The Yamatorige/Sanchōmō (山鳥毛)

Many of you who follow the “sword news” have surely heard that the city of Setouchi, Okayama Prefecture, is currently attempting to purchase the famous national treasure sword Yamatorige/Sanchōmō-Ichimonji in order to bring it home to where it was once made more than 700 years ago. The city has started a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and please follow the links below (the second one is to the official Facebook page) if you want to contribute and know more details about the project.



I also want to link below to the article Paul Martin, who is on board with the project, has written for JAPAN-Forward (Sankei Shinbun) that also gives you an overview of what it is all about.



Now in my humble article here, I would like to provide some more historical background and sum up the provenance of the sword. The first time the sword appears on the scene, as far as extant historic records are concerned, is the mid-16th century. The sword register of the Uesugi (上杉) namely, the Uesugi-ke Tōken Daichō (上杉家刀剣台帳), states the following on how it came into the possession of the family:

“When Uesugi Kenshin (上杉謙信, 1530-1578) (then named Nagao Kagetora, 長尾景虎), set out in the tenth month of Kōji two (弘治, 1556) to Kōzuke province where the local castellan of Shiroi Castle (白井城) and relative of Kenshin, Nagao Norikage (長尾憲景, 1511-1583), presented him with a sword by Kanemitsu (兼光). The sword was nicknamed Sanshōmō/Sanchōmō, either because its hardening pattern resembles a forest fire (shō, 焼) on a distant mountain (san, 山), or because it resembles the beautiful tail feathers (mō/ge, 毛) of a copper pheasant (yamadori/yamatori/sanchō, 山鳥).”


Uesugi Kenshin (left), Uesugi Kagekatsu (right)


So, already the Uesugi records are aware of the ambiguity of the blade’s nickname and some even interpret it as “mountain that appears to be on fire due to the evening sun” or as “resembling the controlled burning of dead grass on a hillslope (yamayaki/sanshō) in spring (in order to stimulate growth).” However, that ambiguity goes to a certain extent back to how Kenshin’s son Uesugi Kagekatsu (上杉景勝, 1556-1623) recorded the blade when he made his famous list of the 35 greatest treasure swords in his possession (he had inherited the blade afer his father’s death). That is, Kagekatsu used the archaic way (山てうまう) (see picture below) to note the term Sanchōmō, i.e. teu (てう) being an archaic hiragana variant of chō(ちょう) and mau(まう) of (もう). So without kanji characters, the exact meaning is unclear.


The red arrow marks Kagekatsu’s Santeumau notation.


In short, Sanshōmō became Sanchōmō and the latter then also became Yamatorige, with no one being able today to say with certainty what the actual origins of that nickname are. To me personally, the hamon of the blade sure looks more like fire but with some imagination, I can also see the resemblance to the staggered, graded tail feathers of a copper pheasant (see picture below). Also, as you may have noticed in the above quote, the blade was once attributed to Osafune Kanemitsu and handed down within the Uesugi family as such. When Emperor Meiji visited the Uesugi on their lands in Yamagata in Meiji 14 (1881), he was shown the Sanchōmō/Yamatorige as he was known to be a great sword lover, which was then still labeled as Kanemitsu.



Then in 1937, when Count Uesugi Noriaki (上杉憲章, 1876-1953), the then head of the Uesugi family, received the satus of a jūyō-bijutsuhin (Important Art Object) for the sword plus its mounting, it got attributed to the Ichimonji School, which is appropriate because the blade does indeed look much much more like an Ichimonji/Fukuoka-Ichimonji than a Kanemitsu work (well, Kenshin and Kagekatsu had a liking for Kanemitsu so this may have played into the provenace but that is a topic for another post). Three years later, the sword was designated as a jūyō-bunkazai (Important Cultural Property) and finally in 1952 as kokuhō (National Treasure). Now in the kokuhō designation, the owner of the sword is listed as Okano Taromatsu (岡野多郎松, 1900-?). Okano was one of Japan’s biggest sword collectors in the mid-1900s and owned a large number of jūyō-bunkazai and kokuhō blades. So Uesugi Noriaki, or his family, obviously sold the sword some time between 1940 and 1952 to Okano. The sword was then featured in the catalog to Okano’s collection, the Bizan Aitō Zufu (備山愛刀図譜), published in 1958 by Satō Kanzan in. Ten years later, in 1968, it was on display at the National Treasure special exhibition of the NBTHK where it was introduced as being owned by Okano Mitsuhiro (岡野光弘), who I assume was Taromatsu’s son.


The Sanchōmō in its present condition.

The Sanchōmō when it was designated as a kokuhō in 1952.

Koshirae of the Sanchōmō.


In recent years, maybe three or four years ago if I remember correctly, the current owner (of whom I do not have any information) made the attempt to sell the sword to a museum, institution, or facility located either where the blade was made or were the former lands of the Uesugi were. Eventually negotiations were made with the city of Jōetsu, Niigata Prefecture (former Echigo province and thus historical Uesugi territory), but the deal was cancelled in 2017. And this is where Setouchi City comes into play as one of the owner’s desired destinations of where the sword should be preserved for posterity. As indicated at the very beginning of this post, please refer to the links to get the first-hand information of Setouchi City and all parties involved.

For some additional reading on the Sanchōmō/Yamatorige and its place within the Uesugi family, please see my alternative Sword Legends site here.




The correct reading of certain names

This is just going to be a very brief post but upon suggestion, and also upon working on the Gotō chapter of Volume 3 of the Tosogu Classroom project a while ago, I want to urge collectors, scholars, and connoisseurs to refer to two Gotō artists in particular by their correct name, i.e. the correct reading of their characters.

One is the 11th Gotō main line generation Tsūjō (後藤通乗, 1664-1721). His official first name was (光寿) which is often erroneously read as Mitsutoshi because toshi is the most common name reading of the second character (寿), or unsimplified (壽). However, the correct reading is MitsuNOBU. This is pointed out by Fukushi Shigeo via the furigana (reading aids of syllables printed next to kanji) Mi-tsu-no-bu (みつのぶ) in all of his publications on the Gotō School (see picture below).


Also the Sano Museum uses the proper Mitsunobu reading in their catalogs (see picture below).


The Tōsō Kodōgu Kōza (again, see below) goes into detail and says the following: “It is common to refer to Mitsunobu to as Mitsutoshi but period documents of the Gotō family quote his name with the furigana Mitsunobu.” So, at least the Gotō family should know how to read the name of one of their main line masters, right?



Another name that is often quoted wrongly, and I did so myself in the past, is the official first name of the 16th main line master Hōjō (後藤方乗, 1816-1856). The kanji for his name are (光晃) and are correctly read Mitsuakira. There is some discussion about him being the only Gotō main line master who read the second character of his official first name with three syllables, a-ki-ra, whereas all others just used two-syllable readings, e.g. no-bu as in the previous case. Due to this oddity, it was suggested that his name should be read Mitsuaki, an approach which I followed myself for a while. However, Fukushi Shigeo, the Sano Museum, and Hajime Zenzai from Ginza Chōshūya (see pictures below) all quote his name as Mitsuakira (みつあきら) and therefore I am positive that this is the correct reading.





As mentioned at the beginning, let us all be careful not to mislearn certain name readings as it is so difficult to correct and “unlearn” later, talking from my own experience.

And whilst we are on the topic, I want to point out two more misreadings I see all the time on the net. One is yasurime, yasuriME, ME, and not yasuriMEI. Nothing to do with mei, i.e. it is not “file signature” (鑢銘, yasurimei) but “file marks/strokes” (鑢目). And the other one is Kiyomaro, KiyoMARO, MARO, and not Kiyomaru.

Gotō soroi-kanagu (後藤揃金具)

After roughly a century of peace (with the exception of the Shimabara Rebellion) and stability after the Tokugawa had taken over in 1600, the affluent Genroku era (元禄, 1688-1704) is considered as the Golden Age of the Edo period. However, this period did not last very long as financial miscalculations on part of the bakufu caused an abrupt inflation and much went so to speak downhill from there until rock bottom was hit in the mid to late 1800s. I don’t want to go into too much detail here but suffice to say, and focusing on the ruling bushi class, we see the divide between rich and poor growing gradually bigger from after Genroku onwards.

Well, the super rich were still very rich and when you were from a well-off and high-ranking samurai family, dealing with the issue of luxurious gifts and return-gifts was the order of the day. So apart from swords (I have talked about sword gifts on numerous occasions), what do you give a daimyō son as his wedding gift, e.g. when you are a daimyō or high-ranking hatamoto yourself? Well, from the second half of the 18th century onwards, it became fashionable, i.e. when you really had to leave an impression, to present a complete set of fittings of all Gotō generations. For example, one kozuka, kōgai, pair of menuki, or a full mitokoromono set by each and every one of the Gotō main line generations that existed up to that time. These sets are referred to as Gotō XX-dai soroi-kanagu (後藤◯◯代揃金具), with the XX referring to the then total number of main line generations of course. If its “just” kozuka, a full set may be referred to as Gotō jūrokudai soroi kozuka (後藤十六代揃小柄), as seen here.

This “fashion trend” among the rich goes hand in hand with the practice of the Gotō to issue origami appraisals/evaluations and add motif elements by an earlier generation to a newly made kozuka or kōgai, and signing so on the reverse, e.g. “Mon Teijō – Mitsutaka + kaō (紋程乗 光孝「花押」), which translates as “Motif element by Teijō, (attributed so by) Mitsutaka” (see picture above). Such signatures are referred to as kiwame-mei (極め銘) and newly made kozuka/kōgai with motif elements by an earlier generation to as kiwame-mono (極め物).

Now that all said, main reason for why I made this post is because I want to introduce one way of how such Gotō soroi-kanagu were stored (and presented). So, this is for those who have never seen such sets and I thought that might be interesting to share when I was handling a few of these boxes the other day at The Metropolitan Museum of Art whilst studying sword fittings. For those who have been to the Met by the way and checked out the Japanese arms and armor galleries, the Gotō sets that are on display are to a large extent stored in such boxes (now you know), But let’s start.

The picture below shows the large and heavy wooden box which is inscribed “Gotō-ke jūgodai menuki” (後藤家十五代目貫), “menuki by the 15 Gotō generations.” ↓

When you take off the lid, you see a nice little bundle which you pull out by the lateral purple cloth straps. ↓

Below is the inner chest taken out of the wooden box, still in its custom made cloth cover. ↓

That cloth cover taken off, a black-lacquer chest appears. ↓

Opening its lid, you see more cloth and opening the uppermost cover, another black-lacquer box appears which is labeled origami (折紙). ↓

As you have already guess, it is full of origami for each piece in the set. ↓

Under the origami box is another black-lacquer chest, wrapped in a separate piece of cloth. ↓

The lid of this chest is labeled “Iebori o-menuki” (家彫・御目貫) and taken off, it reveals three drawers with five sections each what brings us to the total of 15, i.e. one section for each Gotō generation, starting with the first generation Yūjõ (祐乗, 1440-1512) on top left (you have to read the names from right to left) and ending with the 15th generation Mitsuyoshi (光美, 1780-1843) aka Shinjō (真乗). ↓

And the picture below shows the whole ensemble. Can you put everything back together? 😉 These were just the menuki and The Metropolitan Museum of Art is in the possession of some more boxes with different sorts of Gotō fittings sets. Last but not least, an extravagant set is owned by the Sano Museum (see here). Their set consists of mitokoromono by the first 14 main line generations.