eBook Super Sale 2017

 

ebooksale-dti1

As it is now kind of a tradition, I will start another -50% off eBook Super Sale before the DAI TOKEN ICHI that goes directly via me (i.e. I’m not going to manually change all the prices on Lulu.com and then change them back when the sale is over). I provide a list of all my eBooks below, showing the regular and the reduced prices. I also linked them so that you can check what the description says but again, DO NOT buy over there at Lulu.com this time. Get in touch with me via “markus.sesko@gmail.com” and pay me directly, either by PayPal using the very same email address or by check or credit card (using the donate button at the very bottom of this page) and I’m going to send you over the eBook. And anyway, if you gave a question, just drop me a mail.

So grab this chance to fill up your tablets/phones with all references you need, if you are attending to the DTI. Should be handy to look up artists or backgrounds on the spot. In this sense, the eBook Super Sale will be up until Black Friday, until Nov 24, and the next one will not come until next easter.

Thank you for your attention!

Akasaka Tanko Roku ….. $8.90 – $4.50
Encyclopedia of Japanese Swords ….. $24.90 – $12.50
Geneaogies and Schools of Japanese Swordsmiths ….. $19.90$10
Genealogies of Japanese Toso Kinko Artists ….. $19,90$10
Identifying Japanese Cursive Script ….. $14.90$7.50
Identifying Japanese Seal Script ….. $14.90$7.50
Japan’s Most Important Sword Fittings ….. $14.90$7.50
Jukken ….. $14.90$7.50
Kano Natsuo I ….. $59.90$30
Kano Natsuo II ….. $59.90$30
Kantei Reference Book – Hamon & Boshi ….. $19.90$10
Koshirae – Japanese Sword Mountings ….. $19.90$10
Koshirae Taikan ….. $59.90$30
Koto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45
Koto Meikan ….. $39.90$20
Legends and Stories Around the Japanese Sword ….. $9.90 – $5
Legends and Stories Around the Japanese Sword 2 ….. $9.90 – $5
Masamune ….. $29.90$15
Masters of Keicho Shinto ….. $19.90$10
Nihon-koto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Nihon-shinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Nihon-shinshinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Shinshinto Meikan ….. $29.90$15
Shinto Meikan ….. $29.90$15
Shinto Shinshinto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45
Signatures of Japanese Sword Fittings Artists ….. $89.90$45
Soken Kinko Zufu ….. $9.90 – $5
Swordsmiths of Japan ….. $89.90$45
Tameshigiri ….. $29.90$15
The Honami Family ….. $19.90$10
The Japanese Toso Kinko Schools ….. $24.90$12.50

German Titles:

Die Honami Familie ….. $19.90$10
Geschichten rund ums japanische Schwert ….. $9.90 – $5
Geschichten rund ums japanische Schwert 2 ….. $9.90 – $5
Koto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45
Nihon-shinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Nihon-shinshinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Shinto Shinshinto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45

 

 

 

 

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Email troubles

Last night I painfully learned that due to my computer system change in early August, I overlooked several client emails. Tried to catch up last night but if you were trying to reach me during that time and haven’t heard back from me until now, please drop me another email. Specifically, this concerns emails send between August 1 and 15 that went unanswered. I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience!!

 

Report: Samurai Art Museum Berlin

A while ago, I promised you dear followers and readers a report on my job at the new Samurai Art Museum in Berlin. After returning from the official opening the other week, I thought this should be a good opportunity to give you a little insight into that venture. First of all, you have to understand that I am only a small cog in the wheel of the superb museum and several other experts (e.g. Dave Thatcher, Zenon van Damme, Thomas Schulze, Ian Bottomley) are involved to make this all happen and I will go ahead with a kind of chronology of events from my very personal perspective.

The initial contact was made by the Japanese sword and armor dealer Thomas Schneider and in April 2016, I got personally in touch with Mr. Peter Janssen, the collector and the owner of the museum, who subsequently commissioned me with a documentation/cataloging of all the objects in his collection. The museum was still in its building phase at that time so the first possible date for me to actually visit the facility was in February 2017. Mr. Janssen had sent me pictures of some of the highlights of his collection in advance but boy was I impressed when I entered the gates of the museum for the very first time: What an impressive place and what a consistently high quality on display! Most of the armor-related objects, i.e. full suits, helmets and face masks, had already been put up in the showcases, that is, the objects had already been moved from Mr. Janssen’s private estate to the museum before I showed up in February. Now I was there for a week so I immediately started to take pictures and notes of all the objects in the showcases and the storage rooms. This task occupied two and a half days and fortunately, my friend Uwe joined me later that week with whom I was going once more through the cabinets to check which items (mostly helmets and masks) are signed.

The remaining two and a half days were then spent on documenting the swords, over 170 in number, most of them in koshirae. The sword part was tough too as (of course) every single sword had to be fetched from the storage shelves, photographed as a whole, photographed drawn and with the hilt off, and photographed in detail, e.g. blade details, signature, tang, hilt, tsuba, saya, etc. All in all, I was taking more than 4,000 pictures that week, not even touching the tôsôgu collection as there was just not enough time at my initial stay back in February. The job was aggravated by a nasty cold that I suffered from and I surely drove the whole team crazy with my coughing fits 😉

Back home I started to work at the documentation/cataloging and I honestly have to admit, I underestimated the job, for example when it comes to determine certain materials like gold/brass or iron/shakudô. Also, I took pictures of the armors already put up in the showcases as mentioned, so sometimes it was difficult back home in my office to judge subtleties about e.g. cuirass constructions. Anyway, aim was first and foremost to record the entire collection as details are being worked out as we speak. I did assessments/documentation/cataloging of collections before but not to that extent (at the time this post is written, we are talking about 700 objects!). So, lesson learned.

That said, I have to refer to Mr. Janssen, Peter, once more. He made sure that all parties involved were lacking nothing when working down in the museum (it is subterranean). Staying at the very facility, we had breakfast, lunch, dinner, and coffee breaks (with delicious cake) throughout the day (as well as movie nights in the in-house movie theater). And fun of course as – and I take the liberty to speak for all of us – we had an excellent time.

Peter and Ian putting the important Katô armor back in the showcase that Dave relaced.

This brings us right to what is going on from here. So, the museum just officially opened on October 5, 2017 and if you want to get some impressions from the opening, please check the Facebook page of the museum here. Before anything else, Mr. Janssen hired Ms. Martyna Lesniewska as a curator who is now working (amongst other things and partly on the basis of my cataloging) on making the museum and its exhibits accessible to the viewer and to convert my humble writings into a curatorial system. It is amazing to see how thoroughly Martyna has thrown herself into the field of Japanese arms and armor and I am sure she will do an excellent job at the museum! Also catalogs are in work although the content and extent has yet to be determined. I will keep you updated. Apart from that, and this is a very important point, Mr. Janssen is eager to make the museum an event venue and hub for international research and activities in this field, beginning with The Gathering 2 in May 2018, although I think that there is a NBTHK-EB meeting taking place before that time. The museum is in my opinion predestined for these events/meeting, for the following reasons: 1) It is a privately run facility, so no government clearances/bureaucracy necessary. 2) It is solely dedicated to the field, i.e. no “also ran” department cramped into for example a local museum. 3) The collection is enormous as mentioned. You can believe me, there is plenty to see and enough stuff available to fill many many focused study meetings in the future. 4) Berlin is kind of central for international visitors, e.g. from the UK, Scandinavia, France, Italy, and Eastern Europe and it goes without saying a location worth visiting by itself. So planning a family trip or elongated weekend around one of the future events kills two birds with one stone. 5) Last but not least, Mr. Janssen is a very generous gentleman and he will make sure that events/lectures will be very worthy to attend.

So, check out the homepage of the museum linked at the beginning, get in touch with me if you have any questions that concern my job at the museum (otherwise I may ask you to contact Ms. Martyna Lesniewska through the museum website and consult the NMB and Facebook here and here for upcoming events). I hope that some of you can visit the place in the future, and hey, take it easy: The museum literally just opened 😉 Final words: I am glad that I was able to see so many of my friends again at the opening!

PS: The pictures are a mix of mine and what I have received from friends. To be honest, I forgot who took which picture so please let me know if one of them is yours and you don’t want to have it online. Thx.

The blade with which Sen no Rikyū committed seppuku

I have introduced a couple of swords here and here within the context of being around “on the eve” of a famous historical incident and the piece that I am going to introduce here joins these ranks, although it was literally directly involved in such a famous historical incident.

To let the cat out of the bag, and as the title already gives it away, the blade that I want to introduce here is the blade with which the famous tea master Sen no Rikyū (千利休, 1522-1591) committed on the 28th day of the second month Tenshō 19 (天正, 1591) seppuku. The circumstances for his ritual suicide are widely documented and so I rather want to focus on the sword in question whose blade is a work by no less than one of the greatest swordsmiths in Japanese history, Awataguchi Tōshirō Yoshimitsu (粟田口藤四郎吉光). Kind of fitting to commit seppuku with when you are the greatest tea master in Japanese history. The sword, obviously a tantō, is nicknamed Kobuya-Tōshirō (こぶや藤四郎・こぶ屋藤四郎) and there are several contradictory traditions out there about its background and provenance.

 

Picture 1: jūyō-bijutsuhintantōmei: “Yoshimitsu” (吉光), nagasa 25.0 cm, sunnobi-sugata, dense ko-itame with ji-niesuguha in ko-nie-deki which narrows down along the monouchi. Honma Junji writes that the jiba of the blade shows some tiredness (tsukare) but that it is nevertheless a very important reference because of its provenance and deserves thus special recognition amongst the numerous works extant by Yoshimitsu.

 

Now the contradictory things concerning this sword are first the origins of its nickname and second, who made or was in charge of making its koshirae. As for the former, Kobuya was a merchant family from Kanazawa in Kaga province, most likely dealing with the edible konbu algae which is also referred to as kobu in Japan (and as kombu in the West). So, the blade was designated as a jūyō-bijutsuhin on September 5, 1938 and was then owned by Yoshida Yoshimichi (吉田由道) who became later, in 1949, the initiator and first president of the Kyōto branch of the NBTHK. The brief explanation to the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation says that the blade was owned by Sen no Rikyū, that Rikyū commissioned Hon’ami Kōsa (本阿弥光瑳, 1573-1637) with making its koshirae, and that it was later handed down within the Kobuya family from Kanazawa in Kaga province which earned it its nickname. The explanation to the designation also says that the sword is accompanied by three letters from Hon’ami Kōho (本阿弥光甫, 1601-1682) to Sen no Sōshitsu (千宗室, 1622-1697), Rikyū’s great-grandson. Just to connect the dots here, Kōsa was the third and Kōho the fourth generation of the Kōji line of the Hon’ami family which was, due to its second head and Kōsa’s adoptive father Kōetsu (本阿弥光悦, 1558-1637), very much involved in the art world of that time. Also, the Kōji-Hon’ami enjoyed a lucrative hereditary employment by the wealthy Kaga fief which provides us with a local connection to the Kobuya family.

So far, so good. The catalog to the 1990 special exhibition Sen no Rikyū – The 400th Memorial of the Kyōto National Museum however records the provenance of the sword somewhat differently. Therein it is stated that the Yoshimitsu blade was first owned by the Kobuya family, that it was acquired by Rikyū, and that Rikyū commissioned Hon’ami Kōtoku (本阿弥光徳, 1552-1619) with making a koshirae for it. Kōtoku was the ninth head of the Hon’ami main line and in course of having the koshirae made, he contributed, as a gift to Rikyū, the shakudō menuki which depict plum blossoms on a branch.

Now as for who is “right,” it is difficult to say. On the one hand, you have the explanatory comments to the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation, and on the other hand you have the exhibition catalog published by the Kyōto National Museum (which owns the sword today by the way). As we know, sword studies have greatly advanced since the time of the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation in 1938 and therefore I tend to follow the Kyōto National Museum for the time being. However, there is a big question mark here and that is the three letters by Kōho to Rikyū’s great-grandson Sen no Sōshitsu which were in the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation “bundle” and which might reveal more about the provenance. Well, I would like to know inhowfar these letters were incorporated into the recording of the provenance, i.e. if they actually contain anything about the provenance (probably I guess) and if they were actually checked by the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation committee and/or the team that made the Kyōto National Museum catalog. So, one scenario would be that the teams drew different conclusions from the content of the letter and another one would be that the letters were put unread into the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation “bundle”, that just an old tradition about the provenance was followed then, and that the letters were later read and studied by the Kyōto National Museum and that is why they came to realize that the sword has a different provenance. Incidentally, I do have pictures of the letters (from the jūyō-bijutsuhin designation) but they are too small to read anything (see picture 2).

 

Picture 2: The letters of Kōho to Sen no Sōshitsu.

 

Anyway, I want to conclude this article by paying some attention to the koshirae of the sword. As you can see in picture 1, the saya is a simple black-lacquer saya and all the fittings, i.e. koiguchikurigatafuchi and kashira are of black-lacquered horn. The hilt is wrapped in rattan and all in all, we have here a very tasteful and unobtrusive mounting which totally reflects the then tea taste. By the way, the koshirae is nicknamed Rikyū-koshirae (利休拵) accordingly and it is virtually identical to the so-called Waifu’ya-koshirae (隈府屋) (see picture 3) which is said to have been worn by Hosokawa Sansai Tadaoki (細川三斎忠興, 1563-1646) when he was pursuing falconry. Only difference here is that the Waifu’ya-koshirae features menuki in the form of the kuyō crest (九曜) of the Hosokawa and a kozuka made of black-grained komadake (胡麻竹) bamboo. It is no surprise that Tadaoki had himself a tantō mount the same way Rikyū had his Yoshimitsu mounted as Tadaoki was one of the so-called Rikyū-shichitetsu (利休七哲), the “Seven Master Tea Disciples of Rikyū.”

 

Picture 3: Copy of the Waifu’ya-koshirae.

 

Just a final note in this context, it is unknown which blade is/was mounted in the Waifu’ya-koshirae as the whereabouts of the sword are unknown since at least the 1920s. All we have today are several copies (one of them shown in picture 3) and period descriptions (for example in the Higo Tōsō Roku [肥後刀装録] published in 1934).

 

 

Egawa Tarōzaemon Hidetatsu (江川太郎左衛門英龍)

This time I want to introduce quite a rare blade which has a certain historic significance and thus, obviously, a very interesting historic background. It is a work by the Egawa Tarōzaemon Hidetatsu (江川太郎左衛門英龍, 1801-1855) who was a daikan (代官), a bakufu governor of lands that were directly owned by the Tokugawa. From the mid-18th century to the Meiji era, this governmental post was in charge of lands stretching over the provinces of Sagami, Izu, Suruga, Kai, and Musashi.

Picture 1: Self-portrait by Egawa Hidetatsu.

Now Hidetatsu was member of a very prestigious family which can be traced back to the Heian period and of which many heads can be tied to important historic figures throughout the history of Japan. The original family name of the Egawa was Uno (宇野), which was a place in Yamato province, but when they supported Minamoto no Yoritomo (源頼朝, 1147-1199) in raising one of his armies, they were given the Egawa manor in Izu province. They later successively served important rulers as indicated, for example the Hōjō regents of Kamakura, and changed their name to Egawa in the Muromachi period. At the end of the Muromachi period, they were switching sides, from Hideyoshi to Ieyasu, who later declared them daikan governors.

There is a Wikipedia entry on Hidetatsu here but I just wanted to stress the history of his family as it is not mentioned in the article and as it is kind of important to understand why things where as they were. In other words, and when it comes to Hidetatsu’s later military functions, the bakufu did not appoint a random samurai of good standing but was rather relying on hereditary well-established power structures. And that position within this very power structure and its accompanying connections allowed him to pursue at the side the activities that I will describe in the following.

Picture 2: Egawa Hidetatsu in full formal attire.

So, Egawa Hidetatsu was of high rank and thus raised and educated accordingly. He studied swordsmanship of the Shintō Munen-ryū (神道無念流), Confucianism, calligraphy, classical poetry, painting (see the pretty good self-portrait above), rangaku (Dutch/Western learning), and gunnery. He was also an early advocate of vaccination and tried to improve local agriculture and the latter two things earned him within the local population the praising nickname “The Reformer Egawa Daimyōjin”. Apart from that, he was using his bakufu salary to employ talented men, for example two rangaku scholars, an expert on classical Chinese, and a swordsmith, and that brings us back to the topic.

Hidetatsu was learning sword making from the shinshintō grandmaster Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤, 1778-1857) but when later Naotane kicked one of his students out of the school, Tanenaga (胤長), who had a serious drinking problem, Egawa Hidetatsu took Tanenaga in and employed him for a salary in the form of a stipend for three persons (I have briefly written about this relationship about four years ago here). Tanenaga was thus moving to Izu where also another very talented swordsmith was working for Hidetatsu, Nakayama Ikkansai Yoshihiro (中山一貫斎義弘, 1797-1865). This “venture” is insofar interesting as Egawa, as being the local daikan, was pushed by the bakufu to ensure to protect Japan’s coasts in that area after the Morrison Incident had occured in 1837 and gave so to speak everyone involved a wake up call. Two years later, the bakufu put Hidetatsu officially in charge of establishing the defense of Edo Bay and so he was thoroughly committing himself to the production and the most effective use of Western-style cannons. As pointed out in the Wikipedia article on Egawa, there was the debate going on at that time whether or how to adopt Western guns/weapons and methods. Some were absolutely against that and stressed that the nation should focus on traditional weapons and tactics whilst others promoted a theoretical synthesis of “Western knowledge” and “Eastern morality” in view of “controlling the barbarians with their own methods”. I don’t want to go into too much detail here because entire books have been written on that inner conflict of Japan and as I want to focus more on the sword aspect.

Picture 3: wakizashi, mei: “Egawa Tarō” (江川太郎), nagasa 47.6 cm, sori 0.9 m, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

That blade shown in picture 3 is now a work of Egawa Hidetatsu himself. It is a wakizashi with a rather wide mihaba, a shallow sori, a thick kasane, and a chū-kissaki. The kitae is an itame with ji-nie and the hamon is a gunome in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-notare, chōji, and small tobiyaki and that features a rather tight nioiguchi. The bōshi is midare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri. The tang is ubu, has a shallow ha-agari kurijiri, sujikai-yasurime with keshō, one mekugi-ana, and is entirely finished in the way most Naotane students finished their tangs. The overall deki reminds of Naotane working in the Bizen tradition. Incidentally, the blade was a heirloom of the Ichiki (市来) family who were retainers of the Satsuma fief. Egawa had students from all over the country who learned Western gunnery from him so it is possible that a member of the Ichiki family studied with him and either purchased the wakizashi from Egawa or received it as a gift.

I want to conclude this article with another sword-related episode from Egawa’s life. As mentioned above, he also sincerely studied swordsmanship as it was expected from a samurai of his rank and position. One of his fellow Shintō Munen-ryū students was Saitō Yakurō Yoshimihi (斎藤弥九郎善道, 1798-1871) who was of peasant origin, worked from the age of twelve onwards as a shop boy, but went to Edo as a teenager where he became the servant of a hatamoto what enabled him to practice swordsmanship. Later he became an assistance instructor of the Shintō Munen-ryū where he met Egawa who gave him money to establish in 1826 his own dōjō, the Renpeikan (練兵館), and accepter Saitō as his retainer.

Picture 4: Saitō Yakurō Yoshimichi

As stated several times in my books, the nerves of everyone were on the edge in the late Edo period as so many fiefs were facing bankruptcy and famines and many considered the Tokugawa Shogunate as either the cause for all of that or being unable to do anything against the country going south, or both. So uprisings were not uncommon and a major one was the rebellion started by Ōshio Heihachirō (大塩平八郎, 1793-1837) in Ōsaka in 1837. Accordingly, the bakufu was in crisis mode and also wanted to see what was going on in their own lands. So they gave orders to Egawa to check out the “mood” of Kai province which was under his jurisdiction as daikan because Kai was known as cesspool of gamblers at that time and there was a lot of unrest in that province. Now Egawa realized that he most likely would not get a real insight into matters when he goes up north into Kai with his conspicuous daikan retinue and so he came up with the plan to just take Saitō with him and both disguising as sword dealers. They were subsequently also checking out parts of Musashi and Sagami province like that and there is a drawing extant that Egawa made later about the “adventure” of the two (see picture 5).

Picture 5: Drawing by Egawa Hidetatsu titled Kōshū-bikō (甲州微行, “Travelling Kai province incognito”). The one holding the sword bundle is Saitō.

PS: There is a sword in the new Samurai Art Museum, Berlin that is directly connected with the above mentioned Morrison Incident and which I want to introduce at a later point.

Tosa-Myōchin/Akasaka Collaboration

Before we begin, Iwant to give you a brief background to this article. Those who follow me on Facebook and members of the NMB might know by now that I am very lucky and grateful to be on the team that contributes to the new Samurai Art Museum in Berlin, Germany. I still owe my loyal readers a detailed write-up on the job but in a nutshell, I am in charge with the catalogization of all the objects in the Janssen Collection and working hard to get that done as we speak. In this course I came across an item that I want to introduce here because it is the first time I saw a collaboration like that, but more on that later. Suffice it to say, the quality level of the collection is truly impressive. When you face a collection that comprises nearly 600 objects as the Janssen Collection does, it is usually that you have a mere accumulation of “artefacts” with only a few outstanding items that are of special interest. In the Samurai Art Museum, it is exactly the other way round, i.e. it seems that there is an endless pool of highly interesting objects to pick from for a closer examination, the object introduced in the following being one of them.

It is widely known that the stylistic/scholastic origins of the Tosa-Myōchin group of tsuba artists were the Akasaka School from Edo. Accordingly, Tosa-Myōchin tsuba are often strongly resembling Akasaka-tsuba and we know numerous works where Tosa-Myōchin artists were providing the forged iron ground plate for Akasaka and other tsuba makers. If you are long enough into the subject of samurai related (art) objects you will know that the name Myōchin equals armor making. I will not go into too much detail in this article but it can be said that the Edo-based Myōchin School was the thriving and most important lineage of armor makers throughout the entire Edo period. Those fiefs who were able to afford it made sure that their best armorers received training from the Myōchin masters in Edo and as the main line gave master students the permission to bear the Myōchin name, the school branched out significantly over time, the Tosa-Myōchin group forming one of these branches.

I am writing Tosa-Myōchin group because there was not a single school in the strict sense of the word. That is, there were three different families who made up the Tosa-Myōchin group, the Kawasaki (川崎) family whose armor making goes back to the master-student relationship of their member Munetoshi (宗利) with the 24th head of the Myōchin main line, Myōchin Ōsumi no Kami Munesuke (明珍大隅守宗介) during the Kyōhō era (1716-1736), the Ichikawa (市川) family which is linked to the Myōchin main line via a master-student relationship with the 26th generation Myōchin Nagato no Kami Munemasa (明珍長門守宗政), and the Nomachi (野町) family whih emerged from these two local Tosa-Myōchin branches. The Kawasaki family was the lineage that was very actively involved in tsuba making as the Ichikawa was focusing on armor production and the Nomachi family on for example the zōgan inlay on rifles and the production of smaller metal objects like tobacco pipes etc.

Now when it comes to tsuba making, we actually don’t know who Kawasaki Munetoshi’s master was, or if there was a master at all, Fukushi sensei for example assumes that maybe Munetoshi just brought home some tsuba which were very popular at that time in Edo and tried to recreate them back in Tosa, what he was of course totally capable of as a professional armorer. Many of his works resemble 4th generation Akasaka Tadatoki (忠時) and Tadashige (忠重) tsuba but we also know some which look like Ko-Akasaka or Kyō-sukashi by the way. That said, I have to explain the then situation of the nation to understand one of the motifs of Munetoshi also making tsuba. The Edo period experienced a peak in the Genroku era (元禄, 1688-1704) which goes back to the economic stability the Tokugawa Shogunate had brought but when that bubble burst, the bakufu and the fiefs realized that they could not carry on as they were until Genroku times. In short, everyone was looking out for additional sources of income, and craftsmen now increasingly going over to two-pronged approaches is only understandable. But it has to be stressed that things like that were very much regulated, i.e. the fief had to give their employed craftsmen permission to make, and first of all to sell works which do not correspond to their actual profession. So tsuba production was really an option for certain fiefs to improve their financial situation a little bit. In other words, a “normal” fief-employed craftsman had an annual salary, often accompanied by an additional stipend, and for that, he had to provide the fief with what they required him to make. As indicated, every business at the side required permission and violating that by selling under the counter could be severely punished.

Back to topic and fast forward 100 years. The 4th Tosa-Myōchin master, Muneyoshi (宗義, 1791-1867), was the first where we can confirm an “official” master-student relationship with the Akasaka School, and that is in his case with the 1st generation Akasaka Tadanori (忠則). He actually went to Edo without permission and details about his impressive career can be found in the soon to be published second volume of the Tosogu Classroom. But this brings us to the actual work that I want to introduce here. It is a Saiga-style okitenugui-nari kabuto with embossed eyebrows and furrowing on the mabisashi and decorative kirigane applications along the lateral plates and the top plate. The bowl is signed “Akasaka Tadanori – Doshū Myōchin Ki no Munenaga” (赤坂忠則・土州明珍紀宗長) (see picture below).

 

 

Munenaga was Muneyoshi’s adopted son. He was born in Tenpō ten (天保, 1839) and succeeded as 5th head of the Tosa-Myōchin School two months after Muneyoshi had died, to be precise, he succeeded on the 27th day of the fourth month of Keiō three (慶応, 1867). Unless we assume that Munenaga was active under that name before he succeeded as head of the family (his real first name was Yoshitsugu/Ryōji, 良次) we are pretty much able to narrow down the production time of this helmet to the two years from Keiō three to the end of the Boshin War in 1869. This late production time also suggests that it was the second generation Akasaka Tadanori who had his hand in this collaboration, not the first one who had trained Munenaga’s adoptive father Muneyoshi. This brings us back to my initial commect about this being the first time I see a collaboration like that, namely an Akasama master also participating in armor making and not other way round of Tosa-Myōchin artists making tsuba. Looking at the helmet, I assume that probably Munenaga did the forging and assembling of the iron plates and maybe Akasaka Tadanori provided the decorative kirigane, i.e. the lozenge elements that sit under the rivets, or maybe they split up the forging work for the plates, although that seems rather unlikely to me. Also very interesting is the interpretation of the helmet itself because that very form, a Saiga-style okitenugui-nari kabuto, was mostly in fashion during the Momoyama era. In bakumatsu times namely we usually see a return to classical armors of the Kamakura and Nanbokuchō times, at least when it comes to higher ranking traditionalist bushi. So it is fascinating to see that a local samurai had himself made a helmet that so to speak followed an “outside of the box anachronism” within then arms and armor currents.

Anyway, I want to study that item more closely the next time I am at the museum and talk to my armor friends so please bear in mind that this article may receive some update in the future.

 

Shrine gifts to the Shôgun

This time I want to talk about a special custom, and that is the traditional sword gift that the Tanzan-jinja (談山神社) made to each new shôgun. Before we start, the Tanzan-jinja was mostly referred to by its mountain name, Tônomine (多武峯), in feudal times, just to point that out if you come across conflicting data when doing research or reading about that custom in another context. Anyway, the Tanzan-jinja, or Tônomine respectively, is located close to present-day Sakurai (桜井), Nara Prefecture. It is about 15 miles (25 km) to the south of Nara station (linear distance), or 38 miles (62 km) to the south of Kyôto (again, linear distance).

There exists a seven-volume record titled Kyôto Oyakusho-muki Taigai Oboegaki (京都御役所向大概覚書), a collection of official memoranda and reports fro the office of the Kyôto magistrate, the Kyôto machi-bugyô (京都町奉行), which was compiled in Kyôhô two (享保, 1717). Therein we read that from the 18th year of Keichô (慶長, 1613) onwards, the Tanzan-jinja (Tônomine) presented at every shogunal succession one sword from its possessions to the new shôgun. Practice was this that the Kyôto magistrate office required the Tanzan-jinja to bring in advance a few dozen swords so that they in turn can call the head of the Hon’ami family to come in and pick the one that is most suitable for the present.

Picture 1, from left to right: Ietsuna, Tsunayoshi, Ienobu

In order to not just provide dry text here, I want to introduce a sword that was presented by the shrine on one such occasion, namely a Nobukuni (信国) tantô (see picture 2) that was given to the 5th Tokugawa shôgun Tsunayoshi (徳川綱吉, 1646-1709) when he took over from Ietsuna (徳川家綱, 1641-1680) in the fifth month of Enpô eight (延宝, 1680). By the way, Kôjô (本阿弥光常, 1643-1710) was the head of the Hon’ami family at that time but we don’t know who exactly was in charge of picking the sword.

Picture 1: jûyô, tantô, mei: “Nobukuni” (信国), nagasa 26.1 cm, uchizori, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

The second shrine gift that I want to introduce here is from the sixth year of Hôei (宝永, 1709) and concerns the succession of Tokugawa Ienobu (徳川家宣, 1662-1712) taking over from Tsunayoshi and becoming the 6th Tokugawa shôgun. In preparation to his 1709 succession, the astonishing amount of 58 swords were brought from the Tanzan-jinja to the place of the Kyôto magistrate and for this time, we know who from the Hon’ami family was chosen to pick the gift sword, Hon’ami Kôzan (本阿弥光山, 1634-1714). That is, it was maybe not the head of the family who was proceeding to Kyoto to meet with the official.

Incidentally, we also know that Kôzan was in charge for picking the Tanzan-jinja sword gift for the very next succession, which took place in Shôtoku three (正徳, 1713), the year before he died. So from the Kyôto Oyakusho-muki Taigai Oboegaki record we know that Kôzan had to judge the condition of the polish and had to arrange a polish (togi-age, 研上ケ), the making of a new shirasaya, a wooden habaki (yes, wooden, that’s what the record says), and a new sword bag (katana-bukuro, 刀袋) if necessary. What he picked was an unsigned wakizashi attributed to Bizen Osafune Sadamitsu (備前長船貞光), measuring ~ 42 cm in nagasa

That kind of speaks volumes for the then, i.e. mid-Edo “treasure” swords of the shrine, i.e. a signed Nobukuni is pretty good, don’t get me wrong, but an unsigned and therefore probably ô-suriage blade of a minor Bizen smith? For the auguration of the new shôgun? I want to do more research in the future to see if also other shrines were making similar gifts, what seems likely, at least for ther larger shrines, and maybe these shrine presents were more seen as nice gestures, unlike gifts from daimyô where all the context of family bond and alliances comes into play. But be that as it may, it tells us how many swords these shrines were storing at any time throughout the Edo period, i.e. if they picked 58 for “a closer consideration”.

In this sense, there is hope that there are still treasure swords going to be discovered  in some shrines in the future, as for example pointed out here. Also, I just finished translating an article for the Western members of the NKBKHK which deals with an armor that was probably worn by the famous warlord Katô Kiyomasa (加藤清正, 1562-1611) and that had been stored away more or less unnoticedly in a simple bucket in a shrine in deep Nagano Prefecture for about 400 years!

 

Kantei Series Challenges

In view of the shortly published second part of the Hasebe chapter of my Kantei series, I just wanted to share a certain difficulty that I face on a regular basis when doing research for this series. I will skip the greater context and details of workmanship here because they will be addressed in the upcoming chapter.

So the difficulty I am talking about is significantly differing oshigata and/or blade descriptions. The blade in question is a hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi by Hasebe Kunishige (長谷部国重) which was also introduced by Tanobe sensei in his Me no Me article series. Therein he uses it to point out that certain rare interpretations by Kunishige bear a resemblance to contemporary Nobukuni (信国) works, in concrete terms through a typically wide Enbun-Jôji-sugata and a hardening in suguha. Tanobe also explains that the standing-out ô-itame with nagare-masame towards the ha and mune and the large, roundish, and long running-back kaeri (which connects with muneyaki that continue to about the mid-blade section) eventually identify the blade as a Hasebe work. So that’s all fine, case almost closed, but I wanted to find out more on that blade, in particular to see if there are more of this kind in order to work out similarities/differences between the Hasebe and Nokubuni schools.

As Tanobe mentioned that the blade in question is jûyô, I was able to find it in the records (it passed in 1967) and what do I see, a significantly different oshigata (see picture 1). No more a relatively pure suguha as seen on the oshigata used by Tanobe sensei. Also no strikingly roundish bôshi and neither a drawing nor a mention of the long muneyaki. In the jûyô oshigata we see a hamon in shallow notare (or with good faith a suguha-chô that is mixed with notare at best) that even shows a hint of ko-chôji or ko-midare in places. Also, the bôshi features a relatively pointed kaeri, or at least that is what the “artistic rendering” of hataraki within the bôshi suggests. Apart from that, check out the significant difference in thickness of the ha along the monouchi and fukura. There is the same notare protrusion on the omote side, close to the tip of the suken shown on both oshigata, but then Tanobe’s version shows quite a thin suguha whereas the jûyô version shows a wide ko-notare/sugha-chô that features ups and downs. And on the ura side, the ha protrusion of the mid-blade section comes at the end of the gomabashi in the Tanobe version whereas on the jûyô oshigata, that protrusion starts after the gomabashi horimono. And also please notice how much wider the ha on this side is along the fukura

OshigataComparison

Picture 1: Tanobe oshigata left, jûyô oshigata right.

It is very interesting to see how two experts can “read” a blade differently. Anyway, I just wanted to give you a quick look “behind the scenes” of my Kantei series and stress that picking references can be a sensitive task. So on one hand, I don’t want to work through the same old blades over and over again that are found in every book but on the other hand, I also don’t want to introduce one oddity after the other. Aim is to provide a good balance between very typical works and a few more rare interpretations which help to understand the variety of workmanships of certain smiths or schools in some cases. That should do it for today and I will be back with part 2 of the Hasebe chapter shortly.

Similar reads:

The Musashi-Masamune – One blade, four oshigata
Another different oshigata
Kiyomaro oshigata comparison

Hôki no Kami Masayoshi’s (probably) last blade

From the very end of the kotô era onwards, we start to get more reliable information on the biographical data of swordsmiths, for example the dates of birth and death and what year honorary titles were received etc. This “tendency” does not only go back to the obvious fact that more data is extant the later, i.e. younger we find ourselves in history but also to the relatively massive bureaucratic apparatus the Tokugawa bakufu brought along. In addition, shintô and shinshintô smiths, or at least the renowned masters, signed in greater detail than their kotô colleagues, generally speaking. In this article, I want to introduce such an example.

So when we look into the meikan, we often read things like: “Smith X died in the fifth year of D and we know dated blades from B to C,” at least when it comes to the more well-known shintô and shinshintô masters as mentioned. Or we read for example: “There exists a blade dated C that is signed with the supplement ‘made at the age of Y’ what calculates his year of birth as A.” This all gives us a pretty decent idea of when the smith worked but also tells us about what were his early years, when did he have his zenith, and which blades can be regarded as late works. The blade that I want to introduce goes “a step further” in what it states about when it was made and under which circumstances so to speak. But first of all, let me introduce the very smith we are dealing with.

Picture 1: Portrait of Hôki no Kami Masayoshi

It is Hôki no Kami Masayoshi (伯耆守正幸, see picture above), the 3rd generation of Satsuma’s Masayoshi (正良) lineage. Masayoshi was born in Kyôhô 18 (享保, 1733) as son of the 2nd generation Masayoshi, whom he succeeded under that name, but when he received his honorary title “Hôki no Kami” in Kansei one (寛政, 1789), he changed the yoshi character of the hereditary name from (良) to (幸). Masayoshi was in his mid 50s when he received that title and four years later, he started with sign with the supplement “Satsuma-kankō” (薩摩官工, about “official smith of the Satsuma fief”), and reaching the age of 70, he started to add his age to his mei.

 

Picture 2: katana, nagasa 70.1 cm, sori 1.8 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune

 

Now the blade shown above is very special because it is signed the following way:

omote:

“Hôki no Kami Taira Ason Masayoshi” (伯耆守平朝臣正幸)
“Hachijûroku-sai botsuzen shinren no saku” (八十六歳没前真錬之作, “carefully made before his death at the age of 86”)

ura:

“Bunka jûgonen tora nigatsu” (文化十五年寅二月, “second month of Bunka 15 [1818], year of the tiger”)
Taira Masazane kore o shirusu” (平正真記之, “recorded by Taira Masazane”)

 

In short, Masazane, one of Masayoshi’s students, recorded on the tang that Masayoshi carefully made that blade before his death and when the master was already 86 years old. We know that Masayoshi died on the 22nd day of the fourth month of that year. At first glance, this would mean that the blade was made two months before his death but here we have to weigh in a custom of swordsmiths to date blades by default with the second or the eighth month of a year unless it is a special date signature where the exact day and month the blade was made is recorded. Masayoshi followed this custom as the vast majority of his dated blades either show the second or the eighth month in the mei, in particular the second month. That said, the blade in question could have been theoretically made anytime between the first day of the first month and the 22nd day of the fourth month of Bunsei 15, the day that Masayoshi died. Well, Masazane’s supplement is quite a rarity and therefore I tend to think that this was maybe the very last, or one of the last few blades, that Masayoshi made. In other words, it was something special that compelled Masazane to add that info to the mei.

When it comes to Masayoshi’s latest works for comparison, we know a kogatana signed with the supplement “made at the age of 82,” a katana dated Bunka twelve (1815) and signed with the supplement “made at the age of 83,” a katana dated Bunka 13 (1816), and a katana dated Bunka 14 (1817), all of them papered. So far I was unable to find another example that was made in the same year as the one introduced here, in Bunka 15, the year of his death.

Now when author and expert Fukanobu Yasumasa (深江泰正) introduced this blade back in Token Bijutsu #240 (January 1977), he interpreted the mei in the literal way, i.e. that Masayoshi pesonally made this blade before his death and that Masazane recorded that fact after the master had passed away. However, he also notes that the yasurime are katte-sagari, the tyical file marks of his students, whereas Masayoshi himself finished his tangs in katte-agari yasurime with kiri at the beginning (or just with kiri-yasurime). Thus Fukanobu sensei forwards the possibility that the tang was indeed finished and signed by Masazane but that the blade was probably completely made by master Masayoshi, maybe even down to the horimono.

 

 

Well, I think I respectfully disagree with this theory. To understand why, I recommend you watch the excellent recent BBC documentary Handmade in Japan linked above that shows kind of a similar case. It portrays the Komiya (小宮) family of swordsmiths and shows how nearly eighty-eight years old grandfather Komiya is overseeing his two sons and his grandson making swords. Grandfather Komiya says himself in the documentary: “I’m unable to do it anymore because of my age,” what is understandable when you take into consideration the physically hard work it requires to forge-fold the steel bundle and to forge out the blade. Even if Masayoshi was super fit at the age of 86, I have my doubts that he did the whole forging work. Maybe he did the yakiire himself, that’s quite possible. Also taking into consideration the fact that master Masayoshi trained more than 40 students, that several of them were allowed to do daimei for him (and the best of them also to do full daisaku-daimei), and that the finish of the tang speaks for a student’s work, I am thinking of the following “cause of events,” although of course this is all nothing more than pure speculation:

The local forge in Satsuma must have been quite a bustling place and as master Masayoshi was famous throughout the country, the order situation was surely pretty good. When Masayoshi got really old, let’s say 80+, he was basically doing the same thing as grandfather Komiya does in the BBC documentary, and that is talking to customers, to the administration of his fief, and walking around in the forge giving orders and tips. As the sword production was probably still in full swing in early 1818, some students were busy making daisaku-daimei works for the master, Masazane being one of them. Then Masayoshi passed away towards the end of the fourth month and I think that the sword introduced here was the very daisaku-daimei blade that Masazane was working on at that time. So after the funeral and everything, Masazane maybe feld obliged to commemorate that context on the blade, implying that it was the last sword Masayoshi “made” before he died. However, it is absolutely possible that a few other blades that were just finished or in production at the time of Masayoshi’s death were signed this way by the students who were making them as daisaku-daimei and that maybe this is the only one that is extant today (or has been discovered yet).

Anyway, it is a very interesting and rare inscription and I literally came across that blade the day before I watched the BBC documentary for the first time. So I thought I have to share this with you.

On the eve of another famous historical Japanese incident

About three years ago, I wrote a humble article here on sword-related “things” happening on the eve of on of Japan’s most famous historical events. Well, this time, we find ourselves a little earlier than the 47 rônin but the incident is of similar historic significance. But before we continue, let me introduce the sword that was the catalyst for this article.

The above picture shows a katana by Osafune Yoshimitsu (賀光) which was made in Kanshô five (寛正, 1464) for a certain “Monk Kenju”. The full signature is “Bishû Osafune Yoshimitsu – Kenju-bô – Kanshô gonen nigatsu hi” (備州長船賀光・けん志ゆ坊・寛正五年二月日, “on a day in the second month of Kanshô five”). Please note that the name of the monk (, 坊) is noted in an “archaic” manner, i.e. as “Ke-n-shi-yu” but which reads Kenju. Now who was this Kenju? None other than the famous Buddhist priest Rennyo (蓮如, 1415-1499) (see picture below). So let me explain in the following the context of Rennyo’s Kenju name, the things happening before and around this sword was made, and why it is therefore an important historic piece.

 

 

Now Rennyo was born in Ôei 22 (応永, 1415) as eldest son of the later 7th abbot of the Hongan-ji, Zonnyo (存如, 1396-1457), and this is kind of where Rennyo’s later problems already started: His mother namely wasn’t Zennyo’s wife, she was his grandmother’s  maid. Five years later, in Ôei 27 (1420), Zennyo eventually married, not the maid but Nyo’en (如円, ?-1460) from the Ebina (海老名) family. With this marriage, Rennyo’s biological mother had to leave the Hongan-ji and he never saw her again. It is said that most of his later “motivation” goes back to the trauma Rennyo had suffered being separated from his mother at the age of six (counting in Japanese years).

When Rennyo was 17 years old, that is in Eikyô three (永享, 1431), he became a yûshi (猶子) of Provisional Middle Councillor (gonchûnagon, 権中納言) Hirohashi Kanenobu (広橋兼郷, 1401-1446). Yûshi means literally “another child considered as one’s own”. It is similar to an adopted child (yôshi, 養子) but does not come with the legal obligations a yôshi does. The yûshi approach was mostly used for giving one’s child in the care of an influental person to develop good connections for its later career, and not to aim at a possible succession as head of that family. After becoming Kanenobu’s yûshi, Rennyo, then still bearing his youth name Hoteimaru (布袋丸), became a monk at the Shôren’in (青蓮院) in Kyôto whereupon he took the name Kenju (兼寿), the very name that is noted on the sword.

In Eikyô eight (1436), Rennyo’s grandfather Gyônyo (巧如, 1376-1440), the 6th abbot of the Hongan-ji, abdicated and his father Zonnyo became the 7th abbot. When Zonnyo died in Chôroku one (長禄, 1457), Rennyo’s step mother tried get her own son that she had with Zonnyo, Ôgen (応玄, 1433-1503), to become the 8th abbot but it was decided in favor of Rennyo. Well, probably because Rennyo was still the first born son of Zonnyo and already well-versed in all Buddhist things, being 42 years old whereas his step brother Ôgen was only 24 (or 25 if you count in the Japanese way). As abbot, Rennyo immediately started to expand the influence of the Hongan-ji in the Kinai provinces around Kyôto what was much to the displeasure of the Enryaku-ji, the head temple of the Tendai School located on Mt. Hiei. Funds and protection were mostly provided by artisan-class followers of Rennyo from congregations in Ômi province but Rennyo was refusing to pay obligatory funds to the Enryaku-ji which he was supposed to pay on behalf of the Shôren’in as the Enryaku-ji was then the head temple of Kyôto’s Shôren’in.

So issues began to build up and Rennyo must have known that some of them were probably ending in physical violence. Therefore he approached the Osafune master smith Yoshimitsu to forge him a sword for self-defense. And he turned out to be right: In the first month of Kanshô six (1465), i.e. the year after the sword was made, the Enryaku-ji declared Rennyo a butteki (仏敵), an “Enemy of Buddha,” and sent out warrior monks who destroyed Rennyo’s then base, the Ôtani-Hongan-ji (大谷本願寺) in Kyôto. Warrior monks were sent out again three months later and others followed and these “activities” of the Enryaku-ji went down in history as “Kanshô Presecutions” (Kanshô no hônan, 寛正の法難). Sometimes Rennyo was able to bribe the monk warriors due to the wealth of the congregations he had convered in the area, other times he was only able to flee at the last minute and due to timely assistance from a cooper who saw the attackers coming, leadinf Rennyo out through the back of the temple. In short, Rennyo was very well in need of a sword! This context and the notation of Rennyo’s Kenju name makes the very blade an important historical piece as mentioned and it is today designated as an Important Cultural Property of Ôsaka Prefecture (the blade is preserved in the Ôsaka City Museum).

After the attacks of 1465, Rennyo tried to gain more support from local followers but the Enryaku-ji with its ties to the court and the bakufu was too strong and a kind of a peace deal with the temple was made in the third month of Ônin one (応仁, 1467) that required Rennyo to retire from the post of abbot of the Hongan-ji. Also, the Ônin War broke out that month, significantly weakening the bakufu, and so Rennyo was realizing that he will not have any government support or outside forces to protect his congregations from the Enryaku-ji. So he left Kyôto and lived a nomadic life, eventually rebuilding the Hongan-ji in northern Echizen province, gaining many many followers, and returning to Kyôto in Bunmei seven (文明, 1475) with such a following that Mt. Hiei could no longer prose a credible threat to him and his Jôdo Shinshû School (quoting from Wikipedia).

I hope this was another interesting short excursion into Japanese history with a concrete sword as a starting point and I will continue to do so whenever I come across similar historically important objects that are related to the sword world.