KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #25 – Ryôkai (了戒) School 2

Ryôkai was succeeded by his son Hisanobu (久信) who is – due to the fact that he often signed just with the prefix “Ryô” – mostly referred to as Ryô Hisanobu (了久信). The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that he was born in Kagen one (嘉元, 1303) and died in Ôan seven (応安, 1374) at the age of 73. Again, we have here dates which don’t add up and apart from that, the source also mixes up Hisanobu with Nobuhisa (信久). That is, it lists Nobuhisa as son of Ryôkai and Hisanobu as his successor whereas all other sources state it the other way round, i.e. Nobuhisa being the son of Hisanobu. Hisanobu being the son of Ryôkai is also proven by dated and signed works which will be addressed in the following. First, there is a pretty famous tachi extant (see picture 1) which is signed kakikudashi-style “Ryôkai Kagen sannen sangatsu hi” (了戒  嘉元三年三月日, “Ryôkai, on a day of the third month Kagen three [1305]”) on the haki-omote, and “Yamashiro no Kuni-jûnin Kurôza…” (山城国住人九郎左…) (rest cut off) on the haki-ura side. This mei was for a long time interpreted as showing Ryôkai’s first name, being Kurôzaemon or Kurôzaemon no Jô but in more recent years another tachi has been found (see picture 2) which is signed “Kurôzaemon no Jô Hisanobu saku – Kagen ninen uzuki hi” (九郎左衛門尉久信作・嘉元二年卯月日, “on a day of the fourth month Kagen two [1304]”). So Kurôzaemon no Jô was obviously the first name of his son Hisanobu and not of master Ryôkai and the Kagen three tachi is thus obviously a gassaku. Incidentally, the Kagen two tachi by Hisanobu bears somewhat apart from the actual mei and interpreted in a completely different way the name “Ikkai” (一海). Some speculate that this was the nyûdô-gô of Hisanobu but the NBTHK says that it is a kiritsuke-mei, i.e. added later. Well, and “final proof” for Hisanobu being the one of Ryôkai delivers a naginata (see picture 3) which is signed “Ryôkai shisoku Hisanobu – Tokuji sannen tsuchinoe-saru jûgatsu muika” (了戒子息久信・徳治三年戊申十月六日, “Hisanobu, son of Ryôkai, on the sixth day of the tenth month Tokuji three [1308], year of the monkey”).

Now let me introduce all these blades, beginning with the gassaku which is designated as a jûyô-bunkazai, owned by the Atsuta-jingû, but preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum. It must have had a magnificently long nagasa because it measures 82.6 cm in its shortened condition. It has a deep sori that tends to koshizori, maintains a little funbari, tapers noticeably, and ends in a ko-kissaki. The jigane is a ko-itame that is mixed with masame-nagare and fine ji-nie as well as a shirake-utsuri appear. The hamon is an overall rather subdued suguha to hoso-suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-midare, some ko-chôji, ko-ashi, and that features a rather tight nioiguchi, and the bôshi is a thin sugu to midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri.


Picture 1: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei see text above, nagasa 82.6 cm, sori 3.0 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, sakihaba 1.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The Hisanobu tachi with the Ikkai supplement is shown in picture 2. This blade too is with a nagasa of 84.0 cm pretty long. It has a wide mihaba that tapers noticeably, a deep koshizori with funbari, and end in a ko-kissaki. The jigane is a ko-itame that is mixed with a conspicuous amount of masame and features fine ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri. The hamon is a suguha-chô in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with some ko-gunome, ko-midare, ko-chôji and ko-ashi and has a subdued nioiguchi. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and tends to a little bit to a sansaku-bôshi. The omote side bears a bonji with below a suken, and the ura side a bonji with below gomabashi, both of them running as kaki-nagashi into the tang.


Picture 2: jûyô, tachi, mei see text above, nagasa 84.0 cm, sori 2.8 cm, motohaba 2.95 cm, sakihaba 1.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune


Picture 3: The naginata which explicitly states that Hisanobu was the son of Ryôkai. It is owned by the Tokugawa Museum, has a nagasa of 42.8 cm, and is interpreted in the typical Ryôkai style.

Another signed tachi of Ryô Hisanobu is introduced in picture 4. It has a long nagasa too, tapers noticeably, but the kissaki tends to chû. Its jigane is a standing-out itame that is all over mixed with nagare-masame and that features ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri. The hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-gunome, hotsure, ashi, , and sunagashi and appears subdued in places. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-mar-kaeri.


Picture 4: jûyô, tachi, mei “Ryô Hisanobu” (了久信), nagasa 83.7 cm, sori 2.6 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, sakihaba 1.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

An interesting blade is shown in picture 5 (click on the pic to get to the website), interesting insofar as that it is very similar to the shôbu-zukuri tachi of Ryôkai shown in picture 8 of the previous chapter. Hisanobu’s blade is ubu but unsigned, has a nagasa of 67.3 cm, a high shinogi, and shows a ko-itame that is mixed with much nagare-masame and some ô-hada in places, even formingsome mokume swirls here and there. This time a faint nie-utsuri appears and the hamon is a subdued hoso-suguha with ko-ashi, and the bôshi is sugu too and runs out as yakitsume.


Picture 5: tachi, mumei, attributed to Ryô Hisanobu, nagasa 67.3 cm, sori 2.5 cm, motohaba 2.94 cm, shôbi-zukuri, iori-mune


Now let’s talk about Hisanobu’s tantô. An often quoted work is the tantô shown in picture 6 that is dated Enkyô three (延慶, 1310). It is a so to speak standard hira-zukuri tantô for that time, showing moderate to smallish dimensions, an uchizori, and a jigane in dense ko-itame that tends to nagare along the mune and that displays a midare-utsuri. This midare-utsuri is in my opinion linked to the interpretation in midareba. I mean, we see a ko-notare-based ko-gunome in nioi-deki that is mixed with ashi and that features a mizukage, thus quite a flamboyant interpretation for the Ryôkai group. The bôshi is midare-komi too and runs back in a ko-maru-kaeri. So when we bear in mind that the latest known date signature of Rôkai is from the previous year and take into consideration that not that many works of Hisanobu are extant, we can speculate that he might have mostly worked for his father. This is also supported by the fact that we are facing a pretty inconsistent signature style of the characters for Ryôkai, I am hinting at daisaku-daimei, and this might go hand in hand with the tradition that Hisanobu signed himself with “Ryôkai” one or two years after his father had died, so at least according to the Goto Tebiki Shô (如手引抄). Well this work was published in the Kan´ei era (寛永, 1624-1644), more than 300 years after Hisanobu’s active period. Incidentally, the known date signatures of Ryô Hisanobu, which are pretty rare, span just from Kagen (嘉元, 1303-1306) to Enkyô (延慶, 1308-1311).


Picture 6: tantô, mei “Ryô Hisanobu” (了久信) – “Enkyô sannen jûnigatsu muika” (延慶三年十二月六日, “sixth day of the twelfth month Enkyô three [1310]”), nagasa 23.9 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, iori-mune, preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum

But the majority of Hisanobu’s tantô is in suguha, like for example the blade shown in picture 7. It is with a nagasa of 26.2 cm of standard length has no sori. The motohaba is with 2.42 not really on the narrow side for a tantô but when you take a look at the width of the tang, the condition of the ha-machi, and the thinness of the ha, I think that this blade has lost some substance. It shows a finely forged ko-itame that is mixed with ko-mokume and nagare and features ji-nie, a shirake-utsuri, and even a few chikei. The hamon is a hoso-sugha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with sunagashi and fine kinsuji and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri.

RyoHIsanobu7Picture 7: tantô, mumei, attributed to Ryô Hisanobu, nagasa 26.2 cm, muzori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune


Genealogy of the Ryokai School

Now Ryô Hisanobu was succeeded by his son Nobuhisa (信久) who lived, according to the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen, from Bunna one (文和, 1352) to Ôei 26 (応永, 1419). He signed in the syntax of his father, i.e. with “Ryô Nobuhisa” (了信久) and worked allegedly also in the same style, although I have never come across any of his works. Well, Tsuneishi goes pretty much into detail but the problem is, he just addresses a “3rd generation Ryôkai” and does not say if he means Nobuhisa or not. Apart from that, most other sources don’t count an exact succession of generations of the Ryôkai lineage or just say that Ryôkai was the 1st generation and Ryô Hisanobu the 2nd, period. Tsuneishi introduces even more generations, i.e. a 4th generation who was active around Jôji (貞治, 1362-1368) and a 5th generation who was active around Ôei (応永, 1394-1428). For a better overview, I have compiled a genealogy of the Ryôkai School that is provided above. So Tsuneishi describes the 3rd generation as working basically in the style of his father and grandfather, hardening a hoso-suguha but which shows less nie and that comes close the a pure nioi-deki. He further states that his nioiguchi is not tight and dull (he uses “dim, blurred”), that most extant works show a “tired yakiba,” a weak and roughish hada, much masame towards the mune, and a shirake-utsuri. His tantô are smaller dimensioned and show a hoso-suguha that is mixed with ko-gunome-midare which is more “busy” than the ha of the 1st and 2nd generation. And he concludes that the 3rd generation also does not match the quality of his two predecessors.

Anyway, the old-established Yamashiro schools were all fading by the end of the Nanbokuchô period. The Awataguchi School had “long” been gone. The Rai School had just “disappeared” or had scattered to the four winds (Nakajima, Echizen, Higo) and its remaining smiths were outshined by masters, for example from the Hasebe and the Nobukuni School, who adjusted their work very much to the new Sôshû tradition. The Ryôkai School shared the same fate. Their own offspring Nobukuni overshadowed all other Ryôkai students and the son of Hisanobu’s student Yoshisada (能定), i.e. the 2nd generation Yoshisada, moved eventually down to Kyûshû where he became the ancestor of the so-called Tsukushi-Ryôkai group.


4 thoughts on “KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #25 – Ryôkai (了戒) School 2

  1. I have a Japanese sword that is well over 170 years old manufactured by Kiyomaro Minamoto The owners name was Michikazu Sugawata I am trying to trace the manufacturer/owner can you help?

    • Dear Philip,
      Please send me some pictures of the sword and the signature to “markus.sesko@gmail.com” and I will try to find something on its owner.
      Thank you,
      Markus Sesko

      • Morning Marcus Very sorry too trouble you again but do you have a direct email address for NBHK? Best regards Philip

        Sent from my iPhone


      • Hi Philip,
        I do have direct email addresses of some of the NBTHK staff but I’m not supposed to forward them. Nothing personal. It is just that the NBTHK tries to make people follow certain channels of communication. But I would be glad to assist if you want and I might be able to get you in touch with someone in a second step so to speak. Just drop me a mail to “markus.sesko@gmail.com” and briefly describe your case. Thank you.

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