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.

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