STILL MORE THOUGHTS ON GENDAITO
Prepared for the Rochester Study Group, September 26, 1992, by Christopher Sly
Updated in March of 2015 by Chris Bowen and edited by Danny Massey
The term gendaito has been defined in several different ways in English language sword texts. Some have used it to signify all swords made since the beginning of the Meiji era. Others narrow it to include the aspect of hand forging. Still others require that a sword be produced from tamahagane. For our purposes, gendaito will signify a type of construction (rather than the materials used), and is a blade made, after 1868, of hand forged, folded construction.
For convenience, one can divide the gendaito period into three major sub groupings: Meiji/Taisho, wartime Showa and postwar. Other breakdowns are possible, but these are convenient for our purposes, tonight.
The Meiji/Taisho era is usually described as an extension of the shinshinto tradition. This is certainly understandable since swordsmiths would be expected to continue to make swords in the traditions in which they were raised.
The wartime Showa era can be seen as starting with the military buildup in the early 1930's, and ending with the surrender in 1945. The demand for large numbers of swords for the military machine resulted in ordinary blacksmiths and makers of kitchen utensils, etc., being pressed into service to make swords of rolled steel quenched in oil. Swords made in this fashion are frequently the objects of scorn among collectors. This was a period of great mass production of Japanese swords(John Yumoto estimated 40% of the daito in existence at the end of the war were made after 1868)*1.
The prewar and wartime periods were also a time of great reawakening of national spirit, culminating with the establishment of the Yasukuni Jinja and Minatogawa Jinja forges, as well as efforts by other traditional swordsmiths to recreate the masterpieces of the past. (Indeed, being a copy of an old masterpiece is one key feature of many quality gendaito.)
In contrast to earlier eras, the current postwar period is marked by over 45 years of peace, and strict government regulation of sword production, ownership and use. It is this last factor, the use (or more precisely the lack of traditional use) of the sword which gives rise to the most often heard criticism of postwar swords; that, while artistic quality appears to be advancing at a rapid pace, the need for the sword as weapon is gone, thus separating the craft from the functional aspects of its existence. Swords are now made to preserve the craft and to satisfy the collector market.
Tonight's discussion will not settle any debates over the collectability of gendaito. Hopefully, however, it will raise one or two interesting points for your consideration. While gendaito in general have been looked upon with disfavor by collectors (certainly the average quality of gendaito, especially wartime versions, is lower than the average quality of previous periods), clearly there were swords made during this period which deserve the full measure of our respect relative both to quality and to usefulness as a weapon. What follows are some often heard arguments, con and pro, for consideration of gendaito as true Japanese swords:
Gendaito don't possess the quality of great age, and therefore don't satisfy the Japanese reverence for antiquity and traditional values. Most "authorities" on the sword (at least those most often cited by Western collectors) published their findings in the early part of this century. B. W. Robinson, Albert Yamanaka, and John Yumoto, for example, are said to have come from the Honami Koson school of appreciation, and much of the written material by these scholars reflects opinions held in the early part of this century. (In 1925, the elapsed time since the end of the Bakumatsu period was less than 3/4's of a century. This is not long compared to an eon of sword history.)
Gendaito are swords produced since the abolition of the samurai class (1868) and abolition of the right to wear swords (1876), and, as such, somehow are not "true" Japanese swords. While it may be true that gendaito are not "true" samurai swords, since that status ceased to exist, it is a bit presumptuous to say that all gendaito are not "true" swords (meaning swords made in the traditional manner for use in combat). There are too many modern accounts of the use of the sword as personal combat weapon to dismiss it as a mere symbol of authority.
Because of the prohibition against wearing swords, demand fell to an all time low, with most smiths getting out of the business. Naturally, fewer young men apprenticed themselves to the craft, and since fewer entered the trade, fewer still would have emerged as talented smiths, resulting in a lowering of quality among a much smaller group of working swordsmiths. While this scenario is undoubtedly accurate, there is no reason to think that the few kaji who remained in business would abandon their training and intentionally produce swords of inferior quality. Luckily, there remained a few talented individuals who persevered and produced swords in the traditional manner.
The true swordsmiths of the Meiji, Taisho and early Showa eras include Gassan Sadakazu and Miyamoto Kanenori (each an Imperial Court Artisan), Horii Taneyoshi, 11th Izumi no Kami Kanesada, Henmi Yoshitaka, Sakurai Masatsugu, Gassan Sadakatsu, Hayama Enshin and Kasama Shigetsugu*2. Morioka Masayoshi and Minamoto Yoshichika were both active in the late Meiji and Taisho periods. Each is ranked Chu Jo Saku in Fujishiro's Shinto Hen. Traditional swordsmiths of the prewar and wartime Showa eras include Gassan Sadakatsu, Kasama Shigetsugu, Takahashi Sadatsugu, Kurihara Akihide, Akimoto Akitomo, Konno Akimune, Ishii Akifusa, Miyairi Akihira, Yoshihara Kuniie, Ikeda Yasumitsu, Kajiyama Yasunori (Yasutoku), Miyaguchi Toshihiro (Yasuhiro), Sakai Shigemasa, Watanabe Kanenaga and Tsukamoto Okimasa*2.
Standardized military systems replaced individual feudal groupings of warriors, led by samurai. The standardization in styles of uniforms, sword mounts, and other trappings was opposite to the uniqueness of the traditionally made sword. The new national military created standards in an attempt to copy western military forms. Many of the swords made for the Sino-Japanese and Ruso-Japanese wars were machine made cavalry sabers, for issue to front line soldiers, and have never been considered true Japanese swords by collectors. An exception to the issuance of western style swords appears to have been made for the officer corps, who, mostly having come from former samurai families, often carried older swords (frequently family heirlooms) as sidearms. Existing supplies of traditionally made swords should have been adequate for this purpose.
Styles of war/personal combat had changed dramatically, making the sword obsolete. It is true that the development of efficient firearms (especially the machine gun) in vast numbers among the world's armies, signaled the end of the horse cavalry and the sword as practical instruments of war. There are some, however, who suggest that the sword was never truly a primary weapon (that honor being shared more appropriately by the bow and the spear), but rather a sidearm for personal combat. In this capacity, the sword retained its original purpose, as opposed to merely serving as symbolic badge of authority. (Totally out of context, but intriguing none the less, the sidearm aspect invites the drawing of parallels between the pistol in the American west of the late 1800's, and the sword during the Tokugawa era. Each was used as primary weapon for one against one dueling, by wandering warriors often in search of a job or for personal glory.)
The steel in gendai swords is inferior. We hear that the steel used is different from that which was used in previous eras. True. However, we know this to be a criticism, albeit to a lesser extent, of the Muromachi, the shinto and the shinshinto eras, as well. From an historical perspective, each succeeding era witnessed advances in iron (and later, steel) production, ultimately resulting in a lessening of the degree of control a smith had over his materials, and on average a lessening of the individuality (sometimes equated to quality?) in the jigane and jihada of the swords produced by each succeeding generation.
We know that a working tatara was in existence until Taisho 14 (1925)*3, and another (Yasukuni) opened in Showa 9 (January, 1934), representing a break of only 9 years in the production of tamahagane. Therefore, strictly in terms of traditional steel availability, the gendaito should be viewed no differently than the shinshinto.
Certainly, western style rolled steel was used for mass production swords (and also by some smiths for traditionally made swords), but this, too, has its parallel in the use of namban tetsu (apparently appreciated, if the documenting of same on a nakago has any bearing) by celebrated shinto smiths. Granted, they are reported to have mixed western steel with native (not using it exclusively), however, the fact remains that western steel was thought (correctly or not) to have added something to the sword, and appears not to have lowered the practical or aesthetic value of swords for clients or collectors.
It is important to note how non-traditional (Western) steels have been used to make swords both in the past and during WWII. Shinto smiths combined small amounts of so-called Nanban tetsu with tamahagane and used the oroshi-gane process to adjust the carbon content and purify the steel in their forge to make the material consistent with their needs. Modern smiths do the same thing, often using various steels (old nails, door hardware, etc.), as did smiths of all periods. In addition, Western steel was used whole, without this processing, to make so-called "han-ten" (half-forged) swords and sunobe (one piece) swords. When using Western steel in this manner, blades were usually not put through the process called "orikaeshi-tanren" (folding and forging) as traditional blades were. Also, they were not water quenched, but quenched in oil. This is an important distinction.
LINEAGE OF SELECTED GENDAI SWORDSMITHS
Similar to other periods of Japanese history in which mass production of swords was the norm, the late Muromachi to be specific, there continued to be exceptional swords made for those who could afford it. During the 20th century, such swords were also produced for high ranking military and government officials, as well as wealthy collectors. These were made in the traditional manner by artisans who had apprenticed and studied in schools with historical lineage.
Nihonto Koza, Volume V, Shinshinto, discusses the lineage of the more respected gendai swordsmiths. This work appears to suggest that most current smiths are "descended", some more loosely than others, from one of three famous shinshinto smiths.
The first in order of importance, today, is the Gassan line, starting with Gassan Sadayoshi, who Fujishiro lists as a josaku (upper rank) smith from the Ansei era (1854). He was born in 1800 and died in 1870. He is considered to have come from the Suishinshi Masahide school. His styles were late Bizen style gonome choji and togari ba, with a ji of strong ko-mokume.
His chief student was Gassan Sadakazu, who worked during the Meiji era, and is considered a jojosaku (upper upper rank) smith who was designated an Imperial Household Artisan by the emperor. He is the most famous of gendai smiths, and was also known for excellent horimono. He taught many of the next generation of important smiths. He died at the age of 84 in 1918.
Next in line was Gassan Sadakatsu. He is not rated by Fujishiro (he was still alive when Fujishiro wrote the Shinto Hen volume of Nihonto Jiten), but has been classed by just about all later authorities as one of the top smiths of the early Showa era.
Following Sadakatsu is Gassan Sadamitsu who Fujishiro says is the same as Takateru (best known as Gassan Sadaichi). The Nihonto Koza suggests Sadamitsu is a separate person. According to Morihiro Ogawa, writing in the Gassan Tradition, Fujishiro is correct (Sadamitsu being an early signature). Sadaichi is a current mukei bunkazai (popularly called ningen kokuho or "living national treasure"). He is famous for Bizen and Soshu styles as well as horimono, and is considered the greatest living smith. His son, Gassan Sadatoshi is following in his father's footsteps and is considered a mukansa (above being judged) swordsmith.
Also from the Gassan school (student of Gassan Sadakazu) was Morioka Masayoshi. He was a Meiji smith, who started a second branch of the Gassan school. He was a contemporary of Sadakatsu, who Fujishiro classes as a chujo saku (upper middle rank) smith. He died very early at the age of 46, in 1921. His styles were sugu ashi iri (suguha with small ashi) and gyaku (slanted) choji. He also carved horimono.
His best student was Kasama Shigetsugu, who originally was from the Ikkansai Shigetoshi group and who later became the chief instructor at the Nippon To Tanren Denshusho, a sword making school considered, along with the Nippon To Tanren Kai (Yasukuni Jinja sword making factory) to be the most influential of the 20th century.
After Kurihara Akihide studied sword making with Inagaki Masanori and Horii Taneaki, he opened this Nihonto Denshujo at his house and hired Kasama Shigetsugu to be the sword making teacher there. Shigetsugu's most noteworthy student was Tsukamoto Okimasa, another swordsmith who died at an early age after showing great promise. According to most reputable sources (Tokuno, Toko Taikan, for example) he died in Showa 35 (1960). That would make him 45 or possibly 46 at death. However, other sources give different information. There is some confusion about the his age at death. Fuller and Gregory state he was nearly the equal of Shohei (Miyairi Akihira). Okimasa's students, Tsukamoto Kotaro and Ozawa Masatoshi were also highly rated.
The second major shinshinto connection consists of two lines of smiths who are considered "descended" from Takei Naotane, the saijo (highest rank) saku smith from the Suishinshi Masahide school. One line includes Horii Taneyoshi (chujo saku), his nephew, Horii Taneaki (also chujo saku) and his son Horii Toshihide (aka Kaneaki and Hideaki), who was the head smith at the Zuisen forge. It which was located on the grounds of the Muroran plant of the Japan Steel company, who sponsored the forge. Horii Toshihide was, in effect, an employee of Japan Steel.
The second line from Naotane is one that contains Miyaguchi Toshihiro (the first of the shodai Yasukuni Jinja smiths), whose son, Tsunetoshi is listed by B. W. Robinson, in 1960, as the best living smith. His are the pictures in The Samurai Sword, A Handbook, by Yumoto, pages 101-107, of a smith forging a sword. Toshihiro was another smith considered by many to have been one of the top smiths of the prewar era.
The last major shinshinto connection listed in Nihonto Koza is a group of smiths "descended" from Koyama Munetsugu, a jojo (upper upper rank) saku rated smith, who once challenged Minamoto Kiyomaro (perhaps the greatest of shinshinto smiths) because he did not pay homage to him upon setting up shop in Munetsugu's neighborhood! He was said to have studied the cutting ability of swords under Yamada Asauemon and Iga Tomo. (The Yamada family created a ranking system for swordsmiths based upon cutting tests upon the bodies of criminals.)
"Descended" from Munetsugu was Sakurai Masatsugu, the second son of Tairyushi Munetsugu, the son of Tairyusai Sokan, the famous student of Koyama Munetsugu. His son was Sakurai Masayuki. Masayuki was the teacher of the famous former Living National Treasure Sumitani Masamine (also read Seiho).
Last, but clearly not least, the swordsmiths who worked at the forges of the Yasukuni Jinja (Nippon To Tanren Kai) are well known to most collectors. Swords produced there are frequently cited among the best gendaito made.
The first instructor at the Jinja was Miyaguchi Toshihiro, whose signature became Yasuhiro. He and the second instructor, Kajiyama Yasunori (his personal name is Tokutaro), were appointed in December 1933, followed about six months later by Ikeda Yasumitsu (formerly Kazumitsu). Yasuhiro was a student of Kasama Shigetsugu, Yasutoku was a student of Yokoyama Sukeyoshi, and Yasumitsu was a student of Ikeda Kazuhide. These three are considered the shodai smiths of the Tanren Kai. One of the significant factors noted by Fujishiro Okisato concerning the Yasukuni Jinja tradition is that it's first instructors came from three different schools of sword making. This did not produce swords of greatly different styles, as one might expect, since all kaji were shown examples of famous koto works, and expected to copy them, closely. This gave rise to what is considered the standard Yasukuni sword shape.
Next in importance was Kotani Yasunori (formerly Norimitsu, a student of his uncle, Yasutoku, and the fourth to be appointed head of a kaji). The fifth to lead a kaji was Yasuoki, a pupil of Yasutoku. These two are considered nidai smiths.
Others who worked at the Jinja include Yasutoshi (son and student of Yasutoku), Yasumune (student of Yasutoku and Yasuoki), Yasuyoshi and Naohide (students of Yasunori), Yasushige, Yasunobu, Yasutake and Yasuaki (all students of Yasumitsu), Sakai Shigemasa (student of Yasuhiro), and Yasuyo and Masataka.
For a more complete history of the Yasukuni Jinja, the reader is referred to the excellent articles in past JSS/US Newsletters, by Arnold Frenzel and Han Bing Siong. Each draws on an article published in the British Token Society Programme, #134, which is a translation of an article by Fujishiro Okisato.
Swords made since the end of the prohibition, after World War II, are sometimes called shinsakuto (newly made sword). This distinction is made by some, to indicate that contemporary swords are of higher quality than those produced in prewar times. There is clearly an emphasis on art, as opposed to function, however, many smiths regularly produce swords for martial artists who continue to practice test cutting. The material is most often straw or bamboo, however, it has been reported that test cutting through pigs hips and even armor and helmets still occurs. In September, 1987 (Programme #133), The To-Ken Society of Great Britain offered for sale to members, a video of Yoshindo Yoshihara which details the cutting of a helmet (kabuto-wari) with one of his swords.
Some of today's authorities attribute the recent rise in art quality to the need for today's smiths to openly share information as a way to make up for the loss of a generation of swordsmiths at the end of the war. This pragmatism reminds one of the climate during shinshinto times which led Suishinshi Masahide and others to more freely distributed knowledge in an effort to recreate the golden ages of sword production. The sword contests held each year, with their very important (for a swordsmith's livelihood) rankings, certainly also have provided incentive for advancements in techniques.
In The Craft Of The Japanese Sword, by Leon and Hiroko Kapp and Yoshindo Yoshihara, emphasis is placed on emerging styles of swords which are robust (and perhaps more flamboyant) and expressive of the economic position that Japan now holds in the world. This is seen by them as just another milestone in the thousand plus year evolution of the Japanese sword, with parallels to past periods of history.
Regardless of one's personal opinion concerning the historical "correctness" of shinsakuto, relative to methods of construction or uses to which they are put, the best of those being produced today would seem to be welcome in any collection. Indeed, the recent Compton auction at Christie's included a Yoshindo Yoshihara blade in the company of swords of significance from koto, shinto and shinshinto eras.
In addition to those already mentioned, there have been dozens of skilled swordsmiths who have worked in the Meiji, Taisho and Showa eras. For a breakdown of how they compare with one another, the reader is referred, again, to Han Bing Siong's excellent series of articles printed in the JSS/US Newsletter, during the past several months. Also, there are several lists of important swordsmiths of the post Meiji Restoration eras to be found in Yamanaka's Nihonto Newsletter, Nihonto Koza, Shin Nihon To Kantei Nyumon, and Gendai Toko Meikan, to name a few.
The true purpose of tonight's talk has been to show that not all gendaito are of low quality. In the final analysis, it is not so much the time during which a sword was made which determines its quality, but the knowledge, skill and best efforts of traditional craftsmanship which determines the quality of the final product. To be sure, the best of the koto period are superior to the best of the 20th century, however, the best of the 20th century easily surpass many of the swords of earlier eras which are still eagerly sought by collectors.
The swords which we are fortunate to have for viewing, tonight, represent styles made at various times since the Meiji restoration, and include swords from the Meiji, Taisho, prewar Showa, wartime Showa and postwar eras. The swordsmiths represented are Morioka Masayoshi, Minamoto Yoshichika, Kotani Yasunori (Kotani Norimitsu), Tsukamoto Okimasa, and Yoshindo and Shoji Yoshihara.
MORIOKA MASAYOSHI 森岡正吉
Morioka Masayoshi, born in 1874 and was a distant relative of Nankai Taro Choson. He died February 3, 1921, at age 46. He is classed as a chujo saku (upper middle rank) smith and is said to have left many works of superior form, with hamon of sugu ashi iri fukai or gyaku choji *5 and choji midare *6 . He is known to have made horimono as well. He was favored by Count Tanaka Kin'aki and also sponsored by the Tokyo Sword Society who assisted in his move to study under the renowned swordsmith Gassan Sadakazu. He was a student of Miyamoto Kanenori as well as Sadakazu (each an Imperial Court Artisan), and according to Nihonto Koza, formed the second branch of the 20th century Gassan school (Sadakatsu being the main line), which produced smiths such as the late Miyairi Akihira (Shohei), a Living National Treasure.
One very interesting fact about Masayoshi is his technique for making yasurime on the nakago. It is called ippon yasuri. He cut them with a file one line at a time (as did Gassan Sadakazu and a few others), reportedly in imitation of the famed shinshinto smith, Hosokawa Masayoshi and his followers. A sword by Sadakatsu in the Meibutsu exhibit in Chicago in October, 1991, displayed a nakago with this feature, which was extremely close in shape and style to Morioka Masayoshi's nakago.
As for the ratings, leading authorities appear to have held him in high regard. He is one of 9 Gendai smiths actually ranked by Fujishiro (in 1938). He is one of 6 gendai kaji listed (by Honami Koson) in Teiryo Yoji (1925). He is rated at 20 points by B. W. Robinson (one of 11 gendai smiths cataloged in his Primer), and rated one of the 5 best gendai kaji by Yamanaka (who listed him as Masakichi) and who states swords by him are seldom seen. The authors of Nihonto Koza considered him to be one of 13 prominent smiths who worked in Meiji times, along with
Gassan Sadakazu, Okayama Yoshitaka, Miyamoto Kanenori, Nidai Sukekane, Horii Taneyoshi, Enshin and Sakurai Masatsugu*7.
The sword on display this evening is quite representative of swords of the Meiji era around the turn of the century, and is a copy of a slim graceful tachi, which most likely was mounted in kyugunto mounts (D-guard style mounts) the official style of military mounts during Masayoshi's lifetime (the WWII gunto style being adopted in the 1930's). This is said to be in the common style of the Gassan school, in choji midare with an excellent koto shape and much ashi*8. The ashi in this sword are particularly pleasing.
Statistically it is 25.0625" in length, ubu, in an old shirasaya with sayagaki (name of former owner and name of smith), shape is shinogi-zukuri, with shallow koshi-zori, very clear fumbari, muji hada with dense ji-nie, medium width ko-choji midare hamon of extremely uniform and bright ko-nie with deep ashi which is reminiscent of Bizen den choji midare style*9 , and typical of hada and hamon predominant during the time of the Sino-Japanese and Ruso-Japanese wars*10 . This sword is signed (tachi-mei): "MASAYOSHI", above the mekugi-ana.
MINAMOTO YOSHICHIKA 源良近
Minamoto Yoshichika, whose real name was Mori Hisasuke from Shibamishima, considered himself the last descendant of Munechika *10. This reference is to the legendary Yamashiro swordsmith Sanjo Munechika, circa 987. To date, we have found no evidence to suggest that his line is, in fact, descended from Munechika, however, since he is one of only a very few that were even rated by the leading authorities of the early 20th century, he can be considered one of the better smiths of the time and may have been allowed this artistic license. He is the only swordsmith cataloged in Fujishiro's Nihon Toko Jiten, Shintohen as working primarily during the Taisho era, which lasted only 15 years, 1912-1926. It would seem that either he was the only practicing smith of note during this era, or his sword production was confined primarily to this period. Certainly other smiths who later made a name for themselves were making swords in the Taisho era, Miyaguchi Toshihiro (Yasuhiro) and Gassan Sadakatsu, to name only two, however, it may have been early enough in their careers that they had not yet reached the fame and status they would later attain.
Despite the fact that he is supposed to have made swords of western rolled steel*11 , Yoshichika was known as a maker of very sharp swords. The Imperial Guard were known to have favored his swords, not to mention one of the most famous martial artists and swordsmen of the 20th century, Nakayama Hakudo (less often pronounced Hiromichi), 1869-1958*12.
Toshishiro Obata, a contemporary author (and swordsman of the Toyama Ryu), tells the story of finding an important text among the collection of the late Willis Hawley and learning that Hakudo tested swords for the Imperial Guard, cutting among other things, the bodies of pigs. Perhaps this is not too surprising since he was the official sword instructor to the Navy and Imperial Household Guard. He is said to have cut through the hips of a pig to demonstrate to Vice Admiral Oyamada how a sharp sword ought to cut. When asked about the maker of the sword, he stated it was made by Minamoto Yoshichika. Thereafter, Admiral Oyamada decreed that all Imperial Guard swords were to be made by Yoshichika and tested (seven times!) by Hakudo. After testing, these swords were inscribed with a cutting test. Obata states there were 490 such swords in number tested and accepted for the Imperial Guard*13. Unfortunately, we do not know the manner in which the test cutting was inscribed.
Hakudo was known to also favor swords by Kanemichi (the Michi character being bestowed on him by Hakudo), who is listed as a Dean of the National Technical School, and Kurihara Akihide*14. Hakudo's personal sword was made by Yoshichika and is reported to measure 31" in length, rather long for a man standing a little over 5 feet tall!
The Rev. Daniel Furuya, an authority on Yoshichika and Hakudo, produced two very informative articles in the January 1990 and February 1990 issues of the Nanka Token Kai Newsletter, the official publication of the Southern California Sword Club. These articles are recommended to anyone interested in this area of research. In them, Furuya illustrates oshigata showing that a second Yoshichika existed and that the nidai's swords were also tested by Hakudo. (A local non-collector, has in his family's possession, a sword surrendered in Burma which is signed Nidai Minamoto Yoshichika. Unfortunately, the blade is covered with deep rust, such that details of the hamon and hada are entirely obscured. That sword has bo-hi and nakago similar to those of the sword we will see tonight.)
The sword on display this evening is ubu, of shinogi-zukuri form, torii-zori, chu kissaki, average height shinogi, average height ihori-mune, with full-length bo-hi ending in kaki-nagashi ('V' shape) below the habaki, muji hada, with a gonome midare hamon of ko-nie. Boshi is o-maru with small turn back. Nakago is iriyamagata (chestnut shape) with one mekugi-ana, yasurime is sugikai and it is signed "MINAMOTO YOSHICHIKA", and stamped "HAKUDO TAMESHI-GIRI SHO".
KOTANI YASUNORI, NORIMITSU, 小谷靖憲
Kotani Yasunori was born in Meiji 42 (1909) in Hiroshima. He signed Norimitsu*13 prior to joining the Yasukuni Jinja in Showa 8 (1933) as a sakite (hammer man) for his uncle, Yasutoku. In time (1935) he became the 4th smith to be appointed as leader of a kaji (there were never more than 5 kaji at a time), and is considered to be the first of the nidai smiths at the Jinja. He is one of the five principle Yasukuni smiths. His swords made outside the Jinja, during this time, were signed Takenori.
The three shodai Yasukuni smiths, Yasuhiro, Yasutoku and Yasumitsu represented three of the most prominent schools of the day. However, due to the preferences of the Army, all were expected to produce swords of mainly suguha in a koto shape, and were shown swords by Mitsutada, Nagamitsu, Kagemitsu, Masatsune and Kanemitsu as examples to be copied, and few were produced which varied from this formula. Fujishiro states that about 10 non-standard style swords, each, were produced by smiths at the Jinja*16. Yasunori made approximately 1600 swords between 1935 and 1944, averaging a little over 13 swords per month. This is in line with estimates that jinja kaji turned out 15 swords per month each at peak production times, dropping to about 7 or 8 swords per month at the end of the war.
It is interesting to note that while most Yasukuni Jinja swords were made for presentation, fully one third of them were tested through tameshi-giri. The material used is unknown, but is generally believed to have been bamboo and bundled straw.
Yasunori was famous as the maker of Admiral's and Field Marshall's swords, and in the latter 1930's, especially Showa 11 and 12, won more prizes than the other Yasukuni Jinja smiths. It has been reported that Field Marshall Terauchi surrendered a family heirloom rather than give up the Yasunori blade presented to him by Emperor Hirohito upon promotion.
Yasunori had several students, the two most accomplished being Kariya Naohide and Moriwaki Masataka. Each of these smiths has won numerous awards since the resumption of sword making activities in the 1950's. Yasunori apparently returned to sword making in the early 1970's, however, it is reported that he only succeeded in attaining the Winner's Award. This has been attributed to a long period of inactivity (25 years) and advancing age (he was in his late 60's).
Compared with the "standard" Yasukuni Jinja sword, it is clear that the sword on display this evening differs considerably. The standard was considered to be 2 shaku, 2 sun (about 26.5"), with ko kissaki, suguha hamon, narrow width, giving an overall impression of a light sue koto sword.
In contrast, the Yasunori sword on display, this evening, was made as a copy of a suriage tachi (the nakago is shallow kuri-jiri and yasurime is kiri), with a kataochi gonome choji midare hamon reminiscent of Bizen Kagemitsu. It is signed as was the custom for swords made at the Yasukuni Jinja. It is 24" in length, ubu, shinogi-zukuri, slightly koshi-zori, with fumbari, prominent ko-itame hada with some running itame, showing dense ji-nie, and medium width hamon of nioi, with nie sprinkled throughout, very deep ashi (some saka ashi) and some tobiyaki. It came in old shirasaya (believed to be the original) and is signed (tachi-mei), "YASUNORI", and "Showa ju ku nen ju gatsu kichi nichi".
One interesting feature of this sword is a lack of wear at the habaki, indicating that this sword may never have been mounted in koshirae. This is understandable when you consider this sword was made during the last month of production at the jinja. The forges were closed in November 1944 and were in the process of being relocated to avoid increasing air raids when the war ended.
Another interesting feature is the length at just 24". It is speculated that this sword may have been made for a pilot, who would have required a small and compact sword due to lack of space in aircraft of the time. It is believed that no wakizashi were produced at the Yasukuni Jinja, although it is known that Yasutoku made tanto during the early years of the jinja.
Also for display this evening is a tanto by Yasunori with the Norimitsu signature, dated February 1932. As stated before, this was an early signature prior to his entering the Tanren Kai. It is 11 and 5/16" in length with slight sori, ihori-mune, with very nice horimono of a dragon chasing the sacred jewel. The hamon is midare in ko-nie, with nijuba and sanjuba in the monouchi. The jihada is beautiful o-mokume, mixed with itame. It is ubu, with kiri yasurime and one mekugi-ana. This tanto is in fresh polish with papers. It is signed, "GEISHU (GEINAN?) JU NORIMITSU SAKU" and "Showa shichi nen ni gatsu hi".
TSUKAMOTO IKKANSAI OKIMASA 塚本起正
Tsukamoto Okimasa was born Tsukamoto Shimpachi in 1914. He was originally from Fukushima, but he worked primarily in Tokyo. According to Tokuno Kazuo he is descended from the koto smith Yamamura Masanobu of Echigo (c. 1400), and he studied under Kasama Shigetsugu of Tanren Denshusho fame, and married his daughter. He is highly respected by Japanese authorities (he is considered a yu-shu saku class smith), and likely would have been a Living National Treasure, had he not died in at the young age in his 40s (as noted above, there is some confusion about Okimasa's exact age of death) *17.
According to Nihonto Koza, p. 223, "Tsukamoto was skilled, but regrettably he died young, and came to an end without being able to exhibit his future potential. Among his students there are Tsukamoto Kotaro and Kozawa (Ozawa) Masatoshi..."
While he is considered to be a late Showa smith along with the Yoshihara brothers, Sakai Shigemasa, and Miyaguchi Tsunetoshi *18 (in the contests he placed immediately behind Shohei, who was mukansa, in 1956, 1957 and 1958), he is also ranked as one of the true swordsmiths of the prewar Showa era*19 , along with Gassan Sadakatsu, Kasama Shigetsugu, Takahashi Sadatsugu, Yoshihara Kuniie, Ikeda Yasumitsu, Kajiyama Yasunori (Yasutoku), Miyaguchi Toshihiro (Yasuhiro), and Sakai Shigemasa. He is also listed as a teacher at the National Technical School in Tokyo, in 1941. Interestingly, Hawley lists him as working in Tokyo in 1950, which was during the prohibition imposed by the allies.
The sword by Okimasa which is being displayed tonight is a fine example of a blade made in the Ichimonji style. It has an extremely well made shape, is 27.6 inches in length, is ubu of shinogi-zukuri form with clear fumbari. The hamon is an exuberant tadpole choji in nioi, with very long ashi, tobiyaki, kinsuji and abundant sunagashi. The boshi is midare-komi with o-maru turnback. The jihada is very tightly forged ko-mokume. This blade was made on special order for a Mr. Saito Hisataro. If Okimasa's skills peaked after the war, as suggested by the experts, then he must have shown considerable talent indeed, because the sword on display is an extremely fine example of quality workmanship, which was produced 19 years earlier at age 27!
YOSHINDO & SHOJI (KUNI-IE) YOSHIHARA 吉原義人 吉原荘二
Yoshindo and Shoji Yoshihara, were born in 1943 and 1945 respectively. Their father is said to have been one of the lost generation of prewar swordsmiths who gave up the craft at the end of the war and became the manager of an ironworks. Their grandfather was Yoshihara Kuni-ie, a smith of the Tanren Denshusho, who also, independently, studied and copied the works of Kiyomaru*20 . The Craft of the Japanese Sword, co-authored by Yoshindo Yoshihara, states that they are 10th generation swordsmiths, but does not give any further information on their background.
Yoshindo (sometimes pronounced Yoshihito or Yoshito) is considered a leading smith of the
present day, with the ability to produce uniform and predictable utsuri, a technique which only fifty years ago was thought to be lost. He is said to be able to produce swords in all the styles of the gokaden, as well as the leading shinto and shinshinto smiths, however, Bizen style choji is regarded as his favorite. He is classed as a mukansa smith (fellow not to be judged, or above the level of being judged in competitions). Many believe he will one day be nominated to the status of Living National Treasure. Less in known about his brother Shoji, who also is known as Kuni-ie, presumably after his grandfather. The Nihonto Koza, Vol. 5, written in 1975, states that while Yoshindo and Shoji were young (late 20's), the authors held great expectations of them.
Yoshindo is one of a number of modern smiths who employ the use of the power hammer, which replaces the efforts of three sakite (hammermen), and allows him to produce swords entirely on his
own. There are those who feel this further separates the modern sword (shinsakuto) from the traditional sword.
The last sword on display, this evening, came from the collection of the late John Yumoto, and is a collaborative effort between Yoshindo and Shoji. Even more interesting is the fact that it was forged by Yoshindo and Shoji in Santa Cruz, California, in August of 1980, and later tempered (yaki-iri) by Yoshindo in Dallas, Texas, in April of 1981. While this may raise the question for some about its authenticity as a Japanese sword, the manner of its construction was according to traditional methods, so the location in which it was made seems irrelevant.
The sword is a ko-wakizashi, being 13.2 inches in length, of hira-zukuri form, ihori-mune, with torii-zori curvature and very nicely cut bo-hi. The hamon is saka (slanting) choji in nie, with Kaen boshi and average length turnback. The jihada is itame, and, as one would expect, it is ubu with one mekugi-ana. It is in fresh polish and mounted in shirasaya with silver habaki.
Note: This paper was researched and prepared prior to the the availability of information dealing with "acceptance stamps", possible significance of types of steel used, and methods of construction which has recently been published in the JSS/US Newsletter by Han Bing Siong and others. The jury is still out on some of these issues, and rather than rewrite this paper in an attempt to include these new views, it was thought best to submit it as it was presented.
Special thanks go to members of the Rochester Study Group for supplying valuable resource material, translations, encouragement and swords for display. All errors and omissions are solely the responsibility of the author.
*1 The Samurai Sword, A Handbook, by John Yumoto, p.45
*2 To-Ken Kantei Dokuhon, by Nagayama Kokan, translation by Kenji Mishina, p. 63
*3 Florida Token Kai Newsletter, #3&4, March-June 1991, Introduction to The Nippon To Tanren Kai, by Fujishiro Okisato
*4 Toko Taikan, by Tokuno, says he is the student of Masatsugu's brother, Sakurai Masayuki
*5 Nihonto Jiten, Shintohen, Fujishiro, S309, translation by Harry Watson, p. 147
*6 Nihonto Koza, Ikeda Suematsu, translation by Harry Watson, p. 148
*7 Nihonto Koza, Ikeda Suematsu, translation by Harry Watson, p. 138
*8 Nihonto Koza, Ikeda Suematsu, translation by Harry Watson, p. 147
*9 Nihonto Koza, Ikeda Suematsu, translation by Harry Watson, p. 143
*10 Nihonto Koza, Ikeda Suematsu, translation by Harry Watson, p. 185
*11 Nihon Toko Jiten, Shintohen, Fujishiro, p. 108, translation by Harry Watson, p. 52
*12 According to Daniel Furuya, Hakudo was born in 1872
*13 Crimson Steel, Toshishiro Obata, pp.4-7
*14 Military Swords of Japan, 1868-1945, Fuller & Gregory's, p.116-7, oshigata of a sword by Akihide with a Hakudo (Hiromichi) cutting test
*15 Programme #134, of the Token Society of Great Britain, Fujishiro Okisato, p. 14
*16 Florida Token Kai Newsletter, No. 3 & 4, March-June 1991
*17 Some authorities have placed his death in Showa 33, at age 43.
*18 Shin Nihon To Kantei Nyumon, by Hiro Yuichi & Iida Kazuo, translation by Harry Watson, p. A-24
*19 To-Ken Kantei Dokuhon, by Nagayama Kokan, translation by Kenji Mishina, p. 63
*20 Nihonto Koza, Vol. 5, translation by Harry Watson, p. 223.