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


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:


“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”)


“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.

Tosogu Classroom Sale

At the end of last year, members of the JSS/US, NBTHK/AB, and NBTHK/EB were able to buy the first volume of our joint 5 volume Tosogu Classroom project at the actual cost of producing the books. The translation was paid by the three above mentioned parties as a benefit to their members.

The first volume is now also available for non-members for the price of $60.00 (+ shipping, ~$4 US, ~$6 EU). For the time being, the book can only be ordered from me directly and public sales on Lulu and Amazon will not be released until the end of the year.

The first four volumes of the Tosogu Classroom set are hardbound with a dust jacket (US only), 8.5″x11″, will cost $60.00 each, and contain more than 500 pages of text with hundreds of black and white pictures. The fifth (complementary) volume is hardbound too, has the same format, will be approximately 350 pages but with illustrations being in color, it will cost $120.00. Volume 1 includes an introduction into fittings, materials, design, surface treatment, carving, inlay, coloring, early tsuba (both iron and kinkô), and the beginning discussion of artists and schools who worked in iron, going into great detail on the artists and work they produced (please find the table of contents of volume 1 below). Volume 2 will be the second volume on iron and volumes 3 and 4 will cover the kinkô artists. Considering the number of pages and pictures each volume will contain, either individual volumes or the complete set of five will be a valuable addition to your library.

Please get in touch with me via “” if you want to order the first volume, or if you have any question.


Volume 1 Contents

Character Conundrum

In this article I am going to tell a little bit from my everyday challenges as “sword translator.” To start with, I have to say that when it comes to kanji or grammatical puzzles that I can’t solve (or that I am not really 100% happy with with my attempt at explanation), these things stick and are saved in that certain part of my brain that is still working pretty well. When it comes to swords, tsuba, or sword fittings, there is chance that I totally forget everything within some months or so because it is just too much, so you can pretty much embarrass me if you show me or ask me about a certain blade some time down the road and I totally forgot that I have ever laid my eyes on that piece.

Anyway, let’s get back to topic. A little over a month ago I was approached about a cutting test inscription that contained a wording, or rather a certain character, that is relatively uncommon in tameshi-mei but which I had seen before. The mei in question can be seen in picture 1 and is found on a blade signed niji-mei “Masashige” (正重), either Sengo Masashige or Shitahara Masashige, with the style of the signature rather pointing towards the latter. The tameshi-mei in question reads (於千手銚之貮ッ胴拂・壽尊) and everything but the one character is clear, i.e. “cut by [a certain] Toshitaka (壽尊) + kaô through (拂) two bodies (貮ッ胴) at (於) Senju (千住),” Senju being the place in Edo where most of the cutting tests took place. So only “problem” here is the character (銚).

Picture 1

From the syntax of the tameshi-mei, i.e. the position where the character in question (銚) is found, it is obvious that it either means that Toshitaka “tested” this blade cutting at Senju through two bodies, or that Toshitaka “cut” with this blade at Senju through two bodies. So either kore o tamesu or kore o kiru respetively. As mentioned in my book on Tameshigiri, the term “tested” has been noted in earlier times with different characters,  e.g. with (様), (試), (験), or (驗). In short, there is a chance that the character in question should just read tameshi/tamesu, that is: “Senju ni oite kore o tamesu futatsu-dô harai – Toshitaka + kaô.”

Well, I could have just left it as it was, end of story, but I don’t like the “should” part in my last sentence and so I kept going, trying to see if I can find more, and this article is so to speak a chronology of the investigation into that conundrum. First of all, I instantly remembered that I have dealt with this character once before, and that was translating a hozon paper for a katana by the Dewa shinshintô smith Nagai Kunihide (永居国秀), and that was back in 2013. This blade too bears a tameshi-mei but as I was only working with the paper (see picture 2), I was not aware about the subtleties in syntax and thought that I was facing here a name, Nabeyuki (銚之) (more on the readings of this character in a little), because it was mentioned in one go with the name of the guy who performed the cutting test, a certain Saitô Shin’emon (斎藤新右衛門) by the way.

Picture 2

So having the same kanji and phrase (銚之) on a blade that bears a cutting test inscription too raised some red flags and I immediately had the hunch that it was not a name that I was facing translating the hozon paper four years ago. No sooner said than done, I started to dig into my references. Where else does this kanji or rather phrase appear? As I have a pretty decently organized archive, I made some finds right away, three to be precise, which I will introduce in the following.

Lo and behold, they are all related to cutting tests. So in hindsight, we are obviously not talking about a name as I had interpreted the mei just on the basis of the hozon paper. First example, shown in picture 3, is a Norishige (則重) blade that was shortened by Yokoyama Bizen Sukehira (横山祐平) and tested by Yamada Asa’emon (山田浅右衛門) in Bunsei eight (文政, 1825). The syntax of the mei (二ッ胴銚之) suggests that in this case the kanji is used in the way of “cut,” i.e. “cut through two bodies.” Now “problem” with this blade is that when I saved it, from the website, the detailed pictures already did not load anymore so just the quotation of the mei has to be taken with a grain of salt, also because I am generally very cautious when it comes to auctions like that.

Picture 3

The same applies to the auctioned blade shown in picture 4. Here we have another famous smith, Chôgi (長義), whose blade was again shortened in Bunsei eight by the same Yokoyama Sukenaga, and again Yamada Asa’emon cut with it through two bodies, what a coincidence (same seller BTW, *cough, cough*). In this case however, the character in question was wrongly interpreted in the listing as being the character for “forged” (鍛), and the (clumsily written) sayagaki did so too.

Picture 4

But I also have a watertight reference, and that is a Ko-Mihara blade that passed jûyô with which Yamada Asa’emon Yoshihiro (山田浅右衛門吉寛, 1738-1770), the 4th generation Yamada, cut through a body with the chiwari cut (see picture 5). The syntax of the cutting test inscription of this blade, (江戸於石町銚之), suggests that the character in question is read in this case as tamesu,. “Tested,” namely “tested in Kokumachi in Edo.” But before I continue with going into etymological considerations and my thoughts on this matter, I want to point out that the 1981 jûyô paper quotes the character in question as (䤵).  I think it is actually still (銚) (see picture 6) because of the two lateral horizontal strokes on the nakago, instead of three, and the upward sweep of the right vertical “hook” of the radical (儿). In short, I think that the right part of this character is (兆) and not (非).

Picture 5

Picture 6

So what is it now, “cut” or “tested”? First I tended 70:30 towards “tested,” tamesu/tameshi, because of the syntax of the blade introduced in picture 1 and the two wathertight, i.e. papered blades introduced in pictures 2 and 5. The character (銚) itself reads chô/jô/yô in its Sino-Japanese reading or nabe in its Japanese reading. It is the kanji for a certain small pot or sake bottle with handles. But it can also read suki and in this context, the character stands for “spade/plow.” Now no kanji dictionary lists this character as meaning “cut” or “test” (although some also say it can mean hoko, “spear” though) but I think that here we have to go to the etymological origins of this characters, which is “using a metal, metal tool/implement (金) to bisect (兆) something,” for example soil in the aforementiond meaning of “spade/plow.” Does that ring some bells, “metal used to bisect something”? Sounds pretty much like the definition of a sword to me.

That said, I have seen other instances where characters were used in the sense of their pictographic meaning and not necessarily for what they usually mean. So the cutting tests introduced above surely don’t mean “sake bottled through two bodies” and for the time being, and to conclude this article, I am now leaning 70:30 towards interpreting the character as “cut” rather than as “tested.” So I hope that brief tour into things like that, some of my daily tasks, was kind of interesting and if any of my native Japanese readers has further insight into this matter, please don’t hesitate to comment below. It would be very much appreciated. Of course, also please feel free to comment if you are not a native Japanese reader 🙂


Important update to services offered

Due to an overwhelming amount of inquiries that I now receive on a daily basis, I have to change a certain service/assistance that I offer.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am – honestly – very grateful to be approached by so many sword lovers every day now, asking about a specific translation of a mei, sayagaki, hakogaki etc. or about my opinion on the one or other piece. This is all fine and my basic translation fees can be found in the TRANSLATION SERVICE/PRICES menu at the very top of my page, or will be discussed along in your inquiry.

But now we have to talk about signature assessments, i.e. in the sense of signatures being possibly shôshin (authentic) or gimei (forgeries). I receive inquiries about this matter probably once or twice every single day and there is a lot of responsibility in answering such inquiries. People in touch with me can reassure you that I always try my best to answer, as good and as detailed as I can, any question about signatures, or in other words, I usually don’t blunty reply “its gimei” or “I don’t know”, i.e. I always try to explain why I think, for example along the execution of certain parts of a character etc., that a mei might be shôshin or gimei. And so far, I did not even charge for that service

But this has to change, not because I am greedy or mean, but because I just can’t take away time from my other (paid) projects to do such sensitive stuff any more for free. That said, I will charge from now on $150 for any inquiry about the authenticity of a a signature. Not for the reading per se, that will be free forever (unless it is a very long and very complex mei), but for the inquiry about if a signature might be shôshin or gimei.

Now there is of course some “lead time” before I charge that amount. That is, when you approach me about possible authentication of a mei, I will tell you in advance about how many shôshin references I am able to compare your mei with and we can take it from there. For example, maybe I only have a single or just a couple of reference mei for a certain smith, or none at all, and in this case I would not charge anything of course and would just give you my personal opinion as I did so far. But in case you approach me and I am able to tell you that I can compare your mei with let’s say 20, 50, or even 100 shôshin-mei, e.g. from NBTHK/NTHK papers or from publications, that will be the point when I have to charge $150 because as mentioned, comparing a mei to a considerable number of references is not only a very time consuming but also a very sensitive task (just think about people planning to submit papers on that basis). So for this fee, I will not only tell you the actual number of authenticated mei I am be able to compare your signature with but also provide you with a detailed sheet on the points where the mei in question matches, or does not match with the references. Naturally, I do not provide any guaranee for authenticity, also of course because I don’t have the blade in hand to compare workmanship and/or quality with the mei in questiion, but if I can tell you in advance that I am able to compare your signature with for example 20, 50, or even 100 authentic mei as mentioned, that should be a pretty decent factor for you to make up your mind on where to go from there (i.e. papers). Of course you will receive a pictorial reference where I point out the aspects of where the mei in question differs, or not.

So that’s gonna be about the new fee for signature comparisons and if you have a signed blade you want to know more about, just let me know and as mentioned and we can take it from there. Thank you very much for your attention.


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.


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


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


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.