Meito Kansho: Appreciation of Important Swords
Mei: Bungo Koku Kuniyuki saku (Kokon Denju no tachi)
Owner: Eisei Bunko Foundation
Length: 2 shaku 6 sun 4 bu 7 rin (89.2 cm)
Sori: 9 bu 4 rin (2.85 cm)
Motohaba: 8 bu 7 rin (2.65 cm)
Sakihaba: 5 bu 6 rin (1.7 cm)
Motokasane: 2 bu 3 rin (0.7 cm)
Sakikasane: 1 bu 5 rin (0.45 cm)
Kissaki length: 9 bu 4 rin (2.85 cm)
Nakago length: 5 sun 8 bu 1 rin (17.6 cm)
Nakago sori: 1 bu 7 rin (0.5 cm)
This is a shinogi zukuri katana with an ihorimune. It is slightly narrow, and the widths at the moto and saki are different. The blade is thick, there is a large koshizori with funbari, and the tip falls down going forward (i.e. the sori becomes more shallow going towards the tip), and there is a small kissaki. The entire jigane is a tight ko-itame hada, and is mixed with large hada in some places, and there are ji-nie and shirake utsuri. The hamon at the moto has a large yaki-otoshi, and above this, it becomes a narrow suguha. It shows a prominent uruoi appearance (abundant fine ji-nie are present which creates a moist appearing surface), and in some places, there are hotsure. From the moto to the tip there are prominent uneven pale yubashiri, some kinsuji, and a worn down nioiguchi. The boshi is straight and the tip is yakizume. The horimono on the omote and ura at the koshimoto are hi (grooves), and inside of the hi, on the omote there is a gyo style kurikara. The ura has a unique relief figure inside of the hi. The nakago is ubu with a kijimata shape, the tip is kurijiri, and the yasurime are suji-chigai.There are two mekugi-ana and one is closed. On the ura inside of the hi (which are carved through the nakago), there is a slightly small size six kanji signature.
Bungo Koku Yukihira is highly valued in Kyushu’s classic school, and we see a relatively large number of his existing works. He was called “Kishin Taiu” and reportedly was either a Hisosan monk, or Sadahide’s student or teacher. He has a Juyo Bijutsuhin tachi dated Genkyu 2 (1205) and so his active period is clearly established. Usually, his work is narrow, has a large koshizori, the upper half is slightly falling down going forward (the sori becomes more shallow going towards the tip), the widths at the moto and saki are different, and there is a small kissaki, and these details, along with this elegant and graceful tachi shape reflect the period’s characteristic points. Kuniyuki’s forging produces a soft appearance with uruoi (a moist appearing ji), and there appears to be some kind of patina. Kuniyuki’s hamon are either suguha or a suguha style with ko-midare. In both cases the nioiguchi has abundant nie, and above the machi there is a yakiotoshi, and there is a classic feeling which is seen in other old Kyushu work. Sometimes Kuniyuki has gyo (semi-cursive or semi-flowing) and so (curved or more flowing) style kurikara reliefs at the koshimoto. Beside these, we see jizo-bosatsu, bonji, matsukui-tsuru (cranes feeding on plants), and sakura flowers in relief, and in this period, these types of horimono are never seen in the work of other smiths. Consequently, we can say that he was a horimono expert, and this is noted as one of his characteristic points. Usually his mei are “Bungo Koku Yukihira saku” signed on the ura side, and rarely we see a two kanji signature. Most of his signed works have an ubu nakago, and since historical times, his blades were supposed to be treated as treasured swords.
As I explained above, this tachi shows not only Yukihira’s characteristics, but also old Kyushu characteristics and features, and Kyushu’s typical workmanship. However there are pale yubashiri at the top of the hamon too, and with the state of preservation of this blade, it is in a very healthy condition. The very simple horimono shows deep chisel work. According to one theory, Yukihira was supposed to have been an ascetic, and we can witness his faith in the horimono work on his blades. Also, usually there are relief carvings inside of a frame, but on this sword, the horimono is inside of the hi, and both the omote and ura have a large amount of horimono work which is unusual. Judging from the bonji, some people think that the figure on the ura side is supposed to be Bishamonten who was held in high esteem. The identity of the carving as Bishamonten derives from the fact that in the hi on the side opposite of the mei, there are kanji which which are thought to read “Bishamonten”. Also, this blade is the only example where the mei is carved insided of the hi. This tachi was the 18th sword classified as Juyo token. In any case, this work has a dignified and classic appearance. With its significance, this tachi is not only among his best work, but also shows the elegant charm of the Japanese sword. The origin of the this tachi’s Kokon Denju meibutsu is derived from the followng story.
Hosokawa Fujitaka (Yusai) (1534-1610) was a military commander at the end of the Muromachi period and at the beginning of the Azuchi Momoyama period. He survived the period’s wars, and worked for Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu, and he restored the Hosokawa family’s position. He studied not only the martial arts, but also Noh plays, tea ceremony, poetry, and customs and traditions in ancient court and military households. He was also especially interested in waka (Japanese poetry), and studied Japan’s oldest waka anthology the “Kokin Waka Shu” which is difficult to understand. He also studied the reserved or restricted version of the “Kokin Denju” (preserved as an oral account) which had been preserved since the Heian period. He learned this version from Sanjo Nishisane Ki who was a major cultural figure in that period.
At the battle of Sekigahara, Yusai belonged to the eastern troops and besieged Tanobe castle in Tango. He detained about 15,000 western troops for about two months. However, the prince Hachijo no Miya Tomohito was worried that Yusai could die in a battle since he was surrounded by western troops. Tomohito sent an imperial messenger Karasumaru Mitsuhiro to Yusai. Furthermore, the prince’s father, the Goyosei emperor had been worried that the Kokin-shu oral tradition might disappear, and through an imperial order, had made efforts to preserve the tradition. When the fighting ended, Yusai received an imperial messenger, Karasumaru Mitsuhiro. Yusai then utilized the “Kokin Denju” to communicate with Karasumaru, and then presented Karasumaru with this tachi. Since then this tachi has been called the “Kokon Denju no tachi”. It was handed down in the Karasumaru family, and in Meiji 27 (1894) given to their relative, Count Nakayama Takamaro. Later, when the Nakayama family put this tachi up for sale, the Hosokawa family’s 16th generation Count Moritatsu (the NBTHK’s first chairman) failed to acquire it. Around the early Showa period, this tachi was offered for sale again, and Count Moritatsu was able to obtain it and later commented that 40 years after he first heard about the Yukihira tachi, he was finally able to acquire it. He said that after finally acquiring this tachi, he was very happy to have acquired it since it had belonged to one of his ancestors.
After the war, Count Moritatsu established the Eisei Bunko Foundation, and this is one of the masterpieces in their collection, and as historical material, this is also a valuable item.
This tachi will be exhibited in the “Famous Swords of the Hosokawa family: Eisei Bunko Kokuho Exhibit” from January 14 - May 7, 2023.
Explanation and photo by Ishii Akira
Shijo Kantei To No. 792
The deadline to submit answers for the issue No. 792 Shijo Kantei To is Febuary 5, 2023. Each person may submit one vote. Submissions should contain your name and address and be sent to the NBTHK Shijo Kantei. You can use the Shijo Kantei card which is attached in this magazine. Votes postmarked on or before Febuary 5, 2023 will be accepted. If there are sword smiths with the same name in different schools, please write the school or prefecture, and if the sword smith was active for more than one generation, please indicate a specific generation.
Length: 2 shaku 3 sun 4.5 bu (71.1 cm)
Sori: slightly over 5 bu (1.6 cm)
Motohaba:1 sun 6 rin (3.2 cm)
Sakihaba: 7 bu 8 rin (2.35 cm)
Motokasane: 2 bu 3 rin (0.7 cm)
Sakikasane: 1 bu 5 rin (0.45 cm)
Kissaki length: 1 sun 3 bu 5 rin (4.1 cm)
Nakago length: 7 sun 1.5 bu (21.66 cm)
Nakago sori: slight
This is a shinogi zukuri katana with an ihorimune. The width is almost standard, and the widths at the moto and saki are not very different. There is a large sori and a chu-kissaki. The jigane has a tight ko-itame hada, and the hada is visible. There are ji-nie, chikei, and a dark steel color.The hamon and boshi are as seen in the picture. There are some tobiyaki, ashi, yo, a dense nioiguchi, frequent nie, kinsuji and sunagashi. The horimono on the omote is a bo-hi with chiri on both sides (i.e. there is space between the edge of the groove and the edge of the shinogi ji on both sides of the groove). On the ura side there are futasuji-hi, and both hi are carved through the nakago. The nakago is ubu, and the tip is kurijiri. The yasurime are suji-chigai. There is one mekugi-ana. On the ura, along the mune side there is a long kanji signature.
Tokubetsu Juyo Tosogu
Rihaku kanbaku zu (image of Rihaku viewing a waterfall) tsuba
Rihaku was representative of poets in the Tou period in China and his style is supposed to have been creative and dynamic. Rihaku is viewing Rozan’s waterfall, and the poem’s the title is “Rozan kanbaku wo nozomu” (Viewing Rozan’s Waterfall). The poem is:
The sun shines on Koro cape, and a purple colored fog is present
Looking into the distance, the waterfall is streaming down, like a long river in the sky
The waterfall appears to be 3000 feet long, and is actively tumbling as it descends
This waterfall could be falling from the stars above.
Based on this poem, Rihaku is viewing a waterfall which is supposed to be the “Rihaku kanbaku zu”, and is a subject or theme used often in paintings.
The tsuba maker Tsuchiya Yasuchuka is one of the master smiths called the “Nara Sansaku” along with Nara Toshikazu and Sugiura Joi. He was born in Kanbun 10 (1671), and was a Shonai feudal retainer. He studied with Shoami Chinkyu and Nara Tatsumasa. Around the Shotoku period (1711-15), he worked for the Oshu Moriyama clan’s lord Matsudaira Daigaku, and he produced many masterworks during his career.
This tsuba uses an iron with a variable appearance (tetsu tsuime-ji) for the ground, and has exquisite deep and shallow carving work. Yasuchika expresses Rozan’s poem and feelings by engraving rocks, pine trees, and mist on this tsuba. Rihaku and a child are standing still and observing a distant view of the waterfall, and this adds depth to the design. Rihaku looks up at the waterfall and silver drops glitter in the air. Rihaku’s facial expression is interesting, and his eyes are focused directly at the waterfall. Possibly right now, he is creating a poem, and feels the sensation of being pulled into the world in front of his eyes.
Rihaku expressed thoughts about a waterfall 3000 feet high, and of the starry sky above, and this tsuba splendidly expresses this moment. The tsuba’s carving poetically expresses a majestic landscape and person, and this is the master smith Yasuchika’s masterpiece.
Explanation by Kugiya Natoko
Shijo Kantei To No. 790
The answer for the Shijo Kantei To 190 in the November issue is is a katana by Magoroku Kanemoto.
This is a wide katana, and the widths at the moto and saki are not very different. The tip has sori and there is a slightly long chu-kissaki. From the shape, you can judge this as work from the latter half of the Muromachi period.
The jigane is itame mixed with nagare and masame hada, and the hada is visible. There are ji-nie and shirake utsuri which are clearly Seki characteristics.
The sanbon-sugi hamon is supposed to be this smith’s creation which is different from later generations’ togariba, which were orderly and continuous with large and small sizes. Usually, Kanemoto’s hamon have all kinds of continuous togariba, and a gyo-sho (square featured) style hamon.
Also, compared with later generations, Kanemoto’s hamon are often slightly narrow.
Many of his boshi are either midarekomi with a togari shape, or a jizo style. This katana’s boshi is straight and has a komaru which is rare, and the hint refers to this.
In voting, a majority of people voted for Magoroku, and for another acceptable answer, some voted for the Shodai Kanesada from around the Meio (1492-1500) period.
The Shodai Kanemoto’s work rarely has a sanbon sugi style hamon. His hamon are gunome mixed with features such as choji and choji-gunome, and are an irregular midare hamon. There are fine uchinoke, yubashiri at the border of the hamon, rough nie and sunagashi.
Also, Kanemoto has some two kanji signatures, but sometimes he signed “Noshu Akasaka ju Kanemoto” which is a long signature, and notably added a Meio period date.
A few people voted for Kanesada. He produced excellent hamon which contained a mixture of round top gunome, togariba, and gunome-choji, as well as a variety of midare hamon, but his sanbon-sugi hamon are rarely seen.
Explanation by Hinohara Dai.
Meito Kansho: Appreciation of Important Swords
Tokubetsu Juyo Token
Mei: Bizen koku Osafune ju Chikakage
with: kuro-roiro (black urushi color) agehacho-mon (swallowtail butterfly design) kanagu uchigatana koshirae
Length: 2 shaku 4 sun 5 bu 2 rin (74.3 cm)
Sori: 7 bu 9 rin (2.4 cm)
Motohaba: 9 bu 7 rin (2.95 cm)
Sakihaba: 6 bu 3 rin (1.9 cm)
Motokasane: 2 bu ( 0.6 cm)
Sakikasane: 1 bu 3 rin (0.4 cm)
Kissaki length: 9 bu 2 rin (2.8 cm)
Nakago length: 5 sun 7 bu 8 rin (17.5 cm)
Nakago sori: 7 rin (0.2 cm)
This is a shinogi zukuri tachi with an ihorimune. The blade is wide and the widths at the moto and saki are slightly different. The blade is thick, and although it is suriage, there is a large koshizori. The point is a chu-kissaki. The jigane shows a well forged itame mixed with mokume hada, and there is some nagare hada. There are abundant ji-nie, some chikei, and midare utsuri with dark jifu areas. The hamon is based on chu-suguha, and contains ko-choji, ko-gunome, and square shaped features. There are frequent ashi, some saka-ashi, some yo, frequent ko-nie, and a slightly worn down nioiguchi. The boshi is almost straight above the yokote, and almost yakizume. The horimono on the omote and ura are bo-hi with kaku-dome. The nakago is suriage and the tip is kiri. The new yasurime on the omote are o-sujichigai, and on the ura the yasurime are katte-sagari. The old yasurime are katte-sagari. There are three mekugi-ana, and one is closed. On the omote around the nakago tip, located slightly toward the mune edge, there is a long kanji signature.
Osafune Chikakage is supposed to be Nagamitsu’s student or his son. Today we have existing signatures from Showa 4 (1315) to Jowa 3 (1347) covering a period of more than thirty years. His active period is ten years later than Nagamitsu’s son Kagemitsu, and from this it is thought that he might be Kagemitsu’s student or a younger brother. Several existing Kagemitsu early blades have a Chikakage daimei, and from this, it is thought that their relationship was close, and some opinions are that the younger brother theory is correct. His mei on long blades such as tachi commonly contain “Bizen koku” or “Bishu Osafune ju Chikakage”. His latest dated work is a Jowa 3 dated tachi signed “ Bizen koku ju Osafune Chikakage” in which the Osafune kanji is under the ju kanji. This means that Osafune was considered to be a school name.
Chikakage made strong or deep gyaku-tagane or reverse chisel strokes in the “kage” kanji character, and this suggests that he was related to, or a predecessor of later Nanbokucho smiths such as Yoshikage, Norikage, Morokage, and Mitsukage, and this theory is very likely to be correct. Yoshikage actually has a signature similar to the Jowa 3 Chikakage mei, and Norikage has a blade in which the “Osafune” kanji is used as a school name.
Most of Chikakage’s work consists of tachi, and he has some naginata (naoshi wakizashi) and wakizashi, but it is interesting that he has very few existing tanto which are seen frequently in Kagemitsu’s work. Chikakage’s characteristic points are that the jigane has a visible hada often mixed with o-hada; when compared with Kanemitsu’s work, there is a less refined jigane; and the ji-utsuri are not clear. He has several different styles of hamon which are similar to Kanemitsu’s hamon, and there are relatively prominent nie. His characteristic boshi shapes tend to emphasize the “sansaku boshi”, which rises above the yokote, is a shallow notare, and sometimes there is a tsukiage style sharp return, which can be biased toward the hamon side or mune side.
Although it is suriage, this tachi still has a large koshizori, is wide, slightly thick, and has kept its rich niku and healthy shape. The jigane is well forged with itame mixed with mokume, and compared with Chikakage’s usual work, there is a refined, carefully forged and visible hada.
The harmon is based on a chu-suguha, and mixed with ko-choji, ko-gunome, and square shaped features. Although it is not a saka ashi hamon, some areas contain saka-ashi, and there are fine even ha-nie from the moto to the tip, and these are Chikakage’s characteristic points. The entire tachi is beautiful, and exhibits outstanding workmanship among Chikakage’s works, and this should be considered as one of the best of his masterpieces.
The uchigatana koshirae is supposed to be work from the latter half of the Edo period, and is an Owari style koshirae, and the kanagu were made by the Owari okakae smith Ooka Masataka. The habaki also includes details showing it was made with Owari habaki techniques, and this historical information adds to this tachi’s value.
Explanation by Ishii Akira, and photo by Imoto Yuki
Shijo Kantei To No. 780
The deadline to submit answers for the issue No. 780 Shijo Kantei To is February 5, 2022. Each person may submit one vote. Submissions should contain your name and address and be sent to the NBTHK Shijo Kantei. You can use the Shijo Kantei card which is attached in this magazine. Votes postmarked on or before February 5, 2022 will be accepted. If there are sword smiths with the same name in different schools, please write the school or prefecture, and if the sword smith was active for more than one generation, please indicate a specific generation.
Length: 2 shaku 2 sun 7 bu 5 rin ( 68.9 cm)
Sori: slightly over 8 bu (2.5 cm)
Motohaba: 9 bu 5 rin (2.9 cm)
Sakihaba: 7 bu 5 rin (2.25 cm)
Motokasane: 2 bu (0.65 cm)
Sakikasane: slightly less than 2 bu (0.5 cm)
Kissaki length: 1 sun 2 bu (3.65 cm)
Nakago length: slightly over 6 sun 9 bu (20.95 cm)
Nakago sori: slightly less 1 bu ( 0.2 cm)
This is a shinogi zukuri tachi with a ihorimune. It is wide, and although it is suriage, there is a large wa-sori, and there is a slightly long chu-kissaki.
The jigane has a tight ko-itame hada, and shows the school’s unique hada. There are abundant dense ji-nie, fine chikei, and nie-utsuri. The hamon and boshi are as seen in the picture. The hamon contains prominent gunome, there are ashi and yo, frequent ko-nie, kinsuji and sunagashi. On the omote there are yubashiri, and there is a bright and clear nioiguchi. The nakago is suriage, the tip is kiri and the yasurime are a shallow katte-sagari. There are two mekugi-ana. On the omote, on the nakago tip, along the mune side there is a kanji signature.
Botan shishi zu (peony and shishi design) fuchi-kashira
Mei: Toshinaga with kao
These shishi have an intense or strong presence. Under the large peony the shishi presents its dignity. In this composition, it looks like his head could leap from the kashira at any moment. This appearance is unique and surprising. The iron ground with the tsuchime (hammer stroke surface) finish on the kashira makes it appear to be an image from a rock cave. On the fuchi the shishi’s rugged face has a powerful expression and is looking over its shoulder. The peony petals and the shishi shape were engraved with a strong and smooth taka-nikubori techique, and the graceful gold inlay with delicate kebori at the top provides a feeling of tenseness. In addition, the shishi’s teeth peek through his open mouth, and were made with silver inlay. The more you look, this appears as a bold work, and at the same time, a work which exhibits a delicate feeling. Only Toshinaga’s work can exhibit this kind of design and skill.
The peony and shishi are used not only in tosogu designs, but also in all kinds of art, and are a familiar combination. The reason why they are used together is that the shishi is the king of beasts and peony is the king of flowers. Sometimes we hear that a “shishi has an insect-like pest annoying him”. A shishi is supposed to be invincible, but he is only afraid of insects which can breed under his fur, damage his skin, and try to consume him. However, this insect will die if it is hit by evening dew dripping from a peony. That is why a shishi will rest under a peony flower: this is a peaceful place for a shishi. Looking again the fuchi-kashira with this type of view point, we feel that deep inside, the shishi is enduring an intense and maybe painful feeling.
“What do you rely on ? Where do you have a peaceful place where can you rest with confidence”? This was asked by a monk in Nanzenji Temple’s Hojo room with wide engawa (hallways or corridors) and ranma (carved panels over the doorways). The shishi’s place is under the peony.
This work was described in the No.4 issue of “Tagane no Hana" (The flower of the Chisel) which is a tosogu catalog series which listed tosogu master works and which was published in the Meiji period.
Explanation by Kubo Yasuko
Shijo Kantei To No. 777 in the
October, 2021 issue
The answer for the Shijo Kantei To is a tanto by Hankei.
Hankei’s tanto and hirazukuri wakizashi are prominent, just like the Keicho Shinto period’s characteristic style. The blades are wide, have a short length for the width, and stubby hocho-like shapes. On the other hand Hankei also has blades which are long for their width.
However, a blade like this is rare for him, with a prominent narrow tip, a poor fukura, and stubby shape, and the hints refer to this.
The jigane is itame mixed with large itame and mokume, and the hada is visible. There are frequent thick black chikei and this is Hankei’s unique higiki-hada.
The hamon is based on notare and gunome. There is a dense nioiguchi, abundant nie, kinsuji, sunagashi, and a worn down nioiguchi, modeled after Etchu Norishige’s style, and these are obviously his characteristic points.
The nakago style is unique and in voting, almost no one missed Hankei’s name.
In the last issue I was talking about Kiyomaro’s kinsuji. At this time I will talk about the internal structure of some Japanese swords which I have seen in the past.
This is a story from around thirty years ago. One of the museums in the Tokyo area which studied early modern period archeology found Japanese swords among grave goods in an early modern tomb. The museum asked me for an opinion about this sword and I visited them.
I am not a specialist in archeology, so I do not have much knowledge, and could not be expected to provide an expert opinion or observation. However, at that time, I had an opportunity to look at the swords recovered from the tomb.
Usually, Japanese swords are solid appearing, and we can not see into the interior of a sword’s structure. At that time when I was able to examine these swords, they had been buried for a long time, and so were extensively rusted, and the condition of the iron in the interior had deteriorated.
Looking at one Japanese sword, its appearance suggested it was composed of dozens of fine wire-like iron strands bundled together. I was asked to look at several swords, and they all had the same kind of structure. I was just looking primarily at the exterior parts of the sword, and I could not see any shingane.
Of course, it is a possibility that the blades were from a very old period and that today’s sword making methods are different. From just looking at these several examples, I don’t know what kind of Japanese swords would have this kind of structure.
But looking at today’s sword making process, the iron material is forged with a shita-kitae stage, and then an age-kitae stage, and then a sunobe is forged, and hizukuri forging produces the final shape, and among the many Japanese swords made, it seems likely that most have this type of structure. Thirty years ago, on the way home, I was thinking that it was likely that in the interior of this type of fine bundled iron wire with a high carbon content, some strands could form kinsuji after yakiire.
Explanation by Hinohara Dai