Isoroku Yamamoto and the sword-smith Sadayoshi Amada
by Junichiro Watanabe
Published on May 10, Showa 60, NBTHK #340
After Mukden Incident in September 1931 and the following "January 28 Incident" in Shanghai in 1932, various patriotic movements broke out at every place in Japan.
The Veterans Association of Japan not only donated warplanes to the Japanese government by themselves but also they promoted donation of swords from civilians.
In Echigo, there were wealthy farmers collecting antiques as their hobby for generations. They proudly donated their sword collections; one individual provided to the commander of the local Army regiment more than one hundred swords including ones with inscription of famous sword smiths.
Eiichi Sorimachi, the chairman of Nagaoka Veterans Association, was appointed to be in charge of wielding the valuable swords. He brought the story to the Minister of Education, Sadao Araki, an army general. Araki dispatched Junji Honma, a sword expert, as an appraiser(investigating officer)of those swords. Honma then pointed out that all of those inscriptions are fake(gimei). The news quickly spread to the entire prefecture, and many collectors, who had been believing words of sword dealers, contacted the news paper publishers and appealed demands to hold some sort of "official" sword inspection meeting.
Hand-written letter by Sadayoshi Amada
先生様 (Teacher) - Michiharu Takeyama
川口様 (Kawaguchi sama) - Noboru Kawaguchi
渡辺様 (Watanabe sama) - Junichiro Watanabe (author)
In 1934, Japan Sword Smith Association (Dai-Nippon To-Sho Kyokai) was going to hold the first "Exhibition of New Works of Japanese Sword" in Tokyo supported by the Ministry of Education.
Kawaguchi encouraged Sadayoshi to submit one of his works to the exhibition, and Sadayoshi began the work to make one from scratch. However, he later visited Hokuetsu News with a sword he just finished, told us that he did not produce anything that he could confidently present and wanted us to wait another year.
Then I told him that this time to leave this all to me. I immediately jumped on to a train to the capital grabbing the sword Sadayoshi previously made for Shigezou Shimoda.
At Ueno Park (Tokyo Public Fine Arts Museum), I was filling out the application to submit the sword to the exhibition; I was a little troubled doing so as I was not the sword smith himself. A person in the crowd pulling carts full of swords, who I immediately recognized as Akihide Kurihara, passed right next to me.
I stopped him and said that I am having trouble filling out the form. Kurihara kindly checked the form and said, "This is good. Let me just take a look at the sword." I showed it to him and he said, "This is a great work. Who is the master of this sword smith?" He is local and has no master, I answered. Kurihara then just picked up the sword as well as the application, so I returned to Nagaoka city right then.
I literally jumped and was so glad when I later heard on the radio that the sword won the Prime Minister Award at the exhibition.
On New Year's Eve 1934, Kihachi Takano, a local dentist, visited the Hokuetsu News Corporation and informed us that his younger brother, Isoroku Yamamoto, who now is in England, will return to Japan and visit the family grave at Nagaoka, so he wanted to place an order of a "100 yen" sword made by Sadayoshi, the Prime Minister Award winner. On New Year's Day, I forwarded the request from Takano to Sadayoshi, and he gladly accepted it and said he will put forth his best effort.
The end of March, Sadayoshi brought two swords to us; one with a chu suguha hamon and one with a midare hamon. In order to make the deadline, he said that he asked Kintarou Takada to make the saya and Fukumatsu Abe to do the polish. I carried them to Takano, and he said he is going to ask Sorimachi and Utashichi Komagata to decide which sword he will give to his brother. He then visited us at six pm on the same day and picked the chu suguha katana for Yamamoto, stating that because Yamamoto is a navy man, the "quiet wave" of chu suguha will probably be better. He returned the other sword back to us; I kept this "kage-uchi (Shadow Sword)" for myself as Sadayoshi wished and have carefully preserved it since then. (Figure 2)
When the London Negotiation was recessed on December 20th, 1934, the Japanese government ordered Yamamoto to return to Japan. Yamamoto and his colleague through Siberia arrived at Tokyo on the afternoon February 12th.
When he had finished the official reporting, Yamamoto had some free time probably for the first time since he began serving in the Navy.
Sorimachi proposed that he should take a rest at his home in Nagaoka at this opportunity, and Yamamoto agreed. He then arrived at Nagaoka station at 2:30 PM, April 13th. He visited his brother Kihachi Takano and went to the family graves at Choko temple and Chofuku temple. The next day he visited Sakanoue Elementary School and Nagaoka High School, both of which he graduated from, and had lecture meetings. He stated in the meeting,
In April 15th, Yamamoto said to Sorimachi, "as you know, I've been out of Niigata for a long time. I barely know the place, people and things in Niigata. But I would love to look around all over the prefecture during this opportunity. I would ask you to kindly guide me through. I would start with seeing my high school friends who must be living near Nagaoka."
The trip started on 16th of April. They visited Kanamine Shrine at Zaou, Yahiko Shrine of Echigo-Ichinomiya, Shinano River near Oh-kawatsu, Honsei temple at Sanjyo to see the cherry blossoms, and stayed at Hakusan Shrine. At Takanosu hot spring, Yamamoto wrote "Yamamoto Isoroku, 52, 2 Sakanoue Nagaoka City; A sailor " on visitor's card.
At Kaji River, he did a handstand on a stem of the boat. The friends he visited were Sazaemon Omori at Kamikawa-nishi, Koshiro Hasegawa at Shimagami, Shogo Uchiyama at Kashiwazaki and Shozo Takeuchi at Takase.
On 28th, he returned to Tokyo with the sword with inscription "越後国住天田貞吉" ("Echigo no Kuni Ju Amada Sadayoshi") given by his brother Kihachi. During the trip, nobody recognized him since they both were wearing old winter military uniforms, which were more than twenty-years old.
Yamamoto holding the sword inscribed "越後国住天田貞吉" ("Echigo no Kuni Ju Amada Sadayoshi") at the base in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.
On August 20th, 1939, Yamamoto became the commander of the United Fleets and its First Fleet Division.
On November 11th, 1940, the celebrating conference of 2600th imperial year was held at the Double-Bridge Park in front of the Emperor's Palace. The emperor had a speech there under the bright sun. A few days later, Sorimachi who attended to the conference, talked to Yamamoto to share his impressions. Yamamoto answered, "Yes, I was invited, but I did not attend, so I cannot tell you how it was for me. It was an occasion where probably all of the government people and the emperor gathered in one place. We are at war against China. Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai Shek) is a great commander and he has a good Airforce power. If I were he, I would just attack the Double-Bridge Park and easily destroy Japan. Therefore, I was with the fleet watching the sky two entire days. It was nothing but luck that I did not see any airplanes coming." On November 15th, 1940, Yamamoto was promoted to the rank of admiral.
Nine o'clock in the morning of April 18th, 1943, Yamamoto and the general Ugaki left for Bougianville on two attack planes escorted by nine fighter planes. At 9:43AM, they faced twenty-four U.S. fighter planes. The two attack planes tried to evacuate by flying low, but the planes got hit and with both engines on fire, quickly crashed into the jungle. Yamamoto was found with a bullet wound in the left jaw which pierced him through the face, considered a fatal wound, and another bullet in his back, wearing white gloves, holding the sword by Amada Sadayoshi between his legs. The sword itself got shot three times; two on the saya and one on the tsuka. He was fifty-nine.
I personally have met Yamamoto five times total.