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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 


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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Picture 29: Signature of the above blade

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture 24: Nobuie mei comparison

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Genealogy Nobukuni School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #26 – Nobukuni (信国) School 1

The Ryôkai offshoot of Nobukuni was one of the schools that firmly established the Sôshû tradition within Kyôto, i.e. Yamashiro, but there is this decade-long discussion about its ancestor. Basic problem is that the earliest extant Nobukuni blades do not directly link to the alleged scholastic backgrounds and that the historic sources are either contradicting or so broadly defined that so to speak anything could be possible (for example that several Ryôkai smiths also signed with Nobukuni at a certain point in their career). The most common tradition says that the 1st generation Nobukuni was one of the “Three Great Students of Sadamune” (Sadamune-santetsu, 貞宗三哲) and that he was active around Kenmu (建武, 1334-1338) in Kyôto, at the instersection Gojôbômon (五条坊門) and Horikawa (堀川). This background is found in the Nôami Hon Meizukushi (能阿弥本銘尽) which was written in 1483, i.e. about a century after the first Nobukuni smiths had been active. This source also does not refer to his other scholastic background, the Ryôkai School, which is found for the first time in the Genki Gannen Tôken Mekiki Sho (元亀元年刀剣目利書) from 1570. This source sees the 1st generation Nobukuni as son of Ryô Nobuhisa and grandson of Ryô Hisanobu. The Kokon Mei Zukushi in turn whose data goes back to 1611 says that the tradition with Nobukuni being the son of Nobuhisa is incorrect and that he was actually the son of Ryô Kunihisa, i.e. Hisanobu’s brother and Nobuhisa’s uncle. And the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen lists him as direct student of Ryôkai whilst the Nihontô Koza says “either the son of Ryôkai or of Ryô Hisanobu.” And then Nobukuni Yoshisada (信国吉貞, ?-1640), the founder of the shintô era Chikuzen-Nobukuni School, stated in his genealogic claims from 1602 that his ancestor became during the Gen’ô era (元応, 1319-1320) a late student of Ryôkai and worked henceforth for several decades under the name of Nobukuni along Kyôto’s Gojôbômon. As indicated above, the statement of the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen that Ryô Hisanobu signed from the Jôwa era (貞和, 1345-1350) onwards with Nobukuni and that his son Nobuhisa did so too from the age of 43 onwards does not make things easier.

So how about the facts? The earliest extant date signature is from Enbun three (延文, 1358), followed by dates from Kôan one (康安, 1361), Jôji five (貞治, 1366), Ôan ? (応安, 1368-1375, the part with the year is illegible), and Eitoku three (永徳, 1383) as very last one that possibly attributes to the 1st generation. All these dates mean heyday Nanbokuchô and support at first glance the widespread assumption that there is too much a gap between the 1st generation Nobukuni and his alleged masters Ryô Hisanobu (or Ryôkai himself) and Sadamune. But only at first glance because I think that actually it all might go together. Just as a sidenote before we continue: I stated at the very beginning of this Kantei series that I will omit for the most part the biographical data of the smiths and that I am not going too much into historic detail, with the disclaimer that unless it is necessary for the understanding of what I am trying to communicate. Well, I broke that “promise” pretty quickly after we started because I realized that I don’t want to use a cookie-cutter approach and just throw in things like “sugata XY, kitae XY, hamon XY, bôshi XY…” What I want to provide is something comprehensible, replicable, something that allows you to follow my trains of thought rather than makes you feel urged to start from scratch by yourself. In other words, I do speculate quite often but I always try to provide an understandable foundation for my speculations. But let’s return to the topic.

Now the dismissal of the early Nobukuni always goes like “records say that the 1st generation was active around Kenmu (建武, 1334-1338) but there are no Nobukuni blades extant that can be dated back that far,” concluding from there that the 1st generation was active much later. But for me actually nothing speaks against the assumption that the 1st generation Nobukuni studied around 1320 with the Ryôkai School when master Ryôkai was in his latest years (as the Chikuzen-Nobukuni genealogy says), that he learned from Sôshû Sadamune much later, and that he enjoyed a long life and was still alive in the early 1380s. Sadamune was active from the very end of the Kamakura period, i.e. around Karyaku (嘉暦, 1326-1329) and Gentoku (元徳, 1329-1331), until about the Nanbokuchô-period Jôwa era (貞和, 1345-1350). Even when we dismiss the 1320 date and assume that Nobukuni emerged somewhat later from the Ryôkai School, we are still in the picture, i.e. him being active in Kenmu and being either the son of Ryô Hisanobu or Kunihisa. And another statement from the Kokon Mei Zukushi which says that Nobukuni started forging swords when Sadamune was of an old age and active around Enbun (延文, 1356-1361) does only dismiss the approach that he directly learned from master Ryôkai but fits in smoothly into everything else. Thus for the time being I think that there was indeed a Nobukuni who was active in the Kenmu era, that this nengô is maybe just placed too early and does not refer to his main active period, that he learned the Sôshû tradition of sword forging from Sadamune, and that he was still active when the Nanbokuchô period had passed its zenith.

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But let me underline all that, i.e. my above mentioned approach, on the basis of concrete works. Picture 1 shows the earliest dated work known by Nobukuni. It is a tantô that is designated as jûyô-bijutsuhin, signed in niji-mei “Nobukuni,” and dated “Enbun sannen jûnigatsu hi” (延文三年十二月日, “a day in the twelfth month Enbun three [1358]”). It has a nagasa of 27.5 cm, is in hira-zukuri, has a rather wide mihaba and a sunnobi-sugata, features a relative thin kasane, and a hint of a sori. So the sugata is typical for pre-heyday Nanbokuchô, i.e. pre-Enbun-Jôji. The jigane is a rather standing-out itame with some masame-nagare towards the ha and shows plenty of ji-nie and chikei. The hamon is a classical Yamashiro-like chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that comes with a rather tight nioiguchi, starts with a yakikomi over the machi, shows only little hataraki like ko-ashi, and that ends in a sugu-bôshi with a relative wide and long running-back ko-maru-kaeri. The blade was once a heirloom of the Shimazu (島津) family, the daimyô of the Satsuma fief, and speaks truly for Yamashiro Rai at first instance and with the nagare-masame along the ha for Ryôkai at second glance.

Nobukuni1

Picture 1: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tantô, mei “Nobukuni” (信国), date see text above, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune, nagasa 27.5 cm, a hint of a sori

Next in picture 2 I want to introduce the blade with the second eldest known date signature. It is a sunnobi-tantô or hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi with a nagasa of 31.2 cm, a wide mihaba, a noticeable sori, and a thin kasane. The jigane is a rather standing-out itame with masame towards the ha, plenty of ji-nie, and chikei. The hamon is a hoso-suguha in ko-nie-deki that shows some hotsure along the monouchi and the bôshi is sugu with a smallish ko-maru-kaeri that features some hakikake. On the omote side we see a katana-hi with a soebi and on the ura side just a katana-hi. Please note that the tang is judged as ubu, although with the tip cut off, i.e. the hi are supposed to run like that into the nakago. Again, this blade is clearly more Ryôkai than Sôshû.

Nobukuni2

Picture 2: jûyô, tantô, mei “Nobukuni” (信国) – “Kôan gannen ni…” (康安元年二…, “second [month] Kôan one [1361]”), nagasa 31.2 cm, sori 0.2 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

After that, i.e. some time in the mid 1360s, Nobukuni finally started to apply the techniques of the Sôshû tradition which he had learned from Sadamune. The next known dated work namely (see picture 3), a jûyô-bunkazai tantô, shows a finely forged itame but which comes with an abundance of ji-nie and a ko-notare hamon in ko-nie-deki with a wide nioiguchi that is mixed with ashi and yubashiri. The bôshi is midare-komi and features a wide but rather pointed kaeri.

Nobukuni3

Picture 3: jûyô-bunkazai, tantô, mei “Nobukuni” (信国) – “Jôji gonen jûgatsu” (貞治五年十月, “tenth month of Jôji five [1366]”), nagasa 27.9 cm, sori 0.1 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

And then he went so to speak “full” Sôshû, as seen in the jûyô-bunkazai introduced in picture 4 which is regarded by many as the best work of Nobukuni. It is a wide hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi with a relative deep sori and shows a dense but overall rather standing-out itame that is mixed with a little ô-hada in places and that features plenty of ji-nie, chikei, and jifu, and Tanobe even mentions a nie-utsuri that appears towards the mune. The hamon is a quite nie-laden notare that is mixed with gunome, ko-midare, much sunagashi, some ara-nie, and a few kinsuji and the tobiyaki and yubashiri that appear along the yakigashira anticipate in certain areas a hamon interpretation that is often found on Nobukuni blades, and that is yahazu. In other words, the longer areas of yubashiri and tobiyaki that float in Sôshû-style over the gunome or ko-midare merge later with the ha and form gunome or ko-midare that fork into dove-tail shaped elements. The bôshi of the jûyô-bunkazai runs back in a long manner and shows hakikake and ara-nie. On the omote side we see a futasuji-hi and on the ura side a katana-hi with inside a suken as relief and a short soebi at the base. With this we have another approach that should become a characteristic feature of the Nobukuni School, and that is the trend to horimono. Incidentally, this masterwork was once a present of the Bizen Okayama daimyô Ikeda Tsunamasa (池田綱政, 1638-1714) to the Tokugawa family on the occasion of the birth of Tokugawa Ienobu’s (徳川家宣, 1662-1712) son Iechiyo (家千代, who died at the age of only two months). From that time on, the blade was a heirloom of the Tokugawa main line.

Nobukuni4

Picture 4: jûyô-bunkazai, tantô, mei “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 36.6 cm, sori 0.6 cm, motohaba 3.2 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

A very good example of the aforementioned trend towards elaborate horimono is the jûyô-bunkazai hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi that is shown in picture 5. It is basically of the typical 1st generation Nobukuni interpretation of the Sôshû tradition, i.e. dense ko-itame with chikei and plenty of ji-nie in combination with a ko-notare-based hamon in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-gunome, ko-midare, and sunagashi and a bôshi with a rather wide kaeri that features hakikake. The blade is shortened and bears a kinpun-mei attribution to Nobukuni on the omote and a no longer legible kinpun inscription on the ura side. As for the horimono, we see a ceremonial hat, a bonji, a rendai, kuwagata and a suken with elaborate sankozuka hilt on the omote, and a katana-hi with inside bonji and a suken as relief on the ura side.

Nobukuni5

Picture 5: jûyô-bunkazai, kinpun-mei “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 38.1 cm, sori 0.6 cm, motohaba 3.4 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

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 When we take a look at the entire body of work of Nobukuni, and not only of the 1st generation but of the entire school, we learn that they placed a firm focus on shorter blades, i.e. sunnobi-tantô and hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi. Long swords are rare, and this is all the more true when we go back to the early Nobukuni smiths who had their main active periods before Ôei (応永, 1394-1428). So looking at these very rare Nanbokuchô-era tachi reveals that unlike short blades, it seems as if the 1st generation Nobukuni no longer used his Ryôkai-based Yamashiro style for them, i.e. they are all pretty much soshuesque, at least as far as the hamon is concerned. Picture 6 shows a tokubetsu-jûyô tachi that is ô-suriage and that comes in the typical heyday Nanbokuchô sugata which is a wide mihaba, a relative shallow sori, a thin kasane, and an elongated chû-kissaki. The kitae is an itame mixed with masame that shows ji-nie and chikei and the hamon is a nie-laden shallow notare that is mixed with gunome, ashi, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The nioiguchi is wide, bright, and clear and the bôshi runs on the omote side with a yakikomi over the yokote into a suguha and appears on the ura side as notare-komi, both running back with a ko-maru-kaeri.

Nobukuni6

Picture 6: tokubetsu-jûyô, katana, mumei, attributed to Nobukuni, nagasa 69.7 cm, sori 1.5 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

A more flamboyant long sword of the 1st generation can be seen in picture 7. The blade is ubu, has a tachi-sugata with a toriizori, a relative thick kasane, and a chû-kissaki and shows a kitae in itame that tends to nagare on the omote side and that shows much chikei and plenty of ji-nie. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with gunome, ko-gunome, ashi, connected , sunagashi, kinsuji, and some gunome that are about to turn into yahazu (but not yet fully). The bôshi is midare-komi with a brief ko-maru-kaeri. So from the overal sugata and the interpretation of the ha we can place this blade to the latest active period of the 1st generation and it connects very well to the works of his immediate successors.

Nobukuni7

Picture 7: tokubetsu-jûyô, tachi, mei “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 67.9 cm, sori 2.6 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The last blade that I want to introduce for today is more Sadamune-like in terms of its sugata and ha (see picture 8). It is an ô-suriage tachi with a relative wide mihaba, a shallow sori, and a very much elongated chû-kissaki that might already come under the category of an ô-kissaki. The jigane is a rather standing-out itame but which tends very much to nagare-masame and that shows ji-nie. The hamon is a nie-laden shallow ko-notare that is mixed with gunome, kinsuji, and sunagashi and the bôshi is sugu-chô to midare-komi that features a pointed and late starting kaeri with hakikake. On both sides we can see towards the bottom of the tang the remnants of the suken relief in the bôhi.

Nobukuni8a

Nobukuni8b

Picture 8: jûyô, wakizashi, mumei, attributed to Nobukuni, nagasa 54.5 cm, sori 1.4 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

 

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I have saved the discussion about the succession of generations or rather the counting of generations for the next part as it would have been too confusing to pack all that into this first chapter. Also horimono and the distinguishing features of Nobukuni signatures will be addressed next time so please stay tuned.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #25 – Ryôkai (了戒) School 2

Ryôkai was succeeded by his son Hisanobu (久信) who is – due to the fact that he often signed just with the prefix “Ryô” – mostly referred to as Ryô Hisanobu (了久信). The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that he was born in Kagen one (嘉元, 1303) and died in Ôan seven (応安, 1374) at the age of 73. Again, we have here dates which don’t add up and apart from that, the source also mixes up Hisanobu with Nobuhisa (信久). That is, it lists Nobuhisa as son of Ryôkai and Hisanobu as his successor whereas all other sources state it the other way round, i.e. Nobuhisa being the son of Hisanobu. Hisanobu being the son of Ryôkai is also proven by dated and signed works which will be addressed in the following. First, there is a pretty famous tachi extant (see picture 1) which is signed kakikudashi-style “Ryôkai Kagen sannen sangatsu hi” (了戒  嘉元三年三月日, “Ryôkai, on a day of the third month Kagen three [1305]”) on the haki-omote, and “Yamashiro no Kuni-jûnin Kurôza…” (山城国住人九郎左…) (rest cut off) on the haki-ura side. This mei was for a long time interpreted as showing Ryôkai’s first name, being Kurôzaemon or Kurôzaemon no Jô but in more recent years another tachi has been found (see picture 2) which is signed “Kurôzaemon no Jô Hisanobu saku – Kagen ninen uzuki hi” (九郎左衛門尉久信作・嘉元二年卯月日, “on a day of the fourth month Kagen two [1304]”). So Kurôzaemon no Jô was obviously the first name of his son Hisanobu and not of master Ryôkai and the Kagen three tachi is thus obviously a gassaku. Incidentally, the Kagen two tachi by Hisanobu bears somewhat apart from the actual mei and interpreted in a completely different way the name “Ikkai” (一海). Some speculate that this was the nyûdô-gô of Hisanobu but the NBTHK says that it is a kiritsuke-mei, i.e. added later. Well, and “final proof” for Hisanobu being the one of Ryôkai delivers a naginata (see picture 3) which is signed “Ryôkai shisoku Hisanobu – Tokuji sannen tsuchinoe-saru jûgatsu muika” (了戒子息久信・徳治三年戊申十月六日, “Hisanobu, son of Ryôkai, on the sixth day of the tenth month Tokuji three [1308], year of the monkey”).

Now let me introduce all these blades, beginning with the gassaku which is designated as a jûyô-bunkazai, owned by the Atsuta-jingû, but preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum. It must have had a magnificently long nagasa because it measures 82.6 cm in its shortened condition. It has a deep sori that tends to koshizori, maintains a little funbari, tapers noticeably, and ends in a ko-kissaki. The jigane is a ko-itame that is mixed with masame-nagare and fine ji-nie as well as a shirake-utsuri appear. The hamon is an overall rather subdued suguha to hoso-suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-midare, some ko-chôji, ko-ashi, and that features a rather tight nioiguchi, and the bôshi is a thin sugu to midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri.

RyoHisanobu1

Picture 1: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei see text above, nagasa 82.6 cm, sori 3.0 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, sakihaba 1.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The Hisanobu tachi with the Ikkai supplement is shown in picture 2. This blade too is with a nagasa of 84.0 cm pretty long. It has a wide mihaba that tapers noticeably, a deep koshizori with funbari, and end in a ko-kissaki. The jigane is a ko-itame that is mixed with a conspicuous amount of masame and features fine ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri. The hamon is a suguha-chô in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with some ko-gunome, ko-midare, ko-chôji and ko-ashi and has a subdued nioiguchi. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and tends to a little bit to a sansaku-bôshi. The omote side bears a bonji with below a suken, and the ura side a bonji with below gomabashi, both of them running as kaki-nagashi into the tang.

RyoHisanobu2

Picture 2: jûyô, tachi, mei see text above, nagasa 84.0 cm, sori 2.8 cm, motohaba 2.95 cm, sakihaba 1.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

RyoHisanobu3

Picture 3: The naginata which explicitly states that Hisanobu was the son of Ryôkai. It is owned by the Tokugawa Museum, has a nagasa of 42.8 cm, and is interpreted in the typical Ryôkai style.

Another signed tachi of Ryô Hisanobu is introduced in picture 4. It has a long nagasa too, tapers noticeably, but the kissaki tends to chû. Its jigane is a standing-out itame that is all over mixed with nagare-masame and that features ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri. The hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-gunome, hotsure, ashi, , and sunagashi and appears subdued in places. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-mar-kaeri.

RyoHisanobu4

Picture 4: jûyô, tachi, mei “Ryô Hisanobu” (了久信), nagasa 83.7 cm, sori 2.6 cm, motohaba 3.1 cm, sakihaba 1.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

An interesting blade is shown in picture 5 (click on the pic to get to the website), interesting insofar as that it is very similar to the shôbu-zukuri tachi of Ryôkai shown in picture 8 of the previous chapter. Hisanobu’s blade is ubu but unsigned, has a nagasa of 67.3 cm, a high shinogi, and shows a ko-itame that is mixed with much nagare-masame and some ô-hada in places, even formingsome mokume swirls here and there. This time a faint nie-utsuri appears and the hamon is a subdued hoso-suguha with ko-ashi, and the bôshi is sugu too and runs out as yakitsume.

RyoHisanobu5

Picture 5: tachi, mumei, attributed to Ryô Hisanobu, nagasa 67.3 cm, sori 2.5 cm, motohaba 2.94 cm, shôbi-zukuri, iori-mune

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Now let’s talk about Hisanobu’s tantô. An often quoted work is the tantô shown in picture 6 that is dated Enkyô three (延慶, 1310). It is a so to speak standard hira-zukuri tantô for that time, showing moderate to smallish dimensions, an uchizori, and a jigane in dense ko-itame that tends to nagare along the mune and that displays a midare-utsuri. This midare-utsuri is in my opinion linked to the interpretation in midareba. I mean, we see a ko-notare-based ko-gunome in nioi-deki that is mixed with ashi and that features a mizukage, thus quite a flamboyant interpretation for the Ryôkai group. The bôshi is midare-komi too and runs back in a ko-maru-kaeri. So when we bear in mind that the latest known date signature of Rôkai is from the previous year and take into consideration that not that many works of Hisanobu are extant, we can speculate that he might have mostly worked for his father. This is also supported by the fact that we are facing a pretty inconsistent signature style of the characters for Ryôkai, I am hinting at daisaku-daimei, and this might go hand in hand with the tradition that Hisanobu signed himself with “Ryôkai” one or two years after his father had died, so at least according to the Goto Tebiki Shô (如手引抄). Well this work was published in the Kan´ei era (寛永, 1624-1644), more than 300 years after Hisanobu’s active period. Incidentally, the known date signatures of Ryô Hisanobu, which are pretty rare, span just from Kagen (嘉元, 1303-1306) to Enkyô (延慶, 1308-1311).

RyoHisanobu6

Picture 6: tantô, mei “Ryô Hisanobu” (了久信) – “Enkyô sannen jûnigatsu muika” (延慶三年十二月六日, “sixth day of the twelfth month Enkyô three [1310]”), nagasa 23.9 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, iori-mune, preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum

But the majority of Hisanobu’s tantô is in suguha, like for example the blade shown in picture 7. It is with a nagasa of 26.2 cm of standard length has no sori. The motohaba is with 2.42 not really on the narrow side for a tantô but when you take a look at the width of the tang, the condition of the ha-machi, and the thinness of the ha, I think that this blade has lost some substance. It shows a finely forged ko-itame that is mixed with ko-mokume and nagare and features ji-nie, a shirake-utsuri, and even a few chikei. The hamon is a hoso-sugha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with sunagashi and fine kinsuji and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri.

RyoHIsanobu7Picture 7: tantô, mumei, attributed to Ryô Hisanobu, nagasa 26.2 cm, muzori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

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Genealogy of the Ryokai School

Now Ryô Hisanobu was succeeded by his son Nobuhisa (信久) who lived, according to the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen, from Bunna one (文和, 1352) to Ôei 26 (応永, 1419). He signed in the syntax of his father, i.e. with “Ryô Nobuhisa” (了信久) and worked allegedly also in the same style, although I have never come across any of his works. Well, Tsuneishi goes pretty much into detail but the problem is, he just addresses a “3rd generation Ryôkai” and does not say if he means Nobuhisa or not. Apart from that, most other sources don’t count an exact succession of generations of the Ryôkai lineage or just say that Ryôkai was the 1st generation and Ryô Hisanobu the 2nd, period. Tsuneishi introduces even more generations, i.e. a 4th generation who was active around Jôji (貞治, 1362-1368) and a 5th generation who was active around Ôei (応永, 1394-1428). For a better overview, I have compiled a genealogy of the Ryôkai School that is provided above. So Tsuneishi describes the 3rd generation as working basically in the style of his father and grandfather, hardening a hoso-suguha but which shows less nie and that comes close the a pure nioi-deki. He further states that his nioiguchi is not tight and dull (he uses “dim, blurred”), that most extant works show a “tired yakiba,” a weak and roughish hada, much masame towards the mune, and a shirake-utsuri. His tantô are smaller dimensioned and show a hoso-suguha that is mixed with ko-gunome-midare which is more “busy” than the ha of the 1st and 2nd generation. And he concludes that the 3rd generation also does not match the quality of his two predecessors.

Anyway, the old-established Yamashiro schools were all fading by the end of the Nanbokuchô period. The Awataguchi School had “long” been gone. The Rai School had just “disappeared” or had scattered to the four winds (Nakajima, Echizen, Higo) and its remaining smiths were outshined by masters, for example from the Hasebe and the Nobukuni School, who adjusted their work very much to the new Sôshû tradition. The Ryôkai School shared the same fate. Their own offspring Nobukuni overshadowed all other Ryôkai students and the son of Hisanobu’s student Yoshisada (能定), i.e. the 2nd generation Yoshisada, moved eventually down to Kyûshû where he became the ancestor of the so-called Tsukushi-Ryôkai group.

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #24 – Ryôkai (了戒) School 1

According to tradition, Ryôkai (了戒) was a very early son of grand master Rai Kunitoshi (来国俊), born when Kunitoshi was only 17 years old. He entered priesthood at an early age of 16, taking the very name Ryôkai, but returned later to secular life to forge swords, allegedly not only with his father but also learning from Ayanokôji Sadatoshi (綾小路定利). As always, there are several traditions and theories going round. One says that he was actually a Nara smith who came to Kyôto to study with Kunitoshi. Another one suggests that he started a normal career as a swordsmith and entered priesthood only later in life, whilst sources who follow the approach that Niji Kunitoshi and Rai Kunitoshi were different smiths say that Ryôkai was the son of the former and thus the brother of Rai Kunitoshi. Well, when we take a look at the extant date signatures of Ryôkai, which start from Shôô three (正応, 1290), followed by date signatures from Einin (永仁, 1293-1299) and Kagen (嘉元, 1303-1306) to Enkyô two (延慶, 1309) as the latest, we learn that he was active at about the same time when Kunitoshi signed in sanji-mei. We know that Kunitoshi was born in 1240. So when we follow the tradition that Ryôkai was born when Kunitoshi was 17 years old, we arrive at Kôgen two (康元, 1256) as year of birth for Ryôkai (or at Shôka one [正嘉, 1257] if we follow the Western way of counting years). This date (Kôgen two) is also forwarded by the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen by the way, what means that not all of its data is far-fetched. This in turn means that he was 34 when he made the earliest extant dated blade from Shôô three (1290) what sounds very plausible. The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen also says that Ryôkai died in Shôkyô four at the age of 72 but the Shôkyô era (正慶, 1332-1334) only lasted for two years, and apart from that, if you count 72 from Kôgen two (1256), you arrive at 1328 (or 1327 according to the Japanese way), what in turn would correspond to Karyaku three. Taking into consideration that Ryôkai’s known date signatures end noticeably before those of Kunitoshi (of whom we know date signature up to 1321), I tend to think that he might have died before his father and indeed in the Karyaku era (嘉暦, 1326-1329). Or in other words, the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen might be right about his age at death but not about the year he died in.

Before we come to the workmanship of Ryôkai, I want to elaborate on his standing in the sword world, or on his ranking if you want. There are 5 blades of him that made it jûyô-bunkazai (3 tachi, 1 tantô), no kokuhô, about 90 jûyô, and 2 that passed tokubetsu-jûyô. In comparison, Rai Kunitoshi has 4 kokuhô, 17 jûyô-bunkazai, more than 200 jûyô, and about 30 tokubetsu-jûyô. But we have to bear in mind that (due to the fact that Kunitoshi was the grand master of a bustling workshop) there are in total more blades of Rai Kunitoshi extant than of Ryôkai, so these numbers are relative. An interesting aspect of Ryôkai’s ranking is gained by looking into contemporary records. For example, the Chûshin Mono (注進物), a report on sharp swords from the entire country compiled on request of the bakufu in Shôwa two (正和, 1313) which contains the name of 60 smiths, does list Ryôkai but not his father Rai Kunitoshi. Well, the emphasis of such early works remains to be seen as for example, the Chûshin Mono lists for Yamashiro also Sanjô Kokaji Munechika, Awataguchi Kuniyoshi, Awataguchi Hisakuni, Ayanokôji Sadatoshi, and kiku-gyosaku, and therefore I tend to interpret sources like that as mere guidelines for what kind of swords are “appropriate” to be owned by (and presented to) the contemporary high-society rather than referring to their effective sharpness. But just due to the fact of being on this list, you can get an idea of how high Ryôkai’s blades were regarded these days.

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Now to the workmanship of Ryôkai. In general, it can be said that the sugata and jiba of his works, and that means both tachi and tantô, are pretty close to Rai Kunitoshi. However, many of his tachi are more on the slender side, showing a noticeable taper, a deep sori, and a smallish kissaki, and it is assumed that it is this trend towards a more classical elegance might be the reason for why some assumed he studied with Ayanokôji Sadatoshi. But at Sadatoshi’s slender tachi, the koshizori is more pronounced and straightens more out towards the tip. Apart from that, some of Ryôkai’s tachi show a somewhat higher shinogi (and partially also a higher iori-mune) what in turn might have been the reason for assuming a Yamato origin. This is further substantiated by the fact that Ryôkai’s jigane is basically the Rai-typical ko-itame but which tends to a certain extent to nagare and might even show masame here and there. In addition, we usually see shirake or a shirake-utsuri on his blades and not the nie-utsuri from Rai main line. Also his hamon is a hint more narrow and subdued and has a lesser emphasis on nie than that of Rai Kunitoshi. So we have here again the junction where you were following the Rai Kunitoshi road but then come across nagare-masame and shirake and have to fork to one of the Rai sidelines like Ryôkai or Enju. And then the hamon and bôshi should tell you, in the ideal case, if you took the right exit. But of course, sometimes it can be very had to tell if a blade is a Rai Kunitoshi, an early Rai Kunimitsu, or a Ryôkai.

One of his most representative works is the signed tachi that is preserved in the Tôkyô National Museum but which does not hold any status (see picture 1). It is ubu and in this case, the sori tends more to koshizori, also running into a pretty curved kijimomo-style nakago. We see funbari and a ko-kissaki and the kitae is a dense ko-itame that features masame, shirake, and some jifu. The hamon is a suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-midare, ko-chôji, and ko-ashi and the nioiguchi is rather subdued. The bôshi is a midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri.

Ryokai1

Picture 1: tachi, mei “Ryôkai” (了戒), nagasa 79.98 cm, sori 2.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Also very representative is the jûyô tachi that is shown in picture 2. It is ubu too and preserves like the previous blade its long nagasa of 80.3 cm. It tapers, shows funbari and its jigane is an itame that is mixed with masame-nagare and that shows ji-nie and shirake. The hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki which tends a little to shallow notare and that is mixed with ko-midare, , some kinsuji, and many ko-ashi. The nioiguchi is rather tight and subdued and the bôshi is a slightly undulating sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri whereas the ura side features hakikake. Thus with the rather wide ha with its abundance of hataraki and the quality of the jiba place this work pretty close to Rai Kunitoshi. By the way, this blade was one of those that were submitted to (and passed) the very first jûyô-shinsa in 1958. It was once a heirloom of the Hisamatsu-Matsudaira (久松松平) family, the daimyô of the Iyo-Matsuyama (伊予松山藩) fief.

Ryokai2

Picture 2: jûyô, tachi, mei “Ryôkai” (了戒), nagasa 80.3 cm, sori 3.0 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, sakihaba 1.65 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Another signed tachi of Ryôkai that is almost ubu is shown in picture 3. The blade was shortened to 71.0 cm but keeps its rather deep sori (which tends again somewhat to koshizori). We still see a hint of funbari, a noticeable taper, and a ko-kissaki. The jigane is an itame with a conspicuous amount of masame and features ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri. The hamon is a gentle suguha in ko-nie-deki with a little shallow notare and is mixed with ko-gunome and some faint nijûba in places. The bôshi is sugu to notare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri.

Ryokai3

Picture 3: jûyô, tachi, mei “Ryôkai” (了戒), nagasa 71.0 cm, sori 2.3 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, sakihaba 1.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The tachi in picture 4 is one of Ryôkai’s highly classical, calm, and unobtrusive interpretations. It is ubu and signed, slender, has a rather deep koshizori, tapers noticeably, shows funbari, a high shinogi, and a ko-kissaki. The kitae is a densely forged but also somewhat standing-out ko-itame that is mixed with nagare-masame, some ô-hada, and jifu. In addition, ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri appear. The hamon is a suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with a little ko-gunome, ko-midare, ko-ashi, , and some fine kinsuji and sunagashi. The nioiguchi and the entire ha are more subdued. The bôshi is a narrow sugu with a brief ko-maru-kaeri. On the omote side we see a suken at the base and there are several tachi of Ryôkai known that bear such a short suken or koshibi at the base.

Ryokai4

Picture 4: jûyô, tachi, mei “Ryôkai” (了戒), nagasa 75.65 cm, sori 2.8 cm, motohaba 2.85 cm, sakihaba 1.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

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Now we come to his tantô, the most famous of course the meibutsu Akita-Ryôkai (秋田了戒) which is designated as a jûyô-bunkazai (and was even holding the status of kokuhô for a while, i.e. until many designations were reassessed by the Agency for Cultural Affairs after WWII). The name of the meibutsu goes back to the fact that it was once work by Akita Sanesue (秋田実季, 1576-1660) who held the title of Akita Jônosuke (秋田城之介). Later it became an heirloom of the Kaga Maeda family. There are several tantô extant by Ryôkai which are interpreted in kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri. The jigane is an itame that is mixed with masame and that shows ji-nie and some shirake-utsuri. The hamon is a suguha in ko-nie-deki with a tight nioiguchi and nijûba and the bôshi is rather pointed and features a rather wide and long running-back kaeri, also with nijûba.

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Picture 5: jûyô-bunkazai, tantô, mei “Ryôkai” (了戒), nagasa 27.2 cm, muzori

An outstanding tantô of him can be seen in picture 6. It is tokubetsu-jûyô and is with the moderate dimensions, the uchizori, and the curved furisode-nakago quite classical. The jigane is a dense ko-itame with fine ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri and the hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki with some ko-ashi, , and nijûba in places that features a tight nioiguchi. The bôshi is sugu with a rather wide ko-maru-kaeri. On the omote side we see a suken with on top of it a bonji and on the ura side gomabashi, both running with kaki-nagashi into the tang. The tang is ubu by the way, so the second mekugi-ana and the kaki-nagashi of the horimono do not speak for a suriage in this case. There is no nagare-masame or “weakness” in the jigane and so this tantô comes pretty close to Rai Kunitoshi.

 Ryokai6

Picture 6: tokubetsu-jûyô, tantô, mei “Ryôkai” (了戒), nagasa 24.9 cm, very little uchizori, motohaba 2.35 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

As it will be addressed in the next chapter, the Ryôkai lineage also made some naginata and a shortened one, a naginata-naoshi wakizashi, can be seen in picture 7. It is relative wide and bears on both sides a central shinogi-hi, i.e. a groove that runs along the shinogi. The jigane is a dense ko-itame with some nagare and ji-nie and the hamon is a hoso-suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-gunome, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The bôshi runs out as yakitsume and taking into consideration the overall course of the ha, we learn that this was once a shizuka style naginata (more on that interpretation here).
Ryokai7Picture 7: jûyô, naginata-naoshi wakizashi, mumei, attributed to Ryôkai, nagasa 40.6 cm, sori 0.9 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, iori-mune

But Ryôkai also made some more uncommon blade shapes, like for example the one in shôbu-zukuri seen in picture 8. Well, the blade has a nagasa of 68.2 cm and is classified, due to the position of the mei, as tachi but it might well be one of these longer uchigatana that come mostly in hira-zukuri that were made by some of the great Kamakura masters for a higher ranking clientele (like the Nakigitsune-Kuniyoshi, see here). The blade has a relative deep sori and shows a dense itame that is mixed with nagare in places and with ô-hada along the upper half of the omote side. In addition, ji-nie and a shirake-utsuri appear. The hamon is a suguha in ko-nie-dei that is mixed with some ko-ashi and fine sunagashi and kinsuji and that shows some ko-gunome along the monouchi. The bôshi is formed out of these ko-gunome elements and runs back with a short ko-maru-kaeri and some hakikake.

Ryokai8Picture 8: jûyô, tachi, mei “Ryôkai” (了戒), nagasa 68.2 cm, sori 1.8 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, shôbu-zukuri, iori-mune

KANTEI 4 – YAMASHIRO #23 – Rai (来) School 9

In this chapter I will introduce the last relevant Rai smiths, starting with Kunisue (国末) who was allegedly the third son of grand master Rai Kunitoshi, so at least according to the oldest extant sword publication, the Kanchi’in Bon Meizukushi, whose core data was compiled whilst all these masters were still alive. The source also says that he died in his thirties. However, the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says that he was not the son but the younger brother of Kunitoshi, that he was born in the Kenchô (建長, 1249) and died in the Shôchû era (正中, 1324-1326) at the age of 76. Interesting is that the Kanchi’in Bon Meizukushi lists Kunisue at another point, namely in a Rai genealogy, as younger brother of Kunitoshi (like the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen does). So the source is not consistent in this regard. Anyway, there is only one signed blade of Rai Kunisue extant, what would support the approach that he died young, but there is another tradition, namely the one that he later moved to the Hikigayatsu (比企谷) neighborhood of Kamakura, and this in turn would speak in my opinion rather for that he lived longer. Due to this alleged Kamakura connection, which is by the way found in both of the above mentioned sources, Kunisue is also referred to as Hiki-Rai (比企来). As indicated, there are virtually no blades of him extant, i.e. not a single one that bears a designation by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, nor any one that is jûyô or tokubetsu-jûyô. The mentioned signed blade is designated as a jûyô-bijutsuhin and shown in picture 1. It has a suriage-nagasa of 72.9 cm and the original length is estimated with around 79 cm. It is rather slender, tapers noticeably, has a relative thick kasane, a deep sori, and a ko-kissaki. The kitae is a dense and excellently forged ko-itame that is mixed with mokume and some jifu in places. In addition, ji-nie, chikei, and a jifu-utsuri appears. The hamon is a chû-suguha that tends a little to shallow notare. It is mixed with ko-ashi, saka-ashi, and “soft” looking and the hardening is in nioi-deki with only a hint of fine ko-nie. The bôshi is sugu with a short ko-maru-kaeri. Both sides bear a bôhi with ryô-chiri that runs on the omote side as kaki-tôshi through, and on the ura side as kaki-nagashi into the tang. We also see traces of a tsurebi in the kissaki. The tang is suriage as mentioned, shows katte-sagari yasurime, and bears on the hira-ji a rather small sanji-mei.

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Picture 1: jûyô-bijutsuhin, tachi, mei “Rai Kunisue” (来国末), nagasa 72.9 cm, sori 1.98 cm, motohaba 2.8 cm, sakihaba 1.75 cm, kasane 0.8 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Now the jigane speaks because of the densely forged ko-itame and the clarity of the steel basically for Rai but we also see a considerable amount of mokume as well as jifu that tends to jifu-utsuri in places, what results with the saka-ashi in a slightly Aoe or Un feel. Honma places the mei on the basis of its smaller size in the vicinity of Rai Kunimitsu and also sees him rather as a contemporary of the latter than of Kunitoshi. He also says that judging from this blade, Kunisue was surely a very skilled smith but does not reach the quality level of the top Rai Kunimitsu works. He further states that the hada stands more out and the jigane is stronger than at Kunitoshi and Kunimitsu. Incidentally, the blade was once a heirloom of the Sakai (酒井) family, the daimyô of the Shônai fief of Dewa province. It was later owned by Honma sensei’s younger brother, Honma Yûsuke (本間祐介). Incidentally, the smiths of the Rai School we are dealing with today are highlighted below.

NakajimaRai

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Via Kunisue we arrive at an offshoot of the school, and that is the so-called Nakajima-Rai (中島来) branch which was founded by Kunisue’s son Kuninaga (国長). Please note that Kuninaga and his successor are both also referred to as Nakajima-Rai. So when you hear the term Nakajima-Rai, it almost always means first and second generation Rai Kuninaga and only in certain cases it is about the branch in general or about other smiths from that branch. Now Kuninaga was trained by Kunitoshi and turned out to be a great master himself, leaving us today two jûyô-bunkazai and about 100 jûyô (of which one made it tokubetsu-jûyô, counting both works that bear attributions to Rai Kuninaga and to Nakajima-Rai). These blades comprise all categories, i.e. tachi/katana, hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi, and tantô, and even a naginata-naoshi is among them. Thus we have quite an impressive body of work to deal with. To my knowledge, there are no dated blades of Kuninaga extant but he is traditionally placed around Gentoku (元徳, 1329-1331), with his successor of the same name somewhere between Shôhei (正平, 1346-1370) and Ôan (応安, 1368-1375). The Kotô Meizukushi Taizen however sees Kuninaga as son of Kunisue’s son-in-law Kuniyasu (国安, who will be introduced later) and states that he was 24 years old in the Enbun era. But this would rule out that he had studied with Kunitoshi and would place him much later than stated by all the other sources. So I stick to the above mentioned approach that he was the son of Kunisue, a student of Kunitoshi, and active from the very end of the Kamakura to the early Nanbokuchô period (and not that his career just started in mid-Nanbokuchô). Anyway, Kuninaga moved at some point (the Nihontô Kôza says during the Gentoku era) to Nakajima in Settsu province, thus the nickname Nakajima-Rai. Disclaimer: I will deal with the smiths who emerged from all these local offshoots in corresponding chapters, i.e. Settsu, Echizen and so on).

When we take a look at the above mentioned body of work as a whole, we learn first that signed blades are very rare, and second that we have on the one hand a few more classical blades, and on the other hand noticeable more that are either quite magnificent or come with an ô-kissaki that clearly speak for heyday Nanbokuchô. Accordingly, a shift in generations is obvious, although we can’t say for sure when exactly it took place, and it seems as if the second generation was more productive. It is said that smaller, more angular signatures are that of the first and larger, more roundish signatures that of the second generation. The differentiation of the meiburi seems to match with the differences in sugata and production time. Please note that in the case of Kuninaga, the NBTHK treats the generations equally in terms of quality. In other words, they do not, as it is sometimes the case, attribute the best works to the first and the somewhat inferior ones to the second generation but orientate themselves merely on the sugata and the interpretation of the jiba (and meiburi of course in those rare cases where a signature is present). In this sense, it should be mentioned that the one and only tokubetsu-jûyô of Kuninaga is a work of the second generation and if you have a blade that is attributed to the Nidai, it means just that it was made by the (worthy) successor and doesn’t imply at all that it is inferior in quality. As for the attribution criteria to Rai Kuninaga, the Hon’ami family used to handle it that way that mumei blades which are close to Rai Kunimitsu in interpretation but are somewhat inferior in quality get an attribution to Rai Kuninaga or ti Nakajima-Rai. And the NBTHK seems to follow this approach. Simply speaking, it means that if you have a Hon’ami origami or a NBTHK attribution of an unsigned blade to Rai Kuninaga or to Nakajima-Rai, it means that it is in their eyes a very good Rai work from the close vicinity of Kunimitsu but insufficient to pass as such. There is room for discussion of course but that’s the general approach. Next I introduce, in chronological order, some works of the two generations Rai Kuninaga as I want to talk about “attribution labels” like that separately.

The blade shown in picture 2 is one of the two jûyô-bunkazai. It is attributed to the first generation, bears a smallish mei, and its sugata with the elongated chû-kissaki speaks clearly for a blade that was made before the heyday of the Nanbokuchô period. In short, we can date it somewhere from the very end of the Kamakura to the early Nanbokuchô period. The kitae is a ko-itame with some masame, plenty of ji-nie, and the steel is clear. The hamon is a chû-suguha in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with many ko-ashi, some uchinoke and kuichigai-ba, and that widens at the monouchi where it tends a little to kuzure and from where it runs into an (almost) ichimaibôshi. So by just looking at the oshigata, one might be even reminded of Gô Yoshihiro at first glance with this wide and wild monouchi and the widely hardened bôshi. The tang is suriage and shows katte-sagari yasurime. This tachi is considered as the greatest masterwork of Rai Kuninaga and as being equal in terms of quality to his contemporary Rai Kunimitsu. It was once worn by Takeda Shingen (武田信玄, 1521-1573) and was later offered by one his his local successors, Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu (柳沢吉保, 1659-1714), daimyô of the Kôfu fief of Kai province, to the Enri-ji (恵林寺, Yamanashi Prefecture) which still owns it today.

RaiKuninaga2

Picture 2: jûyô-bunkazai, tachi, mei “Rai Kuninaga” (来国長), nagasa 79.3 cm, sori 2.5 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, sakihaba 1.7 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The next blade (picture 3) is ô-suriage mumei and attributed to Rai Kuninaga and because of its pre-heyday Nanbokuchô sugata (i.e. chû-kissaki and noticeable taper), I tend to attribute it to the first generation for the time being, although it is already rather wide, has a shallow sori for its length, and was once pretty long. The jigane is a standing-out ko-itame that is mixed with mokume, nagare-masame, and jifu. In addition, plenty of ji-nie, chikei, and a nie-utsuri appear. The hamon is a nie-laden chû-suguha-chô that is mixed with ko-gunome, ko-chôji, many ashi and , and towards the top and bottom also with nijûba and long kuichigai-ba. The nioiguchi is rather tight and is bright and clear. The bôshi is sugu with a relative wide ko-maru-kaeri and shows some hakikake at the very tip.

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Picture 3: jûyô, tachi, mumei, attributed to Rai Kuninaga, nagasa 76.5 cm, sori 1.8 cm, motohaba 3.2 cm, sakihaba 2.4 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Picture 4 shows another blade that is probably a work of the first generation. It is ô-suriage, has a normal mihaba, a relative deep sori for its length, and a chû-kissaki. The jigane is a very dense and beautifully forged ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie and the hamon is a ko-nie-laden hiro-suguha-chô that is mixed with ko-chôji, ko-gunome, many ashi and , and some kinsuji and sunagashi. The nioiguchi is bright and clear and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. Again, we see an increase in midare and hataraki along the monouchi, but not as strong as seen in the blade from picture 2 of course, and also the ha drops again before the yokote and turns into a pretty calm bôshi.

RaiKuninaga4

Picture 4: jûyô, tachi, mumei, attributed to Rai Kuninaga, nagasa 69.7 cm, sori 1.7 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, sakihaba 2.1 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

Tantô and hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi of the first generation are very rare, this means, the majority of Rai Kuninaga works from that category are attributed to the second generation. The hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi shown in picture 5 is, based on the small and thinly chiselled signature, attributed to the Shodai. The blade is relative wide and also shows some sori what would speak for Nanbokuchô at a glance (please compare it to the similar Kunizane hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi introduced in picture 2 here). But it has to be mentioned that such a sugata is sometimes also seen in the Kamakura period and it still remains to be clarified if the heyday Nanbokuchô danbira are more related to growing koshigatana or to shrinking uchigatana (i.e. blades like the Nakigitsune-Kuniyoshi introduced here). Anyway, the blade in question shows a rather standing-out itame that is mixed with some masame. Ji-nie appears and the hamon is a suguha-chô that is mixed with some ko-gunome, hotsure, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The nioiguchi tends to be tight and the ha is clear and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. Both sides bear a soebi-accompanied katana-hi that runs with kaki-tôshi through the tang, although the initial end of the grooves might be grasped at the nakago-jiri.

RaiKuninaga5

Picture 5: jûyô, wakizashi, mei “Rai Kuninaga” (来国長), nagasa 38.3 cm, sori 0.6 cm, motohaba 2.7 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

Now let’s go over to the second generation and I want to start with the blade that I have mentioned before, that is the only tokubetsu-jûyô of Rai Kuninaga. This hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi has an obvious sunnobi-sugata, is wide, has some sori, and a thin kasane, so no discussion that this is not heyday Nanbokuchô. The kitae is an itame that is mixed with some nagare and apart from that, jinie, chikei, and a nie-utsuri appear. The hamon is pretty flamboyant for a Rai work and appears as a nie-laden gunome that is mixed with chôj, ko-notare, ashi, , sunagashi, kinsuji, and along the upper half also with yubashiri and tobiyaki what almost results in a kind of hitatsura approach from the monouchi upwards. The bôshi continues from there and appears as a midare-komi with a rather pointed kaeri on omote side and some hakikake. The omote side shows a suken, and the ura side gomabashi, both with a tsume at the base. The blade is, as mentioned, with the abundance of hataraki and the strong jigane truly flamboyant for Rai and reflects the advanced times, times when with the emergence of the Sôshû tradition such and similar, more “ambituous” interpretations began to dominate. Incidentally, the blade was once a heirloom of the Hisamatsu (久松) family, the daimyô of the Iyo-Matsuyama fief on Shikoku.

RaiKuninaga6aRaiKuninaga6b

Picture 6: tokubetsu-jûyô, wakizashi, mei “Rai Kuninaga” (来国長), nagasa 33.0 cm, sori 0.35 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, kasane 0.55 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

Another characteristic feature of the Nidai Kuninaga is that his hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi often show similarities to blades by the Hasebe School of his contemporary Nobukuni (信国), who was from the Rai offshoot Ryôkai. One such Nobukuni-kind-of interpretation is shown in picture 7. It is a signed tantô with a nagasa of 28.9 cm, a thin kasane, and some sori and shows a somewhat standing-out and altogether rather largely structured itame that is mixed with nagare all over. In addition, plenty of ji-nie, chikei, and a faint nie-utsuri appear. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with gunome, ko-ashi, kinsuji, and sunagashi and the bôshi has a ko-maru-kaeri with hakikake. As horimono we see a suken with tsume base on the omote, and a bonji on the ura side. So the standing-out hada and the conspicuous trend to nagare as well as the slight approach to yahazu (see the one hamon protrusion on the ura side above of the bonji) make one think of Nobukuni at a glance.

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Picture 7: jûyô, tantô, mei “Rai Kuninaga” (来国長), nagasa 28.9 cm, sori 0.2 cm, motohaba 2.6 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

As for the Nidai’s long swords, they follow as mentioned the then heyday Nanbokuchô trends, i.e. are wide, magnificent, don’t taper that much, have a shallow sori, and end in an ô-kissaki, although there are also many that feature “just” an elongated chû-kissaki. Picture 8 shows such a blade, once a tachi, later greatly shortened to a katana. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with plenty of ji-nie and is mixed with nagare-masame. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden hiro-suguha-chô that is mixed with many and densely arranged ko-chôji, ko-gunome, ashi, , some yubashiri along the yakigashira, and sunagashi. The nioiguchi is wide, bright, and clear and the bôshi is widely hardened and runs out as yakitsume with hakikake on the omote, and shows pointed kaeri on the ura side.

RaiKuninaga8

Picture 8: jûyô, katana, mumei, attributed to Rai Kuninaga, nagasa 69.3 cm, sori 2.0 cm, motohaba 3.2 cm, sakihaba 2.6 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

The last blade that I want to introduce for the second generation has a really large ô-kissaki and that shows again features that can be considered as characteristic for Rai Kuninaga, and that are njûba and kuichiga-ba (or in this very case just slight approaches to kuichigai-ba). So with the aforementioned proximity to Rai Kunimitsu in mind, we might say that he often followed the basic style of Kunimitsu which was introduced here in Picture 5c. So when it comes to long swords, we learn that in quantitative terms Kuninaga mostly followed style 5c. Well, the blade shown in picture 9 is wide, does not taper much, and concludes as mentioned with a pretty large kissaki. At first glance, the rather thick kasane and deep sori might sound, on the paper, uncommon for a heyday Nanbokuchô blade but we have to take into consideration that it is very likely that this blade was once quite long. The kitae is a dense ko-itame that is mixed with some nagare here and there and that shows ji-nie and fine chikei. The hamon is a ko-nie-laden suguha-chô with a little notare and is mixed with a hint of ko-gunome, many ashi, uchinoke, nijûba, fine sunagashi, and kinsuji, hataraki that also continue into the slightly undulating sugu-bôshi which runs back with a ko-maru-kaeri with some hakikake.

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Picture 9: jûyô, katana, mumei, attributed to Rai Kuninaga, nagasa 68.9 cm, sori 1.9 cm, kasane 0.77 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, sakihaba 2.35 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

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I will end this chapter with Rai Kuniyasu (来国安) who is seen as son of Kunisue, son-in-law of Kunisue, grandson of Kunisue, son of Kunitoshi, or as son-in-law of Kunitoshi. But there might be some merger here with his student of the same name who moved later to Echizen province where he founded the Echizen-Rai offshoot. So although mostly listed as student, it is possible that Echizen-Rai Kuniyasu was actually the son of Rai Kuniyasu and as a consequence the grandson of Kunisue. Anyway, most meikan date him around Gentoku (元徳, 1329-1331) and the Kotô Meizukushi Taizen says Kenmu (建武, 1334-1338), what would match with his alleged direct connection to Kunisue and/or Kunitoshi and with the interpretation of his blades, which are typical for the very end of the Kamakura and the beginning of the Nanbokuchô period. Now extant blades of Rai Kuniyasu are very rare and most that are labelled as Rai Kuniyasu are works of his son/student Echizen-Rai Kuniyasu. Well, we know that Rai Kuniyasu left, together with his homonymous son/student, Kyôto and settled in Awaji (淡路) in Settsu province. Because of that, he is also referred to as Awaji-Rai (淡路来). Just as a sidenote, Awaji is located in present-day Ôsaka and just about 1 mile to the northeast of Nakajima. As a sidenote, there exists a connection between this Awaji manor and Echizen, the province to which his son/student moved later but I want to address this in a separate article.

A blade that is attributed to Rai Kuniyasu, i.e. not to Echizen-Rai Kuniyasu, is seen in picture 10. It is suriage but maintains its sanji-mei “Rai Kuniyasu” of which the last character is almost illegible. The blade is elegant, has a relative deep sori, and a chû-kissaki. The kitae is a dense ko-itame with ji-nie and the hamon is a nie-laden and relative narrow suguha-chô that is mixed with ko-chôji, ko-gunome, ashi, , sunagashi, and kinsuji. The nioiguchi is wide and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri and shows a few hakikake. The hamon is interpreted in a way where all hataraki are found within the ha or adjacent to the habuchi, this means, there is no “layered” approach with nijûba or uchinoke.

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Picture 10: jûyô, tachi, mei “Rai Kuniyasu” (来国安), nagasa 70.7 cm, sori 1.9 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, sakihaba 1.85 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

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That should do it for Rai and in the next chapter we continue with Ryôkai whose Rai offshoot I treat, in view of the Nobukuni group that emerged from it, as a school of its own. In other words, the next chapter will not be “Rai (来) School 10” but “Ryôkai (了戒) School 1.”