Old sayagaki inventory

This is going to be a very brief post. Background is, I was asked about a certain sayagaki which I explained to my client but which I thought might be interesting for some of my readers.

Now as most of you know, a sayagaki is just something someone wrote on a plain shirasaya storage “mounting”, i.e. it can be anything from just barely mentioning what blade that storage mounting holds to an elaborate expert comment/praise of the blade in question. In other words, a sayagaki may add value, or at least additional info to the sword, but does not have to.

The initial purpose of doing a sayagaki was obviously of inventory reasons. That is, you write down what blade is stored therein and add a few notes so that you don’t have to draw it and take the hilt off all the time. In other words, the first sayagaki just mentioned something like “Masamune, shortened, unsigned, length X, written by X” or “Go Yoshihiro, shortened, unsigned, comes with a Hon’ami X evaluation to X gold coins, received by Tokugawa X on the X date on the occasion of X.”

As mentioned, most of you already know that. What I would like to explain a little bit in this post is the practice of adding an inventory number to a sword in shirasaya. Beginning with the Tokugawa family, every daimyō family had a more or less extensive sword collection that was usually stored away in some kind of kura (蔵・倉・庫), a special storehouse with thick earthenware walls that could withstand a fire for some time, usually located within the principal castle of each fief. In charge of managing that storage facility was the local koshimono-kata (腰物方), or koshimono-bugyō (腰物奉行) in case of the bakufu, i.e. a retainer who was responsible for keeping track of all the swords owned by the fief or the administration/lord of the fief in particular. So for example, when an important occasion was approaching, the daimyō called his koshimono-kata and told him to pick a proper gift sword for the wedding/inauguration/succession etc. person X.


Picture 1:


Picture 2:

And this brings us back to the actual topic of this post. In concrete term, I was asked about the sayagaki shown in pictures 1 and 2. The sword in question is an Ichimonji (一文字) from the possession of the Owari-Tokugawa family and both the hilt and the top part of the shirasaya mention the following:

Jin ichi no nanajū (仁一ノ七拾)

Note: The inscription on the hilt uses the old (拾) character for ten whereas the saya uses (十).

So, there is obviously a number here, “1-70” but which is preceded by the character (仁), jin, which means “benevolence.” So, and that was the question from my client, what has that sword, number, or sayagaki to do with “benevolence”?

Actually, not much and there is a relatively easy explanation. Benevolence, jin, was the highest ranking of the Five Confucian Virtues, which were:

jin (仁) – Benevolence
gi (義) – Righteousness
rei (礼) – Proper rite
chi (智) – Knowledge
shin (信) – Integrity

This system was of course known by everyone and as it was so omnipresent, it served as way of ranking, like ABCDE, with A being jin and the highest rank of that hierarchy. In other words, Jin ichi no nanajū means “Sword 1-79 from the highest category of our swords.”

Also, I have seen shirasaya inventory sayagaki that use the four directions of the compass – kita (北, north), minami (南, south) nishi (西, west), higashi (東, east) – which either refer to a certain section within a single kura storehouse or to a different storehouse within a fief.

So, “lection” for today: If you have like jin or gi or rei on a period sayagaki, this does not mean that the sword is benevolent, righteous, or of proper rite respectively. No, these Five Confucian Virtues were merely used as a ranking system of 1 to 5. I have written about a kind of similar topic here.

Oh, and for those who are curious about the sword in that shirasaya, it is the tokubetsu-jūyō Yoshioka-Ichimonji shown below 😉



2 thoughts on “Old sayagaki inventory

  1. Hi Markus,

    Fascinating post!

    Last year I sold a dagger from a Chinese imperial series that had 仁 painted under one of the scabbard mounts. I never made the connection with confucianism but it makes a lot of sense. It was top quality, even compared to the ones left in the Palace Museum. But the mark was done in a place where only the craftsman would see it.

    See attached PDF.


    Peter Dekker

    http://www.mandarinmansion.com Antique arms & armor from Asia

    Amsterdam the Netherlands

    mail: peter@mandarinmansion.com phone: +31623373442


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