the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that Masamitsu also signed with Mitsumasa. A Yoshimitsu student with the name Mitsumasa is not found in the meikan but when we look at the Masamitsu we come across Daruma Masamitsu who is said to have been the son of Daruma Shigemitsu (重光). Well, both Masamitsu and Shigemitsu are dated around Eitoku (永徳, 1381-1384) but lo and behold, there exists the tradition for Shigemitsu that he was the son of Awataguchi Yoshimitsu. But we must be careful. Genealogies were pimped or doctored later on exactly that way, that is, having a smith working in Yamashiro province who shares the same character as a famous master smith tempts the compiler to create this very connection in the first place. So basing a theory just on limited genealogic data can mean falling right into the trap of the compiler. In other words, when you start from a certain smith and go downwards you might just follow what was actually created by a compiler by going backwards.

How about the branches of the other masters of the school? Not many students are recorded for any of them, except for Yoshimitsu’s predecessor Kuniyoshi and for Kunitsuna, the youngest of the earlier Six Awataguchi Brothers. As mentioned, one branch that had emerged under master Kuniyoshi relocated to Tanba province and flourished there throughout the Nanbokuchô period (also by being joined from a branch of the lineage of Yoshimitsu’s student Masamitsu which had moved to Tanba too). And the school of Kunitsuna brought forth Shintôgo Kunimitsu who was one of the founders of the Sôshû tradition as Kunitsuna himself had moved to Kamakura on bequest of the bakufu.

The downfall or rather discontinuance of the Awataguchi School is most likely linked to the fact that the Kyôto-based and highly prestigious lineage was mainly producing for a clientele that came from local aristocracy and highest circles. So by the time of Yoshimitsu, i.e. late Kamakura, the school was facing a Kyôto of an aristocratic class that had reached a point at which its political obsolescence, that came along with the establishment of the Kamakura-bakufu in 1185, had been pretty much noticeable. Of course, Kyôto was still undisputed center when it comes to refined culture, connection to the Chinese mainland, and sanctioning of courtly titles, and traffic between the imperial capital and Kamakura was heavy. Another severe impact on the ability of the Kyôto aristocracy to put anything into practice came with the two invasion attempts of the Mongols which tooks place in 1274 and 1281. We all know that “favourable” weather conditions played an important role in the defeat of the invading fleet but as the bakufu was responsible for national defence, it took large parts of the “victory” on it’s own account. In other words, the Shogunate in Kamakura was so to speak capable of not only defending but also of being in charge of the country. Accordingly, the local Kyôto smiths were about losing a great amount of business and much more promising was what was going on in Kamakura and the newly established Sôshû tradition of sword making. But on the other hand, another Kyôto-based school, Rai, was just about to flourish (and became as successful as it gets). So there was surely a demand left. Anyway, what we can see is that from late Kamakura onwards, a significant shift from noble to martial took place and maybe the Rai School was just more capable of responding to this request. Well, there are still many things in the dark when it comes to the early Kyôto schools. Maybe there were other, i.e. local and/or genealogic factors involved than mere the factors supply and demand and rise of the warrior class. For example, we are still not able to fully connect the dots and draw the connections between Sanjô, Gojô, Ayanokôji, Awataguchi, and Rai. I mean, overlapping workmanships give us a pretty good good hunch about that they must have been somehow connected. But we don’t know for sure which schools’ founder was trained by whom and so on. And with this, I want to close the chapter Awataguchi and move – with a short stopover at Aburanokôji (油小路) – over to the Rai School.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #12 – Awataguchi (粟田口) School 7

We arrive at Yoshimitsu (吉光) who is, depending on tradition, seen as student or as son of Kuniyoshi (国吉), his fourth son precisely, taking into consideration his first name Tôshirô (藤四郎) (i.e. the suffix shirô refers to a fourth son). The meikan either date him around Kôan (弘安, 1278-1288) or Shôô (正応, 1288-1293) but there are no date signatures of Yoshimitsu known. We have learned in the last chapter that from Kuniyoshi, blades dated Kenji four (建治, 1278) and Kôan six (弘安, 1283) and ten (1287) are known so both Kôan and Shôô seem perfectly fine for Yoshimitsu, regardless of if he was Kuniyoshi’s son or his student. The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen by the way quotes Yoshimitsu with Kangi one (寛喜, 1229) as year of birth and Shôô four (正応, 1291) as year of death. Before we continue, let me introduce all the (non-Kuniyoshi son) theories that were forwarded over time regarding Yoshimitsu’s background. Some say he was actually the fourth son of Norikuni (則国) and that’s where the first name Tôshirô comes from. Following this approach, he would have been Kuniyoshi’s younger brother, what does not exclude that he rather studied under his older brother than under his father. If we follow the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen, then Yoshimitsu was nine years old when Norikuni died, what would be an explanation for the aforementioned constellation. Incidentally, Kuniyoshi was 24 when Norikuni died but again, the data of the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen is highly doubtful and I don’t want to base too many theories on just that source. All I want to do here is to point out possible scenarios. Others see Yoshimitsu as son of Kuniyasu, others as son of Shintôgo Kunimitsu, and others again as great-grandson of Hisakuni.

Anyway, I want to introduce an interesting theory that follows the Kuniyoshi student-approach and that is connected to a highlight of Yoshimitsu, and that is his signature style. This theory says that Yoshimitsu came originally from Echizen province where he lived in the vicinity of the Shiisaki-jinja (椎前神社・志比前神社, present-day city of Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture). Now Tsuruga is not that far away from the old capital, i.e. about 100 km following the Hokurikudô, and the Hokurikudô was a much frequented route as in Heian and early Kamakura times, Tsuruga had been (apart from Hakata on Kyûshû) the main hub for trade with Song China. The theory also says that he studied calligraphy of the Guzei’in-ryû (弘誓院流) in the capital, a style of shodô that has been established by court noble Kujô Noriie (九条教家, 1194-1255). Taking that into consideration, it is likely that Yoshimitsu has belonged to a rather high-ranking local Tsuruga family and that he moved in higher circles when visiting Kyôto. So maybe he came for something else but had a fondness for swords and was thus introduced to the then most renowned lineage of swordsmiths, the Awataguchi, where he started to study with master Kuniyoshi. I mean, we are talking here about the most prestigious masters of that time who only took orders from the wealthiest clientele, so following the Echizen approach, it is unlikely that for example a peasant boy packed his backback, marched down to Kyôto, and knocked at the door of Kuniyoshi to become his apprentice. Stories like that are more like Edo-era romanticism. As mentioned, this is just one of the numerous theories on the background of Yoshimitsu but reason why I deal with it that persistently is his signature style of which experts agree that the elegant style is not a coincidende and that he must had a decent knowledge of the aesthetics of calligraphy. In other words, Yoshimitsu’s signatures are not just of the “elegant because of the archaic, antique feel” category, like the mei of Heian and early Kamakura-era smiths for example, but are well thought out with all elements like curves of strokes and distance of radicals in perfect harmony.

When it comes to Yoshimitsu’s signatures, we basically distinguish between two groups: A more “stiff” and “angular” one that is executed with a somewhat thicker chisel, and a “looser” and more “roundish” one for which a thinner chisel was used. The former features a smaller lower kuchi (口) radical of the character for Yoshi (吉) and is therefore also referred to as koguchi-mei (小口銘), and the latter, with the noticeably larger kuchi radical, as ôguchi-mei (大口銘) respectively. It is assumed that the ôguchi group goes back to his late years. Tanobe sensei introduces a third group which is somewhere in between these two and that mixes certain elements from each group, i.e. that goes back to a transitional time if you want, which he personally thinks of being the most elegant one. Picture 1 below shows one exemplary mei for each group.


Picture 1, from left to right: koguchi-mei, intermediate, ôguchi-mei

When it comes to Yoshimitsu’s oeuvre, it is kind of similar to Kuniyoshi, that means, the majority are tantô, followed by a few others and hardly any long swords going round at all, with Yoshimitsu’s long sword body of evidence even weaker than that of Kuniyoshi. And due to the latter fact, I want to “quickly” get by that very limited non-tantô database before we come to the blades we can actually talk about in more detail. Throughout the entire feudal era and up to the 1980s, it was thought that only one long blade of Awataguchi Yoshimitsu exists, namely the meibutsu Ichigo-Hitofuri (一期一振), which was once worn by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. However, Hideyoshi had it shortened from 85.7 to 68.8 cm but ensured that the original signature of Yoshimitsu was set into the new tang as so-called gaku-mei (額銘). When Ôsaka fell in 1615, the blade suffered a fire damage and had to be rehardened by Echizen Yasutsugu. In other words, it is saiha and, apart from old oshigata, we can’t say much about the original interpretation of its yakiba. Pictures of the meibutsu and further info can be found on my Japanese Sword Legends site here and here. Speaking of oshigata, there is a special copy of the work Kôtoku Katana Ezu (光徳刀絵図) that dates to Bunroku three (文禄, 1594) and that shows the Ichigo-Hitofuri before it was shortened. Although the reproduction of the hamon is more or less subject to artistic freedom in such old oshigata collections, I nevertheless want to point out that the ha is obviously more flamboyant than it is the case at Yoshimitsu’s tantô. But this is not as odd as it seems as there is for example the meibutsu tantô Midare-Tôshirô (乱藤四郎) which shows, as the name suggests, a midareba. So Yoshimitsus did work in midareba.


Picture 2: Oshigata of the unshortened Ichigo-Hitofuri.

In our times, a zaimei wakizashi of Yoshimitsu was “discovered” which had been an heirloom of the Naruse family (成瀬), the daimyô of the Inuyama fief (犬山藩) of Owari province. The blade has a nagasa of 58.3 cm and as its bôhi with tsurebi go way down into the tang and as the signature is placed even below and towards the nakago-jiri, it looks at a glance as if the blade is suriage. But it is not, it is almost ubu (a tiny bit of the original nakago-jiri has been cut off) and was made that way, and with the mei on the omote side, everythong points towards the assumption that this blade was intended as uchigatana. The blade went jûyô in 1991 and was submitted to tokubetsu-jûyô the very next year, which it passed with flying colors of course. This uchigatana has with 2.0 cm quite a deep sori, a toriizori, and ends in a compact chû-kissaki. The jigane is a dense and finely forged itame with plenty of ji-nie and much chikei and the steel is clear and has a “wet” look. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha with a wide nioiguchi mixed with some ko-gunome, ashi, , a few sunagashi and kinsuji and shows from the mid blade section upwards some nijûba-style yubashiri. The bôshi is sugu with a little notare and displays a very brief ko-maru-kaeri. So the top quality forging with its abundance of sparkling chikei, the “wet” looking steel, and the classical interpretation in suguha with some nijûba and brightly shining ko-nie lives very much up to the reputation of the Awataguchi school.


Picture 3: tokubetsu-jûyô, uchigatana, mei “Yoshimitsu” (吉光), nagasa 58.3 cm, sori 2.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

There are also ken of Yoshimitsu extant, for example the one shown in picture 4 which is designated as kokuhô. It is pretty close to those of his master, or father, Kuniyoshi, i.e. interpreted in ryô-shinogi-zukuri with a central shinogi-hi and a high shinogi, although with a hint more fukura. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with some masame, fine ji-nie, and chikei, and the hamon is a suguha-chô in ko-nie-deki mixed with ko-chôji-ashi, a few sunagashi, and some nijûba on the ura side. The nioiguchi is rather tight and the bôshi shows hakikake. This ken is preserved in the Shirayamahime-jinja (白山比咩神社, Ishikawa Prefecture).


Picture 4: kokuhô, ken, mei “Yoshimitsu” (吉光), nagasa 22.9 cm, motohaba 2.2 cm

And before we go over to the tantô, let me introduce one more of these “other” blades of Yoshimitsu, the meibutsu Honemabi-Tôshirô (骨喰藤四郎, lit. “bone-gnawing Tôshirô”), which is a mumei naginata-naoshi that is designated as jûyô-bunkazai, despite the fact that it is saiha (retempered by the 3rd gen. Yasutsugu after the Great Meireki Fire). In old oshigata collections we see a slanting ko-midare/chôji mix at the base which turns into a calm suguha-chô with ko-ashi. The blade shows prominent horimono of a kurikara and Fudô-Myôô with atop a bonji in a hitsu recess. On the basis of the tang it is speculated that the blade had been mumei from the beginning, that means, even if the naginata – it was once a smaller-sized ko-naginata – was shortened to wakizashi/uchigatana length, the signature would have been at a higher position anyway and would not have been affected by the shortening. The attribution to Awataguchi Yoshimitsu goes back to the Hon’ami family and the jûyô-bunkazai designation – which says “Den” Awataguchi Yoshimitsu by the way – reflects more the historical value and provenance of the blade, which is as mentioned shortened, unsigned, and saiha.


Picture 5: jûyô-bunkazai, naginata-naoshi, mumei “Den Awataguchi Yoshimitsu” (伝粟田口吉光), meibutsu Honebami-Tôshirô, nagasa 58.8 cm, sori 1.4 cm, preserved in the Toyokuni-jinja (豊国神社, Kyôto)

Now to Yoshimitsu’s tantô. Many experts see him as best tantô smiths of all times, standing on top of the winners’ rostrum with Shintôgo Kunimitsu. On top of that, he is counted with Masamune and Gô Yoshihiro to the so-called sansaku (三作), a term that was coined in the Edo period and which means about “Best Three Smiths of All Times.” With 16 listed blade, he also ranks, from a quantitative point of view, number three in the Kyôhô Meibutsu Chô, only “beaten” by Masamune with 39, and Sadamune with 19 blades. Incidentally, 18 blades of him are found in the yakemi section of the Kyôhô Meibutsu Chô. As comparison, the publication lists the same number of yakemi by Masamune and eleven of Gô Yoshihiro. When we get a quick overview of Yoshimitsu’s tantô, we learn that things are not that much different than with Kuniyoshi. That is, he made tantô in a great variety of shapes, e.g. standard ones, smaller and wider hôchô-style blades, long and thin, and long and wide tantô which feature a sunnobi-sugata. Also the way grooves are added is very similar to Kuniyoshi and when we remember that Kuniyoshi worked up to Kôan (弘安, 1278-1288) and Yoshimitsu is traditionally dated around Kôan and the subsequent Shôô era (正応, 1288-1293), we realize that this dating is – despite of the fact that as mentioned no date signatures of Yoshimitsu are extant – quite senstive. In other words, the interpretation of extant works corroberates that Yoshimitsu’s active period has been pretty close to that of Kuniyoshi what allows us to speculate that he indeed might has been his younger brother rather than his son as for a son, we would expect a hint later nengô like for example Einin (永仁, 1293-1299) or Shôan (正安, 1299-1302), which in turn means leaving late Kamakura and entering the final years of this period. Anyway, regardless of the sugata of tantô, we see characteristic features that appear on the majority of blades from that category and which can be described as follows: Small connected gunome elements or at least gunome-ashi at the yakidashi which make that area look like small strung together beans. Sometimes also an approach or even a solid koshiba might be seen. Nijûba or nijûba-like yubashiri appear parallel to the habuchi, but not as obvious and not all over the blade it is the case at Kuniyoshi. The ha often gets somewhat wider, and/or thins a little out before it enters the bôshi. This feature can be pretty obvious and appear as a true bend, or might just as a bend by a slightly thinnig or slightly widening ha at the point where the bôshi starts. In addition, the nie are much more emphasized in the bôshi and appear there often as if they “spill” in a frayed manner into the ji, a feature that is referred to as nie no kui-sagari (沸の喰い下がり). Please note that there is some confusion with the term okina no hige (翁の髭, lit. “beard of an old man”). This term too refers to increasing nie in the bôshi but is reserved for Shintôgo Kunimitsu. Basic difference is that okina no hige are super fine kinsuji within the ha that remind – due to the fact that they follow the underlying hada which tends at Shintôgo somewhat to nagare in that area – of the long beard of an old man. They might reach into the ji too in certain cases but focus as mentioned more on the ha whereas at Awataguchi Yoshimitsu, the nie-hataraki take much more place in the ji than in the ha. So before we continue, let me summarize the characteristic feature of Yoshimitsu in picture 6 below.


Picture 6: Characteristic features of Awataguchi Yoshimitsu’s workmanship.

In the following I would like to introduce some representative tantô of Yoshimitsu (going from small to large) and, if you have time, I recommend going back one chapter, comparing them to the works of Kuniyoshi. You will see the similarities. First a blade that is designated as jûyô-bijutsuhin and that is one of the smallest tantô known by Yoshimitsu. It has a nagasa of 21.5 cm, uchizori, and because of its proportions, everything points towards late Kamakura. It shows a fine and uniformly forged ko-itame which shows ji-nie. The hamon is a hoso-suguha with some ko-gunome at the base and narrows a little towards the monouchi before it gets again wider in the bôshi. In addition, we see faint nijûba and nie that get stronger in the bôshi and appear there as nie no kui-sagari. So we have pretty obviously all characteristic features of this smith present on this blade.


Picture 7: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tantô, mei “Yoshimitsu” (吉光), nagasa 21.5 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

Next a blade that is a little uncommon, namely in the way that it is a yoroidôshi-style tantô, featuring a moto-kasane of 1.05 cm. Accordingly, the tantô got the nickname Atsushi-Tôshirô (厚藤四郎, lit. “The Thick Tôshirô,” sometimes also read Atsu-Tôshirô). The blade is designated as kokuhô and shows a somewhat standing-out itame with plenty of ji-nie and much chikei. The ko-nie-laden hamon starts with some ko-notare and gunome at the base and turns then into a suguha which is mixed with some kinsuji and with plenty of ashi an . The bôshi has a ko-maru-kaeri and shows hakikake.


Picture 8: kokuhô, tantô, meibutsu Atsushi-Tôshirô, mei “Yoshimitsu” (吉光), nagasa 21.8 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum

As mentioned, Yoshimitsu also made some wide and stout hôchô-style blades like the one shown in picture 9 which bears the nickname Hôchô-Tôshirô (包丁藤四郎) accordingly. Please note that there is another meibutsu with that name but which was damaged by fire during the Great Meireki Fire of 1657. The one introduced here is designated as jûyô-bijutsuhin, shows a very dense and beautifully forged ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie, and also displays a slanting bô-utsuri at where the hamon starts and a nie-utsuri all over the blade. A faint nie-utsuri is also seen on the tantô shown in picture 7. The hamon of the Hôchô-Tôshirô is a ko-nie-laden chû-suguha-chô with a bright and clear nioiguchi and is mixed with ko-gunome, some ko-notare, ko-ashi, and . The bôshi features a somewhat “tied-up” ko-maru-kaeri. The blade shows a pretty conspicuous amount of midare and please note the hi which is in Awataguchi-typical manner engraved close to the mune (although here with traces of a thin tsurebi that went all around the groove).


Picture 9: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tantô, meibutsu Hôchô-Tôshirô, mei “Yoshimitsu” (吉光), nagasa 21.8 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, preserved in the Tokugawa Museum

Picture 10 shows another wide blade that tends to hôchô. It was a heirloom of the Tachibana family (立花), the daimyô of the Yanagawa fief (柳川藩) of Chikugo proince, and is today designated as kokuhô. The blade is as mentioned wide, has a nagasa of 23.1 cm, and shows a dense and beautifully forged ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie, rather thick chikei, and a straight nie-utsuri. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden chû-suguha that features a bright nioiguchi, a few ko-ashi, and some connected ko-gunome at the base (more prominent on the omote side). The bôshi appears as sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and brief hakikake and again, we see a hi that is engraved extremely close to the mune.


Picture 10: kokuhô, tantô, mei “Yoshimitsu” (吉光), nagasa 23.1 cm, a little uchizori, hira-zukuri, iori-mune, privately owned (Fukuoka Prefecture)

And last but not least, I want to introduce one of Yoshimitsu’s most famous (some say his best) and largest tantô, the meibutsu Hirano-Tôshirô (平野藤四郎). It has a nagasa of 30.1 cm, a rather wide mihaba of 2.8 cm, and also quite a thick kasane of 0.8 cm. It shows a very dense ko-itame with a hint of masame towards the mune and plenty of fine ji-nie. The hamon is a suguha in ko-nie-deki that starts with some connected ko-gunome and that is mixed with shallow notare, a little gunome-midare, ko-ashi and . Both nioiguchi and ha are bright and clear and the bôshi is a shallow notare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri.


Picture 11: gyobutsu, tantô, meibutsu Hirano-Tôshirô, mei “Yoshimitsu” (吉光), nagasa 30.1 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune


To round this chapter off, let me address some essential kantei points. As we find ourselves in the late Kamakura period, we are dealing with the finest, most elegant, and qualitative best tantô ever made and are facing the greatest tantô smiths of all times, which were Awataguchi Kuniyoshi, Awataguchi Yoshimitsu, Shintôgo Kunimitsu, and Rai Kunitoshi. All of them made tantô with various sugata, so it is difficult to jump to a conclusion right away based on the shape alone. But what we can say is that tantô of Shintôgo Kunimitsu and Rai Kunitoshi show by trend a little thinner kasane as they were active later and approached Nanbokuchô. But if present, hi are a good hint because if they are noticeably close to the mune, it is very likely that you have an Awataguchi work. When it comes to the jiba, the blades of Shintôgo feature more chikei and kinsuji and are overall more nie-laden than those of Yoshimitsu. In other words, his jigane is stronger and with Shintôgo Kunimitsu, we can feel a moving away from Kyô and towards the soon to be established Sôshû tradition. At Rai Kunitoshi in turn, the nie are somewhat more calm, that means, the emphasis on nie goes in ascending order: Rai Kunitoshi → Awataguchi Yoshimitsu → Shintôgo Kunimitsu. I have already mentioned that Yoshimitsu’s tantô are quite similar to those of Kuniyoshi, with the difference that Kuniyoshi’s ko-itame is a hint denser and a hint more uniform and appears a hint more often as “straightforward” nashiji-hada. Apart from that, there is much more nijûba and the nie would not increase in the bôshi. And when you see prominent ko-gunome at the base or some kind of koshiba, it is safe to go for Yoshimitsu, supposing that you have narrowed down a bid to Kuniyoshi and Yoshimitsu. As indicated in the last chapter, there are some tantô of Kuniyoshi which too show an approach of this feature at the base but it was Yoshimitsu who so to speak applied it “fully”.