KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #31 – Hasebe (長谷部) School 2

As promised last time, we are continuing with Hasebe Kunishige’s short swords. A characteristic feature of his (and his school’s) hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi (and partially also of the larger tantô) is that they show a noticeably thin kasane, i.e. thinner as it was already common during the mid-Nanbokuchô period. This peculiarity is more noticeable at shorter blades because of obvious pratical reasons: Long swords from heyday Nanbokuchô do indeed have a thinner kasane than their Kamakura predecessors but you just can’t make a tachi too thin. Another typical feature of Kunishige and Hasebe that is a hint more obvious on hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi and tantô than on long swords is the tendency towards nagare-masame towards the ha and towards the mune. Sometimes it is just a little nagare along the itame but relatively often you will see almost pure masame in these areas, i.e. ha and mune. So the whole tradition with Kunishige having Yamato roots might actually just be “reverse engineering” so to speak, i.e. having an emphasis on masame, what speaks for Yamato, and then finding in Yamato province a place, Hase, that has literally parts of his name in it. But in a scientific and an evidence-based world, it is of course not that easy. Well, nagare-masame is also found at Ryôkai and Nobukuni but in their case it mostly appears just along the ha and not towards the mune. Incidentally, the Yamato characteristics seen at Kunishige blades are in my opinion not as strong as the Yamashiro characteristics seen at early Nobukuni blades. In other words, and as mentioned in the corresponding chapters, early Nobukuni works do confirm that he had Yamashiro roots whereas just masame here an there is, for me, not enough to close the Hasebe case and accept that Kunishige came from Yamato.

The first blade (picture 5) that I want to introduce is the blade that bears the earliest known date signature of Kunishige that is considered to be watertight, a hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi that is dated Bunna four (文和, 1355). The blade has a wide mihaba, a thin kasane, has a little sori, and is altogether of a typical sunnobi-sugata. The jigane is an overall standing-out itame that is mixed with masame towards the ha and towards the mune. In addition, also ji-nie and chikei appear. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden notare that is mixed with gunome, ashi, , kinsuji, sunagashi, tobiyaki, and muneyaki and that thus tends a little to hitatsura, although it is not a full and prominent hitatsura. The bôshi features a maru-kaeri with hakikake that runs back in a long fashion and connects with the muneyaki. As for the horimono, the omote side shows a suken and a bonji and the ura side a futasuji-hi which runs with kaki-nagashi into the tang. The tang is ubu, has a shallow kurijiri, kiri-yasurime, and three mekugi-ana. So, the kasane is a hint thinner than seen at contemporary heyday Nanbokuchô hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi, there is a tendency towards hitatsura, a long kaeri (although not added in the oshigata), and prominent masame and thus we have again all the characteristic features of the Hasebe School.


Picture 5: tokubetsu-jûyô, wakizashi, mei: “Hasebe Kunishige” (長谷部国重) – “Bunna yonen hachigatsu hi” (文和二二年八月日, “a day in the eighth month of Bunna four [1355]”), nagasa 34.2 cm, sori 0.4 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

The next blade (see picture 6) that I want to introduce was made a few years after the one shown in picture 5. It is a tantô that is dated with the Enbun era but unfortunately, the mekugi-ana goes through the year so the date can be anything between 1356 and 1361. This blade is a little bit smaller, measuring 29.0 cm in nagasa, but still features in relation to that nagasa a wide mihaba. The jigane is an itame that tends to masame-nagare along the ha and there is plenty of ji-nie. The hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with some ko-gunome, angular elements, much sunagashi all over, and tobiyaki, i.e. the hamon again appears altogether as hitatsura. The bôshi features a ko-maru-kaeri that runs back in a continuous manner as muneyaki. So please take a look at the hamon, bôshi, and muneyaki: We have here an interpretation that is very typical for the Hasebe School, namely a more or less uniformly wide hamon (i.e. no gradual widening towards the bôshi etc.) that is so to speak “mirrored” in a small way in the muneyaki. Or in other words, imagine two more or less parallel hardenings which “enclose” a hitatsura in between them. Kunishige and the other Hasebe smiths of course also hardened different hamon which increase in width, sometimes even prominently towards the bôshi, but from my experience, if you have a heyday Nanbokuchô hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi or sunnobi-tantô in hitatsura that has this almost what I call a “tuning fork” like hamon/muneyaki combination, there is a good chance that it is a Hasebe work. That said, there are quite similar interpretations by contemporary Sôshû masters like Hiromitsu and Akihiro but usually we see a hint more ups and downs along their hamon, and in particular dango-chôji in case of Hiromitsu. Also, there would not be that prominent masame-nagare and their blades would show a little thicker kasane.


Picture 6: jûyô, tantô, mei: “Hasebe Kunishige” (長谷部国重) – “Enbun ?-nen nigatsu hi” (延文〇年二月日), nagasa 29.0 cm, only a little sori, motohaba 2.8 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

In picture 7 I want to introduce another example, this time with the picture shown vertically, so I hope you understand what I meant with the “tuning fork” comparison, even if the muneyaki part doesn’t go all the way down here. It is another hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi and shows a somewhat standing-out itame that tends to nagare in places and that is mixed with mokume, some jifu, plenty of ji-nie, and chikei. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden notare that is mixed with gunome, a little bit chôji, many ashi, fine sunagashi and kinsuji, and with some tobiyaki at the base and along the upper half of the blade. The nioiguchi is bright.


Picture 7: tokubetsu-jûyô, wakizashi, mei: “Hasebe Kunishige” (長谷部国重), nagasa 36.9 cm, sori 0.5 cm, motohaba 3.5 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune


Picture 8 shows a tantô with a moderate nagasa for mid-Nanbokuchô but which appears with the relatively narrow mihaba nevertheless in sunnobi-style. The jigane is a standing-out itame that is mixed with masame towards the mune and that features ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden gunome-chôji that is mixed with ko-notare, tobiyaki, yubashiri, sunagashi, and kinsuji and with the muneyaki, we arrive again at a full-blown hitatsura. Please note the different bôshi: It has a pointed kaeri on the ura but a typically roundish “Hasebe kaeri” on the omote side.


Picture 8: jûyô, tantô, mei: “Hasebe Kunishige” (長谷部国重), nagasa 27.0 cm, sori 0.2 cm, motohaba 2.4 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune


The last blade (see picture 9) that I want to introduce for Kunishige should demonstrate another side of his repertoire, although interpretations like that are rather rare for him. It is a sunnobi-style tantô with a dense ko-itame that only tends on the ura side towards nagare-masame, and this only very little. In additiom, there is plenty of ji-nie and chikei. Such a relatively fine ko-itame is usually rather associated with Hasebe Kuninobu tachi than Hasebe Kunishige short swords. The hamon starts a a low and calm notare-chô which then turns into a wide chôji that is mixed with tobiyaki, yubashiri, muneyaki, fine kinsuji, and sunagashi. Thus the ha only appears in the upper section as hitatsura. Incidentally, the nioiguchi is wide and bright and the bôshi has a ko-maru-kaeri with a small shimaba on the omote side.


Picture 9: jûyô, tantô, mei: “Hasebe Kunishige” (長谷部国重), nagasa 27.9 cm, sori 0.3 cm, motohaba 2.8 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune


Next part will deal with Hasebe Kuninobu after which we will conclude the Hasebe chapter wit Kunihira and the genealogy of the school.


Shrine gifts to the Shôgun

This time I want to talk about a special custom, and that is the traditional sword gift that the Tanzan-jinja (談山神社) made to each new shôgun. Before we start, the Tanzan-jinja was mostly referred to by its mountain name, Tônomine (多武峯), in feudal times, just to point that out if you come across conflicting data when doing research or reading about that custom in another context. Anyway, the Tanzan-jinja, or Tônomine respectively, is located close to present-day Sakurai (桜井), Nara Prefecture. It is about 15 miles (25 km) to the south of Nara station (linear distance), or 38 miles (62 km) to the south of Kyôto (again, linear distance).

There exists a seven-volume record titled Kyôto Oyakusho-muki Taigai Oboegaki (京都御役所向大概覚書), a collection of official memoranda and reports fro the office of the Kyôto magistrate, the Kyôto machi-bugyô (京都町奉行), which was compiled in Kyôhô two (享保, 1717). Therein we read that from the 18th year of Keichô (慶長, 1613) onwards, the Tanzan-jinja (Tônomine) presented at every shogunal succession one sword from its possessions to the new shôgun. Practice was this that the Kyôto magistrate office required the Tanzan-jinja to bring in advance a few dozen swords so that they in turn can call the head of the Hon’ami family to come in and pick the one that is most suitable for the present.

Picture 1, from left to right: Ietsuna, Tsunayoshi, Ienobu

In order to not just provide dry text here, I want to introduce a sword that was presented by the shrine on one such occasion, namely a Nobukuni (信国) tantô (see picture 2) that was given to the 5th Tokugawa shôgun Tsunayoshi (徳川綱吉, 1646-1709) when he took over from Ietsuna (徳川家綱, 1641-1680) in the fifth month of Enpô eight (延宝, 1680). By the way, Kôjô (本阿弥光常, 1643-1710) was the head of the Hon’ami family at that time but we don’t know who exactly was in charge of picking the sword.

Picture 1: jûyô, tantô, mei: “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 26.1 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

The second shrine gift that I want to introduce here is from the sixth year of Hôei (宝永, 1709) and concerns the succession of Tokugawa Ienobu (徳川家宣, 1662-1712) taking over from Tsunayoshi and becoming the 6th Tokugawa shôgun. In preparation to his 1709 succession, the astonishing amount of 58 swords were brought from the Tanzan-jinja to the place of the Kyôto magistrate and for this time, we know who from the Hon’ami family was chosen to pick the gift sword, Hon’ami Kôzan (本阿弥光山, 1634-1714). That is, it was maybe not the head of the family who was proceeding to Kyoto to meet with the official.

Incidentally, we also know that Kôzan was in charge for picking the Tanzan-jinja sword gift for the very next succession, which took place in Shôtoku three (正徳, 1713), the year before he died. So from the Kyôto Oyakusho-muki Taigai Oboegaki record we know that Kôzan had to judge the condition of the polish and had to arrange a polish (togi-age, 研上ケ), the making of a new shirasaya, a wooden habaki (yes, wooden, that’s what the record says), and a new sword bag (katana-bukuro, 刀袋) if necessary. What he picked was an unsigned wakizashi attributed to Bizen Osafune Sadamitsu (備前長船貞光), measuring ~ 42 cm in nagasa

That kind of speaks volumes for the then, i.e. mid-Edo “treasure” swords of the shrine, i.e. a signed Nobukuni is pretty good, don’t get me wrong, but an unsigned and therefore probably ô-suriage blade of a minor Bizen smith? For the auguration of the new shôgun? I want to do more research in the future to see if also other shrines were making similar gifts, what seems likely, at least for ther larger shrines, and maybe these shrine presents were more seen as nice gestures, unlike gifts from daimyô where all the context of family bond and alliances comes into play. But be that as it may, it tells us how many swords these shrines were storing at any time throughout the Edo period, i.e. if they picked 58 for “a closer consideration”.

In this sense, there is hope that there are still treasure swords going to be discovered  in some shrines in the future, as for example pointed out here. Also, I just finished translating an article for the Western members of the NKBKHK which deals with an armor that was probably worn by the famous warlord Katô Kiyomasa (加藤清正, 1562-1611) and that had been stored away more or less unnoticedly in a simple bucket in a shrine in deep Nagano Prefecture for about 400 years!