The “demonic” Yukihira

This story ties to Hosokawa Yūsai, the daimyō mentioned in the last chapter who gave the Konotegashiwa-Kanenaga its name. His favourite sword was a work of the smith Yukihira (行平), who is traditionally dated to the Genkyū era (元久, 1204-1206) and worked on the Kunisaki peninsula (国東) of Bungo province on Kyūshū. His full name was Kishin Dayū (紀新大夫) and Yukihira was the name he used as a swordsmith and with which he signed his blades.

Once day he was visited by a strangely dressed young man. “Honourable smith, I come because I am bullied in my village and my relatives were banned from the village community. Therefore I ask you if you can forge me a sword with which I can take revenge.” “Well, an exclusion from the village community is a bad thing and so I will accept your order,” Yukihira replied, but realizing that the young man was of a strange appearance: he had short hair and a partly shaved head with a topknot, a hairstyle which were not in fashion until the Edo period.*1 In addition he had crow feathers swen to his dress.

However, order is order and under serious hip pain the then already old swordsmith Yukihira started to work. He forged a 2 shaku and 7 sun (~ 81.8 cm) measuring tachi and when he realized that this should be one of his best masterworks he even forgot his pain for a while. The young man came at the pre-arranged time and date but because of Yukihira´s reduced working capacity, the blade was not completely finished but had only a first foundation polish. With many apologies he handed him over the sword but the young man didn´t matter about that. He shouldered the blade and went away. Yukihira shouted: “The sword does not even have a hilt?”, but the mysterious stranger did not hear his words.

Some days later the youngling came back to the smithy and said with a grin from ear to ear: “Your sword is excellent. I slaughtered all scoundrels without mercy! As I feel now relieved, I want to return the favour and offer my free services as an assistant.” Yukihira replied that he is not able to learn the craft of sword forging in such a short time but the uncanny young man had a very quick perception and soon forged, folded, and tempered an excellent blade only on the basis of the master smith´s oral instructions. No man can do that, that´s for sure.

At another day the “apprentice” came with a huge amount of shiny coins and said that Yukihira is free to buy all the best raw material he likes. But when he tried to head out to the next village to buy some stuff he was suddenly unable to get up. Well, the smith ascribed this to his hip complaint and so the young man got to work allone. He forged at lightning speed 66 blades, signing them all with “Yukihira,”*2 and stored them in a cave at a mountain behind the smithy. Back again he said: “Master, you are old. It would be better if you stop working at all. Therefore I forged for you many shorter and longer blades which you can sell and live with the money free from worries for the rest of your life.” Yukihira was moved and thanked the young man in tears.

But the stranger continued: „When I took revenge back then with your sword the deity Brahmā (jap. Bonten, 梵天) appeared in front of me and reprimanded sharply that I should better hide three years for what I did. Thus I thought by myself it would be a good idea to spend this three years with you master and I thank you that you welcomed me in your smithy.“ Saying these words the youngling disappeared was never seen again. But as soon he was gone the hip complaints disappeared too. However, the smith was not too old to forge blades but he could do his living from the finished swords of his former assistant placed in the mentioned cave. When doind „sales talk“ the smith mentioned always proudly: “This sword was forged by a demonic god and it cuts exactly that way!” So the first two characters of his name “Kishin Daiyū” (紀新大夫) were sometimes replaced by (鬼神) which means “demonic god” but are also read as “Kishin.”

Yukihira himself leaded an obsessive way of life too because he was sent to exile several times. According to records of the former lord of Kishi (岸) where the smith was working, one time even for 16 years to Kōzuke province. The exact reasons for these punishments are not known and it is said that Yukihira forged even swords under another name in his place of banishment. One legend says that he killed an adversary even during proceedings of another banishment and that he was therefore deleted from the goban-kaji list (御番鍛冶)*3 of emperor Gotoba (後鳥羽, 1180-1239). And the smithes of the Takada school (高田) from Bungo province told that Yukihira had an influence on the swordsmiths of the bakufu when he was banished to the village of Yui (由井) which is close to Kamakura.

Now back to Hosokawa Yūsai. Shortly before the Battle of Sekigahara Yūsai ruled with his about 500 men Tanabe Castle (田辺, Tango province) for the Tokugawa. When Ishida Mitsunari (石田三成, 1560-1600) deployed for the final move against Tokugawa Ieyasu, he layed siege to Tanabe with 15.000 men, among others under the leadership of his generals Onoki Shigekatsu (小野木重勝, 1563-1600) and Maeda Shigekatsu (前田茂勝, 1582-1621). Yūsai was less frightened of losing the castle or his live but that the continuation of the anthology Kokin Waka Shū (古今和歌集) on which he worked could be lost forver. One of his students was prince Hachijōnomiya Toshihito (八条宮智仁, 1579-1629), the younger brother of the then emperor Go-Yōsei (後陽成, 1571-1617). It was tried two times to talk Yūsai into surrendering via this connection because everybody realized that resistace was useless and a peaceful surrending of the castle the best way. But Yūsai was stubborn. The court definitely expected the death of Yūsai and because they did not want the loss of his, kokin-denju (古今伝授) called works on the epochal anthology, the officially issued an imperial order to hand out all the documents. Thus an envoy was sent to Tanabe which consisted of the aristocrats Sanjōnishi Saneeda (三条西実条, 1575-1640), Nakanoin Michikatsu (中院通勝, 1556-1610), and Karasumaru Mitsuhiro (烏丸光広, 1579-1638), who were famous poets themselves and therefore „in the trade“. Yūsai obeyed and surrended the castle two day before the Battle of Sekigahara after being besieged for two months. In the end Yūsai was relieved too that his kokin-denju continuation of the Kokin Waka Shū was in safe hands and presented for good measure Mitsuhiro with his beloved tachi of Yukihira.

This sword was then known under the name Kokindenju-Yukihira and is nowadays designed as national treasure (see picture below). It remained uninterruptedly in the possession of the Karasumaru family until it was passed over the the aristocrat marquis Nakayama Takamaro (中山孝麿, 1853-1919) in 1894. When his family put the sword up for auction in June 1929, Hosokawa Moritatsu (細川護立, 1883-1970) – the then head of the Hosokawa family in 16th generation, president of the NBTHK and grandfather of the later prime minister Hosokawa Morihiro (細川護煕, geb. 1938) – bought it right away and was happy that the sword was once again a family property.


kokuhō Kokindenju-Yukihira, mei: “Bungo no Kuni Yukihira saku” (豊後国行平作), nagasa 79.9 cm, sori 2.9 cm, shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, ko-kissaki, deep koshizori, funbari, ubu-nakago in kijimomo shape


Mounting of the Kokindenju-Yukihira which goes probably back to the time of Yūsai.



*1 This kind of hairstyle with partly shaved head (sakayaka, 月代) and topknot (chonmage, 丁髷) is the typical samurai hairstyle as we know it from pictures and movies.

*2 Whereas he signed the character in semicursive style (gyōsho, 行書) but Yukihira signed always in block letters (kaisho, 楷書).

*3 When Gotoba abdicated in 1198 he invited the best swordsmiths of the country as so-called ban-kaji (番鍛冶, lit. “rotating smiths” or “smiths on a rota basis”) to his residence. The goal of this “study group” was to create a perfect sword blade.

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