Working on the German translation of parts of the current Tôken Bijutsu magazine I saw that Satô Kazunori (佐藤一典) points out a “habit” in the 24th part of his article series on Sendai swordsmiths that I would briefly like to introduce. The habit in question is a certain ligature, gôji (合字) in Japanese, that combines the characters Fuji (藤) and wara (原) to a single character that represents, obviously, the clan name Fujiwara. Now I don’t want to deal with the specific swordsmith, who is the Nidai Sôryûshi Tamateru (雙龍子玉英, 1820-1889) by the way, but suffice it to say that I first came across this habit years ago via his master Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤, 1778-1857). Naotane started rather early on in his career, i.e. around Bunsei (文政, 1818-1830) to drop the wara and sign the reference to the clan name Fujiwara just with Fuji (see my Shinshinto-Meikan, p. 135f). Later, i.e. around Tenpô (天保, 1830-1844), he signed Fujiwara as everyone else with two characters but changed towards the end of his career, i.e. around Kôka (弘化, 1844-1848) and Kaei (嘉永, 1848-1854) to the gôji ligature variant. So Tamateru obviously adopted this habit from his master.
Picture 1, from left to right: Naotane signing just with Fuji (dated Bunsei four, 1821), with Fujiwara (dated Tenpô eleven, 1840), and with the gôji (dated Kaei four, 1851)
When I say “came across via Naotane” above, I mean that I once wrongly read this gôji just as Fuji, i.e. I thought that he later returned to the habit of dropping the wara character again but was pointed out that he did add it by so to speak squeezing it into the the lower Fuji part (滕), that is squeezing it between the radicas (月) and (𣳾). So if you see a mei like the one in picture 1 right, you correctly read it (in this very case) as “Mino no Suke Fujiwara Naotane” and not “Mino no Suke Fuji Naotane.”
Picture 2: Naotane’s Fujiwara gôji (left) and how Tamateru signed it (right).
Explicit ligature was and is rather rare in Japan because when you combine two characters, you just get a new character and this is not regarded as ligature in the strict sense. However, there were some, but they mostly used for decorative or “underlining/emphasizing” purposes on temple inscriptions or talimans. Apart from that, and what we see sometimes today, Western units were adopted and made into gôji, for example (糎) for centimeter, Japanese senchi or senchimêtoru, composed from the characters (米) and (厘), and (粍) for millimeter, Japanese miri or mirimêtoru, composed from the characters (米) and (毛). In our field, you can come across such units gôji via certain papers, for example those issued by the Nihon Tôsôgu Kenkyû Kai and the Jûhô Tôken Kenkyû Kai (see picture below).
Picture 3: Details from a NTK and a JTK paper.