Tenshō-suriage and Keichō-suriage

Ok, I am leaving for the Chicago Sword Show tomorrow morning and am looking forward to see you guys there. So this is just gonna be a very short post but I thought it might nevertheless be of interest. A client asked me yesterday to explain the differences between a so-called Tenshō-suriage (天正磨上げ) and a Keichō-suriage (慶長磨上げ) as these terms are actually not explained in my Encyclopedia of Japanese Swords.

Before I deal with these kinds of suriage, a very brief historic outline of what we are talking about. By the end of the Muromachi period, a what I call a “civilian samurai uniform” started to emerge because now, shugo-daimyō and their higher-ranking vassals were no longer just protecting someone else’s land, they were ruling and administering it. As you don’t do this daily duty in full armor of course, the sword became the visible symbol of rank and authorative power. This was when these shugo-daimyō (the forerunners of the later daimyō) and their higher-ranking vassals needed a sword form, that could be easily thrusted through the sash of the new daily worn “uniform” and that did not have to be complicatedly suspended with cords like the tachi. For a more detail info on the changes in warrior dress code please look here. Again, we are talking about the upper ranks here, not what an average retainer had to his disposal.

Now Oda Nobunaga (織田信長, 1534-1582) came into power and he had, among others, a preference for Nanbokuchō-period Sōshū masterworks. If it was him who started it all of if there was already a momentum of reviving those works is a topic for another time but we know that his preference was continued by his “successor” Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉, 1537-1598) and then basically by the entire upper warrior class. As Nanbokuchō-period Sōshū (and other, e.g. Sōden-Bizen) blades were long, wide, and heavy, Nobunaga and his peers had them shorted so that they can wear them with their civilian uniform. This was the start of the trend we are talking about here.

To be clear, Japanese swords have been shortened all the time. It was not like that the people at Oda Nobunaga’s time suddenly realized: “Hey, there is a nick or a crack at the base, but instead of throwing out the blade and have a complete new one made, let’s just cut off the end of the blade to the extent where the issue is and work the remaining part below of that into a new tang.” No, suriage and ō-suriage are as old as sword making is because steel was expensive and it is way easier and cheaper to shorten an otherwise completely functional blade and re-use it as a, well, shorter sword than have a new one made from scratch.

Back to the difference between Tenshō-suriage and Keichō-suriage, which are by the way sometimes also just referred to as Tenshō-age and Keichō-age. Before I address the possible reasons for the differences, I want to outline them. As you can see in the shortened blade in picture 1, which comes under the category of a Tenshō-suriage, the tang tapers noticeably and the newly formed end is neatly shaped into a kengyō-jiri.

Picture 1: Tenshō-suriage

At the blade in picture 2, the tang does not taper that much (in the very case, the difference is actually not that obvious) and the newly formed end is just a straight kirijiri. So in short, the differences are: A Tenshō-suriage tapers more noticeably and has a more or less elaborately finished nakago-jiri whereas a Keichō-suriage does not taper much and ends in a straightly cut off kirijiri. There are no period set in stone rules that define a Tenshō and a Keichō-suriage, that is, these are relatively recent terms which were introduced to refer to certain kinds of ō-suriage tang finishes and I described them according to what I have been told (or more like overheard) in Japan. In other words, this post is not a very scientific treatise but states the issue as how I understand it and as how I explained it to my client who asked me this question.

Picture 2. Keichō-suriage

Now some thoughts about the reasons for these two different tang finishes of shortened blades. First of all, at the time Nobunaga came along, the highest circles were kind of looking down on shortened blades, in particular when it comes to presenting someone a fine sword. At the same time, it can be assumed that many of the extra long and wide Nanbokuchō blades with a nagasa of way more than 80 cm had already by shortened by then. But Nobunaga liked Sōshū and I think that he ordered his finest craftsmen to turn some of these Nanbokuchō works into blades that can be comfortably been worn as uchigatana/katana. This was so to speak stage one of this development, which took place during the Tenshō era (1573-1592), and the craftsmen shaped the newly created tang of a shortened sword into how a tang would have been initially finished by a swordsmith. Hence the taper and the sophisticated jiri. Or in other words, they were breaking new grounds and everyone was testing out the waters to see what was accepted and what not. So, you shorten a blade and make it look like as “original” as possible.

Jump to the Keichō era (1596-1615). Nobunaga and Hideyoshi had died (well, the latter not at the beginning but relatively quickly into Keichō era) but Nanbokuchō blades, in particular those of the Sōshū and Sōden-Bizen masters, were still very much first choice. Now by then, roughly twenty to thirty years after that entire trend had started, I guess that a shift had taken place. That is, by now, shortened blades have become socially acceptable so to speak. With that, there was no more need to “hold back” and do the balancing act of having a blade clearly shortened but make it look like as original as possible, in terms of tang finish. So, shortening a blade and leave it look like a shortened blade has always looked like (i.e. just the end cut off and filed the tang into a shape that can be fit into a new hilt) was no longer a taboo.

This is my take on this issue because even in Keichō times, we are talking about very fine blades. By way of explanation, it is like as if you are a master mechanic running the greatest workshop in the country (i.e. Hon’ami-Umetada collaboration): You just don’t have to cut corners when working on a Maybach or a Bugatti, that is, you have all the time and means in the world and don’t have to cut off a nakago in a straight kirjiri because you drown in work and just can’t shape it into a neat kenyō-jiri. Therefore, I rather think a shift in conception has taken place by the Keichō era and that this is the reason why shortened tangs were now finished differently than twenty to thirty years earlier and why we now refer to those different finishes as Tenshō-suriage and Keichō-suriage.

I hope you can follow my train of thoughts and I will be back shortly with the next chapter of the Kantei series.

 

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Easter eBook Super Sale IV

Easter-Sale

I just started, like last three years before, an Easter eBook Super Sale where ALL of my eBooks are reduced by 50%! This offer will be valid for until April 6 so you have enough time to decide what you want. So fill up all your tablets (or PC´s) with all the important Nihonto and Tosogu reference material you need four your studies!

Once again, it 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, by check, or by 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 laptops/tablets/phones with all references you need.

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

Thoughts on the Gokaden

In the very same source I addressed here, I found another very interesting entry, an entry that kind of predicts the well-known concept of the so-called gokaden (五箇伝), the “Five Traditions”.

At the beginning of the Yamashiro part of my Kantei series I have stated that it is generally assumed that the system of the gokaden (五ヶ伝・五箇伝), lit. “The Five Traditions,” was introduced by Hon´ami Kōson (本阿弥光遜, 1879-1955). “His” five traditions were:

  • Yamashiro tradition (Yamashiro-den, 山城伝)
  • Yamato tradition (Yamato-den, 大和伝)
  • Bizen tradition (Bizen-den, 備前伝)
  • Sōshū tradition (Sōshū-den, 相州伝)
  • Mino tradition (Mino-den, 美濃伝)

Before his time, swords, in particular kotō swords, were mostly classified according to their production site, that is the province they were made in. For example, blades made in Bizen were called Bizen-mono (備前物), and such made in Yamato were called Yamato-mono (大和物). But this classification via mono (物, lit. “thing” or rather “work” in this context) and the province a blade was made in is inflexible and does not make clear any stylistic connections. That is, you can’t see at a glance that for example an Enju blade is, via the Yamashiro tradition, actually stylistically connected to the Kyōto-based Rai school when it is just listed as Kyūshū-mono. So Kōson’s approach via den (traditions) makes sense but the interesting find I made recently shows that he did not come up with that gokaden system out of the blue.

 

 

So the section in question is basically about the basics of kantei and it is written in a somewhat esoteric manner. Lets begin with the overview that caught my attention. As seen above, we are provided with five basic classifications, very similar to Kōson’s gokaden. These classifications are:

Spring: Bizen – steel like wood
Summer: Yamashiro – steel like fire
Late Summer: Kyūshū – steel like earth
Fall: Sagami – steel like metal
Winter: Yamato – steel like water

As you probably realize right away, we are dealing here with the concept of the Five Elements or Five Phases (五行, Chinese Wǔ Xíng, Japanese gogyō). Before the mid-Edo period, this concept was very much in use in Japan and, to keep it simple here, it was only given up because of the nationalistic push applied by the Tokugawa bakufu. The book in question was written in the early Edo period and so it still follows the Five Elements approach that was prevailing in earlier periods. It is interesting to see that Mino is not in that list, although by the time the book was written, it had been a major sword production site for more than one hundred years. This suggests that earlier wisdom was copied here which had not yet adopted the Mino tradition into its curriculum (although Mino is still introduced, as part of the Sōshū tradition, see below).

Now the supplement of “steel like wood” for example does not have any direct meaning, neither does “spring” for Bizen province, and it seems that the Five Elements system was applied to swords as a memory aid so to speak. Like an easy to remember way of summing up the five major sword production sites by the manageable number of five which was anyway used by everyone because to the Five Elements concept. But there is more. This list of five is then expanded on the following pages of the book and each province/region is listed with its major schools. Although there are some associations which are hard to follow in terms of workmanship, this expansion of the list of five is actually doing what Kōson was doing later, and that is listing schools and/or smiths in each group which are stylistically connected. The first section is expanded as:

Spring: Bizen – Wood
jōsaku Ichimonji (一文字)
jōsaku Osafune Mitsutada (長船光忠)
jōsaku Hatakeda Moriie (畠田守家)
Ukai Unji (鵜飼雲次)
chūsaku Yoshioka-Ichimonji Sukemitsu (吉岡一文字助光)
gesaku Yoshii Naganori (吉井永則)
gege-saku Kozori Yoshikage (小反吉景)
chūsaku Tajima Hōjōji Kunimitsu (但馬法成寺国光)
chūsaku Bitchū Aoe Moritsugu (備中守次)
chūsaku Bingo Mihara Masaie (備後三原正家)
gesaku Suō Niō Kiyotsuna (周防二王清綱)
jōsaku Hōki Ōhara Sanemori (伯耆大原真守)

As you can see, there is already a qualitative classification via the jōsaku, chūsaku etc. system and for some reason, this school of knowledge thought that Niō Kiyotsuna and Ōhara Sanemori somehow belonged to Bizen. For the sake of completeness, I want to quote the remaining four expansions in the following, and associations have to be taken with a grain of salt.

Summer: Yamashiro – Fire
jōsaku Sanjō Munechika (三条宗近)
chū-no-chū Rai Kuniyoshi (来国吉)
jōsaku Raitarō Kuniyuki (来太郎国行)
jōsaku Rai Kunitoshi (来国俊)
jōsaku Niji-Kunitoshi (二字国俊)
chū-no-ge Ryōkai (了戒)
jōsaku Chūdō-Rai Mitsukane (中堂来光包)
betsujō Awataguchi Tōmanosuke Norikune (粟田口藤馬之丞則国)
gesaku Settsu Nakajima-Rai Kuninaga (摂津中島来国長)
gesaku Rai Tomokuni (来倫国)
gesaku Rai Kuninao (来国直)
chūsaku Higo Kikuji Enju Kunimura (肥後菊地延寿国村)
gesaku Heianjō Mitsunaga (平安城光長)
gesaku Inaba Kokaji Kagenaga (因幡小鍛冶景長)
gesaku Nobukuni 3rd generation (信国三代)

Late Summer: Kyūshū – Earth
betsujō Bungo Kishindayū Yukihira (豊後紀信太夫行平)
jōsaku Ki no Masatsune (紀正恒)
chūsaku Sō Sadahide (僧定秀)
gesaku Jitsu’a (実阿)
gege-saku Satsuma Naminohira Yukiyasu (薩摩浪平行安)
chū-no-ge Chikugo Miike Motozane (筑後三池元真)
gesaku Ōshū Mōgusa Takeyasu (奥州舞草雄安)
gesaku Chikuzen Kongōbyōe Moritaka (筑前金剛兵衛盛高)
gesaku Bungo Takada Tomoyuki (豊後高田友行)
jōsaku Etchū no Kuni Matsukura-jū Yoshihiro (越中国松倉住義弘)
jōsaku Etchū ni Kuni Gofukuyama Norishige (越中国御服山則重)

Fall: Sagami – Metal
jōsaku Bizen Saburō Kunimune (備前三郎国宗)
jōsaku Shintōgo Kunimitsu (新藤五国光)
jōsaku Kamakura-Rai Kunitsugu (鎌倉来国次)
jōsaku Tōroku Sakon Kunitsuna (藤六左近国綱)
jōsaku Tōsaburō Yukimitsu (藤三郎行光)
mujō Gorō Nyūdō Masamune (五郎入道正宗)
betsujō Hikoshirō Sadamune (彦四郎貞宗)
chūsaku Kurōjirō Hiromitsu (九郎次郎広光)
chūsaku Akihiro (秋広)
chū-no-jō Tōgenji Sukezane (藤源次助真)
gesaku Kyō Hasebe Kunishige (京長谷部国重)
jōsaku Mino no Kuni Kaneuji (美濃国兼氏)
gesaku Mino no Kuni Kinjū (美濃国金重)
Chikuzen no Kuni Sa (筑前国左)
chūsaku Bizen no Kuni Chōgi (備前国長義)
jōsaku Bizen no Kuni Kanemitsu (備前国兼光)
chūsaku Bizen no Kuni Motoshige (備前国元重)
gesaku Iwami no Kuni Izuha-jū Naotsuna (石見国出羽住直綱)
gesaku Owari Yamada-Seki Kunitsugu (尾州山田関国次) (via Mino)
gesaku Hachiya-jū Daruma (蜂谷住達磨) (via Mino)
gesaku Etchū Uda Kunimitsu (越中宇多国光)
gesaku Kaga Fujishima Tomoshige (加賀藤島友重)
gesaku Izumo Dōei Naganori (出雲道永永則)
gesaku Awa Kaifu Yasuyoshi (阿波海部泰吉)
gesaku Echizen Chiyozuru Kuniyasu (越前千代鶴国安)

Winter: Yamato – Water
chūsaku Senju’in Shigehiro (千手院重弘)
betsu Taima Kuniyuki (当麻国行)
jōsaku Tegai Kanenaga (手掻包永)
chūsaku Shikkake Norinaga (尻懸則長)
chūsaku Hoshō Gorō (保昌五郎)
gesaku Suruga Shimada Yoshisuke (駿河島田義助)
gesaku Mikawa Heianjō Nagayoshi (三河平安城長吉)
gesaku Ise Kuwana Muramasa (伊勢桑名村正)
gesaku Wakasa Fuyuhiro (若狭冬広)

 

So it appears to me, as indicated, that the Five Elements approach was nothing more than a vehicle to learn by heart and remember these smiths and their qualitative evaluation. Imagine you are the son of a high-ranking samurai who is sent to learn kantei with a Hon’ami or a Takeya sensei of that time and after a while the teacher would ask you: “What are the smiths for fall and what evaluation do they have?” or “What are the earth steel smiths?” You probably got beaten with a bokutō if you don’t remember correctly 😉

Next in the book follow the major kantei points, distributed into the “Five Elements of Shape” (gotai, 五体) and the “Ten Characteristics” (jūsei, 十性). The Five Elements of Shape are: tsukurikomi, kissaki, mune, shinogi, and overall shape. And the Ten Characteristics are: bōshi, kaeri, nie, nioi, course of hamon, hada, color of the steel (which is again divided into five colors: blue, red, yellow, white, and black), shine, ji, and kitae.

In conclusion I want to say that I am of the opinion that although this all sounds esoteric at first glance, we should not pay too much attention to that, or rather don’t go down that rabbit hole too deeply. Like here, I get more the impression that the concept of splitting up information into five bullet points was an easy way to make such lists as everyone know the Five Elements concept. It is very interesting to see some pre-Kōson gokaden system and that is why I thought I should share this with my readers.

 

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Challenges of translating period Japanese sword texts

A few weeks ago, one of my dear clients sent me a gift, a thick and old book on Japanese swords, basically with the words: “I got this one but it makes more sense in your hands than in my library. Maybe you can get some valuable information out of it and share them with all of us.” Thank you very much Mr. D.! Now browsing through the book now and then over the last weeks, I found some highly interesting information but first of all, I realized again how tough it actually is to translate period Japanese sword texts. In this article, I want to give you an understanding of my daily struggles and walk with you through the different layers of challenges that I and others are facing doing this kind of stuff. Before we continue, I want to state that I will introduce the title of the book, its contents, and more details about it in the future but suffice it to say, it bases on period sword literature from the Momoyama to early Edo period that goes partially back to the Takeya (竹屋) system of sword knowledge (for some basic info on the Takeya family, see this article here).

 

 

Now the very first challenge is of course being actually able to read/decipher the characters of a text like the two above. For this, you need to know how a Japanese/Chinese character, a kanji is written, i.e. the stroke order and how strokes merge and/or are omitted when writing them in semi-cursive or cursive (grass) script. The former, knowing how a kanji is written, is relatively easy to learn but the latter, being able to grasp the semi-cursive and cursive script, takes some years. This is basically the same challenge as it is with handwritten period Western texts from let’s say the 1700 or 1800s. You just have to learn it. Short anecdote: Some years ago I visited an exhibition in Japan that focused on the early Meiji period and there were letters on display written by some Germans working in Japan at that time which I could not read (I am Austrian as most of you know, so German is my mother tongue). But I was able to read the handwritten letters of their Japanese employers…

If you are able to handle challenge one, the reading/deciphering of the kanji, challenge two comes into play which is making a sense out of what you got. For this you have to understand the Japanese writing system, which you probably do when being able to master challenge one, but for those who don’t, I will explain. The Japanese writing system uses Chinese characters, the kanji, and combines them with a pair of syllabaries, hiragana and katakana. In short, a Japanese sentence usually contains a mixture of kanji and hiragana/katakana, the former representing a certain term and the latter supporting the meaning of that term, having grammatical funtions, and representing particles, just to keep it simple here. To quote Wikipedia in this respect: “Because of this mixture of scripts, in addition to a large inventory of kanji characters, the Japanese writing system is often considered to be the most complicated in use anywhere in the world.”

But wait, there is more. Kanji can also be kana syllables. Yes, you read that correctly. We are talking here about so-called man’yōgana (万葉仮名), a writing system that employs kanji to represent phonetical syllables in the Japanese language. This approach was by the way the origin of the hiragana and katakana alphabet, that is, Chinese characters used to represent a certain phonetical Japanese syllable were written in more and more cursive ways and ended so up as the simple hiragana and katakana we all know today. Just to give you an example, the picture below demonstrates how the character bi/mi (美), which means “beauty”, became via its cursive style of writing the hiragana syllable mi. In other words, if this character appeares somewhere in a period Japanese text and doesn’t make any sense at all in that context, it might just be there substitutional for the sylable mi. So for example if you come across the characters (黒美) in a period Japanese text, they most likely don’t mean “black beauty” because the second kanji is just there for its reading mi. That is, the word is kuromi (黒み), which means “black tinge”, “blackishness”, etc.

This brings us back to the first picture, the example I am using in this article, and I want to focus on the left four lines of the text on the right. So, if you truly master challenges one and two, you might be able to read/decipher these four lines as follows:

 

一 志津の事 是ハ正宗可弟子奈連トモ「ヤキバ」ハ
関の手くせ越うし奈者す足越そろへ小あし
又ハのた連耳てもさ多まりたるやうにて於毛
しろき事奈起无の奈連トモ「千ハ田」徒まり「景龴𤴓」

Shizu no koto – Kore wa Masamune ga deshi naredomo yakiba wa
Seki no tekuse o ushinawazu, ashi o soroe, ko-ashi
mata wa notare ni temo, sadamaritaru yō ni te omo
shiroki koto naki mono naredomo, jihada tsumari nie

 

I want to pick out one word to demonstrate what we just did, the third word in line two, ushinawazu. This word means “is not lost” and would today be written as (失わず), or just with hiragana syllables as (うしなわず). In the period text in question, the syllables na and wa have been replaced with the kanji (奈) and (者) which also read na and wa respectively. Apart from that, you also have to know when a syllable is voiced as those little voicing marks, the dakuten, are usually omitted in period texts. For example here, the last syllable zu is written with the hiragana syllable su (す) and you have to fill in the blank and “make” it into a zu (ず).

If you are still following, this is already pretty difficult so far and to bring that all together smoothly, i.e. being able to recognize, understand, and translate such a text, it takes many many years of studying.

But that is still not all. I picked this text because it contains another nasty little challenge, and that is, it contains so to speak “made up fantasy characters.” Yes, you read that correctly again. The example features three of them which I had to put into Japanese quotation marks 「 」 (and mark them with an asterisk in the picture) because as they are made up as mentioned, they are obviously not available as computer-typeable kanji.

 

 

The first one is shown in the picture above. First you would assume some character with the heart radical (忄) to the left, maybe this one (怽). But this character is very uncommon and not in use in the Japanese language. Well, it is used in Chinese but its meaning “a troubled/confused heart” doesn’t really make any sense in this context. Next thing to assume would be that it was used for its phonetical reading, which is or in Chinese but mi or mo don’t make sense either at this place in the sentence. To cut it short: The “character” in question actually consists of the three katakana syllables ya (ヤ) to the left, ki (キ) on top right, and ha/ba (ハ) written around ki. You get it? The term we are looking for is yakiba!

So, making up a character from syllables was totally a possibility back then, even if there exists a just kanji combination for yakiba – (焼刃) – which is not that difficult to remember at all. That is, if you are able to write a book on swords that contains hundreds of other difficult characters, it is not about that you can’t remember the kanji for yakiba and have to make them up. We are just dealing here with customs that were handed down within schools of sword knowledge and we find made up characters like that all the way back in the oldest, pardon, second oldest extant sword document, the Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi.

 

 

Back to the second of them (see picture above). Here you see the character (田) to the left and something like (禾) to the right but again, this combination doesn’t exists as a kanji. This time we are facing the combination chi/ji (千) on the left, ha/ba (ハ) written around that at the bottom, and ta/da (田) on the left, at least we had this initially correct… And with filling in the blank and adding the voicing marks in your head, you arrive at the term jihada!

 

 

The last one (see picture above) is even more tricky. In this case, the left part of the character is kei (景) which means “scenery” but the part on the right doesn’t even exist as a character by itself. Here you just have to come across some explanation (like I did with the book in question) one day because without that, I guess it is impossible to figure out that the kanji you see above stands for nie, which is usually written with the character (沸). Another way to write nie in this sense of made up characters is combining the two katakana syllables ni (ニ) and e (エ), or ni (ニ) and we (ヱ) (see picture below). On a normal day, you would think of reading e (江) here, as in Edo (江戸), or as the abbreviated character for Gō Yoshihiro’s (郷義弘) (江). Big head scratcher again if you are not aware of the existence of made up characters and how they work.

 

 

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In conclusion I would like to say that if you want to translate period Japanese sword texts, you have to go very deep into the matter of the language, the subject of the sword, and the historical background. But if you do, it is totally worth it because in my opinion, getting a better and better understanding of the subtleties in another language is the best way to develop a decent understanding of the way of thinking and of the mindsets of the people who wrote these texts in the past. Also with translating poems and understanding their sometimes obvious, sometimes highly sophisticated allusions via not only the language itself but the deliberate use of certain characters, you get a grasp of the entire whole of the nihontō that just learning features in the steel can’t deliver. But this is something you really have to invest time and energy in, and probably need a teacher, so nothing you can just tackle at the side. The icing on the cake after many years of blade studies if you will. I am now studying Japanese for exactly 20 years and translate for about 15 (first as a hobby and 10 years now full time as my job), and it still feels as if I just have pushed open a door, a significant door maybe which makes you aware that the doors you have opened so far were nothing compared to what is still out there…

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Volume 2 – Tosogu Classroom

Update on the project:

Volume 2 has just been completed and I am placing orders for members who have prepaid as we speak. That said, if you are going volume by volume, you can get in touch with me at your convenience to order Volume 2. Members of the three associations who organized this project – which are the JSS/US, NTBHK/AB and NBTHK/EB – can order Volume 2 for just the cost of printing and shipping, which is $44 within the US and Canada. If you are not a member, the price is $64 per copy. Slightly different prices apply for outside of the US so please get in touch with me to talk about details. As you can see in the preview below, Volume 2 is with almost 700 pages quite substantial. It is the second volume that deals with artist who worked in iron. Volume 3 and 4, which should follow in the coming months, will deal with the kinkō guys and Volume 5 is the color volume.

Thank you for your attention.

Volume 2 Contents

Kasuga-taisha Find Update

A brief update to this post from 2016.

Several Japanese news outlets reported today that one of the swords that were discovered during 1939 repair measures of the Kasuga-taisha turned out to be a Ko-Hōki (古伯耆) from the end of the Heian period, possibly a Yasutsuna (安綱), dating back to the birthplace of the nihontō. The blade was polished recently, is ubu I think, and has a nagasa of 82.4 cm. Its kokushitsu-tachi koshirae (黒漆太刀拵) dates to the 14th century and it is assumed that the sword was offered to the shrine some time in the Nanbokuchō or at the latest at the beginning of the Muromachi period. Below are some links with pictures and please also check out the video that the Nara Television Channel put on YouTube.

https://mainichi.jp/articles/20180123/k00/00m/040/109000c

https://www.nikkei.com/article/DGXMZO25985170S8A120C1CR8000/

http://www.mbs.jp/news/kansai/20180122/00000058.shtml

 

The “new” oldest extant sword document

On December 18, the Saga Prefectural Government issued a press release on what appears to be a pretty important, or at least highly interesting find for the sword world. That find was made by Yoshihara Hiromichi (吉原弘道), associate professor at the basic education center of Kyûshû Sangyô University. He discovered in the Prefectural Library, which preserves, amongst others, about 130,000 locally transmitted historic documents, a so-called Mei Zukushi (銘尽), the forerunner of the later Meikan (銘鑑), i.e. lists of smiths that contain, depending on the source, more or less information like where and when a smith worked etc.

Now the very Mei Zukushi was found within the archives of the Ryûzôji (龍造寺) family, a powerful clan from Kyûshû. This archive consists of 277 documents and the Mei Zukushi is written on the back of two so-called Môshijô Dodai (申状土代), drafts for official petitions. Paper was relatively valuable at that time, what is also one reason for the text being so cramped together, and it is not uncommon that documents that are of no more use were reused by writing on their back side. The press release states that although the 277 documents of the Ryûzôji archives are designated as a jûyô-bunkazai as a whole, not all back sides have been checked in detail so far.

The Mei Zukushi is dated Kan’ô two (観応, 1351) and as it is part of the Ryûzôji archives as mentioned, it got the working title Ryûzôji Bon Mei Zukushi (龍造寺本銘尽). The so far oldest extant sword publication or rather sword document was the Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi (観智院本銘尽) which I have introduced in this article from 2014. The Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi is believed to be a fair copy of a sword data from 1316 but as the copy itself is from 1423, the Ryûzôji Bon Mei Zukushi beats it as “new” oldest extant sword document. At the moment, it is thought that either Ryûzôji Iemasa (龍造寺家政) or a person close to him had copied a precious sword document that was brought by Ashikaga Tadafuyu (足利直冬, 1327~1387/1400?) or one of his staff to a camp that Iemasa visited that year, Kan’ô two. I will omit historic details at this point but want to state that Tadafuyu was a son of the famous Ashikaga Takauji. So, both he and Iemasa were clearly in the league of high-ranking persons who needed a sword guideline, either for themselves or, more likely, to pick proper presents to reward allies and vassals.

Ashikaga Tadafuyu

The two sheets of the Ryûzôji Bon Mei Zukushi measure about 33 x 48~49 cm each and contain the names of about 280 swordsmiths, even of some which are not listed in the Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi. They will be on display in the Saga Prefectural Museum until February 4, 2018. Also on display will be three swords: A tachi with the shu-mei “Kuniyuki” (国行) (Rai), a tachi with the shu-mei “Rai Kunimitsu” (来国光), both jûyô-bunkazai of Saga Prefecture, and a zaimei tantô by Awataguchi Yoshimitsu (粟田口吉光). Pictures of the sheets and a (Japanese) transcription are provided in the press release but I will provide direct links below:

The Ryûzôji Bon Mei Zukushi
Transcription

I will go into details on the content of the sheets at some later point in time as I first want to get access to the research report once finished. And yes, Masamune’s name appears in the document 😉

Book Review: The Yonezawa Matchlock

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I was able to finish a highly interesting lecture which I have received a couple of weeks ago but which I didn’t want to read in a rush. What I am talking about is my friend Jan Pettersson’s book The Yonezawa Matchlock – Mighty Gun of the Uesugi Samurai, which deals, nomen est omen, and in a nutshell, with how the Uesugi dealt over the centuries with equipping their men with firearms.

But that’s not it, that is, the book does not only focus on the mere “equipping process” but introduces in incredible detail the approach of Yonezawa, the domain of the Uesugi, to stay on focus, i.e. their teppô, throughout the entire feudal period. In about 250 pages, Jan is not only able to narrate but to take us on a vivid journey through that history, which is in my opinion one of the strong points of the book (you will surely come to recognize Jan’s effort to exactly do so in each chapter).

As addressed by Piers Dowding in the foreword to the book, Jan had the great opportinuty to do on the spot research in Yonezawa, interviewing and inquiring all the local authorities on the field. You can believe me, from my own experience, proceeding with such an undertaking takes a considerable amount of sincerity and will (and I guess some balls too, if you allow my language) to get that all together like Jan did, i.e. receiving this accolade so to speak to tell that history for non-Japanese readers. You also have to bear in mind, it’s not that there is a ton of books in Japanese on that topic, on the contrary, Jan’s book can even be considered a novelty in general, not just outside of Japan.

So in short, if you are only remotely interested in this topic, the book is a must, and it goes without saying that this is particularly true if you are interested in teppô. Also, if you have read Noel Perrin’s Give Up the Gun: Japan’s Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879, and enjoyed it, Jan’s book makes a very nice (and not only a specific but also a general) supplement to that topic. As for the book itself, it is hardcover 6×9” and contains 26 b/w illustrations, so focus is obviously on text.

[Disclaimer: I translated a few texts for Jan that went into his book but I am not involved in any sales of the book nor did I receive any payment for this review whatsoever: This review is honestly done from the point of view of a person interested in this topic!] (Non-book pictures courtesy of the author Jan Pettersson.)

 

This monument is erected on the spot where the first local gun-forge was built in 1604.

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

 

 

 

 

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!!