Easter eBook Super Sale III


I just started, like last year and the year before, an Easter eBook Super Sale where ALL of my eBooks are reduced by 50%! This offer will be valid for until the day after Easter Monday (4/18) 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 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

Theodor von Lerch

I have said this several times: Delving into the world of nihontô makes you aware of parts of Japanese history you probably wouldn’t have thought about, ever. Looking for something in particular in my files the other day, I came across a translation/research I did seven years ago.

So this is the background: I was approached by a friend of mine from Bavaria who knows someone who owns a Japanese sword in shirasaya that has an inscription, i.e. a sayagaki. Obviously I was asked to translate the sayagaki but I have to admit, it can’t provide any pics here because I got the inquiry via real physical photos and I never scanned or copied them before they were returned.

Anyway, I don’t remember if the blade was signed or attributed but it was a work of Sa Akikuni (左顕国), a student of master Sa Yasuyoshi (左安吉) who was active in the early years of the Ôei era (応永, 1394-1428) and who had moved from Chikuzen to Nagato province. So his name was noted in the sayagaki and was followed by the following inscrtiption:


Tei ôkoku sanken chûsa Reruhi-kun.
Present to Lieutenant Colonal Lerch from Austria.


Now translating the brief dedication was not very difficult of couse but having a katakana transcription of a Western name that is just of three syllables made me doubt about finding anything on this person. However, I am from Austria too so I became ambitious about who he was. The age of the shirasaya and writing style of the sayagaki seemed to be Meiji, what would have been a match with my initial assumption that the person might have been one of the so-called oyatoi gaikokujin (御雇い外国人), a foreign government advisor in Meiji Japan. Next and always the first step, just google the name on Japanese Google, and well, just throwing in the katakana レルヒ already came back with a hit: Not a oyatoi gaikokujin but I was not that off. He was an official coming to Japan a little bit later than the oyatoi gaikokujin, Lieutenant Colonel Theodor Edler von Lerch (1869-1945), the guy who was the first to properly introduce the art of skiing to Japan, in 1911. Wow! So he was presented with a sword in Japan, obviously took it home, and it would be interesting to know how it ended up in Bavaria. 

I will provide some links for further reading on my fellow countryman below because I don’t want to rehash. I just thought it would be interesting to post this little anecote on my blog after stumbling upon this seven years old research of mine the other day.

Picture 1: Theodor Edler von Lerch in 1911 in Jôetsu, Japan.

Picture 2: The two bronze statues of Lerch in Japan, one at the Kanayasan Ski Resort (left) and one at Asahikawa Airport (right).

Picture 3: The local Lerch mascot at Kanayasan 😉


As mentioned, isn’t it fascinating what you come across by dealing with Japanese swords? That way, I had to dive into the world and history of Japanese barbershops, ramen noodles, sake brewing, weird delicacies served at a tea ceremony, the Portuguese entering the Indian Ocean, pirates, the entire Silk Road, the development of howitzers, the anatomy of skeletons of certain fish, and so much more. What a fruitful job and activity!




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

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

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

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

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

Genealogy Nobukuni School


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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



Just back from my Europe trip (details on that will follow later), I launched my announced crowdfunding campaign for the GENDAITO PROJECT. Goal is $15,000 what is needed to make, maintain, update, and first of all feed the free online database with more than thousand entries for smiths and thousands of pictures. As seen on the indiegogo campaign site, there are perks, i.e. if you donate a certain amount to the project, you will get a goodie like eBooks and books of mine of choice, the finished Gendaito book, a good deal for my three-volume Japanese Swordsmiths set, and thanks to a donation of my dear friend Bobby, I have 5 nice little tsuba as giveaways too (as long as they last of course)!

I thank you all for your support and with the literally thousands of references I have received over the last two years, the GENDAITO PROJECT will become the greatest online reference/database on Gendaito and WWII smiths, provided that I can reach my goal! Again, thank you so much in advance!


Update: Indiegogo only accepts PayPal donations if the campaign is raising  funds in AUD. However, I would be happy to accept direct PayPal donations to “markus.sesko@gmail.com”, with all the options for perks as offered on indiegogo of course 🙂







I was asked relatively early on in my path of providing translations for and writing books on Japanese swords to produce something on gendaitô. I then always promised to do so but kept postponing such a project, on the one hand because I was so occupied with providing information on older swords, i.e. kotô, shintô, and shinshintô, and on the other hand because I did not yet have an idea about how to tackle this topic in the first place. Several relevant books had been published that deal with the post-Meiji sword world and the most important smiths of that era so I didn’t want to ruminate and write the same thing just with other words. Listening to inquiries I get on a regular basis on gendaitô however, it emerged that what was mostly needed was information on these smiths and references of their work. Thus I decided that when I am tackling the topic gendaitô, it should be more a database with CV’s of swordsmiths etc. rather than a history book.

In this sense, I started to collect gendaitô-related data and announced on several platforms, e.g. my website and the Nihonto Message Board, that I was looking for relevant references. This was in summer of 2014. Planned was a book that introduces in an alphabetical order as many as possible gendaitô smiths but then throughout 2015 and up to early 2016, I had received so much data that I started to think of a two-pronged approach. In other words, there is no way to fit all these gigabytes into a single physical book and I also didn’t want to have important references rot on my HD. Thus a comprehensive online database suggested itself which is easy to extend and which also allows corrections and amendments whenever new data comes in.

Long story short, there still will be a book (and an eBook) that lists all the gendaitô smiths I have in my records so far and what is known on each of them (as mentioned, as comprehensive as possible). There will be references in the form of oshigata and blade pictures and also portrait photos of some of the smiths will be provided. Parallel to that, I want to create the mentioned online database which should look something like seen here and here. For doing so, I need funds to cover the time necessary to feed the database over the coming months and to maintain it in the years to come. I thought that the database should be free and accessible for everyone who is looking for relevant information and that is why I decided to tackle this is a one-time crowdfunding instead of a pay to play or an individual subcription approach. And this is why I need your help to create the most comprehensive database on gendaitô smiths and to preserve information on them for future generations!

I am leaving for Europe this Thursday to work on a museum project and as soon as I get back, I will start an indiegogo.com crowdfunding for the Gendaito Project. There will be giveaways and perks for donations, for example eBooks and books of mine of choice, the finished Gendaito book, and even some tsuba for those who want to contribute a little more. So please stay tuned and share with your gendaitô friends that the campaigns is going to launch around March 1. Thank you!


Coming up later this year… Its based on the questions I receive on a daily basis translating sword stuff for now 12 years and doing it professionally and full time for almost 10 years. Aim is to give a basic guideline on the Japanese sword, not much technical talk, not going into great detail about kantei, schools, workmanships, and styles, just to provide an orientation guide for those brand new into the subject, to provide a solid basic knowledge from where to proceed (or not). Thus it will be an inexpensive paper-back, nothing fancy, just tips and stuff from my own experience.
How was the Japanese sword made and why was/is it made that way? What different sword forms do exist, how were they classified, and how do we classify them today? What are all these sword forms like tachi, uchigatana, sashizoe, koshigatana, chiisagatana, tantô, naginata, nagamaki, etc. and why did they emerge? Why are there “art swords,” or rather, what makes a sword an “art sword”? How were swords evaluated and appraised in the past and how is it done today? How and why were all these lists of swordsmiths (meikan) compiled? How do all the past and present swordsmith rankings work and why is there such a thing? How are swords certified/appraised today, i.e. what to do when you want to get papers for your sword and/or have your sword restored. How to recognize fake swords and practical tips for the online sword world. How to study swords hands on and how to get involved in clubs and associations? Tips for collecting or for starting a collection…

Outlook 2017

Well, 2016 passed quickly and this is gonna be an outlook for 2017. As for myself, 2016 was very busy and also what I would consider successful, although it felt like “bit off more than I could chew” over many months. As far as trips are concerned, I met some old friends and great folks in Florence in February, so in Orlando in June, and had a great meeting with sword friends in New York in November just recently. Talking about trips and meetings for the coming year, I will be in Berlin in February (therefore I can’t make it to Tampa, sorry) and maybe I can manage it to attend the Nihonto-Club meeting taking place around that time, what would be really great, followed by a lecture I give at a Michigan university in April and I will be at the Chicago Sword Show at the end of that month. I will also be in Orlando again and this time, I really want to make it to SF in August. Also Japan and the DTI are overdue after skipping a few years.

Before we continue, I want to point out that my friend Joachim from the Nihonto-Club Germany is going to have his entire collection available online with hi-res pics of the blades. The site is work-in-progress at the moment and an English version will be available down the road. The link is: 


Regarding translations and ongoing/upcoming projects, first of all, I want to have out the second Fukushi volume as soon as possible and finish the series by the end of the year (as mentioned in the announcements of the societies/clubs). I’m both happy and relieved when this epitome of a standard work on sword fittings is completed and I ask for your patience as this here is still a one-man-show (except of course for tireless Grey who is correcting my bad English).

As far as my own projects are concerned, I have mentioned before here on my site and on other occasions: The Gendaito Project is still going strong and I have received an abundance of references throughout the year. As this all is not gonna fit in any physical book, there will be a two-pronged approach: 1) A book, of course, but which will focus on an as comprehensive as possible list of gendaitô swordsmiths and their biographies. 2) Prior to publishing, I will start a crowdfunding because I don’t want to have all the references I received rot on my HD. That is, I want to create a freely accessible online database that contains on the one hand all the stuff from my book and on the other hand concrete references for all the smiths (i.e. oshigata, blade pics, etc). Also, this online database approach is easy to update. So whenever new references or new info comes in, I will update the corresponding entries accordingly. This all takes quite some time and a continuous effort and that’s why I need to have this crowdfunded but I will make an annoucement when I have a minute of peace and when everything is ready to go. That all is planned before the release of the book so if you are donating a small amount to the project, you will get some kind of goodie and from a certain amount on you will receive the book of course. You get the idea.

Last but not least, what I want to start in 2017, and what goes hand in hand with the ongoing Kantei series (i.e. I get constantly asked about when I will published the series in book form), is what I would consider as a “mini Taikan series.” That means, I want to publish specific books on certain artists and schools, both in terms of swords and sword fittings, and which will all have to same layout. In other words, I want to create something like a humble sword and sword fittings library where everyone can pick the specific school or artist he wants. So you can build up the entire library or just get the ones you need. That’s why I’m going to have this out as b/w paperbacks so that the venture is not going to become (again) some steep investment. Keeping it real and affordable so to speak. The library will not be tackled on chronologically. I will start with the more famous schools and smiths/artists and then fill in the gaps down the road.

I have some other stuff up my sleeves but the above mentioned points should do it for the time being. In this sense, I wish all my (sword) friends and readers a good start into a hopefully healthy and succcessful 2017! Looking very much foward to an exciting year in this world of Nihontô 🙂


Kasuga-taisha sword findings polished

Wataru Hara-san just shared this Yomiuri Online article (link here) on FB and I thought I have to process this for my readers. In 1939, nine swords were discovered under the ceiling of the Kasuga-taisha treasure house during repair measures. Three of them were mounted as plain period kokushitsu no tachi (黒漆太刀). I don’t have any pictures of these swords but their koshirae probably looks something like shown below.



Now the blades were all rusted, of course, but in course of last year’s shikinen-zôtai (式年造替), the rebuilding of the sanctuary that only takes place every 20 years, it was decided to have three of them polished, I guess the three most promising ones. The shikinen-zôtai was finished in November this year by the way. So the three blades were given to ningen-kokuhô polisher Hon’ami Kôshû (本阿弥光洲) and they obviously turned out great as the Yomiuri Online article is speaking of “kokuhô and jûyô-bunkazai level swords.” Two of the sword are mumei but attributed to Ko-Bizen and one is signed Kuniyoshi (国吉). It is a work of Enju Kuniyoshi. Not sure if there are more pics behind the Yomiuri Online premium paywall so I also have just the one seen in the link but as Hara-san pointed out on FB, the prominent ha-machi suggests that this blade is in an extraordinarily healthy condition! It measures impressive 106.8 cm in total. Will let you know if I read more about this blades in the future.

Nidai Oku Motohira

Over the years, I have seen several inscriptions on sword tangs that refer to the use of a special supplements/raw materials used for making the blade. Most well-known supplement is of course nanban-tetsu (南蛮鉄) but others I have come across are for example old temple nails, old ship nails, old temple bells, and steel from the battleship Mikasa (三笠) as pointed out here by Arnold, just to name a few. I don’t want to go into detail about the availability/shortage of raw materials or the various reasons for incorporating other steels to make a sword. This time I want to introduce two swords with a very interesting inscription about the supplement that was used but first I want to start with the smith.

We are talking about the 2nd generation Oku Motohira (奥元平, 1833-1905). Motohira was born into a lineage of swordsmiths that worked for the Satsuma fief since the 1640s and if you start counting from their ancestor, Tadakiyo (忠清), then Motohira II was the 7th generation of that lineage. Now his grandfather, Oku Motohira I (1744-1826), was the most famous master of the Oku family of swordsmiths and when his son Motohiro (元寛), i.e. Motohira II’s father, died young and unexpectedly in Tenpô 14 (天保, 1843), the then only ten years old Motohira II was nominally declared head of the family. He was trained by the 2nd generation Motoyasu (元安, 1793-?) who was the son of his grandfather’s younger brother Motoyasu I. Well, there are many unclear points when it comes to the career of the 2nd generation Motohira. Swords of him are rare and dated ones are even more rare, but I know of at least two blades dated Keiô three (慶応, 1867) and one from Meiji 30 (明治, 1897) which will be introduced in this article. He signed in his early years with Motomitsu (元光) but I haven’t come across a blade signed that way yet, neither one that bears his Ju’an (寿安) under which he entered priesthood in his late years. Anyway, he was 34 years old in Keiô three and thus it is safe to assume that he already had been active at least 15 or so years at that time, assuming that he started his profession in his late teens, i.e. somewhere shortly after 1850. In Meiji 30 he was 64 years old and he died eight years later, in Meiji 38 (1905) at the age of 73. When it comes to his employers, Motohira II has actively experienced the rule of the last three Satsuma daimyô who were Shimazu Narioki (島津斉興, 1791-1859) who ruled from 1809 to 1851, Shimazu Nariakira (島津斉彬, 1809-1858) who ruled from 1851 to 1858, and Shimazu Tadayoshi (島津忠義, 1840-1897) who ruled from 1858 to 1871. He also witnessed the career of Tadayoshi’s son Prince Shimazu Tadashige (島津忠重, 1886-1968) who became a rear admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy and also that much of the ruling/upper class of his fief dominated the new Meiji government.

Anyway, now to the sword, or rather the swords, and why I wrote this post because the supplement that was used to make them is quite interesting. The first one (see picture 1, blade pictures courtesy of e-sword.jp) is signed the following way:

Satsuyô Oku Motohira (薩陽奥元平)
Seishin no yaku Meiji nijûhachinen ichigatsu Ikaie ni oite Kakakushi-hôrui ni eta nijûyon-senchi tsutsu no hen o motte kono katana o kitaru en (征清之役明治廿八年一月於威海衛鹿角嘴堡塁以所獲之廿四珊礮片鍛此刀焉) – “This blade was made by using a fragment of a 24 cm howitzer that was obtained from the Fort Lujiazui Battery of the Battle of Weihaiwei during the Sino-Japanese War of 1895.”


Picture 1: katana, Oku Motohira II, nagasa 63.6 cm, sori 0.9 cm

And the second blade (see picture 2) is signed the very same way, except from that we have here an actual date when it was made, which was the fifth month of Meiji 30 (1897), when Motohira was 65 years old, and also we have here a reference to where it was made (the otherwise identical signature omitted):

Meiji sanjûnen gogatsu Iso Shûsei-jo ni oite (明治卅年五月於磯集成所, “fifth month of 1897 at the Shûsei place in Iso”)


Picture 2: katana, Oku Motohira II, nagasa 70.7 cm, sori 1.4 cm

The Battle of Weihaiwei is dealt with in detail in Wikipedia so I am not goint to ruminate it here. Interesting is that we have actual artistic reference to and photographic evidence of what is stated on the two nakago. As mentioned in the Wikipedia article, the Chinese troops were defending their fortifications for about nine hours before abandoning them largely intact. However, several of these forts were seriously devastated as historic photographs show. The Fort Lujiazui Battery (in period Western publications often quoted as Lukeutsuy) was equipped with four 24 cm Krupp coastal howitzers of which one was indeed damaged (see picture 3). An intact one from the Lujiazui Battery can be seen in picture 4. So basically the whole barrel was blown off at the one and had later been tied with ropes and chains to the howitzer (see picture 5), probably in order to repair or recycle it. So far the historic facts. But there is also an artistic rendering of this incident where the whole howitzer is blewn from its firing platform, “effectfully” also blowing away the whole Chinese operating staff (see picture 6). Well, we can book this as artistic freedom.


Picture 3


Picture 4


Picture 5


Picture 6: 1895 print by Kobayashi Kiyochika (小林清親, 1847-1915) titled “Attack on the Lujiazui Battery at Weihaiwei” (威海衛鹿角嘴砲臺攻撃之圖)

Now back to the making of the sword. I am not sure if the entire broken-off barrel was taken and/or if some of these howitzers were disassembled and transported to Japan. But here maybe the supplement of the second blade comes into play. It mentions that the sword was made at the Shûsei place and refers to the Shûseikan (集成館) (see picture 7), an industrial complext that was initiated by Shimazu Nariakira in Iso, on the outskirts of Kagoshima. It was the first western-style industrial enterprise in Japan with factories that produced machines, textiles and other products and, lo and behold, steel for ship building and casting cannons.


Picture 7: The Shûseikan

There are now several possible scenarios about how these two blades (maybe there are even more out there?) came into existence. One could be that indeed the damaged howitzer was transported to the Shûseikan in order to be repaired or to salvage it. Maybe it was then decided to commemorate this successful attack on the Lujiazui Battery, and/or the win of the First Sino-Japanese War, by having a local smith, Oku Motohira II, make swords out of what was left of the barrel. Or maybe the idea with the swords came right on the spot when the battery was conquered to use that barrel and make some commemorative swords out of it, maybe for the actual commanding officers of the attack? Maybe some of these officers were from Satsuma, or maybe one was a friend of Oku Motohira II. The former is quite possible as we know that one famous Satsuma man, Major General Ôdera Yasuzumi (大寺安純, 1846-1895) (see picture 8) died at Weihaiwei when leading his infantry regiment against the land fortifications guarding the naval base. His position was hit by an artillery shell fired by the defenders. He was the only Japanese general killed in combat during that war and the highest ranking casualty on the Japanese side.


Picture 8: Print by Ogata Gekkô (尾形月耕, 1859-1920) titled “Major General Ôdera Attacking With All His’ Power From the Baichi Cliff” (大寺将軍揮全力襲撃百尺崖之圖)

Very interesting pieces of history these two Motohira blades! If I am in the area, i.e. Kagoshima, I want to do some more research in this direction at the Shôko Shûseikan Museum into which the Shûseikan main building has been turned in 1923.

Update: Dec 22 2016.

I have received a rubbing of another blade by Oku Motohira II that he made by incorporating a fragment of that howitzer. The mei is identical to the blade seen in picture 1, with the difference that the inscription is distributed over three and not two colums. So now we have three of these blades. Very interesting!


Another Signature Removal

Some months ago I was talking about the pitfals of removing signatures in this post. I have pretty much pointed out why it is important to check, double-check, and triple-check before even thinking about having a mei removed so this time I want to introduce a different, recent and documented example of why signatures were removed, and thanks Darcy for bringing that very issue to my attention.

It is about a sunnobi-tantô by the famous Sôshû master Hiromitsu (広光). Today, there are roughly 20 dated works of this smiths extant that have been authentificated. Now one of these works, a tantô signed “Sagami no Kuni-jûnin Hiromitsu” (相模国住人広光) and dated “Enbun sannen jûchigatsu hi” (延文三年十一月日, “a day in the eleventh month Enbun three [1358]”) was designatged as a jûyô-bijutsuhin on December 18 1935 (see picture 1). Back then, it was owned by Count Sakai Tadatae (酒井忠克, 1883-1939), the grandson of the last Sakai daimyô of the Obama fief of Wakasa province.


Picture 1: jûyô-bijutsuhin, sunnobi-tantô, original mei, nagasa 31.95 cm, sori 0.55 cm, hira-zukuri, mitsu-mune

So far, so good. 26 years later, in November 1961, this very sunnobi-tantô was stolen in Niigata City and for some reason, probably someone panicking, realizing how high the recognition factor of a fully signed and dated Hiromitsu is (let alone that it is a jûyô-bijutsuhin), had the complete mei removed. I mean, unlike the above linked Enju blade, this is not a case where someone doubted the authenticity of a mei and had it removed because he was going for papers. No, this mei was removed because someone didn’t want to be connected to the theft. “Fortunately,” the jûyô-bijutsuhin designation included recording the blade and so, although we don’t know when and by whom, the original signature was “preserved” via a shu-mei. The shu-mei was quite carefully done, i.e. following the very interpretation of the original mei. So we have now one of those cases where we find ourselves in the “greyzone” of things happening in the past but still knowing why a certain shu-mei was done (and having records of the original mei as oshigata as seen in picture 1), but imagine 50 more years down the road. Who knows then about all that context and, provided the blade is still extant, many people will then say: “Well, its just a shu-mei. You can put anything on a tang like that…”

Anyway, the blade is now designated as a tokubetsu-jûyô (in 2008, it got jûyô the year before, with the shu-mei already on, so the shu-mei must have been added some time in between) and luckily, that context of the theft is recorded in the jûyô-tôken nado zufu explanation.


Picture 2: tokubetsu-jûyô, sunnobi-tantô, shu-mei