Recently added kinzōgan-mei

A while ago, one of my readers asked me about the most recently added kinzōgan-mei that I am aware of. Well, I remember coming across a few by Hon’ami Kōson (本阿弥光遜, 1879-1955), whom I have introduced here, and Honma Kunzan (本間薫山, 1904-1991), but I was interesting in finding some that can be dated to after Honma had passed away. So, I was doing some digging and found a blade that bears a kinzōgan-mei by the late ningen-kokuhō polisher Hon’ami Nisshū (本阿弥日洲, 1908-1996) which does not only record the date when it was added, which is very rare, but which has an interesting history as well, and so I would like to introduce this blade here.

The blade in question is a work of late Muromachi period Osafune smith Shinjūrō Sukesada (新拾郎祐定) of whom not much is known, apart from that he was active around Genki (元亀, 1570-1573) and Tenshō (天正, 1573-1592) and that he is ranked wazamono (Yamada) and jō-saku (Fujishiro). He obviously produced very high-quality blades as our candidate here passed jūyō, and with this lies one of the interesting aspects of this blade. As you can see in picture 1, i.e. from when the blade passed jūyō in 1971 at the 20th jūyō-shinsa, it did not yet have its kinzōgan-mei.


Picture 1: katana, mei “Bizen no Kuni-jū Osafune Shinjūrō Sukesada saku – Tenshō jūnen hachigatsu kichijitsu” (備前国住長船新拾郎祐定作・天正十年八月吉日) – “Made by Osafune Shinjūrō Sukesada, resident of Bizen province, on a lucky day in the eighth month of Tenshō ten (1582)”, nagasa 70.6 cm, sori 2.1 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, sakihaba 2.2 cm, kissaki-nagasa 3.8 cm, shinogi-zukuri, maru-mune, ubu-nakago

Now some time after the blade had passed, provenance research must have been done because the owner had the paper reissued along the 49th jūyō-shinsa from 2003 (see picture 2 below). Obvious reason: The tang had changed as the result of the provenance research was inlaid via a kinzōgan-mei, which reads: “Heisei sannen hitsuji shōgatsu kokonoka, Hon’ami Nisshū + kaō – Imaizumi Tajima no Kami Shirōzaemon no Jō Takamitsu, Utsunomiya-ke Ōsaka-zume karō zaikin no toki kore o shoji” (平成三歳未正月九日、本阿弥日洲「花押」・今泉但馬守四郎左衛門尉高光、宇都宮家大阪詰家老在勤時之所持) – “January 9, 1991, year of the sheep, Hon’ami Nisshū – Worn by Imaizumi Tajima no Kami Shirōzaemon no Jō Takamitsu at the time when serving as an elder for the Utsunomiya family in Ōsaka.”


Picture 2: New oshigata after kinzōgan-mei had been inlaid some time prior to jūyō-shinsa 49.

More on that provenance in a second. Now Honma died on August 29 that year, so it is possible that he had some of his appraisals inlaid via kinzōgan-mei in these eight months between the kinzōgan-mei of this Sukesada (January 9 as stated above) and his death, but as his are not dated, Nisshū’s kinzōgan-mei introduced here was the most recent one that I was able to find that can be reliably dated. I haven’t been able to locate one that goes back to his son Kōshū (本阿弥光洲, 1939- ), so if someone knows a Kōshū kinzōgan-mei, you know where to find me.

Last but not least, some information on the provenance of the blade. Imaizumi Takamitsu (今泉高光, 1548-1597) was a Sengoku-period warrior who served, as mentioned in the kinzōgan-mei, the Utsunomiya family of Shimotsuke province, to be more precise, the 22nd Utsunomiya generation Kunitsuna (宇都宮国綱, 1568-1608). When Kunitsuna returned from the Korean Campaign in 1595 and Hideyoshi stationed him in Ōsaka, he was facing the fact that whilst already in his late 20s, he still had no male heir. Thus, Asano Nagamasa (浅野長政, 1547-1611), then one of Hideyoshi’s Five Commissioners (go-bugyō, 五奉行), suggested that his third son Nagashige (浅野長重, 1588-1632) could be adopted by Kunitsuna in order to later succeed as 23rd head of the Utsunomiya clan.

Kunitsuna consulted with Imaizumi Takamitsu and Hōjō Shō’an (北条松庵) and Takamitsu suggested that Hideyoshi should be informed about this issue and give his permission for the adoption. This enraged Kunitsuna’s younger brother Haga Takatake (芳賀高武, 1572-1611) who was of the opinion that there are enough members of the Utsunomiya family around who could be adopted by Kunitsuna instead. So Takatake took things into his own hands and wrote Hideyoshi that all adoption proceedings should be cancelled immediately. In parallel, he paid Hōjō Shō’an a visit, dragged him onto Kyōto’s intersection of Shijō and Kawara, and decapitated him.

Learning of that, Takamitsu immediately returned to Shimotsuke province and his castle of Kaminokawa (上三川城), which was soon after besieged by Takatake whose army set fire to from all sides whereupon Takamitsu had to retreat to the temple that was located in the outermost region of the castle where he and 15 of his men eventually committed seppuku. Well, this whole drama got even worse when Asano Nagamasa, in charge of Hideyoshi’s giant land survey, discovered irregularities in Kunitsuna’s report on the income of his lands (in short, Kunitsuna was allegedly making much more money than he stated his lands are yielding), which were then confiscated by Hideyoshi. Also, he banished Kunitsuna to Bizen province where he was placed under the supervision of Ukita Hideie (宇喜多秀家, 1572-1655).

At some time in the future, I will try and see if I can get access to the provenance research that was carried out related to this sword. As the kinzōgan-mei explicitly states “worn at the time when serving the Utsunomiya in Ōsaka,” I can imagine that there is some written entry (or letter) extant which mentions that the sword in question was received by someone as a gift, possibly a farewell gift, when Imaizumi Takamitsu rushed back to Shimotsuke to face Haga Takatake. If the research only revealed that the sword was with Takamitsu at some time, the kinzōgan-mei would be worded like “worn by Imaizumi Takamitsu, retainer of the Utsunomiya family,” or just “worn by Imaizumi Tajima no Kaji Takamitsu” etc.

Tameshigiri with a ko-wakizashi

At our NY Token Kai meeting at the Met last month, I was were briefly talking about cutting tests (tameshigiri) with some of the attendees as one of the blades on display, a wakizashi by the third Edo Yasutsugu (康継) generation, has one inlaid in gold. The question came up about cutting test extremes, e.g. the maximum number of bodies that were ever cut through (seven on a katana by Kanefusa, 兼房). On this occasion, I brought up that I even remembered seeing a short ko-wakizashi cutting through a body but couldn’t recall the maker on the spot. Doing some digging, I eventually found the blade that I was thinking of. It is a ko-wakizashi with a nagasa of mere 38.5 cm (15.1”) by the first generation Nobukuni (see picture below).


Picture 1: jūyō, ko-wakizashi, mei: Nobukuni (信国), kinzōgan-mei Kuroda Chikuzen no Kami-dono go-shoji – Dō-otoshi kirite Nakahawa Saheita + kaō (黒田筑前守殿御所持・胴落切手中川左平太「花押」), nagasa 38.5 cm, sori 0.6 cm, motohaba 3.35 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune


The type of cut used is not mentioned but this was common at the time of expert sword tester Nakagawa Saheita (中川左平太, ?-1653) as tameshigiri were yet not standardized. However, there were already specific terms for cutting through/off limbs etc. so it can be said that the blade did cut somewhere through a torso (, 胴). Now the blade is obviously not a tantō and does have some substance, but still very impressive, isn’t it?

Well, shorter blades were often tested with a special test hilt (kiri-tsuka, 切り柄) which are said to have been in use since the Momoyama period (1573-1600). In a document named Yamano-ryū Ryōdan no Maki (山野流両段之巻) from the second year of Kan’ei (寛永, 1624), we find recommendations on the length of kiri-tsuka depending on the length of the blade that was going to be tested. The entry that qualifies for the blade introduced here states that for a blade with a nagasa between 1 shaku 5 sun and 9 sun (45~27 cm, 17.7~10.6”), the kiri-tsuka should measure 1 shaku 4 sun or 1 shaku 5 sun (42 or 45 cm, 16.5 or 17.7” respectively) long. That is, such short blades were tested with hilts about as long as the blade itself.

Some of these early kiri-tsuka were just tightly wrapped whereas others were reinforced by metal bands. Later on, the famous Yamada (山田) family of sword testers came up with sophisticated, more ergonomical kiri-tsuka reinforced by metal rings and hold in place by a mekugi and a wedge instead of a habaki (see pictures below).


Picture 2: Various forms of kiri-tsuka.


As stated in the kinzōgan-mei, the blade was once owned by Kuroda Chikuzen no Kami, which may refer to Kuroda Yoshitaka (黒田孝高, 1546-1604) or to his son Nagamasa Kuroda Nagamasa (黒田長政, 1568-1623), although in most cases, it refers to the latter. I wrote about a similar reference to a Kuroda ownership here. Also lead tsuba, so-called tameshi-tsuba (試し鐔), were sometimes used to add weight to a blade that was going to be tested in order improve the result. The Nezu-ryū (根津流, 17th century) of tameshigiri recommends that for tantō measuring less than 9 sun 5 bu (~ 28.8 cm, 11.3”), a tameshi-tsuba weighing somewhere between 250 and 300 monme (940~1.125 g) should be used. For ko-wakizashi with a nagasa of about 1 shaku and 5 or 6 sun (45~48 cm, 17.7~18.9”), the tameshi-tsuba should weigh 150 to 200 monme (560~750 g). So our Nobukuni ko-wakizashi would be somewhere in between.

As for kiri-tsuka and cutting tests in general, much more detailed info can be found in my Tameshigiri book. And that should do it for today.


Picture 3: Kuroda Nagamasa.