KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #38 – Daruma (達磨) School

The Daruma School is kind of living in the shadow when it comes to treatises on the Yamashiro tradition, but that is actually no surprise as this school was only active for a short period of time and as there are hardly any works of its smiths extant, all of them basically just revolving about its ancestor Shigemitsu (重光). So, we have to start, and pretty much also end with him.

There are several traditions and theories (some overlapping and possible side by side) about the background of Daruma Shigemitsu which I will list in the following:

  • He was a son of Awataguchi Yoshimitsu (粟田口吉光) but that can be ruled out as Yoshimitsu was active 100 years before Daruma Shigemitsu came along.
  • He came originally from the Satsuma-based Naminohira School but moved to the Ayanokōji district of Kyōto during the Bunna era (文和, 1352-1356) when he was 35 years old.
  • He was born in Yamato but was a descendant of Naminohira Masakuni (波平正国). As some of you know, Masakuni is said to have founded the Naminohira School after moving from Kyōto to Naminohira in Satsuma province. So, following this tradition, Daruma Shigemitsu must have been either a descendant of the Masakuni group that stayed in Kyōto and did not move down to Kyūshū, or of a later Naminohira Masakuni smith who moved back to the capital.
  • He came originally from the Yamato Tegai School but moved to the Ayanokōji district of Kyōto.
  • He signed first with Shigemitsu (重光), then with Masamune (正宗), and eventually entered priesthood whereupon he took the nyūdō-gō Daruma (達磨) and signed henceforth with this name.
  • He signed his Masamune name also with the characters (政宗).
  • He signed with Shigemitsu back in his days in Yamato but changed his name to Masamune when he moved to Kyōto.
  • He took the Daruma priest name because he had big staring eyes, making him look like Bodhidharma (Japanese Daruma). That is, people were already giving him the nickname Takashi/Takaji Daruma (たかし達磨) during his lifetime so he just used that nickname as his priest name. Incidentally, takashi/takaji means “smith who moved here from somewhere else,” what would basically support the tradition of him having moved to Kyōto from Naminohira or Yamato. In other words, his nickname translates as about “Daruma, the smith who is not from here.”
  • The name Daruma goes back to the “fact” that the smith moved to the Daruma neighborhood (Daruma-chō, 達磨町) of Kyōto which is located just to the south of the Imperial Palace. So, either he adopted the name of his new work place just like that or he picked his work place name when he entered priesthood. Fujishiro quotes a mei that would support that tradition, i.e.: “Jōshū Daruma-jūnin Shigemitsu” (城州達磨住人重光), “Shigemitsu, resident of Daruma in Yamashiro province.”
  • He also signed with the name Kunishige (国重) at some point in his career.
  • He was a student of Masamune or of Yukimitsu.
  • Shigemitsu was the early name of the famous Sōshū Masamune which was given to him by Kamakura-regent Hōjō Tokiyori. When Masamune moved towards the end of his career to Kyōto, he entered priesthood and stayed there under the name Daruma.

Well, that’s quite something to chew on, but what are the facts? The facts are that there are a few of what appears to be Nanbokuchō-period blades extant which are signed “Daruma”. So far, and apart from written statements, I was not able to find any Daruma blade that is actually signed Shigemitsu, e.g. the tantō that Honma refers to in his Nihon Kotō Shi as ek g dated with the Jōji (貞治, 1362-1368) era and differing noticeably from the Daruma signed works, also adding the comment “I cannot say that both of them were made by the same smith.” Also, it appears that no Masamune signed blade is known that is undoubtedly attributed to Daruma Shigemitsu.

Daruma Shigemitsu’s son Masamitsu (正光) is said to have been active around Eitoku (永徳, 1381-1384) in Ayanokōji. He too entered priesthood, in Eitoky three (永徳, 1383), and took the name Ryō’ami (了阿弥), and there is the theory that it was Masamitsu who signed with Masamune using the characters (政宗), i.e. not the ones (正宗) his father allegedly used. Satō writes that he has only seen one blade by this Masamitsu, a wakizashi in katakiriba-zukuri which is even more Mino-esque than the already somewhat Mino-esque works of Daruma Shigemitsu, but more on this in a little. The tang of this Masamitsu blade is shown in the Nihontō Kōza and in Fujishiro and for the sake of completeness, I want to post it below before we come back to Daruma Shigemitsu. Note: The tang of this blade was altered later in time, i.e. it is not how Masamitsu finished it.


Picture 1: Masamitsu mei

So, let me introduce a few Daruma works and add my own thoughts on this small school/group. First of all, it is said that Daruma Shigemitsu’s son and successor Masamitsu moved later in his career with his own son of the same name to Mino where he accepted several local students. This would explain the short Yamashiro-based life of the school, i.e. after only two (or one and a half) generations, the school had been relocated to another province.

The most famous Daruma work is the jūyō-bijutsuhin blade that is shown in picture 2. Now the Nihontō Kōza introduces it as a tantō but Honma refers to it as wakizashi and as I was not able to find its nagasa mentioned anywhere, I would say for the time being that it is probably a sunnobi-tantō/hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi. I was also unable to find a concrete description of the workmanship of this very blade so I give you my impressions that I get from that oshigata. The sugata speaks for heyday to late Nanbokuchō and the ha is pretty flamboyant, suggesting a considerable Sōshū influence. The arrangement of the gunome that feature sunagashi across their base, the limited tobiyaki seen here and there, and the widely hardened bōshi reminds me a little bit of an ambitious Kaneuji (兼氏) interpretation. With some good will I can also see a little bit of Nobukuni but the ha is for me a hint too wide and flamboyant for a Nobukuni work of that time, i.e. by one of the early Nanbokuchō generations. Hasebe would kind of fit better than Nobukuni in my opinion because there are some Kunishige (国重) and Kuninobu (国信) hira-zukuri tantō/ko-wakizashi which too show such a widely hardened bōshi with that pointy, rōzoku-like kaeri.

Picture 2: jūyō-bijutsuhin, mei: “Daruma” (達磨)

Anyway, lets move on to blade two (see picture 3) because it is a little bit like poking around in the dark with having only one oshigata and with knowing that oshigata can be quite misleading (see here, here, and here), e.g. there may be more tobiyaki and yubashiri that the person who drew it did not add, which would speak more for Hasebe etc. Blade number 2 is a hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi with a wide mihaba and a little sori. The kitae is a standing-out itame that is mixed with ō-itame and that features ji-nie. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden notare-chō that is mixed with gunome and the bōshi is midare-komi with a ko-maru-like kaeri. The omote side shows a suken and the ura side a koshibi with a shorter tsurebi. The tang is a little suriage, has a shallow kurijiri, katte-sagari yasurime, and four mekugi-ana of which one is plugged.

Picture 3: jūyō, wakizashi, mei: “Daruma” (達磨), hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, nagasa 32.3 cm, sori 0.1 cm

Picture 4 shows an unsigned hira-zukuri tantō that is attributed to Daruma. The blade is a little shorter than the previous one but is ubu. It has a wide mihaba, some sori, and is overall of a sunnobi-sugata. The kitae is a ko-itame that is mixed with itame and some jifu and features chikei and plenty of ji-nie. The hamon is a nie-laden and relatively uniform koshi no hiraita-gunome that is mixed with gently undulating notare and gunome-midare. The nie increase in quantity towards the tip and make the ha tend there to kuzure, featuring nijūba and yubashiri. The bōshi shows a ko-maru-kaeri that is smaller on the ura than on the omote side but the turnback is quite brief on both sides. As for the horimono, we see gomabashi on the omote and a suken on the ura. The tang is ubu, has a kurijiri, two mekugi-ana, and its yasurime are indiscernible. The NBTHK describes the blade as showing a nie-laden gunome to ō-gunome mix that differs from Nobukuni and Hasebe works and that shows some Sōshū influence.

Picture 4: jūyō, tantō, mumei: “Daruma” (達磨), hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, nagasa 30.3 cm, sori 0.4 cm

Let me quote from Tsuneishi at this point:

Works are rare but there are some ambitious tantō extant which show a widely hardened Sōshū-like yakiba that somewhat resembles Nobukuni. Compared to Nobukuni however, the blades are a little bit smaller dimensioned and lack dignity, and are of overall somewhat inferior quality. The jihada is an itame with prominent masame and rather stands out. Be that as it may, the overall interpretation does speak for Nanbokuchō.

So, let me finish with a few thoughts on this school. I have to admit, I never had the chance to study a Daruma work hands on. I have no problem with accepting Daruma Shigemitsu being somehow connected to the then Nobukuni School and also jumping onto the Sōshū bandwagon that was going on all over the country at that time. Maybe there was a concrete reason for why his son moved to Mino, e.g. an explicit invitation by a local ruler to work for him over there and train local smiths, or the school was just overshadowed by the old-established major Kyōto lineages and so Masamitsu thought it is better to start something new elsewhere. This was all before the Ōnin War of 1467 that destroyed much of Kyōto so we are not facing here a situation where the Daruma smiths were forced to flee the capital.

Also, we have another “issue” here, and I am talking about the multiple names, famous names like Masamune and (Hasebe) Kunishige. There was namely the quite handy practice in the past to “invent” or to arbitrarily link certain smiths together in order to legitimize inferior works and straightforward or rather borderline gimei. That is, and to stay with the concrete example, if you come across a signed Masamune blade that just doesn’t match the quality of the famous Sōshū Masamune, and you don’t want to tell the owner that it is gimei, you can always say that although this is not the Masamune, it is still a legit Masamune, just a Daruma Masamune though (insert origami papering culture and monetary evaluation of blades at this point). Another example: There are blades by Sōshū Sadamune which just lack a little bit the quality that you would expect from a work by this smith and so these blades were attributed to Takagi Sadamune in the past. Sounds ok then, doesn’t it? I am just trying to make a point here so please don’t nail me down on the Sōshū/Takagi Sadamune issue that I used as an example. In short, if you are a member of the Hon’ami family being approached by someone famous with a gimei Hasebe Kunishige or Masamune and you don’t want to tell him the truth because you want to keep him happy, a happy returning customer, you can do the above-mentioned compromise thing by saying: “Well, this is not a Hasebe Kunishige but your blade is for sure authentic. It is just that it is a Daruma work from the time the smith still signed with his former Kunishige name.” This is also why in certain cases a magical second generation was invented, i.e. to have a basket for putting inferior works by a smith in.

Well, it is still possible that Daruma was indeed using all these names, i.e. Shigemitsu, Kunishige, and Masamune, but the fact that an obscure and roughly contemporary smith handily used all these famous names too certainly raises a red flag…

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #37 – Heianjō (平安条) and Go-Sanjō (後三条) Schools 4

As mentioned in the previous chapter, evidence base for everything before the famous Muromachi period Nagayoshi master is very limited. For example, basically all we have on the first generation of that lineage is a depiction of a tang of one of his works in the Ōseki Shō (see picture 1). The blade in question is signed “Kyōto-jūnin Sugawara Nagayoshi” (京都住人菅原長吉) and comes with the comment “dated with a day of the twelfth month of Ryakuō three (暦応, 1340).” Please note that the era is mentioned in that document with the abbreviated characters (厂广) for (暦応). As that source is heavily focusing on tang finishes, no comment on the workmanship of the blade itself.


Picture 1: Nagayoshi ancestor as shown in the Ōseki Shō

So far the supposed first generation of the Nagayoshi lineage. Next we have a work, a real work, not just a picture in an old book, which is thought to go back to the hand of the second generation. Or rather, the NBTHK says: “Compared to the common, i.e. later generation Nagayoshi works, this blade has much more refined jiba and it appears that (in terms of its overall interpretation) it corresponds to the Nagayoshi whom the meikan list around Ōei (応永, 1394-1428), although further research on this issue is necessary.” In short, the blade “feels” different than all the other Nagayoshi works and its sugata and jiba suggests Ōei, what in turn would mean second generation.

The blade in question (see picture 2) has a rather wide mihaba, a thick kasane, and a noticeable sunnobi-sugata. The kitae is a dense ko-itame that is mixed with nagare and that features fine ji-nie. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden, quite varied gunome-chō with a bright and clear nioiguchi and is mixed with chōji, ko-notare, tobiyaki, ashi, and . The bōshi is midare-komi with a roundish kaeri on the omote side and a somewhat pointed, later returning kaeri on the ura side. The omote shows a sankozuka-ken as relief in a katana-hi and the ura a relief of what appears to be a naginata within a katana-hi. The nakago is ubu, has a kurijiri, kiri-yasurime, two mekugi-ana, and bears a sanji-mei which is chiseled to the right of the ubu-mekugi-ana.


Picture 2: jūyō-tōken, wakizashi, mei: “Nagayoshi saku” (長吉作), nagasa 34.95 cm, sori 1.1 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

As stated in my (preliminary) Heianjō genealogy (see previous chapter here), it appears that there was one more generation before it becomes more tangible. That is, it seems that there was a third generation who was active around Hōtoku (宝徳, 1449-1452). However, I was yet not able to find any blades that go back to the hand of this master. Now the fourth generation, who was supposedly active around Bunmei (文明, 1469-1487) is where Fujishiro jumps in. Well, he does list the Ryakuō era ancestor but then nothing in between him and the Bunmei master. He writes: “It is said that the first generation Nagayoshi was active around Eikyō (永享, 1429-1441) but as I have not seen any such old Nagayoshi work, I tend to think that the famous Nagayoshi lineage started with this (i.e. the Bunmei era) master.” So in short, he counts him as first generation and assumes that it was around his time that the Heianjō School got its momentum and rose to fame. Incidentally, the known dates from Bunmei twelve (文明, 1480) to Meiō nine (明応, 1500) are attributed to this Nagayoshi whom Fujishiro lists as first, and I as fourth generation.


Picture 3: mei: “Yoshinori no ko, Nagayoshi saku” (吉則子長吉作)

This brings us to the most famous master of the entire lineage, the fifth generation Heianjō Nagayoshi, whom Fujishiro lists as second generation. From him we know dated blades between Bunki three (文亀, 1501) and Eishō 13 (永正, 1516) and a signature that states “made by Nagayoshi, son of Yoshinori” (see picture 3) is attributed to him. So, he must have been adopted by the Bunmei-era fourth master but felt obliged at some point in time, to point out that he was the son of Yoshinori, probably emphasizing the close relationship of these two local lineages. In addition, there exists blades by the fifth generation Nagayoshi which are not signed with the Heianjō (平安城) but with the Sanjō (三条) prefix, underlining that local connection.

Before I go into detail about his life and career, I want to address his workmanship. Sources like the Nihontō Kōza keep it rather simple but I wanted to get a good grasp on his entire body of work before writing this chapter, which was one reason for why it took me so long to continue the series. That said, I have learned that this Nagayoshi was actually working in an amazing variety of styles, which I want to address in the following. So first of all, the brief entry of the Nihontō Kōza:

His tachi-sugata does not have a wide mihaba and has a deep sori, a medium thick kasane, and a high shinogi. The kitae is a dense and beautifully forged itame. The hamon feels somewhat “tight” and can be, amongst others, in midareba, notareba, and suguha, whereas the midareba interpretations are similar to the ha of Muramasa. The bōshi features a roundish kaeri in case of a suguha and is usually widely hardened in case of a midareba. Horimono can be ken, bonji, kurikara, etc., they are deeply engraved, and appear somewhat more “concise” than horimono of the Hasebe School.

Next I would like to quote Tsuneishi who goes much more into detail:

Early Nagayoshi works are very rare but it appears that the few existing pre-Eishō works have a hint wider mihaba than other Kyō-mono, a noticeable sori, and a somewhat elongated kissaki, i.e. a relatively sturdy shape and by trend of a more firm build than contemporary Sanjō Yoshinori blades. Some blades show a sugata similar to that of the Ōei-Nobukuni group and the hamon is usually gentle and features only little nie. The blades from around Eishō look like Naoe-Shizu at first glance but they feature a sakizori and are of a more gentle sugata than Naoe-Shizu works. They are hardened in gunome-midare or in a hako-midare-like ha with not so much nie whereas the midare elements are separated by long and gently undulating sections. We see a particularly large koshiba, a prominent feature which is referred to as Heianjō-koshiba (平安城腰刃) by experts (see picture 4). The midareba of later works is very similar to that of Muramasa. The bōshi is usually a widely hardened midare-komi with a pointed kaeri that runs back in a long fashion. The jihada is a ko-itame that is mixed with masame and that features ji-nie and is a little tigher than the hada of Sanjō Yoshinori blades. Horimono are very often found. We know if shin no kurikara as relief in a hitsu, of ken, bonji, etc., all of them deep and very skillfully engraved. Ken horimono are particularly long. Engravings may resemble Nobukuni horimono at first glance but are somewhat inferior in quality, and many are in fact more similar to Sue-Sōshū horimono. The majority of horimono is found on wakizashi and tantō, for example a compact but highly detailed sō no kurikara on the omote and a koshibi with soebi or gomabashi on the ura side which run as kaki-nagashi into the tang. The tangs shown in early meikan which bear date signatures from the eras Bunmei, Bunki, and Eishō tend somewhat to a tanagobara, although not as much as the tangs of Muramasa blades, with the nakago of tantō being exceptionally long. We find more tantō than katana as time progresses. These tantō are relatively wide, have a thin kasane, a hint of sakizori, and show a midareba, hako-midare, or yahazu-midare in nie-deki, and we see the same koshiba as at katana. The kitae is an itame that is mixed with some masame. There are also blades that feature a deliberately applied muneyaki which makes them look like Sue-Sōshū at first glance. Early tantõ that appear to date back to the end of the Ōei era are rather smallish like the tantō of Sõshū Hiromitsu (広光) and some rare examples show a very vivid midareba. Around Eishō and Tenbun also yari were made. The tangs tend more towards a tanagobara among later works and are then very similar to Muramasa or Sue-Sōshū tangs.


Picture 4: Heianjõ-koshiba

Now let’s take a look at some blades. The first blade I want to introduce (see picture 5) is regarded as one of the best Heianjō Nagayoshi blades out there. It is jūyō, has a relatively wide mihaba, a maru-mune, a sakizori, and a chū-kissaki. The kitae is a very dense ko-itame with ji-nie and a tendency towards shirake all over the blade. The hamon starts with kind of a 12 cm long yakidashi-style narrow ha and turns then into a hiro-suguha in ko-nie-deki with a clear and relatively tight nioiguchi that is mixed with ko-midare, ko-gunome, and ko-ashi. The bõshi is sugu with a rather pointed kaeri on the omote and an ō-maru-kaeri on the ura side, both sides with hakikake and the kaeri running back in a long fashion. On the omote side we see a very skillfully engraved sō no kurikara and on the ura gomabashi with below a rendai. The tang is ubu, has a funagata, a ha-agari kurijiri, kiri-yasurime (Satō says shallow sujikai), two mekugi-ana, and features a rather thickly chiseled goji-mei. There exist several more blades in this very style, which I would describe as classical Muromachi period Heianjō Nagayoshi style. That is, a nice katana shape with sakizori and a chū or somewhat elongated chū-kissaki, horimono at the base on both sides, a hamon in suguha-chō or with some ko-notare and/or ko-gunome, and a funagata-nakago which may tend to tanagobara. I include two more pics of blades in that style below of picture 5 (please click on the thumbnails to enlarge).


Picture 5: jūyō-tōken, katana, mei: “Heianjō Nagayoshi” (平安城長吉), nagasa 69.3 cm, sori 1.97 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, sakihaba 2.3 cm, kissaki-nagasa 3.95 cm, shinogi-zukuri, maru-mune


Another style where Nagayoshi goes more towards classical Yamashiro can be seen in picture 6. It is a katana with a rather slender mihaba, a noticeable taper, a deep koshizori, and a ko-kissaki. The kitae is a fine and densely forged ko-itame with a little bit of nagare, fine ji-nie, and a shirake-utsuri. The hamon is a suguha in nioi-deki with ko-nie that is mixed with many ko-ashi and with a fushi-like ko-gunome protrusion on both sides below of the monouchi. The bōshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri, there are no horimono, and the tang is ubu, has a ha-agari kurijiri, kiri-yasurime, two mekugi-ana, and bears a relatively thin and smallish rokuji-mei. So, the overall interpretation seems to aim at Rai Kunitoshi (来国俊) or Ryōkai (了戒), i.e. his local predecessors. A blade in such style can be seen at Darcy’s site here.


Picture 6: jūyō-tōken, katana, mei: “Heianjō Nagayoshi saku” (平安城長吉作), nagasa 67.4 cm, sori 2.6 cm, motohaba 2.75 cm, sakihaba 1.7 cm, kissaki-nagasa 2.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, mitsu-mune

Let’s go over to short swords and tantō, a category where it gets really varied as indicated earlier. Now I think that the Muramasa resemblance (more on that later) is more obvious on tantō than on katana. Let me introduce such a work. Picture 7 shows a somewhat smallish tantō that has for its short nagasa a relatively wide mihaba and thus a somewhat stocky appearance. There is a hint of uchizori and the kitae is a dense ko-itame that is mixed with some nagare-masame on the omote side and that features fine ji-nie and some faint shirake. The hamon is a gentle ko-notare in nie-deki with a somewhat tight, bright, and clear nioiguchi and appears identical on both sides, a characteristic that is typical for Muramasa as most of you know. The bōshi is ko-maru with a relatively wide turnback. The omote side shows a sō no kurikara and the ura side gomabashi. The tang is ubu, tapers in tanagobara-style to a ha-agari kurijiri, and the yasurime are very slightly slanting kiri-yasurime. So what differs from Muramasa is basically the sugata, the presence of elaborate horimono, and the finer jigane.


Picture 7: jūyō-tōken, tantō, mei: “Heianjō Nagayoshi” (平安城長吉), nagasa 22.1 cm, very little uchizori, motohaba 2.2 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

The tantō shown in picture 8 is similar, although somewhat bigger. It shows a kitae in a rather standing-out itame that features nagare towards the ha and ji-nie. The hamon is a ko-notare in ko-nie-deki with some hakoba at the base. The bōshi tends to ō-maru and shows a little bit of hakikake on the ura side. On the omote side we see gomabashi and on the ura side a naga-bonji and a rendai. Again, the hamon being identical on both sides, and this time also the rather standing-out itame, bear a resemblance to Muramasa, although with the nagare towards the ha and the deep valleys we may also see a remote resemablance to Naoe-Shizu.


Picture 8: tantō, mei: “Heianjō Nagayoshi” (平安城長吉), nagasa 26.6 cm, sori 0.3 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune

Next tantō style he produced aims at smallish but thick Sue-Sōshū or Sue-Bizen yoroidōshi. Picture 9 show such a tantō. It has a nagasa of just 18.9 cm, a takenoko-sori, and a thick kasane. The kitae is a dense itame with ji-nie and the hamon a ō-gunome in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with gunome and some tobiyaki. The bōshi is sugu with a roundish kaeri that runs back in a long fashion. On the omote side we see Fudō-Myōō as relief in a hitsu and on the ura side a shin no kurikara, also as relief in a hitsu. The tang is ubu, has a kurijiri, and shallow katte-sagari yasurime. I include two more pics of blades in that style below of picture 9 (please click on the thumbnails to enlarge).


Picture 9: jūyō-tōken, tantō, mei: “Sanjō Nagayoshi saku” (三条長吉作), nagasa 18.9 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, takenoko-sori


And then there is the Heianjō Nagayoshi tantō style where the ha tends to hitatsura or is a full-blown hitatsura in Sōshū style, in particular in the style of the Hasebe School with yahazu and prominent muneyaki all the way down. Picture 10 shows such a work. This tantō is again relatively small, has a hint of sori, and an overall rather stocky appearance. The kitae is a fine and densely forged ko-itame with ji-nie. The hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare with a rather tight nioiguchi and some mura-nie that is mixed with angular elements, yahazu, gunome, and sunagashi and where the ji between the ha and the muneyaki is filled with tobiyaki and yubashiri, i.e. resulting in a hitatsura. The bōshi is midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri that connects with the muneyaki. On the omote side we see a kurikara as relief in a hitsu and on the ura side a sō no kurikara. The tang is ubu, tapers in funagata-style to a kurijiri, and features kiri-yasurime. As mentioned, this interpretation aims at Hasebe works. I include two more pics of blades in that style below of picture 10 (please click on the thumbnails to enlarge).


Picture 10: jūyō-tōken, tantō, mei: “Sanjō Nagayoshi saku” (三条長吉作), nagasa 23.8 cm, motohaba 2.4 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune



This is a relatively long chapter so I hope you made it until here as I want to conclude with some considerations on Heianjō Nagayoshi’s career and him being the master of Muramasa. First the facts: 1. From signed blades with supplements in the mei we know that Nagayoshi was temporarily also working in the provinces of Mikawa and Ise and there is the tradition that he even made it to eastern Sagami province (going there with his student Masazane (正真) with whom joint gassaku works exist). 2. Dated blades suggest that the fifth generation Heianjō Nagayoshi and the first generation Muramasa were active at pretty much the same time, suggesting that they were of the same age. Now it is not uncommon that a smith learned from a master of the same age, most common scenario of course at a later point in his career when it is about refinement of the craft, not so much about learning the craft from scratch.

Now there exists a copy of a sword document that the seventh Hon’ami main line head Kōshin (本阿弥光心, 1496-1559) presented shortly before his death to his employer, the sword loving shōgun Ashikaga Yoshiteru (足利義輝, 1536-1565). Therein we read that it was the other way round, i.e. Nagayoshi learning from Muramasa. His entry reads: “He (Nagayoshi) was originally a smith from the Kyōto Heianjō group but who moved later to Mikawa province and who became around Bunki (文亀, 1501-1504) a student of Muramasa.”

So what is true here, who was the master of whom? I can think of a scenario where both traditions could kind of work. As you all know, the Ōnin War, which took place in the Ōnin era (応仁, 1467-1469) of the same name and which ushered in the Sengoku period, destroyed much of Kyōto and many swordsmiths were forced to leave the capital as working/local clientel conditions were no longer bearable. I now think that maybe already the famous Nagayoshi’s predecessor, i.e. the fourth generation went east to continue his work in Ise, maybe even also in farther east Mikawa province. There he trained the first generation Muramasa and his son, the fifth generation Nagayoshi. Then the master died there and I think maybe master-student Muramasa supported the fifth generation Nagayoshi in continuing the forge. In other words, they found themselves in a condition of two craftsmen helping each other refining both their crafts and fulfilling orders, hence the similarity in workmanship (and as mentioned, they were probably of the same age too). So the Hon’ami Kōshin entry may mean that around Bunki, i.e. after the fourth Nagayoshi master had died, his successor studied togeher with Muramasa the craft and did not learn it from him. What also plays a role here are the then social conditions, in particular those of craftsmen. The Heianjō smiths came from an established lineage, and from the capital. That is, it is rather unlikely that one of them went down to rural Ise to start an apprenticeship with a yet unknown smith with no famous background whatsoever. In short, I follow the approach that Muramasa learned from Nagayoshi in Ise, maybe from father and son Nagayoshi IV and V who had to leave Kyōto and found shelter/work in Kuwana.

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 signed with “Hasebe Nagamitsu.” Another theory says that Nagamitsu was a descendant of the Yamato Senju’in smith with the same name 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, he 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 Mitsunaga’s  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.

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


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


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


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


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



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


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.