With the Ōei era (1394-1428) we see a very gentle spike in (extant) Go-Sanjō Yoshinori works. I have hinted at that at the very beginning of the previous chapter, saying that many sources just jump in at this point and brush off the handful of earlier “outliers”. After that brief Ōei spike, that one mid-Muromachi period Yoshinori master is regarded as the most representative Go-Sanjō smith, and this recognition goes back to both quantity and quality, that is, dated works confirm a relatively long active period of more than 35 years (from Bunmei three, 1471, to Eishō four, 1507). According to the Kokon Kaji Mei Hayamidashi genealogy that I presented in the previous chapter, that representative mid-Muromachi period Go-Sanjō Yoshinori master was the fifth generation. Another counting, which follows the “dismissal of the earlier outliers” approach, starts with the Ōei era Yoshinori as first master and counts this smith as third generation. And as this master is so much more prominent than all the others, some Meikan follow the approach of just listing this Yoshinori without associating him with a certain generation of the lineage (as THE Go-Sanjō Yoshinori so to speak, and as the counting of generations is unclear anyway).
So what are we dealing with here? In a nutshell, it appears that the Yoshinori lineage emerged at the very end of the Kamakura, beginning of the Nanbokuchō period, produced blades but never rose to the fame of contemporary local schools (e.g. Nobukuni, Hasebe), repositioned itself at the beginning of the Muromachi period, produced one single great master in the mid-Muromachi period, and then fell into oblivion again.
I don’t want to go into too much detail here as I want to save this topic for an extra article but what can be said is that with the shift towards Kamakura, i.e. the emergence and impact of the Sōshū tradition, the old-established Kyōto schools like Awataguchi and Rai phased out at the beginning of the Nanbokuchō period. Then several decades of uncertainty followed, the Nanbokuchō period, and when those Nanbokuchō issues were “solved” and the “warrior experiment” of Kamakura was over, both aristocratic and military government re-united in Kyōto, a move that marks the beginning of the Muromachi period. Some Kyōto schools were able to resume from there, others not.
Back to the Go-Sanjō School. The first blade that I want to introduce in this chapter (see picture 5) is dated by the NBTHK around Kōshō (康正, 1455-1457) which would make it a work of the 4th generation when counting from the Kenmu-era Yoshinori as 1st generation, or of the 2nd generation when you follow the approach that the Ōei-era Yoshinori was actually the 1st generation of the lineage. Be that as it may, we have here a large hira-zukuri wakizashi with a noticeable sakizori and thus a blade which was probably worn as auxiliary sword (sashizoe) to the main sword, the tachi. The blade shows a rather standing-out itame with plenty of ji-nie and is hardened in a nie-laden hitatsura which bases on an ō-gunome-midare that is mixed with chōji, togariba, yahazu, ashi, yō, sunagashi and kinsuji. The nioiguchi is bright and clear and the bōshi is midare-komi that tends to kuzure and that runs back in a wide manner and continues as muneyaki. The omote side bears a bonji and a suken and the ura side a bonji and gomabashi. The tang is ubu, has a kurijiri, kiri-yasurime, and the yoji-mei is executed with a rather thick chisel. As you can see, the blade looks very much like Sue-Sōshū and the NBTHK says in its jūyō paper that we have here a valuable masterwork whose interpretation in an excellently hardened hitatsura testifies to the wide variety of styles the Go-Sanjō School was actually working in at that time.
Picture 5: jūyō-tōken, wakizashi, mei: “Sanjō Yoshinori” (三条吉則), hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, nagasa 57.4 cm, sori 1.3 cm, motohaba 3.15 cm
The next blade (see picture 6) is of a relatively similar interpretation. The NBTHK does not specifically date this blade but says that it is a Yoshinori masterwork in hitatsura that is of a clear jiba and rich in variety and mentions again, that the similarity to Sue-Shōshū is striking. The blade is a long and wide hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi with a relatively prominent sakizori. Its kitae is an excellently forged itame that shows ji-nie and the hamon is a nie-laden hitatsura that bases on a widely hardened gunome-midare and that features chōji, many tobiyaki and muneyaki, yō, and sunagashi. The bōshi is midare-komi and its ō-maru-kaeri connects with the muneyaki.
Picture 6: jūyō-tōken, wakizashi, mei: “Sanjō Yoshinori saku” (三条吉則作), hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, nagasa 37.0 cm, sori 1.0 cm, mihaba 2.95 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune
Now although the Go-Sanjō School has been able to once again regain ground after the Nanbokuchō period, new difficulties were on the horizon roughly 70 years later, that is the Ōnin War that broke out in 1467 which destroyed most of Kyōto in the ten year it was fought. The Ōnin War marks the transition from the fourth to the fifth generation Yoshinori and signatures of the latter proof that he had to leave the capital and work at different places for some time, for example in the provinces of Izumi, Mikawa, and Echizen. One such example is the blade shown in picture 7. This blade is insofar also very interesting as it tells us Yoshinori’s family name, Fuse (布施). It is signed “Sanjō Fuse Fujiwara Yoshinori Echizen ni oite saku” (三条布施藤原吉則於越前作, “made in Echizen by Sanjō Fuse Fujiwara Yoshinori”). The ura side of the tang bears the name of the client and another inscription. It reads: “Obuse Shirōzaemon no Jō Minamoto Hisayoshi jūdai hitode ni watasubekarazu” (小布施四郎左衛門尉源久慶重代不可渡他手, “for the successive generations of Obuse Shirōzaemon no Jō Minamoto Hisayoshi and shall not leave the family”). So, Obuse Hisayoshi, who was a local resident of Echizen, ordered this sword from Yoshinori to become a treasure sword of his family. The blade is a katana with modest proportions and a sakizori and shows an itame that tends to nagare and that features ji-nie. The hamon is a gunome-midare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with togariba, ko-chōji, and plenty of ashi. The bōshi is midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri that shows hakikake. On the omote side we see a thin hi along the shinogi and below a sō no kurihara and on the ura side the same hi that meanders into a bonji with below a rendai.
Picture 7: jūyō-tōken, katana, mei see description above, nagasa 67.0 cm, sori 2.3 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, sakihaba 1.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune
The above blade is from rather moderate dimensions but long swords from the early to mid-Muromachi Yoshinori are often noticeably short and slender, almost kodachi-like if you will. The blade shown in picture 8 is a katana with a nagasa of 61.6 cm and a mihaba of 2.76 cm, featuring a relatively short nakago. The blade shows an itame that tends to nagare and a narrow suguha. The bōshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. On the omote side we see a suken at the base and on the ura a single koshibi.
Picture 8: katana, mei: “Yoshinori” (吉則), nagasa 61.6 cm, sori 1.8 cm, motohaba 2.76 cm, sakihaba 1.73 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune
Another short and slender blade is shown in picture 9. This blade measures under 2 shaku and is thus classified as wakizashi. It shows a dense itame that is mixed with mokume and that features ji-nie. The hamon is a suguha and a bōhi runs on both sides as kakitōshi through the tang.
Picture 9: wakizashi, mei: “Yoshinori” (吉則), nagasa 49.3 cm, sori 1.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune
Due to the then changes in warfare, more and more yari appeared on the battlefield, and the Go-Sanjō Yoshinori and the Heianjō Nagayoshi lineages catered to that. Picture 10 shows a hira-sankaku ōmi-yari whose kitae is an itane-nagare that is mixed with masame and that features ji-nie. The hamon is a suguha to hoso-suguha with a rather tight nioiguchi that is mixed with some ko-ashi, ko-gunome and a few hotsure and the bōshi is sugu with a rather wide ko-maru-kaeri. On the flat hira side of the yari we see excellent horimono in the form of a bonji and a kurikara.
Picture 10: jūyō-tōken, ōmiyari, mei: “Heianjō Yoshinori saku” (平安城吉則作), nagasa 37.4 cm, motohaba 2.5 cm, nakago-nagasa (ubu) 37.4 cm
Although not as obvious as seen at the Heianjō Nagayoshi lineage, the Yoshinori lineage did focus on horimono too. The last blade that I want to introduce in this chapter is such an example (see picture 11). It is a hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi with a wide mihaba and some sori that shows a dense itame that is tends to nagare-masame towards the ha and the mune and that features ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden ko-notare with a wide and clear nioiguchi that is mixed with gunome, yubashiri, and sunagashi. The bōshi is notare to midare-komi and has a ko-maru-kaeri. On the omote side we see again a kurikara and on the ura side the name of the deity Marishi-Sonten (摩利支尊天).
Picture 11: jūyō-tōken, wakizashi, mei: “Heianjō Yoshinori saku” (平安城吉則作), nagasa 32.3 cm, sori 0.4 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune
Now I want to conclude this chapter with the difficulties we are facing with the Go-Sanjō Yoshinori lineage. First of all, there are not that many works from that lineage extant and as mentioned several times, the counting of generations is unclear. Therefore, the NBTHK for example, does not attribute Yoshinori blades to a certain generation but just says early Muromachi, around Bunmei (文明, 1469-1487), around Eishō (永正, 1504-1524), not earlier than mid-Muromachi etc. In other words, you have to do some homework and see to which hand a blade might most likely go back to. Also, at least to my knowledge, no comparative study of Yoshinori signatures has been done so this might be a task for the future (e.g. when I decide to make this Kantei series into books). Another difficulty is that with the advance of the Muromachi period, once unique workmanships begin to thin out and schools are approaching each other, what makes it with the low number of extant Yoshinori works even more difficult to kantei a blade. In this sense, I would like to take the liberty and quote Tsuneishi sensei‘s chapter on later generations Yoshinori:
Katana are mostly short and show an elegant toriizori but which often tends to sakizori and with their slender mihaba, these blades look like elongated kodachi and are overall of a weak/delicate sugata. The hardening is usually in nie-deki but we also see chū-suguha with hardly any nie at all, a Bizen-style koshi no hiraita-midare, or a Mino-style gunome-midare, and some blades show some mura-nie. The jihada is a mokume mixed with masame and is generally weak with a tendency to roughness. The steel is blackish but may also show shirake. The bōshi is either ichimai or ko-maru whereas the kaeri often runs back in a Yamashiro-atypical long manner. This trend to slender blades with a nioi-based suguha is particularly seen at later works. These blades usually show a frayed nioiguchi that lacks power and brightness. Wakizashi and tantō may show a vivid yahazu-midare or ō-midare with mura-nie but again, the interpretations overall lack power. Horimono may be present but they are more rare than at the Heianjō Nagayoshi lineage. Some works are very similar (also in terms of overall quality) to the Bizen Yoshii Yoshinori lineage of the same name. However, the sugata is different as the Yoshii Yoshinori works show a koshizori and the Sanjō Yoshinori works a toriizori with a tendency towards sakizori. Although nie of Sanjō Yoshinori works of that time lack nie, they are still there, and more prominent, than at the nioi-deki of Yoshii Yoshinori works. Also the jigane differs. Apart from that, works from both groups are usually signed with a reference to the production site, i.e. “Yoshii-jū Yoshinori” in case of the Bizen smiths and “Sanjō-jū” or “Heianjō-jū Yoshinori” in case of the Kyōto smiths. That is, only the early masters signed in niji-mei.