KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #36 – Heianjō (平安城) and Go-Sanjō (後三条) Schools 3

As mentioned at the very beginning of this Heianjō and Go-Sanjō chapter, it appears that the Heianjō lineage is older than that of the Go-Sanjō. According to tradition, the Heianjō lineage was founded by a smith named Nagamitsu (長光) who was succeeded by Mitsunaga (光長) and Yoshinaga (吉長) until the first Heianjō master with the famous name Nagayoshi (長吉) appears on the scene. No worries, I will provide a genealogy later in this article as usual.

Now I will talk about Mitsunaga very shortly because it appears that he is the earliest Heianjō master of whom blades are extant but want to share some thoughts on his predecessor, the school’s ancestor Nagamitsu. First of all, there are no blades of Nagamitsu extant. The Kotō Mei Zukushi Taizen says that he was active around Bun’ō (文応, 1260-1261) and the Kokon Kaji Mei Hayamidashi dates him around Gen’ō (元応, 1319-1321) and says that he came originally from northern Ōshū, implying that he was a Mōgusa smith, bore the name Saburō (三郎), and moved to Kyōto where he joined the Hasebe School whereupon he with “Hasebe Nagamitsu.” Another theory says that Nagamitsu was a descendant of the Yamato Senju’in smith who was active around Tenpuku (天福, 1233-1234). As indicated, no blade that would suggest any of those traditions is extant.

Back to Mitsunaga. According to the Kotō Mei Zukushi Taizen, was born in Kenchō one (建長, 1249) and died in Genkō three (元亨, 1323) at the age of 75. This would match with the source saying that his father was active around Bun’ō (文応, 1260-1261) but also matches the tradition that his father was a descendant of the Yamato Senju’in Nagamitsu from Tenpuku (天福, 1233-1234). Fortunately, there is a dated blade of Mitsunaga extant, namely the jūyō-bijutsuhin tantō introduced in picture 1 which is from Genkō two (1322) and which is owned by the Kurokawa Institute of Ancient Cultures. This blade has an interesting shape. Its omote side is in hira-zukuri and its ura side in kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri. It has a mitsu-mune, some uchizori, and is otherwise of normal dimensions for that time. The kitae is a somewhat standing-out itame with ji-nie and the hamon is a nie-laden gunome-midare that is mixed with sunagashi, kinsuji, and hotsure. The bōshi is midare-komi with a rather pointed kaeri that runs back in a long fashion. Gomabashi are engraved on the omote side and the ura side shows a koshibi. The nakago is ubu, has a kirijiri, and features a relatively finely chiseled mei.

 

Picture 1: jūyo-bunkazai, tantō, mei: “Heianjō-jū Mitsunaga – Genkō ninen nigatsu hi” (平安城住光長・元亨二年二月日, “on a day in the second month of Genkō two (1322)”), nagasa 24.8 cm, uchizori, motohaba 2.2 cm

 

Such kanmuri-otoshi shapes were very typical for Yamato blades of that time so the theory that his and his father’s roots were in Yamato sound plausible. Even the NBTHK states that this Genkō two blade reminds them in terms of tsukurikomi and interpretation of the jiba of the Yamato tradition. However, there are also Mitsunaga works extant which feature a nie-utsuri and so also another theory is possible, one that says that he was actually either an Awataguchi or a Rai smith. One of them is shown in picture 2. It is an unsigned tantō but which has a similar shape as the jūyō-bijutsuhin and which is attributed by the NBTHK to Heianjō Mitsunaga. This blade is in kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri (on both sides this time), has an iori-mune, a relatively narrow mihaba, an uchizori, a thick kasane, and only little fukura. The kitae is a very dense ko-itame that tends to nagare in places and that features ji-nie, fine chikei, and a faint nie-utsuri. The hamon is a narrow and shallow ko-nieladen notare-chō with a wide and bright nioiguchi that is mixed with ko-gunome and plenty of kinsuji. the bōshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. There is a koshi-bi wie soebi on both sides which run as kaki-nagashi into the tang and the nakago is almost ubu (it is slightly machi-okuri), has a shallow kurijiri, and katte-sagari yasurime.

 

Picture 2: jūyō-tōken, tantō, mumei: Den Heianjō Mitsunaga (伝平安城光長), nagasa 24.3 cm, uchizori, motohaba 1.95 cm

 

Whilst the first two blades were more on the Yamato side, blade number 3 shown below rather tends towards the Rai School. It is a small hira-zukuri tanto with a nagasa of 21.1 cm, uchizori, and a relatively slender mihaba. its kitae is a dense ko-itame with ji-nie and a nie-utsuri and its hamon is a nie-laden hoso-suguha-chō that is mixed with ko-gunome, notsure, and sunagashi. The bōshi is only slightly undulating, featuring a ko-maru-kaeri with hakikake that runs back in a long fashion. On the omote side we see a suken and on the ura side gomabashi. The tang is a little bit suriage, has a shallow kurijiri, and katte-sagari-yasurime.

 

Picture 3: jūyō-tōken, tantō, mei: “Heianjō-jū Mitsunaga” (平安城住光長), hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, nagasa 21.1 cm, uchizori, mihaba 1.75 cm

 

At this point, I want to give you an idea of how complicated and interwoven the topic of these old smiths is. The Ōseki Shō from the early 1500s says for example that Mitsunaga’s was Konyū (虎熊) and the genealogy of the shintō-era Chikuzen-Nobukuni smiths (compiled in 1601) states that the second generation Nobukuni, one of their ancestors, used that too. This is interesting but could also just be a coincidence. The Kotō Mei Zukushi Taizen and Tsuneishi however say that his was Chonyū/Inyū (猪熊). Those who follow my blog very closely might remember these characters. Read in the Japanese way, Inokuma, we arrive at the place where the Hasebe School had settled in Kyōto (more info here). Very interesting, isn’t it, as one tradition says that Mitsunaga’s father was a Hasebe smith. But there is more. As mentioned in the linked article from 2013, there is the theory that the founder of the Hasebe School himself, Kunishige (国重), was a Yamato Senju’in smith who settled in Kyōto via a stopover in Kamakura where he learned the Sōshū tradition. Now this theory is of course not settled and we will probably never now for sure what was really going on 700 years ago but I take the liberty to throw out some possible scenarios now and then.

In this context, let’s take a look at the signature of the Heianjō smiths. As stated above, they signed with the prefix “Heianjō-jū.” This by itself is nothing special as it just means “resident of Kyōto,” that is, although uncommon for these schools, it would have been theoretically possible that even an Awataguchi or a Rai smith had signed with “Heianjō-jū.” However, the term Heianjō (平安城) comes with some contextual baggage so to speak. It was introduced, with Heiankyō (平安京), to distinguish the new Kyōto capital from the old one in Nara, which was Heijōkyō (平城京). Well, that move of the capital had been taken place 500 years before the Heianjō School emerged but taking into consideration (often deliberate) subtleties in Japanese language, it is possible that signing with this prefix was a way for former Yamato smiths to proudly state that they were now working in Kyōto, an issue that Sanjō, Gojō, Awataguchi and Rai smiths didn’t have to worry about as they were old-established Kyōto smiths. Incidentally, there is the old tradition that some Yamato smiths had their origins within the Iruka group (入鹿) of Kii province which in turn is said to have been founded by Mōgusa smiths in 10th century. So from that point of view, the Kokon Kaji Mei Hayamidashi is not totally off stating that the ancestor of the Heianjō lineage has northern Mōgusa roots in the wider sense.

Below I want to present the genealogy of the Heianjō School as I see it today.

Genealogy Heianjo

 

The Nagayoshi lineage will be the subject of the next chapter. Somewhat odd is that it appears that there are no blades of Mitsunaga’s son and the first generation Nagayoshi’s father Yoshinaga extant. At least I wasn’t able to find one… The Kokon Mei Zukushi might provide a hint for why Yoshinaga blades are virtually non-existent. In their genealogy namely his place is left blank and filled with the information “daughter of Mitsunaga.” This would mean that Yoshinaga was Mitsunaga’s son-in-law, what leads to a range of possible scenarios. Maybe Mitsunaga’s first born child was a girl and he waited in vain for being blessed with a male heir and as time went on and on, he eventually married his daughter to Yoshinaga to pass on his profession as a swordsmith. So maybe Yoshinaga came to the family relatively late. Well, there was according to tradition also the son Sadaie (定家) (see genealogy) but it is possible that after marrying his daughter to Yoshinaga, Mitsunaga’s wife did give birth to a boy eventually. Or Sadaie was adopted as another possible candidate to take over the lineage. It is interesting that the Kokon Mei Zukushi lists a Nagayoshi after Sadaie and one after the Mitsunaga’s daughter. Possible that there was some confusion going on after Mitsunaga died and it was decided that both Yoshinaga and Sadaie’s sons were allowed to continue with the Nagayoshi name, like as it was the case later with the two Echizen Yasutsugu lineages.

Anyway, that’s just some thoughts on the early Heianjō smiths and the Nagayoshi lineage will be dealt with in the next chapter.

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KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #35 – Heianjō (平安城) and Go-Sanjō (後三条) Schools 2

With the Ōei era (1394-1428) we see a very gentle spike in (extant) Go-Sanjō Yoshinori works. I have hinted at that at the very beginning of the previous chapter, saying that many sources just jump in at this point and brush off the handful of earlier “outliers”. After that brief Ōei spike, that one mid-Muromachi period Yoshinori master is regarded as the most representative Go-Sanjō smith, and this recognition goes back to both quantity and quality, that is, dated works confirm a relatively long active period of more than 35 years (from Bunmei three, 1471, to Eishō four, 1507). According to the Kokon Kaji Mei Hayamidashi genealogy that I presented in the previous chapter, that representative mid-Muromachi period Go-Sanjō Yoshinori master was the fifth generation. Another counting, which follows the “dismissal of the earlier outliers” approach, starts with the Ōei era Yoshinori as first master and counts this smith as third generation. And as this master is so much more prominent than all the others, some Meikan follow the approach of just listing this Yoshinori without associating him with a certain generation of the lineage (as THE Go-Sanjō Yoshinori so to speak, and as the counting of generations is unclear anyway).

So what are we dealing with here? In a nutshell, it appears that the Yoshinori lineage emerged at the very end of the Kamakura, beginning of the Nanbokuchō period, produced blades but never rose to the fame of contemporary local schools (e.g. Nobukuni, Hasebe), repositioned itself at the beginning of the Muromachi period, produced one single great master in the mid-Muromachi period, and then fell into oblivion again.

I don’t want to go into too much detail here as I want to save this topic for an extra article but what can be said is that with the shift towards Kamakura, i.e. the emergence and impact of the Sōshū tradition, the old-established Kyōto schools like Awataguchi and Rai phased out at the beginning of the Nanbokuchō period. Then several decades of uncertainty followed, the Nanbokuchō period, and when those Nanbokuchō issues were “solved” and the “warrior experiment” of Kamakura was over, both aristocratic and military government re-united in Kyōto, a move that marks the beginning of the Muromachi period. Some Kyōto schools were able to resume from there, others not.

Back to the Go-Sanjō School. The first blade that I want to introduce in this chapter (see picture 5) is dated by the NBTHK around Kōshō (康正, 1455-1457) which would make it a work of the 4th generation when counting from the Kenmu-era Yoshinori as 1st generation, or of the 2nd generation when you follow the approach that the Ōei-era Yoshinori was actually the 1st generation of the lineage. Be that as it may, we have here a large hira-zukuri wakizashi with a noticeable sakizori and thus a blade which was probably worn as auxiliary sword (sashizoe) to the main sword, the tachi. The blade shows a rather standing-out itame with plenty of ji-nie and is hardened in a nie-laden hitatsura which bases on an ō-gunome-midare that is mixed with chōji, togariba, yahazu, ashi, , sunagashi and kinsuji. The nioiguchi is bright and clear and the bōshi is midare-komi that tends to kuzure and that runs back in a wide manner and continues as muneyaki. The omote side bears a bonji and a suken and the ura side a bonji and gomabashi. The tang is ubu, has a kurijiri, kiri-yasurime, and the yoji-mei is executed with a rather thick chisel. As you can see, the blade looks very much like Sue-Sōshū and the NBTHK says in its jūyō paper that we have here a valuable masterwork whose interpretation in an excellently hardened hitatsura testifies to the wide variety of styles the Go-Sanjō School was actually working in at that time.

 

Picture 5: jūyō-tōken, wakizashi, mei: “Sanjō Yoshinori” (三条吉則), hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, nagasa 57.4 cm, sori 1.3 cm, motohaba 3.15 cm

 

The next blade (see picture 6) is of a relatively similar interpretation. The NBTHK does not specifically date this blade but says that it is a Yoshinori masterwork in hitatsura that is of a clear jiba and rich in variety and mentions again, that the similarity to Sue-Shōshū is striking. The blade is a long and wide hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi with a relatively prominent sakizori. Its kitae is an excellently forged itame that shows ji-nie and the hamon is a nie-laden hitatsura that bases on a widely hardened gunome-midare and that features chōji, many tobiyaki and muneyaki, , and sunagashi. The bōshi is midare-komi and its ō-maru-kaeri connects with the muneyaki.

 

Picture 6: jūyō-tōken, wakizashi, mei: “Sanjō Yoshinori saku” (三条吉則作), hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, nagasa 37.0 cm, sori 1.0 cm, mihaba 2.95 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

 

Now although the Go-Sanjō School has been able to once again regain ground after the Nanbokuchō period, new difficulties were on the horizon roughly 70 years later, that is the Ōnin War that broke out in 1467 which destroyed most of Kyōto in the ten year it was fought. The Ōnin War marks the transition from the fourth to the fifth generation Yoshinori and signatures of the latter proof that he had to leave the capital and work at different places for some time, for example in the provinces of Izumi, Mikawa, and Echizen. One such example is the blade shown in picture 7. This blade is insofar also very interesting as it tells us Yoshinori’s family name, Fuse (布施). It is signed “Sanjō Fuse Fujiwara Yoshinori Echizen ni oite saku” (三条布施藤原吉則於越前作, “made in Echizen by Sanjō Fuse Fujiwara Yoshinori”). The ura side of the tang bears the name of the client and another inscription. It reads: “Obuse Shirōzaemon no Jō Minamoto Hisayoshi jūdai hitode ni watasubekarazu” (小布施四郎左衛門尉源久慶重代不可渡他手, “for the successive generations of Obuse Shirōzaemon no Jō Minamoto Hisayoshi and shall not leave the family”). So, Obuse Hisayoshi, who was a local resident of Echizen, ordered this sword from Yoshinori to become a treasure sword of his family. The blade is a katana with modest proportions and a sakizori and shows an itame that tends to nagare and that features ji-nie. The hamon is a gunome-midare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with togariba, ko-chōji, and plenty of ashi. The bōshi is midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri that shows hakikake. On the omote side we see a thin hi along the shinogi and below a sō no kurihara and on the ura side the same hi that meanders into a bonji with below a rendai.

 

Picture 7: jūyō-tōken, katana, mei see description above, nagasa 67.0 cm, sori 2.3 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, sakihaba 1.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

 

The above blade is from rather moderate dimensions but long swords from the early to mid-Muromachi Yoshinori are often noticeably short and slender, almost kodachi-like if you will. The blade shown in picture 8 is a katana with a nagasa of 61.6 cm and a mihaba of 2.76 cm, featuring a relatively short nakago. The blade shows an itame that tends to nagare and a narrow suguha. The bōshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. On the omote side we see a suken at the base and on the ura a single koshibi.

 

Picture 8: katana, mei: “Yoshinori” (吉則), nagasa 61.6 cm, sori 1.8 cm, motohaba 2.76 cm, sakihaba 1.73 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

 

Another short and slender blade is shown in picture 9. This blade measures under 2 shaku and is thus classified as wakizashi. It shows a dense itame that is mixed with mokume and that features ji-nie. The hamon is a suguha and a bōhi runs on both sides as kakitōshi through the tang.

 

Picture 9: wakizashi, mei: “Yoshinori” (吉則), nagasa 49.3 cm, sori 1.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

 

Due to the then changes in warfare, more and more yari appeared on the battlefield, and the Go-Sanjō Yoshinori and the Heianjō Nagayoshi lineages catered to that. Picture 10 shows a hira-sankaku ōmi-yari whose kitae is an itane-nagare that is mixed with masame and that features ji-nie. The hamon is a suguha to hoso-suguha with a rather tight nioiguchi that is mixed with some ko-ashi, ko-gunome and a few hotsure and the bōshi is sugu with a rather wide ko-maru-kaeri. On the flat hira side of the yari we see excellent horimono in the form of a bonji and a kurikara.

 

Picture 10: jūyō-tōken, ōmiyari, mei: “Heianjō Yoshinori saku” (平安城吉則作), nagasa 37.4 cm, motohaba 2.5 cm, nakago-nagasa (ubu) 37.4 cm

 

Although not as obvious as seen at the Heianjō Nagayoshi lineage, the Yoshinori lineage did focus on horimono too. The last blade that I want to introduce in this chapter is such an example (see picture 11). It is a hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi with a wide mihaba and some sori that shows a dense itame that is tends to nagare-masame towards the ha and the mune and that features ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden ko-notare with a wide and clear nioiguchi that is mixed with gunome, yubashiri, and sunagashi. The bōshi is notare to midare-komi and has a ko-maru-kaeri. On the omote side we see again a kurikara and on the ura side the name of the deity Marishi-Sonten (摩利支尊天).

 

Picture 11: jūyō-tōken, wakizashi, mei: “Heianjō Yoshinori saku” (平安城吉則作), nagasa 32.3 cm, sori 0.4 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune

 

*

 

Now I want to conclude this chapter with the difficulties we are facing with the Go-Sanjō Yoshinori lineage. First of all, there are not that many works from that lineage extant and as mentioned several times, the counting of generations is unclear. Therefore, the NBTHK for example, does not attribute Yoshinori blades to a certain generation but just says early Muromachi, around Bunmei (文明, 1469-1487), around Eishō (永正, 1504-1524), not earlier than mid-Muromachi etc. In other words, you have to do some homework and see to which hand a blade might most likely go back to. Also, at least to my knowledge, no comparative study of Yoshinori signatures has been done so this might be a task for the future (e.g. when I decide to make this Kantei series into books). Another difficulty is that with the advance of the Muromachi period, once unique workmanships begin to thin out and schools are approaching each other, what makes it with the low number of extant Yoshinori works even more difficult to kantei a blade. In this sense, I would like to take the liberty and quote Tsuneishi sensei‘s chapter on later generations Yoshinori:

Katana are mostly short and show an elegant toriizori but which often tends to sakizori and with their slender mihaba, these blades look like elongated kodachi and are overall of a weak/delicate sugata. The hardening is usually in nie-deki but we also see chū-suguha with hardly any nie at all, a Bizen-style koshi no hiraita-midare, or a Mino-style gunome-midare, and some blades show some mura-nie. The jihada is a mokume mixed with masame and is generally weak with a tendency to roughness. The steel is blackish but may also show shirake. The bōshi is either ichimai or ko-maru whereas the kaeri often runs back in a Yamashiro-atypical long manner. This trend to slender blades with a nioi-based suguha is particularly seen at later works. These blades usually show a frayed nioiguchi that lacks power and brightness. Wakizashi and tantō may show a vivid yahazu-midare or ō-midare with mura-nie but again, the interpretations overall lack power. Horimono may be present but they are more rare than at the Heianjō Nagayoshi lineage. Some works are very similar (also in terms of overall quality) to the Bizen Yoshii Yoshinori lineage of the same name. However, the sugata is different as the Yoshii Yoshinori works show a koshizori and the Sanjō Yoshinori works a toriizori with a tendency towards sakizori. Although nie of Sanjō Yoshinori works of that time lack nie, they are still there, and more prominent, than at the nioi-deki of Yoshii Yoshinori works. Also the jigane differs. Apart from that, works from both groups are usually signed with a reference to the production site, i.e. “Yoshii-jū Yoshinori” in case of the Bizen smiths and “Sanjō-jū” or “Heianjō-jū Yoshinori” in case of the Kyōto smiths. That is, only the early masters signed in niji-mei.

 

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #34 – Heianjō (平安城) and Go-Sanjō (後三条) Schools 1

With the Heianjō and Go-Sanjō Schools we are facing the well-known problem of historic records going very far back in time but with the exception of a very few “outliers,” on which the experts even have differention opinions on, the extant body of works does not go back farther than the early Muromachi period. Now you could just say it like that and go ahead by introducing these extant works, which is usually done in most of the sources, but if you follow my series you will know that I don’t want to skip these considerations on the origins of certain things as such a habit can give the reader the idea that swordsmiths schools just popped up out of nowhere and nothing is connected with anything.

The Heianjō and Go-Sanjō Schools are insofar also a kind of a special case because we know that they were working closely together in the mid-Muromachi period but we don’t know how far back this relationship goes, or if these smiths were connected to their earlier namesakes at all, but more on this later. Although period sources suggest that the Heianjō lineage is older than the Go-Sanjō lineage, I nevertheless want to start with the latter because it appears that the oldest extant blades signed with the very same name used by the main line, Yoshinori (吉則), are on the Go-Sanjō side.

For some reason, most of the older sword sources don’t deal in detail with the Yoshinori lineage. The Kokon Mei Zukushi Taizen, whose information has to be taken with a grain of salt (for reasons mentioned earlier in this series), briefly says that Yoshinori (吉則) was born in Jōwa five (1349) and died in Ōei eight (1401) at the age of 52. The Kokon Kaji Mei Hayamidashi is to my knowledge the earliest relevant publication that presents a specific genealogy for the Yoshinori lineage in which it dates its first generation to Kenmu (1334-1338) and its second generation to Jōji (1362-1368). If this genealogy is correct, the Kokon Mei Zukushi Taizen is referring to the second generation, an approach by which also Satō Kanzan goes. As a reference, I want to introduce that genealogy of the Kokon Kaji Mei Hayamidashi below.

 

Sanjo Yoshinori Genealogy

 

At this point, the oldest extant signed Yoshinori blade comes into play. It is a jūyō-bunkazai tachi (see picture 1) preserved in the Sakakiyama-jinja (榊山神社), Gifu Prefecture, which is introduced by the experts as follows: Honma says early Nanbokuchō (corrected his previous Nihon Kotō Shi statement where he had dated the blade to the late Nanbokuchō period); Satō says end of Kamakura and probably a work of the Kenmu-era first generation; Tsuneishi says end of Kamakura too; the jūyō-bunkazai designation says early Nanbokuchō; and the prewar kokuhō designation (that blade had been kokuhō before WWII) from 1928 says end of Kamakura to Nanbokuchō and if the traditional counting of generations is correct (first generation Kenmu and second generation Jōji), somewhere in between those two but with a hint more towards the first master. Incidentally, the designation says that the blade was once a heirloom of the Tōyama (遠山) family, the daimyō of the Naegi fief (苗木藩) of Mino province, and was offered to the Sakakiyama-jinja during the Meiji era by the twelfth and last Naegi daimyō Tōyama Tomoyoshi (遠山友禄, 1819-1894).

 

Picture 1: jūyō-bunkazai, tachi, mei: “Yoshinori” (吉則), nagasa 75.8 cm, sori 2.5 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, sakihaba 1.8 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, on both sides a bōhi that ends in marudome in the tang

 

Let us address the workmanship of this blade. It displays an elegant tachi-sugata that fits very well to the given time frame, i.e. end of Kamakura to early Nanbokuchō, and it is assumed that its original nagasa was somewhere close to 90 cm. It has a deep koshizori, tapers noticeably, and ends in a compact ko-kissaki. The jigane is a somewhat standing-out itame that is mixed with mokume and nagare and that displays ji-nie. The hamon is a classical ko-midare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-chōji and ashi and whose elements are rather densely arranged. The ha gets wider towards the yokote and ends in a nie-laden and wide bōshi with hakikake which almost appears as ichimai. In the preward kokuhō designation we read that the classical interpretation of the jiba does speak for Kyō-mono but that the hamon is somewhat more narrow and the nioiguchi partially somewhat harder than that of contemporary Yamashiro (e.g. Awataguchi, Rai) masterworks, although the blade itself is of course an outstanding masterwork too, just not at Awataguchi or Rai level, and its jiba is kenzen (in perfectly healthy condition).

In conclusion, there is agreement that the blade is in Yamashiro tradition, a Kyō-mono, and Tsuneishi goes so far to place it in the vicinity of the Ryōkai School, what brings us to the origins of the Sanjō Yoshinori lineage. To make it short, nobody knows but it is assumed that there was no connection whatsoever to the early Sanjō School. To keep them apart, the lineage of Yoshinori is also referred to as Go-Sanjō (後三条), “later Sanjō.” The Meikan list a Yoshinori from the early Sanjō School who was supposedly active around Chōkyū (長久, 1040-1044) but this early Yoshinori entry might just be an attempt to connect the Go-Sanjō with the initial Sanjō School. Others suggest that Yoshinori might have been a student of the Awataguchi Yoshimitsu-student Yoshimasa (吉正) who was active around Kōan (1278-1288). Would match in terms of active period and the use of the character Yoshi but that might actually be the only reason for this theory.

There is supposedly a Yoshinori blade extant which is dated Ōei two (1395) and which is the oldest dated work of that lineage but I wasn’t able to find it in my references so the next blade that I want to introduce is a jūyō-bijitsuhin tantō (see picture 2) that is dated to around the same time, that is end of Nanbokuchō to early Muromachi. This blade is also one of the earliest ones that is actually signed with the prefix “Sanjō” and it might be a work of the third generation, possibly second generation. The blade has an uncommon shape, kata-shōbu-zukuri, i.e. one side in hira and the other side in shōbu-zukuri, and sows a relatively narrow suguha-chō that is mixed with ko-gunome and a few sunagashi and kinsuji and that features an undulating bōshi with sunagashi that runs back with a pointy ko-maru-kaeri.

 

Picture 2: jūyō-bijutsuhin, tantō, mei: “Sanjō Yoshinori saku” (三条吉則作), nagasa 29.4 cm, mitsu-mune

 

Now we arrive at blade three. It is a katana signed “Yoshinori” which Satō dates after the jūyo-bunkazai of the Sakakiyama-jinja but not later than early Muromachi. The blade is shortened and its bōhi ends in marudome in the middle of the tang whereupon it is sometimes confused at first glance with the jūyo-bunkazai but which is a tachi (notice the tachi-mei). Blade number 3 shows a standing-out ko-itame that is mixed with with masame and a ko-midare hamon that is mixed with ko-gunome and that gets wider and features more hataraki along the monouchi, an approach that can also be seen at the previous two blades. The bōshi is midare-komi and runs back with a ko-maru-kaeri with hakikake.

 

Picture 3: katana, mei: “Yoshinori” (吉則), nagasa 72.2 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

 

Picture 4, from left to right: mei of the jūyō-bunkazai, of the Yoshinori katana from picture 3, mei of the jūyō-bijutsuhin, mei of an Ōei dated Yoshinori work.

 

With this I want to come back to the question of succession of generations and do some signature comparison. Picture 4 shows the mei of the three so far introduced Yoshinori blades plus that of a tantō dated Ōei 26 (1419). As you can see, there are some unique features. At the first blade, the lower (口) radical of the Yoshi character is noticeably angular and the right radical (リ) of the nori (則) character has a vertical and relatively long left stroke. At the second blade, the right edge of the (口) radical ends in a noticeably pronounced manner, similar to how the katakana syllable se (セ) ends its horizontal stroke. At the character for nori, the left stroke of the right radical (リ) is still executed vertically but somewhat shorter. Also, the longer right stroke of that radical starts as a corner (𠃍) whereas at the previous mei, there is some little extension like (丁). At the third blade, the (口) radical does not show that pronounced edge and at the nori character, the left stroke has become a very small dot. At the fourth blade, the (口) radical apprars to remain the same but the left stroke of the (リ) radical is again longer but is executed in a diagonal manner. This all combined, plus other subtle differences like the curve of the long right stroke of the (リ) radical, makes it not too unreasonable to assume that we are facing here four generations, the first four, arranged chronologically.

I want to conclude this chapter by introducing the fourth blade shown in the signature comparison. It is a hira-zukuri sunnobi-tantō whose sugata is typical for the Ōei era. It shows a ko-itame that is mixed with nagare and that features ji-nie and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha-chō that is mixed with some shallow ko-notare, gunome, and some fine kinsuji. The nioiguchi is rather compact but subdued and the bōshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. On the omote side we see a suken and on the ura side gomabashi. The tang is ubu (just the jiri was cut off a little) and as you can learn from the interpretation of the jiba and sugata, we find some points in common with the contemporary Nobukuni School.

 

Picture 4: jūyō, sunnobi-tantō, mei: “Yoshinori” (吉則) – “Ōei nijūrokunen jūnigatsu hi” (応永廿六年十二月日, “a day in the twelfth month of Ōei 26, 1419).

 

Next chapter will deal with the Yoshinori generations who were active from the early Muromachi period onwards. So please stay tuned.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #33 – Hasebe (長谷部) School 4

The last Hasebe master that I would like to introduce is Kunihira (国平). He is said to have been the son of Kunishige, which either makes him the nephew or the brother of Kuninobu, depending on the tradition you follow. As for his active period, we know date signatures from Enbun two (延文, 1357), Jôji three (貞治, 1364), and Jôji six (1367). That is, he was active at about the same time as Kuninobu and their workmanship is also very similar. By the way, the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that Kunihira was born in Ôchô one (応長, 1311) and died in Enbun four (1359) at the relatively young age of 49 but this is of course not sustainable if we have date signatures from later than Enbun four.

There are far less (signed) works of Kunihira extant than of Kunishige and Kuninobu what would support the tradition that you died relatively young, although surely not in Enbun four as mentioned, or that he was mostly assisting his father in running the school. As for Kunihira’s characteristic features, Tsuneishi writes that he made more smaller dimensioned tantô than Kunishige, some of them even featuring a takenoko-zori, but it is hard to locate those because the short swords that I have in my references are of typical sunnobi shape and not noticeably small. Tsuneishi further states that Kunihira’s kasane is not as thin as that of Kunishige and Kuninobu but as seen later, there are Kunihira works around which feature a very thin kasane. Anyway, his hamon is generally a hint less nie-laden and a little more calm than that of his father and uncle/brother.

The first Kunihira sword that I want to introduce is a quite elegant tachi that doesn’t look like Nanbokuchô-heyday at glance. It has a standing-out itame mixed with nagare that also features ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is a suguha-chô mixed with a little ko-gunome and ko-midare and along the subdued but wide and nie-laden nioiguchi we see ashi, hotsure, yubashiri, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The bôshi is sugu and has a brief ko-maru-kaeri. Incidentally, this Kunihira-tachi was once put out at a kantei session in Tôkyô of which I have the protocol. That protocol says that there were neither atari nor dôzen and because of the itame-magare and the suguha-chô, most of the participants focused on Tegai Kanenaga (手掻包永), or went for Ko-Aoe (古青江) and Naminohira Yukiyasu (波平行安). In the case of Kanenaga we would expect more Yamato characteristics, both in sugata and jiba. A Ko-Aoe work would show more nie and some jifu, sumigane and/or a dan-utsuri. Also an old Kyûshû work would show more Yamato characterstics. And as there are perpendicular ko-ashi, we can see some hints of the Yamashiro tradition but obviously most of the participants hesitated to go for Yamashiro as they would expect a densely forged kitae or a true nashiji-hada for a blade with such a classical sugata (leading one into the wrong period, i.e. too early).

Picture 1: tachi, mei “Hasebe Kunihira” (長谷部国平), nagasa 72.2 cm, sori 2.1 cm, motohaba 2.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The next blade (picture 2) is one of the known dated work of Kunihira. It is a wide sunnobi-tantô with a relatively deep sori for its nagasa and with a wide top surface of its mitsu-mune. The kitae is a standing-out itame that is mixed with large-structured mokume and with masame towards the ha and the mune. Ji-nie appears and the hamon consists of angular and kata-yahazu-like gunome elements which are connected with shallow sections of ko-notare. The ha is nie-laden and shows sunagashi, yubashiri, tobiyaki, and muneyaki, i.e. it appears overall as hitatsura. The bôshi is a wide and wildly hardened midare-komi whose kaeri connects with the muneyaki.

Picture 2: sunnobi-tantô, mei: “Hasebe Kunihira”  (長谷部国平) – “Jôji sannen nigatsu hi”  (貞治三年二月日, “a day in the second month Jôji three [1364]”), nagasa 30.3 cm, sori 0.6 cm, motohaba 2.85 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune

The last Kunihira blade (picture 3) is a slightly longer sunnobi-tantô, or hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi if you want, that has a wide mihaba, a very thin kasane, and some sori. The jigane is a standing-out itame that is mixed with nagare and masame, in particular on the omote side. Also ji-nie and chikei appear and the hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with protruding angular gunome, chôji, dango-chôji, yahazu, yubashiri, tobiyaki, muneyaki, sunagashi, and kinsuji so again, we have overall a hitatsura. It is interesting that the bôshi is interpreted differently on both sides. On the omote we see a widely hardened kaen-style bôshi with a wide kaeri and on the ura a low midare-komi with an extremely late starting and pointy ko-maru-kaeri.

Picture 3: sunnobi-tantô, mei: “Hasebe Kunihira”  (長谷部国平), nagasa 32.9 cm, sori 0.5 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

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Last but not least I want to introduce two works of some of the more rare smiths of the Hasebe School, namely Munenobu (宗信) and Shigenobu (重信). Picture 4 shows a tantô by the former smith who is said to either have been the son of Kuninobu or the second son of the second generation Kunishige. The blade has a relatively moderate shape and shows a rather standing-out itame that is partially mixed with nagare and that features ji-nie. The hamon is a nie-laden suguha-chô that tends a little towards a shallow notare and that is mixed with some gunome, sunagashi, hotsure, uchinoke, nijûba, and yubashiri. The bôshi has a somewhat pointy ko-maru-kaeri and shows hakikake. As you can see, the deki is quite calm for a Hasebe work and reminds more of a Yamato or Yamashiro work.

Picture 4: tantô, mei: “Hasebe Munenobu” (長谷部宗信), nagasa 29.8 cm, sori 0.2 cm, motohaba 2.65 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

And the last work (picture 5) is a tantô by Shigenobu who is said to have been a student of the first generation Kunishige. There were supposedly two generations Shigenobu but the jûyô papers say that this one is Nanbokuchô what basically makes it a first generation work. The blade is in katakiriba-zukuri, has a relatively wide mihaba and no sori. The kitae is an itame with ji-nie that appears as masame towards the ha and the mune. The hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with gunome and much sunagashi and the bôshi is sugu with a long running-back ko-maru-kaeri. The omote side shows a bonji and the ura side a gyô no kurikara.

Picture 5: tantô, mei: “Hasebe Shigenobu” (長谷部重信), nagasa 27.0 cm, muzori, motohaba 2.7 cm, katakiriba-zukuri, mitsu-mune

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Below is the genealogy of the Hasebe School as I see it at the moment. As mentioned in the first chapter of the school, it is difficult to tell with certainty how the succession of generations went down. What I want to mention is that if you follow the tradition the Kuninobu was not the younger brother but the second son of the first generation Kunishige and that he later succeeded his father as head of the school, it would bring in line the traditions that Rokurôzaemon was so to speak “both” the second and third generation, i.e. he was the second generation Kunishige and the third generation Hasebe. Be that as it may, I think it is safe to assume that the Hasebe was organized like most of the other dominating schools of that time, and that is, a grand master who was supervising several smiths, some of them his sons (or even brothers), who either produced in his name, which was the brand name, or occasionally also under their own name.

 

Genealogy Hasebe School

 

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #32 – Hasebe (長谷部) School 3

We arrive at Hasebe Kuninobu (国信) who was either the younger brother or the second son of Kunishige. The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen follows the former tradition and says that Kuninobu was born in Bun’ei eleven (文永, 1274) and died in Kôei two (康永, 1343) at the age of 70. When it comes to dated blades, I state in my Swordsmiths of Japan A-Z that we know nenki from Enbun two (延文, 1357) to Kentoku two (建徳, 1371). This information is from the Tôkô Taikan but I was not able to find either of these two dates, only blades dated Jôji two (貞治, 1363) and Jôji four (1365), which are also the two dates that Tanobe sensei quotes in his latest book on the Yamashiro tradition. In short, Kuninobu appears to have been active a little bit later than Kunishige, although it is impossible to say from the current evidence base if he was the younger brother or the second son of Kunishige, i.e. both is absolutely within the realm of possibilities. That said, there is also the tradition that Kuninobu signed later in his career with Kunishige too. We are facing the same issue with the Nobukuni School, and also with the students of Shintôgo Kunimitsu for example. Now we don’t know if these double or triple identical names for one school mean that 1) there were just two, three, or sometimes even four smiths in one school who all signed with the same name, 2) that certain students were actually acting as head of the school under the master’s name for a certain while, or 3) if these period entries like “X signed later with Y too” actually just translates as “student X was later allowed to make daisaku-daimei works for master Y.”

So, let’s get started with Kuninobu’s workmanship and what distinguishes him from Kunishige. First difference: There are just a hint more signed long swords extant by Kuninobu than by Kunishige. Well, this factor might only come into play when doing a text-based kantei, but I nevertheless wanted to mention it here. That is, if a long kantei blade seems to be a Hasebe work and it is mentioned that it is signed, well, I would rather go for Kuninobu than for Kunishige. Kuninobu’s hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi and tantô are very similar to Kunishige, as their workmanship is quite close in general. What can be said is that Kuninobu’s hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi are by trend somewhat larger, and his tantô somewhat smaller than at Kunishige, i.e. we have so to speak more “clearly separated” short blade forms at Kuninobu than at Kunishige, although differences are of course not “jumping out at you.” Apart from that, Kuninobu applied a more roundish fukura and we usually see more yahazu in his ha than at Kunishige.

The first blade of Kanenobu that I want to introduce here is the famous meitô “Karakashiwa-Kuninobu” (唐柏国信), a fabulous ubu jûyô-bijutsuhin tachi with a nagasa of 79.4 cm which was once owned by the Uesugi family and which is also featured in Uesugi Kagekatsu’s (上杉景勝, 1556-1623) collection of 35 treasure swords (see picture 1). The blade has a perfectly healthy jiba, a magnificent shape with a very deep toriizori, still plenty of ha-niku, funbari, and an elongated chû-kissaki. The kitae is a dense itame with some nagare towards the ha and that shows plenty of ji-nie and some chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden ô-gunome mixed with chôji, ko-gunome, ko-notare, many ashi and , kinsuji, tobiyaki, yubashiri, and muneyaki. Thus the ha appears as a truly gorgeous hitatsura and the bôshi is a widely hardened midare-komi that tends to kuzure and whose kaeri connects with the muneyaki. Incidentally, we are facing here again a characteristic difference between Hasebe long swords and short swords, namely the trend that there is not so much nagare-masame at the former than at the latter. Incidentally, it is said that the nickname of the blade goes back to its flamboyant hitatsura resembles either Ricinus flowers or leaves (tôgoma [唐胡間], period name karakashiwa).

Picture 1: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tachi, mei: “Hasebe Kunonobu” (長谷部国信), nagasa 79.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Blade number 2 is another tachi of Kuninobu which shows the same characteristically tapering nakago and basically a similar shape, although a not so deep sori, but which is interpreted in an obviously more calm manner. The jigane is a dense ko-itame that features a faint nie-utsuri and the hamon is a nie-laden chû-suguha-chô that is mixed with some gunome, plenty of ko-ashi, and some saka-ashi on the haki-ura side. The bôshi starts with sugu, gets then a little undulating, and turns back briefly with a rather pointed kaeri. There is a bôhi with marudome on both sides and tang is a little machi-okuri.

Picture 2: jûyô, tachi, mei: “Hasebe Kunonobu” (長谷部国信), nagasa 75.4 cm, sori 2.2 cm, mihaba 3.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Now to Kuninobu’s short swords and again, I want to start with the most famous one, a jûyô-bunkazai hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi that is preserved in the Atsuta-jingû and that is said that to have been made by Kuninobu as offering to the shrine when he had withdrawn there to pray. Accordingly, the blade is sometimes referred to as “Atsuta-Kuninobu” (熱田国信) in period sources. The blade is very wide, has quite a pronounced sori, and a long sunnobi-nagasa of 40.7 cm, that is, it is of an overall quite magnificent hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi sugata. The kitae is a standing-out ô-itame with ji-nie that shows long nagare sections towards the ha. The hamon appears on the omote side as ko-notare that is mixed with angular and yahazu elements, and on the ura side we see a somewhat larger gunome-chôji-chô mixed with ko-notare and ko-gunome. The ha is nie-laden and there are sunagashi, kinsuji, tobiyaki, yubashiri, and muneyaki that run back in a very noticeable manner down to the base of the blade. So the ha appears altogether as hitatsura. The bôshi is midare-komi with a rather late starting, ô-maru-like and long running-back kaeri with hakikake that connects with the muneyaki. The omote side shows a katana-hi with below a tsume and the ura side gomabashi with a bonji on top. Kuninobu made quite many of such hitatsura hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi where angular and/or yahazu (or gunome-chôji) elements are connected via relatively low sections of ko-notare.

Picture 3: jûyô-bunkazai, wakizashi, mei: “Hasebe Kunonobu” (長谷部国信), nagasa 40.7 cm, sori 0.7 cm, motohaba 3.8 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

The next blade that I want to introduce is strongly tending towards yahazu. It is again a hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi that has a wide mihaba and some sori. The kitae is a standing-out itame that is mixed with masme towards the ha and the mune and that features ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden yahazu-gunome-chô connected with ko-notate that is mixed with sunagashi, tobiyaki, yubashiri, and a prominent muneyaki, i.e. that appears again as hitatsura. The bôshi is midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri that tends to nie-kuzure and that connects with the mune-yaki. Incidentally, the old sayagaki of this blade mentions that it was presented by the Owari-Tokugawa branch to the 14th Tokugawa shôgun Iemochi (徳川家茂, 1846-1886) when Iemochi was stopping by at Nagoya Castle on the eleventh day of the fifth month Keiô one (慶応, 1865).

Picture 4: jûyô, wakizashi, mei: “Hasebe Kunonobu” (長谷部国信), nagasa 33.5 cm, sori 0.3 cm, motohaba 2.95 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

With the next blade (picture 5) I want to remind readers that the Hasebe School too, like their Nobukuni colleagues, did apply rich and skillfully engraved horimono occasionally. The blade is a large hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi with a wide mihaba, some sori and a thin kasane. The kitae is an itame mixed with mokume that shows nagare-masame towards ha and mune and that features plenty of ji-nie and much chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden gunome that is mixed with ko-notare, some angular elements, kinsuji, sunagashi, yubashiri, and tobiyaki and that overall tends again towards hitatsura. The bôshi is midare-komi and has a relatively wide ô-maru-kaeri which connects with the interrupted muneyaki. On the omote side we see a bonji and a kurikara and on the ura side an ascending dragon that chases a gem.

Picture 5: tokubetsu-jûyô, mei: “Hasebe Kunonobu” (長谷部国信) – “Jôji ninen ?-gatsu hi” (貞治二年〇月日), “a day in the ? month of Jôji two [1363]”),  nagasa 38.0 cm, sori 0.4 cm, motohaba 2.4 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

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That should do it for this time and in the next part we round off the Hasebe chapter with Kunihira and the genealogy of the school.

 

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #31 – Hasebe (長谷部) School 2

As promised last time, we are continuing with Hasebe Kunishige’s short swords. A characteristic feature of his (and his school’s) hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi (and partially also of the larger tantô) is that they show a noticeably thin kasane, i.e. thinner as it was already common during the mid-Nanbokuchô period. This peculiarity is more noticeable at shorter blades because of obvious pratical reasons: Long swords from heyday Nanbokuchô do indeed have a thinner kasane than their Kamakura predecessors but you just can’t make a tachi too thin. Another typical feature of Kunishige and Hasebe that is a hint more obvious on hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi and tantô than on long swords is the tendency towards nagare-masame towards the ha and towards the mune. Sometimes it is just a little nagare along the itame but relatively often you will see almost pure masame in these areas, i.e. ha and mune. So the whole tradition with Kunishige having Yamato roots might actually just be “reverse engineering” so to speak, i.e. having an emphasis on masame, what speaks for Yamato, and then finding in Yamato province a place, Hase, that has literally parts of his name in it. But in a scientific and an evidence-based world, it is of course not that easy. Well, nagare-masame is also found at Ryôkai and Nobukuni but in their case it mostly appears just along the ha and not towards the mune. Incidentally, the Yamato characteristics seen at Kunishige blades are in my opinion not as strong as the Yamashiro characteristics seen at early Nobukuni blades. In other words, and as mentioned in the corresponding chapters, early Nobukuni works do confirm that he had Yamashiro roots whereas just masame here an there is, for me, not enough to close the Hasebe case and accept that Kunishige came from Yamato.

The first blade (picture 5) that I want to introduce is the blade that bears the earliest known date signature of Kunishige that is considered to be watertight, a hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi that is dated Bunna four (文和, 1355). The blade has a wide mihaba, a thin kasane, has a little sori, and is altogether of a typical sunnobi-sugata. The jigane is an overall standing-out itame that is mixed with masame towards the ha and towards the mune. In addition, also ji-nie and chikei appear. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden notare that is mixed with gunome, ashi, , kinsuji, sunagashi, tobiyaki, and muneyaki and that thus tends a little to hitatsura, although it is not a full and prominent hitatsura. The bôshi features a maru-kaeri with hakikake that runs back in a long fashion and connects with the muneyaki. As for the horimono, the omote side shows a suken and a bonji and the ura side a futasuji-hi which runs with kaki-nagashi into the tang. The tang is ubu, has a shallow kurijiri, kiri-yasurime, and three mekugi-ana. So, the kasane is a hint thinner than seen at contemporary heyday Nanbokuchô hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi, there is a tendency towards hitatsura, a long kaeri (although not added in the oshigata), and prominent masame and thus we have again all the characteristic features of the Hasebe School.

 

Picture 5: tokubetsu-jûyô, wakizashi, mei: “Hasebe Kunishige” (長谷部国重) – “Bunna yonen hachigatsu hi” (文和二二年八月日, “a day in the eighth month of Bunna four [1355]”), nagasa 34.2 cm, sori 0.4 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

The next blade (see picture 6) that I want to introduce was made a few years after the one shown in picture 5. It is a tantô that is dated with the Enbun era but unfortunately, the mekugi-ana goes through the year so the date can be anything between 1356 and 1361. This blade is a little bit smaller, measuring 29.0 cm in nagasa, but still features in relation to that nagasa a wide mihaba. The jigane is an itame that tends to masame-nagare along the ha and there is plenty of ji-nie. The hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with some ko-gunome, angular elements, much sunagashi all over, and tobiyaki, i.e. the hamon again appears altogether as hitatsura. The bôshi features a ko-maru-kaeri that runs back in a continuous manner as muneyaki. So please take a look at the hamon, bôshi, and muneyaki: We have here an interpretation that is very typical for the Hasebe School, namely a more or less uniformly wide hamon (i.e. no gradual widening towards the bôshi etc.) that is so to speak “mirrored” in a small way in the muneyaki. Or in other words, imagine two more or less parallel hardenings which “enclose” a hitatsura in between them. Kunishige and the other Hasebe smiths of course also hardened different hamon which increase in width, sometimes even prominently towards the bôshi, but from my experience, if you have a heyday Nanbokuchô hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi or sunnobi-tantô in hitatsura that has this almost what I call a “tuning fork” like hamon/muneyaki combination, there is a good chance that it is a Hasebe work. That said, there are quite similar interpretations by contemporary Sôshû masters like Hiromitsu and Akihiro but usually we see a hint more ups and downs along their hamon, and in particular dango-chôji in case of Hiromitsu. Also, there would not be that prominent masame-nagare and their blades would show a little thicker kasane.

 

Picture 6: jûyô, tantô, mei: “Hasebe Kunishige” (長谷部国重) – “Enbun ?-nen nigatsu hi” (延文〇年二月日), nagasa 29.0 cm, only a little sori, motohaba 2.8 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

In picture 7 I want to introduce another example, this time with the picture shown vertically, so I hope you understand what I meant with the “tuning fork” comparison, even if the muneyaki part doesn’t go all the way down here. It is another hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi and shows a somewhat standing-out itame that tends to nagare in places and that is mixed with mokume, some jifu, plenty of ji-nie, and chikei. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden notare that is mixed with gunome, a little bit chôji, many ashi, fine sunagashi and kinsuji, and with some tobiyaki at the base and along the upper half of the blade. The nioiguchi is bright.

 

Picture 7: tokubetsu-jûyô, wakizashi, mei: “Hasebe Kunishige” (長谷部国重), nagasa 36.9 cm, sori 0.5 cm, motohaba 3.5 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

 

Picture 8 shows a tantô with a moderate nagasa for mid-Nanbokuchô but which appears with the relatively narrow mihaba nevertheless in sunnobi-style. The jigane is a standing-out itame that is mixed with masame towards the mune and that features ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden gunome-chôji that is mixed with ko-notare, tobiyaki, yubashiri, sunagashi, and kinsuji and with the muneyaki, we arrive again at a full-blown hitatsura. Please note the different bôshi: It has a pointed kaeri on the ura but a typically roundish “Hasebe kaeri” on the omote side.

 


Picture 8: jûyô, tantô, mei: “Hasebe Kunishige” (長谷部国重), nagasa 27.0 cm, sori 0.2 cm, motohaba 2.4 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

 

The last blade (see picture 9) that I want to introduce for Kunishige should demonstrate another side of his repertoire, although interpretations like that are rather rare for him. It is a sunnobi-style tantô with a dense ko-itame that only tends on the ura side towards nagare-masame, and this only very little. In additiom, there is plenty of ji-nie and chikei. Such a relatively fine ko-itame is usually rather associated with Hasebe Kuninobu tachi than Hasebe Kunishige short swords. The hamon starts a a low and calm notare-chô which then turns into a wide chôji that is mixed with tobiyaki, yubashiri, muneyaki, fine kinsuji, and sunagashi. Thus the ha only appears in the upper section as hitatsura. Incidentally, the nioiguchi is wide and bright and the bôshi has a ko-maru-kaeri with a small shimaba on the omote side.

 

Picture 9: jûyô, tantô, mei: “Hasebe Kunishige” (長谷部国重), nagasa 27.9 cm, sori 0.3 cm, motohaba 2.8 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

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Next part will deal with Hasebe Kuninobu after which we will conclude the Hasebe chapter wit Kunihira and the genealogy of the school.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #30 – Hasebe (長谷部) School 1

Now we arrive at Yamashiro’s Hasebe School which is, lo and behold, actually Sôshû. Also, we are facing here kind of the same issues as we faced with the Nobukuni School. In regards to the former aspect, the Hasebe School does not qualify as member of the Yamashiro tradition in the strict sense of the word because its workmanship is, as mentioned, pure Sôshû. However, all traditional sources introduce the school as part of the Yamashiro tradition due to it being later located in Kyôto, and I don’t want to break with these conventions in my kantei series. In other words, and as my regular readers may know, I am questioning old publications quite frequently but at the same time, I still want to stick to traditional approaches as much as possible in order to maintain “backwards compatibility.” Long story short, I am introducing the Hasebe School in the Yamashiro chapter, the place you will also find it in traditional original Japanese sources in case you want do more research. I have dealt with the origins of the Hasebe School a while ago in this article. So basically there is the theory that the name of the school, and therefore the school itself, has its origins in Yamato province but there is also the approach to link the origins of the Hasebe School to Shintôgo Kunimitsu who bore the family name Hasebe. That said, I would like that you also read Darcy’s excellent write-up on this context here.

When it comes to the mentioned similar Nobukuni School issue, it is that of the counting of generations of the school founder, Hasebe Kunishige (長谷部国重). This means, like at the Nobukuni School, there are views which basically assume that the ancestor and first generation emerged in the mid-Nanbokuchô period whereas some of the older sources see him as student of Masamune and therefore place him in the early Nanbokuchô period. But let’s start and address these issues as we proceed.

The records are in agreement that the Hasebe School was founded by Kunishige. This Kunishige now either came from the Senju’in (or Taima) School, i.e. having Yamato roots, or was the son of (or otherwise related to) Shintôgo Kunimitsu. The former approach suggests that he followed the then trend of smiths being either invited to Kamakura or that he tried his luck at this new hotspot of sword making whereas the latter approach suggests that Kunishige was born into a newly created but now thriving sword making tradition. Either way, he must have been in touch with Masamune and with Masamune’s colleagues and this local context is good enough for me to understand why later sources count him as one of the famous Ten Students of Masamune. Just for your info, the Kotô Mei Zukushi says that the 1st generation Hasebe Kunishige was the son of Senju’in Shigenobu (千手院重信), that his first name was Chôbei (長兵衛),  that he was born in Bun’ei seven (文永, 1270), and that he died in Jôwa three (貞和, 1347) at the age of 78. It also says that he worked in Kyôto from the Ryakuô era (暦応, 1338-1342) onwards. The last statement makes insofar very much sense because with the fall of the Kamakura bakufu in 1333, we see kind of a “Kamakura exodus” with most of the then of Sôshû masters leaving the area, i.e. Gô Yoshihiro and Norishige going to Etchû, Rai Kunitsugu and Hasebe Kunishige to Kyôto, Sadamune to Takagi in Ômi province, Kaneuji and Kinjû to Mino, Chôgi to Bizen, and Sa going down to Kyûshû. I don’t want to digress too much but just so much for the historical background: After Kamakura fell, it was tried to have the shôgun in Kyôto and a deputy shôgun in Kamakura but that never worked out because the deputy shôgun tried to become shôgun what made Kamakura and the region was basically unstable. So only a few masters still remained on site to equip the local military elite, for example Hiromitsu and Akihiro.

Back to Kunishige. When we take a look at his entire body of work we learn that he focused on the production of hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi and tantô respectively (or all long swords were either used up or shortened later). Tachi are rare, what is in particular true for signed specimen. To my knowledge, there are only three zaimei tachi known, one is dated Jôwa five (貞和, 1349) and its authenticity is debated since pre-WWII times, one has an orikaeshi-mei, and one is ubu and displays a signature style which differs somewhat from that seen on his ko-wakizashi and tantô, although it is mentioned that in fact of the otherwise matching workmanship of the blade itself, the differences in the mei might well lie within the realm of changes of a smith’s signature style over time.

So before we introduce some of Kunishige’s works, let’s address the elephant in the room, the question about the succession/counting of generations. In the meikan, we usually find find three generations, the 1st being active around Kenmu (建武, 1334-1338), the 2nd around Enbun (延文, 1356-1361), and the 3rd generation, Rokurôzaemon (六郎左衛門), around Ôei (応永, 1394-1428). The Nihontô Koza also introduces three generations Kunishige, with Honma sensei adding that the workmanship of the first two is hard to distinguish and basically has to be tackled via the quality factor, what is the traditional approach we see so often, i.e. “looks definitely like smith A but the quality is a little inferior so let’s say it is a work of a second generation A.” This scenario sometimes works but sometimes there is nothing really substantial to base it on. Incidentally, in his Nihon Kotô Shi, Honma states that he agrees with the tradition that the 1st generation was already active around Kenmu. Tsuneishi and Uchida both follow the three generations theory too (with Rokurôzaemon the 3rd being active around Ôei) whereas Tanobe sensei dismisses the approach that the 1st generation was active that early (or rather counts the Kenmu and Enbun Kunishige as one smith) and counts Rokurôzaemon as 2nd generation (as Fujishiro sensei does).

My take on this is as follows. I accept that some mid to later Nanbokuchô smiths with a Sôshû-influenced workmanship have never trained with Masamune or have never been to Kamakura but I have troubles with accepting that certain smiths, especially like Hasebe Kunishige whose workmanship is so close to what was done by the first generation Sôshû smiths, so to speak locally popped up out of the blue two or three decades after initial masters like Masamune had been active. Also, the travelling of medieval smiths is often doubted but when for example Aoe smiths were able to make it the 150 miles (as the crow flies) from Bitchû to Kyôto to work for Gotoba, nothing speaks for smiths doing the 215 miles trip from Kyôto to Kamakura (again, as the crow flies). Let’s take a look at the dated blades we know from Kunishige. The earliest is the Jôwa five one mentioned above but as this mei is doubted, Bunna four (文和, 1355) becomes the earliest one. Then it continues with Enbun two (延文, 1357), three (1368), five (1360), Jôji two (貞治, 1363) and four (1365), and Ôan one (応安, 1368) as the youngest. And then we have two oshigata of Rokurôzaemon blades which are dated Ôei 24 (応永, 1417) and Shôchô one (正長, 1428). So when the Kotô Mei Zukushi is correct with the 1st generation being born in 1270 and having died in 1347, all these dated blades before Rokurôzaemon go back to the 2nd generation. The Kotô Mei Zukushi also says that the 2nd generation Kunishige was born in Shôwa two (正和, 1313) and died in Ôan four (応安, 1371) at the age of 60, what does not add up, and states that the 3rd generation was born in Enbun one (延文, 1356) and died in Ôei eight (応永, 1401) at the age of 46 what seems to be incorrect as there are blades known as mentioned above which bear much later dates

Not saying that the Kotô Mei Zukushi is correct with all its dates of course (for reasons mentioned in one of the previous chapters) but everything would fall in line if this source is quasi off by one generation. That is, what if it was the 1st generation who was born in 1313? He would have been in his late 20s or early 30s when studying with Masamune, and in his 20s in the Kenmu era. And he would have been just 55 years old when the youngest known dated Kunishige blade was made in 1368. The fact that the vast majority of dated Kunishige blades is from about that time, or a little earlier, could be explained by the assumption that his school only really took off after the Hasebe smiths got settled in Kyôto. The problem that remains is that it seems that when the 1st generation assumedly died in 1371, there are then no dated blades known from the 2nd generation. This in turn could be explained by the fact that when he was reaching his artistic maturity (being born in 1356), it was already the late Nanbokuchô period and so maybe the demand for Hasebe blades had decreased. Or he was weak/sickly and hardly worke himself as he assumedly died at the young age of 46. And the 3rd generation then left Kyôto and tried his luck somewhere else (more on this later).

Enough speculation and as I was already writing quite a bit, I will only introduce a few long swords by Kunishige and will leave his hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi and tantô as well as the characteristic features of his and Hasebe workmanship for the next part. Let’s start with what is undoubtedly Kunishige’s most famous work, the kokuhô meibutsu Heshikiri-Hasebe (圧し切長谷部) (see picture 1). For info on the historical background of the blade and its nickname please see my other site here. The Heshikiri-Hasebe has a wide mihaba, a shallow sori, a thin kasane, and ends in an ô-kissaki, i.e. everything is classical heyday Nanbokuchô. The kitae is a dense, excellently forged ko-itame with fine ji-nie and the steel has that beautiful “wet” look. The hamon is a notare-midareba in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ashi and that tends with its tobiyaki and yubashiri to hitatsura. The bôshi is relatively widely hardened and runs back in an ô-maru-kaeri.

 

Picture 1: kokuhô Heshikiri-Hasebe, nagasa 64.8 cm, sori 0.9 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, sakihaba 2.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

 

Picture 2 shows the tachi with the questionable mei/date. It has relatively unobtrusive sugata, i.e. not heyday Nanbokuchô, what would corroborate its date, and ends in an elongated chûj-kissaki. Don’t be mislead by the four mekugi-ana and the low signature, the blade is considered to be ubu. That is, we have here already one of the typical characteristics of the Hasebe School, namely signing the blades sometimes at the very bottom of the tang. As you can see in the oshigata, the hamon is a rather calm suguha with some midare towards the base and the kaeri of the bôshi encloses a shimaba, a feature that is often seen at Sôshû blades, e.g. at Masamune.

 

Picture 2: tachi, mei: “Hasebe Kunishige” (長谷部国重) – “Jôwa gonen tsuchinoto-ushi jûgatsu hi” (貞和五年己丑十月日, “a day in the tenth month of Jôwa five [1349], year of the ox”), nagasa 71.2 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

 

In picture 3 we see a katana that is designated as a jûyô-bunkazai and that is attributed to Hasebe Kunishige via Den. It is ô-suriage, has a wide mihaba, a thin kasane, a shallow sori, an elongated chû-kissaki, and, what is another feature relatively often seen on Hasebe blades, a maru-mune. The kitae is an itame that tends to nagare and that shows ji-nie and the hamon is a notare that is mixed with gunome, ashi, connected , and that tends along the upper half of the blade to hitatsura. The bôshi is midare-komi and shows hakikake.

 

Picture 3: jûyô-bunkazai, katana, mumei: Den Hasebe Kunishige (伝長谷部国重), nagasa 70.6 cm, sori 1.36 cm, shinogi-zukuri, maru-mune

 

And last for today the aforementioned tachi that is ubu and signed but whose signature differs a little bit from that seen on Kunishige’s hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi and tantô. The blade is rather slender, has a deep sori, and ends in a ko-kissaki. So in terms of shape, this should be either a very early work of Kunishige (what would explain the different signature) or a later work that was made for court use. The kitae is an itame that is mixed with mokume and that features plenty of ji-nie and chikei. The steel has a “wet” look and is very clear. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden ko-notare-chô that is mixed with gunome, many ashi, kinsuji, sunagashi, hotsure, yubashiri, and muneyaki and tends to a so to speak layer-based (i.e. not a tobiyaki and/or togari-based) hitatsura. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and shows hakikake that tend to a little bit to nie-kuzure.

 

Picture 4: jûyô, tachi, mei: “Hasebe Kunishige” (長谷部国重), nagasa 67.7 cm, sori 2.6 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, sakihaba 1.75 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

 

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KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #29 – Nobukuni (信国) School 4

With this article, we are concluding the chapter on the Nobukuni School. Just to repeat, when it comes to traditional clasifications of works by this school, for example by the NBTHK, we are facing the following parameters:

  • Work of the 1st generation
  • Mid-Nanbokuchô work in the vicinity of 1st generation
  • Nobukuni work not later than late or end of Nanbokuchô
  • Nobukuni work from the transition between Nanbokuchô and Muromachi
  • Ôei-Nobukuni
  • Direct attributions to Saemon no Jô or Shikibu no Jô
  • Early Muromachi
  • Later generations Nobukuni

So far we have dealt with all of these classifications, except for the last two, which I am going to tackle in the following.

Now I have stated this already in my second chapter on the Ryôkai School: By the end of the Nanbokuchô period, the old-established Yamashiro schools were all fading and Sôshû had taken over significantly, even in the old imperial capital. There is the theory that everything Kyôto-based started to disappear with the Ônin War, which lasted from 1467 to 1477, and this is certainly true for that time because the war destroyed much of Kyôto and in particular the power of the office of shôgun. So it was surely not a good time for craftsmen like swordsmith who were depending on a steady supply of raw materials (e.g. there was no steel production in the capital itself). However, we already see a so to speak “Kyôto exodus” way before that time, for example with the Ryôkai School whose descendants moved down to Kyûshû where they founded the Tsukushi-Ryôkai group. We are able to date back their works to the 1440s. Also the Rai School had been well scattered into the four winds way before the outbreak of the Ônin War (Nakajima, Echizen, Higo/Enju). So that war can’t be the reason for why many swordsmiths left the capital in the early to mid 1400s but lets save these reasons for another time.

According to tradition, it was the second son of the 3rd generation Nobukuni who was hired in Eikyô twelve (永享, 1440) to work for the Ajimu (安心院) family that ruled the manor of the same name in Buzen province which was located just a little bit to the southeast of Usa (宇佐). Again we are facing here the “oddity” of the Nobukuni (and of the Ryôkai) School that their smiths were allegedly signing with several different names. So the second son of the 3rd generation is said to have signed with Nobukuni Yoshiie (信国吉家) and he might actually be the same person who signed with Nobukuni Yoshihisa (信国吉久), the 4th generation of the lineage. As you can see, the name of the school has turned into a family and brand name by then just like the later shintô-era Chikuzen-Nobukuni smiths all had their individual names but signed with the prefix Nobukuni. Anyway, in my article on Japanese Sword Trade With Ming China, I have introduced a Nobukuni blade that is dated with a Chinese nengô, namely “ninth month Chénghùa two” (成化二年九月), what corresponds to the seventh year of Kanshô (寛正, 1466). I will introduce this blade again here, in picture 27.

 

Picture 27: tachi, mei: “Nobukuni” (信国), date see text above, nagasa 67.9 cm, sori 2.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

 

The blade is suriage and has a relatively elegant sugata with a deep sori. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with ji-nie and the hamon is a gunome in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with angular gunome and with hint of yahazu. The nioiguchi is rather tight and clear and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. The haki-omote side shows a bôhi that is followed by a futasuji-hi and on the haki-ura side we see the opposite, i.e. a futasuji-hi that is followed by a bôhi.

Nobukuni Yoshisada (信国吉貞, ?-1640), the ancestor of the aforementioned shintô-era Chikuzen-Nobukuni School, still worked initially for the same Ajimu family, until they got defeated by the Ôtomo (大友) but Yoshisada’s career thereafter will be discussed in the corresponding shintô chapter. He counted himself as 12th generation Nobukuni and when we take all this into account, i.e. a continuous employment by Buzen’s Ajimu family and the 6th generation making swords with Chinese dates, I tend to think that the whole main line had moved down to Kyûshû with the 4th generation. That is, it would seem odd if the 4th and 5th generations worked on Kyûshû, the 6th generation back in Kyôto, and the 7th to 12th generation again down in Buzen. Well, maybe some of them were able to proceed to the capital once in a while.

Be that as it may, there were also Nobukuni smiths who stayed in Kyôto, what is proven by extant signatures like “Heianjô-jû Nobukuni” (平安城住信国) that date to the early to mid 1400s. It is assumed that one of the Nobukuni smiths signing that way was the son of Shikibu no Jô. When it comes to kantei points for later generations Nobukuni, well, it is difficult to name unique features. Basically it can be said that the characteristics of the school in hardening a nie or rather ko-nie-based Bizen-like koshi no hiraita gunome/midare with remnants of yahazu and the strong tendency of adding horimono can still be seen in early to mid-Muromachi period Nobukuni works but, as seen in other schools, the quality declined. Also the quantity declined and although some meikan list a few Kyôto-based Nobukuni smiths for the late Muromachi period, I would personally not go for Nobukuni at a Bizen-esque blade of that time. Early to mid-Muromachi yes, but not late Muromachi or end of Muromachi.

Picture 28 shows an uchigatana signed “Nobukuni” which is papered to “early Muromachi period Nobukuni” but whose signature (see picture 29) does not match any of the masters we have dealt with in the last part. The blade is short and classifies with its nagasa of 57.7 cm today as a wakizashi but I still think that it was made as an uchigatana which was worn as long side sword to a tachi and/or as main sword outside of the battlefield. Its kitae is a ko-itame that is mixed with masame-nagare and that features ji-nie. The hamon is a gunome in ko-nie-deki that has tendencies to koshi no hiraita and that is mixed with ko-midare, a few yahazu-like elements, some tobiyaki, ashi, and . The bôshi is midare-komi with a rather pointed and wide kaeri. On the omote side we see a suken and on the ura side a koshi-bi.

 

Picture 28: uchigatana, mei: “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 57.7 cm, sori 1.8 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Picture 29: Signature of the above blade

Last part that I want to introduce here is shown in picture 30. It is attributed to “later generation Nobukuni.” It has a nagasa of 49.0 cm and as we are here somewhat later in the Muromachi period, I think this one was indeed made as a wakizashi. It shows a kitae in itame that is mixed with mokume and that features ji-nie. The hamon is a ko-gunome-midare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with kinsuji and sunagashi, The bôshi features much hakikake and thus tends to kaen. The blade shows a sô no kurikara on the omote and gomabashi on the ura side.

 

Picture 30: wakizashi, mei: “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 49.0 cm, sori 1.2 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

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With this article we end the chapter on the Nobukuni School, the Tsukushi-Nobukuni (筑紫信国) branch that prospered later on in Buzen province and all the other offshoots like the Yamamura (山村) group of Echigo province will be dealt with in the corresponding chapters, and next time we will continue with the Hasebe School.

 

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #28 – Nobukuni (信国) School 3

This time we continue with the Nobukuni smiths who were active around Ôei (応永, 1394-1428) and of which we can at least make out two individual names, Minamoto Saemon no Jô (源左衛門尉) and Minamoto Shikibu no Jô (源式部尉) Nobukuni. As mentioned in the previous chapter, everything points towards that these two were brothers and sons of the 2nd generation Nobukuni. Following Tsuneishi’s approach, there was a third son, Gyôbu no Jô (刑部尉), who seems to have been the first born son but who, according to Tsuneishi, only signed with “Nobukuni” and not with any honorary title or first name. This approach is insofar supported by the fact that there are no blades known which bear the title Gyôbu no Jô in the mei but several from that time, i.e. Ôei, whose niji-mei “Nobukuni” differs from that of Saemon and of Shikibu no Jô. Thus this Gyôbu no Jô might have been the official successor of the lineage, signed like his predecessors just in niji-mei, but was supported by his two brothers in keeping the Nobukuni workshop going. Incidentally, Saemon no Jô Nobukuni is also referred to as Genzaemon no Jô Nobukuni because the clan name Minamoto can also be read as Gen and “results” with the subsequent Saemon in another first name, Genzaemon. In other words, his mei of clan name plus first name was interpreted wrongly in some older sources, that is as a single first name, but this Genzaemon reading has become so widespread that it is also used as kind of a nickname for Minamoto Saemon no Jô Nobukuni.

In the following I would like to introduce some works of Minamoto Saemon no Jô and Shikibu no Jô Nobukuni which will be supplemented by Ôei-era Nobukuni works which do not match in terms of signature style with these two masters and who thus might be works of Gyôbu no Jô Nobukuni. But before I want to refer to the workmanship of the Ôei-Nobukuni smiths in general and what distinguishes them from similar works from other schools that were active at that time.

Typical for the Ôei-Nobukuni group in general is that it produced many horimono-laden sunnobi-tantô and hira-zukuri wakizashi with a nagasa of somewhere between 30 and 40 cm, some of which also being interpreted in more uncommon shapes like katakiriba-zukuri or unokubi-zukuri. In case of long swords, the sugata is a hint more stout than the rather elegant sugata with koshizori that was applied by Bizen smiths at that time. That is, the mihaba of Ôei-Nobukuni long swords is a little wider and the kasane is a little thicker than that of Ôei-Bizen blades. Ôei-Nobukuni works often show a hamon which is very similar to contemporary Ôei-Bizen koshi no hiraita interpretations with the difference that it is hardened in nie-deki or ko-nie-deki whereas the Ôei-Bizen hamon is in nioi-deki. A very prominent feature of Ôei-Nobukuni blades which is not seen on Ôei-Bizen blades is yahazu, i.e. dovetail-shaped gunome elements. Also some Ôei-Nobukuni blades may show ara-nie, a feature that is indeed also not associated with Ôei-Bizen. And due to the presence of nie, we see sunagashi, kinsuji and yubashiri, characteristics which are also usually don’t go with with Ôei-Bizen. In addition, the kaeri is usually more pronounced, wider, and runs back in a longer fashion than it is the case at Ôei-Bizen. Compared to “full blown” contemporary Sôshû, Ôei-Nobukuni blades are a little less nie-laden and although some tobiyaki and/or muneyaki might be present, there is usually no hitatsura (I say usually because there are very few Ôei-Nobukuni blades which do show a hitatsura or a strong tendency towards hitatsura). Also, Ôei-Nobukuni works in suguha or in shallow notare may show some Yamato elements like hotsure or kuichigai-ba. When it comes to the jigane, the Ôei-Nobukuni smiths also worked more Bizen-like in ko-itame mixed with mokume rather than in the typical Sôshû itame or ô-itame. However, there is usually masame or nagare which distinguishes their works from Ôei-Bizen and as the steel of Ôei-Nobukuni blades might tend to shirake a little, it differs from contemporary Fujishima blades which otherwise may look similar at first glance because Fujishima smiths too often hardened in a Bizen-style hamon. Also utsuri might be present but which appears more often at interpretations in suguha and that in a relatively weak manner and as bô-utsuri following the ha and not as midare-utsuri as seen at Ôei-Bizen.

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Now let’s work out some individual characteristics among Ôei-Nobukuni works, starting with Minamoto Saemon no Jô Nobukuni. It is said that he signed in his early years with Nobumitsu (信光) and a blade signed that way which is dated Shitoku two (至徳, 1385) seems to be one of these early works of Saemon no Jô Nobukuni. When it comes to his main Nobukuni phase, we know dated blades from Ôei 9 to 34 (1402-1427) what seems a little odd at first glance because there is almost a 20-year gap between his Nobumitsu and his Nobukuni phase. Well, that gap might either explained by him not dating that often during those 20 years, by the fact that he was mostly working as a support to his older brorhter Gyôbu no Jô at that time, or by the fact that just no more blades from that time are extant. Most experts say that it was Saemon no Jô who hardened amongst all Ôei-Nobukuni masters the most flamboyant hamon, e.g. koshi no hiraita-midare, with the most prominent nie-hataraki. Accordingly, he and Osafune Morimitsu (盛光) are counted by some as the two greatest mastersmiths from the Ôei era. Also not to forget, he was an excellent horimono artist.

Picture 16 shows a very typical work of Saemon no Jô Nobukuni. It is an ubu tachi with a long nagasa of 80.3 cm, a normal mihaba, and a rather shallow sori for that length. It shows a somewhat standing-out itame-nagare with ji-nie and chikei and a gunome-midare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-notare, ashi, , sunagashi, and kinsuji. The nioiguchi is bright and please note that two gunome pair to yahazu-like elements in places. The bôshi is sugu with a little notare which tends to nie-kuzure. Both sides bear a bôhi which ends in marudome.

Picture 16: tachi, mei: “Minamoto Saemon no Jô Nobukuni” (源左衛門尉信国) – “Ôei kunen hachigatsu hi” (応永九年八月日, “a day in the eighth month of Ôei nine [1402]”), nagasa 80.3 cm, sori 1.8 cm, mihaba 2.8 cm, sakihaba 1.95 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Another very typical work of Saemon no Jô is seen in picture 17. Please note that with Ôei, we have entered the time when shinogi-zukuri wakizashi started to become common. This is such a blade. It has a nagasa of 42.8 cm, a normal mihaba, tapers noticeably, has a thick kasane, and a shallow sori which tends to sakizori. The jigane is a rather standing-out itame that is mixed mokume, with nagare all over, and that shows ji-nie and fine chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden gunome-chô that is mixed with angular gunome, togariba, chôji, gunome that pair to yahazu, plenty of ashi and , kinsuji, sunagashi, and yubashiri-like tobiyaki along some yakigashira. The nioiguchi is wide and clear and the bôshi is midare-komi with hakikake and a ko-maru-kaeri on the omote, and a shallow notare-komi which runs out as yakitsume on the ura side. On the omote we see a bôhi with marudome with below a gyô no kurikara in a hitsu. The ura side bears a bôhi with kakudome with the relief of a bonji inside.

Picture 17: wakizashi, mei: “Minamoto Saemon no Jô Nobukuni” (源左衛門尉信国) – “Ôei nijûichinen hachigatsu hi” (応永廿一年八月日, “a day in the eighth month of Ôei 21 [1414]”), nagasa 42.8 cm, sori 0.8 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, sakihaba 1.85 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

In picture 18 we see a sunnobi-tantô (or hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi) by Saemon no Jô. The proportions are still reminiscent of Nanbokuchô but everything is just a hint smaller, i.e. the nagasa is 31.8 cm and the mihaba is 2.9 cm. The jigane is a rather standing-out itame with ji-nie and the hamon is a ko-nie-laden mix of gunome, ko-notare, togariba, chôji, and some angular elements. Also ashi, , and sunagashi appear. The bôshi is midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri that features hakikake and that runs back in a long manner (not clearly shown in the oshigata). As for the horimono, the omote side bears a hi with kakudome with inside the characters of Hachiman-Daibosatsu and a rendai as relief, and the ura side bears a hi with kakudome with inside a bonji and a suken as relief. As mentioned earlier, the hamon might look like Ôei-Bizen at first glance but the nie, the bôshi, and the horimono speak for Ôei-Nobukuni.

Picture 18: sunnobi-tantô, mei: “Nobukuni” (信国) – “Ôei kunen nigatsu hi” (応永九年二月日, “a day in the second month of Ôei nine [1402]”), nagasa 31.8 cm, sori 0.15 cm,  hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

Picture 19 shows a tantô by Saemon no Jô which displays a quite classical deki and which shows a few of the Yamato elements that I have mentioned earlier. The blade is of a relatively elegant sugata but which has due to the pronounced fukura a somewhat wide feel. The jigane is a rather-standing out itame that is mixed with mokume and ô-itame in places and that features plenty of ji-nie and fine chikei. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden chû-suguha that is mixed at the base with some ko-gunome and that shows ko-ashi, , hotsure, kinsuji, a hint of kuichigai-ba, and a hint of nijûba. The nioiguchi is wide, bright and clear and the bôshi is sugu with a relatively wide and long running-back ko-maru-kaeri and shows some tendency towards nijûba too. On the omote side we see a sankozuka-ken and on the ura side a bonji with on top a katana-hi with soebi that end both in marudome. I think that this blade would be difficult at a kantei. It might look like Rai at first glance but then there are these few Yamato elements and the mixed-in mokume and ô-hada and the sugata with the thick kasane speaks for the transition between Nanbokuchô and early Muromachi. So I think with the advanced time and the not so classical horimono, the principle of exclusion might eventually lead towards Ôei-Nobukuni.

Picture 19: tantô, mei: “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 26.9 cm, uchizori, motohaba 2.5 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

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Now to Shikibu no Jô Nobukuni. He is said to have signed in early years with Nobusada (信貞) but this is doubted because a blade signed with “Nobukuni-ko Nobusada” (信国子信貞, “Nobusada, son of Nobukuni”) that is dated Ôei twelve (1405) postdates a blade signed “Shikibu no Jô Nobukuni” which is allegedly dated Ôei ten (1403). In short, it would be very odd if after receiving his honorary title and changing his name to Nobukuni he returned again to his earlier Nobusada mei. Anyway, I was not able to locate this Ôei ten blade and the earliest dated blade that I found for Shikibu no Jô is from Ôei 30 (1423). This date is followed by several extant works from the Ôei 30s (1423~1428) and then we have a blade dated Eikyô four (1432) and one where the mekugi-ana goes through the year but as it is a single kanji, it must be something between Einkyô one and nine, i.e. 1429-1437. This makes Shikibu no Jô the youngest of the Ôei-Nobukuni smiths and supports the tradition that he was the youngest brother of the second generation/s sons. Shikibu no Jô worked in the most Sôshû-esque deki of all Ôei-Nobukuni smiths, i.e. more nie, what is in particular true for his hira-zukuri wakizashi as also their shapes seem to connect more to mid-Nanbokuchô Sôshû than those of his older brother Saemon no Jô.

Picture 20 shows Shikibu no Jô’s most famous work, the jûyô-bunkazai wakizashi that is preserved in the Asama-jinja (浅間神社) and that thus also bears the nickname Asama-maru (浅間丸). It is a long and wide blade with magnificent horimono in the form of a very wide bôhi on both sides which bears as relief the characters of Fuji-Asama-Daibosatsu (富士浅間大菩薩) on the omote, and the characters Ise-Amaterasu-Susume-Ôkami (伊勢天照皇大神) on the ura side, both accompanied by a single rendai at the very base. The jigane is an itame mixed with ji-nie and chikei and the hamon is a nie-laden, gunome-based ô-midareba that is mixed with sunagashi. The bôshi is midare-komi and features a wide and long running-back kaeri.

Picture 20: jûyô-bunkazai, wakizashi, mei: “Hô Fuji-hongû Minamoto Shikibu no Jô Nobukuni” (奉富士本宮源式部丞信国) – “Ichigo-hotokoshi Ôei sanjûyonen nigatsu hi” (一期一腰応永卅四年二月日, “My greatest masterwork, on a day in the second month of Ôei 34 [1427]”), nagasa 43.8 cm, sori 0.9 cm, motohaba 3.2 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

In picture 21 we see a jûyô-bunkazai tachi which was once (in 1924) designated so as a Nanbokuchô-era Nobukuni work. However, it has turned out to be a work of Shikibu no Jô Nobukuni and thus dates to the early Muromachi period, although the designation has not been withdrawn. The blade has been shortened to 71.6 cm, has a normal kasane (i.e. not thin as it would be typical for a Nanbokuchô blade), and has a quite shallow sori what makes it almost look like Kanbun-shintô at first glance, especially with the nakago in a shirasaya hilt for example. The jigane is a rather standing-out itame with ji-nie and the hamon is a gunome-midare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with angular elements, togariba whose yakigashira seem to “fume” into the ji, ashi, , and sunagashi. Some gunome sections even tend to mimigata and we also see a hint of yahazu. The bôshi is midare-komi with a brief ko-maru-kaeri plus a little hakikake.

Picture 21: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei: “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 71.6 cm, sori 0.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

A shinogi-zukuri wakizashi by Shikibu no Jô can be seen in picture 22. Again, the interpretation of the hamon is close to Saemon no Jô in case of long swords and shinogi-zukuri wakizashi. The jigane is a dense itame with plenty of ji-nie and chikei and the hamon is a gunome-midare in nie-deki that is mixed with angular elements, yahazu, many sunagashi, ashi, , and some tobiyaki. The bôshi is a widely hardened midare-komi with a brief ko-maru-kaeri.

Picture 22: wakizashi, mei: “Nobukuni” (信国) – “Eikyô ?-nen rokugatsu hi” (永享〇年六月日, “a day in the sixth month of Eikyô ? [1429-1437]”), nagasa 52.4 cm, sori 1.6 cm, motohaba 2.75 cm, sakihaba 2.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Now to Shikibu no Jô’s tantô and hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi. An example is shown in picture 23. It is a wide and long blade with a noticeable sori and shows a jigane in itame-nagare with ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden gunome that is mixed with ko-gunome, ko-notare, ashi, , kinsuji and sunagashi and the bôshi is a widely hardened midare-komi with a pointed kaeri that features hakikake. On the omote side we see a katana-hi and below a sankozuka-ken and on the ura side a katana-hi with a bonji below.

Picture 23: wakizashi, mei: “Minamoto Shikibu no Jô Nobukuni” (源式部丞信国) – “Eikyô yonen hachigatsu hi” (永享二二年八月日, “a day in the eighth month of Eikyô four [1432]”), nagasa 41.3 cm, sori 0.8 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

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This brings us to the difficult case of trying to find out which Ôei-Nobukuni works go back to the hand of Gyôbu no Jô Nobukuni. To do so, I first want to introduce in picture 24 the different Nobukuni signature styles (click to see full-size pic). As you can see, the 1st generation signed the character for Nobu somewhat “squeezed” to left. Apart from that, his character for kuni is a little bit distorted, i.e. tilting a little bit to the top right. The 2nd generation did not squeeze the character for Nobu so much to the left, only a tiny little bit, and the one shown on the far right of my chart might be an edge case in term of signature style, although the work, which was introduced in picture 13 in the previous chapter, is attributed to the 2nd generation. Also he signed the left three internal strokes of the character for kuni in a more horizontal way than the 1st generation did. Saemon no Jô Nobukuni signed in a peculiar way, namely with the left and right inner parts of the character for kuni mirrored and with the central “dividing” stroke executed in a vertical manner. So his signatures are pretty easy to detect. Shikibu no Jô signed the left and right inner parts in the usual way and executed the central “dividing” stroke in a slightly diagonal manner but his works can be distinguished from the others in terms of slightly more advanced production time. So then there are signatures which significantly predate works of Shikibu no Jô and which do not match the mirrored signature of Saemon no Jô. These signatures, of which we know dates from Eitoku three (1382) to Ôei four (1397), are executed with the central “dividing” stroke in a very vertical manner and as they thus differ from works of the 2nd generation, of works of Saemon no Jô, and of works of Shikibu no Jô, both in terms of meiburi and production time, I attribute those for the time being to the 3rd generation, to Gyôbu no Jô Nobukuni.

Picture 24: Nobuie mei comparison

That said, I have to go back to my previous Nobukuni chapter, in the way that maybe all but picture 13 might be actually works of the 3rd generation, i.e. of Gyôbu no Jô. This confusing grey zone before the arrival of individually signed Nobukuni blades, e.g. Saemon no Jô and Shikibu no Jô, is one reason for why it almost took me a full year to go on with the Nobuie chapter. In other words, most publications are kind of avoiding the issue of the succession of Nobukuni generations but I didn’t want to leave it like that, or rather I just didn’t want to brush off this issue, repeat everything that has already been written, and go on with the next chapter. So it took me a while to go again through all references, to study, compare and weigh off the about 150 Nobukuni blades I have in my references, and that is why I think the genealogy that I presented in the last chapter makes the most sense from point of view of my today’s knowledge.

Well, I still want to introduce some more works which are signed in the way that I regard uniquely between the 2nd generation and Saemon no Jô Nobukuni, starting with the blade shown in picture 25. It is a short and slender tachi dated Ôei three (1396) that tapers noticeably and that has a relatively deep sori which tends to sakizori. The jigane is a standing-out itame mixed with nagare that shows ji-nie and the hamon is a nie-laden gunome-midare that is mixed with togariba, some tobiyaki, and many sunagashi. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. The haki-omote side shows a bonji and then a koshibi with a suken as relief and the haki-ura side a bonji and a rendai. In terms of overall interpretation, I would place this blade in the vicinity of Eitoku three (1383) blade introduced in picture 9 in the previous chapter.

Picture 25: tachi, mei: “Nobukuni” (信国) – “Ôei sannen jûnigatsu hi” (応永三年十二月日, “a day in the twelfth month of Ôei three [1396]”), nagasa 66.3 cm, sori 2.1 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, sakihaba 1.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

And last but not least, the blade shown in picture 26 kind of closes the “missing link” between the blade shown in picture 14 in the previous chapter and the Ôei-Nobukuni blades with prominent yahazu. It is a quite long shôbu-zukuri wakizashi with a jigane in a rather standing-out itame mixed with ô-itame and nagare, featuring plenty of ji-nie and much chikei. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden yahazu-ba mixed with gunome, ko-notare, chôji, togariba, angular elements, ashi, , kinsuji, sunagashi, yubashiri, and much muneyaki. The nioiguchi is bright and clear and the bôshi is midare-komi with a wide ko-maru-kaeri thar runs back in a long fashion and that connects with muneyaki.

Picture 26: wakizashi, mei: “Nobukuni” (信国) – “Ôei yonen nigatsu jûrokunichi” (応永ニニ年二月十六日, “16th day of the sixth month of Ôei four [1397]”), nagasa 57.8 cm, sori 1.6 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, shôbu-zukuri, maru-mune

This should do it for today and in the next part I want to conclude the Nobukuni chapter with introducing works of later generations Nobukuni and the alleged 6th generation of whom works with Chinese datings are extant.

 

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #27 – Nobukuni (信国) School 2

I know that by basically reverting to the old sources with my first chapter on the Nobukuni School, I didn’t make things easier but you have to be open for everything and not just regurgitate. So back to Nobuie and the difficult task of nailing down the immediate successor of the 1st generation, i.e. the one who studied with Sadamune, who was one of the first smiths to bring the Sôshû tradition to Kyôto, and who was the one who probably lived until the late 1370s or early 1380s. So if the 1st generation’s career did pass the zenith of the Nanbokuchô period, who followed him as 2nd generation? In my Swordsmiths of Japan, I already tried to do very same as here, that is, to find the balancing act between giving credit to the old traditions but following the most recent studies. That said, I introduced a 2nd generation but who might actually have been the 1st generation, or in other words, the first two generations in my Swordsmiths of Japan might have been the same smith.

This greyzone in counting the initial Nobukuni masters is very well reflected in the NBTHK jûyô papers which say – apart from explicitly stating 1st generation and Genzaemon and Shikibu to whom we will come later – also just for example “Nobukuni work from the Enbun-Jôji eras”, “Nobukuni work from the vicinity of the Kenmu-era 1st generation”, “Nobukuni work from the end of the Nanbokuchô period”, or “Nobukuni work from the Ôei era”. So in the following, I can’t help but so to speak keep this greyzone alive. That said, I will introduce works that chronologically follow those of the alleged 1st generation from my first Nobukuni chapter, works that are today – and because of this greyzone – just classified as “end of Nanbokuchô Nobukuni” and “Ôei-Nobukuni.” Those we can attribute to concrete masters like Minamoto Saemon, Shikibu, and Saburôzaemon Nobukuni will be introduced in the next chapter.

Now Tanobe follows the approach that I have forwarded in my first Nobukuni chapter, i.e. that the 1st generation was active to Eitoku (1381-1384). Satô Kanzan in turn sees the blades dated with this era, a tachi dated Eitoku three (1383) and a tantô dated Eitoku four (1384), as works of the 2nd generation. Well, Tanobe avoids tackling the succession of Nobukuni generations in his latest work, the Yamashiro Volume of the Nihontô Gokaden no Tabi series (published in 2015), so I will focus on the theories of Satô and Honma. As mentioned, Satô sees the Enbun and Jôji dated blades as works of the 1st generation, those around Eitoku as works of the 2nd generation (whom he sees being active until the beginning of the Muromachi era), and counts the smith who signed with Minamoto Saemon no Jô (源左衛門尉) and who was active around Ôei (1394-1428) as 3rd generation. Apart from that, he refers to Shikibu no Jô (式部丞) as being active a hint later than Minamoto Saemon and probably being the younger brother of the latter, although he does not explicitly introduce him as 4th generation. In short, and reading between the lines, Satô counts three Nobukuni main line generations and implies that by the time of the third master, i.e. the early Muromachi period, the lineage had already become a workshop with the name Nobukuni as trademark where several smiths worked (and signed with that name), being probably managed by the third generation Minamoto Saemon and his younger brother Shikibu no Jô. Honma just states that the Nobukuni who was active around Enbun and Jôji was the 1st generation, the one active around Ôei the 2nd, and the one active from Ôei to Eikyô (1429-1441) the 3rd generation. Interestingly, he sees Minamoto Saemon and Shikibu no Jô as younger brothers or students of the 2nd generation. This thing with Minamoto Saemon and Shikibu no Jô being both younger brothers of some Nobukuni kind of connects with Tsuneishi’s approach who introduces a Gyôbu no Jô (刑部丞) Nobukuni whom he lists as 3rd generation. That means, Tsuneishi sees Gyôbu no Jô as oldest, Minamoto Saemon as second oldest, and Shikibu no Jô as third oldest son of the late Nanbokuchô 2nd generation and states that it are only these three masters to whom we refer today as “Ôei-Nobukuni.”

So for the time being, I think of the genealogy of the Nobukuni School as seen in the link below:

Genealogy Nobukuni School

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Now to some works which can be attributed to the immediate time after the 1st generation and before the Ôei-Nobukuni masters Minamoto Saemon and Shikibu no Jô. An interesting thing to observe at how the Nobukuni School went on is that it came from the Yamashiro tradition, that it next adopted the Sôshû tradition via Sadamune, and that it then shifted towards Bizen, although maintaining both Yamashiro and Sôshû characteristics, e.g. nie. That means, we can already see Bizen elements appearing towards the end of the Nanbokuchô period and with the Ôei era, works of the Ôei-Nobukuni smiths strongly resemble that of their Ôei-Bizen colleagues. That’s why Nobukuni works are often difficult to kantei.

I want to start with the aforementioned tachi which bears the date signature from Eitoku three. There is not much Sôshû and please note the pairs of gunome, an interpretation that is understood as the forerunner of the yahazu elements which are so typical for the Nobukuni School. The blade is of a small and slender sugata with not much sori and might be at the edge of being a kodachi. The jigane is a partially standing-out itame with plenty of ji-nie and the hamon is a nie-laden gunome-midare with a few sunagashi and some muneyaki. The bôshi is midare-komi with a prominently round kaeri and both sides feature a single bonji at the base.

Picture 9: jûyô, tachi, mei: “Nobukuni – Eitoku sannen hachigatsu tsuitachi” (信国・永徳三年八月一日, “first day of the eighth month Eitoku three [1383]”), nagasa 65.1 cm, sori 1.4 cm, motohaba 2.8 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The blade shown in picture 10 is dated with the third year of Meitoku (明徳, 1392), i.e. dates about a decate later than the previous one. The blade is of a magnificent and deeply curved sugata with an elongated chû-kissaki. It shows an itame that is partially mixed with masame-nagare and that features plenty of ji-nie and also chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with gunome, ashi, sunagashi, kinsuji, and yubashiri and the bôshi is a notare-komi with hakikake and that almost runs out as yakitsume. The ura side bears the characters “Namu Hachiman Daibosatsu” and the ura side just a single bonji.

Picture 10: tokubetsu-jûyô, tachi, mei: “Nobukuni – Meitoku sannen mizunoe-saru jûichigatsu hi” (信国・明徳三年壬申十一月日, “a day in the eleventh month Meitoku three [1392], year of the monkey”), nagasa 71.0 cm, sori 2.6 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Now with picture 11 we arrive at what I have mentioned before, that is, the trend towards Bizen that happened with the Nobukuni School entering the Muromachi period. The blade is dated Ôei two (1395) and does therefore classify as Ôei-Nobukuni in the strict sense but it predates a little bit the earliest extant dated blade of Minamoto Saemon, which is from Ôei nine (1402). The blade is relatively short, has a normal mihaba, a thick kasane, tapers noticeably, and ends in a compact chû-kissaki. The jigane is a dense but overall somewhat standing-out ko-itame that is mixed with some mokume and that features plenty of ji-nie and fine chikei. The hamon is a gunome-chô in ko-nie-deki that tends to koshi no hiraita (i.e. wide bases) and that is mixed with yahazu, togariba, ko-gunome, ashi, , kinsuji, sunagashi, yubashiri, and tobiyaki. The nioiguchi is wide and bright and the bôshi is relatively widely hardened, showing a roundish kaeri and a hint of hakikake. On both sides we see a naga-bonji which is accompanied on the ura side by a koshi-bi with inside a suken as relief.

Picture 11: jûyô, tachi, mei: “Nobukuni – Ôei ninen hachigatsu hi” (信国・応永二年八月日), nagasa 68.3 cm, sori 2.45 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Let’s talk about tantô and wakizashi that the school produced around that time. First we must not overlook that although late in the Nanbokuchô period, the then Nobukuni head did still stick to the initial Yamashiro tradition of his school. A perfect example for that is the tantô shown in picture 12 which is dated Shitoku two (至徳, 1385). It is of a conservative shape but with a somewhat thicker kasane what rules out heyday Nanbokuchô. The jigane is a ko-itame that is mixed with ô-hada in places and that features plenty of fine ji-nie, chikei, and a nie-utsuri. The hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that has a rather tight and clear nioiguchi and that shows a few sunagashi, hotsure, and kinsuji. The bôshi has a classical ko-maru-kaeri and shows a hint more nie than the ha. On the omote side we see a bonji, a shiketsu, and a rendai, and on the ura side a sankozuka-ken. As you can learn from the description, and the oshigata of course, the tantô is classical Yamashiro but enriched with sophisticated horimono and that speaks for that time for the Nobukuni School.

Picture 12: jûyô, tantô, mei: “Nobukuni – Shitoku ninen hachigatsu hi” (信国・至徳二年八月日), nagasa 26.0 cm, muzori, motohaba 2.6 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

In picture 13 we see another classical Yamashiro tantô by the 2nd generation Nobukuni, although this one is of a more slender mihaba. The jigane is a rather standing-out itame that is mixed with some nagare-masame and that features fine ji-nie and a linear nie-utsuri. The hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that tends a little to notare in places and that is mixed with hotsure, faint yubashiri, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The slightly undulating sugu-bôshi shows hakikake and a relatively long kaeri. On the omote side we see a suken and on the ura side gomabashi.

Picture 13: jûyô, tantô, mei: “Nobukuni” (信国), shu-mei: “Genroku jûyonen gokugetsu origami dai-kinsu roku-mei” (元禄十四年極月折紙代金子六枚, “[Hon’ami] origami from from the twelfth month of Genroku 14 [1701] evaluating the blade with six gold pieces”), nagasa 25.2 cm, muzori, motohaba 2.0 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

Now picture 14 shows a more Bizen-style wakizashi. The blade is dated Meitoku three (明徳, 1392) and is interpreted in kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri with a prominent sori. The jigane is a dense but standing-out itame that is mixed with some ô-hada on the ura side and that displays ji-nie. The hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with gunome and sunagashi. The bôshi tends to sugu and features a ko-maru-kaeri with a wide turnback. Both sides show a naginata-hi with soebi.

Picture 14: jûyô, wakizashi, mei: “Nobukuni – Meitoku sannen hachigatsu hi” (信国・明徳三年八月日), nagasa 40.1 cm, sori 1.2 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri, mitsu-mune

 

Picture 15 shows a sunnobi-style tantô that is dated Ôei three (1396). It has a normal mihaba, as mentioned a sunnobi-sugata, and features a sakizori. The jigane is a densely forged itame that is mixed with mokume. Ji-nie and chikei appear and the hamon is a nie-laden gunome-chô that is mixed with yahazu, hotsure, yubashiri, ashi, , kinsuji, and sunagashi. The nioiguchi is tight and the bôshi has again a roundish kaeri with some hakikake. The omote side shows a bonji with below a suken and the ura side a koshi-bi.

Picture 15: tantô, mei: “Nobukuni – Ôei sannen hachigatsu hi” (信国・応永三年八月日), nagasa 28.3 cm, sori 0.2 cm, motohaba 2.4 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

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To recapitulate, certain Nobukuni works might be hard to kantei as they mix different traditions. So when you have a late Nanbokuchô Yamashiro blade that looks like Bizen but whose hardening is based on nie and which shows horimono (and yahazu), it is safe to go for Nobukuni. In the next chapter, we will talk about the aforementioned masters Minamoto Saemon an Shikibu no Jô and what attributes as Ôei-Nobukuni in general.