Breakdown of price for sword blade




My first book Legends and Stories around the Japanese Sword contains a chapter on period sword prices which can be found, in article form, here and here. In this article, you will not only find the fees certain smiths charged for their blades, but also information about the income and living expenses of samurai.

In this context, I would like to introduce a very interesting document, and related blade, which gives us an insight into the price structure of shinshintō master Chōunsai Tsunatoshi (長運斎綱俊, 1798-1863). This document, shown below, is an invoice that breaks down the costs of making that sword inquestion. Note: There are a few characters in the second part that need further research when there is some time one day but the parts relevant for this post are clear, and quoted below.


一弐両 平作代
一弐両壱分 彫物
一壱分弐朱 ほんち二字
一三分弐朱 研上クさや代金

如件 上杉内




nagasa 1 shaku 5 sun 1 bu
• 2 ryō – Costs for making the blade
• 2 ryō 1 buHorimono
• 1 bu 2 shu – Two bonji
• 3 bu 2 shu – Costs for polish and saya

Total: 5 ryō 2 bu
I hereby acknowledge to having received above stated sum.

At the Uesugi facilities, 14th day of the third month, Tsunatoshi + seal

Tenpō, year of the rat (1840)
Receipt issued by the Edo swordsmith and Uesugi retainer Chōunsai Tsunatoshi.

(Info: 1 ryō = 4 bu = 16 shu)

As you can see, the horimono, i.e., a shin no kurikara on the omote side and gomabashi on the ura side, are actually more expensive than the forging of the blade itself. And, the two bonji cost extra! Also interesting to see is that Tsunatoshi charged his client for polish and (shira)saya. That is, at least as far as the blade is concerned, there was no broker involved who charged the client and then distributed the fee between the smith, polisher, and saya-shi.

When you read my aforementioned article on sword prices you will see that in terms of price for a blade, Tsunatoshi was at around the same level as Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤, 1778-1857) who also charged, on average, 5 ryõ. Incidentally, Naotane was a fellow senior student of Tsunatoshi under master Suishinshi Masahide (水心子正秀, 1750-1825).

Five ryō was more than the annual income of a lower ranking samurai by the way, which brings me to another interesting element of that memo, and that is the name that appears therein, Uesugi (上杉). We know that from Bunsei six (文政, 1823) onwards, Tsunatoshi was living in, and working from, the Edo residence of the Uesugi, the daimyō of the Yonezawa fief (米沢藩) in Dewa province. (Link to photos of the blade here).



Wakizashi (jūyō-tōken), mei: Chōunsai Tsunatoshi – Tenpō jūichinen nigatsu hi hori-dōsaku (長運斎綱俊・天保十一年二月日彫同作, “Made and engraved by Chōnsai Tsunatoshi on a day in the second month of Tenpō eleven [1840]”), nagasa 46.2 cm, sori 1.0 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune

5 thoughts on “Breakdown of price for sword blade

  1. Markus – Thank you for the post on the price of swords back in the day! Most informative! Sincerely, John Bracher

  2. Hi Markus

    This document was illustrated in the Nihonto Koza Shin Shinto Volume 1967 also translated into English by Harry Watson in 1991. I’m sure you’ve seen it before.

    Best wishes


    • Hi Kaneyoshi,
      I will look it up, thank you! I have come across the document in Honma’s Kantō Hibi Shō (Continuation 1), by looking for an unrelated blade. Obviously forgot that its in the Nihonto Koza as well, which I haven’t consulted in a while (and I have to admit, I never read its translation).
      Best regards,

  3. Thank you, Markus for your fantastic website and this particular article. 2 particular points that you stated stood out,
    1) That the horimono carving cost more than the blade itself ! Certainly makes me appreciate and respect horimono more now !
    2) That the total cost of such a nihonto was more than the annual salary of a lower ranking Samurai ! No wonder they all went broke in the end.

    Dr. LG TONG

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