Thoughts on the Gokaden

In the very same source I addressed here, I found another very interesting entry, an entry that kind of predicts the well-known concept of the so-called gokaden (五箇伝), the “Five Traditions”.

At the beginning of the Yamashiro part of my Kantei series I have stated that it is generally assumed that the system of the gokaden (五ヶ伝・五箇伝), lit. “The Five Traditions,” was introduced by Hon´ami Kōson (本阿弥光遜, 1879-1955). “His” five traditions were:

  • Yamashiro tradition (Yamashiro-den, 山城伝)
  • Yamato tradition (Yamato-den, 大和伝)
  • Bizen tradition (Bizen-den, 備前伝)
  • Sōshū tradition (Sōshū-den, 相州伝)
  • Mino tradition (Mino-den, 美濃伝)

Before his time, swords, in particular kotō swords, were mostly classified according to their production site, that is the province they were made in. For example, blades made in Bizen were called Bizen-mono (備前物), and such made in Yamato were called Yamato-mono (大和物). But this classification via mono (物, lit. “thing” or rather “work” in this context) and the province a blade was made in is inflexible and does not make clear any stylistic connections. That is, you can’t see at a glance that for example an Enju blade is, via the Yamashiro tradition, actually stylistically connected to the Kyōto-based Rai school when it is just listed as Kyūshū-mono. So Kōson’s approach via den (traditions) makes sense but the interesting find I made recently shows that he did not come up with that gokaden system out of the blue.

 

 

So the section in question is basically about the basics of kantei and it is written in a somewhat esoteric manner. Lets begin with the overview that caught my attention. As seen above, we are provided with five basic classifications, very similar to Kōson’s gokaden. These classifications are:

Spring: Bizen – steel like wood
Summer: Yamashiro – steel like fire
Late Summer: Kyūshū – steel like earth
Fall: Sagami – steel like metal
Winter: Yamato – steel like water

As you probably realize right away, we are dealing here with the concept of the Five Elements or Five Phases (五行, Chinese Wǔ Xíng, Japanese gogyō). Before the mid-Edo period, this concept was very much in use in Japan and, to keep it simple here, it was only given up because of the nationalistic push applied by the Tokugawa bakufu. The book in question was written in the early Edo period and so it still follows the Five Elements approach that was prevailing in earlier periods. It is interesting to see that Mino is not in that list, although by the time the book was written, it had been a major sword production site for more than one hundred years. This suggests that earlier wisdom was copied here which had not yet adopted the Mino tradition into its curriculum (although Mino is still introduced, as part of the Sōshū tradition, see below).

Now the supplement of “steel like wood” for example does not have any direct meaning, neither does “spring” for Bizen province, and it seems that the Five Elements system was applied to swords as a memory aid so to speak. Like an easy to remember way of summing up the five major sword production sites by the manageable number of five which was anyway used by everyone because to the Five Elements concept. But there is more. This list of five is then expanded on the following pages of the book and each province/region is listed with its major schools. Although there are some associations which are hard to follow in terms of workmanship, this expansion of the list of five is actually doing what Kōson was doing later, and that is listing schools and/or smiths in each group which are stylistically connected. The first section is expanded as:

Spring: Bizen – Wood
jōsaku Ichimonji (一文字)
jōsaku Osafune Mitsutada (長船光忠)
jōsaku Hatakeda Moriie (畠田守家)
Ukai Unji (鵜飼雲次)
chūsaku Yoshioka-Ichimonji Sukemitsu (吉岡一文字助光)
gesaku Yoshii Naganori (吉井永則)
gege-saku Kozori Yoshikage (小反吉景)
chūsaku Tajima Hōjōji Kunimitsu (但馬法成寺国光)
chūsaku Bitchū Aoe Moritsugu (備中守次)
chūsaku Bingo Mihara Masaie (備後三原正家)
gesaku Suō Niō Kiyotsuna (周防二王清綱)
jōsaku Hōki Ōhara Sanemori (伯耆大原真守)

As you can see, there is already a qualitative classification via the jōsaku, chūsaku etc. system and for some reason, this school of knowledge thought that Niō Kiyotsuna and Ōhara Sanemori somehow belonged to Bizen. For the sake of completeness, I want to quote the remaining four expansions in the following, and associations have to be taken with a grain of salt.

Summer: Yamashiro – Fire
jōsaku Sanjō Munechika (三条宗近)
chū-no-chū Rai Kuniyoshi (来国吉)
jōsaku Raitarō Kuniyuki (来太郎国行)
jōsaku Rai Kunitoshi (来国俊)
jōsaku Niji-Kunitoshi (二字国俊)
chū-no-ge Ryōkai (了戒)
jōsaku Chūdō-Rai Mitsukane (中堂来光包)
betsujō Awataguchi Tōmanosuke Norikune (粟田口藤馬之丞則国)
gesaku Settsu Nakajima-Rai Kuninaga (摂津中島来国長)
gesaku Rai Tomokuni (来倫国)
gesaku Rai Kuninao (来国直)
chūsaku Higo Kikuji Enju Kunimura (肥後菊地延寿国村)
gesaku Heianjō Mitsunaga (平安城光長)
gesaku Inaba Kokaji Kagenaga (因幡小鍛冶景長)
gesaku Nobukuni 3rd generation (信国三代)

Late Summer: Kyūshū – Earth
betsujō Bungo Kishindayū Yukihira (豊後紀信太夫行平)
jōsaku Ki no Masatsune (紀正恒)
chūsaku Sō Sadahide (僧定秀)
gesaku Jitsu’a (実阿)
gege-saku Satsuma Naminohira Yukiyasu (薩摩浪平行安)
chū-no-ge Chikugo Miike Motozane (筑後三池元真)
gesaku Ōshū Mōgusa Takeyasu (奥州舞草雄安)
gesaku Chikuzen Kongōbyōe Moritaka (筑前金剛兵衛盛高)
gesaku Bungo Takada Tomoyuki (豊後高田友行)
jōsaku Etchū no Kuni Matsukura-jū Yoshihiro (越中国松倉住義弘)
jōsaku Etchū ni Kuni Gofukuyama Norishige (越中国御服山則重)

Fall: Sagami – Metal
jōsaku Bizen Saburō Kunimune (備前三郎国宗)
jōsaku Shintōgo Kunimitsu (新藤五国光)
jōsaku Kamakura-Rai Kunitsugu (鎌倉来国次)
jōsaku Tōroku Sakon Kunitsuna (藤六左近国綱)
jōsaku Tōsaburō Yukimitsu (藤三郎行光)
mujō Gorō Nyūdō Masamune (五郎入道正宗)
betsujō Hikoshirō Sadamune (彦四郎貞宗)
chūsaku Kurōjirō Hiromitsu (九郎次郎広光)
chūsaku Akihiro (秋広)
chū-no-jō Tōgenji Sukezane (藤源次助真)
gesaku Kyō Hasebe Kunishige (京長谷部国重)
jōsaku Mino no Kuni Kaneuji (美濃国兼氏)
gesaku Mino no Kuni Kinjū (美濃国金重)
Chikuzen no Kuni Sa (筑前国左)
chūsaku Bizen no Kuni Chōgi (備前国長義)
jōsaku Bizen no Kuni Kanemitsu (備前国兼光)
chūsaku Bizen no Kuni Motoshige (備前国元重)
gesaku Iwami no Kuni Izuha-jū Naotsuna (石見国出羽住直綱)
gesaku Owari Yamada-Seki Kunitsugu (尾州山田関国次) (via Mino)
gesaku Hachiya-jū Daruma (蜂谷住達磨) (via Mino)
gesaku Etchū Uda Kunimitsu (越中宇多国光)
gesaku Kaga Fujishima Tomoshige (加賀藤島友重)
gesaku Izumo Dōei Naganori (出雲道永永則)
gesaku Awa Kaifu Yasuyoshi (阿波海部泰吉)
gesaku Echizen Chiyozuru Kuniyasu (越前千代鶴国安)

Winter: Yamato – Water
chūsaku Senju’in Shigehiro (千手院重弘)
betsu Taima Kuniyuki (当麻国行)
jōsaku Tegai Kanenaga (手掻包永)
chūsaku Shikkake Norinaga (尻懸則長)
chūsaku Hoshō Gorō (保昌五郎)
gesaku Suruga Shimada Yoshisuke (駿河島田義助)
gesaku Mikawa Heianjō Nagayoshi (三河平安城長吉)
gesaku Ise Kuwana Muramasa (伊勢桑名村正)
gesaku Wakasa Fuyuhiro (若狭冬広)

 

So it appears to me, as indicated, that the Five Elements approach was nothing more than a vehicle to learn by heart and remember these smiths and their qualitative evaluation. Imagine you are the son of a high-ranking samurai who is sent to learn kantei with a Hon’ami or a Takeya sensei of that time and after a while the teacher would ask you: “What are the smiths for fall and what evaluation do they have?” or “What are the earth steel smiths?” You probably got beaten with a bokutō if you don’t remember correctly 😉

Next in the book follow the major kantei points, distributed into the “Five Elements of Shape” (gotai, 五体) and the “Ten Characteristics” (jūsei, 十性). The Five Elements of Shape are: tsukurikomi, kissaki, mune, shinogi, and overall shape. And the Ten Characteristics are: bōshi, kaeri, nie, nioi, course of hamon, hada, color of the steel (which is again divided into five colors: blue, red, yellow, white, and black), shine, ji, and kitae.

In conclusion I want to say that I am of the opinion that although this all sounds esoteric at first glance, we should not pay too much attention to that, or rather don’t go down that rabbit hole too deeply. Like here, I get more the impression that the concept of splitting up information into five bullet points was an easy way to make such lists as everyone know the Five Elements concept. It is very interesting to see some pre-Kōson gokaden system and that is why I thought I should share this with my readers.

 

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9 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Gokaden

  1. Hello! Markus,

    Thanks for sharing this information. May I ask you the title of the book in which you got the chart and the information from please? If the name of the author could also be provided, it would be highly appreciated.

    Title of the book and the name of the author with the original Kanji/whatever the Japanese characters will be the best, I can read Japanese.

      • Thank you very much, Markus!

        So this book was written in Shōwa 44, after WWII. Did 末永雅雄 stated clearly the title of the old book, the name of the author and the date/year of the publication of the book that he used as his source to support the statement that similar “Gokaden” existed before the time of Kōson?

        This is very interesting. I want to know more about this original source (this old book that was published in early Edo period, according to what you said) where the picture you showed in this article came from. Who was the author? Was this chart that includes Kyūshū but excludes Mino well-known among sword appraisers during the Edo period?

      • In this publication, Suenaga introduces five sword and sword fittings related manuscripts, all but one from the collection of the author, which date between Keichō 17 (慶長, 1612) and Hōreki four (宝暦, 1754). The manuscript in question that references the “Gokaden,” or rather five major currents of sword making (Bizen, Yamashiro, Kyūshū, Sagami, and Yamato) is dated Keichō 15 (慶長, 1610), but is unfortunately anonymous and untitled. However, there is what appears to be a working title, Mehikigatari (目引語). As common at that time, the manuscript ends with the remark “not to be shown to outsiders.” That is, teachings were kept secret within all sorts of crafts and therefore it is difficult to tell how much schools of sword appraisal knew of each other’s teachings. I think that before the mid to late Edo period and the wider circulation of printed publications, sword knowledge was pretty much separated, like isolated silos.

  2. This is amazing information! Thank you very very much, Markus!

    I am just a bit confused with what you said in the beginning. I am sorry. You said five books were introduced by Mr. Suenaga that were written/published in between 1612-1754. But then you said the specific source book in question was written/published in 1610, which was before the time of those five books. So is this book for the “five traditions” among those five books or is it another book (meaning the 6th book)?

    Considering how isolated appraisers were back in the Edo period, as you stated, how can we confirm the influence that this old book may have given to Kōson?

    Also, the other concern is that this information is from a book published in Shōwa 44. Was this source book one of those that were owned by Mr. Suenaga? I hope there could be more information to verify the age of the source book in question (not just relying on what Mr. Suenaga claimed). I am sure Mr. Suenaga was a reputable scholar. But I think the fact that some books may claim to be older than they actually are in order to sound more authoritative back in the old days should also be put into consideration.

    • Apologies for the confusion, it should have been “between Keichō 15 (慶長, 1610) and Hōreki four (宝暦, 1754).” Keichō 17 is the date of the first of the five manuscripts.

      From today’s point of view, it is likely impossible to confirm that the manuscript in question influenced Kōson. I think that Kōson was rather drawing from Hon’ami knowledge that was passed on to him when formulating his concept of the Gokaden.

      Yes, the source book in question was one of the four that were owned by Mr. Suenaga. The deliberate “aging” of content is surely an issue when studying such material.

      • Thank you very much, Markus! I have learned a lot from our conversation today.

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