Oddities/rarities in datings

In my previous update on the discontinuation of my translation/research service, I announced that the articles engine here will restart soon. That is, shortly, I will begin with a series titled meiburi (銘振り). The term meiburi means “signature style,” and as some of you may know, I am kind of “obsessed” with signatures that have a particular artistic value, may it be in terms of choice of a specific style or in a mere calligraphic sense.

Before this series begins, as a warm up so to speak, I would like to introduce two examples of oddities/rarities in datings. As many of you know, the character for four, Japanese yon/shi (四), can also be expressed via just four strokes (亖・二二). On swords and sword fittings, these four strokes are usually arranged similar to a watch dial. As this watch dial form is, to my knowledge, not available in any computable form, I will show it via a picture below, as character (picture 1), and the way it is signed on a sword (picture 2).

Picture 1: Character four as four strokes.

Picture 2: Date “Keiō yon tsuchinoe-tatsudoshi hachigatsu kichijitsu” (慶應二二戊辰歳八月吉日) – “On a lucky day in the eighth month of Keiō four (1868), year of the dragon.”

Now, this replacement of the character for four through four strokes is actually quite common. However, it can also be done for the character for five, Japanese go (五), although this is extremely rare and I have only seen it maybe twice in my entire career. In picture 3, I would like present such a rare example. It is a katana by swordsmith Horii Taneyoshi (堀井胤吉, 1821-1903) which is signed and dated: “Ōmi no Kuni Taneyoshi – Bunkyū ni inudoshi gogatsu” (近江國胤吉・文久二戌年五月) – “Taneyoshi from Ōmi province, in the fifth month of Bunkyū two (1862), year of the dog.” Again, this variant of the character for five is not computable, so I will highlight it in picture 4.

Picture 3: Katana by Horii Taneyoshi.

Picture 4: Character five as five strokes.

This brings us to the second and last example for this brief post. As many of my readers will know as well, some of the primitive Japanese (and of course Chinese) characters are pictograms, that is, highly stylized and simplified pictures of material objects. Most prominent examples are the crescent moon turning into the character (月) for month, and the sun into the character (日) for day.

Dates of Japanese swords and sword fittings usually follow the syntax: “X year of Nengō era, Y month, Z day.” As it takes more than a day to make/finish a Japanese sword, smiths often omitted the day and ended their dates with “a lucky day in the Y month” or just “on a day in the Y month,” unless the very day marks a special occasion, etc., but this is a topic for another article.

In picture 5, I would like to present an example of a date where the smith, Hirochika (弘近) from Mito in Hitachi province (who moved later in his career to Musashi province), replaced the characters for month and day again with the moon and the sun (detail see picture 6).

Picture 5: Katana, signed and dated: “Jōyō Suifu-jū Hozumi Hirochika – An’ei rokunen nigatsu hi” (常陽水府住穂積弘近)” – Hozumi Hirochika, resident of Mito in Hitachi province, in a day in the second month of An’ei six (1777).

Picture 6: Detail of characters for month (月) and day (日) being replaced by the moon and sun respectively.

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