In 1972 and 1973, Tōkyō Shuppan (東京出版) published a “couplet” of books, titled Kunzan Tōwa (薫山刀話, “Kunzan’s Sword Talk”) and Kanzan Tōwa (寒山刀話, “Kanzan’s Sword Talk”) respectively. The books contain a collection of articles/thoughts/insights by Honma ‘Kunzan’ Junji (本間「薫山」順治, 1904–1991) and Satō ‘Kanzan’ Kan’ichi (佐藤「寒山」貫一, 1907–1978), focusing on kotō swords in case of Honma, and shintō/shinshintō swords in case of Satō, following thus the corners to which these two great sword scholars were often boxed into.

So last summer, I re-read both books and remembered vividly when I first “read” that final chapter in Honma’s edition twenty years ago or so, the chapter that addresses sixteen “topics for future Nihontō research.” Well, back then, I was in my early 20s and had studied Japanese for less than four years at that point, so it actually took me a while to work through that chapter (that’s why I put “read” in quotation marks in the previous sentence). Being young, however, I was positive that I was going to solve all these questions in no time, and some more. Well, life, work, and first of all reality caught up with me pretty quickly, and whilst I was laughing at my young self re-reading that chapter last summer, I realized that actually not that many of these topics have been properly addressed, let alone been solved in the fifty years since the book came out. Spoiler alert: At some point, we are just running out of references and have to work with what we have, and chances are getting smaller and smaller over the decades for new groundbreaking material (objects/documents) to magically surface. However, you never know, as seen here and here from a few years ago.

Going forward, I would like to introduce these “future topics” as I think they might be of interest, and maybe the one or other feels encouraged to dig deeper into one of these issues. Before we continue, I should say that I take the liberty to introduce them on the basis of my personal interest, and that they will be dispersed with other articles. In other words, this will not be a chronological A–Z, but a once in a while approach. Also, because I wanted a snappier title, I chose “Honma’s Questions” for the series. Easier than “Honma’s Topics for Future Nihontō Research.” In addition, topic-wise, there is some overlap with Volume 10 of the Shinpan Nihontō Kōza (新版日本刀講座, 1970, 1997), but I want to address these question at another time.

Anyway, let’s start.

Kamakura Period Kajihei – History of Forgeries and Improving Kantei

Honma starts this chapter by stating that the history of sword forgeries is an old one and that already the Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi (観智院本銘尽), a manuscript which contains sword knowledge from the end of the Kamakura period and which we have access to today via a copy from Ōei 30 (応永, 1423), mentions in the entries on Bungo Yukihira (行平) and Ko-Aoe Tsunetō (常遠) that forgeries of these smiths are in circulation.

I checked the manuscript and found the two entries in question, which I would like to show here as a reference. In case of Yukihira, the comment is written towards the bottom edge of the book and is a bit difficult to read, but it should be: ōku nisemono ari (おゝくにせ物あ里), “a lot of forgeries exist.” In case of Tsunetō, the comment is: mata nisemono ari (又にせ物あ里), “also forgeries exist.”

Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi comment on Yukihira (w/ detail).

Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi comment on Tsunetō (w/ detail).

Furthermore, the entry on Yukihira contains another interesting comment on forgeries: nisemono wa mei o yoku utsu nari (にせ物ハめいをよくう津奈り), “forgeries have a nicely cut mei.” That is, Yukihira blades with a nicely cut mei should be treated with caution as the authentic signature are chiseled in a more powerful and unaffected, yet elegant manner, which makes them appear more unsophisticated at first glance.

Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi comment on the signatures of Yukihira forgeries (w/ detail).

Next, Honma mentions that, if he remembers correctly, the Nōami Hon Mei Zukushi (能阿弥本銘尽) from the mid-Muromachi period (imprint of Bunmei 15 [文明, 1483]) lists the Yamato smiths Yukiyoshi (行吉) and Nobuyuki (信行) as “smiths who made forgeries” (nisemono kaji nari, にせ物鍛冶なり). I checked that source as well and yes, it is the Nōami Hon Mei Zukushi, although Yukiyoshi and Nobiyuki are listed in the Yamashiro, not the Yamato chapter. In any case, Honma continues by assuming that on the basis of this entry, these Kamakura period smiths may have been specialized forgers, just like the Bakumatsu and Meiji era Kajihei (鍛冶平) was, about whom I have written about here.

In my Swordsmiths of Japan, the following two smiths, who are interestingly enough listed as having been active around the very same time, might come into question:

YUKIYOSHI (行吉), Bun ́ei (文永, 1264-1275), Yamashiro – “Yukiyoshi” (行吉), he lived in Yamashiro ́s Kushige (櫛笥)

NOBUYUKI (信行), Bun ́ei (文永, 1264-1275), Yamashiro – “Nobuyuki” (信行)

Checking the Nihontō Meikan, however, I found a somewhat earlier Yukiyoshi, whom I have not listed. The Nihontō Meikan dates him around Jōō (貞応, 1222–1224), states that he either lived in the Ayanokōji or the Nishikikōji neighborhood of Kyōto, and that he is said to have been a producer of so-called Shibatsuji-mono (柴辻物). This is insofar interesting as Shibatsuji-mono is a period term for mass produced swords (kazuuchi-mono) coming out of the Shibatsuchi neighborhood of Kyōto since earliest times. This might hint at an overlap with the tradition of him also mainly making forgeries.

The Nōami Hon Mei Zukushi states in the entry for Awataguchi Kunitsuna (粟田口国綱) that there is “rumor that the Kunitsuna blade worn by Ashikaga Yoshinori (足利義教, 1394–1441) is a forgery,” and in the entry for Ichimonji Sukemune (一文字助宗), it is mentioned that there are forgeries of his blades which are engraved with a chrysanthemum crest that is deliberately finished to look as if it was polished down. In the chapter on Sagami smiths, the Nōami Hon Mei Zukushi mentions that as Masamune (正宗), Sadamune (貞宗), and Hiromitsu (広光) have become so famous that “many forgeries of their works are in circulation” and that therefore close attention should be paid to the jihada and yakiba of questionable blades. This entry, by the way, is another evidence that contradicts the theory that the swordsmith Masamune is fictionary and was invented in the Momoyama period.

So, Honma concludes that the existence of these entries suggests that forgeries must have been a widespread issue as early as in the Kamakura, Nanbokuchō, and Muromachi periods. He continues by stating that often judging the authenticity of a signature can be quite difficult and that even if a signatures has been examined before, and the work thus been evaluated, there is always room for refinement in the assessment, even if we are talking about jūyō-bunkazai, jūyō-bijutsuhin, and jūyō-tōken levels, some of which he would like to re-examine again. Note: Honma does not address tokubetsu-jūyō here because this NBTHK level was only introduced the year before the book was published. Also, he refers to the jūyō-bijutsuhin Ko-Naminohira Yukimasa (行正) tachi at this point, which is dated Heiji one (平治, 1159) and which is the oldest dated Japanese blade in existence, but whose mei and date he admits to probably not being legit, or at least needing further study.

Jūyō-bijutsuhin, tachi, signed: “Yukimasa Heiji gannen hachigatsu futsuka – Kuniyasu” (行正平治元年八月二日・国安) – “Yukimasa, on the second day in the eighth month of Heiji one (1159) – Kuniyasu (presumably the then owner of the sword).”

Honma then stresses that the availability of reference material has very much improved in the recent decades and that even just before WWII, scholars only had a fraction of what is available today to work with, i.e., from Honma’s perspective in the early 1970s. That is, Honma defends his predecessors by saying that this lack of references does not diminish their expertise and states, borrowing a concept from Sumō wresting, that working today with easier accessible material is more like the humble experience of defeating a senior in the ring who had trained you for many years.

The section then continues with Honma pointing out that no one is able to write characters the very same way each time and that this is true for smiths chiseling their names onto the tangs of their swords as well. In other words, the ductus and overall characteristic style must be taken into consideration, rather than focusing on a single stroke and basing your judgment of whether a blade/mei is authentic or not just on that detail. “Always look at the blade itself too,” Honma repeats the old mantra, and says that he very much tried to live by this rule, although occasionally he admits, there comes along a mei that looks alright, but the blade looks nothing like the name that is on that tang…

Honma then briefly addresses the order of inspecting a blade. Some, he says, just take a quick look at the mei and then go right over to study the blade, but it is rather recommended to look at the blade first and at the mei last. However, he adds, in recent years, some are skipping the entire “blade part” and are judging the authenticity of a sword by solely looking at the mei. Honma concludes by stating that it is vital to properly assess the position/appearance of a signature in relation to the entire tang. He mentions that there is the saying of “this mei really fits well,” meaning that it matches the overall finish, age, and patina of a tang and has so to speak “calmed down together with the tang.” Gimei often have not “calmed down” and may even stick out like a sore thumb. Coming back to the Yukimsa blade that is dated Hōji one, Honma says that it is an example of a mei that has “calmed down” and that is thus in harmony with the appearance of the tang, which means reading between the lines, that if this mei is indeed gimei, it must be a very early one, possibly contemporary or close to the blade’s production time.


So, what to do with all of this? Well, I definitely want to dig deeper into the issue of early forgers by studying in depth, again, all the period documents, and I will keep you posted about interesting finds. In other words, and although this may sound too ambitious, I actually want to translate all these period documents in full, and as per today, I am about three quarters through the Kanchi’in Bon Mei Zukushi already, which I tackled first for chronological reasons. So, stay tuned. Maybe also an entire book on gimei is overdue, but this is a double-edged sword, because it does not matter how often you state that information provided is just a guideline and that objects have to be examined in hand and/or submitted to Shinsa for authentication, people will take everything at face value and complain endlessly about decisions they made on the basis of the book…

Hasegawa Katsuaki (長谷川克明)

This will be another microhistory-style article, focusing on the life of one of the last Owari-based tsuba makers, Hasegawa Katsuaki (長谷川克明).

Portrait photograph of Hasegawa Katsuaki, holding a tsuba he made in his right hand.

Katsuaki was born as Itō Kakichi (伊藤嘉吉) in Tenpō eight (天保, 1837) in the village of Kamimura (上村) (present-day Ena City, Gifu Prefecture) in Mino province and became an apprentice as a tsuba maker with his uncle, the second generation Norisuke (則亮, 1817-1883), who was based in Nagoya in Owari province. We do not know in which year his apprenticeship started, but as all sources point out, in unison, that he studied with the second and not also with the first generation Norisuke, his studies must have started after the first generation’s death in Kaei five (嘉永, 1852). Incidentally, his uncle, the second generation, was from the Itō family and from Mino province too, and although there is some ambiguity about his exact relationship to the first generation, it is commonly believed that he was the first generation’s son-in-law and that he was adopted as successor as he later went by his master’s family name Iwata (岩田). So, it appears that Katsuaki, the third generation of that lineage, the so-called Futagoyama (二子山) lineage, had started his training some time after Kaei five and the age of 15 (or 16 according to the Japanese way to count years of life).

After he mastered his craft and left his uncle’s workshop, Katsuaki was employed by the Owari-Tokugawa family as part of the sword and sword fittings section (o-koshimono, 御腰物) which was associated with the fief’s office of chamberlain for clothes, furniture, and household items (o-nando, 御納戸). Again, we do not know exactly when this employment took place, but we can narrow it down between him finishing his apprenticeship, let’s say after at least three years of study, which would be in 1855 at the earliest, and the end of the feudal area in 1868 of course. It is said that it was around this time when Katsuaki got his nickname Tanka (鐔嘉), which is a merger of his profession, tankō (鐔工, tsuba maker), and his first name, Kakichi (嘉吉). By the way, his position with the o-koshimono section not only meant to just make tsuba, it also came with the task of appraising such and other sword fittings, plus being involved in the procedure of picking tsuba and sword fittings for koshirae. In other words, if you are a samurai of a certain rank, you make an appointment with your local o-koshimono to assist you with things like having a new tsuba or having a sword newly mounted and the like, and if you are the daimyō or a rōjū elder, you call for the o-koshimono to come to your place to advise you on all of the above of course.

Then, as everybody knows, the Meiji Restoration took place and its abolishment of the feudal system and samurai class caused a collapse of the market for newly produced swords and sword fittings. Accordingly, Katsuaki, now in his early thirties, had to change gear and was now also making ornaments, e.g., for tobacco pouches, etc.

However, coming out of a prior employment by the Owari-Tokugawa family, which has also taken over many of the local government/administrative posts after 1868, was surely a plus on your CV. So, on January 24, 1879, and within the new system of ranks of government officials, Katsuaki received the First Rank (ittō, 一等) of the lowermost, so-called “also-ran offices” (tōgai, 等外) of the Meiji government, then subordinate to the local district chief (kochō, 戸長), in this case, to the Chief of the Hinode District (日出町) of Nagoya in which Katsuaki lived at that time (previously, he had lived in the Uguisudani [鶯渓] neighborhood of Nagoya). I apologize for the cumbersome wording of the last sentence, but, believe me, the system of Meiji-era government officials and civil servants is difficult and changed quite a lot over the years. In any case, that First Rank post of that lowermost office only came with a monthly wage of around 10 Yen, which calculates to an annual “salary” of ~ $3,120 today, which means you definitely have to do something else to survive.

On January 15, 1882, Katsuaki was made head of the Office of Ornamentation and Decoration of the Greater Nagoya Area, and although this “promotion” surely came with a significant raise in annual income, I was unable to locate any specific figures within the time frame allocated for researching this article. So, if I come across these figures, I will surely post an update on this issue later.

By 1913, Katsuaki became ill and died on August 6 that year at the age of 77. He is buried at the Nichiren Shō’on-ji (照遠寺) temple which is located in the Higashi Ward of Nagoya, and his posthumous Buddhist name is Seiryūsai Kokumei Nichinō (青龍斎克明日能), which is formed from his art name () Seiryūsai (青龍斎), the Sino-Japanese reading Kokumei of his craftsman’s name Katsuaki, and the Nichiren name Nichinō given to him by the chief priest of the temple.

After Katsuaki’s death, the atelier was run by his first son Katsunao (克直), real name Hasegawa Kikujirō (長谷川菊次郎), and his second son Ichibōsai Shunkō (一望斎春江), real name Hasegawa Takesaburō (長谷川竹三郎, 1878-1944). The former died young, however, and the latter then focused more on metal work for the tea ceremony and jewelry than on tsuba, starting so a new lineage under the brand name Ichibōsai (一望斎). The second generation Ichibōsai was Shunkō’s son Shunsen (春泉) who was succeeded by his second son Shunkō (春洸), real name Hasegawa Takejirō (長谷川竹次郎, 1950- ), as third generation Ichibōsai. With this, I would like to conclude by saying that Takejirō and his wife Mami (まみ, 1946- ), who had studied with her father-in-law Shunsen, are both renowned metal artists and are still based in Nagoya.


Why is he posting mostly stuff like that and is not writing about kantei and blade characteristics lately, you might ask. Well, to be honest, my focus of interest has shifted a bit in the last few years. At this point, moving forward in my journey through the world of Japanese arms and armor, I am really eager to tell stories like this and give these artists and craftsmen a face. In this sense, if someone has a work by one of the artists and craftsmen in their collection I am writing about, and can see it in a new light, maybe even appreciate it more after reading my humble posts, I would be very much delighted!

Another mysterious placeholder…

This is a brief “follow-up” on the article I posted earlier in September here. Looking for something completely different, as always, I came across another example of a strange “placeholder” character in a signature on a tsuba.

This time, it is a square with cross, or ballot box with x, ☒, followed by the name of the artist, Yoshiyuki (美之). As it is just one character, I am hesitant to interpret it as an art name (). Rather, it seems to be more likely that it either stands for a one-character clan name, e.g., Tachibana (橘) or Minamoto (源), or for a one-character family name, maybe the family name (田) by just turning the inner X by 45 degrees?

In their No. 39 spring 1995 special sales catalog Nihontō – Genzon no Yūhin (日本刀・現存の優品), Tōken Shibata speculates that this ☒ could represent the masu crest (枡紋). However, this crest is a box with a single line inside that goes from the bottom left to the top right edge (see picture below).

As for the artist, Yoshiyuki, there is not much info available on him. Haynes lists one using these very characters, and, strangely, there is a reference to an unidentified character as well (see picture below), although in an art name and not just to a single character. So, I don’t think it is a save bet to assume that we are talking about the same artist here and see this reference to an unidentified character as a mere coincidence.

Short post as mentioned, and for now, I am interpreting the signature as “Den Yoshiyuki” (田美之).

Chūmon-mei: An example with interesting historic context

Well, this will be another dry and rather history-heavy post, and comes with a few open questions. So, if you are more into blade characteristics and backgrounds on schools and smiths, you might want to skip.

Before we begin, I need to clarify I few terms. The sword I am going to introduce in this article is not only signed and dated by the smith, but also bears the name of the person who ordered it in its mei. Such an inscription is referred to as chūmon-mei (注文銘) or tame-mei (為銘), chūmon meaning “order” and tame meaning “for.” The blade itself may be described as chūmon-uchi (注文打), lit. “custom made,” but this term comes with some ambiguity, or “historic baggage” if you will. That is, this term was explicitly coined to differentiate mass produced Sue-kotō blades, kazuuchi (数打), from custom made Sue-kotō blades. Also, a chūmon-mei or tame-mei is not the same as a shoji-mei (所持銘). The term shoji-mei refers to the name of any owner (Japanese shoji, 所持) of a blade being inscribed on the tang, i.e., “any owner” (shoji-mei) vs. “initial owner who actually placed the order for the sword with the swordsmith” (chūmon-mei or tame-mei).

So, let me start with an oshigata of the blade in question and a translation of its signature.

Wakizashi, signed: Dewa Daijō Fujiwara Kunimichi – Genna gonen jūnigatsu hi, Shu Ōhashi Shōsetsunyū Shigemasa (出羽大掾藤原国路・元和五年十二月日、主大橋松節入重政) – “Yamashiro Daijō Fujiwara Kunimichi, on a day in the twelth month of Genna five (1619), for Ōhashi Shōsetsunyū Shigemasa.” Jūyō-tōken, nagasa 31.4 cm, sori 0.4 cm, motohaba 3.3 cm.

The maker, Dewa Daijō Kunimichi, needs little introduction, but I would like to briefly recap the career of this master. Kunimichi was born in Tenshō four (天正, 1576) and it is believed that he initially trained with the Mishina smith Iga no Kami Kinmichi (伊賀守金道, ?-1629). Around Keichō 14 (慶長, 1609) and being in his early thirties, he refined his craft by studying with master Horikawa Kunihiro (堀川国広, 1531-1614), whose arguably best student he became, and some time between Keichō 18 and 20 (1613-1615), he was given the honorary title of Dewa Daijō. We do not know when Kunimichi died, but there exists a blade dated Meireki three (明暦, 1657) that is inscribed with the supplement “made at the age of 82” (Note: Japanese way of counting years of life), and supposedly one that is dated Kanbun two (寛文, 1662) when he would have been 87 years old. At this age, most masters were merely overseeing the forge and had students doing most of the actual work, except from hardening and signing, although that was very often left to the students as well. Due to this very long active period, the theory has been forwarded that there were two generations Kunimichi, with the second generation succeeding under that very name around Jōō (承応, 1652-1655) (although Satō Kanzan sensei was opposing this theory, just FYI).

And this, ladies and gentlemen, brings us to the actual topic of this article, the ordering client of this blade. As stated in the mei, the blade was made for a certain Ōhashi Shōsetsunyū Shigemasa (大橋松節入重政, more on that pen name Shōsetsunyū later), and to let the cat out of the bag right away, Ōhashi Shigemasa certainly did not order that blade himself as he was a tender innocent toddler at that time, being born in Genna four (元和, 1618) and the blade being finished in the twelfth month of Genna five (1619), as stated above.

This brings us, inevitably I would say, to his father, Ōhashi Shigeyasu (大橋重保, 1582-1645), who had an interesting career throughout the Momoyama and early Edo period. As mentioned, this will be a history-heavy post. Who was Ōhashi Shigeyasu? Well, first of all, he was born into a samurai family that served the Miyoshi (三好) clan. His father Shigeyoshi (重慶) died in the Battle of Komaki and Nagakute fighting on the side of Hideyoshi’s nephew Hidetsugu. Shigeyasu was just two years old at that time and so he was put in care of his aunt. Six years later, in 1590, Hidetsugu thought that the eight-years-old Shigeyasu (Note: This was pre-genpuku, so he did not bear that name yet. His childhood name was Katsuchiyo, 勝千代) should get a proper education, so he had him enter the Nanzen-ji (南禅寺) where he was taught by monk Ishin Sūden (以心崇伝, 1569-1633). Ishin was quite a figure in then Japanese politics, but introducing his actions would be beyond the scope of this article, so I just link to his Wikipedia page here.

Now this three-years training with Ishin marked a vital point in Shigeyasu’s career as he was introduced, among calligraphy and other things, to the world of fine arts. After that, it appears that he returned to his family, and when Hidetsugu died in Bunroku four (文禄, 1595), Shigeyasu went into the service of Katagiri Katsumoto (片桐且元, 1556-1615) who then “commuted” between his lands scattered over the provinces of Settsu, Ise, and Harima.

Then in 1598, Hideyoshi died, and two years after that, Ieyasu won Sekigahara. However, the Toyotomi were not yet off the political scene and Katsumoto had become the chamberlain of their household. Shigeyasu remained in his service for the time being until he was appointed yūhitsu (右筆, samurai who was responsible for the management of records and documents) of Hideyoshi’s son Hideyori (豊臣秀頼, 1593-1615) in Keichō 17 (慶長, 1614). In other words, Shigeyasu was now in charge of the Toyotomi archive, but only very briefly as he left his work place, Ōsaka Castle, the same time Hideyoshi’s widow and Hideyoshi’s mother, Yodo-dono (淀殿, 1567-1615), kicked Katsumoto out of the castle under the suspicion of siding with the Tokugawa. You all know what happened next, Ōsaka Castle was besieged, and finally fell in 1615, which resulted in the disbanding of the entire Toyotomi family.

So, Shigeyasu found himelf as a rōnin, but he acted in a proactive manner, went to Edo in Genna three (元和, 1617) and submitted the request of being exonerated and willing to serve within the new Tokugawa bakufu. As he was well-educated and respected in the fields of calligraphy and everything document-related, his request was granted, he was made hatamoto under Tokugawa Hidetada (徳川秀忠, 1579-1632) and given lands around the villages of Kugenuma (鵠沼村) and Ōba (大庭村) in Sagami province which earned him an income of 500 koku. In addition, he also became Hidetada’s yūhitsu, a post which he also fulfilled for Hidetada’s successor, the third Tokugawa Shōgun Iemitsu (徳川家光, 1604-1651).

Things went well for Shigeyasu, but he became ill in Kan’ei ten (寛永, 1633) and had to hand over his post of yūhitsu first, and the ownership of the Ōhashi lands the year after to his son Shigemasa, the person whose name is mentioned on Kunimichi’s blade if you remember. Before we come to Shigemasa, let me briefly recap the final years of his father’s life. Even after retiring, and having entered priesthood under the name Ryūkei (龍慶), Shigeyasu remained a close confidante of the Shōgun and was given an income-yielding “retirement estate” in Ushigome (牛込), then located in the north-eastern corner of Edo’s outermost moat. In Kan’ei 18 (1641), on the occasion of his 60th birthday, Shigeyasu paid for restoration work done to the Konda-Hachimangū (誉田八幡宮) in Kawachi province, the family shrine of the Ōhashi and located where the family originated from. Three years later, Shigeyasu donated parts of his sword collection to the shrine (the entire donation consisted of 36 objects and contained items other than swords as well). He died the year after, in Shōhō two (正保, 1645) and at the age of 64.

With this, we shall return to his eldest son and heir, Ōhashi Shigemasa. As mentioned, he was born in Genna four (1618), the year before the blade introduced here was made. His father taught him calligraphy early on (Shigemasa later also learned from the famous calligrapher Shōkadō Shōjō [松花堂昭乗, 1584-1639]), and the two developed their own calligraphic style named Ōhashi-ryū (大橋流). Shigemasa became Tokugawa Iemitsu’s yūhitsu at the young age of 14. Two years later, he already had to succeed his retiring father as head of the Ōhashi family and estates. In Keian two (慶安, 1649), four years after his father had passed, Shigemasa donated nine koku of his annual income to the Kūjō-ji (空乗寺) in Kugenuma, the temple he was then buried in Kanbun twelve (1672) at the young age of 55.

So, back to the sword in question, and a few thoughts. The date the order was placed makes it quite likely that Ōhashi Shigeyasu had approached Dewa Daijō Kunimichi to celebrate the birth of his first born son Shigemasa. Also we have learned that Shigeyasu entertained a decent sword collection, so we can assume that was into swords beyond the mere fact of being a samurai and hatamoto. Thus, it is possible that he had some more blades commissioned, which are either no longer extant or just somewhere out there. In this sense, I would be very interested in seeing other early Edo period blades that bear the name Ōhashi in their mei.

Well, then there is this odd pen name Shōsetsunyū (松節入) in the inscription. At such an infant age, Shigemasa certainly did not use a pen name. So what are we facing here? Disclaimer: I am not 100% about the correct reading of this name/supplement, and away from the library, I could not find any solid leads online. Now there is the term shōsetsu (松節), lit. “pine knot,” which refers to the knot a pine forms after an injury or a pest infection. Medicine made from these knots is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine since earliest time, e.g., to ease joint pain and rheumatism. Then there is also the term setsu-iri (節入り), lit. “entering the time/season,” which marks the beginning of each month on the lunar calendar.

So, does the term Shōsetsunyū/Shōsetsu-iri (松節入) have to be taken literally as “entering the pine season”? Or, with the last character iri (入り) being taken by its other meaning “containing,” should the interpretation be “containing/having pine knots”? Did baby Shigemasa suffer from some kind of (skin) desease and the blade with this explicit inscription was ordered by his father as a form of prayer for recovery? Perhaps, and what I currently tend more towards to, Shōsetsunyū/Shōsetsu-iri is some rare period term that refers to a certain age/passage in an infant’s life, like for example, when the child has survived its first year and has been out of the woods so to speak. Hence, the order for the blade a little bit after Shigemasa was born? Following this approach, the interpretation of the inscription could be: “For Ōhashi Shigemasa, who has entered the ‘pine season’!”

If you are still with me, there is a reason for why I researched and wrote this lengthy post, and that is to point out, once again, how fruitful studying Japanese swords can be, studies which can bring you far beyond just hamon here and jigane there. And, if possible, I am of the opinion that every collector who has a sword with a chūmon-mei or shoji-mei should absolutely research it (or have it researched). It might come with some very interesting insights and historic context as seen here.

“Mysterious” Art Name

The Tsuchiya School artist Takechika (武親, 1827-1887) is known for having used a fair number of art names (, 号). From various sources, I was able to confirm at least the following 15, not counting first names and honorary titles: Issai (一斎), Gen ́ichi (玄一), Sōryūshi (蒼龍子), Takuetsudō (卓越堂), Renshinsai (錬心斎), Sensai (宣斎), Kakeisai (花鏡斎), Shima (司馬), Shimahiko (司馬彦), Keisan (馨山), Kyūraku (窮楽), Renbeiseisha (錬兵精舎), Tōma (刀馬), Shōyōken (逍遙軒), and Shōyōkyo (逍遙居).

Now I came across a fuchigashira set by Takechika on a Hozon papered tantō-koshirae, which is signed “Takechika tsukuru” (武親造, “made by Takechika”) and which bears a mysterious, and what appears to be an unrecorded for this artist. Before I introduce the very piece, I would like to point out that in written Japanese, an empty box (▢) acts as a placeholder for an unidentifiable/illegible characte. That is, we often see this in papers where parts of a sword’s signature are lost, e.g., due to corrosion or because a mekugi-ana was added.

As you can see in the picture above, the inscribed on the right side of the fuchi’s lid is ▢◯斎. Of course, the artist did not sign himself with a placeholder empty box for his own art name, so the first two “characters” of this have to be understood as a rebus. This brings us to the million-dollar question: How to read this art name?

Well, “box” or “square” is kaku (角) in Japanese, and a “circle” is maru (丸). So, one possibility could be that this art name reads Kakumarusai (which is, as the experts will point out, a so-called jūbako-yomi [重箱読み], a mixed Chinese and Japanese reading of a two-character combination). Well, the maru character for “circle” is gan in its Sino-Japanese reading, so maybe the proper reading of the is Kakugansai?

Another approach would be to pick a different Japanese character for “round” – (円) – which also reads maru, but which has the Sino-Japanese reading en. With this, the would read Kaku’ensai, and I personally tend towards this reading for the time being as it sounds more elegant than Kakugansai and Kakumarusai.

Oddities/rarities in datings

In my previous update on the discontinuation of my translation/research service, I announced that the articles engine here will restart soon. That is, shortly, I will begin with a series titled meiburi (銘振り). The term meiburi means “signature style,” and as some of you may know, I am kind of “obsessed” with signatures that have a particular artistic value, may it be in terms of choice of a specific style or in a mere calligraphic sense.

Before this series begins, as a warm up so to speak, I would like to introduce two examples of oddities/rarities in datings. As many of you know, the character for four, Japanese yon/shi (四), can also be expressed via just four strokes (亖・二二). On swords and sword fittings, these four strokes are usually arranged similar to a watch dial. As this watch dial form is, to my knowledge, not available in any computable form, I will show it via a picture below, as character (picture 1), and the way it is signed on a sword (picture 2).

Picture 1: Character four as four strokes.

Picture 2: Date “Keiō yon tsuchinoe-tatsudoshi hachigatsu kichijitsu” (慶應二二戊辰歳八月吉日) – “On a lucky day in the eighth month of Keiō four (1868), year of the dragon.”

Now, this replacement of the character for four through four strokes is actually quite common. However, it can also be done for the character for five, Japanese go (五), although this is extremely rare and I have only seen it maybe twice in my entire career. In picture 3, I would like present such a rare example. It is a katana by swordsmith Horii Taneyoshi (堀井胤吉, 1821-1903) which is signed and dated: “Ōmi no Kuni Taneyoshi – Bunkyū ni inudoshi gogatsu” (近江國胤吉・文久二戌年五月) – “Taneyoshi from Ōmi province, in the fifth month of Bunkyū two (1862), year of the dog.” Again, this variant of the character for five is not computable, so I will highlight it in picture 4.

Picture 3: Katana by Horii Taneyoshi.

Picture 4: Character five as five strokes.

This brings us to the second and last example for this brief post. As many of my readers will know as well, some of the primitive Japanese (and of course Chinese) characters are pictograms, that is, highly stylized and simplified pictures of material objects. Most prominent examples are the crescent moon turning into the character (月) for month, and the sun into the character (日) for day.

Dates of Japanese swords and sword fittings usually follow the syntax: “X year of Nengō era, Y month, Z day.” As it takes more than a day to make/finish a Japanese sword, smiths often omitted the day and ended their dates with “a lucky day in the Y month” or just “on a day in the Y month,” unless the very day marks a special occasion, etc., but this is a topic for another article.

In picture 5, I would like to present an example of a date where the smith, Hirochika (弘近) from Mito in Hitachi province (who moved later in his career to Musashi province), replaced the characters for month and day again with the moon and the sun (detail see picture 6).

Picture 5: Katana, signed and dated: “Jōyō Suifu-jū Hozumi Hirochika – An’ei rokunen nigatsu hi” (常陽水府住穂積弘近)” – Hozumi Hirochika, resident of Mito in Hitachi province, in a day in the second month of An’ei six (1777).

Picture 6: Detail of characters for month (月) and day (日) being replaced by the moon and sun respectively.

Update: Translation Service Discontinued

I put that decision off for a while now, but in order to focus on my work with the Met, which is going into its third year now, and first of all, in order to finish so long overdue legacy projects like the Tosogu Classroom, Gendaito Project, and unfinished private translation projects, I will discontinue all translation/research service as per September of 2020. This adds “another September” to my personal timeline, i.e., I started to study Japanese in September of 1998, I started my business in September of 2008, and I joined the Met in September of 2018…

Now I will only close this chapter, for now, and surely not the entire book, so I will be around of course, and the halted service will not affect any ongoing ventures, e.g., work for societies like the American and European branches of the NBTHK and the Japanese Armor Society and work for collectors/dealers I am in touch with for so many years.

Well, the decision has not been an easy one, but as those who have tried to reach me in the past couple of years will be able to tell you, service has not been up to the standard that it used to be, at least not from the point of view of reply/turnaround time.

I want to keep this PSA very brief, no tears involved, and end with a positive side effect of this inevitable decision: The halted service will allow me to restart the articles engine here on my blog, and there is already some interesting stuff in the pipeline.

In this sense, I sincerely want to thank all of you who supported my work over all these years! Without you, guys and girls, my humble work in such a small niche as merely translating/researching/writing on the topic of Japanese arms and armor without dealing any would not have been possible!

Thick Arnold accent on: “I’ll be back!”

Humble tsuba, big context

Another “mystery piece” in the collection of the Department of Arms and Armor at The Met.

Made by Gotō Ichijō (後藤一乗, 1791-1876) in Kōka three (弘化, 1846) per special order, it is decorated with a couplet (平生未報恩・留作忠魂補) by the Ming Dynasty court official and Confucianist Yang Jisheng (楊継盛, 1516-1555), and a poem by Kawaji Saemon no Jō Toshiakira (川路左衛門尉聖謨, 1801-1868), one of the signers of the Treaty of Shimoda in 1854, whose name is also inscribed on the tsuba.

Kawaji, who was paralyzed on one side of the body after a stroke he had right after retiring in 1863, committed suicide when the Shogunate fell in 1868. He shot himself with a pistol, according to period records because he felt committing tradional seppuku with a sword would have been “unsightly” due to his paralysis.

Stay tuned for the full story.

Sword Guard (Tsuba)

Sword Guard (Tsuba)

Tsuba, signed: Gotō Hokkyō Ichijō + kaō – Koretoki Kōka san umadoshi natsu ōju saku (後藤法橋一乗「花押」・于時弘化三午年夏應需作) – “Made by Gotō Hokkyō Ichijō on request in summer of Kōka three (1846), year of the horse; Gift of Herman A. E. and Paul C. Jaehne, 1943; 43.120.940



Yang Jisheng (楊継盛, 1516-1555)


Kawaji Saemon no Jō Toshiakira (川路左衛門尉聖謨, 1801-1868)




Ningen-Mukotsu (人間無骨)

This time I would like to talk about a peculiar nickname for a sword, Ningen-Mukotsu (人間無骨), which translates as “humans have no bones.” I have come across this topic recently twice, the first time because the Department of Arms and Armor at The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns a sword that is inscribed with this nickname, and the second time whilst doing research on another sword that has this inscription inlaid in gold (kinzōgan), but let’s start with the former.

The blade in question is a naginata-naoshi with an ō-kissaki and an overall quite magnificent sugata which is inscribed on the omote side “Kaneuji age” (兼氏上ヶ) and on the ura side “Ningen-Mukotsu.” So, at first glance, it appears that we are facing here an ō-suriage blade by Shizu Saburō Kaneuji which someone had either shortened and the original maker plus the information that it was shortened recorded, or appraised it as a shortened work of Kaneuji. Be that as it may, the blade is not a work of Kaneuji but a shinshintō work, most likely by Kurihara Nobuhide (栗原信秀, 1815-1880), or by another smith from the Kiyomaro School. 




Picture 1: naginata-naoshi katana, nagasa 68.4 cm, sori 1.9 cm; bequest of George C. Stone, 1935; 36.25.1676a–c


The second one is a shinshintō Naminohira (波平) katana that was once worn by a member of the famous Shinsengumi, Ōishi Kuwajirō (大石鍬次郎, 1838-1870) which is currently with Nihonto Australia – Samurai Gallery Australia. Apart from the nickname in question, the provenance of the blade was once inlaid in gold (kinzōgan) and was confirmed recently by a descendant of Ōishi Kuwajirō.

That all said, I would like to introduce the background of this nickname, or to be precise, its two alleged backgrounds.

The first starts with Oda Nobunaga (織田信長, 1534-1582). One day, Nobunaga was witnessing one of his retainers testing his Osafune Kiyomitsu (長船清光) katana on a criminal. The sword was cutting through the body so well as if the poor guy “had no bones” whereupon Nobunaga literally had the sword confiscated to wear it himself, giving it the nickname Ningen-Mukotsu. Nobunaga then have the sword to his son Nobukatsu (織田信雄, 1558-1630) who subsequently gave it to his fourth son Nobuyoshi (織田信良, 1584-1626). The young Nobuyoshi managed to survive the downfall of the Toyotomi, the Battle of Sekigahara, the establishment of the Tokugawa Shōgunate, and the Battle of Ōsaka, and was eventually installed as daimyō of the Obata fief (小幡藩) in Kōzuke province. This lineage of the Oda family that handed down the sword changed fiefs two times throughout the Edo period, that is, in Meiwa four (明和, 1767) from the Obata to the Takahata fief (高畠藩) in Dewa province, and in Tenpō one (天保, 1830) from the Takahata to the Tendō fief (天童藩), which was also located in Dewa. The last trace we have of this sword is the report of a bakumatsu-era samurai named Komatsubara Jinzaemon (小松原甚左衛門) from the northern Morioka fief (盛岡藩) who was a tameshigiri student of the Yamada Asaemon (山田浅右衛門) family of sword testers and who stated that he had seen it with his own eyes. After that, the trail went cold.


Picture 2: Oda Nobunaga


Picture 3: Oda Nobukatsu


The second origin story of the nickname Ningen-Mukotsu is more tangible, and is, although loosely, also connected to Oda Nobunaga. This story, which is quite brutal, goes back to Mori Nagayoshi (森長可, 1558-1584) who became a retainer of Nobunaga at the age of 13. Four years into his service, Nagayoshi entered his first battle for Nobunaga which was against one of the Ikkō-ikki groups that the latter tried to wipe out. Nagayoshi was wielding a jūmonji-yari by Izumi no Kami Kanesada (和泉守兼定, No-Sada). Legend has it that he decapitated 27 enemies with this yari. That is, Nagayoshi allegedly stabbed the enemies in the throat and kept pushing until the crossbars of the yari decapitated the person. After that, he had the words Ningen and Mukotsu engraved on the base element (kerakubi) of the yari because, well, it really appeared that his enemies didn’t have bones when he cut through them. Now Mori Nagayoshi fought many more battles and was so ruthless that he was nicknamed “The Devil” (Oni, 鬼) That is, his honorary title was that of Musashi no Kami, so they called him Oni-Musashi (鬼武蔵). 


Picture 4: Mori Nagayoshi



Picture 5: Sankin-kōtai procession (please note the spear bearers).

Now the jūmonji-yari was handed down within the Mori family and it is said that every time the family had to proceed to Edo in course of the sankin-kōtai system, they were proudly showing off that yari during the procession. In this course, the spear became pretty famous and was published in several of the most widely circulating period sword books. For example, the Honchō Kaji Kō (本朝鍛冶考) from 1796 and the Kokon Kaji Bikō (古今鍛冶備考) from 1816. Incidentally, one day an outpost storehouse used by travelling members of the Mori family burned down, with the Ningen-Mukotsu yari allegedly in it. However, it was reported that a replica was carried on processions and that the real yari has always been stored safely in the castle of the fiefdom…


Picture 6: Honchō Kaji Kō, 1796


Picture 7: Kokon Kaji Bikō, 1816


Picture 8: The Ningen-Mukotsu jūmonji-yari

In 1940, the Ningen-Mukotsu yari was exhibited at the Yūshūkan Museum with the credit line “owned by Viscount Mori Toshinari (森俊成, 1887-1956).” Toshinari was then a member of parliament and belonged to a sideline of the Mori that had branched off at the end of the 17th century when the clan was removed from its Tsuyama fief (津山藩) in Mimasaka province and relocated to the Nishiebara fief (西江原藩) in Bitchū province. That is, Toshinari was initially from the Seki (関) family, but got adopted by the tenth generation of that Mori sideline, obviously somehow ending up with the Ningen-Mukotsu yari.


Picture 9: Viscount Mori Toshinari


Unfortunately, I was unable to find information on the current owner of the yari, apart from that it is in private hands. It also has to be mentioned, as indicated, that several historic replicas, and more or less faithful copies of this piece exist, some of them were made on orders of the Mori family, others just on the basis of the pictures featured in the said publications. For example, one replica was ordered by the Mori to be given as an offering to the Ōishi-jinja (大石神社) in Akō, the fief the family ruled from 1706 until the end of the Edo period. 


Picture 10: Copy of the Ningen-Mukotsu yari by the local smith Noriyuki, signed: “Akō-jū Noriyuki gojūissai kitae-utsushi – Tenpō yon mi nigatsu kichijitsu” (赤穂住則之五十一歳鍛写・天保四巳二月吉日) – “Copied by Noriyuki, resident of Akō, on a lucky day in the second month of Tenpō four (1833), year of the snake, at the age of 51.”

In conclusion I would like to point out that apart from these copies, the nickname also made it over to swords, as the Shinsengumi example has shown. In the context of swords, the name Ningen-Mukotsu does not refer to the famous yari but to cutting ability in general. I have introduced some of such references a while back here.

Who “wore” it better?

This time, I would like to introduce two tsuba from the collection of the Met, which share the same motif and which are interpreted in a very similar manner, both made by artisans from Mito, former Hitachi province. It is evident at first glance that both tsuba are very late works, dating to the Meiji era, and can be placed, in terms of style, within a trend which is referred to as hamamono (浜物). The broader context of hamamono should be omitted here, but being close to the source so to speak, I want to quote from Ogawa Morihiro’s (小川盛弘) catalog Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156–1868:

Appreciated as ornaments and paperweights, hamamono are often decorated with fanciful designs in fine inley. (The term “hamamono” probably derives from the fact that most of them were exported from Yokohama.) Most hamamono tsuba are inscribed with the names of great Edo-period sword fittings makers, such as Yokoya Sōmin, Nara Toshinaga, Tsuchiya Yasuchika, Hamano Shozui, and Ishiguro Masatsune, but their style of manufacture suggests that they were more likely made by Mito artisans, such as Okawa Teiken [sic] and the metalworkers of the Edo Hamano group. Although large numbers of hamamono can be found in American and European collections, there are comparatively few in Japan,suggesting that they were made largely for export.

One detail in this quote, the reference to Mito artisans, brings us back to the tsuba introduced here. The first one (see picture 1) is signed: “Zuiryūken Hidetomo” (随柳軒英友). And the second tsuba (see picture 2) is signed: “Suifu-jūnin Ichiryūken Shujin kizamu/koku” (水府住人・一柳軒主人刻) – “Carved by Ichiryūken Shujin, resident of Mito.”



Picture 1: Tsuba; H. 3 1/2 in. (8.9 cm); W. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm); thickness 3/8 in. (1 cm); Wt. 7.1 oz. (201.3 g); bequest of Edward G. Kennedy, 1932; 33.40.16



Picture 2: Tsuba; H. 3 7/16 in. (8.7 cm); W. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm); thickness 3/8 in. (1 cm); Wt. 7.4 oz. (209.8 g); H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929; 29.100.964


Now consulting Haynes, we find the first maker listed as follows:


The second maker, however, is a little bit of a mystery. Haynes interprets the suffix shujin in a literal way, meaning “lord/master,” which is understandable. Full quote below.


I did some very superficial digging, no in-depth research, but found a person who might have been behind this art name, i.e., the “full” art name in the form of Ichiryūken Shujin, and that is because of the local connection. The Ibaraki Prefectural Library namely holds a publication titled Meiji Kyōiku Kawa Dai 1 Shū (明治教育佳話・第1集, Good Stories From Meiji-era Education – Volume 1), which was compiled by a certain Ichiryūken Shujin with the very same name. Now the library adds in parenthesis the real name of this person, Shimonō Shigeyasu (下生成安), and here the aforementioned local connection comes into play.

This Shimonō Shigeyasu was from Hitachi, and coincidentally, from the same town of Kashima (鹿島) as Kajihei from my previous article here. In other words, he was a “Mito guy,” Mito only being 30 miles from Kashima. Shigeyasu was born in Ansei five (安政, 1858). According to the Ibaraki Kyōikuka Ryakuden (茨城県教育家略伝, 1894), his father was a Confucianist and his mother was from the Shimonō family that held an important hereditary religious post at the Kashima Shrine. His maternal grandfather, a Shintō priest, was Shimonō Shigenobu (下生成信, 1804-1879), who is said to have had a chivalrous spirit and settled many violent disputes of local rōnin, proudly wearing a sword with a red-lacquer saya. Do we see here a hint of a connection to sword fittings?

Well, Shigeyasu was a teacher, school principal, and an important figure in the local education system of the Meiji era. He published a few books on this topic and also worked for a while for the Ministry of Education. Now the million-dollar question: Is this our man? Did Shimonō Shigeyasu study with a local kinkō artist and then made tsuba as a pastime (or as a side job) under the pseudonym Ichiryūken Shujin?

When you take a closer look at picture 2, you could argue that the tsuba has indeed a certain “crude” character (punches towards the bottom that represent shade, not very uniform and aesthetically pleasing concentric engravings on the upper left and right that represent the texture of the tea kettle, also not really uniform greek key pattern along the lid of the kettle, crude nakago-ana recess, etc.) which would support the approach of facing an amateur work here. However, you could also argue that the majority of hamano is not really sophisticated in general, and the slight “crudeness” of this tsuba does not necessarily mean it was made by a teacher on his weekends.

That said, there is a certain number of Ichiryūken works out there, mostly represented in Western collections (also see Ron’s thread on the NMB here). So, if these are works of Shimonō Shigeyasu, it is safe to assume that he was running that tsuba-making venture as a side job rather than a hobby. Or, this all is just a coincidence, and there is no connection between the Mito-based tsuba maker Ichiryūken, who signed with the supplement shujin, and the also Mito-based teacher Shimonō Shigeyasu who used the very same art name combo Ichiryūken Shujin…

Anyway, I would like to conclude with the actual motif of the two tsuba introduced here, a motif which is referred to as bunbuku-chagama (分福茶釜・文福茶釜), “The Magic Tea Kettle.” This is a folktale about a shapeshifting tanuki (raccoon dog); the tale has its origins at Morin-ji (茂林寺) Temple in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture. There are different variants of this folktale but the bones of it concern Shukaku (守鶴), an old and wise monk who, in the late 1500s served several successive abbots of the Morin-ji. Shukaku was in possession of a magic tea kettle which was never empty despite having been filled only once, even at a large New Year’s banquet where tea was made for a huge crowd. Later, another monk peeked into Shukaku’s room when the old monk was taking a nap and he saw that Shukaku had a tanuki tail. So, the monks learned that their colleague was actually a tanuki who had transformed into a monk and that the capacity of the kettle arose in the magic powers of the tanuki. Shukaku had to leave the temple. Later this legend turned into a folktale about a monk who bought a tea kettle and set it over the fire to boil water, only to see it sprout tanuki legs, and run away. In another variant of the story, the tanuki does not run away but returns into its transformed state as a kettle. The shocked monk decides to leave the tea kettle as an offering to the temple where he lives, choosing not to use it for tea again.

That should do it for today, enjoy the two tsuba introduced here, and an article on a gory reference to the cutrting ability of a sword found on a few blades should follow shortly.