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…