The origins of this sword lie in the Kyōto of the early Nanbokuchō period. The Nōami-hon Mei Zukushi states that rebellious monks entrenched themselves in the Konponchū-dō (根本中堂) of the Enryaku-ji (延暦寺) on Mt. Hiei (比叡山). They had raised a revolt but did not have enough swords to defend themselves so they hired the smith Rai Kunimitsu to come to Mt. Hiei to forge, quasi as an emergency measure, tachi and naginata. The monks were prepared for the worst and so their ringleader tested the magnificent blade forged for him. He cut dosn on a metal tsurigane (釣り金・ 吊り金, see picture below) to which the open shutters (shitomi, 蔀) are hooked. It is said that he easily severed the metal hook and thereupon nicknamed the blade Tsuriganekiri (釣り金切り).
tsurigane and shitomi
Not much is known about the outcome of the revolt but the blade eventually ended in the possession of Kyōto´s Nichiren temple, Honkoku-ji (本圀寺), which presented it to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In his letter of thanks he wrote: “ōmono-kire no katana tazune-sōrō ni suke, tsuriganekiri no katana kenji, mansoku ni sōrō, kyōko-kingen, shōgatsu nijūichi-nichi, Hideyoshi + [kaō]” (大物きれ之刀たつね候ニ付、 つりかんきり之刀験し、まんそくニ候、恐惶謹言・正月廿一日・秀吉), which translates as: “I am very pleased with your present of the katana Tsuriganekiri on my request for excellent and sharp swords. Kind regards, 21st day of the first month, Hideyoshi.”
The extant blade (see picture below) is a shortened katana which measures 63.6 cm. It is unclear if it was handed over to Hideyoshi in this shortened condition or if the shortening was ordered by the latter. But from the wording katana (刀) in the letter we can assume that the tachi had already been shortened to a katana. But katana or tō respectively is a general term for “sword” and so the wording does not necessarily refer to a blade of katana size or mounting. However, after the last battle for Ōsaka Castle – the so-called Battle of Tennōji and Okayama (Tennōji-Okayama no tatakai, 天王寺・岡山の戦い) – the sword was captured from the killed Hideyoshi-general Ōtani Yoshiharu (大谷吉治, 1581?-1615). Yoshiharu was killed by samurai under the command of Matsudaira Tadanao (松平忠直, 1595-1650), a grandson of Ieyasu. In this context it came into the possession of the Tokugawa family and was later presented to the Matsudaira branch, which ruled the Saijō fief (西条藩) on the Shikoku island. This family sold it in 1924 with other famous swords and was then bought by Mitsui Kōshin (三井高進), another member of the wealthy industrialist family Mitsui mentioned in the previous chapter.
katana, mumei, meibutsu Tsuriganekiri-Kuniyuki, nagasa 63.6 cm
Kōshin had the blade appraised but received an attribution to Rai Kuniyuki (来国行), the grandfather of Kunimitsu. Kōshin belonged to the Koishikawa branch (小石川) of the Mitsui. He graduated in 1943 from Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, and had remained in the USA even after the attacks on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. In the States he taught Japanese at Yale, Harvard and in Chicago. It was in Chicago where he heared of Japan´s defeat, but he returned some years later to his home country where he became editor-in-chief of the comic magazine “Disneyland” (Dizunī no kuni, ディズニーの国), published by the Japanese Reader´s Digest from 1946 to 1986.