Humble tsuba, big context

Another “mystery piece” in the collection of the Department of Arms and Armor at The Met.

Made by Gotō Ichijō (後藤一乗, 1791-1876) in Kōka three (弘化, 1846) per special order, it is decorated with a couplet (平生未報恩・留作忠魂補) by the Ming Dynasty court official and Confucianist Yang Jisheng (楊継盛, 1516-1555), and a poem by Kawaji Saemon no Jō Toshiakira (川路左衛門尉聖謨, 1801-1868), one of the signers of the Treaty of Shimoda in 1854, whose name is also inscribed on the tsuba.

Kawaji, who was paralyzed on one side of the body after a stroke he had right after retiring in 1863, committed suicide when the Shogunate fell in 1868. He shot himself with a pistol, according to period records because he felt committing tradional seppuku with a sword would have been “unsightly” due to his paralysis.

Stay tuned for the full story.

Sword Guard (Tsuba)

Sword Guard (Tsuba)

Tsuba, signed: Gotō Hokkyō Ichijō + kaō – Koretoki Kōka san umadoshi natsu ōju saku (後藤法橋一乗「花押」・于時弘化三午年夏應需作) – “Made by Gotō Hokkyō Ichijō on request in summer of Kōka three (1846), year of the horse; Gift of Herman A. E. and Paul C. Jaehne, 1943; 43.120.940

 

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Yang Jisheng (楊継盛, 1516-1555)

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Kawaji Saemon no Jō Toshiakira (川路左衛門尉聖謨, 1801-1868)

 

 

 

Ningen-Mukotsu (人間無骨)

This time I would like to talk about a peculiar nickname for a sword, Ningen-Mukotsu (人間無骨), which translates as “humans have no bones.” I have come across this topic recently twice, the first time because the Department of Arms and Armor at The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns a sword that is inscribed with this nickname, and the second time whilst doing research on another sword that has this inscription inlaid in gold (kinzōgan), but let’s start with the former.

The blade in question is a naginata-naoshi with an ō-kissaki and an overall quite magnificent sugata which is inscribed on the omote side “Kaneuji age” (兼氏上ヶ) and on the ura side “Ningen-Mukotsu.” So, at first glance, it appears that we are facing here an ō-suriage blade by Shizu Saburō Kaneuji which someone had either shortened and the original maker plus the information that it was shortened recorded, or appraised it as a shortened work of Kaneuji. Be that as it may, the blade is not a work of Kaneuji but a shinshintō work, most likely by Kurihara Nobuhide (栗原信秀, 1815-1880), or by another smith from the Kiyomaro School. 

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Bones2

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Picture 1: naginata-naoshi katana, nagasa 68.4 cm, sori 1.9 cm; bequest of George C. Stone, 1935; 36.25.1676a–c

 

The second one is a shinshintō Naminohira (波平) katana that was once worn by a member of the famous Shinsengumi, Ōishi Kuwajirō (大石鍬次郎, 1838-1870) which is currently with Nihonto Australia – Samurai Gallery Australia. Apart from the nickname in question, the provenance of the blade was once inlaid in gold (kinzōgan) and was confirmed recently by a descendant of Ōishi Kuwajirō.

That all said, I would like to introduce the background of this nickname, or to be precise, its two alleged backgrounds.

The first starts with Oda Nobunaga (織田信長, 1534-1582). One day, Nobunaga was witnessing one of his retainers testing his Osafune Kiyomitsu (長船清光) katana on a criminal. The sword was cutting through the body so well as if the poor guy “had no bones” whereupon Nobunaga literally had the sword confiscated to wear it himself, giving it the nickname Ningen-Mukotsu. Nobunaga then have the sword to his son Nobukatsu (織田信雄, 1558-1630) who subsequently gave it to his fourth son Nobuyoshi (織田信良, 1584-1626). The young Nobuyoshi managed to survive the downfall of the Toyotomi, the Battle of Sekigahara, the establishment of the Tokugawa Shōgunate, and the Battle of Ōsaka, and was eventually installed as daimyō of the Obata fief (小幡藩) in Kōzuke province. This lineage of the Oda family that handed down the sword changed fiefs two times throughout the Edo period, that is, in Meiwa four (明和, 1767) from the Obata to the Takahata fief (高畠藩) in Dewa province, and in Tenpō one (天保, 1830) from the Takahata to the Tendō fief (天童藩), which was also located in Dewa. The last trace we have of this sword is the report of a bakumatsu-era samurai named Komatsubara Jinzaemon (小松原甚左衛門) from the northern Morioka fief (盛岡藩) who was a tameshigiri student of the Yamada Asaemon (山田浅右衛門) family of sword testers and who stated that he had seen it with his own eyes. After that, the trail went cold.

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Picture 2: Oda Nobunaga

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Picture 3: Oda Nobukatsu

 

The second origin story of the nickname Ningen-Mukotsu is more tangible, and is, although loosely, also connected to Oda Nobunaga. This story, which is quite brutal, goes back to Mori Nagayoshi (森長可, 1558-1584) who became a retainer of Nobunaga at the age of 13. Four years into his service, Nagayoshi entered his first battle for Nobunaga which was against one of the Ikkō-ikki groups that the latter tried to wipe out. Nagayoshi was wielding a jūmonji-yari by Izumi no Kami Kanesada (和泉守兼定, No-Sada). Legend has it that he decapitated 27 enemies with this yari. That is, Nagayoshi allegedly stabbed the enemies in the throat and kept pushing until the crossbars of the yari decapitated the person. After that, he had the words Ningen and Mukotsu engraved on the base element (kerakubi) of the yari because, well, it really appeared that his enemies didn’t have bones when he cut through them. Now Mori Nagayoshi fought many more battles and was so ruthless that he was nicknamed “The Devil” (Oni, 鬼) That is, his honorary title was that of Musashi no Kami, so they called him Oni-Musashi (鬼武蔵). 

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Picture 4: Mori Nagayoshi

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Picture 5: Sankin-kōtai procession (please note the spear bearers).

Now the jūmonji-yari was handed down within the Mori family and it is said that every time the family had to proceed to Edo in course of the sankin-kōtai system, they were proudly showing off that yari during the procession. In this course, the spear became pretty famous and was published in several of the most widely circulating period sword books. For example, the Honchō Kaji Kō (本朝鍛冶考) from 1796 and the Kokon Kaji Bikō (古今鍛冶備考) from 1816. Incidentally, one day an outpost storehouse used by travelling members of the Mori family burned down, with the Ningen-Mukotsu yari allegedly in it. However, it was reported that a replica was carried on processions and that the real yari has always been stored safely in the castle of the fiefdom…

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Picture 6: Honchō Kaji Kō, 1796

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Picture 7: Kokon Kaji Bikō, 1816

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Picture 8: The Ningen-Mukotsu jūmonji-yari

In 1940, the Ningen-Mukotsu yari was exhibited at the Yūshūkan Museum with the credit line “owned by Viscount Mori Toshinari (森俊成, 1887-1956).” Toshinari was then a member of parliament and belonged to a sideline of the Mori that had branched off at the end of the 17th century when the clan was removed from its Tsuyama fief (津山藩) in Mimasaka province and relocated to the Nishiebara fief (西江原藩) in Bitchū province. That is, Toshinari was initially from the Seki (関) family, but got adopted by the tenth generation of that Mori sideline, obviously somehow ending up with the Ningen-Mukotsu yari.

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Picture 9: Viscount Mori Toshinari

 

Unfortunately, I was unable to find information on the current owner of the yari, apart from that it is in private hands. It also has to be mentioned, as indicated, that several historic replicas, and more or less faithful copies of this piece exist, some of them were made on orders of the Mori family, others just on the basis of the pictures featured in the said publications. For example, one replica was ordered by the Mori to be given as an offering to the Ōishi-jinja (大石神社) in Akō, the fief the family ruled from 1706 until the end of the Edo period. 

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Picture 10: Copy of the Ningen-Mukotsu yari by the local smith Noriyuki, signed: “Akō-jū Noriyuki gojūissai kitae-utsushi – Tenpō yon mi nigatsu kichijitsu” (赤穂住則之五十一歳鍛写・天保四巳二月吉日) – “Copied by Noriyuki, resident of Akō, on a lucky day in the second month of Tenpō four (1833), year of the snake, at the age of 51.”

In conclusion I would like to point out that apart from these copies, the nickname also made it over to swords, as the Shinsengumi example has shown. In the context of swords, the name Ningen-Mukotsu does not refer to the famous yari but to cutting ability in general. I have introduced some of such references a while back here.

Who “wore” it better?

This time, I would like to introduce two tsuba from the collection of the Met, which share the same motif and which are interpreted in a very similar manner, both made by artisans from Mito, former Hitachi province. It is evident at first glance that both tsuba are very late works, dating to the Meiji era, and can be placed, in terms of style, within a trend which is referred to as hamamono (浜物). The broader context of hamamono should be omitted here, but being close to the source so to speak, I want to quote from Ogawa Morihiro’s (小川盛弘) catalog Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156–1868:

Appreciated as ornaments and paperweights, hamamono are often decorated with fanciful designs in fine inley. (The term “hamamono” probably derives from the fact that most of them were exported from Yokohama.) Most hamamono tsuba are inscribed with the names of great Edo-period sword fittings makers, such as Yokoya Sōmin, Nara Toshinaga, Tsuchiya Yasuchika, Hamano Shozui, and Ishiguro Masatsune, but their style of manufacture suggests that they were more likely made by Mito artisans, such as Okawa Teiken [sic] and the metalworkers of the Edo Hamano group. Although large numbers of hamamono can be found in American and European collections, there are comparatively few in Japan,suggesting that they were made largely for export.

One detail in this quote, the reference to Mito artisans, brings us back to the tsuba introduced here. The first one (see picture 1) is signed: “Zuiryūken Hidetomo” (随柳軒英友). And the second tsuba (see picture 2) is signed: “Suifu-jūnin Ichiryūken Shujin kizamu/koku” (水府住人・一柳軒主人刻) – “Carved by Ichiryūken Shujin, resident of Mito.”

 

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Picture 1: Tsuba; H. 3 1/2 in. (8.9 cm); W. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm); thickness 3/8 in. (1 cm); Wt. 7.1 oz. (201.3 g); bequest of Edward G. Kennedy, 1932; 33.40.16

 

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Picture 2: Tsuba; H. 3 7/16 in. (8.7 cm); W. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm); thickness 3/8 in. (1 cm); Wt. 7.4 oz. (209.8 g); H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929; 29.100.964

 

Now consulting Haynes, we find the first maker listed as follows:

Hidetomo

The second maker, however, is a little bit of a mystery. Haynes interprets the suffix shujin in a literal way, meaning “lord/master,” which is understandable. Full quote below.

Ichiryuken

I did some very superficial digging, no in-depth research, but found a person who might have been behind this art name, i.e., the “full” art name in the form of Ichiryūken Shujin, and that is because of the local connection. The Ibaraki Prefectural Library namely holds a publication titled Meiji Kyōiku Kawa Dai 1 Shū (明治教育佳話・第1集, Good Stories From Meiji-era Education – Volume 1), which was compiled by a certain Ichiryūken Shujin with the very same name. Now the library adds in parenthesis the real name of this person, Shimonō Shigeyasu (下生成安), and here the aforementioned local connection comes into play.

This Shimonō Shigeyasu was from Hitachi, and coincidentally, from the same town of Kashima (鹿島) as Kajihei from my previous article here. In other words, he was a “Mito guy,” Mito only being 30 miles from Kashima. Shigeyasu was born in Ansei five (安政, 1858). According to the Ibaraki Kyōikuka Ryakuden (茨城県教育家略伝, 1894), his father was a Confucianist and his mother was from the Shimonō family that held an important hereditary religious post at the Kashima Shrine. His maternal grandfather, a Shintō priest, was Shimonō Shigenobu (下生成信, 1804-1879), who is said to have had a chivalrous spirit and settled many violent disputes of local rōnin, proudly wearing a sword with a red-lacquer saya. Do we see here a hint of a connection to sword fittings?

Well, Shigeyasu was a teacher, school principal, and an important figure in the local education system of the Meiji era. He published a few books on this topic and also worked for a while for the Ministry of Education. Now the million-dollar question: Is this our man? Did Shimonō Shigeyasu study with a local kinkō artist and then made tsuba as a pastime (or as a side job) under the pseudonym Ichiryūken Shujin?

When you take a closer look at picture 2, you could argue that the tsuba has indeed a certain “crude” character (punches towards the bottom that represent shade, not very uniform and aesthetically pleasing concentric engravings on the upper left and right that represent the texture of the tea kettle, also not really uniform greek key pattern along the lid of the kettle, crude nakago-ana recess, etc.) which would support the approach of facing an amateur work here. However, you could also argue that the majority of hamano is not really sophisticated in general, and the slight “crudeness” of this tsuba does not necessarily mean it was made by a teacher on his weekends.

That said, there is a certain number of Ichiryūken works out there, mostly represented in Western collections (also see Ron’s thread on the NMB here). So, if these are works of Shimonō Shigeyasu, it is safe to assume that he was running that tsuba-making venture as a side job rather than a hobby. Or, this all is just a coincidence, and there is no connection between the Mito-based tsuba maker Ichiryūken, who signed with the supplement shujin, and the also Mito-based teacher Shimonō Shigeyasu who used the very same art name combo Ichiryūken Shujin…

Anyway, I would like to conclude with the actual motif of the two tsuba introduced here, a motif which is referred to as bunbuku-chagama (分福茶釜・文福茶釜), “The Magic Tea Kettle.” This is a folktale about a shapeshifting tanuki (raccoon dog); the tale has its origins at Morin-ji (茂林寺) Temple in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture. There are different variants of this folktale but the bones of it concern Shukaku (守鶴), an old and wise monk who, in the late 1500s served several successive abbots of the Morin-ji. Shukaku was in possession of a magic tea kettle which was never empty despite having been filled only once, even at a large New Year’s banquet where tea was made for a huge crowd. Later, another monk peeked into Shukaku’s room when the old monk was taking a nap and he saw that Shukaku had a tanuki tail. So, the monks learned that their colleague was actually a tanuki who had transformed into a monk and that the capacity of the kettle arose in the magic powers of the tanuki. Shukaku had to leave the temple. Later this legend turned into a folktale about a monk who bought a tea kettle and set it over the fire to boil water, only to see it sprout tanuki legs, and run away. In another variant of the story, the tanuki does not run away but returns into its transformed state as a kettle. The shocked monk decides to leave the tea kettle as an offering to the temple where he lives, choosing not to use it for tea again.

That should do it for today, enjoy the two tsuba introduced here, and an article on a gory reference to the cutrting ability of a sword found on a few blades should follow shortly.

Kajihei (鍛冶平)

The following is based on a lecture given at the NY Token Kai on October 27, 2019.


Today I would like to talk about a swordsmith you have probably heard of, and that is the famous forger Kajihei. That said, many collectors have come across this name in regards of late Edo period or Meiji era forgeries and/or gimei but actually not that much is known about him, which I would like to change a little bit today.

When it comes to the “hard facts” about the person Kajihei, surprisingly little is known. We know his real name, Hosoda Heijirō (細田平次郎), we know that he was born in the town of Kashima (鹿島), then Ibaraki province and today Hitachi Prefecture and about 50 miles to the northeast of Edo/Tōkyō (see picture 1), we know that he had trained with Naotane’s successor Naokatsu, we know the name he signed his works with Naomitsu (直光), we know that he also used the art name Sōryūshi (雙龍子), and, on the basis of existing dated works, we know that he lived at least until Meiji 30 (1897). That is, we don’t know when he was born and when he died.

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Picture 1

However, there is some second and third hand information available from that time that was recorded by people who knew him. One such is that Kajihei, more on that name later, was born into a wealthy family that had an official function at the local Kashima Shrine (see picture 2), which some of you know is dedicated to the patron deity of martial arts and therefore well revered by samurai. The tradition with his family being wealthy makes sense as the venture of becoming a swordsmith is not an easy one, especially for an outsider of the craft. That is, you need to find a master that accepts you, and money and connections surely help with that, you need to have at least some manual skills, and you better either have a future employer in prospect, or at least a plan about attracting a certain customer base. Again, money and connections can help with that as well.

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Picture 2: Kashima Shrine

What I try to say is that we sometimes have this romantic idea of teenagers randomly showing up on the doorsteps of a forge and beg the master for days or weeks until he accepts them as a student and then work so hard not to disappoint him and then become the greatest masters themselves. I don’t say that this didn’t happen but that it was rather the exception than the rule.

As you all know, the most fiefs were financially struggling towards the end of the Edo period and they really had to think about how many swordsmiths they can afford working for them. Also, the demand for newly made swords steadily decreased in the course of the peaceful Edo period until it was really bad for swordsmiths in the latter half of the 18thcentury. This changed when master Suishinshi Masahide (水心子正秀, 1750-1825, see picture 3) almost singlehandedly revived the craft towards the turn of the 19th century and created so a momentum that was further fueled by foreigners arriving along the coasts of Japan, as we have seen in my last talk, and the general atmosphere that the struggles of the Shogunate and the fiefs will not end peacefully.

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Picture 3: Suishinshi Mashide

 

So, one of Masahide’s greatest students was Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤, 1778-1857, see picture 4) who established his own school and who was succeeded by his son-in-law Jirō Tarō Naokatsu (次郎太郎直勝, 1805-1858). The Naotane School was one of the schools that did pretty well in these days, training more than forty swordsmiths at the height of its time, which brings us back to Kajihei, with the question: When did he enter his apprenticeship with Naokatsu?

Naotane

Picture 4: Taikei Naotane

 

Two factors here: Naokatsu must have been old enough and fully trained to train swordsmiths himself and we know that Kajihei was still alive in 1897. Naokatsu was born in 1805 and he and his father-in-law Naotane died just one year apart, in 1858 and 1857 respectively, that is, Naokatsu died just one year after Naotane. So, let’s assume that Naokatsu was 30 years old when he started to train swordsmiths himself, which means this would be the year 1835. When we assume that Kajihei was 15 years old when he started his apprenticeship at around that time, he was probably born around 1820 and was 77 years old at 1897, the year we know he was still alive, which would work.

After both Naotane and Naokatsu had died in 1857 and 1858, and coming out of a famous school, Kajihei did find an employer, and that was the Himeji fief (姫路藩, see picture 5). With the assumption that he was born around 1820, he was in his late 30s at that time, which makes me think that he actually might have been born somewhat later and started his apprenticeship somewhat later. Maybe he was rather born around 1830, started to train with Naokatsu around 1845, and was hired in his late 20s, making him about 67 years old in 1897, which also works just fine.

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Picture 5

Now Kajihei did not work for the Himeji fief locally but stayed in Edo, that is, the system of having employed swordsmith work in the Edo residence of a fief, or a property provided by the fief, and then redistributing their works from the capital back home or to other recipients/clients was very common. This was the very case for Naotane and Naokatsu as it had been for Suishinshi Masahide. As for Kajihei, we know for sure that he did not live in the Edo residence of the Sakai (酒井) family, the daimyō of Himeji, as period second hand sources state that he lived either within or very close the grounds of the Yushima Tenmangū Shrine (湯島天満宮). Well, it is unclear if he had his forge there or if his workplace was indeed within the Himeji premises. I was looking through late Edo period maps from that area which usually note the resident of each house but I could not find the name Hosoda anywhere near the shrine. So either Kajihei lived with someone, or had indeed some living quarter on the grounds of the shrine. Possible because, as mentioned, his family is said to have been affiliated with the Kashima Shrine, so they could have made an arrangement.

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Picture 6: A Meiji-era post card of the Yushima Tenjin.

 

Also, the Naotane forge was right there, in the Okachimachi (御徒町) neighborhood, which makes me think that he might have worked out of their forge? The Naotane forge was still operated after the deaths of Naotane and Naokatsu, namely by Naokatsu’s son Yamon Naokatsu.

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Map of Edo, detail below.

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Another detail related to the Naotane forge brings us finally to Kajihei’s career as a faker.

Apart from being trained by Naokatsu namely, Kajihei, then Naomitsu, had a very specific job within the Naotane School, and that was the job of mei-kiri-shi (銘切師). Mei-kiri-shi were specialized craftsmen in the forge who focused on chiseling the signature onto blades they received from their colleagues (see picture below). This was mainly a thing in the late Muromachi period when the high demand for swords gave rise to large manufactures, like the Osafune smiths. So, some smiths operated the furnace, some did the foundation forging, some the hardening, and others added the signature.

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Kajihei being such a mei-kiri-shi suggests that he must have been really really skilled in this respect, maybe the best mei chiseler of the entire Naotane School at that time? This talent, and the constant training through signing so many Naotane and Naokatsu blades surely helped him later when he started to make gimei.

And here we are at the big question: Why did Hosoda Heijirō Naomitsu become Kajihei the Faker? But first, why this name. Naomitsu did not call himself Kajihei or signed with that name etc. It is a nickname that he got at some point in history which is a compound of Kajiya no Heijirō (鍛冶屋の平次郎), which just means “the smith Heijirō.”

The most commonly accepted theory of why he became a faker is that with the Meiji Restoration and the ban on wearing swords in 1876, Kajihei was struggling like everyone else and decided so that he could still make a living by making gimei blades. He was not alone with this because even Gassan Sadakazu (月山貞一, 1836-1918) made many gimei blades or mumei blades that emulate old masters these days. For example, Gassan made many Masamune and Sadamune (see picture 7), but this did not matter later when he was made (帝室技芸員), “Imperial Artist”. In a nutshell, everyone understood the issue the swordsmiths were facing and were just happy that some of them managed it to continue their craft.

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Picture 7: Gassan Sadakazu Masamune gimei (left), Sadamune gimei (right).

 

The second theory about why Kajihei became a faker is set a little bit earlier. It says that one day, the young Kajihei put all his efforts into a blade which then experts brushed aside and expressed very negative opinions about it. He then counterfeit a blade by a famous smith which he had shown to the same experts who then unanimously praised it as a masterwork. This way, Kajihei had his satisfaction, that is, being confirmed that he was indeed really good, but this episode lead him on the path of making fake swords on the side.

And the third tradition bases on statements from people who knew Kajihei personally, saying that he was weak-willed and a heavy drinker. So under the influence of sake and false friends, who used his drinking debt as a leverage, his skill was turned into a greater faking scheme which even involved several local sword dealers and one sword polisher.

Or, maybe it was everything together. That is, as a mei-kiri-shi, Kajihei was an expert of the chisel and maybe people asked him once in a while to add a gimei to one of their mumei blades. Maybe he was indeed hanging out with the wrong crowd too and so all of that eventually resulted in this forging venture when all people in the sword craft tried to survive during Meiji times.

So, you might also want to know: What was the scope of Kajihei’s venture? Well, it was not just adding gimei to existing mumei blades and making all kind of blades from scratch with a gimei added, kotō, shintō, shinshintō – everything. He also faked gold-inlaid cutting tests, gold-inlaid Hon’ami attributions, inscriptions, or gold-inlaid names of famous owners of blades, and even messed with tsuba or faked them completely.

All that said, Kajihei did have a focus as far as his forging activities are concerned. And that focus was Kotetsu. As you all know, Kotetsu blades always yield very high prices and were already much sought after when the smith was still alive. But it was around Kajihei’s time when the name Kotetsu was really pushed among collectors. So Kajihei obsessively studied Kotetsu and Kotetsu’s signatures (see picture 8). He was also one of the first to make oshigata of tangs as we know it today (see picture 9 right). That is, until the end of the Edo period, the tang was outlined and the signature just added with a brush (see picture 9 left), which is, as you can imagine, not really a great help to identify authentic or gimei signatures.

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Picture 8: Kajihei studying Kotetsu’s signatures.

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Picture 9

So, in this context, Kajihei compiled a small reference book titled Kotetsu Meishū (虎徹銘集), which translates as “Collection of Kotetsu Signatures,” which contained 65 oshigata of tangs of Kotetsu blades. However, Kajihei also made oshigata of the swords he faked. This was either a way for him to keep track of his venture or to further obfuscate the scene by slipping them into a collection of oshigata of authentic signatures.

But that said, the mess he created also had a good side: After so many collectors, dealers, and experts got fooled, studies on Kotetsu really took off as you can imagine. Back in the early 1900s, there was the saying that only 4 out of 10 experts could detect a Kotetsu gimei by Kajihei and only 1 out of 10 a faked kinzōgan-mei.

But not everything was bad. So, although Kajihei was capable of forging a signature almost perfectly, he developed a habit in his strokes that allows experts to trace back a gimei to his hands (see picture 10). Some assume that he deliberately did so because he had a guilty conscience, quasi saying:” Hey, don’t be fooled. You COULD see that it is a gimei when you look hard enough and recognize the signs I left.”

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Picture 10: Kajihei gimei (left), shōshin-mei (right); source: Nihontō Kōza

Also, he still made blades and tsuba under his real name. For example, a blade for a Western-style dress sword ordered by a high-ranking officer at the Metropolitan Police Department. Its engravings were done by master Tsukada Shūkyō (塚田秀鏡, 1848-1918) who was the adopted son of a Naokatsu student and who was an Imperial Artist like Gassan Sadakazu (see picture 11).

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Picture 11: Blade by Hosoda Naomitsu, engravings by Tsukada Shūkyō
(Courtesy of Collection Information – Japanese Swords and Antiques, Tōkyō). Signed as relief in a groove:“Teikoku Nihon Tōkyō-jū Hosoda Fujiwara Naomitsu tsukuru” (帝國日本東京住細田藤原直光造), “made by Hosoda Fujiwara Naomitsu, resident of Tōkyō in the Empire of Japan.” Habaki signed: “Tsukada Shūkyō kore o horu” (塚田秀鏡鏨之), “engraved by Tsukada Shūkyō.”

Pictures 12 and 13 show two pre-Meiji era blades made by Kajihei under his “real” name Naomitsu. The tantō seen in picture 12 is signed “Sōryūshi Naomitsu” (雙龍子直光), and the katana seen in picture 13 is signed “Naomitsu tsukuru – Keiō ni hinoe-toradoshi hachigatsu hi” (直光造・慶應二丙寅年八月日, “made by Naomitsu on a day in the eighth month of Keiō two [1866], year of the tiger”).

Sato1

Picture 12

 

Sato2

Picture 13

Last but not least a couple of tsuba made by Naomitsu. Picture 14 shows an openwork design in the form of an abstracted cart wheel (kawari-guruma, 変り車), and with the slightly raised rim, the radiating file marks, and the deliberately rough surface finish in places, the tsuba draws stylistically from the Hōan (法安) and Yamakichibei (山吉兵) schools.

Kajihei10

Picture 14: Tsuba by Kajihei, signed “Naomitsu” (直光).

The tsuba shown in picture 15 is a Nobuie-style work by Kajihei. It has a mokkōgata, radiating file marks, a disconnected kikkō pattern, an irregular and prominently folded-over rim, and shows on the obverse characters forming the inscription Tenbutsu wa saki chi ni ari (天物有先「土) which literally translates as “Every gift from the Heavens is in the ground first” and which can be interpreted as “no one is born a master.” Such sometimes cryptic inscriptions are frequently found on original Nobuie tsuba and are thought to reflect the mindset of warriors living through the turbulent Sengoku times, e.g., Un wa ten ni ari (運有天), “Fate lies within Heaven.” What is particularly interesting at this tsuba is that it appears to have been tested with a sword blade, seen in the thin line that goes all across the lower part of the reverse. “Appears to have been tested” because it is very well possible that Kajihei just carved out that element to emulate a test cut, or an actual cut the tsuba has received during a sword fight, although the position and degree of depth of the cut make it hard to believe that the incision is the result of a parried cut and suggests that, in case it is indeed not carved, the tsuba was put flat on a pedestal and tested, with the blade hitting the target first and with its maximum force at the bottom left edge.

Kajihei11.jpg

Picture 15: Tsuba by Kajihei, signed “Hosoda Heijirō Fujiwara Naomitsu” (細田平次郎藤原直光). [From: Sword Guards and Fittings from Japan – The Collection of the Museum of Decorative Art, Copenhagen 2, Kodansha 1983]

eBook Black Friday/Christmas Sale

Black Friday is lurking and Christmas is on the horizon, and so it is time for another eBook Super Sale that gives you 50% off. As usual, it works directly via me (i.e. I’m not going to manually change all the prices on Lulu.com and then change them back when the sale is over). I provide a list of all my eBooks below, showing the regular and the reduced prices. I also linked them so that you can check what the description says but again, DO NOT buy over there at Lulu.com this time. Get in touch with me via “markus.sesko@gmail.com” and pay me directly, either by PayPal using the very same email address or by check or credit card (using the donate button at the very bottom of this page) and I’m going to send you over the eBook. And anyway, if you gave a question, just drop me a mail.

So, grab this chance to fill up your tablets/phones with all references you need. The eBook Super Sale will be up until December 8, and the next one will not come until next easter.

Thank you for your attention!

Akasaka Tanko Roku ….. $8.90 – $4.50
Encyclopedia of Japanese Swords ….. $24.90 – $12.50
Geneaogies and Schools of Japanese Swordsmiths ….. $19.90$10
Genealogies of Japanese Toso Kinko Artists ….. $19,90$10
Identifying Japanese Cursive Script ….. $14.90$7.50
Identifying Japanese Seal Script ….. $14.90$7.50
Japan’s Most Important Sword Fittings ….. $14.90$7.50
Jukken ….. $14.90$7.50
Kano Natsuo I ….. $59.90$30
Kano Natsuo II ….. $59.90$30
Kantei Reference Book – Hamon & Boshi ….. $19.90$10
Koshirae – Japanese Sword Mountings ….. $19.90$10
Koshirae Taikan ….. $59.90$30
Koto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45
Koto Meikan ….. $39.90$20
Legends and Stories Around the Japanese Sword ….. $9.90 – $5
Legends and Stories Around the Japanese Sword 2 ….. $9.90 – $5
Masamune ….. $29.90$15
Masters of Keicho Shinto ….. $19.90$10
Nihon-koto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Nihon-shinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Nihon-shinshinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Shinshinto Meikan ….. $29.90$15
Shinto Meikan ….. $29.90$15
Shinto Shinshinto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45
Signatures of Japanese Sword Fittings Artists ….. $89.90$45
Soken Kinko Zufu ….. $9.90 – $5
Swordsmiths of Japan ….. $89.90$45
Tameshigiri ….. $29.90$15
The Honami Family ….. $19.90$10
The Japanese Toso Kinko Schools ….. $24.90$12.50

German Titles:

Die Honami Familie ….. $19.90$10
Geschichten rund ums japanische Schwert ….. $9.90 – $5
Geschichten rund ums japanische Schwert 2 ….. $9.90 – $5
Koto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45
Nihon-shinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Nihon-shinshinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Shinto Shinshinto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45

 

 

Important Notice

This is an important notice regarding my monthly translations of selected parts of the Tōken Bijutsu magazine for members of the American and European branches of the NBTHK.

At present, I have neither received the September (752) nor the August (751) issue, nor have I received any issue at all this year. So far, I had a workaround, which were the copies sent to Mr. Ogawa here at the museum. However, his last two copies have not yet arrived here either.

Also, some of our dear members were providing me with scans/photos of their copy, which I am truly grateful for! But that said, I do not want that three or four of our members have to “worry” and be at the start month after month about this issue. Or in other words, this workaround can not become – or rather I refuse that this workaround becomes – a permanent solution for this ongoing problem with absent copies of the magazine (and I am not the only one not receiving them on a regular basis).

I am aware of the fact that many of you are participating in the monthly kantei and are eagerly awaiting my translation, especially the German-speaking members, and those who want to double-check with the English translation provided by the NBTHK on their website before mailing their answers. I am very sorry this situation but please understand that the issue is beyond my control. 

At this point I want to state that, as indicated, the translation provided by the NBTHK on their website is not done by me as some members assumed. Mine, done on behalf of the EB and AB, are sent out monthly (and directly) via email for the former, and quarterly (by the AB) via mail for the latter group.

I still have hopes that this problem can be fixed as my new address has been forwarded to Japan in January this year…

Thank you for your understanding.

Breakdown of price for sword blade

 

 

*Updated*

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.

KOZA6_20150101_0273


長サ壱尺五寸壱分
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


金五両弐分之
右之通リ請受取リ
申候処実正也依て
如件 上杉内
三月十四日綱俊「印」

天保子年

東都刀かじ

上杉藩家臣長運斎綱俊受取出

Memo
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).

 

Tsunatoshi2

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

Destructive Sword Testing

In my book on Tameshigiri, I am describing a destructive sword testing session, ara-tameshi (荒試し, lit. “rough testing”) in Japanese. I would like to quote from this passage in my book and introduce two “rough tested” blades from that background that have survived.

It was the 24th day of the third month of Kaei six (嘉永, 1853) when Kaneko Chūbei Haku’on (金児忠兵衛伯温, 1818-1888), the arms and armor officer (bubu-bugyō, 武具奉行) of the Matsushiro fief (松代藩) in Shinano province held his ara-tameshi session at his premises. About 120 retainers of the fief had gathered at Kaneko´s residence. Ten of them were selected to act as witnesses and seven to perform the actual tameshigiri. Also present were two sword polishers (to fix bent blades etc.) and, in case someone got injured by a blade snapping, a doctor.

Arat-Map

Twelve blades were subjected to ara-tameshi that day, and the testing commenced with Tsuge Kahei (柘植嘉兵衛), a naginata teacher, wielding an ara-nie-deki katana by Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤, 1778-1857) made in Tenpō six (1835). Two bamboo sticks were wrapped together and used as the testing object. The circumference of each bamboo stick was about 15 cm. When the blade struck the target, it penetrated about 80%. Obviously, this was not a complete cut. Then a retainer named Saitō Masukichi (斉藤増吉) tested this katana on a piece of metal that was 0.24 cm thick and 9.0 cm wide. The blade broke in two at an area of about 7 to 8 sun (21~24 cm) from the tsuba. The broken edges looked similar to that of an icicle, very brittle. This katana had been considered well made from its outward appearance…

Arat-Naotane

Taikei Naotane

The second blade tested was another a katana by Naotane. This blade had a nioi-deki hamon. It should not break as easily as the first one. After several cuts by Tsuge Kahei on straw wrapped bamboo sticks, a hagire developed and the blade bent. Five other people also tested the katana but none of them could make a complete cut on the straw wrapped bamboo targets. Takano Kurumanosuke (高野車之助) then took over the testing and used the katana to cut a jingasa helmet filled with iron sand. Another bend developed upon the first cut. Two more cuts introduced another hagire. Deer antlers were used as the next target and three cuts were performed. A piece of forged iron was also used for two cuts. This cutting of hard objects produced many hagire. After that, Kaneko Chūbei cut a kabuto with it and another severe bend was introduced. He then used the blade to hit an anvil, seven times on the mune and four times on both sides and the blade broke.

The third, fourth and fifth blades, tested on dry makiwara, were all nagamaki made by Naotane. They all bent and hagire developed after several cuts. The hagire on the 5th nagamaki, which was additionally tested on deer antlers, caused a big chunk break out of the cutting edge . However, the test continued and the blade was used to hit an anvil, three times with the mune and two times with both sides, and although it had this big opening, it just bent and did not break. Incidentally, these five blades by Naotane were made for the armory of Matsushiro Castle, i.e., they were not special order blades. As only the first blade “survived” the ara-tameshi test in a proper manner, Naotane blades were treated with suspicion amongst bushi for many years.

The sixth blade tested that day was a katana by Tatara Hirokazu (多々良弘一), a contemporary smith who worked for the Matsushiro fief. It was used to cut a piece of forged metal and the blade broke. The seventh blade was also a shinshintō, made by a smith named Asahi Kiichi (朝日喜市). It broke when cutting a kabuto. The eighth blade was a kotō nagamaki and the ninth was a kotō katana from the northern Ōshū region. These two were only tested on straw wrapped bamboo. The first performed well but the second bent strongly. Blade number ten was an unsigned Ōsaka-shintō katana. It was used to cut an ō-sukashi tsuba made of shibuichi with a thickness of 1 bu 3 ri (~ 4 mm). The blade broke in two upon impact at the monouchi section. The 11th blade was a katana by Tanenaga (胤長), a student of Naotane. A hagire developed after three cuts on the body section of an iron armor covered in leather. Thus, the crowd took away from that session that the brittleness of Naotane´s blades had been passed on to his student.

Arat-Masao

Yamaura Masao

The twelfth and last blade was a katana made by Yamaura Masao (山浦真雄, 1804-1874). Like the Naotane above, it had a hamon hardened in ara-nie-deki. Now an ara-nie-deki was neither the strength nor corresponded to the style of Masao but it is recorded that such an interpretation was dictated by the Sanada (真田) family, the daimyō of the Matsushiro fief, upon the entrance examination for every smith seeking to be employed by them. Side note: Masao was eventually employed by the fief five years later, i.e., in Ansei five (安政, 1858). By the way, Masao was present at that cutting session and it is said that he wore a white kamishimo under his regular kamishimo because in case his blade failed, he would have taken off the regular kamishimo and committed seppuku on the spot.

The Masao blade was used to cut wrapped straw eleven times and each cut went about 80 – 90% through the target. Secondly, bamboo staffs were used for six cuts. Each cut penetrated 70 – 80% through the target. Thirdly, an old piece of iron that was 0.3 cm thick and 2.12 cm wide was used as a cutting target. The piece of old iron was cut in two pieces upon a single stroke of the sword. In the fourth step, deer antlers were used for six cuts. The fifth test conducted was to cut straw wrapped bamboo twice and the cuts went in about 60%. Then two cuts were executed on a jingasa filled with iron sand, an old iron , and a shibuichi-tsuba. For next three tests, again a shibuichi-tsuba, a piece of forged iron and a kabuto were each cut once. The blade bent upon hitting the kabuto but was straightened with an iron hammer, and the crowd was amazed that this blade had not yet broken. So far these tests were for testing the cutting ability and durability, but now it was time for the final destructive test phase. For that an iron bar was used to hit the mune seven times and a munegire developed. In the final test, the same iron bar was used to strike each side six times and the mune was used to hit an anvil thirteen times. The munegire became bigger upon the last test. The side of the blade was then used to hit the anvil three times and the blade finally broke in two. This demonstration showed how well Yamaura Masao´s blade withstood the harsh tests. It is said that they also had a nioi-deki blade by Masao ready to be tested next, but after they saw that his work in ara-nie-deki, which, as mentioned, did not even correspond to his preferred forging technique, did so well, it was decided that there was no need to test the other blade. And the very next day Masao received orders from the fief´s karō elder Sanada Shima (真田志摩) for one hundred nagamaki as Naotane´s had to be replaced…

 

Arat-Takase

Takase Ukō Shinkei testing a blade on a makiwara. Please note that he is using a kiri/tameshi-tsuka as introduced here.

Well, Naotane’s reputation was rehabilitated later by the publisher, author, hobby swordsmith, and swordsman Takase Ukō Shinkei (高瀬羽皐真卿, 1853-1924), who learned at a tameshigiri event that the Naotane blade he had at his disposal at that day actually cut pretty good – 8/10ths into a makiwara – and was not anywhere near of breaking at all.

In any case, the blades that I would like to introduce are shown below. They are both works of Naotane and were handed down within Sanada family, although they are not the ones used for the 1853 ara-tameshi session.. The first one, see below, is dated Tenpō six (1835) and is made in the Sōshū tradition. As you can see, the cutting edge has suffered pretty badly but the blade appears to be still pretty much usable, and is probably even restorable to a certain extent.

Arat1

The second blade, shown below, is interpreted in the Bizen tradition. Here too, the cutting edge took some hits but it appears that apart from that, a nasty hagire had developed in the monouchi area, and maybe another one somewhat down (if I interpret that vertical line at the bottom of the oshigata correctly).

Arat2

 

Attempt of Retracing a Career

Compiling my Swordsmiths of Japan, I tried, as best as I could, to avoid double listings. That is, in case a smith had changed his name at some point in his career, I list him with both names, but with one entry referring to the other, the main entry, trying so a “cleaner” and not so confusing approach. For example, the smith Terukado (照門) had signed in early years with the name Kanekado (兼門) and so I have listed him both as Kanekado and Terukado, but with the former referring to the latter as follows:

Yuki1

Fade-out Effect: https://www.tuxpi.com/photo-effects/fade-image

I was only doing this, however, with open-and-shut and straightforward cases, and not when it was unclear if we are indeed speaking about one and the same person. Or, simetimes I did list a smith twice when, for example, he signed for many years with one name and then for as many years with another in order to better distinguish his most common signature variants.

I was once again reminded of that procedure when doing research on a tsuba in the collection of The Met, shown in picture 1 below, which is signed: “Nobuie” (信家) on one, and “Mosu Chikushū-jū Nobukuni Yukikuni” (模筑州住信国行国) on the other side, which translates as: “Copying/emulating Nobuie, Nobukuni Yukikuni, resident of Chikuzen province.”

 

Met6Picture 1: Tsuba, H. 3 1/2 in. (8.9 cm); W. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm); thickness 1/8 in. (0.3 cm); Wt. 4.3 oz. (121.9 g); Accession Number 36.120.105; The Howard Mansfield Collection, Gift of Howard Mansfield, 1936.

 

As the more experienced realize right away, and as obviously stated in the mei, we have here a late Edo period Nobuie copy. Such copies and homages were very popular at that time and were produced by many renowned tsuba makers, swordsmiths, and armorers alike. For example, by master Naotane’s son-in-law Jirō Tarō Naokatsu (次郎太郎直勝, 1805-1858) and by numerous craftsmen from the Myōchin School.

So who was Yukikuni? As stated in the very signature of the tsuba, he was a member of the Chikuzen-Nobukuni School which had been thriving on Kyūshū since the beginning of the Edo period and their first generation Yoshisada (吉貞, ?-1640) who counted himself as twelfth generation Nobukuni after the famous Nanbokuchō-era founder of the same name.

Checking the meikan, we learn that Yukikuni’s real name was Nobukuni Mataza (信国又左), that he had studied in Edo with master Suishinshi Masahide (水心子正秀, 1750-1825), and that he died in the first year of Keiō (慶応, 1865) at the age of 77, which calculates his year of birth as Tenmei eight (天明, 1788). Knowing that the late Edo period Chikuzen-Nobukuni School was widely branched, I was checking for the maker’s family environment and realized that his name is also featured in the entry for Chikuzen-Nobukuni Shigekane (重包). Not the famous mid-Edo Shigekane from the same school who was one of the winners of shōgun Tokugawa Yoshimune’s (徳川吉宗, 1684-1751) sword making contest, but the later local Shigekane of the same name.

In Shigekane’s entry we read that he bore the first names Mataza (又左) and Matasuke (又助), that he was the son of Shimomura Shinpachi (下村信八) and got adopted (as a heir) by the 19th Nobukuni generation Yoshikiyo (吉清), that he studied with Suishinshi Masahide during the Bunka era (文化, 1804-1818), and that in Tenpō seven (天保, 1836), he was employed by the Kuroda family (黒田), receiving three fuchi (an annual stipend for the support of three persons). The Kuroda, by the way, were the daimyō of the Chikuzen Fukuoka fief (福岡藩) for which the Chikuzen-Nobukuni School worked. In Ansei three (安政, 1856), the fief granted him permission to work independently and in Man’en one (万年, 1860), his payment was increased by one fuchi. The death register of the Ankoku-ji (安国寺) where he is buried lists his posthumous Buddhist name as Honrai Tanken (本来鍛剣). Such names usually refer to the profession or to important stations in the life of the deceased, and this is totally true in this case because Honrai Tanken means lit. “swordsmith by nature” or “forging swords was innate to him.”

Interestingly, Shigekane is listed as having used numerous different names as a craftsman, namely Sadakuni (定国), Masayoshi (正義), Hisakuni (久国), and Yukikuni (行国), and as Shigekane is recorded as having died in the first year of Keiō as well, at the same age of 77, it appears that he and Yukikuni were indeed the same person.

That said, and on the basis of referenced dated works, I was able to chronologically trace these name changes as follows: His Shigekane mei is listed with an existing date of Bunka five (1808), the Masayoshi mei with Bunsei two (1819), the Sadakuni mei with Bunsei seven (1824), the Hisakuni mei with Tenpō eight (1837), Tenpō 13 (1842), Kaei four (1851), Kaei six (1853), and Ansei two (1855), and his Yukikuni mei with Ansei six (1859) and Bunkyū one (1861).

With this information, the following preliminary scenario comes to my mind. Nobukuni Mataza started his career by signing with the name Shigekane (重包), maybe in admiration of his famous local predecessor of the same name. Then some time between 1804 and 1808 he studied with Suishinshi Masahide from whom he received the Masa character, changing his name so to Masayoshi (正義). Then, for reasons unknown and at some time in the early Bunsei era (1818-1830), he changed his name to Sadakuni (定国). The Tenpō seven (1836) employment by the fief resulted in the name change to Hisakuni (久国) and at the latest in Ansei six (1859), he had changed his name one more time, and that is to Yukikuni (行国). The smith was already 71 years old at that time and so it suggests itself to link that last name change to a retirement. However, the meikan list his Yukikuni name with an 1861 dated blade, so he was still making swords at the age of 73 (and four years before his death). Well, we are already in daisaku-daimei territory here, but there was another incident that happened around this time, and that was the early death of his successor Sadakuni II (二代定国) on the 14th day of the eighth month of Ansei five (1858). Sadakuni II only lived to the age of 32. So maybe this stroke of fate triggered his name change to Yukikuni? However, Mataza had already signed with Hisakuni for more than twenty years at that time. That is, a possible stigma to the Sadakuni name due to the untimely death of his successor may be ruled out as the smith had not used this name for more than thirty years at that time.

 

Yuki4

Picture 2: Blade signed “Nobukuni Minamoto Hisakuni – Tenpō hachinen hachigatsu hi” (信国源久国・天保八年八月日) – “Nobukuni Minamoto Hisakuni, on a day in the eighth month of Tenpō eight (1837)”

 

As far as references are concerned, I could not find any oshigata or blade with his Shigekane, Masayoshi, or Sadakuni mei. Only very few Hisakuni signed blades (see picture 2 above or here), and the Yukikuni mei on the tsuba introduced here. Thus, it appears that his Hisakuni phase was his most productive one. Please note that in order to avoid repetition – there are two Kuni characters in his mei – the artist signed the first one, the one in Nobukuni, in a different manner as the second one, the one in Yukikuni. This is also the case on the tsuba, although the mei doesn’t come out that well on the quick shot I took of the piece with my iPhone.

A Kyōto Collaboration

In view of the upcoming Met’s exhibition Kyōto: Capital of Artistic Imagination, organized by Diane and Arthur Abbey Assistant Curator of Japanese Decorative Arts, Monika BincsikI would like to introduce a tsuba that will be on display and that can be described as joint project between three persons from Kyōto’s large pool of culturally involved figures. Fortunately, we know about this sword guard’s genesis from provenance research carried out by Fukuda Kenryū (福田顕龍), a sword scholar from the mid to late 1800s. Fukuda recorded his finds on the lid of the wooden outer storage box of the tsuba, which made it into the collection of The Met as well (picture 2).

Kentoku1Picture 1: Tsuba by Umetada Shigeyoshi (36.120.124); Diam. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm); thickness 3/16 in. (0.5 cm); Wt. 6.6 oz. (187.1 g)

Kentoku2Picture 2: Outer wooden storage box of the tsuba. Transcription of the inscription below.

板倉防州侯御好
劔徳御刀鐔

板倉防州侯京兆尹多里ぬひし時石丈山翁
尓請く劔徳の二字を書しめそれを埋忠重
義して鐔能両面へ摹彫し作良志めぬふ所
即ち此散里その梅忠と銘き斗るゆへは埋忠
の文字は武州尓盤き天忌る尓こそ字訓乃散
近きを毛てかく期ん切しめぬふとそ斯る
佳好の殊品散ら耳高士能筆の跡名
ユ乃傑作尓阿 散斗盤并せく古れを
三絶と云んも可ちよと聊爰尓出記しぬ
辛酉冬日 福田顕龍

On the outside of the box (picture 2, left) we read: “Favorite ‘Sword and Virtue’ katana-tsuba of Itakura, Lord of Suō province.” The inscription found on the inside (picture 2 right) translates as follows:

At the request of Itakura, Lord of Suō province, while Shogunal Deputy in Kyōto, Umetada Shigeyoshi designed this guard on which are written two characters – “Sword” and “Virtue” by the master calligrapher Seki Jōzan. It is said that Umetada (埋忠) (literally “burying fidelity”) was changed to Umetada (梅忠) (literally “plum loyalty”), the former being considered a taboo in Edo and the latter being of the same pronunciation yet very good in meaning. Because of its quality, its calligraphy by a famous scholar, and its name/character changing, this guard is outstanding in three different ways.
A winter day in the year of the rooster (1861), Fukuda Kenryū

With this information given by Fukuda, I want to elaborate on the participating figures and the historic context of this tsuba. First the artist, Umetada Shigeyoshi, who signed his work the following way: “Umetada Shichizaemon Tachibana Shigeyoshi saku” (梅忠七左衛門橘重義作), “made by Umetada Shichizaemon Tachibana Shigeyoshi.” Shigeyoshi, who was active in the mid-1600s, belonged to a family which had worked for many generations, i.e. since the early 1400s, for the family of the Ashikaga Shogun. Their initial profession was that of sword and yari (spear) smiths but later they also specialized in adding engravings (horimono) to sword blades and in the production of habaki, seppa, tsuba, and fuchigashira. Apart from that, the Umetada were responsible for the shortening of blades and adding, via a gold inlay, a sword blade’s appraisal performed by the Hon’ami (a family of sword appraisers and polishers to the Shogun). The greatest Umetada master war Myōju (埋忠明寿, 1558-1631) who worked at the beginning of his career for the 15th and last Ashikaga Shogun Yoshiaki (足利義昭, 1537-1597), then for Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and later as an independent artist, being thoroughly taken up in the art world of Kyōto.

Next person in this trio is Itakura Shigemune (板倉重宗, 1586-1657) (picture 3) who is referred to by Fukuda as by his honorary title “Lord of Suō Province.” Incidentally, Shigemune’s actual title was that of Suō no Kami (周防守, Governor of Suō) which Fukuda chose to quote in an alternative manner, Bōshū kō (防州侯, Lord of Suō Province), but which transports the same meaning. Also, Fukuda refers to Shigemune’s title of Kyōto Shoshidai (京都所司代), Shogunal Deputy of Kyōto, by its Chinese equivalent Keichō no In (京兆尹, Chinese Jīng zhào yǐn). (Note: When Japan replicated China’s then more advanced political system in the 8th century AD, the offices, posts, and ranks received Japanese names but the original Chinese names never became entirely obsolete. By the Edo period, people from the world of art and culture started to use the Chinese names again as they were now considered to sound more poetical than the by then antiquated and starchy sounding Japanese names.)

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Picture 3: Itakura Shigemune

Shigemune had participated in the Battle of Sekigahara (1600) and in both the Winter and the Summer Campaigns of Ōsaka (1614~1615) and took over the post of Kyōto Shoshidai from his father Itakura Katsushige (板倉勝重, 1545-1624) in 1620 who had held that office since 1601. Shigemune took his job as Shogunal Deputy of Kyōto very seriously and was praised by men from all ranks for his impartiality and fairness in the lawsuits he oversaw as a judge. Some of the important tasks of the Kyōto Shoshidai were to maintain good relations between the Shogunate and the Imperial Court, to ensure the personal security of the Emperor, and to act as a liaison between the Imperial Court and daimyō who requested access to it for whatever reason. Shigemune held this post for more than thirty years and when he retired in 1654 at the age of 68, Makino Chikashige (牧野親成, 1607-1677) was named Kyōto Shoshidai, whose Sekiyado fief (関宿藩) Shigemune then took over two years later. Incidentally, Shigemune was so thorough in his job that when he realized he was going to leave office with five difficult lawsuits open on his desk, he wrote guidelines on how to best handle them and handed these over to Chikashige when he retired. Unfortunately, Shigemune became ill three months after taking over Sekiyado and died a few weeks later at the age of 71.

This brings us to the third associated person, Ishikawa Jōzan (石川丈山, 1583-1672) (picture 4), whom Fukuda refers to as by his abbreviated name Seki Jōzan. As stated above, Jōzan did the calligraphy of the two characters which Umetada Shigeyoshi transferred to the tsuba. The characters ken (劔), “Sword,” and toku (徳), “Virtue,” are executed in a powerful manner, occupying the entire and otherwise undecorated iron ground plate of the piece whose rim is set off via a circumferential carving.

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Picture 4: Ishikawa Jōzan.

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Picture 5: Calligraphy by Jōzan.

The calligraphic style seen on the tsuba is referred to as “flying white” (hihaku, 飛白) and was one of the preferred styles of Jōzan. It was created in the 2nd century AD in China and its poetic name alludes to the streaks of white, i.e. paper, that the forcefully but swiftly applied brush leaves behind. An example of Jōzan using this style can be seen in picture 5 which shows the calligraphy Matsukaze (松凮), “(Sound of) the wind through pine trees,” designed for being used as a henkaku (扁額), a framed picture or motto hung over gates or lintels. Please note how skillfully Umetada Shigeyoshi recreated the “flying white” effect via golden accents on the silver inlay. Now the interpretation via hihaku is as bold as it is direct and effective, with the two characters chosen unambiguously alluding to the “model samurai” who lives by the sword but who uses such in a virtuous manner.

Ishikawa Jōzan so to speak knew what he was talking about and the very two characters were not chosen randomly, but more on this aspect later. Jōzan was born into a family of samurai who served for generations that branch of the Matsudaira (松平) family of which Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged. Being taught martial arts by his great uncle, Jōzan managed to become a close retainer of Ieyasu by the age of 15, fighting for him subsequently in the Battle of Sekigahara and in the Ōsaka Campaigns, as Itakura Shigemune did. However, in the second, the summer campaign against Ōsaka, Jōzan attacked the enemy before the official command to do so had arrived, an act that Ieyasu did not condone, especially as Jōzan was such a close and trusted retainer of his. So, Jōzan ended up as a rōnin, a masterless samurai, either by choice or by being dismissed by Ieyasu.

Jōzan secluded himself for the following couple of years and studied Confucianism with the Neo-Confucian philosopher Fujiwara Seika (藤原惺窩, 1561-1619) but then his mother became ill and so he went into the service of the Asano (浅野) family as a tutor. When his mother passed away thirteen years later, he asked for permission to retire from his post but which was not granted and so Jōzan left Hiroshima, the fief of the Asano, on his own to return to Kyōto and to return to his secluded life. In 1641, he erected the Shisendō (詩仙堂) temple in the northwest of Kyōto, on the southwestern slopes of Mt. Hiei, where he spent his remaining years writing calligrapy and poetry and studying Confucianism and the Chinese classics until he died in 1672 at the advanced age of 90 (according to the Japanese way of counting years of life).

This brings us back to the reason for why the characters in question were chosen for the tsuba. At the time when Itakura Shigemune was Kyōto Shoshidai and Ishikawa Jōzan immersed himself in his studies, we are talking about the early and mid-1600s, Neo-Confucianism was thriving. The humanistic and rationalistic philosophies of Neo-Confucianism left it “up to man to create a harmonious relationship between the universe and the individual” (Craig, Edward, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Volume 7; Taylor and Francis 1998) and were thus well suited as a general guideline for the then still relatively new Tokugawa Shogunate to formulate its principles. Shigemune had experienced first hand the birth, the initial difficulties, and the eventual stabilization of the Tokugawa Shogunate through Neo-Confucianism, paired with cementing the samurai as the ruling class of the country. Therefore, it is no wonder to see him choosing the characters “Sword” and “Virtue” written by a Confucian-scholar-turned-samurai to be banned in a bold manner on his tsuba. That said, I would like to add a fourth layer of interest to the three qualities pointed out by Fukuda, and that is the aspect of the tsuba providing us a glimpse into the formation of the Tokugawa Shogunate and warrior principles which became later known as bushidō (武士道), “The Way of the Warrior.”

One of the former owners of this tsuba must have realized its contextual value, quoting here from Stephen V. Granscay’s essay The Howard Mansfield Collection – Japanese Sword Furniture from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 1937:

The Umetada School, whose work ranks high in the eyes of Japanese, is exceptionally well represented […] The name of Shigeyoshi, who was among the most distinguished masters of this school, appears on eight guards. One of them was evidently considered a treasure by its former Japanese owner, as it has been fitted into a lacquered box protected by a deerskin case and enclosed in a plain wooden box. The psychology of such care is interesting and reflects the importance of the piece.

 

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Picture 6

Picture 6 above shows that storage ensemble. On the bottom the tsuba in the leather-padded lacquered inner box, on top the green dyed deerskin case, and to the left and right the outer wooden storage box with its inscribed lid.

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Picture 7: John La Farge

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Picture 8: Howard Mansfield

Granscay also states in this essay that the tsuba “was one of the masterpieces in the collection of the late John La Farge, sold at the American Art Galleries in 1911.” La Farge (1835-1910) (picture 7), an American painter, muralist, and stain glass window maker, started to collect Japanese prints in the late 1850s and 1860s and had them flow into his art. Incidentally, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Schools, a series of educational programs established by The Metropolitan Museum of Art to provide vocational training in the late 19th century, hired La Farge in 1892 for holding advance courses for students in New York City. The tsuba eventually ended up in the collection of Howard Mansfield via whom it came into the possession of the Museum in 1936, partly by purchase from the income of the Rogers Fund and partly as a gift of Howard Mansfield himself. Mansfield (1849-1938) (picture 8) was a lawyer, collector, and for thirty years trustee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and became its first acting curator of Asian art until a staff curator – Sigisbert Chrétien Bosch Reitz (1860-1938) – was appointed in 1915. In the Bulletin of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Volume XXXII, Number 1, January 1937 we read that altogether 488 pieces of Japanese sword furniture came into the possession of The Metropolitan Museum of Art this way, “the most notable gift of its kind ever received by the Museum.”

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Picture 9 above shows the preliminary setup for the tsuba (plus three others) in the exhibition, and it is really nice that the angled wedge brings out the shine of the inlaid character. (picture 10).

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Picture 10: Top left (Umetada) Hisanori (久法), top right Kaneie (金家), bottom left the tsuba introduced here, bottom right Bairyūken Kiyotatsu (梅龍軒清辰).