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.

Forgotten Masters – Haruakira (治剣)

Sometimes you come across a wonderful work by an obscure maker who has either fallen through the cracks of historic swordsmith recording (such an unrecorded smith is referred to as meikan-more, 銘鑑漏れ), or who appears to have been an one-hit wonder. Of course, the earlier the maker, the more difficult it is to make assumptions on his output and on how many of his works have been lost over time.

This time, we are talking about a work by a smith with the name Haruakira (治剣), which likely many of you have never heard of. To begin with, I would like to introduce one of his extremely rare works, a wakizashi, which has passed Jūyō in 1997.

Wakizashi signed: Chōshū Haruakira saku – Ōan yonen sangatsu hi (長州治剣作・応安二二年三月日) – “Made by Haruakira from Nagato on a day in the third month of Ōan four (1371).”

The blade is in hira-zukuri, has a mitsu-mune, a wide mihaba of 3.05 cm, a nagasa of 35.0 cm, and a hint of sori. Thus, we have here a typical hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi from the mid-Nanbokuchō period. The kitae is a prominently standing-out itame that is mixed with mokume and towards the mune with nagare-masame and that features ji-nie and much chikei. The hamon is a gently undulating notare-chō in nie-deki that is mixed with gunome, togariba, kinsuji, sunagashi, and many ashi. The elements of the ha are relatively small dimensioned and the nioiguchi is rather subdued. The bōshi is midare-komi and displays a Jizō-style kaeri on the omote, and a pointed kaeri on the ura side. Kinsuji and hakikake appear on both sides in the bōshi and the kaeri connects with the muneyaki, which runs all the way down to the mune-machi. The nakago is ubu, has a ha-agari kurijiri, katte-sagari yasurime, and bears anaga-mei and date.

In the write-up of the Jūyō paper, the NBTHK mentions that the workmanship bears strong resemblance to the style of the Sa (左) School, but showing more rustic hataraki in the jiba, although being overall of a bold make and of an excellent deki. Now, the similarities to the Sa School is logical for geographic reasons, i.e., Nagato, the westernmost province of Honshū and present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture, was only separated from Chikuzen province (present-day Fukuoka Prefecture) by the narrow Strait of Shimonoseki (and a little bit of Buzen province). In addition, several Sa School smiths had migrated to Nagato over time. The vertically compressed signature, i.e., cramped looking signature, however, also bears some resemblance to the mei of the Hasebe (長谷部) Scool. Whilst we are talking about the signature, please note that Haruakira signed the second character of his name, akira (剣), in the variant (剱).

Kōzan Oshigata

Well, this Jūyō blade was the only work by Haruakira that I was able to find in my references. Interestingly, it is featured in the Kōzan Oshigata (光山押形), which was compiled in the late 17th to early 18th century. Since the time that source was compiled, the second mekugi-ana had been enlarged. Please note that although the signature is fairly faithfully copied, the Kōzan Oshigata got the date wrong. That is, one stroke for the month was overlooked by Hon’ami Kōzan (本阿弥光山, 1634–1714) and therefore the second (二月) instead of the third month (三月) was written into the oshigata. Compared to the rest of the signature, which is fairly faithfully copied as mentioned, the entire part of the month and day is noticeably off. Maybe Kōzan did not pay much attention to the lesser important parts of the date here?

So, Haruakira was a swordsmith from the middle to somewhat later Nanbokuchō period based in Nagato province who was likely related to the Sa School. This is as much as we can say about this maker. When we look into the meikan, we find two more Nagato smiths with this name: A Haruakira who was active around Eishō (永正, 1504–1521), and another one who was active around Keian (慶安, 1648–1652). It therefore appears that local swordsmiths revived that name, in both cases roughly 150 years after their predecessor.

I was not able to find works by any of the later two Haruakira either, but one blade of the Eishō-era smith is featured in the Tsuchiya Oshigata (土屋押形), which was compiled from existing oshigata taken by Tsuchiya Harunao (土屋温直, 1782–1851). The blade appears to be a katateuchi-style uchigatana, which became increasingly popular around the time that Haruakira was active, and features tobiyaki and very prominent muneyaki. The yobiyaki, however, look a bit “disorganized,” and if you zoom in on the habuchi, it looks like that the ha is nie-laden. Interestingly, this Haruakira used the character (釼) instead of (剱) for the character akira (the difference is in the left-hand radical).

From the Tsuchiya Oshigata.

*

I would like to conclude by reflecting on the local historical context. With the exception of the influx of Sa School smiths around the mid-Nanbokuchō period and of Niō (二王) School smiths migrating from neighboring Suō province throughout the 15th century, Nagato province never had been a notable production center for swords. It is interesting to observe that the meikan do not list any Nagato smiths before the Nanbokuchō period. This is insofar odd as the Kamakura Shōgunate installed a local commissioner in Nagato (Nagato Tandai, 長門探題) in 1276 to oversee coastal defense after the Mongols had invaded two years prior. Seems as if this did not have any impact on local sword production, meaning that the troops employed there were likely sourcing their swords from other provinces (or merely brought them with them).

That spike in Nagato sword production around the mid-Nanbokuchō period is very likely linked to the Ashikaga campaign against Kyūshū that took place at that time, and that increase in recorded Nagato-based smiths throughout the 15th century likely to the then expansion of one of the local rulers, the Ōuchi (大内) family. The low number of recorded Nagato smiths throughout the subsequent Sengoku period suggests that local samurai were sourcing their swords once again from elsewhere.

Now, the continued lack of significant numbers of Nagato swordsmiths during the Edo period might be explained by the background of its rulers, the Mōri (毛利) family. Due to their allegiance to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu transferred them from their lands in Aki province to Nagato once he had won Sekigahara, which came with a significant decrease of annual income. In a nutshell, the Tokugawa remained suspicious about the Mōri, ranking them tozama daimyō (外様大名, lit. “outside daimyō), and the Mōri held a grudge against the Tokugawa until the end of the Edo period. Accordingly, and despite the fact that military infrastructure already greatly suffered in Nagato due to the decreased income, it is safe to assume that the Tokugawa did not want to see a major weapons production site operating down there. However, the Mōri boosted local tsuba production, resulting in a myriad of makers and works, referred to as Chōshū-tsuba (長州鐔, named after the Chōshū fief that the Mōri were ruling) that reached every nook and cranny of Japan.

I hope I did not go off too much on a historical tangent and I want to continue this “Forgotten Masters” series whenever I come across such in course of my research.

Naotane’s odd aging habit

The famous shinshintō master Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤, 1778–1857) needs little introduction, but I would like to briefly recap his career before I come to the actual topic of this post.

Born in An’ei seven (安永, 1778) (some sources say An’ei eight) in Yamagata (山形) in Dewa province (present-day Yamagata Prefecture) into a family of blacksmiths that produced agricultural tools, Naotane, his real name was Shōji Minobei (荘司箕兵衛・庄司美濃兵衛), felt destined for greater things. Accordingly, some time towards the end of the Kansei era (寛政, 1789–1801), he left his home town for Edo to study with the arguably most famous swordsmith at that time, Suishinshi Masahide (水心子正秀, 1750–1825). We do not know who or if someone arranged this apprenticeship, but maybe it had helped that Masahide was originally from Dewa province as well.

Portrait of Naotane he had commissioned with a certain Takada Enshū (高田円洲) at the age of 72. It had remained with the Shōji family until it was unfortunately destroyed in the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake.

Naotane learned fast as he had entered his teacher’s forge with existing skills from his upbringing as a blacksmith, and so he was able to become independent in Kansei 13 (1801) at the young age of 23. Naotane married the daughter of a charcoal wholesaler, how practical, and moved several times (one time he lost his house due to a fire that had ravaged the Kanda district).

In Bunka nine (文化, 1812), and through the agency of his former teacher Masahide, Naotane was employed by the Akimoto (秋元) family, which ruled, until 1845, the Yamagata fief in Dewa province, and then the Tatebayashi fief in Kōzuke province. For the time being, Naotane worked from Edo, receiving the honorary titles of Chikuzen Daijō (筑前大掾) around Bunsei four or five (文政, 1821~1822), and that of Mino no Suke (美濃介) in Kaei one (嘉永, 1848), when he proceeded to Kyōto to present the aristocratic Takatsukasa family (鷹司) with a tachi.

Naotane’s fame grew and his outstanding skill allowed him to produces blades in any style, although his main artistic focus were the Bizen and Sōshū traditions. Naotane not only trained almost as many students as his teacher Masahide, he travelled extensively all over Japan and instructed local smiths in many of his temporary working locations. Naotane married his daughter to his best student Jirō Tarō Naokatsu (次郎太郎直勝, 1805–1858), who had been sent to train with him by the Tatebayashi fief and who later took over the workshop as Naotane’s official successor. Naotane died in the fourth year of Ansei ( 安政, 1857) at the age of 79. He is buried at the Honnen-ji (本然寺) in the Asakusa district of Edo/Tōkyō.

*

Now to the actual topic. As surely most of you know, some swordsmiths and sword fitting makers inscribed certain works with the age they were when producing it. This practice is known as gyōnen-mei (行年銘). Naotane was one of these swordsmiths, and he started to add gyōnen-mei to some works from the age of 50 onwards.

In many cases, inscribing one’s age was often linked to an auspicious occasion, for example, turning 61 being celebrated as Kanreki (還暦), turning 70 as Koki (古希), turning 80 as Sanju (傘寿), and, very auspicious, turning 88 as Beiju (米寿). There are even more special birthdays after the age of 90, but such ages were rarely reached in post-modern times. Thus, such “milestone birthdays” if you will were seen as a starting point to inscribe one’s age to a work on a regular basis, although we also know fairly many cases where artists inscribed gyōnen-mei in their late teens, twenties, thirties, etc.

Another issue that we have to take into consideration is the different way age was counted in Japan. That is, up to some time after WWII (in practice; rendered obsolete by law in 1902), the Japanese used a method referred to as kazoedoshi (数え年), which started with the age of 1 when being born and which incremented on New Year’s Day. For example, if you were born, let’s say on October 12, 1818, you were 1 year old and turned 2 “suddenly” on Jan 1, 1819 (using the Gregorian calendar here for demonstration purposes). This way of counting then continued for the rest of your life, i.e., you turned 3 in this case on Jan 1, 1820, and not on your actual birthday October 12.

Back to Naotane. As mentioned, he started to inscribe gyōnen-mei at the age of 50. When he was 74, however, something happened as all of a sudden, he upped his age by one year. That is, in Kaei five (嘉永, 1852), when he was 74 kazoedoshi years old, he inscribed certain blades with “made at the age of 75.” He continued to do so throughout Kaei six, seven, and Ansei two (安政, 1855), but in the very same year of Ansei two, when he was actually 78 kazoedoshi years old, he occasionally upped his age by two years even, inscribing certain blades with “made at the age of 80.”

Left: Wakizashi dated Ansei two and inscribed “made at the age of 79” and right a wakizashi dated Ansei two and inscribed “made at the age of 80.” Both blades are Tokubetsu-Hozon.

This oddity is referred to as kirō-heki (喜老癖). I am not 100% sure about the reading, so I chose a standard Sino-Japanese reading for the term, which may best be translated as “habit of greatfully accepting one’s old age,” or “habit of being delighted about one’s old age.” Incidentally, I was only able to find this term in connection with swords and sword fittings, not Japanese art in general, but want to do more research in the future. Also, I am not sure if this term was coined in reference to Tang dynasty Chinese poet Bái Jūyì (白居易, 772–846) as Jūyì left a poem with the title Lǎnjìng Xǐlǎo (覧鏡喜老, Japanese: Rankyō Kirō). In this poem, 64-years-old Jūyì looks into the mirror and is delighted about having avoided premature death and having become that old.

Anyway, once again back to Naotane. Now why did he do this kirō-heki thing? Well, we do not know for sure, but there are several hypotheses. One speculates that something must have happened at age 74 when he used kirō-heki for the first time. That is, maybe he got sick and worried that he won’t life to 76, the age his teacher Masahide died, whom he greatly admired, but whom he also tried to surpass. Another one puts forward that Naotane may have tried to leave a legacy through his works of living a long life, which may also explain the “double jump” to 79 when he was 77 years old. In other words, when people will come across such a work in the future, and not knowing when he was actually born, they might admire that the smith had enjoyed a particularly long life. Or it is nothing more than a playful wish of, or encouragement for the artist to reach these ages when inscribing them on certain works (Occam’s razor may favor this approach). By the way, there exists a blade which is dated “on a spring day in the year of the snake of the Ansei era (1857).” This blade is inscribed with the kirō-heki “made at the age of 80,” so only a one year jump again. Naotane died on the 27th day of the fifth month that very year, so this blade can be considered as one as his last works.

Blade dated with a spring day in the year of the snake of the Ansei era and inscribed “made at the age of 80.” The blade is Jūyō.

Wrapping up this post, I would like to point out that Naotane was not the only artist who used kirō-heki (I had mentioned sword fittings earlier). There exists a tsuba by the first generation Niwa Norisuke (丹羽則亮, 1781–1852) which is inscribed “made at the age of 72” when the artist had actually died at the age of 71. In addition, there exists a tsuba by Tsuchiya Kunichika (土屋国親, 1788–1852), which is dated Kaei three (嘉永, 1850) and which is inscribed “made at the age of 66.” In Kaei three, Kunichika was actually 63 years old, so we are facing here a considerable kirō-heki jump of three years. Kunichika seems to have used that (at least) three-year-jump several times as the Kinkō Jiten (金工事典) mentions that works inscribed “made with the age of 68” even if the artist had died at the age of 65.

Tsuba by Tsuchiya Kunichika dated Kaei three and inscribed “made at the age of 66.”

 

Why? Trying to connect the dots…

As some of you know, identifying obscure motifs and solving demanding inscription puzzles is one my fortes. Sometimes, however, you have to throw the towel, or put the issue on the back burner for a while. I would like to introduce such a case here.

Tsuba, signed: Shihō Hōen isshi horu (紫峰芳園作逸士鐫) – “Carved by the hermit Shihō Hōen.” Gift of Mrs. George A. Crocker (Elizabeth Masten), 1937 (38.25.48).

 

To be clear, it is not about the motif of the object in question, which you will see is relatively easily identified. It is about the inscription. Now, we are talking about a tsuba in the collection of The Met. It is a work of Ōkawa Teikan (大川貞幹, born 1828) and depicts the elderly couple of the auspicious Nō play Takasago (高砂). With broom and rake, the couple (seen in a print below) sweeps the area under a pine which is referred to as Takasago Pine, after the town of the same name located in present-day Hyōgo Prefecture. This pine is paired with the Suminoe Pine growing in distant Suminoe (住之江), present-day Ōsaka, and together the two trees are called Aioi-no-matsu (相生の松 , Wedded Pines or Paired Pines).

Except for little more than an indicated shore line, the reverse of the tsuba is undecorated. However, it bears the following inscription, which I have difficulties with bringing in line with the depicted motif:

絶以鳳皇山下路穐風無際海波寒
Taezu Hōōzan no shimoji sude ni, shūfū wa musai, kaiha wa samui. [Reading uncertain, corrections welcome.]
“The shadowy road under the Phoenix Mountain, where the autumn winds are endless and the sea waves are cold.”

This inscription is actually a poem, which goes back to the hand of Chinese poet Yuán Hàowèn (元好問, 1190–1257). And this is where the mystery starts. How is this old poem connected to the Nō play Takasago? Is it at all? Why is it inscribed on this tsuba?

Yuán Hàowèn (元好問, 1190–1257)

Now, the above mentioned poem is actually half of one of two couplets in which Yuán Hàowèn references, in his own words, to a humble painting of pines in the wind. Maybe that’s it, i.e., Ōkawa Teikan using Yuán Hàowèn’s half couplet referring to pines as a reference to the Paired Pines in the Takasago play? I do feel, however, that this explanation attempt might be too far-fetched. That is, although references and allusions are highly sophisticated in Japanese art, I think that Taikan using that half couplet, which does not even have pines in it, as starting point for you to connect the dots and arrive at Yuán Hàowèn preface, and this being the reference to pines is just one step too much if you know what I mean. Also, although Yuán Hàowèn’s poems were fairly popular during the late Edo period, the two couplets in questions are buried in an anthology of Hàowèn’s works that consists of 45 volumes, the volume in question alone containing more than 200 poems. So, we are not talking about THE lines that Hàowèn is most famous for. In addition, there are far more famous poems by Hàowèn that reference pines.

Another approach of explaining this conundrum would be to see if Yuán Hàowèn is known for a long and loving marriage, or being separated from his wife as that is the major theme of the Takasago play. Well, Hàowèn had an eventful life, but again, he is not THE symbol of long-standing marriage or of a husband being separated from his wife. However, practicing due diligence, I want to do more research in this direction.

The next approach would be talking the poem literally, that is, is the play Takasago known for a shadowy road, fierce autumn winds, and/or cold waves? Not really, I would argue. Well, in the play, a priest does travel by sea from Takasago to Suminoe (see map), but there is no mention of rough seas or of particularly cold temperatures. In the opposite, the play is set in pleasant spring weather. So, I would rould out this approach for the time being.

Last approach, for now: Maybe the artist, Ōkawa Teikan, just had a fondness for Yuán Hàowèn and was well familiar with his poetry? Or, his client was, and had Teikan engrave that very poem on the tsuba? Well, we will very likely never be able to confirm any of that, if it is the case at all.

This is where it stops, for now, and if I ever find out what the context here is, I will post a follow-up of course.

The Kabutowari-Kanesada (甲割り兼㝎)

The Kabutowari-Kanesada (甲割り兼㝎), lit. “Helmet Splitter Kanesada,” is a work of the famous late fifteenth and early sixteenth century Seki smith Izumi no Kami Kanesada (No-Sada) (和泉守兼㝎), by whom dated works from Meiō two (明応, 1493) to Daiei six (大永, 1526) exist.

Picture 1: Wakizashi, kiritsuke-mei: Shu Andō Denjū – Kono saku Izumi no Kami, Umetada kore o ageru (主安藤伝十・此作和泉守 埋忠上之) – “Owner Andō Denjū, work of Izumi no Kami, shortened by the Umetada.” Nagasa 52.9 cm, sori 1.2 cm, kasane 0.45 cm, katakiriba-zukuri, mitsu-mune.

The first recorded owner of the blade, Sakazaki Dewa no Kami Naomori (坂崎出羽守直盛, 1563–1616), is said to have split a man’s helmet with one hand with this sword, whereupon it was nicknamed “Helmet Splitter” accordingly. Legend has it that Naomori did it because he was so angry about not being allowed to marry Lady Sen (千姫, 1596–1666), the eldest daughter of Shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada (徳川秀忠, 1581–1621). When Naomori was about to capture Lady Sen before her upcoming second marriage, his plan was revealed and he was killed by her groom’s men, or committed seppuku as others say.

Picture 2: Sakazaki Naomori
Picture 3: Lady Sen

In any case, after Naomori’s death. the blade ended up in the possession of Andō Denjūrō Sadatomo (安藤伝十郎定智, 1586–1636), a retainer of Tokugawa Hidetada. For whatever reason, Sadatomi commissioned the Umetada family with shortening the blade to its current length of 52.9 cm and having his name recorded on the newly shaped tang. After Sadatomo, the blade was owned by hatamoto and tea master Taga Sakon Tsunenaga (多賀左近常長, 1592–1657).

Picture 4: Sakai Tadakatsu

Sakon sold the Kabutowari-Kanesada, and another wakizashi, for 200 ryō to Shōnai daimyō Sakai Tadakatsu (酒井忠勝, 1594–1647). After that, the blade remained a heirloom of the Sakai until Tadakatsu’s descendant, eleventh and next to last Sakai daimyō Tadazumi (酒井忠篤, 1853–1915), presented it to the famous “last true samurai” Saigō Takamori (西鄕隆盛, 1828–1877) when visiting Satsuma for military training at the young age of seventeen.

Picture 5: Sakai Tadazumi
Picture 6: Saigō Takamori

After Takamori’s death, the blade was passed onto Takamori’s son, Marquis Toratarō (西郷寅太郎, 1866–1919), and grandson, Marquis Kichinosuke (西郷吉之助, 1906–1977). Although a Member of the House of Lords from 1936 to 1947, a Member of the House of Counsilors from 1947 to 1971, and serving as Minister of Justice from 1968 to 1970, Saigō Kichinosuke had amassed a debt of about 400 million Yen (~ $3.6 million) by the late 1960s and had to sell most of what was left from his grandfather Takamori’s estate, incuding the Kabutowari-Kanesada and many other fine swords. The current whereabouts of the blade are, to my knowledge, unknown. As always, any input is welcome.

Picture 7: Saigō Toratarō
Picture 8: Saigō Kichinosuke

HONMA’S QUESTIONS #1

In 1972 and 1973, Tōkyō Shuppan (東京出版) published a “couplet” of books, titled Kunzan Tōwa (薫山刀話, “Kunzan’s Sword Talk”) and Kanzan Tōwa (寒山刀話, “Kanzan’s Sword Talk”) respectively. The books contain a collection of articles/thoughts/insights by Honma ‘Kunzan’ Junji (本間「薫山」順治, 1904–1991) and Satō ‘Kanzan’ Kan’ichi (佐藤「寒山」貫一, 1907–1978), focusing on kotō swords in case of Honma, and shintō/shinshintō swords in case of Satō, following thus the corners to which these two great sword scholars were often boxed into.

So last summer, I re-read both books and remembered vividly when I first “read” that final chapter in Honma’s edition twenty years ago or so, the chapter that addresses sixteen “topics for future Nihontō research.” Well, back then, I was in my early 20s and had studied Japanese for less than four years at that point, so it actually took me a while to work through that chapter (that’s why I put “read” in quotation marks in the previous sentence). Being young, however, I was positive that I was going to solve all these questions in no time, and some more. Well, life, work, and first of all reality caught up with me pretty quickly, and whilst I was laughing at my young self re-reading that chapter last summer, I realized that actually not that many of these topics have been properly addressed, let alone been solved in the fifty years since the book came out. Spoiler alert: At some point, we are just running out of references and have to work with what we have, and chances are getting smaller and smaller over the decades for new groundbreaking material (objects/documents) to magically surface. However, you never know, as seen here and here from a few years ago.

Going forward, I would like to introduce these “future topics” as I think they might be of interest, and maybe the one or other feels encouraged to dig deeper into one of these issues. Before we continue, I should say that I take the liberty to introduce them on the basis of my personal interest, and that they will be dispersed with other articles. In other words, this will not be a chronological A–Z, but a once in a while approach. Also, because I wanted a snappier title, I chose “Honma’s Questions” for the series. Easier than “Honma’s Topics for Future Nihontō Research.” In addition, topic-wise, there is some overlap with Volume 10 of the Shinpan Nihontō Kōza (新版日本刀講座, 1970, 1997), but I want to address these question at another time.

Anyway, let’s start.

Kamakura Period Kajihei – History of Forgeries and Improving Kantei

Honma starts this chapter by stating that the history of sword forgeries is an old one and that already the Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi (観智院本銘尽), a manuscript which contains sword knowledge from the end of the Kamakura period and which we have access to today via a copy from Ōei 30 (応永, 1423), mentions in the entries on Bungo Yukihira (行平) and Ko-Aoe Tsunetō (常遠) that forgeries of these smiths are in circulation.

I checked the manuscript and found the two entries in question, which I would like to show here as a reference. In case of Yukihira, the comment is written towards the bottom edge of the book and is a bit difficult to read, but it should be: ōku nisemono ari (おゝくにせ物あ里), “a lot of forgeries exist.” In case of Tsunetō, the comment is: mata nisemono ari (又にせ物あ里), “also forgeries exist.”

Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi comment on Yukihira (w/ detail).

Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi comment on Tsunetō (w/ detail).

Furthermore, the entry on Yukihira contains another interesting comment on forgeries: nisemono wa mei o yoku utsu nari (にせ物ハめいをよくう津奈り), “forgeries have a nicely cut mei.” That is, Yukihira blades with a nicely cut mei should be treated with caution as the authentic signature are chiseled in a more powerful and unaffected, yet elegant manner, which makes them appear more unsophisticated at first glance.

Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi comment on the signatures of Yukihira forgeries (w/ detail).

Next, Honma mentions that, if he remembers correctly, the Nōami Hon Mei Zukushi (能阿弥本銘尽) from the mid-Muromachi period (imprint of Bunmei 15 [文明, 1483]) lists the Yamato smiths Yukiyoshi (行吉) and Nobuyuki (信行) as “smiths who made forgeries” (nisemono kaji nari, にせ物鍛冶なり). I checked that source as well and yes, it is the Nōami Hon Mei Zukushi, although Yukiyoshi and Nobiyuki are listed in the Yamashiro, not the Yamato chapter. In any case, Honma continues by assuming that on the basis of this entry, these Kamakura period smiths may have been specialized forgers, just like the Bakumatsu and Meiji era Kajihei (鍛冶平) was, about whom I have written about here.

In my Swordsmiths of Japan, the following two smiths, who are interestingly enough listed as having been active around the very same time, might come into question:

YUKIYOSHI (行吉), Bun ́ei (文永, 1264-1275), Yamashiro – “Yukiyoshi” (行吉), he lived in Yamashiro ́s Kushige (櫛笥)

NOBUYUKI (信行), Bun ́ei (文永, 1264-1275), Yamashiro – “Nobuyuki” (信行)

Checking the Nihontō Meikan, however, I found a somewhat earlier Yukiyoshi, whom I have not listed. The Nihontō Meikan dates him around Jōō (貞応, 1222–1224), states that he either lived in the Ayanokōji or the Nishikikōji neighborhood of Kyōto, and that he is said to have been a producer of so-called Shibatsuji-mono (柴辻物). This is insofar interesting as Shibatsuji-mono is a period term for mass produced swords (kazuuchi-mono) coming out of the Shibatsuchi neighborhood of Kyōto since earliest times. This might hint at an overlap with the tradition of him also mainly making forgeries.

The Nōami Hon Mei Zukushi states in the entry for Awataguchi Kunitsuna (粟田口国綱) that there is “rumor that the Kunitsuna blade worn by Ashikaga Yoshinori (足利義教, 1394–1441) is a forgery,” and in the entry for Ichimonji Sukemune (一文字助宗), it is mentioned that there are forgeries of his blades which are engraved with a chrysanthemum crest that is deliberately finished to look as if it was polished down. In the chapter on Sagami smiths, the Nōami Hon Mei Zukushi mentions that as Masamune (正宗), Sadamune (貞宗), and Hiromitsu (広光) have become so famous that “many forgeries of their works are in circulation” and that therefore close attention should be paid to the jihada and yakiba of questionable blades. This entry, by the way, is another evidence that contradicts the theory that the swordsmith Masamune is fictionary and was invented in the Momoyama period.

So, Honma concludes that the existence of these entries suggests that forgeries must have been a widespread issue as early as in the Kamakura, Nanbokuchō, and Muromachi periods. He continues by stating that often judging the authenticity of a signature can be quite difficult and that even if a signatures has been examined before, and the work thus been evaluated, there is always room for refinement in the assessment, even if we are talking about jūyō-bunkazai, jūyō-bijutsuhin, and jūyō-tōken levels, some of which he would like to re-examine again. Note: Honma does not address tokubetsu-jūyō here because this NBTHK level was only introduced the year before the book was published. Also, he refers to the jūyō-bijutsuhin Ko-Naminohira Yukimasa (行正) tachi at this point, which is dated Heiji one (平治, 1159) and which is the oldest dated Japanese blade in existence, but whose mei and date he admits to probably not being legit, or at least needing further study.

Jūyō-bijutsuhin, tachi, signed: “Yukimasa Heiji gannen hachigatsu futsuka – Kuniyasu” (行正平治元年八月二日・国安) – “Yukimasa, on the second day in the eighth month of Heiji one (1159) – Kuniyasu (presumably the then owner of the sword).”

Honma then stresses that the availability of reference material has very much improved in the recent decades and that even just before WWII, scholars only had a fraction of what is available today to work with, i.e., from Honma’s perspective in the early 1970s. That is, Honma defends his predecessors by saying that this lack of references does not diminish their expertise and states, borrowing a concept from Sumō wresting, that working today with easier accessible material is more like the humble experience of defeating a senior in the ring who had trained you for many years.

The section then continues with Honma pointing out that no one is able to write characters the very same way each time and that this is true for smiths chiseling their names onto the tangs of their swords as well. In other words, the ductus and overall characteristic style must be taken into consideration, rather than focusing on a single stroke and basing your judgment of whether a blade/mei is authentic or not just on that detail. “Always look at the blade itself too,” Honma repeats the old mantra, and says that he very much tried to live by this rule, although occasionally he admits, there comes along a mei that looks alright, but the blade looks nothing like the name that is on that tang…

Honma then briefly addresses the order of inspecting a blade. Some, he says, just take a quick look at the mei and then go right over to study the blade, but it is rather recommended to look at the blade first and at the mei last. However, he adds, in recent years, some are skipping the entire “blade part” and are judging the authenticity of a sword by solely looking at the mei. Honma concludes by stating that it is vital to properly assess the position/appearance of a signature in relation to the entire tang. He mentions that there is the saying of “this mei really fits well,” meaning that it matches the overall finish, age, and patina of a tang and has so to speak “calmed down together with the tang.” Gimei often have not “calmed down” and may even stick out like a sore thumb. Coming back to the Yukimsa blade that is dated Hōji one, Honma says that it is an example of a mei that has “calmed down” and that is thus in harmony with the appearance of the tang, which means reading between the lines, that if this mei is indeed gimei, it must be a very early one, possibly contemporary or close to the blade’s production time.

*

So, what to do with all of this? Well, I definitely want to dig deeper into the issue of early forgers by studying in depth, again, all the period documents, and I will keep you posted about interesting finds. In other words, and although this may sound too ambitious, I actually want to translate all these period documents in full, and as per today, I am about three quarters through the Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi already, which I tackled first for chronological reasons. So, stay tuned. Maybe also an entire book on gimei is overdue, but this is a double-edged sword, because it does not matter how often you state that information provided is just a guideline and that objects have to be examined in hand and/or submitted to Shinsa for authentication, people will take everything at face value and complain endlessly about decisions they made on the basis of the book…

Hasegawa Katsuaki (長谷川克明)

This will be another microhistory-style article, focusing on the life of one of the last Owari-based tsuba makers, Hasegawa Katsuaki (長谷川克明).

Portrait photograph of Hasegawa Katsuaki, holding a tsuba he made in his right hand.

Katsuaki was born as Itō Kakichi (伊藤嘉吉) in Tenpō eight (天保, 1837) in the village of Kamimura (上村) (present-day Ena City, Gifu Prefecture) in Mino province and became an apprentice as a tsuba maker with his uncle, the second generation Norisuke (則亮, 1817-1883), who was based in Nagoya in Owari province. We do not know in which year his apprenticeship started, but as all sources point out, in unison, that he studied with the second and not also with the first generation Norisuke, his studies must have started after the first generation’s death in Kaei five (嘉永, 1852). Incidentally, his uncle, the second generation, was from the Itō family and from Mino province too, and although there is some ambiguity about his exact relationship to the first generation, it is commonly believed that he was the first generation’s son-in-law and that he was adopted as successor as he later went by his master’s family name Iwata (岩田). So, it appears that Katsuaki, the third generation of that lineage, the so-called Futagoyama (二子山) lineage, had started his training some time after Kaei five and the age of 15 (or 16 according to the Japanese way to count years of life).

After he mastered his craft and left his uncle’s workshop, Katsuaki was employed by the Owari-Tokugawa family as part of the sword and sword fittings section (o-koshimono, 御腰物) which was associated with the fief’s office of chamberlain for clothes, furniture, and household items (o-nando, 御納戸). Again, we do not know exactly when this employment took place, but we can narrow it down between him finishing his apprenticeship, let’s say after at least three years of study, which would be in 1855 at the earliest, and the end of the feudal area in 1868 of course. It is said that it was around this time when Katsuaki got his nickname Tanka (鐔嘉), which is a merger of his profession, tankō (鐔工, tsuba maker), and his first name, Kakichi (嘉吉). By the way, his position with the o-koshimono section not only meant to just make tsuba, it also came with the task of appraising such and other sword fittings, plus being involved in the procedure of picking tsuba and sword fittings for koshirae. In other words, if you are a samurai of a certain rank, you make an appointment with your local o-koshimono to assist you with things like having a new tsuba or having a sword newly mounted and the like, and if you are the daimyō or a rōjū elder, you call for the o-koshimono to come to your place to advise you on all of the above of course.

Then, as everybody knows, the Meiji Restoration took place and its abolishment of the feudal system and samurai class caused a collapse of the market for newly produced swords and sword fittings. Accordingly, Katsuaki, now in his early thirties, had to change gear and was now also making ornaments, e.g., for tobacco pouches, etc.

However, coming out of a prior employment by the Owari-Tokugawa family, which has also taken over many of the local government/administrative posts after 1868, was surely a plus on your CV. So, on January 24, 1879, and within the new system of ranks of government officials, Katsuaki received the First Rank (ittō, 一等) of the lowermost, so-called “also-ran offices” (tōgai, 等外) of the Meiji government, then subordinate to the local district chief (kochō, 戸長), in this case, to the Chief of the Hinode District (日出町) of Nagoya in which Katsuaki lived at that time (previously, he had lived in the Uguisudani [鶯渓] neighborhood of Nagoya). I apologize for the cumbersome wording of the last sentence, but, believe me, the system of Meiji-era government officials and civil servants is difficult and changed quite a lot over the years. In any case, that First Rank post of that lowermost office only came with a monthly wage of around 10 Yen, which calculates to an annual “salary” of ~ $3,120 today, which means you definitely have to do something else to survive.

On January 15, 1882, Katsuaki was made head of the Office of Ornamentation and Decoration of the Greater Nagoya Area, and although this “promotion” surely came with a significant raise in annual income, I was unable to locate any specific figures within the time frame allocated for researching this article. So, if I come across these figures, I will surely post an update on this issue later.

By 1913, Katsuaki became ill and died on August 6 that year at the age of 77. He is buried at the Nichiren Shō’on-ji (照遠寺) temple which is located in the Higashi Ward of Nagoya, and his posthumous Buddhist name is Seiryūsai Kokumei Nichinō (青龍斎克明日能), which is formed from his art name () Seiryūsai (青龍斎), the Sino-Japanese reading Kokumei of his craftsman’s name Katsuaki, and the Nichiren name Nichinō given to him by the chief priest of the temple.

After Katsuaki’s death, the atelier was run by his first son Katsunao (克直), real name Hasegawa Kikujirō (長谷川菊次郎), and his second son Ichibōsai Shunkō (一望斎春江), real name Hasegawa Takesaburō (長谷川竹三郎, 1878-1944). The former died young, however, and the latter then focused more on metal work for the tea ceremony and jewelry than on tsuba, starting so a new lineage under the brand name Ichibōsai (一望斎). The second generation Ichibōsai was Shunkō’s son Shunsen (春泉) who was succeeded by his second son Shunkō (春洸), real name Hasegawa Takejirō (長谷川竹次郎, 1950- ), as third generation Ichibōsai. With this, I would like to conclude by saying that Takejirō and his wife Mami (まみ, 1946- ), who had studied with her father-in-law Shunsen, are both renowned metal artists and are still based in Nagoya.

*

Why is he posting mostly stuff like that and is not writing about kantei and blade characteristics lately, you might ask. Well, to be honest, my focus of interest has shifted a bit in the last few years. At this point, moving forward in my journey through the world of Japanese arms and armor, I am really eager to tell stories like this and give these artists and craftsmen a face. In this sense, if someone has a work by one of the artists and craftsmen in their collection I am writing about, and can see it in a new light, maybe even appreciate it more after reading my humble posts, I would be very much delighted!

Another mysterious placeholder…

This is a brief “follow-up” on the article I posted earlier in September here. Looking for something completely different, as always, I came across another example of a strange “placeholder” character in a signature on a tsuba.

This time, it is a square with cross, or ballot box with x, ☒, followed by the name of the artist, Yoshiyuki (美之). As it is just one character, I am hesitant to interpret it as an art name (). Rather, it seems to be more likely that it either stands for a one-character clan name, e.g., Tachibana (橘) or Minamoto (源), or for a one-character family name, maybe the family name (田) by just turning the inner X by 45 degrees?

In their No. 39 spring 1995 special sales catalog Nihontō – Genzon no Yūhin (日本刀・現存の優品), Tōken Shibata speculates that this ☒ could represent the masu crest (枡紋). However, this crest is a box with a single line inside that goes from the bottom left to the top right edge (see picture below).

As for the artist, Yoshiyuki, there is not much info available on him. Haynes lists one using these very characters, and, strangely, there is a reference to an unidentified character as well (see picture below), although in an art name and not just to a single character. So, I don’t think it is a save bet to assume that we are talking about the same artist here and see this reference to an unidentified character as a mere coincidence.

Short post as mentioned, and for now, I am interpreting the signature as “Den Yoshiyuki” (田美之).

Chūmon-mei: An example with interesting historic context

Well, this will be another dry and rather history-heavy post, and comes with a few open questions. So, if you are more into blade characteristics and backgrounds on schools and smiths, you might want to skip.

Before we begin, I need to clarify I few terms. The sword I am going to introduce in this article is not only signed and dated by the smith, but also bears the name of the person who ordered it in its mei. Such an inscription is referred to as chūmon-mei (注文銘) or tame-mei (為銘), chūmon meaning “order” and tame meaning “for.” The blade itself may be described as chūmon-uchi (注文打), lit. “custom made,” but this term comes with some ambiguity, or “historic baggage” if you will. That is, this term was explicitly coined to differentiate mass produced Sue-kotō blades, kazuuchi (数打), from custom made Sue-kotō blades. Also, a chūmon-mei or tame-mei is not the same as a shoji-mei (所持銘). The term shoji-mei refers to the name of any owner (Japanese shoji, 所持) of a blade being inscribed on the tang, i.e., “any owner” (shoji-mei) vs. “initial owner who actually placed the order for the sword with the swordsmith” (chūmon-mei or tame-mei).

So, let me start with an oshigata of the blade in question and a translation of its signature.

Wakizashi, signed: Dewa Daijō Fujiwara Kunimichi – Genna gonen jūnigatsu hi, Shu Ōhashi Shōsetsunyū Shigemasa (出羽大掾藤原国路・元和五年十二月日、主大橋松節入重政) – “Yamashiro Daijō Fujiwara Kunimichi, on a day in the twelth month of Genna five (1619), for Ōhashi Shōsetsunyū Shigemasa.” Jūyō-tōken, nagasa 31.4 cm, sori 0.4 cm, motohaba 3.3 cm.

The maker, Dewa Daijō Kunimichi, needs little introduction, but I would like to briefly recap the career of this master. Kunimichi was born in Tenshō four (天正, 1576) and it is believed that he initially trained with the Mishina smith Iga no Kami Kinmichi (伊賀守金道, ?-1629). Around Keichō 14 (慶長, 1609) and being in his early thirties, he refined his craft by studying with master Horikawa Kunihiro (堀川国広, 1531-1614), whose arguably best student he became, and some time between Keichō 18 and 20 (1613-1615), he was given the honorary title of Dewa Daijō. We do not know when Kunimichi died, but there exists a blade dated Meireki three (明暦, 1657) that is inscribed with the supplement “made at the age of 82” (Note: Japanese way of counting years of life), and supposedly one that is dated Kanbun two (寛文, 1662) when he would have been 87 years old. At this age, most masters were merely overseeing the forge and had students doing most of the actual work, except from hardening and signing, although that was very often left to the students as well. Due to this very long active period, the theory has been forwarded that there were two generations Kunimichi, with the second generation succeeding under that very name around Jōō (承応, 1652-1655) (although Satō Kanzan sensei was opposing this theory, just FYI).

And this, ladies and gentlemen, brings us to the actual topic of this article, the ordering client of this blade. As stated in the mei, the blade was made for a certain Ōhashi Shōsetsunyū Shigemasa (大橋松節入重政, more on that pen name Shōsetsunyū later), and to let the cat out of the bag right away, Ōhashi Shigemasa certainly did not order that blade himself as he was a tender innocent toddler at that time, being born in Genna four (元和, 1618) and the blade being finished in the twelfth month of Genna five (1619), as stated above.

This brings us, inevitably I would say, to his father, Ōhashi Shigeyasu (大橋重保, 1582-1645), who had an interesting career throughout the Momoyama and early Edo period. As mentioned, this will be a history-heavy post. Who was Ōhashi Shigeyasu? Well, first of all, he was born into a samurai family that served the Miyoshi (三好) clan. His father Shigeyoshi (重慶) died in the Battle of Komaki and Nagakute fighting on the side of Hideyoshi’s nephew Hidetsugu. Shigeyasu was just two years old at that time and so he was put in care of his aunt. Six years later, in 1590, Hidetsugu thought that the eight-years-old Shigeyasu (Note: This was pre-genpuku, so he did not bear that name yet. His childhood name was Katsuchiyo, 勝千代) should get a proper education, so he had him enter the Nanzen-ji (南禅寺) where he was taught by monk Ishin Sūden (以心崇伝, 1569-1633). Ishin was quite a figure in then Japanese politics, but introducing his actions would be beyond the scope of this article, so I just link to his Wikipedia page here.

Now this three-years training with Ishin marked a vital point in Shigeyasu’s career as he was introduced, among calligraphy and other things, to the world of fine arts. After that, it appears that he returned to his family, and when Hidetsugu died in Bunroku four (文禄, 1595), Shigeyasu went into the service of Katagiri Katsumoto (片桐且元, 1556-1615) who then “commuted” between his lands scattered over the provinces of Settsu, Ise, and Harima.

Then in 1598, Hideyoshi died, and two years after that, Ieyasu won Sekigahara. However, the Toyotomi were not yet off the political scene and Katsumoto had become the chamberlain of their household. Shigeyasu remained in his service for the time being until he was appointed yūhitsu (右筆, samurai who was responsible for the management of records and documents) of Hideyoshi’s son Hideyori (豊臣秀頼, 1593-1615) in Keichō 17 (慶長, 1614). In other words, Shigeyasu was now in charge of the Toyotomi archive, but only very briefly as he left his work place, Ōsaka Castle, the same time Hideyoshi’s widow and Hideyoshi’s mother, Yodo-dono (淀殿, 1567-1615), kicked Katsumoto out of the castle under the suspicion of siding with the Tokugawa. You all know what happened next, Ōsaka Castle was besieged, and finally fell in 1615, which resulted in the disbanding of the entire Toyotomi family.

So, Shigeyasu found himelf as a rōnin, but he acted in a proactive manner, went to Edo in Genna three (元和, 1617) and submitted the request of being exonerated and willing to serve within the new Tokugawa bakufu. As he was well-educated and respected in the fields of calligraphy and everything document-related, his request was granted, he was made hatamoto under Tokugawa Hidetada (徳川秀忠, 1579-1632) and given lands around the villages of Kugenuma (鵠沼村) and Ōba (大庭村) in Sagami province which earned him an income of 500 koku. In addition, he also became Hidetada’s yūhitsu, a post which he also fulfilled for Hidetada’s successor, the third Tokugawa Shōgun Iemitsu (徳川家光, 1604-1651).

Things went well for Shigeyasu, but he became ill in Kan’ei ten (寛永, 1633) and had to hand over his post of yūhitsu first, and the ownership of the Ōhashi lands the year after to his son Shigemasa, the person whose name is mentioned on Kunimichi’s blade if you remember. Before we come to Shigemasa, let me briefly recap the final years of his father’s life. Even after retiring, and having entered priesthood under the name Ryūkei (龍慶), Shigeyasu remained a close confidante of the Shōgun and was given an income-yielding “retirement estate” in Ushigome (牛込), then located in the north-eastern corner of Edo’s outermost moat. In Kan’ei 18 (1641), on the occasion of his 60th birthday, Shigeyasu paid for restoration work done to the Konda-Hachimangū (誉田八幡宮) in Kawachi province, the family shrine of the Ōhashi and located where the family originated from. Three years later, Shigeyasu donated parts of his sword collection to the shrine (the entire donation consisted of 36 objects and contained items other than swords as well). He died the year after, in Shōhō two (正保, 1645) and at the age of 64.

With this, we shall return to his eldest son and heir, Ōhashi Shigemasa. As mentioned, he was born in Genna four (1618), the year before the blade introduced here was made. His father taught him calligraphy early on (Shigemasa later also learned from the famous calligrapher Shōkadō Shōjō [松花堂昭乗, 1584-1639]), and the two developed their own calligraphic style named Ōhashi-ryū (大橋流). Shigemasa became Tokugawa Iemitsu’s yūhitsu at the young age of 14. Two years later, he already had to succeed his retiring father as head of the Ōhashi family and estates. In Keian two (慶安, 1649), four years after his father had passed, Shigemasa donated nine koku of his annual income to the Kūjō-ji (空乗寺) in Kugenuma, the temple he was then buried in Kanbun twelve (1672) at the young age of 55.

So, back to the sword in question, and a few thoughts. The date the order was placed makes it quite likely that Ōhashi Shigeyasu had approached Dewa Daijō Kunimichi to celebrate the birth of his first born son Shigemasa. Also we have learned that Shigeyasu entertained a decent sword collection, so we can assume that was into swords beyond the mere fact of being a samurai and hatamoto. Thus, it is possible that he had some more blades commissioned, which are either no longer extant or just somewhere out there. In this sense, I would be very interested in seeing other early Edo period blades that bear the name Ōhashi in their mei.

Well, then there is this odd pen name Shōsetsunyū (松節入) in the inscription. At such an infant age, Shigemasa certainly did not use a pen name. So what are we facing here? Disclaimer: I am not 100% about the correct reading of this name/supplement, and away from the library, I could not find any solid leads online. Now there is the term shōsetsu (松節), lit. “pine knot,” which refers to the knot a pine forms after an injury or a pest infection. Medicine made from these knots is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine since earliest time, e.g., to ease joint pain and rheumatism. Then there is also the term setsu-iri (節入り), lit. “entering the time/season,” which marks the beginning of each month on the lunar calendar.

So, does the term Shōsetsunyū/Shōsetsu-iri (松節入) have to be taken literally as “entering the pine season”? Or, with the last character iri (入り) being taken by its other meaning “containing,” should the interpretation be “containing/having pine knots”? Did baby Shigemasa suffer from some kind of (skin) desease and the blade with this explicit inscription was ordered by his father as a form of prayer for recovery? Perhaps, and what I currently tend more towards to, Shōsetsunyū/Shōsetsu-iri is some rare period term that refers to a certain age/passage in an infant’s life, like for example, when the child has survived its first year and has been out of the woods so to speak. Hence, the order for the blade a little bit after Shigemasa was born? Following this approach, the interpretation of the inscription could be: “For Ōhashi Shigemasa, who has entered the ‘pine season’!”

If you are still with me, there is a reason for why I researched and wrote this lengthy post, and that is to point out, once again, how fruitful studying Japanese swords can be, studies which can bring you far beyond just hamon here and jigane there. And, if possible, I am of the opinion that every collector who has a sword with a chūmon-mei or shoji-mei should absolutely research it (or have it researched). It might come with some very interesting insights and historic context as seen here.