Oda-Samonji (織田左文字)

This time, I would like to introduce a meibutsu (名物, renowned sword with a nickname) that has been rehardened (saiha, 再刃), and that sword is the Oda-Samonji (織田左文字).

The Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō (享保名物帳) introduces the sword as follows (notes in square brackets added by me for reasons of clarification):

Oda-Samonji, suriage, 2 shaku 2 sun 4 bu (~ 67.9 cm), value 100 gold coins, [in the possession of] Lord Ii Kamon no Kami [Naomasa] (井伊掃部頭, 1561–1602).
Owned by Lord Nobunaga (信長, 1534–1582) who gave it to his second son Nobukatsu (信雄, 1558–1630). Afterwards, through whichever transmission, owned by Lord Kamon no Kami. Appraised in Keichō four (慶長, 1599).

The Oda-Samonji.


Right away, we have here the origins for the nickname of the blade, i.e., the blade is called Oda-Samonji because it was once owned by Oda Nobunaga. Prior owners are unknown. Journalist and sword scholar Takase Ukō (高瀬羽皐, 1853–1924) writes in his 1919 publication Shōchū Tōken Meibutsu Chō (詳註刀剣名物帳,), which is an annotated version of the Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō, that he was unable to find any reference to how the sword came into the possession of Ii Naomasa. In Volume 1 of his Nihontō Daihyakka Jiten (日本刀大百科辞典, 1993), Fukunaga Suiken (福永酔剣) speculates that the blade may have come into the possession of Naomasa as a reward for defeating Nobukatsu’s retainer Maeda Yojūrō (前田与十郎) after Maeda had switched sides and supported Hideyoshi in 1584.

Takase Ukō (高瀬羽皐, 1853–1924).


So, be that as it may, the sword remained henceforth in the possession of the Ii family, who were the Daimyō of the Hikone fief (彦根藩) in Ōmi province. It is unclear if an origami was issued at the time of the Keichō four appraisal. The current origami that exists for the blade goes back to Hon’ami Kō’on (本阿弥光温, 1603–1667) and was issued in Keian four (慶安, 1651). It remains with the attribution to the early to mid-14th century smith Samonji (左文字) and with the evaluation of 100 gold coins.

Towards the end of the Edo period, when Ii Naoaki (井伊直亮, 1794–1850), the twelfth head of the Ii family after Naomasa, was in possession of the sword, he had a new koshirae made for it. The copper tsuba (see picture below) features the characters “Oda-Sa” (お多左) as sukashi design, which is based on a calligraphy of said characters written by Ii Naoaki himself. This fact is recorded on the tsuba via the inscription: Tō no Chūjō Naoaki kore o sho-shita + kaō (藤中将直亮書之「花押」, “Written by Tō no Chūjō [a title] Naoaki + monogram”).

Oda-Sa tsuba (privately owned).


Ii Naoaki (井伊直亮, 1794–1850).


Then in 1923 unfortunately, the blade was damaged in the devastating fire that followed the Great Kantō earthquake as the Ii main residence in Tōkyō was one of the countless buildings that did not survive. At some later point, the blade was rehardened, but it is unclear when this took place and who carried it out. The blade is now in the possession of the Hikone Castle Museum by the way, which houses the huge collection of the former Ii Daimyō family.


Page from the Imamura Oshigata.


Imamura ‘Chōga’ Nagayoshi (今村長賀, 1837–1910).


We do have, however, an oshigata of the blade that was made before the fire damage and rehardening (see picture above, right). It is featured in Volume 2 of the posthumously published oshigata collection of sword expert Imamura ‘Chōga’ Nagayoshi (今村長賀, 1837–1910) titled Imamura Oshigata (今村押形・古刀第二巻, 1927). Therein, Imamura refers to the blade as being in the possession of “Count Ii.” There were two heads of the Ii family bearing that title, Ii Naonori (井伊直憲, 1848–1902), the son of Naoaki’s successor Naosuke (井伊直弼, 1815–1860), and Naonori’s son Naotada (井伊直忠, 1881–1947). The oshigata is not dated and Imamura passed away in 1910, so it is possible that he had studied the blade either when it was with Naonori or with Naotada. Interestingly, Imamura also made a rubbing of the tsuba (see picture above, left). Incidentally, Naotada was the head of the Ii main line when the Great Kantō earthquake took place. Naotada was known for being a connoisseur of Japanese art, in particular of the Nō drama. It is therefore conceivable that it was him who commissioned the rehardening of that family heirloom sword.


Ii Naonori (井伊直憲, 1848–1902) (left), Ii Naotada (井伊直忠, 1881–1947) (right).


Coming back to the pre-saiha oshigata. Takase writes in said publication that he remembers Imamura mentioning that the omote side shows a midare with saka-ashi that resembles the style of Bizen Motoshige (元重) and that the ura side is truly interpreted in the typical style of Samonji. Fukushi states the same and adds that the hamon on the ura side (which was originally the omote side when the blade was still a tachi) is a large-dimensioned midareba and that the bōshi of the ura side is pointed and interpreted in kaen style. Fukushi also quotes from the Meibutsu Hikae (名物扣), a Hon’ami internal draft for the later Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō if you will, in which it is stated that there are traces of a soebi, that there is a kizu (flaw) above of the hamon at about 1.2 cm below of the kissaki on the omote side, and that there is also a ha-kobore (chip) in the monouchi area. I can not detect these soebi traces and that kizu on the photograph shown above, which is from the Sano Museum catalog to its 2009 special exhibition Reborn (p. 45). Also, I can not see any chipping in the monouchi in this photograph, but we can assume that any minor chip has been polished out since the Meibutsu Hikae was compiled in the early 18th century, and that the traces of the soebi disappeared that way as well.

Interestingly, Watanabe Taeko (渡邊妙子), the director of the Sano Museum, writes in the exhibition catalog entry to this blade that on the basis of the hamon seen in Imamura’s oshigata, it appears that the blade is a work of Samonji’s son Yasuyoshi (安吉). I would agree in terms of sugata and the bōshi, but in my humble opinion, I am associating a relatively narrow ko-notare-based hamon with Yasuyoshi that is mixed with a more or less pronounced amount of gunome and togariba, or connected sections of such. I do not recollect coming across a long sword by Yasuyoshi that has such a wide and clearly slanting midareba. In any case, Watanabe further writes that in its current condition, the blade displays a faintly visible itame that makes the jigane tend to muji, that the hamon is a nie-based connected gunome, and that nie activities are also extending into the ji.



Juxtaposing the photo of the blade with Imamura’s oshigata (see above), it appears that the latter may not have been consulted for the rehardening job as I see a greater tendency to gunome in the new hamon. However, it is difficult to tell from this photo alone, so this is just an impression and the new hamon may actually do slant more than it looks. That said, the Oda-Samonji is an interesting case of a named blade that was handed down within the same family for 300+ years, and it was so much treasured that even a Daimyō took it on himself to provide the calligraphy for the tsuba design of a koshirae project that he had initiated.

Not your usual hataraki

This will be a brief post. Background: I came across a blade with interesting activities above the hamon.

We all know that by the shintō era, swordsmiths became increasingly concerned with the appearance of the hamon. In a nutshell, we see a shift from the aesthetics that result from form follows function towards seeing the surface of a blade as a canvas that can be adorned with a hamon at will. Accordingly, we see hamon that deliberately try to evoke pictures of plunging or surging waves, cloud banks, a mountain range, etc., and then with the shinshintō era truly picturesque hardening patterns, e.g., kikusui (chrysanthemum floating on water) and Fuji-mi Saigyō (poet Saigyō looking at Mt. Fuji) emerged.

The sword in question is a work by the second generation Tango no Kami Kanemichi (丹後守兼道) from the Mishina (三品) School. Kanemichi, real name Mishina Kiheiji (三品喜平次), was the son and heir of the first generation Tango no Kami Kanemichi (丹後守兼道 , 1603–1672). His father was the second son of the Kyōto-based master Tanba no Kami Yoshimichi (丹波守吉道) and had relocated to Ōsaka during the Kan’ei era (寛永, 1624–1644).

We are dealing with a wakizashi with a nice Genroku-shintō-sugata (deeper curve than seen with the preceding Kanbun-shintō-sugata) that displays a calm and gently undulating notare in ko-nie-deki. Striking, and that is the point of this post, are the five prominent tobiyaki in the upper section of the blade. Smaller tobiyaki over notare billows can represent spray, or a single larger one the sun or the moon, but five such big ones? And they are clearly no mistake as they appear on the ura side as well (also five).

So, what are they? As we are dealing with five circular tobiyaki, one might think of the gosei (五星). Gosei are the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, which were regarded as major planets and which are visible to the naked eye. These planets are the basis for the conceptual scheme of the Five Phases or Five Elements (gogyō, 五行), i.e., fire, water, wood, metal, and earth/soil and are thus very important for astronomy, the calendar, the horoscope, and much more.

More likely, however, the tobiyaki represent the upper part of the asterism of the Big Dipper. There was a blade with very similar features for sale at the Samurai Museum Shop (link), although here, we have seven tobiyaki and thus all the starts of the Big Dipper represented. Interestingly, this blade is also the work of a Mishina School smith, Echizen no Kami Minamoto Rai Nobuyoshi (越前守源来信吉). The website also elaborates a bit on the religious meaning of the Big Dipper and you can find more and very detailed information on Mark Schumacher’s outstanding website here.

It is likely that the owner of the sword was involved in some of these beliefs, but I am too busy right now to speculate about how exactly swords can be linked to Big Dipper worship, apart from the fact that Myōken (妙見), the Buddhist deification of the North Star and/or the Big Dipper, is often depicted with holding a sword over his head (see picture below). My aim with this very brief post was to make readers aware of that when seeing a shintō or later blade with an unusual hamon and/or hataraki, one should assume that it was not done at random.