In the last Tôken Bijutsu, the May issue of 2016, Imoto Yûki (井本悠紀) introduces a gassaku, a joint work between Mishina Kaneyuki (三品金行) and the 11th generation Aizu-Kanesada (会津兼定), which is insofar very interesting as one side of the blade shows a kitae in itame mixed with mokume whilst the other side is in pure masame. Now some might wonder how to forge a blade so that one side has a completely different forging structure than the other one. But if you remember all the different blade constructions, it is actually pretty simple and I like to take this brief article of Imoto as an opportunity to elaborate a little on that and on the context of this gassaku.
Now first about the forging. We know several blades of Kanesada where he explicitly states on the tang that they are forged in hon-sanmai (本三枚), although he uses the term shin-sanmai (真三枚). For example, a katana that he made in Ansei four (安政, 1857) at the age of 20 which is featured in Toyama Noboru’s book on Kanesada that I had the honor to translate a couple of years ago (and which can be purchased here). And Imoto introduces a mei of Kanesada bearing that supplement which is dated Meiji 35 (明治, 1902) and which also comes with the information that he made it at the age of 66. As most of you know, the forging technique of hon-sanmai uses three different steels, two outer layers of kawagane, a shingane core, and an additional hagane at the cutting edge (see picture below). Usually the smith forges the two outer kawagane layers identically but from this gassaku we learn that one smith, Kaneyuki, forged the one layer whilst the other, Kanesada, forged the other one, by each of them sticking to their traditional technique (well, Kanesada also often worked in other kitae but masame was one of his trademarks). And the blade is also signed that way, i.e. Kaneyuki signing on the omote, the side which is in itame-mokume, and Kanesada on the ura, which is the one in masame. So either one of the two, and I assume it was Kaneyuki, took all the prepared steels, bundled them up (the process called tsukuri-komi [造り込み] or kumi-awase [組み合わせ]), and forged this bundle into a blade. The blade itself by the way is a hira-zukuri wakizashi with a nagasa of 39.4 cm, a sori of 0.7 cm, showing a nie-deki hamon where gunome sections are connected with notare and suguha-chô and which is mixed with togariba and plenty of kinsuji and sunagashi.
And as mentioned above, I want to elaborate on the context of this joint work a little. I have already stated in this article that Kanesada proceeded to Kyôto in the seventh month of Bunkyû three (文久, 1863) where he received five months later the honorary title Izumi no Kami (和泉守). The Mishina family was, as we know, so to speak in charge of handling the awarding of honorary titles with the court, expressed through their own special honorary title of Nihon Kaji Sôshô (日本鍛冶宗匠・日本鍛冶惣匠). Now we know from records that Kanesada worked in the tenth month of that year in the residence of Kaneyuki and it is assumed that such a stay belonged to the procedure of receiving a honorary title. In other words, the Mishina family probably wanted to see live the talent of the smith before forwarding any suggestions to the Imperial household. Usually, these stays are always described as “someone refining his craft in Kyôto” but most of the smiths doing so were already fully trained masters at the height of their career. This just as a side note.
Now Kaneyuki had studied with the 10th generation Iga no Kami Kinmichi (伊賀守金道) whom he later succeeded, under the name of Kinmichi, as 11th generation of that lineage. He himself had received his honorary title of Ômi no Kami (近江守) on the 20th day of the tenth month Bunkyû three (1863), i.e. at the very time Kanesada was staying in his house. Now we don’t know exactly when he succeeded as 11th generation Kinmichi (Fukunaga Suiken assumes it took place before Keiô two [慶応, 1866]) but what we do know is that the gassaku wakizashi is already signed with the additional honorary title Nihon Kaji Sôshô, which he had received from Kinmichi two months earlier, in the eighth month of Bunkyû three (1863). Also we know that Kanesada returned to Aizu in the second month of Keiô one (1865) what allows us to narrow down the production time of the undated gassaku wakizashi between the twelfth month of Bunkyû three (1863), the time Kanesada had received the title Izumi no Kami and by which the blade is signed, and the second month of Keiô one (1865) when Kanesada left Kyôto.
Last but not least I want to introduce another interesting anecdote in this context. In my above linked article on the last of the Kanesada, I mentioned that Kanesada witnessed the so-called “Hamaguri Gate Rebellion” (Hamaguri-gomon no hen, 蛤御門の変) which took place in 1864 and where royalists rebelled against the Tokugawa at the Hamaguri Gate of the Imperial Palace. Now in the course of this incident, the residence of the Mishina family caught fire and was seriously damaged (as were large parts of Kyôto, see picture below). After the rebellion was over, the Mishina family sent out letters to all their former students, who had scattered all over the country in the meanwhile by the way, not asking for but (by their choice of words) rather demanding a contribution to the reconstruction of their forge 😉