The blade with which Sen no Rikyū committed seppuku

I have introduced a couple of swords here and here within the context of being around “on the eve” of a famous historical incident and the piece that I am going to introduce here joins these ranks, although it was literally directly involved in such a famous historical incident.

To let the cat out of the bag, and as the title already gives it away, the blade that I want to introduce here is the blade with which the famous tea master Sen no Rikyū (千利休, 1522-1591) committed on the 28th day of the second month Tenshō 19 (天正, 1591) seppuku. The circumstances for his ritual suicide are widely documented and so I rather want to focus on the sword in question whose blade is a work by no less than one of the greatest swordsmiths in Japanese history, Awataguchi Tōshirō Yoshimitsu (粟田口藤四郎吉光). Kind of fitting to commit seppuku with when you are the greatest tea master in Japanese history. The sword, obviously a tantō, is nicknamed Kobuya-Tōshirō (こぶや藤四郎・こぶ屋藤四郎) and there are several contradictory traditions out there about its background and provenance.

 

Picture 1: jūyō-bijutsuhintantōmei: “Yoshimitsu” (吉光), nagasa 25.0 cm, sunnobi-sugata, dense ko-itame with ji-niesuguha in ko-nie-deki which narrows down along the monouchi. Honma Junji writes that the jiba of the blade shows some tiredness (tsukare) but that it is nevertheless a very important reference because of its provenance and deserves thus special recognition amongst the numerous works extant by Yoshimitsu.

 

Now the contradictory things concerning this sword are first the origins of its nickname and second, who made or was in charge of making its koshirae. As for the former, Kobuya was a merchant family from Kanazawa in Kaga province, most likely dealing with the edible konbu algae which is also referred to as kobu in Japan (and as kombu in the West). So, the blade was designated as a jūyō-bijutsuhin on September 5, 1938 and was then owned by Yoshida Yoshimichi (吉田由道) who became later, in 1949, the initiator and first president of the Kyōto branch of the NBTHK. The brief explanation to the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation says that the blade was owned by Sen no Rikyū, that Rikyū commissioned Hon’ami Kōsa (本阿弥光瑳, 1573-1637) with making its koshirae, and that it was later handed down within the Kobuya family from Kanazawa in Kaga province which earned it its nickname. The explanation to the designation also says that the sword is accompanied by three letters from Hon’ami Kōho (本阿弥光甫, 1601-1682) to Sen no Sōshitsu (千宗室, 1622-1697), Rikyū’s great-grandson. Just to connect the dots here, Kōsa was the third and Kōho the fourth generation of the Kōji line of the Hon’ami family which was, due to its second head and Kōsa’s adoptive father Kōetsu (本阿弥光悦, 1558-1637), very much involved in the art world of that time. Also, the Kōji-Hon’ami enjoyed a lucrative hereditary employment by the wealthy Kaga fief which provides us with a local connection to the Kobuya family.

So far, so good. The catalog to the 1990 special exhibition Sen no Rikyū – The 400th Memorial of the Kyōto National Museum however records the provenance of the sword somewhat differently. Therein it is stated that the Yoshimitsu blade was first owned by the Kobuya family, that it was acquired by Rikyū, and that Rikyū commissioned Hon’ami Kōtoku (本阿弥光徳, 1552-1619) with making a koshirae for it. Kōtoku was the ninth head of the Hon’ami main line and in course of having the koshirae made, he contributed, as a gift to Rikyū, the shakudō menuki which depict plum blossoms on a branch.

Now as for who is “right,” it is difficult to say. On the one hand, you have the explanatory comments to the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation, and on the other hand you have the exhibition catalog published by the Kyōto National Museum (which owns the sword today by the way). As we know, sword studies have greatly advanced since the time of the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation in 1938 and therefore I tend to follow the Kyōto National Museum for the time being. However, there is a big question mark here and that is the three letters by Kōho to Rikyū’s great-grandson Sen no Sōshitsu which were in the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation “bundle” and which might reveal more about the provenance. Well, I would like to know inhowfar these letters were incorporated into the recording of the provenance, i.e. if they actually contain anything about the provenance (probably I guess) and if they were actually checked by the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation committee and/or the team that made the Kyōto National Museum catalog. So, one scenario would be that the teams drew different conclusions from the content of the letter and another one would be that the letters were put unread into the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation “bundle”, that just an old tradition about the provenance was followed then, and that the letters were later read and studied by the Kyōto National Museum and that is why they came to realize that the sword has a different provenance. Incidentally, I do have pictures of the letters (from the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation) but they are too small to read anything (see picture 2).

 

Picture 2: The letters of Kōho to Sen no Sōshitsu.

 

Anyway, I want to conclude this article by paying some attention to the koshirae of the sword. As you can see in picture 1, the saya is a simple black-lacquer saya and all the fittings, i.e. koiguchikurigatafuchi and kashira are of black-lacquered horn. The hilt is wrapped in rattan and all in all, we have here a very tasteful and unobtrusive mounting which totally reflects the then tea taste. By the way, the koshirae is nicknamed Rikyū-koshirae (利休拵) accordingly and it is virtually identical to the so-called Waifu’ya-koshirae (隈府屋) (see picture 3) which is said to have been worn by Hosokawa Sansai Tadaoki (細川三斎忠興, 1563-1646) when he was pursuing falconry. Only difference here is that the Waifu’ya-koshirae features menuki in the form of the kuyō crest (九曜) of the Hosokawa and a kozuka made of black-grained komadake (胡麻竹) bamboo. It is no surprise that Tadaoki had himself a tantō mount the same way Rikyū had his Yoshimitsu mounted as Tadaoki was one of the so-called Rikyū-shichitetsu (利休七哲), the “Seven Master Tea Disciples of Rikyū.”

 

Picture 3: Copy of the Waifu’ya-koshirae.

 

Just a final note in this context, it is unknown which blade is/was mounted in the Waifu’ya-koshirae as the whereabouts of the sword are unknown since at least the 1920s. All we have today are several copies (one of them shown in picture 3) and period descriptions (for example in the Higo Tōsō Roku [肥後刀装録] published in 1934).

 

 

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KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #33 – Hasebe (長谷部) School 4

The last Hasebe master that I would like to introduce is Kunihira (国平). He is said to have been the son of Kunishige, which either makes him the nephew or the brother of Kuninobu, depending on the tradition you follow. As for his active period, we know date signatures from Enbun two (延文, 1357), Jôji three (貞治, 1364), and Jôji six (1367). That is, he was active at about the same time as Kuninobu and their workmanship is also very similar. By the way, the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that Kunihira was born in Ôchô one (応長, 1311) and died in Enbun four (1359) at the relatively young age of 49 but this is of course not sustainable if we have date signatures from later than Enbun four.

There are far less (signed) works of Kunihira extant than of Kunishige and Kuninobu what would support the tradition that you died relatively young, although surely not in Enbun four as mentioned, or that he was mostly assisting his father in running the school. As for Kunihira’s characteristic features, Tsuneishi writes that he made more smaller dimensioned tantô than Kunishige, some of them even featuring a takenoko-zori, but it is hard to locate those because the short swords that I have in my references are of typical sunnobi shape and not noticeably small. Tsuneishi further states that Kunihira’s kasane is not as thin as that of Kunishige and Kuninobu but as seen later, there are Kunihira works around which feature a very thin kasane. Anyway, his hamon is generally a hint less nie-laden and a little more calm than that of his father and uncle/brother.

The first Kunihira sword that I want to introduce is a quite elegant tachi that doesn’t look like Nanbokuchô-heyday at glance. It has a standing-out itame mixed with nagare that also features ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is a suguha-chô mixed with a little ko-gunome and ko-midare and along the subdued but wide and nie-laden nioiguchi we see ashi, hotsure, yubashiri, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The bôshi is sugu and has a brief ko-maru-kaeri. Incidentally, this Kunihira-tachi was once put out at a kantei session in Tôkyô of which I have the protocol. That protocol says that there were neither atari nor dôzen and because of the itame-magare and the suguha-chô, most of the participants focused on Tegai Kanenaga (手掻包永), or went for Ko-Aoe (古青江) and Naminohira Yukiyasu (波平行安). In the case of Kanenaga we would expect more Yamato characteristics, both in sugata and jiba. A Ko-Aoe work would show more nie and some jifu, sumigane and/or a dan-utsuri. Also an old Kyûshû work would show more Yamato characterstics. And as there are perpendicular ko-ashi, we can see some hints of the Yamashiro tradition but obviously most of the participants hesitated to go for Yamashiro as they would expect a densely forged kitae or a true nashiji-hada for a blade with such a classical sugata (leading one into the wrong period, i.e. too early).

Picture 1: tachi, mei “Hasebe Kunihira” (長谷部国平), nagasa 72.2 cm, sori 2.1 cm, motohaba 2.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The next blade (picture 2) is one of the known dated work of Kunihira. It is a wide sunnobi-tantô with a relatively deep sori for its nagasa and with a wide top surface of its mitsu-mune. The kitae is a standing-out itame that is mixed with large-structured mokume and with masame towards the ha and the mune. Ji-nie appears and the hamon consists of angular and kata-yahazu-like gunome elements which are connected with shallow sections of ko-notare. The ha is nie-laden and shows sunagashi, yubashiri, tobiyaki, and muneyaki, i.e. it appears overall as hitatsura. The bôshi is a wide and wildly hardened midare-komi whose kaeri connects with the muneyaki.

Picture 2: sunnobi-tantô, mei: “Hasebe Kunihira”  (長谷部国平) – “Jôji sannen nigatsu hi”  (貞治三年二月日, “a day in the second month Jôji three [1364]”), nagasa 30.3 cm, sori 0.6 cm, motohaba 2.85 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune

The last Kunihira blade (picture 3) is a slightly longer sunnobi-tantô, or hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi if you want, that has a wide mihaba, a very thin kasane, and some sori. The jigane is a standing-out itame that is mixed with nagare and masame, in particular on the omote side. Also ji-nie and chikei appear and the hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with protruding angular gunome, chôji, dango-chôji, yahazu, yubashiri, tobiyaki, muneyaki, sunagashi, and kinsuji so again, we have overall a hitatsura. It is interesting that the bôshi is interpreted differently on both sides. On the omote we see a widely hardened kaen-style bôshi with a wide kaeri and on the ura a low midare-komi with an extremely late starting and pointy ko-maru-kaeri.

Picture 3: sunnobi-tantô, mei: “Hasebe Kunihira”  (長谷部国平), nagasa 32.9 cm, sori 0.5 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

*

Last but not least I want to introduce two works of some of the more rare smiths of the Hasebe School, namely Munenobu (宗信) and Shigenobu (重信). Picture 4 shows a tantô by the former smith who is said to either have been the son of Kuninobu or the second son of the second generation Kunishige. The blade has a relatively moderate shape and shows a rather standing-out itame that is partially mixed with nagare and that features ji-nie. The hamon is a nie-laden suguha-chô that tends a little towards a shallow notare and that is mixed with some gunome, sunagashi, hotsure, uchinoke, nijûba, and yubashiri. The bôshi has a somewhat pointy ko-maru-kaeri and shows hakikake. As you can see, the deki is quite calm for a Hasebe work and reminds more of a Yamato or Yamashiro work.

Picture 4: tantô, mei: “Hasebe Munenobu” (長谷部宗信), nagasa 29.8 cm, sori 0.2 cm, motohaba 2.65 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

And the last work (picture 5) is a tantô by Shigenobu who is said to have been a student of the first generation Kunishige. There were supposedly two generations Shigenobu but the jûyô papers say that this one is Nanbokuchô what basically makes it a first generation work. The blade is in katakiriba-zukuri, has a relatively wide mihaba and no sori. The kitae is an itame with ji-nie that appears as masame towards the ha and the mune. The hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with gunome and much sunagashi and the bôshi is sugu with a long running-back ko-maru-kaeri. The omote side shows a bonji and the ura side a gyô no kurikara.

Picture 5: tantô, mei: “Hasebe Shigenobu” (長谷部重信), nagasa 27.0 cm, muzori, motohaba 2.7 cm, katakiriba-zukuri, mitsu-mune

*

Below is the genealogy of the Hasebe School as I see it at the moment. As mentioned in the first chapter of the school, it is difficult to tell with certainty how the succession of generations went down. What I want to mention is that if you follow the tradition the Kuninobu was not the younger brother but the second son of the first generation Kunishige and that he later succeeded his father as head of the school, it would bring in line the traditions that Rokurôzaemon was so to speak “both” the second and third generation, i.e. he was the second generation Kunishige and the third generation Hasebe. Be that as it may, I think it is safe to assume that the Hasebe was organized like most of the other dominating schools of that time, and that is, a grand master who was supervising several smiths, some of them his sons (or even brothers), who either produced in his name, which was the brand name, or occasionally also under their own name.

 

Genealogy Hasebe School

 

Egawa Tarōzaemon Hidetatsu (江川太郎左衛門英龍)

This time I want to introduce quite a rare blade which has a certain historic significance and thus, obviously, a very interesting historic background. It is a work by the Egawa Tarōzaemon Hidetatsu (江川太郎左衛門英龍, 1801-1855) who was a daikan (代官), a bakufu governor of lands that were directly owned by the Tokugawa. From the mid-18th century to the Meiji era, this governmental post was in charge of lands stretching over the provinces of Sagami, Izu, Suruga, Kai, and Musashi.

Picture 1: Self-portrait by Egawa Hidetatsu.

Now Hidetatsu was member of a very prestigious family which can be traced back to the Heian period and of which many heads can be tied to important historic figures throughout the history of Japan. The original family name of the Egawa was Uno (宇野), which was a place in Yamato province, but when they supported Minamoto no Yoritomo (源頼朝, 1147-1199) in raising one of his armies, they were given the Egawa manor in Izu province. They later successively served important rulers as indicated, for example the Hōjō regents of Kamakura, and changed their name to Egawa in the Muromachi period. At the end of the Muromachi period, they were switching sides, from Hideyoshi to Ieyasu, who later declared them daikan governors.

There is a Wikipedia entry on Hidetatsu here but I just wanted to stress the history of his family as it is not mentioned in the article and as it is kind of important to understand why things where as they were. In other words, and when it comes to Hidetatsu’s later military functions, the bakufu did not appoint a random samurai of good standing but was rather relying on hereditary well-established power structures. And that position within this very power structure and its accompanying connections allowed him to pursue at the side the activities that I will describe in the following.

Picture 2: Egawa Hidetatsu in full formal attire.

So, Egawa Hidetatsu was of high rank and thus raised and educated accordingly. He studied swordsmanship of the Shintō Munen-ryū (神道無念流), Confucianism, calligraphy, classical poetry, painting (see the pretty good self-portrait above), rangaku (Dutch/Western learning), and gunnery. He was also an early advocate of vaccination and tried to improve local agriculture and the latter two things earned him within the local population the praising nickname “The Reformer Egawa Daimyōjin”. Apart from that, he was using his bakufu salary to employ talented men, for example two rangaku scholars, an expert on classical Chinese, and a swordsmith, and that brings us back to the topic.

Hidetatsu was learning sword making from the shinshintō grandmaster Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤, 1778-1857) but when later Naotane kicked one of his students out of the school, Tanenaga (胤長), who had a serious drinking problem, Egawa Hidetatsu took Tanenaga in and employed him for a salary in the form of a stipend for three persons (I have briefly written about this relationship about four years ago here). Tanenaga was thus moving to Izu where also another very talented swordsmith was working for Hidetatsu, Nakayama Ikkansai Yoshihiro (中山一貫斎義弘, 1797-1865). This “venture” is insofar interesting as Egawa, as being the local daikan, was pushed by the bakufu to ensure to protect Japan’s coasts in that area after the Morrison Incident had occured in 1837 and gave so to speak everyone involved a wake up call. Two years later, the bakufu put Hidetatsu officially in charge of establishing the defense of Edo Bay and so he was thoroughly committing himself to the production and the most effective use of Western-style cannons. As pointed out in the Wikipedia article on Egawa, there was the debate going on at that time whether or how to adopt Western guns/weapons and methods. Some were absolutely against that and stressed that the nation should focus on traditional weapons and tactics whilst others promoted a theoretical synthesis of “Western knowledge” and “Eastern morality” in view of “controlling the barbarians with their own methods”. I don’t want to go into too much detail here because entire books have been written on that inner conflict of Japan and as I want to focus more on the sword aspect.

Picture 3: wakizashi, mei: “Egawa Tarō” (江川太郎), nagasa 47.6 cm, sori 0.9 m, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

That blade shown in picture 3 is now a work of Egawa Hidetatsu himself. It is a wakizashi with a rather wide mihaba, a shallow sori, a thick kasane, and a chū-kissaki. The kitae is an itame with ji-nie and the hamon is a gunome in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-notare, chōji, and small tobiyaki and that features a rather tight nioiguchi. The bōshi is midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri. The tang is ubu, has a shallow ha-agari kurijiri, sujikai-yasurime with keshō, one mekugi-ana, and is entirely finished in the way most Naotane students finished their tangs. The overall deki reminds of Naotane working in the Bizen tradition. Incidentally, the blade was a heirloom of the Ichiki (市来) family who were retainers of the Satsuma fief. Egawa had students from all over the country who learned Western gunnery from him so it is possible that a member of the Ichiki family studied with him and either purchased the wakizashi from Egawa or received it as a gift.

I want to conclude this article with another sword-related episode from Egawa’s life. As mentioned above, he also sincerely studied swordsmanship as it was expected from a samurai of his rank and position. One of his fellow Shintō Munen-ryū students was Saitō Yakurō Yoshimihi (斎藤弥九郎善道, 1798-1871) who was of peasant origin, worked from the age of twelve onwards as a shop boy, but went to Edo as a teenager where he became the servant of a hatamoto what enabled him to practice swordsmanship. Later he became an assistance instructor of the Shintō Munen-ryū where he met Egawa who gave him money to establish in 1826 his own dōjō, the Renpeikan (練兵館), and accepter Saitō as his retainer.

Picture 4: Saitō Yakurō Yoshimichi

As stated several times in my books, the nerves of everyone were on the edge in the late Edo period as so many fiefs were facing bankruptcy and famines and many considered the Tokugawa Shogunate as either the cause for all of that or being unable to do anything against the country going south, or both. So uprisings were not uncommon and a major one was the rebellion started by Ōshio Heihachirō (大塩平八郎, 1793-1837) in Ōsaka in 1837. Accordingly, the bakufu was in crisis mode and also wanted to see what was going on in their own lands. So they gave orders to Egawa to check out the “mood” of Kai province which was under his jurisdiction as daikan because Kai was known as cesspool of gamblers at that time and there was a lot of unrest in that province. Now Egawa realized that he most likely would not get a real insight into matters when he goes up north into Kai with his conspicuous daikan retinue and so he came up with the plan to just take Saitō with him and both disguising as sword dealers. They were subsequently also checking out parts of Musashi and Sagami province like that and there is a drawing extant that Egawa made later about the “adventure” of the two (see picture 5).

Picture 5: Drawing by Egawa Hidetatsu titled Kōshū-bikō (甲州微行, “Travelling Kai province incognito”). The one holding the sword bundle is Saitō.

PS: There is a sword in the new Samurai Art Museum, Berlin that is directly connected with the above mentioned Morrison Incident and which I want to introduce at a later point.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #32 – Hasebe (長谷部) School 3

We arrive at Hasebe Kuninobu (国信) who was either the younger brother or the second son of Kunishige. The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen follows the former tradition and says that Kuninobu was born in Bun’ei eleven (文永, 1274) and died in Kôei two (康永, 1343) at the age of 70. When it comes to dated blades, I state in my Swordsmiths of Japan A-Z that we know nenki from Enbun two (延文, 1357) to Kentoku two (建徳, 1371). This information is from the Tôkô Taikan but I was not able to find either of these two dates, only blades dated Jôji two (貞治, 1363) and Jôji four (1365), which are also the two dates that Tanobe sensei quotes in his latest book on the Yamashiro tradition. In short, Kuninobu appears to have been active a little bit later than Kunishige, although it is impossible to say from the current evidence base if he was the younger brother or the second son of Kunishige, i.e. both is absolutely within the realm of possibilities. That said, there is also the tradition that Kuninobu signed later in his career with Kunishige too. We are facing the same issue with the Nobukuni School, and also with the students of Shintôgo Kunimitsu for example. Now we don’t know if these double or triple identical names for one school mean that 1) there were just two, three, or sometimes even four smiths in one school who all signed with the same name, 2) that certain students were actually acting as head of the school under the master’s name for a certain while, or 3) if these period entries like “X signed later with Y too” actually just translates as “student X was later allowed to make daisaku-daimei works for master Y.”

So, let’s get started with Kuninobu’s workmanship and what distinguishes him from Kunishige. First difference: There are just a hint more signed long swords extant by Kuninobu than by Kunishige. Well, this factor might only come into play when doing a text-based kantei, but I nevertheless wanted to mention it here. That is, if a long kantei blade seems to be a Hasebe work and it is mentioned that it is signed, well, I would rather go for Kuninobu than for Kunishige. Kuninobu’s hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi and tantô are very similar to Kunishige, as their workmanship is quite close in general. What can be said is that Kuninobu’s hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi are by trend somewhat larger, and his tantô somewhat smaller than at Kunishige, i.e. we have so to speak more “clearly separated” short blade forms at Kuninobu than at Kunishige, although differences are of course not “jumping out at you.” Apart from that, Kuninobu applied a more roundish fukura and we usually see more yahazu in his ha than at Kunishige.

The first blade of Kanenobu that I want to introduce here is the famous meitô “Karakashiwa-Kuninobu” (唐柏国信), a fabulous ubu jûyô-bijutsuhin tachi with a nagasa of 79.4 cm which was once owned by the Uesugi family and which is also featured in Uesugi Kagekatsu’s (上杉景勝, 1556-1623) collection of 35 treasure swords (see picture 1). The blade has a perfectly healthy jiba, a magnificent shape with a very deep toriizori, still plenty of ha-niku, funbari, and an elongated chû-kissaki. The kitae is a dense itame with some nagare towards the ha and that shows plenty of ji-nie and some chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden ô-gunome mixed with chôji, ko-gunome, ko-notare, many ashi and , kinsuji, tobiyaki, yubashiri, and muneyaki. Thus the ha appears as a truly gorgeous hitatsura and the bôshi is a widely hardened midare-komi that tends to kuzure and whose kaeri connects with the muneyaki. Incidentally, we are facing here again a characteristic difference between Hasebe long swords and short swords, namely the trend that there is not so much nagare-masame at the former than at the latter. Incidentally, it is said that the nickname of the blade goes back to its flamboyant hitatsura resembles either Ricinus flowers or leaves (tôgoma [唐胡間], period name karakashiwa).

Picture 1: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tachi, mei: “Hasebe Kunonobu” (長谷部国信), nagasa 79.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Blade number 2 is another tachi of Kuninobu which shows the same characteristically tapering nakago and basically a similar shape, although a not so deep sori, but which is interpreted in an obviously more calm manner. The jigane is a dense ko-itame that features a faint nie-utsuri and the hamon is a nie-laden chû-suguha-chô that is mixed with some gunome, plenty of ko-ashi, and some saka-ashi on the haki-ura side. The bôshi starts with sugu, gets then a little undulating, and turns back briefly with a rather pointed kaeri. There is a bôhi with marudome on both sides and tang is a little machi-okuri.

Picture 2: jûyô, tachi, mei: “Hasebe Kunonobu” (長谷部国信), nagasa 75.4 cm, sori 2.2 cm, mihaba 3.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Now to Kuninobu’s short swords and again, I want to start with the most famous one, a jûyô-bunkazai hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi that is preserved in the Atsuta-jingû and that is said that to have been made by Kuninobu as offering to the shrine when he had withdrawn there to pray. Accordingly, the blade is sometimes referred to as “Atsuta-Kuninobu” (熱田国信) in period sources. The blade is very wide, has quite a pronounced sori, and a long sunnobi-nagasa of 40.7 cm, that is, it is of an overall quite magnificent hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi sugata. The kitae is a standing-out ô-itame with ji-nie that shows long nagare sections towards the ha. The hamon appears on the omote side as ko-notare that is mixed with angular and yahazu elements, and on the ura side we see a somewhat larger gunome-chôji-chô mixed with ko-notare and ko-gunome. The ha is nie-laden and there are sunagashi, kinsuji, tobiyaki, yubashiri, and muneyaki that run back in a very noticeable manner down to the base of the blade. So the ha appears altogether as hitatsura. The bôshi is midare-komi with a rather late starting, ô-maru-like and long running-back kaeri with hakikake that connects with the muneyaki. The omote side shows a katana-hi with below a tsume and the ura side gomabashi with a bonji on top. Kuninobu made quite many of such hitatsura hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi where angular and/or yahazu (or gunome-chôji) elements are connected via relatively low sections of ko-notare.

Picture 3: jûyô-bunkazai, wakizashi, mei: “Hasebe Kunonobu” (長谷部国信), nagasa 40.7 cm, sori 0.7 cm, motohaba 3.8 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

The next blade that I want to introduce is strongly tending towards yahazu. It is again a hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi that has a wide mihaba and some sori. The kitae is a standing-out itame that is mixed with masme towards the ha and the mune and that features ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden yahazu-gunome-chô connected with ko-notate that is mixed with sunagashi, tobiyaki, yubashiri, and a prominent muneyaki, i.e. that appears again as hitatsura. The bôshi is midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri that tends to nie-kuzure and that connects with the mune-yaki. Incidentally, the old sayagaki of this blade mentions that it was presented by the Owari-Tokugawa branch to the 14th Tokugawa shôgun Iemochi (徳川家茂, 1846-1886) when Iemochi was stopping by at Nagoya Castle on the eleventh day of the fifth month Keiô one (慶応, 1865).

Picture 4: jûyô, wakizashi, mei: “Hasebe Kunonobu” (長谷部国信), nagasa 33.5 cm, sori 0.3 cm, motohaba 2.95 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

With the next blade (picture 5) I want to remind readers that the Hasebe School too, like their Nobukuni colleagues, did apply rich and skillfully engraved horimono occasionally. The blade is a large hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi with a wide mihaba, some sori and a thin kasane. The kitae is an itame mixed with mokume that shows nagare-masame towards ha and mune and that features plenty of ji-nie and much chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden gunome that is mixed with ko-notare, some angular elements, kinsuji, sunagashi, yubashiri, and tobiyaki and that overall tends again towards hitatsura. The bôshi is midare-komi and has a relatively wide ô-maru-kaeri which connects with the interrupted muneyaki. On the omote side we see a bonji and a kurikara and on the ura side an ascending dragon that chases a gem.

Picture 5: tokubetsu-jûyô, mei: “Hasebe Kunonobu” (長谷部国信) – “Jôji ninen ?-gatsu hi” (貞治二年〇月日), “a day in the ? month of Jôji two [1363]”),  nagasa 38.0 cm, sori 0.4 cm, motohaba 2.4 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

*

That should do it for this time and in the next part we round off the Hasebe chapter with Kunihira and the genealogy of the school.

 

Tosa-Myōchin/Akasaka Collaboration

Before we begin, Iwant to give you a brief background to this article. Those who follow me on Facebook and members of the NMB might know by now that I am very lucky and grateful to be on the team that contributes to the new Samurai Art Museum in Berlin, Germany. I still owe my loyal readers a detailed write-up on the job but in a nutshell, I am in charge with the catalogization of all the objects in the Janssen Collection and working hard to get that done as we speak. In this course I came across an item that I want to introduce here because it is the first time I saw a collaboration like that, but more on that later. Suffice it to say, the quality level of the collection is truly impressive. When you face a collection that comprises nearly 600 objects as the Janssen Collection does, it is usually that you have a mere accumulation of “artefacts” with only a few outstanding items that are of special interest. In the Samurai Art Museum, it is exactly the other way round, i.e. it seems that there is an endless pool of highly interesting objects to pick from for a closer examination, the object introduced in the following being one of them.

It is widely known that the stylistic/scholastic origins of the Tosa-Myōchin group of tsuba artists were the Akasaka School from Edo. Accordingly, Tosa-Myōchin tsuba are often strongly resembling Akasaka-tsuba and we know numerous works where Tosa-Myōchin artists were providing the forged iron ground plate for Akasaka and other tsuba makers. If you are long enough into the subject of samurai related (art) objects you will know that the name Myōchin equals armor making. I will not go into too much detail in this article but it can be said that the Edo-based Myōchin School was the thriving and most important lineage of armor makers throughout the entire Edo period. Those fiefs who were able to afford it made sure that their best armorers received training from the Myōchin masters in Edo and as the main line gave master students the permission to bear the Myōchin name, the school branched out significantly over time, the Tosa-Myōchin group forming one of these branches.

I am writing Tosa-Myōchin group because there was not a single school in the strict sense of the word. That is, there were three different families who made up the Tosa-Myōchin group, the Kawasaki (川崎) family whose armor making goes back to the master-student relationship of their member Munetoshi (宗利) with the 24th head of the Myōchin main line, Myōchin Ōsumi no Kami Munesuke (明珍大隅守宗介) during the Kyōhō era (1716-1736), the Ichikawa (市川) family which is linked to the Myōchin main line via a master-student relationship with the 26th generation Myōchin Nagato no Kami Munemasa (明珍長門守宗政), and the Nomachi (野町) family whih emerged from these two local Tosa-Myōchin branches. The Kawasaki family was the lineage that was very actively involved in tsuba making as the Ichikawa was focusing on armor production and the Nomachi family on for example the zōgan inlay on rifles and the production of smaller metal objects like tobacco pipes etc.

Now when it comes to tsuba making, we actually don’t know who Kawasaki Munetoshi’s master was, or if there was a master at all, Fukushi sensei for example assumes that maybe Munetoshi just brought home some tsuba which were very popular at that time in Edo and tried to recreate them back in Tosa, what he was of course totally capable of as a professional armorer. Many of his works resemble 4th generation Akasaka Tadatoki (忠時) and Tadashige (忠重) tsuba but we also know some which look like Ko-Akasaka or Kyō-sukashi by the way. That said, I have to explain the then situation of the nation to understand one of the motifs of Munetoshi also making tsuba. The Edo period experienced a peak in the Genroku era (元禄, 1688-1704) which goes back to the economic stability the Tokugawa Shogunate had brought but when that bubble burst, the bakufu and the fiefs realized that they could not carry on as they were until Genroku times. In short, everyone was looking out for additional sources of income, and craftsmen now increasingly going over to two-pronged approaches is only understandable. But it has to be stressed that things like that were very much regulated, i.e. the fief had to give their employed craftsmen permission to make, and first of all to sell works which do not correspond to their actual profession. So tsuba production was really an option for certain fiefs to improve their financial situation a little bit. In other words, a “normal” fief-employed craftsman had an annual salary, often accompanied by an additional stipend, and for that, he had to provide the fief with what they required him to make. As indicated, every business at the side required permission and violating that by selling under the counter could be severely punished.

Back to topic and fast forward 100 years. The 4th Tosa-Myōchin master, Muneyoshi (宗義, 1791-1867), was the first where we can confirm an “official” master-student relationship with the Akasaka School, and that is in his case with the 1st generation Akasaka Tadanori (忠則). He actually went to Edo without permission and details about his impressive career can be found in the soon to be published second volume of the Tosogu Classroom. But this brings us to the actual work that I want to introduce here. It is a Saiga-style okitenugui-nari kabuto with embossed eyebrows and furrowing on the mabisashi and decorative kirigane applications along the lateral plates and the top plate. The bowl is signed “Akasaka Tadanori – Doshū Myōchin Ki no Munenaga” (赤坂忠則・土州明珍紀宗長) (see picture below).

 

 

Munenaga was Muneyoshi’s adopted son. He was born in Tenpō ten (天保, 1839) and succeeded as 5th head of the Tosa-Myōchin School two months after Muneyoshi had died, to be precise, he succeeded on the 27th day of the fourth month of Keiō three (慶応, 1867). Unless we assume that Munenaga was active under that name before he succeeded as head of the family (his real first name was Yoshitsugu/Ryōji, 良次) we are pretty much able to narrow down the production time of this helmet to the two years from Keiō three to the end of the Boshin War in 1869. This late production time also suggests that it was the second generation Akasaka Tadanori who had his hand in this collaboration, not the first one who had trained Munenaga’s adoptive father Muneyoshi. This brings us back to my initial commect about this being the first time I see a collaboration like that, namely an Akasama master also participating in armor making and not other way round of Tosa-Myōchin artists making tsuba. Looking at the helmet, I assume that probably Munenaga did the forging and assembling of the iron plates and maybe Akasaka Tadanori provided the decorative kirigane, i.e. the lozenge elements that sit under the rivets, or maybe they split up the forging work for the plates, although that seems rather unlikely to me. Also very interesting is the interpretation of the helmet itself because that very form, a Saiga-style okitenugui-nari kabuto, was mostly in fashion during the Momoyama era. In bakumatsu times namely we usually see a return to classical armors of the Kamakura and Nanbokuchō times, at least when it comes to higher ranking traditionalist bushi. So it is fascinating to see that a local samurai had himself made a helmet that so to speak followed an “outside of the box anachronism” within then arms and armor currents.

Anyway, I want to study that item more closely the next time I am at the museum and talk to my armor friends so please bear in mind that this article may receive some update in the future.