In this chapter I would like to introduce two blades of the last of the sansaku, Gō Yoshihiro. According to tradition, Yoshihiro was a retainer of the Momonoi family (桃井) which ruled the Matsukura (松倉) district (gō, 郷) of Etchū province. On the basis of this local context, Yoshihiro is also called Matsukura-gō (松倉郷) or just Gō (郷), whereas the latter term was also written with the character (江) from the Edo period onwards which reads Gō too. Yoshihiro is dated to the Kenmu era (建武, 1334-1338). He was one of the so-called “Ten Students of Masamune” (Masamune no jūttetsu, 正宗の十哲), but this list has to be treated with caution because there are dated blades extant by some of those swordsmiths listed which do not match with the artistic period of Masamune. For the sake of completeness, I quote this list, but there are also varying lists going round. So is sometimes Kongobyōe Moritaka (金剛兵衛盛高) from Chikuzen province instead of Rai Kunitsugu or Sekishū Naotsuna.
Gō Yoshihiro (郷義弘) Etchū Norishige (則重) Bizen Nagayoshi (Chōgi) (長義) Bizen Kanemitsu (兼光) Hasebe Kunishige (長谷部国重) Sekishū Naotsuna (石州直綱) Chikuzen Samonji (筑前左文字) Yamashiro Rai Kunitsugu (来国次) Mino Shizu Kaneuji (志津兼氏) Mino Kinjū (Kaneshige) (金重)
Unfortunately there are no dated or signed blades extant by Gō Yoshihiro and soon the saying came up that “you can never see a ghost or a Gō.” This saying alludes to the numerous ghostly sightings in many places but in the end there is hardly anyone who personally witnessed them. But it is firmly believed that they exist, like blades of Gō. The first blade to be introduced is designated as national treasure and bears the gold-inlayed signature (kinzōgan-mei, 金象嵌銘) “Tenshō jūsan, nigatsu-hi – Gō – Hon´ami suriage kore + seal (kaō, 花押)” (天十三二月日 江 本阿弥磨上之, “Gō blade, shortened by the Hon´ami family on a day of the second month Tenshō 13 ”). And the back side of the tang bears the kinzōgan-mei of the previous owner of the blade: “shoji Inaba Kan´emon no Jō” (所持稲葉 勘右衛門尉).*1
Inaba Kan´emon no Jō (?-1598) – his first name was Shigemichi (重通), Kan´emon is his common name (zokumyō, 俗名) and Jō his honorary title title (shōgō, 称号) – belonged once to the cavalry unit (called uma-mawari-shū, 馬廻衆) which was assigned for the protection of Oda Nobunaga when he was on horseback on the battlefield. After the death of Nobunaga, Inaba became a retailer of Hideyoshi, once again as uma-mawari, and fought for him in the twelfth year of Tenshō (1584) at the Battle of Komaki and Nagakute (Komaki-Nagakute no tatakai, 小牧・長久手の戦い). For his military achievements in this battle he was rewarded with lands in Kawachi province. From the first year of Bunroku (文禄, 1592) until his death he was stationed in Nagoya Castle (名護屋) in Hizen province from which Hideyoshi started his campaigns to Korea.
Lehend says that Tokugawa Ieyasu bought this Gō Yoshihiro from him for 500 kan. The date and the exact circumstances are not recorded but it must had been after 1585 because the kinzōgan signature mentiones explicitely that Inaba Kan´emon no Jō (Shigemichi) was then still its owner. It is possible that the blade was damaged during the Battle of Komaki and Nagakute and had to be shortened. However, in the fifth year of Keichō (1600) – right before the Battle of Sekigahara . Ieyasu learned that Ishida Mitsunari, whom he allowed to retreat to his lands to Sawayama before, was going to make a new army in the west. Thus he entrusted his second son Yūki Hideyasu his favourite baton of command (saihai, 采配) and the Gō of Inaba Shigemichi as cheering symbols for his task to hold certain eastern areas for him.
After the victory of the Tokugawa side, the blade remained in the possession of Hideyasu. Together with the Dōjigiri-Yasutsuna and the Ishida-Masamune it became one of the three most valuable treasure swords of the Echizen-Matsudaira family (越前松平), the founder of which was namely Hideyasu. Afterwards all three blades went eventually into the possession of the Tsuyama branch of the Matsudaira. As the name suggests, the nickname Inaba-Gō (稲葉江) under which the blade is mentioned in the Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō, goes back to its former owner, Inaba Kan´emon no Jō Shigemichi.
kokuhō Inaba-Gō, mei: “Tenshō jūsan, nigatsu-hi – Gō – Hon´ami suriage kore + kaō – shoji Inaba Kan´emon no Jō,” nagasa 70.9 cm, sori 2.03 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, elongated chū-kissaki, broad mihaba, ō-suriage-nakago
Another blade of Gō Yoshihiro bears a quite poetic nickname, namely the so-called Samidare-Gō (see picture below). Samidare (五月雨) is the continuous, early summer rain which heralds the rainy season tsuyu (梅雨) in the fifth month of the lunar calendar. The Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō says that the name of the blade goes back to its tempering which looks like the veil of mist (kiri, 霧) hanging over the country in the days of the samidare. In addition, also the order of owners is recorded in the Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō, starting with Hon´ami Kōsa (本阿弥光瑳, 1576~1637). Kōsa was the great-grandson of Taga Takatada who was introduced in the last chapter and the cousin and later adopted heir of Hon´ami Kōetsu (本阿弥光悦, 1558-1637). When Kōetsu died, Kōsa succeeded as head of the Hon´ami family but he died just eight month afterwards. And so Kōsa´s son Kōho (光甫) followed which we got to know in the chapter on the Ōtenta-Mitsuyo.
jūyō-bunkazai Samidare-Gō, mumei, nagasa 71.8 cm, sori 1.5 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, broad mihaba, shallow sori, chū-kissaki, ō-suriage nakago
The next owner after Kōsa was Kuroda Nagamasa, followed by Tokugawa Iemitsu. According to traditions of the Owari branch of the Tokugawa family, Iemitsu presented the blade on the 21st day of the ninth month Kan´ei 16 (寛永, 1639) to Mitsutomo (光友, 1625-1700), the second generation Owari-Tokugawa. The sword record (Tōken- Shutsunyū Chō, 刀剣出入帳) of this family notes also the monetary value of the blade, namely 5,000 kan, and that there was once a mounting too when it was recorded as present.
Mitsutomo was an excellent fencer and studied the art of swords-manship of the Shinkage-ryū (新陰流) under Yagyū Ren´yasai Yoshikane (柳生連也斎厳包, 1625-1694), who on the other hand was a retainer of the Owari branch of the Tokugawa family.*2 On a sidenote: One of the most favourite swords of Yagyū Renya´sai was a 1 shaku 4 sun (~ 42,4 cm) measuring wakizashi in katakiriba-shinogi-zukuri – a shape where one side of the blade is forged with a ridge line and the other side not – made by the “house smith” of the Yagyū, Hata Mitsuyo (秦光代).*3 When Ren´yasai was one night surprised by an assassin, he drew this short sword and killed the enemy with one single cut. On the basis of this incident the blade got the nickname Oni-Hōchō (鬼包丁), lit. “devil´s kitchen knife.”
The successors of the Tokugawa mainline gave the Samidare-Gō in 1944 to the Tokugawa Museum in Nagoya which was erected nine years before. This museums contains among others the treasures and the collection of the Owari-Tokugawa branch. The sayagaki of the shirasaya reads:
(五月雨郷 御刀 無代 長弐尺参寸七分 元禄十二卯年七月廿五日 尾張中納 言殿御遺物) “Samidare-Gō mito – mudai – chō 2 shaku 3 sun 7 bu – Genroku 12 usagidoshi shichigatsu nijūgonichi – Owari Chūnagon–dono go-ibutsu”
“Sword Samidare-Gō – priceless (lit. “without monetary assessment”) – length 71,8 cm – Genroku twelve (1699), year of the hare, seventh month, 25th day – from the bequest of Lord Owari Chūnagon”
The inscription “Lord Owari Chūnagon” refers to Tokugawa Tsunanari (徳川綱誠, 1652-1699), Iemitsu´s son and third generation of the Owari-Tokugawa branch.
*1 Shoji (所持) means “owner,” “in possession of…”
*2 Mitsutomo succeeded even as 6th grandmaster of the Shinkage-ryū main line.
*3 The characters for his name are also read as Mitsushiro.