With the Heianjō and Go-Sanjō Schools we are facing the well-known problem of historic records going very far back in time but with the exception of a very few “outliers,” on which the experts even have differention opinions on, the extant body of works does not go back farther than the early Muromachi period. Now you could just say it like that and go ahead by introducing these extant works, which is usually done in most of the sources, but if you follow my series you will know that I don’t want to skip these considerations on the origins of certain things as such a habit can give the reader the idea that swordsmiths schools just popped up out of nowhere and nothing is connected with anything.
The Heianjō and Go-Sanjō Schools are insofar also a kind of a special case because we know that they were working closely together in the mid-Muromachi period but we don’t know how far back this relationship goes, or if these smiths were connected to their earlier namesakes at all, but more on this later. Although period sources suggest that the Heianjō lineage is older than the Go-Sanjō lineage, I nevertheless want to start with the latter because it appears that the oldest extant blades signed with the very same name used by the main line, Yoshinori (吉則), are on the Go-Sanjō side.
For some reason, most of the older sword sources don’t deal in detail with the Yoshinori lineage. The Kokon Mei Zukushi Taizen, whose information has to be taken with a grain of salt (for reasons mentioned earlier in this series), briefly says that Yoshinori (吉則) was born in Jōwa five (1349) and died in Ōei eight (1401) at the age of 52. The Kokon Kaji Mei Hayamidashi is to my knowledge the earliest relevant publication that presents a specific genealogy for the Yoshinori lineage in which it dates its first generation to Kenmu (1334-1338) and its second generation to Jōji (1362-1368). If this genealogy is correct, the Kokon Mei Zukushi Taizen is referring to the second generation, an approach by which also Satō Kanzan goes. As a reference, I want to introduce that genealogy of the Kokon Kaji Mei Hayamidashi below.
At this point, the oldest extant signed Yoshinori blade comes into play. It is a jūyō-bunkazai tachi (see picture 1) preserved in the Sakakiyama-jinja (榊山神社), Gifu Prefecture, which is introduced by the experts as follows: Honma says early Nanbokuchō (corrected his previous Nihon Kotō Shi statement where he had dated the blade to the late Nanbokuchō period); Satō says end of Kamakura and probably a work of the Kenmu-era first generation; Tsuneishi says end of Kamakura too; the jūyō-bunkazai designation says early Nanbokuchō; and the prewar kokuhō designation (that blade had been kokuhō before WWII) from 1928 says end of Kamakura to Nanbokuchō and if the traditional counting of generations is correct (first generation Kenmu and second generation Jōji), somewhere in between those two but with a hint more towards the first master. Incidentally, the designation says that the blade was once a heirloom of the Tōyama (遠山) family, the daimyō of the Naegi fief (苗木藩) of Mino province, and was offered to the Sakakiyama-jinja during the Meiji era by the twelfth and last Naegi daimyō Tōyama Tomoyoshi (遠山友禄, 1819-1894).
Picture 1: jūyō-bunkazai, tachi, mei: “Yoshinori” (吉則), nagasa 75.8 cm, sori 2.5 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, sakihaba 1.8 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, on both sides a bōhi that ends in marudome in the tang
Let us address the workmanship of this blade. It displays an elegant tachi-sugata that fits very well to the given time frame, i.e. end of Kamakura to early Nanbokuchō, and it is assumed that its original nagasa was somewhere close to 90 cm. It has a deep koshizori, tapers noticeably, and ends in a compact ko-kissaki. The jigane is a somewhat standing-out itame that is mixed with mokume and nagare and that displays ji-nie. The hamon is a classical ko-midare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-chōji and ashi and whose elements are rather densely arranged. The ha gets wider towards the yokote and ends in a nie-laden and wide bōshi with hakikake which almost appears as ichimai. In the preward kokuhō designation we read that the classical interpretation of the jiba does speak for Kyō-mono but that the hamon is somewhat more narrow and the nioiguchi partially somewhat harder than that of contemporary Yamashiro (e.g. Awataguchi, Rai) masterworks, although the blade itself is of course an outstanding masterwork too, just not at Awataguchi or Rai level, and its jiba is kenzen (in perfectly healthy condition).
In conclusion, there is agreement that the blade is in Yamashiro tradition, a Kyō-mono, and Tsuneishi goes so far to place it in the vicinity of the Ryōkai School, what brings us to the origins of the Sanjō Yoshinori lineage. To make it short, nobody knows but it is assumed that there was no connection whatsoever to the early Sanjō School. To keep them apart, the lineage of Yoshinori is also referred to as Go-Sanjō (後三条), “later Sanjō.” The Meikan list a Yoshinori from the early Sanjō School who was supposedly active around Chōkyū (長久, 1040-1044) but this early Yoshinori entry might just be an attempt to connect the Go-Sanjō with the initial Sanjō School. Others suggest that Yoshinori might have been a student of the Awataguchi Yoshimitsu-student Yoshimasa (吉正) who was active around Kōan (1278-1288). Would match in terms of active period and the use of the character Yoshi but that might actually be the only reason for this theory.
There is supposedly a Yoshinori blade extant which is dated Ōei two (1395) and which is the oldest dated work of that lineage but I wasn’t able to find it in my references so the next blade that I want to introduce is a jūyō-bijitsuhin tantō (see picture 2) that is dated to around the same time, that is end of Nanbokuchō to early Muromachi. This blade is also one of the earliest ones that is actually signed with the prefix “Sanjō” and it might be a work of the third generation, possibly second generation. The blade has an uncommon shape, kata-shōbu-zukuri, i.e. one side in hira and the other side in shōbu-zukuri, and sows a relatively narrow suguha-chō that is mixed with ko-gunome and a few sunagashi and kinsuji and that features an undulating bōshi with sunagashi that runs back with a pointy ko-maru-kaeri.
Picture 2: jūyō-bijutsuhin, tantō, mei: “Sanjō Yoshinori saku” (三条吉則作), nagasa 29.4 cm, mitsu-mune
Now we arrive at blade three. It is a katana signed “Yoshinori” which Satō dates after the jūyo-bunkazai of the Sakakiyama-jinja but not later than early Muromachi. The blade is shortened and its bōhi ends in marudome in the middle of the tang whereupon it is sometimes confused at first glance with the jūyo-bunkazai but which is a tachi (notice the tachi-mei). Blade number 3 shows a standing-out ko-itame that is mixed with with masame and a ko-midare hamon that is mixed with ko-gunome and that gets wider and features more hataraki along the monouchi, an approach that can also be seen at the previous two blades. The bōshi is midare-komi and runs back with a ko-maru-kaeri with hakikake.
Picture 3: katana, mei: “Yoshinori” (吉則), nagasa 72.2 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune
Picture 4, from left to right: mei of the jūyō-bunkazai, of the Yoshinori katana from picture 3, mei of the jūyō-bijutsuhin, mei of an Ōei dated Yoshinori work.
With this I want to come back to the question of succession of generations and do some signature comparison. Picture 4 shows the mei of the three so far introduced Yoshinori blades plus that of a tantō dated Ōei 26 (1419). As you can see, there are some unique features. At the first blade, the lower (口) radical of the Yoshi character is noticeably angular and the right radical (リ) of the nori (則) character has a vertical and relatively long left stroke. At the second blade, the right edge of the (口) radical ends in a noticeably pronounced manner, similar to how the katakana syllable se (セ) ends its horizontal stroke. At the character for nori, the left stroke of the right radical (リ) is still executed vertically but somewhat shorter. Also, the longer right stroke of that radical starts as a corner (𠃍) whereas at the previous mei, there is some little extension like (丁). At the third blade, the (口) radical does not show that pronounced edge and at the nori character, the left stroke has become a very small dot. At the fourth blade, the (口) radical apprars to remain the same but the left stroke of the (リ) radical is again longer but is executed in a diagonal manner. This all combined, plus other subtle differences like the curve of the long right stroke of the (リ) radical, makes it not too unreasonable to assume that we are facing here four generations, the first four, arranged chronologically.
I want to conclude this chapter by introducing the fourth blade shown in the signature comparison. It is a hira-zukuri sunnobi-tantō whose sugata is typical for the Ōei era. It shows a ko-itame that is mixed with nagare and that features ji-nie and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha-chō that is mixed with some shallow ko-notare, gunome, and some fine kinsuji. The nioiguchi is rather compact but subdued and the bōshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. On the omote side we see a suken and on the ura side gomabashi. The tang is ubu (just the jiri was cut off a little) and as you can learn from the interpretation of the jiba and sugata, we find some points in common with the contemporary Nobukuni School.
Picture 4: jūyō, sunnobi-tantō, mei: “Yoshinori” (吉則) – “Ōei nijūrokunen jūnigatsu hi” (応永廿六年十二月日, “a day in the twelfth month of Ōei 26, 1419).
Next chapter will deal with the Yoshinori generations who were active from the early Muromachi period onwards. So please stay tuned.