KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #4 – Gojô (五条) School

We have arrived at the one and only direct Sanjô offshoot, the Gojô School. According to tradition and as seen in the Sanjô Genealogy presented here, the offshoot was founded by Sanjô Arikuni’s (有国) son Kanenaga (兼永) who lived and worked in the vicinity of Kyôto’s Gojô axis, what earned the school its name. Traditionally Kanenaga is dated around Chôgen (長元, 1028-1037) but what has to be seen in the context of bringing him in about “grandson-distance” to Munechika who, as we know, is traditionally dated around Ei’en (永延, 987-989). Before we continue I have to address an obvious thing, and that is the course of this series. As you can easily see, talking about the early schools – i.e. everything that comes with a “Ko-” prefix (like here Ko-Kyô-mono) – means dealing with a big lack of extant references. So no one can avoid making his or her way, hand over hand, along the very same few blades and matching them as good as possible with the written references (which on top of that differ from each other). Apart from that, the historic references were often written in a rather flowery style and early oshigata were highly subjective copies of a blade’s characteristics. In addition, there had been this “need” among upper (warrior or aristocratic) classes from the earliest times on for having swords by certain famous master in their collection. This lead to many counterfeit signatures and attributions of unsigned blades to famous names which in turn later entered the annals as alleged original references themselves. And when we combine all this, it should be easy to imagine that we are facing a huge hodgepodge of data and it is not surprising that many unsigned blades that are attributed to a certain smith or school do not really match the interpretations of the very few extant signed specimen.


Picture 1: The two “unshakeable” Kanenaga mei; left the jûyô-bunkazai, right the jûyô-bijutsuhin

As for Kanenaga, there are only five signed blades extant, or just two if you rule out the three where only the character for “Kane” is left (at two of them the blade is shortened up to the character of “Kane,” both are jûyô, and at the other one, which is tokubetsu-jûyô, only the “Kane” character is illegible of the niji-mei). The two “unshakeable” ones are designated as jûyô-bunkazai and as jûyô-bijutsuhin respectively whereas they signature differs (see picture 1). The former is signed in an overall somewhat larger manner than the latter and also the lower part part of the character “Kane” (兼) is chiselled in a different manner. The jûyô-bunkazai tachi (picture 2) is slender and has a deep koshizori with funbari and a ko-kissaki. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie, fine chikei, and faint nie-utsuri. The hamon is a ko-chôji in ko-nie-deki with a rather wide nioiguchi that is mixed with ko-midare, ko-gunome, ko-ashi, and kinsuji. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri, nijûba, and hakikake. The tang is entirely ubu and has a kurijiri and one mekugi-ana. The blade has an elegant and very classical shape but again we have here (see chapter on Sanjô Yoshiie) some characteristics that make one think of Bizen, for example the relative large amount of “real” chôji (i.e. not just chôji ashi along a suguha-chô but “actively” protruding chôji tassels), especially along the monouchi where the hamon shows conspicuous ups and downs. So the overall quite sophisticated interpretation of the jiba speaks on the one hand for a later production time, i.e. rather early Kamakura than mid-Heian, but the classical shape and the nijûba along the bôshi which tie the blade to the Sanjô school on the other hand speak for Heian. Thus we maybe meet in the middle, which would be late to very end of Heian.


Picture 2: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei “Kanenaga” (兼永), nagasa 77.1 cm, sori 2.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [owned by the NBTHK, former collection of Kimura Tokutarô (木村篤太郎, 1886-1982)]

I don’t have any information on the jûyô-bijutsuhin so I want to focus on the tokubetsu-jûyô of which the second character is illegible but which is otherwise ubu. Please note that the NBTHK is, as often in such high spheres, careful and gives an attribution to Gojô as there also other Gojô artists active whose names start with “Kane,” e.g. Kanetsugu (兼次) and Kaneyasu (兼安). Well, these smiths quasi only exist on paper as no signed blades are extant by them, but it is true, you just can’t make a straightforward Kanenaga attribution if you are not entirely sure. So the tokubetsu-jûyô (picture 3) also has an elegant sugata with a strong koshizori, funbari, and a ko-kissaki. The jigane is an itame with ji-nie and a faint nie-utsuri. The hamon shows this time not so many chôji. It is a suguha-chô in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-chôji, ko-midare, and plenty of ashi and . The nioiguchi is rather tight but tends to be dull along the monouchi. The bôshi is sugu with a short ko-maru-kaeri.


Picture 3: tokubetsu-jûyô, mei “Kane…” (兼◯), nagasa 77.4 cm, sori 1.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune


Now to Kanenaga’s alleged son Kuninaga (国永) with whom we are facing the very same difficulties. He is listed, as mentioned, as son of Kanenaga but some see him as his younger brother. Traditionally he is dated around Tengi (天喜, 1053-1058) but problem here is that several of Kuninaga’s works even look a hint more classical (i.e. old) than works of Kuninaga. But again, evidence base is very limited. As for “unshakeable” signed Kuninaga works, there are only six known, and within these six, we can make out four different signature variants with experts being in disagreement on the dating or attribution to different craftsmen and/or generations. Let’s start with Kuninaga’s famous work, the imperial treasure (gyobutsu) Tsurumaru-Kuninaga (鶴丸国永) (see picture 4), whose mei makes up one of the four categories by itself. Well, at least most experts agree that the Tsurumaru is not only the best work of Kuninaga but the best of all Ko-Kyô-mono in existence (and some even say that it is the best Yamashiro work of all). The blade is ubu and kenzen, i.e. in perfect condition, what adds to the value of the piece, and shows an elegant sugata with funbari and a deep koshizori that bends down towards the tip. The kitae is a very densely forged ko-itame with fine and beautiful ji-nie and the hamon is a suguha-chô with ko-midare and ko-chôji in thick nioi, plenty of ko-nie, and kinsuji. The bôshi tends to sugu and has a ko-maru-kaeri. So the Tsurumaru shows overall a more sophisticated workmanship than the Mikazuki-Munechika and dates therefore somewhat later.


Picture 4: gyobutsu, tachi, mei “Kuninaga” (国永), meibutsu Tsurumaru-Kuninaga, nagasa 78.8 cm, sori 2.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Category two of the known Kuninaga-mei contains two blades, a tachi that is preserved in the Ise Shrine and a jûyô-bunkazai ken (see picture 5) that was once owned by the tôsôgu expert Kokubo Ken’ichi. Unfortunately, I have no picture of the Ise Shrine blade but want to assume for the time being that the workmanship is similar to that of the ken as also the mei is very similar. My assumption bases on the following two factors: One is the statement of Honma sensei who was of the opinion that the Ise Shrine tachi is the oldest extant signed work of Kuninaga. And the other factor is that we can see a lot of the very classical, “naturally layered” approach of the ha at the ken. This feature can also be seen on the works of Sanjô Munechika what supports an earlier production time. The Ise Shrine tachi is slender and shows a koshizori and a ko-kissaki The kitae is itame that is mixed with ô-hada in places and the hamon is a nie-laden hiro-suguha-chô that is mixed with ko-midare and ko-chôji that comes with a more subdued nioiguchi. The ken shows a noticeable amount of masame along the kitae what makes it kind of yamatoesque. This and the fact that it is, well, an old ken, might add to the subjective “old feel” of the blade and Tanobe sensei assumes that ken had always been forged in a more classical way because making them had a strong religious and ceremonial character and did not leave much artistic freedom or room for trying something new. Apart from that, Tanobe also assumes that the subdued nioiguchi and thus more ancient feeling hamon of the Ise Shrine tachi goes back to a loss of hira-niku and that the hamon might once had been similar to that of the Tsurumaru. And Tsuneishi Hideaki (常石英明), the author of the Nihontô no Kenkyû to Kantei and Nihontô no Kantei to Kansho, even assumes that mei of category two go back to a third generation Kuninaga. Tsuneishi also says that the Tsurumaru-mei dates to the later years of a the first generation Kuninaga.


Picture 5: jûyô-bunkazai, ken, mei “Kuninaga” (国永), nagasa 32.1 cm, ryô-shinogi-zukuri [once owned by Kokubo Ken’ichi]

Also rather classical is the tachi whose mei forms category three. The blade was once a heirloom of the Bizen-Ikeda (備前池田) family and is completely ubu (see picture 6). It is slender, has a deep koshizori that bends down towards the tip, funbari, and a ko-kissaki. The kitae is itame and the hamon is a suguha-chô that is mixed with ko-midare and plenty of ha-nie, ashi and and that turns into a nidan-ba in places, i.e. a two-layered ha that consists (in this case) of a ko-midare-chô with much nijûba that makes it look like as if a “second” ha, a suguha, runs atop of it. Tsuneishi attributes this blade to the early period of Kuninaga.


Picture 6: tachi, mei “Kuninaga” (国永) [heirloom of the Bizen-Ikeda family]

And category four is formed by two blades, a jûyô-bijutsuhin tachi that was once owned by Itô Miyoji (伊東巳代治, 1857-1934) and a jûyô-bijutsuhin tachi that was once a heirloom of the Uwajima-Date (宇和島伊達) family. Tsuneishi says that the mei of this category go back to the second generation Kuninaga and Tanobe suggests that their workmanship can be considered as a kind of precursor of the later Yamashiro smiths, e.g. Ayanokôji Sadatoshi (綾小路定利) and Awataguchi Kuniyasu (粟田口国安). The tachi of Itô Miyoji (see picture 7) has an elegant sugata with some traces of funbari and shows a very densely forged ko-itame with penty of ji-nie and fine chikei. The hamon is a suguha-chô with ko-midare, plentiful of ko-nie, mixed with ko-chôji, and shows many hataraki in the form of yubashiri and repeated ashi especially in the area of the monouchi at the haki-omote side. In addition there are small and faint yubashiri and tobiyaki which run parallel to the ha but not in a continuous manner. The nioiguchi tends to be subdued. The other jûyô-bijutsuhin, i.e. the one from the possessions of the Uwajima-Date family, is suriage and shows the remnants of a relative wide and deeply cut suken on the one, and a koshibi with atop a bonji on the other side. It has a fine ko-itame with some nagare and plenty of ji-nie and yubashiri which tend to form an utsuri over almost the entire blade. The hamon is a nie-laden ko-chôji with many fine kinsuji and the bôshi is like at the Itô Miyoji blade more calm than the rest of the hamon and appears with as midare-komi with a short ko-maru-kaeri. So all in all, these two blades make with their rather flamboyant hamon a more sophisticated impression than the Bizen-Ikeda blade whereupon I don’t follow the approach of Tsuneishi of the latter being a work of a third, and the former two a work of a second generation, although I tend to think (for the time bing) that there was probably more than one generation Kuninaga as the mei and the workmanship show significant differences.


Picture 7: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tachi, mei “Kuninaga” (国永), nagasa 75.4 cm, sori 2.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [once owned by Itô Miyoji]


Picture 8: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tachi, mei “Kuninaga” (国永), nagasa 69.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [heirloom of the Uwajima-Date family]


For a better overview of all this “confusing” information, I have arranged above a large pic with the four mei categories in its center with all the so-far introduced blades connected to them so that you see it for yourself. So click on it, zoom in, and enjoy J. Last but not least I want to introduce a blade that is attributed to the Gojô school, i.e. not differentiating between Kanenaga and Kuninaga, but which is in my opinion insofar important as it forms kind of a link to the Sanjô school. It shows a nie-laden ko-midare that is mixed with ko-chôji, ko-ashi, fine kinsuji and sunagashi, and prominent yubashiri, nijûba and sanjûba (especially along the upper half of the blade) that create this “layered” appearance, although here no longer as ancient looking as at Munechika (but still pretty much classical). For a more detailed write-up and excellent pictures of the blade and its hataraki (highly recommended), please go to Darcy’s page here. That should do it for today and with the next part we are slowly entering Kamakura times when I will talk about the Ayanokôji school.


Picture 9: jûyô, tachi, mumei “Den Gojô” (伝五条), nagasa 68.7 cm, sori 1.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Gendaito Project Update


I just want to give you another short update on my upcoming Gendaito book. As some of you already know via direct correspondence with me, I had to rethink and postpone the project due to an unexpected “setback” when it comes to references. This of course does not apply do those who already and unhesitantly shared their information with me and who offered me further support when the project is entering the final and crucial phase of writing. But I have collected enough so far and kind of started to sort out data a while ago. After finishing my revised Swordsmiths of Japan and taking the info on the gendai guys therein as a basis, I arrived at about 1,100 smiths for the upcoming book. Of course I will not have pictures and reference blades/oshigata for all of them. Also I had to sort out whom to include and whom not and came to the following conclusion: Included will only be smiths whose career (or major part of the career) started after the ban on wearing swords (1876) as there were just too many shinshintô smiths active who were still making swords in the early years of the Meiji era and who I don’t want to include as they really don’t classify as gendaitô smiths. Also I will not include smiths whose career only started after WWII. But there might be some exceptions to these limits. Apart from that, I was experimenting with the layout and came to the conslusion that the book has to be two-part, that means it will consist of a large picture reference part and a part with basic info on those smiths of whom I don’t have any blade pictures of. Both parts will be structured alphabetically and aim of the second part is, as good as possible, not to leave any smith out. So the two pictures below are a very first attempt to see how this all might look like in the end. So to all of the gendaitô collectors out there, there is still enough time to give me feedback and forward me material as the crucial writing phase will not be started for a while. Also please note that in case you send me files, descriptions and further info to “gendaitoproject@gmail.com” (and I would appreciate that everything is going there and not to my regular address), everything is gathered there fore the time being and I will only reply later on to say thank you (and if there are further questions). Oh, and if anybody wants to financially support the preparative work on this project in the form of a small donation, what would be very very much appreciated, there is a humble button at the very end of this site for this 😉 Thank you all for your attention!




The wakizashi

Inspired by an article that appeared in the Tôken Bijutsu about a year ago and on which I will elaborate in the second part of this post, I was once again reflecting on the entire topic of the wakizashi (脇指・脇差). Well, due to the nature of the article, I was first focusing on mere blade lengths and restrictions but as my thoughts were spreading wider and wider, I thought it might be a good idea to write all that down in order to provide a general overview of this sword type. I guess when the term wakizashi is dropped, most of us automatically think of the shorter twin brother of the katana that represents one half of the famous daishô (大小) sword pair. Also many know that the wakizashi emerged sometime during the Muromachi period and that later on, it was so to speak the “maximum” of a sword a civil person was allowed to carry. This is all correct, so nothing has to be set straight right away, but the matter is of course much more complex. First of all, some etymological explanations. In earlier times, especially before entering the mid to later Muromachi period, the term katana (刀) was not referring to the katana as we know it today but to a short, dagger-sized and single-edged blade, or to a dagger in general if you want, and was mostly used as suffix (also with the Sino-Japanese reading ) in a compound term. For example, in historic sources we find terms like koshigatana (腰刀), uchigatana (打刀), tsubagatana (鐔刀), futokorogatana (懐刀), chiisagatana (小サ刀), wakigatana (脇刀), kogatana (小刀), or shôtô (小刀). From the context we often get a pretty good idea about what kind of sword or dagger was meant but many entries are ambiguous, e.g. when a later edition of a work quotes the very same paragraph with a different term than the initial one. The matter is further complicated by the fact that some terms were just used interchangably and that there were no universal dictionaries that defined terms and made their use mandatory, at least not until rather recent times. The first real scientific approaches that tried to put all that together, i.e. doing etymoligical studies and comparative researches of the sources, do not date before the mid-Edo period. So we are entirely relying to context interpretations of the original sources on the one hand, and on the more or less accurate views and interpretations of Edo period experts on the other hand. And with experts I mean that the Edo period scholars who wrote down their definitions were usually not sword but military historians and experts on the warrior class. Also important to note is that when reading their texts, we learn that by the mid-Edo period, that means at a time when the country had seen no larger battle for at least over a century, a great deal of sword and armor knowledge of the past had already been lost as some of them openly admit that they are merely guessing on what certain elements and features were for or how and by whom certain sword forms were worn and used. But we are not entirely groping in the dark, that means due to many many studies we have today a quite decent overview of what was going on in terms of swords for each era.

Actually, it is all not that complicated if you leave aside the Japanese terms for the time being and think in general sword/weapon terms. The pre-Edo period warrior, i.e. we are talking about the times before the big regulations came into play with the Tokugawa-bakufu, had (when it comes to swords) basically the following options: Long sword, shorter side, companion or ersatz sword, and dagger. It was now up to the rank, wealth, social status, field of application of his military unit, occasion, and other factors for what sword or what combination of swords a warrior was going. Over time, different terms came into use to refer to different interpretations and to different fields of application but basically they were all just talking about the one or other of these basic three sword types or sword combinations. All that we have to do is to find out what time, what clientele or wearer (aristocracy, bushi, or civilan class), and what occasion (e.g. battle, ceremony, civil service, private life) we are facing to break down the different terms. So there were approaches to classify these three sword types according to length, or to blade length to be precise, what resulted in the umbrella terms daitô (大刀) for the long sword, shôtô (小刀) for the shorter side, companion or ersatz sword, and tantô (短刀) for the dagger. Others tackled this need for proper naming from the point of view of use and introduced the term honzashi (also pronounced honsashi) (本差) for the the main, the longer sword, and the terms wakizashi (脇指・脇差), wakigatana (脇刀), wakimono (脇物), or sashizoe (差添), for the companion or ersatz sword. Incidentally, it is assumed that the terms wakizashi and wakigatana were actually shorter forms of the term wakizashi no katana (脇差の刀), for example noted that way in the late 14th century epic Taiheiki (太平記) wherein we read that “[when the tip of Fuchibe’s sword broke,] he threw it away and drew his companion sword” (sono katana o nagesute, wakizashi no katana o nuite, その刀を投げ捨て、脇差の刀を抜いて). And as the text is referring to the person in question wearing the other sword in a pocket at his chest, we learn that the ersatz sword was in this case a dagger and not a wakizashi-length companion sword. So as mentioned, we are talking about (more or less neutral) umbrella terms and terms like honzashi or wakizashi do not make clear without context to what kind of sword they are referring to, only that it was either the main or the side/companion/ersatz sword.


Picture 1: Higher ranking samurai wearing an ô-yoroi.

Back to the sword form wakizashi. Companion swords were worn early on to the main sword when going into battle. The main sword had, as far as battles are concerned, always been the tachi (and later on to a certain extent also the uchigatana) and the companion sword was by default a dagger. Please note that I stick to the Japanese way of addressing and also refer to daggers as “swords” in the first place. Well, some bushi opted for longer companion/ersatz swords, occasionally even to go with rather than instead of the initial companion dagger, and it is assumed that the origins of this trend have to be found within the turmoils of the Sengoku era. With all that had happened after things were escalating in Kyôto during the Ônin War, warriors of all ranks were eager not to be caught off guard at any time and have an “as full as possible” ersatz sword in case something happened with the main sword. Let me demonstrate that on the basis of some illustrations as a picture is worth a thousand words. In picture 1 we see the so to speak default armament of a mid to higher ranking mounted warrior throughout all periods. The armor and armor parts changed of course over time so please don’t pay too much attention to details of the armor shown. As you can see, the warrior is wearing a tachi suspended from the belt via two hangers and a companion sword, in this case a koshigatana-style dagger, that is thrusted through the belt. The bow was the main weapon, the tachi was for for attacking and defending at closer ranges (and of course for possible duels), and the dagger was an allpurpose “tool” and used as last resort in hand-to-hand combat and when the tachi was, for whatever reason, not available or applicable.


Picture 2: Warriors wearing companion swords that are conspicuously longer than daggers.


Picture 3: Uchigatana in aikuchi-style mounting intended to be worn thrusted edge-up through the belt as companion sword to the tachi.

Picture 2 now shows about how the Muromachi-period trend of wearing longer side swords had looked like. These swords were pretty much what we understand today of early wakizashi but please note that back then, the term wakizashi was a more neutral one as for example also an uchigatana mounted with a 70 cm long blade could have come under the category of side/companion/ersatz sword. To avoid confusion, it has become custom to refer to these longer swords by their other term sashizoe instead of wakizashi but strictly speaking, something like seen in picture 2 would come, when worn with the tachi, under the category of a wakizashi as it was not the main sword. Well, it is unclear when the term wakizashi became synonymous for companion swords that were in terms of length somewhere in between the main, i.e. the long sword and the dagger but reading between the lines of historic documents and analyzing their context, it seems that this “shift” in meaning took place sometime between the Momoyama and the early Edo period. Probably this was connected to the development of the “civilian samurai uniform” consisting of a kataginu/hakama ensemble and a pair of swords thrusted edge-up through the belt that took place at that very time (please see here for additional information). It was namely then when a quasi more standardized side sword started to form, or in other words, with entering the Edo period and the establishment of the daishô, it was no longer ambiguous to what kind of sword the term “side/companion word” was referring to and so the neutral term wakizashi slowly became the synonym for the smaller companion sword of the sword pair. And with that we are right at where for the first time nationwide sophisticated sword laws were issued.

So with the establishment of the Tokugawa-bakufu, the Tokugawa government regulated now very strictly all swords, i.e. how long a sword had to be, who was allowed to wear what kind of sword, and when certain swords had to be worn by whom. The honzashi of the samurai, i.e. the katana, was limited to a blade length of 2 shaku 8 sun (~ 84.8 cm) and the wakizashi to 1 shaku 8 sun (~ 54.5 cm). However, these measurements were slightly adjusted later. In the eighth year of Kanbun (寛文, 1668), the Tokugawa-bakufu issued the so-called mutô-rei (無刀令) with which it prohibited all persons not belonging to the samurai class to wear swords with a blade length over that of a ko-wakizashi (小脇指). Therefore a ko-wakizashi blade was determined to measure maximally 1 shaku 5 sun (~ 45.5 cm). Later this law was relaxed and so travellers of the partial dangerous Tôkaidô – the then main road between Kyôto and Edo – were allowed to wear swords with a nagasa up to 1 shaku 8 sun (so to speak a wakizashi instead of a ko-wakizashi) for their self-defence. So basically the Tokugawa government was saying that as a civilian, you were legally maximally allowed to carry the side/companion sword of a samurai. Everything between a wakizashi and a honzashi, i.e. a sword with a blade length of 54.5 to 60.6 cm, was classified as ô-wakizashi (大脇指). Please note that these measurements varied over time. For example, we also find law texts wherein a ko-wakizashi is defined as measuring maximally 1 shaku 3 sun (~ 39.4 cm) instead of the aforementioned 1 shaku 5 sun (~ 45.5 cm). Also please note that for wakizashi that measured in between a ko-wakizashi and an ô-wakizashi, also the more specific term of chû-wakizashi (中脇指) existed.

But although these laws sound quite strict, the transition between ko-wakizashi, chû-wakizashi, and ô-wakizashi were fluid and even if the eyes were surely on the bushi who were walking through the streets of Edo during their sankin-kôtai stay, there was no official “sword police” going through the rural fiefs making all samurai unsheath their swords and measure the nagasa of their mounted blade. So basically it was like no plaintiff, no judge and when there was no sword incident caused by a civilian that had to be officially investigated, it can be assumed that no one would take notice if you wore a chû-wakizashi instead of a ko-wakizashi on one particular day. When I say “sword incident caused by a civilian,” I am also referring to the fact that civilians were not only allowed to arm themselves with wakizashi because of robbers and similar risks but also to defend themselves against members of the samurai class who were going to make (unjustified) use of their right of kirisute-gomen (切捨御免), their right to strike with sword anyone of a lower class who compromised their honor. Parallel to the rigid hierarchic social class structure that was eventually cemented in the Edo period, underground organizations and outlaws were emerging in not to be underestimated numbers. There were for example gamblers (bakuto, 博徒) and peddlers (tekiya, 的屋) whose partially strict internal codes made them the predecessors of the modern yakuza. “Heroic” members of these groups who defended the “poor” townsmen against unlawful and arbitrary acts of local samurai were romantized as kyôkaku (侠客), lit. “men of chivalry.” Of couse these kyôkaku did not follow the law and as they actually saw themselves as “Robin Hoods,” they were wearing longer than allowed (often handachi-style mounted) wakizashi (see picture 4), which were not named ô-wakizashi but naga-wakizashi (長脇指・長脇差) in this context. In addition and in order to restore local peace, the bakufu had sometimes no other choice than granting the heads of these “organizations” certain rights so that they were at least able to keep other underground groups in check, and one of these rights was actually the permission to carry a naga-wakizashi instead of a ko-wakizashi. As you can see, the bakufu sometimes rather preferred to turn a blind eye to certain things as long as they were no longer bothered with it. Incidentally, these kyôkaku were thus also referred to as naga-wakizashi, i.e. about “those with the long wakizashi.” As these naga-wakizashi were from their outward appearance pretty much identical to a katana, also terms like ipponzashi (一本差) and ippongatana (一本刀) came in use to refer to the kyôkaku. These terms have to be understood as allusion to the term nihonzashi (二本差), lit. “the two sworders” or “the two-sword-wearers,” which was another name for a member of the samurai class.


Picture 4: Tattooed kyôkaku with a handachi-style mounted naga-wakizashi.


But naga-wakizashi were not only worn by outlaws. They could also have been the choice for a samurai who preferred to wear, for whatever reason, a longer sword pair. And with this we arrive at part two of this post. Sometimes it is hard to tell if a shinogi-zukuri blade, or a shinogi-zukuri shintô or shinshintô blade in particular, that measures slightly less or slightly over 2 shaku was intended as katana or as wakizashi. As mentioned earlier, transitions were fluid and the historic sword order I am introducing next is an important reference as it does not leave any doubt about what we are facing. It is a sword order placed by the Saga fief to two of their smiths, the 2nd generation Kawachi no Kami Masahiro (正広, 1627-1699) and the 4th generation Tadayoshi (忠吉, 1669-1747), who are addressed as Hashimoto Kawachi (橋本河内) and Hashimoto Shinzaburô (橋本新三郎) respectively, and reads:


Picture 5: Extant sword order from the archives of the Masahiro lineage (preserved in the Saga Prefecture Library (佐賀県立図書館).

一 長サ 弐尺壱寸七分 弐腰
一 反  少しすくめニ
一 刃  得手次第
打立可被差上候 以上
霜月六日 牟田七郎左衛門
Namigitae naga-wakizashi chûmon
• nagasa 2 shaku 1 sun 7 bu – futakoshi
• sori sukoshi sukume ni
• ha ete shidai
Migi no tôri hitokoshi ate kitto deki 
uchitate sashiagarubeshi-sôrô, ijô.
inu no
shimotsuki muika Muta Shichirôzaemon
Hashimoto Kawachi dono
Hashimoto Shinzaburô dono 
Order for ordinary forging quality naga-wakizashi:
two blades with a nagasa of 65.7 cm
• sori rather on the shallow side
• ha(mon) dependent upon the forte of the smith
Please make each sword according to these points.
Year of the dog (Genroku seven, 1694)
Sixth day of the eleventh month, Muta Shichirôzaemon (probably an official of the Saga fief)
to Mr. Hashimoto Kawachi
to Mr. Hashimoto Shinzaburô


wakizashi6-NidaiMasahiroPicture 6: 2nd generation Hizen Masahiro.

Hizen mainline swords in particular are very good for distinguishing between short katana and oversized wakizashi as their tangs were strictly finished according to the intended use. This means, blades that were intended as long swords or honzashi, in short as katana, were signed in tachi-mei, i.e. on the side of the tang that faces towards the wearer when wearing the mounted sword thrusted edge-up through the belt. Apart from that, the tangs of honzashi were finished with a somewhat roundish nakago-mune. Wakizashi in turn were signed in katana-mei and finished with a flat nakago-mune. So if you find a Hizen- with a nagasa of about 2 shaku and you are not sure if it is a katana or a wakizashi, check for these two features and they tell you exactly what the sword initially was.

As for the wakizashi-sized blades in general, there are certain rules of the thumb that can be applied to find out what the sword initially was. If you have a shinogi-zukuri shôtô that is obviously longer than dagger (e.g. sunnobi-tantô) size and shorter than katana size and that dates from the early to the late Muromachi period, you can assume that it was worn as wakizashi or sashizoe just like shown in picture 2. And the longer the blade, the more likely it is that they were mounted with a tsuba. If the blade is shorter and in hira-zukuri, it was probably worn as koshigatana like shown in picture 1. Please note that there were also longer, for example 45~50 cm measuring shôtô in hira-zukuri worn as wakizashi/sashizoe. Now with the approaching the Momoyama era, chances are increasing that a shinogi-zukuri shôtô was worn as wakizashi to the civilian samurai uniform. If you have a later Muromachi blade but that predates the Momoyama era and that measures somewhere around or slighty lesser than 2 shaku and comes with a relative short nakago, you are most likely facing a katateuchi. Katateuchi were intended for single-handed use, thrusted edge-up through the belt, and often worn as wakizashi/sashizoe to the honzashi, the tachi. So these blades too were worn just like shown in picture 2, although with the difference that katateuchi were by default mounted with a tsuba. Entering the Edo period, it is, as indicated, sometimes hard or even impossible to tell if a blade that measures somewhere around 2 shaku was ordered by a member of the samurai class to be his hon or his wakizashi. Many factors like personal preferences, body height, fencing style and so on come into play that might have influenced his choice of wearing an over or an undersized daishô pair. Also it is very difficult to tell in concrete numbers how strong the “impact” of kyôkaku and other outlaws were on the output of around 2 shaku measuring blades but the fact that the term naga-wakizashi was synonymously in use to refer to these guys suggests that there must had been a considerable number of such blades made for them.


Picture 7: Wearing the kodachi.

And then there is another category of swords that must be addressed when talking about side swords, and that is the kodachi (小太刀), the lit. “small tachi.” A theory says that the kodachi was born from the necessity that aristocrats wanted longer blades than koshigatana to wear in coaches (kuruma, 車) for their self-defence, i.e. after having handed over the main sword, the tachi, to the sword bearer. Therefore also the terms kuruma-gatana (車刀) and kuruma-dachi (車太刀) were in existence for shorter swords which were no daggers. Kodachi blades measure somewhere between 1 shaku 7 sun (51.5 cm) and 2 shaku (60.6 cm) and what distinguished them from contemporary uchigatana was that they were interpreted in shinogi-zukuri and basically maintained the proportions of a tachi. Uchigatana in turn were made prior to Muromachi times in hira-zukuri and were usually rather wide. Well, some speculate that kodachi were smaller tachi of the younger sons of the aristocracy or higher-ranking bushi (or especially for their genpuku ceremony) whilst others even assume that they were worn by women. The former approach and the approach that kodachi were alternative swords of higher-ranking persons is supported by the fact that many of the extant and unaltered kodachi were made by great master smiths, although it is of course quite possible that all the others, i.e. the ones that were not cherished as treasures, were just lost over time. Interesting is that also the term hakizoe-kodachi (佩き添え小太刀) existed what means that some kodachi were worn – edge down suspended from the belt as the prefix haki (佩き) implies – worn as side/companion/ersatz sword to a honzashi. Problem again is here the very limited evidence base, and that is especially true for kodachi-koshirae. But it is most likely that the kodachi was worn as seen in picture 7, i.e. with a simple hanger-system to formal and semi-formal outfits. One of the major references in this respect is the signed kodachi by Rai Kunitoshi (来国俊) that was once offered with its koshirae to the Futarasan-jinja (二荒山神社, Tochigi Prefecture). As experts assume that the mounting is original to the blade, the sword as a whole, i.e. not only the blade, was designated as kokuhô. The koshirae is interpreted in hirumaki style (蛭巻), that means hilt and saya were spirally wrapped with leather which was lacquered black. The fittings are of yamagane and the fukurin of the tsuba, the seppa, and the kabutogane were gilded. The area between the two ashi hangers bears a red-lacquer inscription which reads: “Kishin-tatematsuru Kaneko Genchû + kaô” (奉寄進金子玄忠). So it is assumed that this Genchû was the one who offered the sword to the shrine and that he was one of the ancestors of the Kaneko Tôdayû (金子頭太夫) family which later held one of the shrine offices. Very interesting historical piece but way too unique to draw conclusions on the appearance of kodachi in general.


Picture 7: kokuhô, kodachi, mei: “Rai Kunitoshi” (来国俊), nagasa 54.4 cm, sori 1.67 cm, motohaba 2.3 cm, sakihaba 1.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, very dense and fine ko-itame with ji-nie, suguha in ko-nie-deki with a rather tight nioiguchi, ko-ashi, sunagashi, and kinsuji.wakizashi9-kodachi

Picture 8: kokuhô, kuro-urushi hirumaki tachi-koshirae (黒漆蛭巻太刀拵), overall length 88.8 cm


I hope I was able to give you a decent insight into the vast world of the side sword, the wakizashi, and I should be back in a little with the next part of the Kantei series.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #3 – Sanjô (三条) School 3

With this chapter, I would like to close on the Sanjô School. Apart from Munechika and a few blades of (one) Yoshiie that are most likely Sanjô works, there are really not that many blades extant from this school. One Sanjô smith by whom at least a handful of works are known is Chikamura (近村) who is traditionally listed as son of Munechika. Well, some sources say he was the son of Yoshiie and the grandson of Munechika and in terms of workmanship, his blades come indeed pretty close to those of Gojô Kanenaga (兼永) who was the son of Munechika’s son Arikuni (有国) and Munechika’s grandson accordingly. In terms of sugata, Chikamura’s blades show an elegant and conspicuously curved tachi-sugata that is typical for early Yamashiro works but they are not that slender as those of Munechika. So we have here again a certain gap that speaks more for the grandson than for the son approach. The probably most famous blade of Chikamura is the one that was once preserved in the Tanzan-jinja (談山神社, Nara) and that went into the possession of the Imperial family before it was transferred into the Tôkyô National Museum where it is preserved today (picture 1). It shows a somewhat standing-out itame with ji-nie and a ko-midare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with many ko-ashi and , kinsuji, and nijûba along the monouchi. The nioiguchi is rather subdued and hajimi appear in places but it has to be mentioned that the blade is a little tired. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and shows some nijûba too. The tang is ubu, tapers to a shallow kurijiri, shows kiri-yasurime, and bears over the mekugi-ana a large and finely chiselled niji-mei that is positioned more towards the nakago-mune.


Picture 1: tachi, mei “Chikamura” (近村), nagasa 78.1 cm, sori 2.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

In picture 2, that shows another signed Chikamura tachi, you can seen some remnants of the “multi-layered” aproach of Munechika but not that “extreme” as it is the case at the Sanjô founder. On the other hand, Chikamura’s blades have in general a more ancient feel than those of Yoshiie and if I had to decide whether Chikamura or Yoshiie was the son of Munechika, I would go for Chikamura for the time being. The blade seen in picture 2 shows an itame with plenty of ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is nie-laden ko-midare that is mixed with kinsuji, yubashiri and plenty of sunagashi. The bôshi is a narrow sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. The tang is a little machi-okuri, has a shallow kurijiri, katte-sagari yasurime, and bears just like the former gyobutsu a large and fine, ancient looking niji-mei that was chiselled above the initial mekugi-ana and towards the nakago-mune.


Picture 2: tachi, mei “Chikamura” (近村), nagasa 68.8 cm, sori 2.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

When we are talking about Chikamura, the famous mei has to be mentioned that gave birth to some controversial theories in the Meiji era. The original signature was “Chikamura tatematsuru” (近村上), “offered/presented by Chikamura” (i.e. either to a high-ranking client or to a religious facility), but someone later added the character for “Mune” atop of it to allude to Munechika and to create the mei (宗近村上). This mei was then interpreted by some as “Munechika Murakami,” i.e. the character “mura” (村) from Chikamura and the character “tatematsuru” (上) which also reads “kami” were interpreted as the family name Murakami and the theory was forwarded that this must had been Munechika’s family name. But comparative studies have shown that, as mentioned, the character for “Mune” was a later add-on as another blade of Chikamura was discovered that was signed “Chikamura tatematsuru” (see picture 3). Incidentally, this kind of mei is not that uncommon. For example, there are also offering/presentation blades with the prefix or suffix tatematsuru extant by Rai Kunimitsu and Fukuoka-Ichimonji Sukeyoshi (助吉).


Picture 3: The enlarged Chikamura mei right and the other “Chikamura tatematsuru” mei left.

Well, when it comes to Chikamura and to several of the other Sanjô smiths – first of all Yoshiie as mentioned in the last chapter – we are facing one interesting similaritiy, namely that were homonymous early Bizen smiths active for many of them. For example, there was a Ko-Bizen Chikamura who worked, depending on source, around Genkyû (元久, 1204-1206) or Bunryaku (文暦, 1234-1235). The same goes for Munetoshi (宗利), Muneyasu (宗安), Munenori (宗則), Sanenori (真則), and Sanetoshi (真利). And then there were the two smiths who had a certain relation to Kawachi province, Arikuni (有国) and Arinari (有成), who are listed as students or sons of Munechika. So some say that Arinari came originally from the northern Ôshû Môgusa group and that he went to Kyôto to study with Munechika before he eventually settled in Kawachi. And Arikuni was either a student who moved later to Kawachi where he studied with Arinari or that there were two Arikuni, a Sanjô smith who never left Kyôto and a Kawachi smith who belonged to the school of Arinari and who was not directly connected to Munechika. Another interesting coincidence is that several of the early northern Ôshû smihs are listed as having moved down to Bizen where they acted as co-founders of the Ko-Bizen group. For example, Arinari’s initial master Arimasa (有正) was, according to tradition, also the master (or even father) of the famous Ko-Bizen Masatsune (正恒). This suggests that either (a) these northern Môgusa smiths were much more predominant than we think of them today and spread to all provinces where they greatly contributed to the establishment of the most renowned schools (e.g. Sanjô, Ko-Bizen), or (b) that at least some of the early Yamashiro smiths moved later to Bizen province, (c) that all these identical smith names are just a big coincidence, or (d) that some of these homonymous smiths were later “invented” by chroniclers to establish certain connections or fill genealogic gaps.


Picture 4: tachi, mumei, Ishikirimaru, attributed to Kawachi/Sanjô Arinari, nagasa 76.1 cm, sori 2.5 cm, preserved in the Ishikiritsurugiya-jinja (石切剣箭神社, Ôsaka)

Anyway, as far as all the other recorded Sanjô smiths are concerned, there are as mentiond in the beginning next to zero works of them extant. One of the several swords nicknamed Ishikirimaru (石切丸) is attributed to Arinari (see picture 4). So there is not much to add from a kantei point of view, except for the fact that it is anyway extremely unlikely to come across one of these earliest Yamashiro blades in the wild (and outside of Japan). For an overview of the Sanjô School and also in view to the upcoming chapter that deals with the Gojô School, I add their common genealogy below.

Genealogy Sanjo/Gojo Scjool

“Historic” References

Some of you who are also on the NMB might remember this great post from a while ago. After Chris made nihontô enthusiasts aware of the many digitized online references that come free of charge, I got quote some inquiries about adding indices to some of these sources or rather as copyright has expired anyway, to provide some full translations. And as you know, your wish is my command. So over the months, I started to tackle Ogura Sô’emon Yôkichi’s Akasaka Tankô Roku and Wada Tsunashirô’s Sôken Kinkô Zufu but I didn’t want to make a booklet or a PDF that you have to use at the side and where you have to work again with two things. No, I wanted to provide a single and complete copy or eBook that works by itself. Accordingly, I added all the pics (which are digitally enchanced in Wada’s Sôken Kinkô Zufu). So if you are interested, you can get these two and their eBook versions via the links below. I priced them according to what I think is fair for to the translation/compilation work I have invested. If you are fine with Japanese or just want to browse through the pics from time to time, you will find all related links along the NMB thread. Thank you for your attention.


Akasaka Tanko Roku

E Akasaka Tanko Roku


Soken Kinko Zufu

E Soken Kinko Zufu

Short Update

First of all, I have to apologize, again, for the troubles with the latest Japan’s Most Important Sword Fittings booklet. It is like with my Masamune book, no whatsoever system changes here and black and white books work perfectly fine, e.g. no problem my three-volume, 1,500 pages Swordsmith Index. It only concerns color prints. But anyway, the problem should be solved now and a new order can be placed. I have to see how to solve this in the future because this time, I waited the suggested time until the file was fully processed on their servers to see if it worked before making the announcement. I was even waiting another day, to be sure, just to get their error message the night after… So next time, I will wait even longer before making any announcement.

Other thing and something positive: By sponsoring of James Lawson, the NBTHK Shinsa standards for swords on nihontocraft.com were completed with the standards for tôsô (koshirae) and tôsôgu, and not only that, also the very recent amendments (May 2015) are now included. The standards can be found here:


Thank you.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #2 – Sanjô (三条) School 2

This time I want to talk about Yoshiie (吉家), the smith who is usually mentioned right after Munechika when it comes to introducing the Yamashiro tradition. Now Yoshiie is traditionally listed as Munechika’s eldest son but this is where the problems begin. Today we are looking at two kinds of extant Yoshiie works: Such interpreted in a way that speaks for mid-Kamakura Fukuoka-Ichimonji works, and such which speak for early Yamashiro, but not that early which would place them in the direct vicinity of Munechika. This state of facts gave rise to several theories and the today widely accepted theory is that there were most likely two Yoshiie, a Sanjô Yoshiie and a Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshiie. Others say that Sanjô Yoshiie moved later in his career to Bizen where he changed to more flamboyant interpretations but if that is true, then he was surely not the son of Munechika as there is a gap in production times of about two centuries (Yoshiie is dated around Kenryaku [建暦, 1211-1213]). Some say that there was no Sanjô Yoshiie and that the classical, Yamashiro-like works of Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshiie go back to the early years of this smith. But this approach is rather unlikely because those classical works are not just “Yamashiro-like,” they are fully-grown Sanjô works. That means, I don’t think that a Bizen smith started to work entirely in a classical Yamashiro style that feels at least hundred years older than the work of his contemporaries and then “cought-up” and worked in the Fukuoka-Ichimonji style. Incidentally, there are indeed some more classically interpreted Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshiie works extant and these might well go back to the early years of a Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshiie.

Also there are some who say that Yoshiie was the name Munechika used in his later years but that does not go in accordance with those (signed) Yoshiie blades that are Sanjô works for chronological reasons. Well, we can’t rule out that Munechika did change his name to Yoshiie in later years but it seems that this approach goes just back to another try to link the extant Yoshiie works somehow to Munechika. An issue that somewhat complicates the matter is the fact that the signatures of presumably Sanjô works are rather close to those which are presumably Fukuoka-Ichimonji works. Incidentally, we know two kinds of signature variants, namely niji-mei “Yoshiie” and sanji-mei “Yoshiie saku,” and a theory says that blades with the suffix saku in the mei go back to the hand of Sanjô Yoshiie and those in niji-mei to Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshiie. But as pointed out by Tanobe sensei in his Gokaden series, this is not really a valid rule as similarities between mei of many early smiths can be made out, e.g. Gojô Kuninaga and Kanenaga signed their character for “naga” in a very similar way as Tegai Kanenaga did and these guys were for sure not the same smith(s).

Next and on the basis of concrete examples, I want to elaborate on the workmanship of Sanjô Yoshiie and forward some of the most obvious differences to the blades of Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshiie. The blade shown in picture 1 is one of those where there is consensus on the attribution to Yoshiie from the Sanjô school. It has a normal mihaba, a high shinogi, a chû-kissaki, and due to the suriage there is only a hint of funbari left. The kitae is a fine and densely forged ko-itame with fine ji-nie and a faint jifu-utsuri and the hamon is a ko-chôji mixed with some rather small dimensioned and densely arranged ko-midare and ko-gunome elements. Further we see plenty of ashi and , a few sunagashi and kinsuji, and an arrangement of yubashiri, tobiyaki and nijûba that can be regarded as a reminiscence of Munechika’s “layered” appearance of the ha, although here, and as you can see, already in a noticeably more thought out and sophisticated manner. In other words, the blade is surely an early Yamashiro work but does not have the ancient feel that would date it back deep into the Heian period. But everything from end of Heian to very early Kamakura seems legit and so his dating around Kenryaku is pretty much spot on. By the way, some sources date him around Hôgen (保元, 1156-1159) what might be still in the realm of possibilities but the date around Kankô (寛弘, 1004-1012) that is found in some older sources is as mentioned above surely a try to link him to Munechika. The nioiguchi by the way is wide and shows ko-nie and the bôshi appears as a somewhat undulating hakikake-bôshi with a few kinsuji.


Picture 1: tachi, mei: Yoshiie (吉家), nagasa 70.6 cm, sori 2.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [former heirloom of the Kajiki-Shimazu (治木島津) family]


Picture 2: tachi, mei: Yoshiie saku (吉家作), nagasa 76.9 cm, sori 3.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [former heirloom of the Matsudaira family]

The Yoshiie blade shown in picture 2 is also attributed to Sanjô Yoshiie. Well, the mei is hardly illegible and it was later altered to “Amakura” (天座) but still traces of the initial characters “Yoshi” and “ie” can be made out. It is of a classical interpretation showing a dense ko-itame with fine ji-nie and a nie-like utsuri in combination with a ko-chôji-midare hamon that is mixed with many ashi and , strong kinsuji and some sunagashi at the base and which runs out as a calm suguha towards the tip. The nioiguchi is bright, wide, and nie-laden and Honma writes that the blade really has a classical “Kyô feel,” in other words, early Yamashiro tradition. The bôshi is sugu and has a very smallish kaeri. This blade is precious because it has an ubu-nakago with one mekugi-ana. The tang has a pronounced ha-agari kurijiri and faint kiri-yasurime can be made out.


Picture 3: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei: Yoshiie saku (吉家作), nagasa 74.5 cm, sori 2.3 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, sakihaba 1.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [former heirloom of the Shimazu family]

The blade shown in picture 3 is attributed to Sanjô Yoshiie but if you look at the yakiba as a whole, it is relative wide and magnificent and although the sugata is indeed elegant, it has also a magnificent feel that rather speaks for Kamakura than Heian. The jigane is a dense ko-itame with fine ji-nie and the hamon a densely arranged and nie-laden ko-midare mixed with chôji and ko-ashi/ The bôshi is midare-komi and the tang that is somewhat suriage shows shallow katte-sagari yasurime. So this could well be an earler Fukuoka-Ichimonji work what makes me think that maybe there was even an third, a Ko-Ichimonji Yoshiie whose existence could easily explain these intermediate interpretations and edge cases. And last but not least I want to show you in pictures 4 and 5 two of those Yoshiie blades that are today attributed to the Fukuoka-Ichimonji smith. The first one shows a flamboyant ô-chôji-midare with a prominent midare-utsuri and just by looking at the hamon at a glance you surely would not think of a late Heian Yamashiro work.


Picture 4: tachi, mei: Yoshiie saku (吉家作), nagasa 76.1 cm, sori 2.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mun [former heirloom of the Chichibunomiya (秩父宮) family]


Picture 5: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei: Yoshiie saku (吉家作), nagasa 70.4 cm, sori 1.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, dense itame with ji-nie and a clearly visible midare-utsuri, ko-midare in ko-nie-deki mixed with gunome along the upper half and with chôji-midare along the haki-omote side, also some kawazu-no-ko chôji in places, the ha is altogether rather flamboyant but does not have that many ups and downs


So in conclusion I tend to think for the time being that there was a Sanjô Yoshiie and a Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshiie and that the former was, if at all, the grandson of Munechika and not his son as his works are just too far away from the highly classical, “ancient” interpretations of Munechika. Well, there is another thing that complicates the matter. If Sanjô Yoshiie was the son or grandson of Munechika, then his works should be somewhat more classical or at least on the same level as those of Gojô Kanenaga (兼永) and Kuninaga (国永). And when you take a look at these Gojô works (I will talk about them in one of the next posts), it seems in their case too that we are facing a few different approaches in workmanship or aesthetics. That means, some of them are highly classical whilst others show prominent gunome and/or chôji and look like early Kamakura works at a glance. And that makes me think that either these smiths, i.e. Gojô Kanenaga and Kuninaga and Sanjô Yoshiie, made at some time a great progress in their craft, or that there was one or two more generations active of each of these smiths. Well, this is just a thought and not substantiated by any deeper studies but the gap of not only age but also of refinement in craftsmanship between these smiths and Munechika who was supposedly their father or teacher puzzles me. Dating the Gojô smiths and Yoshiie to the end of the Heian period would make sense to me as that would allow us to accept that they might have worked right into early Kamakura. But this would mean that we also must date Munechika later what in turn does not go in accordance with his blades as they indeed look significantly older and nothing like transition from Heian to Kamakura. You can now see the problem we have with these early smiths and their handed down active periods and if you want to read a little more about these difficulties, I did a write-up on Ô-Kanehira a while ago here that deals with the same issues. Anyway, I will be back in a little and introduce some more Sanjô smiths before we arrive at their offshoot, the Gojô school.

Japan’s Most Important Sword Fittings

Update: As a reference, I compiled a brief booklet that contains all 27 sword fittings that are by today designated as jûyô-bunkazai, enlarged by 28 items that got jûyô-bijutsuhin. As mentioned, it is just a reference for those who always wanted to know what kind of sword fittings and tsuba are regarded by the Japanese government, or Bunkachô in particular, as being of greatest importance. The booklet comes in color and is in letter format. Price is just a little more than the printing costs and I also uploaded an eBook version of course (see links below). Thanks for your attention!

Japan’s Most Important Sword Fittings (color paperback)

Japan’s Most Important Sword Fittings (eBook)


Some thoughts on Wada-sukashi

It has now been almost ten years since I have translated Itô Mitsuru’s first book on the Higo masters, Works of Kanshirô Nishigaki, and as Higo-tsuba are quite a world of their own, this translation and the translation of the subsequent two Higo volumes gave rise to several fruitful discussions and Itô’s books were undoubtedly a big success in giving collectors a greater understanding of these very special tsuba which are so sought after since the time they left the workshops of the masters. It is only natural that many questions remain, be it about attributions based on sophisticated differences in workmanship or about historical aspects. Well, this time I want to forward some thoughts on a question that rather belongs to the smaller unsolved mysteries when it comes to Higo-tsuba, and that is the question on why are Wada-sukashi (和田透し) named that way.


Picture 1: Wada-sukashi tsuba

First, what are Wada-sukashi at all? Wada-sukashi belong to the group of symmetrical ô-sukashi that occupy a majority of the left and right surfaces of a tsuba. That means the general term for such an openwork design is sayû-ô-sukashi (左右大透し, lit. “left and right ô-sukashi”). For example, also the famous namako-sukashi (海鼠透し) design comes under that category and it seems that such large and symmetrical ô-sukashi designs originated in Higo in the first place. Another way to describe Wada-sukashi tsuba in a neutral way would be futatsu-mokkô otafuku-gata, i.e. “two-segmented mokkô-gata in otafuku shape.” So why Wada-sukashi? Numata Kenji (沼田鎌次) writes in his two-volume Tsuba-Kodôgu Gadai Jiten (鐔・小道具画題事典, Yûzankaku 1998) the following:

“It was custom since olden times for the Hosokawa family to name these tsuba that way and thus the term was locally in use in the Higo area but the origins and the reasons of this naming are unclear. So the meaning of ‘Wada’ is unclear. As seen in the picture, both the shape and the sukashi design of the tsuba actually don’t have any specific highlights and are hard to grasp but there is something in the quality of the iron and the way the niku is distributed that attracts ones attention. So they belong to the realm of the so-called mysterious tsuba and more and more people get attracted by their hidden charme. This tsuba shown here is according to tradition a work of Hosokawa Sansai.”

So starting with Numata, every reference you consult for Wada-sukashi says that the meaning of this term is unclear but interesting is, that the term is quasi accepted as it is and for example also the NBTHK issues papers that say straightforward Wada-sukashi (see picture 2). Now when one reads this term, you think first of all of the common family name “Wada” but after doing some research, I was not able to come up with any historic member of any of the Wada branches that was somehow in a master-vassal relationship to the Hosokawa. Also none of the Higo-kinkô lineages was from the Wada family and it seems anyway odd to name this rather plain sukashi motif after a person, except for if this person was the inventor of this design. Next thing to check is to see if Wada is a place name and refers to some town or region in former Higo province but again, no result.

Picture 2: NBTHK hozon paper to Higo, work described as “Wada-sukashi tsuba” (和田透鐔)

So what remains when “Wada” neither refers to a family nor to a place name? Time for the dictionaries and a neutral, i.e. hiragana search for the term wada (わだ), and lo and behold, both the Ôbunsha Zen’yaku Kogo Jiten (旺文社全訳古語辞典, Ôbunshas’ Dictionary for Classical Japanese) and the dictionary Kôjien (広辞苑) contain an (almost identical) entry on wada. According to these dictionaries, the term wada was written with the character (曲) and means “curved terrain,” e.g. “inlet.” Both sources quote a poem from the Man’yôshû as major reference for the use of this old term which goes:

Sasanami no Shiga no ohowada yodomu tomo mukashi no hito ni mata mo ahame ya mo.


“The water with its gently rippling waves on the great inlet at Shiga is still, so how could we meet the people of the past?”

This poem is by the Asuka poet Kakinomoto no Hitomaro (柿本人麿・柿本人麻呂) who was the most prominent of the poets included in the Man’yôshû and who is ranked as one of the Thirty-six Immortans of Poetry. Hitomaro wrote this very poem when he was travelling along Lake Biwa and passed the former capital of Emperor Tenchi (天智天皇, 626-672) who had installed his court at what is present-day Ôtsu (大津) at the southern end of Lake Biwa, i.e. the area which Hitomaro refers to as “great inlet” (ohowada). Only five years after Tenchi had made Ôtsu imperial capital, Emperor Tenmu (天武天皇, 631-686) attacked that court, seized power, and relocated the imperial capital back to Asuka. Now Hitomaro was serving Tenmu’s successor, Empress Jitô (持統天皇, 645-703) and writing in a sentimental manner (“how could we meet the people of the past?”) about the former enemies of his then quasi employer was a sensitive thing (“water is still” is a metaphor for “standstill” or “no progress” in a wider sense). But Jitô was actually Tenchi’s daughter and maybe his poem was welcomed by her rather than seen as poetical attempt to long for the regency of the past.


Picture 3: The Wada-sukashi tsuba shown in the Higo Kinkô Roku which is attributed to Hayashi Matashishi. The note reads tagane (タガネ), i.e. it is worked off along the inner edges in tagane-sukashi manner as seen for example on some Akasaka-tsuba.

The Man’yôshû and all the other anthologies of this caliber were classics and every person and bushi of good breeding knew them so to speak inside out. Hosokawa Sansai was born into a family that was for generations deeply involved in cultural matters (more on that here) and was accordingly educated. What I now think is that maybe the curved, somewhat narrowing openings of the sayû-ô-sukashi tsuba in question might have reminded Sansai of inlets but as he was a man of vast reading, he just did not name them irie (入り江) what is the so to speak “normal” term for “inlet.” He was probably more thinking in terms of the old classics and thus referred to an inlet by the poetical term wada (わだ・曲). Well, we don’t know anything about how and when this term was written down when it comes to tsuba but the later and present-day way of writing of this sukashi design with the characters (和田) for wada does not make any difference. There are namely the so-called Man’yôgana (万葉仮名), an ancient writing system that employs Chinese characters to represent Japanese language. That means, most of the old classics can entirely be written in Man’yôgana and the above quoted poem of Hitomaro that starts with “Sasanami no Shiga…” could also be found like this (with the term wada highlighted):


In short, the Man’yôgana allowed poets to use phonetic homonymous kanji characters for the Japanese hiragana syllables, i.e. the kanji are used for their sounds and not their meanings. There was no standard and different kanji could be used for each sound so wa could have been written with the characters (和・丸・輪) and da/ta with the characters (太・多・他・丹・駄・田・手・立) and any combination was possible to represent wada. Well, most common Man’yôgana replacements for wa and da/ta were (和) and (太・田) and that is in my opinion how the sukashi design that reminded of inlets, wada (わだ・曲), was eventually written (和田). Please note, it does not necessarily mean that Sansai or whoever from the Hosokawa family had the Man’yôshû and Hitomaro’s poem in mind when seeing or trying to see something in these tsuba. It is as mentioned just that he or they were thinking in poetical terms and named them wada instead of irie. When thinking of inlets along the coast of Higo, the Shirakawa that runs along Kumamoto Castle, the Midorikawa to the south, or the Kumagawa with its small Mugi Island at the gates of Yatsushiro Castle come to mind, alhough I am not sure how these regions looked like at the beginning of the 17th century. Or Sansai really thought of Lake Biwa when seeing Wada-sukashi tsuba and remembered Hitomaro’s poem? I guess we will never know but for the time being, the approach with the old poetic term for “inlet” makes more sense to me than too look for a person or place named Wada to find out the backgrounds of the naming of this motif. In other words, the sukashi design of Wada-sukashi tsuba resembles as much inlets (or even lake Biwa with a little imagination, see picture 4) as namako-sukashi resemble sea cucumbers. And maybe after writing the old term wada with Man’yôgana over several centuries, the connection to the initial reference “inlet” got lost.


Picture 4: Wada-sukashi next to Lake Biwa.


Picture 5: Both sides of a Wada-sukashi tsuba that papered straightforward to “Higo.” Please note the delicate silver nunome patches and the subtle file marks at the bottom mokkô indentation that is so often seen on Higo-tsuba (i.e. namako-sukashi) of that interpretation.

So far my thoughts on this topic and last but not least I want to introduce in picture 5 the fine Wada-sukashi tsuba that goes with the above shown paper. Also I want to sincerely thank its owner for putting many pictures of his Higo-tsuba collection at my disposal and for stimulating the question on why Wada-sukashi tsuba are actually called Wada-sukashi tsuba.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #1 – Sanjô (三条) School 1

I would like to add a few introductory words before we start with the Sanjô school. First of all and speaking of the gokaden in my last post, the Japanese swordsmiths school are usually introduced via the aforementioned goki-shichidô system. That means even if the gokaden are so dominant when it comes to kotô times, the swordsmiths schools are usually not introduced in the gokaden order Yamashiro → Yamato → Bizen → Sôshû → Mino → Rest of the Sword World but, either starting with Yamashiro or Yamato, worked off province by province for each goki-shichidô entity. So Bizen comes way after Yamashiro and Yamato as the system first goes eastwards from the Kinai region, then north, and then quasi comes back and goes west and down to Kyûshû. You might imagine this system as a clock, with Kinai in its center and a shichidô circuit as its hand, starting with the Tôkaidô and working-off anti-clockwise the Tôsandô, Hokurikudô, San’indô, San’yôdô, Nankaidô, and Saikaidô, i.e. Kyûshû (see picture below). Well, some publications don’t stick strictly to this clock-system and might introduce the Hokurikudô schools before those along the Tôsandô but going anti-clockwise is how the order of school introduction basically works. Also there is no rule with which of the two major Kinai-based traditions, i.e. Yamashiro and Yamato, to start. Some use a chronological approach and say Yamato is the oldest tradition and start so with the Yamato schools but there is actually not that a big time difference between the emergence of the earliest Yamashiro (i.e. Kyôto-based) and Yamato (i.e. Nara-based) schools. The historical and geographical backgrounds for the development of each of the first indigeneous schools of sword making (e.g. Yamashiro, Yamato, Ko-Hôki, Môgusa, Ko-Kyûshû) are sophisticated topics on their own and should be omitted here. Anyway, like you already noticed, I want to start with Yamashiro. Oh, and a last note before we start: I will present the blades here for a better readbility of the posts and due to reasons of space in a horizontal manner. This was quite a difficult decision as I break away from the standard rule to present blades vertically to get an instant feel for the sugata and proportions but the blog posts will just become too lengthy and too confusing with all the scrolling. But everyone is free to download the pics and rotate them. I apologize for the extra work.



The Sanjô school was founded by Munechika (宗近), nickname Kokaji (小鍛冶), who is traditionally dated around Ei´en (永延, 987-989), what means he worked at about a time when Kyôto had been the new imperial capital for two centuries and roughly 250~300 years after the youngest swords in the Shôsô’in Repository had been made. So Munechika’s works are considered to be one the earliest extant specimen of a fully developed nihontô, what is a single-edged and curved blade in (as far as long swords are concerned) shinogi-zukuri, and standing in front of for example the meibutsu Mikazuki-Munechika (三日月宗近), it really looks its age (see picture 1). I say “standing in front of” on purpose because chances to study a Munechika hands on or come across one in the wild are virtually zero. All known blades are either in temple possession, imperial treasures (gyobutsu, 御物), or preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum. But the ancient, highly dignified, and graceful look of the Mikazuki-Munechika does not only go back to its age as for example Ko-Hôki and Ko-Bizen blades that date back to around the same time are so to speak more “substantial,” although being still pretty elegant at the same time. The highly dignified and graceful look of the Mikazuki-Munechika has to be seen in its contemporary cultural context as experts agree that it was most likely not made as a war sword. Of course it also has lost some substance due to the polishes that were necessary over ten! centuries but it never had been massive in the first place. At the time it was made, the good old Heian culture was at its peak. The famous Pillow Book and Tale of Genji were written when Munechika was active and the court was full of refined aristocrats for whom swords were merely symbols of their rank and obligatory accessories. Apart from one major disturbance, the rebellion led by Taira no Masakado (平将門) in 939/40, the imperial capital was quite peaceful up to the time of Munechika and although the first dark clouds were gathering over the aristocracy, there was yet no sign that the just briefly forming military class was ever becoming so strong that it takes over the entire country. It goes without saying that most of the then swordsmiths were indeed producing weapons but the largest customer base for Munechika and his contemporary Kyôto-based colleagues was the aristocracy. Accordingly and apart from the graceful sugata, a blade not only had to be masterly crafted but also had to be refined and beautiful as everything rural, rustic, and uncouth was usually frowned upon in noble circles. So Munechika’s blades show basically a soft looking and beautiful jigane with a fine ko-mokume in combination with a relative narrow suguha-based hamon that is hardened in ko-nie-deki. There are actually quite many hataraki like nijûba, sanjûba, uchinoke, ko-ashi, , yubashiri, kuichigaiba, muneyaki, inazuma, kinsuji, ji-nie, and chikei and the suguha is livened up by ko-midare and even subtle ko-chôji elements. Also the hada varies in density and shows here and there larger structures but all these hataraki and features are very natural, unaffected, and unsophisticated and put pointly, his blades make the overall impression of being works of one from a group of the earliest outstanding smiths that had just mastered their craft but for whom it was yet not time to experiment with forging and hardening techniques from an artistic point of view. Or in other words, Munechika would not even come up with the idea of hardening a flamboyant ôbusa-chôji even if he was probably technically capable of doing so. Munechika and his colleagues put on the clay coat how they knew it will work for the hardening process, maybe with some accentuations here and there, but the principal job in creating the hamon was left to the metallurgical – back then “magical” – interplay between steel and heat treatment. Incidentally, there is the tradition that Munechika was a court noble himself who started to forge swords as a pastime in his residence along Kyôto’s Sanjô. It turned out that he was very talented and soon took orders from his noble colleagues and even from the emperor, but just as it is the case with Masamune, there are so many legends and plays around Munechika that we do not longer know which tradition has a core of truth and which one is just pure fiction.


Picture 1: kokuhô, tachi, mei: Sanjô (三条), meibutsu Mikazuki-Munechika, nagasa 80.0 cm, sori 2.7 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, sakihaba 1.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [Tôkyô National Museum]


Picture 2: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei: Mune… saku (宗◯作) (Den Munechika), nagasa 78.8 cm, sori 3.2 cm, motohaba 2.8 cm, sakihaba 1.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [Wakasahiko-jinja, Fukui Prefecture]


Picture 3: gyobutsu, tachi, mei: Munchika (宗近), nagasa 78.4 cm, sori 2.4 cm, motohaba 2.85 cm, sakihaba 1.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [imperial treasure]


Picture 4: Characteristic features of Sanjô Munechika’s workmanship.

I have already described the characteristic features of Munechika’s workmanship above but want to point them out in detail in picture 4 on the basis of the oshigata introduced in picture 3. As you can see, there is a general trend towards more horizontal hataraki and towards a “multi-layered” hamon. Before we continue with other smiths of the Sanjô school, I want to deal with Munechika’s tang finish and signatures. The tangs of the Mikazuki-Munechika and of the gyobutsu are in kijimono-gata whereas the others are just tapering and slightly curved. Due to the age the yasurime are hardly discernible but some tangs of Munechika do show katte-sagari yasurime. If the tip of the tang is not chamfered as on the Mikazuki and the jûyô-bunkazai seen in picture 5, it is usually a shallow kurijiri. Munechika either signed with a fine and smallish chiselled niji-mei “Munechika” on the haki-omote, or with a somewhat larger dimensioned niji-mei “Sanjô” on the haki-ura side. (The jûyô-bunkazai seen in picture 2 was long thought to bear a niji-mei but traces of the character for “saku” can be seen between the top and the second, the ubu mekugi-ana. The later added upper mekugi-ana goes goes through the now no longer legible character for “chika.”) There is no definite answer so far that explains the question why he either signed with “Munechika” or “Sanjô” and why he switched between the haki-omote and haki-ura side. Also we will probably never able to tell for sure if there were two or even three generations with that name as some assume. Please note that there are actually many blades with the yoji-mei “Sanjô Munechika” going round but they are basically all ruled out as gimei. Well, and then there is the meibutsu Ebina-Kokaji on which I did a write-up a while ago here.


Picture 5: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei: Sanjô (三条), nagasa 78.2 cm, sori 3.3 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune [Nangû-taisha, Gifu Prefecture]


Picture 6: The signatures of Munechika. From left to right: Mikazuki-Munechika, jûyô-bunkazai of the Nangû-taisha, gyôbutsu, jûyô-bunkazai of the Wakasahiko-jinja

As this series is on kantei, I don’t want to just forward characteristics in workmanship and that’s it but in the case of these very early smiths it isn’t easy at all to give kantei tips as hardly any of their works are accessible anyway and as I so have to rely heavily on what is written in the references. Now Sanjô Munechika, Ko-Bizen Tomonari (古備前友成) and Ko-Hôki Yasutsuna (古備前友成) are often mentioned in the same breath when it comes to the founder generation of the nihontô that is known by name. First of all, Munechika’s and Tomonari’s workmanships are closer together than they are with the workmanship of Yasutsuna. Both Munechika and Tomonari forged a ko-mokume but that of Munechika is by trend somewhat finer whereas it stands more out at Tomonari. Also the ji-nie is more evenly distributed over the blade at Munechika than it is at Tomonari where we can also see some utsuri and jifu in turn. Yasutsuna then again mixed in some larger ô-hada structures and principally rather forged in itame than in ko-mokume. Also his ji-nie is more rough and visible than that of Munechika and Tomonari as his entire jiba is way more nie-laden than it is at the former two smiths. When it comes to the hamon, Tomonari’s ha tends more to nioi, i.e. the order goes Yasutsuna → Munechika → Tomonari in terms of the intensity of the nie. Munechika’s hamon appears with its majority of horizontal hataraki more “layered” whereas we see a hint more fully formed ko-chôji and ko-midare at Tomonari and not this “layer effect” and more sunagashi and hotsure at Yasutsuna which give his ha a somewhat more frayed appearance. Apart from that, Yasutsuna’s hamon usually starts with a prominent yaki-otoshi. But most obvious are the differences in sugata as Munechika’s blade are as mentioned very graceful and slender whereas those of Tomonari and Yasuchika are more magnificent and wide and show a way more pronounced koshizori than it is the case at Munechika.


In the next part I will continue with the sons and students of Munechika before we come to the Sanjô descendant, the Gojô school. I hope you like so far where this kantei series is going and the next post should follow in a little.