iToken Bijutsu No.550j

 

Nihon Koto Shi

(History of Koto)

 

By Dr. Honma Junji

 

 (4)

(P.7)

 

3. The Ancient Sword World of Japan recorded in old documents

 

Looking into old documents that describe the ancient sword world of Japan, the first swordsmiths who are introduced in the documents are, eAmame Ikko no Kamif also called eAmatsu Maraf, and the documents say that he served eAmaterasu Omi Kamif .Then his descendants succeeded to the name of eMaraf and were retained by the Imperial Court for many generations. That is to say, the documents tell that the Emperor Suisei had Amatsu Maura of the Yamato-kanuchi-be (a tribe serving the Imperial Court as swordsmith) make arrowheads and Emperor Sujin had a descendant of Tenmoku Ikko no Kami, make ken. It is speculated that kanuchi-be had lived in Yamato Province and served the Imperial Court as the head of Japanese swordsmiths from old times. Meanwhile, it is believed that fine imported swords from China and Korea had a considerable influence on Japanese swordsmiths. There is no doubt that they inspired their forging techniques. Susano no Miko killed a huge serpent (a monster snake with eight heads) then found a legendary sword called eAme no Murakumo no Tsurugif inside the tail of the serpent. It is said that the sword that he wore and used in fighting the serpent is so-called eOrochi no Karasabif also called eOrochi no Aramasaf. eKaraf means Korea and eSabif edged tool, therefore, the sword used by Susano no Miko was made in Korea. In the reign of Emperor Ojin, a king of Paekche (a country of ancient Korea) presented the Japanese Imperial Court with two swords called eNichigetsu Goshin Kenf and eShichishi Tof. Also the king sent a Korean swordsmith called eTakusof as well as other scholars and engineers in order that they become nationalised Japanese. The sword forging skill of Korea appears to have been introduced to Japan in full on this occasion. We occasionally come across the name of Takuso in old documents and he was the founder of Kara-kanuchi-be (a tribe of Korean swordsmiths nationalised as Japanese). At this time, a Korean mission also introduced iron material to Japan and the leader of the mission, Kute swore that they would permanently offer the Japanese Imperial Court the iron material produced from Mt. Yana.

 

There is a poem in which Emperor Suiko praises the distinguished service of the Soga clan. The emperor admires their service as well as horses from Hiyuga Province and Kure-ken. Incidentally, eKuref (or eGof) is a name for the Southern area of the Yangtze River in China and was a famous production site for swords in ancient China. Since the reign of Emperor Ojin, Chinese swords and dyed textile goods (another well-known product of the area) produced in the area had often been imported into Japan.

 

The Todai-ji Kenbutsu Cho includes 13 kara-tachi, 6 kara-yo-tachi and 2 kara-tosu, and we can conceive that swords made in China (the Tang Dynasty) and their copies had been very popular amongst court nobles of the Nara Period. There are also two koma-yo-tachi and the name of koma-tsurugi is often seen in eManyo Shuf (the oldest Japanese anthology). Inferring from the history of the foundation of Koma (or Korai, ancient Korea), Koma-tsurugi was introduced to Japan earlier than kara-tachi (made in China). Also it is speculated that many Chinese and Korean swordsmiths visited Japan and some of them were nationalised as Japanese.

 

I suppose that swordsmiths of Japan had belonged to the Imperial Court until the Nara Period and Yamato-kanuchi-be, of which founder was Amatsu Mara, is the oldest lineage and the main current of Japanese swordsmiths. Since then, sword forging techniques were introduced from Korea and China and Yamato-kaji (native swordsmiths) absorbed their techniques and came to have the same level of sword forging skill as the Chinese and Koreans. As mentioned before, the origin of Yamato swords and the Naminohira school is found in the extant swords of the Shoso-in Depository. I presume that Yamato and old Kyushu swords have traces of the workmanship of Chinese and Korean swords.

 

(P.8)

 

4. The Sword World of China

From the Age of the Warring States to the Tang Dynasty

 

Here, let me talk about the sword world of China in the age which correspondents to jokoto times of Japan. There are two famous Chinese swordsmiths called eKanshof and eOyashif in the Age of the Warring States. They could be called the equivalent of Amakuni and Shinsoku in Japan. It is said that Kansho made a famous sword called eBakuyaf and Oyashi made eJunkof. A sword book written in the Edo Period explains their workmanships but I suppose that there were some misunderstandings through the process of translating the original documents from Chinese to Japanese. I understand that Kansho made strenuous efforts to produce high quality iron material in the process of wakashi (this appears to be the same process as the sword forging of the Japanese sword) and succeeded to produce fine and beautiful jigane.

 

Later in the period, there was a country called eHokuseif in ancient China and they produced swords called eShukutetsu-tof. Inferring from an old Chinese document, they used two iron materials that had different hardness, then folded a certain number times and forged, and interestingly quenched it in oil.

 

Though, it is not true that Chinese swordsmiths always quenched their swords in oil. It is known that a Chinese swordsmith called eHogenf always used water from the Shoku River in quenching. When he had an order of three thousand swords from Shokatsu Komei who was a regent and genius strategist of the Shoku Kingdom, he needed a large quantity of the river water and asked some one to carry the water to his workshop every day. One day, he immediately saw that the man mixed the river water with other water in skipping his job.

 

Ancient Chinese poets express the beauty of their swords using the words of frost, snow, white rainbow and cotton rose. It reminds us of beautiful iron swords with nie and nioi. The expression suggests to us that they produced better quality swords than the swords of the Shoso-in Depository. Though, this could be exaggeration that is often seen in old Chinese documents.

 

Inferring from old documents that describe that there was a great sword appraiser called eFukoshif in the Age of the Warring State, Sue Hirokage wrote eKokon Token Rokuf in the Nambokucho Period and there is an old poem that admires Chinese swords. China seems to have been a more advanced country in sword production than Japan between the Age of the Warring States and the Tang Dynasty.

 

(P.9)

 

5. Amakuni and Shinsoku

As well as Fine Yamato Swords of the Early Age

 

Most of the old extant Yamato swords with signatures are the works of Tegai, Shikkake, Senjuin, Taima and Ryumon smiths who were active after the middle of the Kamakura Period, though, there is no doubt that swordsmiths existed in Yamato Province in the Heian Period. I already described that the workmanship of early Yamato smiths is represented by that of Naminohira smiths of Satsuma Province and other smiths of Kyushu. Here, I would like to introduce two fine swords that are attributed to Yamato smiths of the Heian Period. The first one is Kogarasu-maru that is in the Imperial sword collection. The other one is ho-ken owned by the Kongo-ji Temple of Mt. Amano in Osaka. It has been said that Kogarasu-maru was made by Amakuni and had been inherited by the Taira family as an heirloom, but the history of the sword has yet to be studied. If Amakuni were a swordsmith who was active in the Taiho Era (701-707) as mentioned in old sword directories, the theory that Amakuni made Kogarasu-maru could be denied since the sword is definitely much later work than the swords of the Shoso-in Depository. (In other words, Amakuni was active in the same age as the smiths who made the swords of the Shoso-in Depository but Kogarasu-maru has a more developed sugata than Shoso-in swords). Kogarasu-maru is in kissaki-moro-ha-zukuri and has 62.5 cm. in length and the jihada is itame-hada combined with running masame. The jigane looks softer than that of later Yamato swords and the hamon starts with yaki-otoshi. The workmanship resembles that of Shoso-in swords but the sword has much longer part of moro-ha and saki-zori (sori : 1.21 cm.), and bears much more resemblance to the Japanese sword in the proportion of the nakago and the tapering sugata, especially tanto in kanmuri-otoshi with naginata-bi and bo-hi on the shinogi-ji, which had been made by Yamato smiths since the middle of the Kamakura Period. The jigane is soft and covered with abundant ji-nie. The hamon is based on sugu-ha and mixes ko-midare in ko-nie-deki accompanied with hazy and thick nioi-guchi and@sunagashi are seen inside the hamon. The boshi is sugu with round tip then becomes yaki-tsume. Kogarasu-maru is superior to all the swords of the Shoso-in Depository in quality and I have never seen old Kyushu swords, including Naminohira and Bungo Yukihira, which are equal to it in quality.

 

(Reference photo)

National Treasure : Tachi, mumei but attributed to eAmakunif (Nicknamed eKogarasu-maru)

 

(P.10)

 

The ken owned by the Kongo-ji Temple is in moro-ha-zukuri and has just over 60 cm. in length, scarce fukura and proper niku on the ji. This type of ken came into fashion in the Nara Period. It must be noticed that the nakago is very short and the blade has a double stepped ha-machi and they appear to maintain the original shapes. The appearance of the ji and the ha resembles that of Kogarasu-maru but the jihada stands out and combines jihada like ayasugi-hada, the boshi becomes yaki-tsume and the hamon starts with yaki-otoshi. The information of the maker is not available at all but it can be said that the ken is equal to Kogarasu-maru in quality. A document of the temple says that the ken was owned by the founder of the temple, Saint Akan. Akan was one of high priests who lived in the Shoan Era (1171-1174) therefore the ken must have been made before that age. The ken is mounted with a black-lacquered saya that has gold-gilt sanko-zuka (or hijiri-zuka) and the koshirae appears to have been made later. I presume that both of the ken and Kogarasu-maru were made in the late Heian Period but I described Kogarasu-maru in this chapter for convenience, since old documents say that Kogarasu-maru is a work of Amakuni.

 

(Reference photos)

National Treasure : Ken with kuro-urushi-hoken-koshirae (owned by the Kongo-ji Temple)

 

(P.11)

 

By the way, I would like to speak briefly about the two master smiths of jokoto times, namely Amakuni of the Taiho Era and Shinsoku of the Wado Era. There is an old poem that admires the work of Amakuni. It is a common knowledge and well known that Kogarasu-maru which was inherited by the Taira family, is a representative work of Amakuni. Kogarasu-maru is one of the greatest swords in Japan as described above, though it is not so old as the swords of the Shoso-in Depository. Also I cannot accept the theory that Kogarasu-maru was made in the Taiho Era. There is no genuine extant work of Amakuni with his signature and I suppose that even a mumei sword by him does not exist today. There are some who deny the existence of Amakuni altogether. I believe that the existence of Amakuni cannot be easily denied since many old documents and sword books such as eKanchi-in-bon Mei Zukushif written in the Kamakura Period and other old sword directories written in the Muromachi Period mention him. Amakuni should be studied very carefully and we should not be too hasty to deny his existence.

 

The name of Shinsoku is listed in all swordsmith directories since Kanchi-in-bon Mei Zukushi and his genuine extant work with a signature made in the Nara Period, has not been confirmed either. Though, there is a tachi in shinogi-zukuri with his signature, which appears to be a work from the beginning of the Kamakura Period or a little earlier and of which the workmanship resembles that of old Naminohira swords and Bungo no Yukihira. The tachi was inherited by one of the Onshi families of the Ise Shrine (a travel agent family for tourists to the Ise Shrine) and is owned by the Usa Shrine today. In addition, there is a tanto in hira-zukuri with his signature, which appears to have been made in the late Kamakura Period and was inherited by the Tokugawa shogun family. One further sword by him that is a little later work than the above two swords, was been inherited by the Itsukushima Shrine, but this sword suffered fire damage and it is impossible to examine the original workmanship now. It is very hard to deny the authenticity of these signatures and I presume that they are the descendants of Shinsoku of jokoto times.

 

(Preference photos)

Juyo Token : Tanto gSHINSOKUh

(Inherited by the Tokugawa shogun family and reprinted from eSano Museum Cataloguef)