The Furiwakegami-Masamune

This sword was also in the possession of the Date family, but because there existed two different provenances I devote a separate chapter to it. I want to start with the version of the Date family which begins with an evening gathering in the castle of Edo. A popular pastime amongst daimyō on such an occasion was to tell scary stories, anecdotes or glorious deeds of the swords they wore at the moment. The oldest of them, Katō Yoshiaki (加藤嘉明, 1563-1631) – he was one of Hideyoshi’s closest generals*1 – spoke first: “Lord Date, as ruler of large parts of northern Ōshū, you surely wear a Masamune, don´t you?” “Of course!,” immediately replied Date Masamune. But his answer was over-hastily because the wakizashi lying next to him on the tatami mat was namely no Masamune. He skillfully manouevred himself out of the situation and asked for a continuation of the topic for the next day because he had to return urgently to his Edo residence.

There he immediately called for the sword official: “I need a wakizashi by Masamune! Look for such a blade in our treasury. For my part I am fine if you have to shorten a Masamune katana for this but for heaven´s sake, I need a Masamune-wakizashi by tomorrow!” There was no Masamune wakizashi in the collection of the Date at that time but there was a katana measuring 2 shaku 3 sun (~ 69.7 cm). In a rush, the smith Kunikane (国包) who worked for the Sendai fief was called to carried out the shortening to 1 shaku 6 sun 7 bu (~ 50.6 cm). Date Masamune gave the blade thereupon the nickname Furiwake-gami-Masamune (振分け髪正宗). Furiwakegami refers to an ancient centre-parting and shoulder-length child´s hairstyle. But for the meaning of the nickname we have to go back a bit. The shortening of a masterwork because of a dumb slip reminded Masamune of a line in the Heian-era epic Ise Monogatari (伊勢物語), which reads:

Kurabekoshi furiwakegami mo kata-suginu, kimi narazushite dareka agubeki. (くらべ来し振り分け髪も肩過ぎぬ君ならずして誰かあぐべき) “This parted hair I once compared with yours now falls past my shoulders. Who should tie it up if not you?”

The story is about a childhood love. The young boy and girl had fun comparing their sizes at the village well. When they grew up, they lost sight of each other but their strong love was still present. When the parents of the girl started to look for a husband she refused because there was only one person worth considering. Just before the boy wrote namely a poem for her:

Tsutsu-izutsu, izutsu ni kakeshi marogatake oishikerashina imōto mizaru-aida ni. (筒井筒、井筒にかけしまろがたけ生いしけらしな妹見ざる間に) “Since last I saw you my height has surpassed that of the well-curb where we measured it.”

The former poem by the girl was the answer to this one. In old Japan it was the custom that young girls tied their hair up when they reached a marriagable age, or rather it was also the husband who symbolically tied it up during the wedding ceremony. That means the girl’s answer poem was indeed a proposal.

With the Meiji Restoration, the Furiwakegami-Masamune was still owned by the Date family but had to be pawned. The original tang, which was cut-off at the shortening, was also still preserved. The new owner had both the blade and the tang with its signature appraised, but it turned out that the former was shintō and the latter gimei. That means the blade was made when Date Masamune was still alive. Others say that the blade is a Bizen work of the Muromachi period. The origami, by the way, which gives it a value of 300 gold coins is from the second year of An´ei (安永, 1773). The late Edo-period sword protocols of the Date family, the On Koshimono Kata Honchō (御腰物方本帳), lists the Furiwakegami-Masamune at the very end which means that it was one of the later acquisitions. Therein we find the note: “Ryūgasaki agaru” (竜ケ崎上, “present from Ryūgasaki”). Ryūgasaki was a Date enclave in Hitachi province. Maybe it was a present from its governor. So the sword is not a genuine Masamune but a good example for how essential it was then for the upper warrior class to own at least one blade of this legendary master smith, even if they had to play tricks.


The Furiwakegami-Masamune from the former possessions of the Date.

The aforementioned second approach sees Oda Nobunaga as the former owner of the blade. It is said that he captured it when he crushed Echizen´s Asakura family (朝倉) in Tenshō one (天正, 1573), during the Battle of Tonezaka (Tonezaka no tatakai, 刀根坂の戦い). The Masamune blade measuring 2 shaku 6 sun 6 bu (~ 80.6 cm) was too long for him but he hesitated to have it shortened. So he asked Hosokawa Yūsai Fujitaka (細川幽斎藤孝, 1534-1610) for advice. As we have learned in this story and in the first volume of the Legends and Stories around the Japanese Sword, Fujitaka was a renowned poet and answered Nobunaga in the form of the young girl´s line from the Ise Monogatari.

Nobunaga’s interpretation of the poem was that a shortening was like tying up the hair of a young girl, marking a new stage in the sword´s life. So he had it shortened to 2 shaku 1 sun 5 bu (~ 65.1 cm) and called it Furiwakegami-Masamune. But it is unclear how these two traditions are connected to each other, or if there was a connection at all.


*1 He was one of the so-called “Seven Spears” (shichi-hon yari, 七本槍) during the Battle of Shizugatake (賤ヶ岳) in 1583. The Seven Spears were Hideyoshi’s personal mounted guards.

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