The Nagashino and other Ichimonji

We are back again in the turmoils of the Sengoku era or, to be more precise, in Mikawa province in the spring of the third year of Tenshō (天正, 1575). Takeda Shingen´s son Katsuyori (武田勝頼, 1546-1582) had marched into the Shitaragahara plain (設楽原) with about 15.000 men and besieged Nagashino Castle (長篠城) because he saw that their supply lines were threatened. Two years earlier, and because of Shingen´s death, Ieyasu had been able to conquer the castle from the Takeda and installed Okudaira Nobumasa (奥平信昌, 1555-1615) as castellan who had before served the Takeda in their conquest of Mikawa province. Instantly Katsuyori ordered the execution of three Okudaira hostages (see footnote 4 of this story) for this breach of loyalty. As Nobumasa was now besieged by Katsuyori, Nobunaga and Ieyasu sent a big force of 38,000 men as support, but it was first and foremost the matchlock guns of the Oda-Tokugawa-Okudaira alliance that had a decisive influence on the defeat of the Takeda troops.


Portrait of Okudaira Nobumasa.

Nobumasa fought bravely and defended the castle without any major losses. Impressed, Nobunaga granted him the character Nobu (信) from his name, whereupon the castellan changed his name from the former Sadamasa (貞昌) to Nobumasa. But more important for the latter was the accompanying sword present, namely a masterly Fukuoka-Ichimonji blade (福岡一文字, see picture below) which bore the signature for “one” (Jap. ichi, 一) as it was common for certain smiths of that school. This character – or single more or less horizontal stroke – gave the school it´s name because “Ichimonji” means “character (for) one.” And according to the context of the battle, the blade was nicknamed Nagashino-Ichimonji (長篠一文字).


kokuhō, tachi, mei “Ichi” (一), nagasa 70.9 cm, sori 3.0 cm

A greatly shortened Ichimonji blade which eventually lost its signature is the meibutsu Nansen-Ichimonji (南泉一文字). It is nowadays designated jūyō-bunkazai and is preserved in the Tokugawa Museum of Art in Nagoya. The nickname of this fine piece goes back to the following tradition.

Muneyoshi (徳川宗睦, 1733-1800),*1 the 9th generation of the Owari-Tokugawa family, ordered his sword official to find out more about the provenance of the blade in question. He compiled a report where he stated that it was once owned by the Muromachi-shōgun but does not mention when or how it came into the possession of the Ashikaga family. The latter however had it polished, but when the blade was stored on the sword rack in the polisher´s workshop, an unlucky cat bumped into the rack and was cut in half by the falling piece. This incident reminded the then sword official of an anecdote by the Chinese Zen priest Nansen (南泉, chin. Nánqúan, 748-835).

One day the monks around Nansen were arguing about a Zen problem. Nansen grasped a cat, held it up in the air and asked: “If any of you is able to say anything appropriate I will spare this cat. Otherwise I will kill it with my sword.” All the monks were shocked and tried hard to come up with “Zen-appropriate” wisdoms. It turned out that nobody was able to impress Nansen and so he killed the poor animal. When the best student returned home that evening, Nansen told him what had happened earlier. Thereupon the student took his sandals and layed them on top of his head. “If you had just been there today I would have been able to spare the cat!” Nansen knew that his student was deeply enlightened because he had given up all delusive thoughts and forced “Zen-appropriate” thinking about enlightenment.


jūyō-bunkazai, katana, meibutsu Nansen-Ichimonji, nagasa 61.5 cm, sori 1.8 cm

So the blade was called Nansen-Ichimonji and went later by unknown paths into the collection of Hideyoshi who bequeathed it to Toyotomi Hideyori. The latter in turn presented it to Tokugawa Ieyasu in the third month of Keichō 16 (慶長, 1611) when they met in Kyōto´s Nijō Castle. This is how it is mentioned in the sword register of the Toyotomi family called Toyotomi Ke Katana Chō (豊臣家刀帳). After Ieyasu´s death the blade went to Yoshinao (徳川義直, 1601-1650), the founder of the Owari-Tokugawa family, who made it an important treasure sword of this branch of the Tokugawa. The Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō mentions the provenance of the sword as follows: Ieyasu → Yoshinao → the 2nd Tokugawa-shōgun Hidetada → Yoshinao. But the records of the Owari-Tokugawa does not mention this “detour” via Hidetada. Interesting is that the second generation Owari-Tokugawa, Mitsutomo (徳川光友, 1625-1700), had the blade mounted as a wakizashi, that means it was at the latest shortened to its present length during his time.


kokuhō, tachi, mumei, meibutsu Nikkō-Ichimonji, nagasa 68.3 cm, sori 2.3 cm

The picture above shows the so-called Nikkō-Ichimonji (日光一文字). The name goes back to the fact that the sword was once obtained by Hōjō Sō´un (北条早雲, 1432-1519) from Nikkō´s Futarasan-jinja (二荒山 神社). Later it came into the possession of the Kuroda Josui (黒田如水, 1546-1604) who played an important role in the negotiations between Hideyoshi and the Hōjō after the defeat of the latter during the Siege of Odawara in 1590.

Also listed in the Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō is the so-called Dōyo-Ichimonji (道誉一文字) which received its name from its former owner Sasaki Dōyo (佐々木道誉, 1296-1373)*2 who had helped Ashikaga Takauji to suppress the revolt of emperor Godaigo (後醍醐天皇, 1288-1315). But the tracks vanish after Dōyo until it turns up later in the collection of the Owari-Tokugawa family. Some records say that the family received it as a gift from the Ikeda family (池田) but returned it somewhat later. From the Ikeda it went to the Nanbu family (南部) whose 43rd generation Toshiatsu (南部利淳, 1884-1930) presented it to emperor Shōwa when he visited the former lands of the Nanbu clan in 1928. Today it is still a gyobutsu (see picture below).


gyobutsu, tachi, mei “Ichi,” meibutsu Dōyo-Ichimonji, nagasa 80.0 cm, sori 3.8 cm

An Ichimonji blade which bears the signature of an individual smith – namely of Yoshifusa (吉房) – is the so-called Okadagiri (岡田切, see picture below). Yoshifusa was one of the most outstanding representatives of the Fukuoka-Ichimonji school and, according to tradition, was active around Hōji (宝治, 1247-1249).

After the Battle of Shizugatake, Nobunaga´s son Oda Nobukatsu (織田信雄, 1558-1630) ended their alliance with Toyotomi Hideyoshi by first choosing an indirect way. When the construction of Ōsaka Castle was finished in 1573, Hideyoshi invited all of his allies to the new stronghold. The primary aim was to find out who was still loyal to him and who was not. When Nobukatsu did not show up this was equal to a breach of loyalty but Hideyoshi did not want to lose this important general and so he requested the Nobukatsu-retainers Okada Shigetaka (岡田重孝, ?- 1584), Tsugawa Yoshifuyu (津川義冬, 1545-1584) and Asai Nagatoki (浅井長時, 1569?-1584) to persuade their lord to attend the gathering. But Nobukatsu saw himself confronted with a supposed conspiracy. On the sixth day of the third month of Tenshō twelve (1584) he in turn invited these three retainers to his castle at Nagashima (長島城), in Ise province, and killed them. According to tradition, Nobukatsu killed Okada Shigetaka himself and thereupon called the blade „Okadagiri“. Later the piece was owned by the Masuda family (益田) who were one of the elders of the Chōshū fief (長州藩). The Masuda eventually presented the Okadagiri to emperor Meiji. Incidentally, the action of executing the negotiators resulted in the Battle of Komaki and Nagakute (Komaki-Nagakute no tatakai, 小牧・長久手の戦い) and with the return of Nobukatsu into Hideyoshi’s ranks.


gyobutsu, tachi, mei “Yoshifusa,” meibutsu Okadagiri, nagasa 69.1 cm, sori 2.1 cm


*1 His name is also read Munechika.

*2 His actual name was Takauji (高氏). Dōyo was his priest name.

The Tsuriganekiri-Kuniyuki

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 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.

The tantō Uraku Rai Kunimitsu

In this story we learnt that swords were considered as essential presents for higher ranking bushi. As Hideyori received a tantō from Katō Kiyomasa, quasi as the first and last personal sword gift of the Toyotomi warrior, he in turn was of course obliged to present swords to allies and major retainers. One of them was a tantō by Rai Kunimitsu (来国光, see picture below). It was handed over to Oda Urakusai Nagamasu (織田有楽斎長益, 1547-1622), the younger brother of Oda Nobunaga, and this is why it received the nickname Uraku Rai Kunimitsu (有楽来国光).*1

The Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō mentions the provenance of the sword as follows: “Present from lord Hideyori to lord Nobunaga´s younger brother Gengorō Taira Nagamasu Nyūdō Uraku (源五郎平長益入道有楽). On the request of [Maeda] Toshitsune and by agency of [Hon´ami] Kōho (光甫), it went later to lord Awaji no Kami (淡路守). But the mentioned sword is now back in the possession of the Kaga lords.” “Awaji no Kami” refers to Toshitsune´s second son Maeda Toshitsugu (前田利次, 1617-1674). When Toshitsune retired in Kan´ei 16 (寛永, 1639) part of the Kaga fief were assigned to his second and third sons. That means Toshitsugu received the newly founded Toyama fief (富山藩) in Etchū province and the third son Toshiharu (前田利治, 1618-1660) received Kaga´s Daishōji fief (大聖寺藩). And in the last sentence of this entry the Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō of course refers to the Maeda family, the lords of Kaga.



kokuhō, tantō, mei “Rai Kunimitsu” (来国光), nagasa 27.7 cm, uchizori

We can only speculate about the backgrounds of this sword presented to Oda Urakusai. Contrary to his older brother Nobunaga, the battlefield was never the home of Urakusai and he was also not greatly involved in the wheelings and dealings of the three great unifiers. Urakusai focused mainly on the tea ceremony and so became a student of Sen no Rikyū (千利休, 1522-1591). He also founded his own school of tea called Uraku-ryū (有楽流). In the 18th year of Tenshō (天正, 1590) he retired to lands in Settsu province worth 2.000 koku, given to him by Hideyoshi. In turn he was ordered by the latter to guard and supervice his concubine and second wife Yodo-dono (淀殿, 1596-1615), who was Urakusai´s niece. Despite his connection with the Toyotomi, Urakusai, with his eldest son Nagataka (織田長孝, ?-1606), was in the command of force of 450 men belonging to the eastern army of Ieyasu at Sekigahara. It is recorded that Urakusai took two heads during the squirmish. After the battle he again sided with the Toyotomi, but at Ōsaka he joined the side of the more moderate Hideyori supporters.

It is not known that Hideyori was an enthusiastic follower of the tea ceremony and so it can rather be ruled out that the presentation of the Rai Kunimitsu had something to do with tea. It was probably a gesture towards Urakusai, to ensure and strengthen the Oda alliance. Anyway, after the fall of Ōsaka, Urakusai devoted himself even more to the tea ceremony in Kyōto.


Portrait of Oda Urakusai.

I would like to introduce here another kokuhō blade by Rai Kunimitsu (see picture below). Kunimitsu was, according to tradition, the second son of Rai Kunitoshi (来国俊) and active in Kyōto around Karyaku (嘉暦, 1326-1329). There are dated signatures extant from the first year of Karyaku and the second year of Kan´ō (観応, 1351). The blade in question is a tachi which was worn by Matsudaira Tadaaki (松平忠明, 1583-1644) – one of the numerous grandsons of Ieyasu – during the Ōsaka campaigns in 1614 and 1615. With the end of the Edo period it eventually went into the possession of the wealthy Iwasaki family (岩崎), whose member Yatarō (岩崎弥太郎, 1835-1885, see picture below) founded the Mitsubishi-zaibatsu (三菱財閥) financial clique in 1893.


Iwasaki Yatarō (left), Yamagata Aritomo (right)

Later the tachi was owned by the polititian Yamagata Aritomo (山縣有朋, 1838-1922, see picture above), a general of the Satsuma Rebellion and the first prime minister of the Meiji Restoration. Aritomo presented the piece to emperor Meiji, who in turn donated it to the Tōkyō National Museum which was founded in 1872. And in 2005, the kokuhō was finally transferred to the newly opened Kyūshū National Museum (九州国立博物).


kokuhō, tachi, mei “Rai Kunimitsu” (来国光), nagasa 80.7 cm


*1 Some sources also list this name as “Yūraku Rai Kunimitsu” but this is not correct.

The spears of Katō Kiyomasa

I have introduced Katō Yoshiaki – one of the so-called “Seven Spears of Shizugatake” – in this story. Another of those shichi-hon yari was Katō Kiyomasa (加藤清正, 1562-1611), who in turn was introduced in chapter 14.*1 Tradition says that Kiyomasa wielded in the Battle of Shizugatake a Shimosaka-school (下坂) jūmonji-yari (十文字槍), a cross-shaped yari which looks very similar to a partisan. Kihara Tateomi (木原楯臣, 1805-1868), a samurai of Higo´s Kumamoto fief (熊本藩) and an expert on court etiquette, depicts in his work Tōken Zusetsu (刀剣図説) a drawing of this jūmonji-yari (see picture below). According to Kihara, the piece was later in the possession of the Nakagawa family (中川), the lords of Oka Castle (岡城) in Bungo province. The signature of the piece in question reads: “Shimosaka-jū ?? – Katō Toranosuke” (下坂住◯◯・ 加藤虎介).


jūmonji-yari of Katō Kiyomasas from the former possessions of the Nakagawa family, nagasa of the central blade 26.0 cm

Toranosuke (虎之助) – Kihara quotes the signature without the particle no (之) – was the first name Kiyomasa used until he received the honorary title Kazue no Kami (主計頭) in Tenshō 13 (天正, 1585). This means that the jūmonji-yari must have been forged before that year. Unfortunately, the signature is illegible after “Shimosaka-jū,” but there is another ōmi-yari (大身槍) preserved in Kumamoto´s Honmyō-ji (本妙寺) whose provenance says that it was also worn by Kiyomasa during the Battle of Shizugataka. This yari has a blade length of 53.0 cm and bears the signature “Shimosaka-jū Kanemitsu” (下坂住兼光). So it is possible that the jūmonji-yari too goes back to the hand of this smith. But there remains a certain problem, namely that the eldest Shimosaka smith with the name Kanemitsu who is found in the records worked around Kan´ei (寛永, 1624-1644), i.e. considerably later than Shizugatake. In short, the signature on both yari have to be treated with caution.


Portrait of Katō Kiyomasa.


The statue in front of the Honmyō-ji with his katakama-yari.

Let us now turn to Kiyomasa’s career as a warrior. In the Edo-period chronicle on his life Kiyomasa Ki (清正記) it is mentioned that he fought his first battle at the age of 20 (according to the Japanese way of counting years). This was an attack on Tottori Castle (鳥取城) in the ninth year of Tenshō (天正, 1581). The chronicle says that he did a good job with his hankyū (半弓, a smaller bow) and his katana. Interestingly, the Kiyomasa Ki mentions that Kiyomasa wore a jūmonji-yari in his very next battle, which was against Bitchū´s Kanmuriyama Castle (冠山城), in the spring of Tenshō ten (1582). During the attacks on Ise´s Kameyama Castle (亀山城) the following year (1583), Hideyoshi promoted him to his vanguard as a kind of baptism of fire. Kiyomasa was confronted with a line of teppō which he approached sideways, mounted and wielding a 3 m yari to push down the barrels from a distance. Doing so, he quickly brought the tip of his spear back to a striking position and pierced the enemy commander Ōmi Shinshichi (近江新七) through his shoulder.

Some years after the Battle of Shizugatake, to be more precise in the 17th year of Tenshō (1589), Katō Kiyomasa was ordered to Kyūshū where some uprisings had started after Hideyoshi had stabilized the situation somewhat earlier. In a skirmish he faced the Higo general Kimura Danjō Masachika (木山弾正正親, ?-1589). The Kiyomasa Ki says that Kiyomasa bore a jūmonji-yari, Danjō a bow. Because the weapons were obviously unequal, Kiyomasa suggested to duel with swords and slowly lowered his spear. But when Danjō laid aside his bow, Kiyomasa quickly grasped his yari again with both hands and killed him. The chronicle says that a tip of his spear broke during this incident, which actually transformed the piece into a so-called katakama-yari (片鎌槍).

According to the Buhenbanashi Kikigaki (武辺咄聞書), Kiyomasa later offered the damaged spear to the shrine which was erected on the Bukkizaka (仏木坂), the hill on which the “duel” took place. It is said that the jūmonji-yari was a work of Shizu Saburō Kaneuji (志津三郎兼氏) and that the scabbard was covered with bear fur over the area of the main blade and with black wool (rasha, 羅紗) at the tips.

But there exists another version of this tradition where Danjō wrestled Kiyomasa down onto his shoulders and started to cut off his head. When his men reached the peak of the Bukizaka they could not grasp the situation because of the dust the two fighters had whirled up. One of them shouted “Milord, are you the one on top or the one on the ground?” Kiyomasa made use of Danjō´stutter and answered first: “I am the one on the ground!” And so it came – according to that version of the tradition – that Danjō on the top was killed by his own men.

Well, the later version of the Kiyomasa chronicle called Zokusen Kiyomasa Ki (続撰清正記) says that Danjō challenged Kiyomasa with an ōmi-yari but that it was easy for the latter to keep Danjō in check with the lateral blade of his katakama-yari. The document mentions that the blade bent during the fight but Kiyomasa was later able to bring it back to its original position on an azalea trunk before he killed the oncoming enemies. Another publication, the Kawasumi Taikō Ki (川角太閤記) – which is an early Edo-period collection of anecdotes about Hideyoshi – writes that Kiyomasa’s yari was old and that it became loose at the kuchigane (口金), the metal collar at the upper end of the shaft. And, with the force of the enemy blows, the entire blade section eventually broke off from the tang.

Legendary of course is also Katō Kiyomasa’s tiger hunt with a katakama-yari during the Korean campaigns. Before I introduce the latter piece I present on the following pages some interpretations by various artists of this famous subject.


The tiger hunt, after Tsukioka Toyotoshi (月岡芳年, 1839-1892)


The tiger hunt, after the 2nd gen. Utagawa Kunitsuna (歌川国綱, 1829-1874)


The tiger hunt, after Utagawa Yoshiiku (歌川芳幾, 1833-1904)

A theory says that the katakama-yari Kiyomasa used in Korea was originally a jūmonji-yari of which a tiger bit off one of the lateral blades. But the piece preserved today in the Tōkyō National Museum (see picture below) clearly proves, because of its forging structure and hardening, that it had always been a katakama-yari. With the marriage of Kiyomasa´s fifth daughter Yasohime (八十姫, 1601-1666)*2 to Tokugawa Yorinobu (徳川頼宣, 1602-1671) the blade went as a dowry into the Kii branch of the Tokugawa. Together with the yari the larger of the two tiger skulls brought back by Kiyomasa from Korea (see picture below) also went into the possession of the Kii-Tokugawa. The smaller one was presented to the Abe family (阿部).


Kiyomasa´s katakama-yari (Tōkyō Natioal Museum).


The two extant tiger skulls.

Another part of this dowry was a blade by master smith Horikawa Kunihiro (堀川国広, see picture below) which was worn by Kiyomasa himself. It bears therefore the nickname Katō-Kunihiro (加藤国広) and was sold at the beginning of the Shōwa era, i.e. the late 1920´s, by the Kii-Tokugawa. The buyer back then was baron Mitsui Takakimi (三井高公, 1895-1992). Today the blade is designated jūyō-bunkazai and is owned by Tōkyō´s Mitsui Memorial Museum (三井記念美術館).


jūyō-bunkazai, katana, mei “Kunihiro” (国広), nagasa 69.4 cm, sori 1.8 cm

In the third month of the 16th year of Keichō (慶長, 1611), Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyori met in Nijō Castle (二条城), in Kyōto, to negotiate an agreement between both families. Katō Kiyomasa was invited to this gathering as one of the major advisers. When the negotiations again failed to conclude, Kiyomasa, tired and seeing his end near, approached Hideyori: “I have known you since you were in your mother´s womb. Now it is time to say goodbye, it is sad that this is the first time I show you my appreciation with this present!” He opened his bag and gave Hideyori a tantō in tears. Kiyomasa had probably realized that the conflict between Ieyasu and Hideyori would end in bloodshed, which was actually true when Ōsaka Castle was besieged three years later. On his journey home to Higo Kiyomasa became ill and died in Kumamoto on the 24th day of the sixth month of the same year.

The tantō he presented to Hideyori is still extant today (see picture below). It is a work of Osafune Sukesada and bears the signature: “Bishū Osafune Sukesada saku – Eishō jūsannen nigatsu-hi” (備州長船 祐定作・永正十三年二月日, “a day in the second month of Eishō 13 [1516]”). The blade is mounted with an unobtrusive and very tasteful koshirae. The lower half of the saya is interpreted as bamboo wickerwork (ajiro, 網代). The hilt is unwrapped, has a rough lacquer finish and shows menuki in the form of horsetail. Today this style of mounting is called Katō-kō-goshirae (加藤公拵) or Kiyomasa-goshirae (清正拵). The piece is owned by Higo´s Honmyō-ji in which Kiyomasa is buried and is preserved in the Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art (熊本県立美術館).


tantō, mei “Bishū Osafune Sukesada saku – Eishō jūsannen nigatsu-hi,” nagasa 21.6 cm


*1 Yoshiaki and Kiyomasa belonged to two different branches of the Katō and were not blood related.

*2 Her later name was Yōrin´in (瑤林院).

The Tsurumaru-Kuninaga

Once the poet Chōmu (蝶夢)*1 compiled in the first year of Jōkyō (貞享, 1684) a provenance for the Tsurumaru-Kuninaga (鶴丸国永) which says that it was once worn by Taira no Koremochi´s (平維茂) grandson Jō Tarō Sadashige (城太郎貞茂). In Eishō six (永承, 1051) Koremochi´s son Shigemochi (繁茂) assumed the office of Dewa Jōnosuke (出羽城介), i.e. he became the governor of Dewa and Akita province.

From the Kamakura period onwards, this office was renamed Akita Jōnosuke (秋田城介) and because of the name Jōnosuke, Shigemochi´s successors, like Tarō Sadashige, took the family name Jō (城). On the other hand, the sword chronicle Go Tōken Ki (御刀剣記) of the Date family writes that around Hōgen (保元, 1156-1159) the sword was originally owned by a certain Murakami Tarō Nagamori (村上太郎永守) from which it came into the possession of Seino Saburō Nyūdō (清野三郎入道). The Seino were a Shinano-based branch of the Murakami family. With the next owner Jō Mutsu no Tarō Chikanboku (城陸奥ノ太郎近延) – a successor of the Heian-period Jō family – the sword was, according to tradition, lost in the turmoils of the Mongol invasion of 1281. The chronicle says that he killed many Mongols with it before he died in one of the countless skirmishes. Later, the regent Hōjō Sadatoki (北条貞時, 1271-1311) ordered a search for the sword. It was actually found and given to the treasury of the Hōjō but the provenance of the Date family has to be taken with a grain of salt because the Ki´ami Hon Mei Zukushi (喜阿弥本銘尽) from the Nanbokuchō period says that there were actually two swords by Kuninaga. One which was in the possession of Seino Saburō Nyūdō and another one, quote “a tachi by the same smith was worn by Jō no Tarō (城ノ太郎).”

So the logic explanation would be that the Tsurumaru-Kuninaga was in the Jō family until the Mongol Invasion and that the Murakami or Seino family owned a different blade by the same smith. However, after the fall of the Hōjō in the last years of the Kamakura period, the trace of the sword is lost again. It pops up again on surface more than 200 years later in the possession of Oda Nobunaga who presented it to one of his retainers called Mimaki Kanbei (三牧勘兵衛). Kanbei had no son so he gave the sword to his daughter as a dowry when she married into the Matsuda family (松田). This daughter bequeathed it to her lastborn, one and only son, Sokai (素懐) who was a priest. Sokai was well educated and took on the task to find out more about the treasure sword of his family.

So he took it to the Hon´ami family who, to his surprise, asked him: “Your blade reminds us very much of the meibutsu Tsurumaru of the Hōjō family. Do you have any accompanying documents about the provenance of your piece?” Immediately Sokai visited his family and searched the entire residence for any useful records. And indeed, he discovered a letter by Akechi Mitsuhide in an old chest which mentioned that the sword in question was in the possession of Nobunaga and that it had been handed down through the generations within the Hōjō family. This was the proof that the blade was the Tsurumaru-Kuninaga and so Sokai visited the aforementioned Chōmu and ordered a fine and clean calligraphic copy of the provenance of the sword.

The “rediscovery” of the famous sword made the rounds and so it came that the Date family bought it through the agency of the Hon´ami. The price was probably around 200 gold pieces because this was the value which was issued on the contemporary origami from the 16th year of Genroku (元禄, 1703). The sword became one of the most precious treasure swords of the Date and was later presented to emperor Meiji when he visited Sendai in 1876.

Let us now turn to the nickname of the piece. The Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō mentions briefly: “Details on the name Tsurumaru are unknown.” In the Date sword chronicle Go TōkenKi we read: “Habaki ni rindō o sukasu. Yotte, ´Rindō´ to nazuke. Mata Tsurumaru to gō-su.” (鎺ニ輪当を隠す。依而、利不動と名付。又鶴丸と号す), which translates as „The habaki*2 shows sukashi openings in the form of a rindō (竜胆, Japanese gentian, Gentiana scabra). Therefore [the blade] is called Rindō (利不動). But there is also the nickname Tsurumaru (鶴丸).” It is safe to assume that the Japanese gentian was interpreted in its form as a family crest (see picture below). Interesting is that two different writings (輪当・利不動) were used in this entry for rindō (竜胆).





The Ki´ami Hon Mei Zukushi introduces another version of the name rindō, as well as another nickname for the sword. The entry in question reads: “Rindō to nazuku, saya ni sukasu yuhe nari. Mata wa ´misasagi´ to mo ifu, hori-itasu yuhe nari.” (臨刀トナヅケ、 サヤニスカスユヘナリ。又ハミササギトモ云、ホリイタスユヘナリ), which translates as “Called rindō (臨刀) because of the sukashi openings on [the fittings of] the saya. [The blade] was also called Misasagi because it was excavated from one.”

Misasagi (陵) is an imperial mausoleum or an emperor´s grave. The common interpretation of the term hori-itasu is horidasu (堀り出す) which means “to excavate.” The above mentioned translation is based on this context. So it is assumed that the sword was a burial gift for Hōjō Sadatoki or Jō Mutsu no Tarō Chikanboku. But if this was the case, it must not have been excavated too long after the funeral otherwise the Tsurumaru-Kuninaga could not be one of the best condition blades extant from the Heian period.*3 Some interpret the katakana term hori-itasu with the characters (彫り致す) which could be translated as “carved.” But this interpretation does not come up with any sound context with the term “mausoleum” because the last sentence would then translate as: “[The blade] was also called Misasagi because it has such carvings.”

The Muromachi-era sword script Takeya Kizō Nyūdō Mekiki Sho (武谷喜三入道目利書) speculates on the name Tsurumaru that during the Hōgen Rebellion (Hōgen no ran, 保元の乱), i.e. around 1156, the aforementioned Murakami Tarō had the sword mounted in a koshirae with family crests in the shape of a crane in the round (Jap. tsurumaru, see picture above). This crest was a popular and auspicious decorative element for fittings and, first and foremost, for tachi saya of the early and mid Kamakura period. This can be backed-up by extant pieces. For example, on a sword which was offered by Fujiwara no Yoritsune (藤原頼経, 1218-1256) in the first year of Ninji (仁治, 1240) to the Itsukushima-jinja (厳島神社), or on a tachi that belonged to Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源義経, 1159-1189) and which is preserved in the Kurama-dera (鞍馬寺).

Most experts today follow the approach of the Takeya Kizō Nyūdō Mekiki Sho, this means that the name of the sword goes back to its original scabbard ornamentation and that somewhat later another mounting was made whose fittings featured the rindō crest. The swordsmith Kuninaga by the way dates to around the Tengi (天喜, 1053-1058) era. He was according to tradition the younger brother or son of Gojō Kanenaga (五条兼永) and he lived in the Bōmon district (坊門) in the vicinity of Kyōto’s Gojō axis (五条).


gyobutsu, tachi, mei “Kuninaga” (国永), nagasa 78.8 cm, sori 2.7 cm


*1 Because of this date it can´t be the famous Chōmu (1732-1796) of the same name.

*2 This was the original habaki, i.e. the former piece before the Date family had ordered a new tachi-koshirae.

*3 Of course, the Mikazuki-Munechika (三日月宗近) is older, but from the point of view of perfection of forging technique and condition, the Tsurumaru-Kuninaga is clearly superior to the Mikazuki-Munechika.

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.

The Kuronbogiri-Kagehide and other Date swords

The blade called Kuronbogiri (黒ん坊斬り・くろんぼ切, see picture below) is the most famous work of the Bizen-smith Kagehide (景秀). Kagehide was, according to tradition, the younger brother of Osafune Mitsutada (光忠) and was active around Shōgen (正元, 1259-1260). The blade itself is a tachi measuring 73.0 cm which was shortened up to the signature. Originally it was a heirloom of the Ishikawa family (石川) who were a local political authority of the northern Ōshū region since the Heian period. During the Sengoku period they allied themselves with the Date (伊達) and were later amonst the major vassals of the powerful warlord Date Masamune (伊達政宗, 1567-1636). So maybe it was in this context that the sword came into the possession of the latter.


jūyō-bunkazai, tachi, mei “Kagehide” (景秀), nagasa 73.0 cm, sori 1.8 cm

With the Kuronbogiri at his side Masamune, on orders of Hideyoshi, set off to Korea in the second year of Bunroku (文禄, 1593). In the Meigo Shū (命期集), a collection of chronicles on the life of Masamune, we find the following story:

In Korea, some warriors of the Date had captured several Koreans. Masamune said to Katō Kiyomasa (加藤清正, 1562-1611) who was present: “Look at that one. He is strongly built like an ox. Do you think that my sword might break on his bones?” With this question he alluded to the then unfortunately very common “habit” of higher-ranking samurai testing their blades on criminals or even on innocent persons. Kiyomasa replied: “I hope it is sharp because a blunt sword would be very discourteous to the man.” So Kiyomasa took the sword as he was to carry out the test. Everything was prepared and the poor man was tied up and laid on a makeshift mound. Kiyomasa raised the sword to the overhead position and delievered a powerful blow. He cut through the chest of the man and penetrated about 20 cm of the mount with the tip of the sword. Obviously they were in the mood for joking on that day because Kiyomasa said: “Someone should give me a spade so that I can dig out the sword.” Because the executed man had very dark skin Masamune gave the blade the nickname Kuronbogiri (lit. “dark-skinned person cutter”).

In the sword chronicle Go Tōken Ki (御刀剣記) of the Date family the executed man with his dark skin is also referred to as sarumi (さる身). As saru means “monkey” in Japanese, the rumour was born that Masamune killed an agile monkey with this sword. But this is a wrong interpretation of the word noted with hiragana syllables. From contemporary Japanese sources we learn namely that the Koreans also called their people salmi (사람이, jap. sarumi, サルムィ). So the nickname sarumi could also be translated as “blade which killed a Korean.”

The smith Tamateru (玉英, ?-1862) who worked around Bunsei (文政, 1818-1830) for the Date-controlled Sendai fief (仙台藩) lists the Kuronbogiri-Kagehide in his publication Wakan Tōken Dan (和漢刀 剣談) under the name Kuragiri-Kagehide (鞍切り景秀, lit. “saddle-cutter Kagehide”). He writes that Masamune killed with such a powerful blow a Korean general with this sword that he split him from the top down to the saddle.

It is possible that this tradition was more known amongst the samurai of the late Edo-period Sendai fief than the story of the executed Korean man with the dark skin.

Anyway, as befits a man of his position, Date Masamune also had a respectable sword collection of which I would like to introduce some pieces in the following. One of them was the so-called Ashina-Kanemitsu (芦名兼光), a tachi with a nagasa of 72.7 cm which was forged by the same smith as the Takemata-Kanemitsu. This sword was once owned by the Ashina family (蘆名),*1 the arch rivals of the Date. In the 17th year of Tenshō (天正, 1589) Masamune took advantage of succession disputes within the Ashina family and captured their castle Kurokawa (黒川城). Contemporary reports say that more than 2.000 men were killed at that time and many swords were destroyed. But the most important treasure sword of the Ashina, the mentioned tachi by Kanemitsu, was rescued and handed over to Masamune as spoils of war. The latter presented it shortly after to Endō Munenobu (遠藤宗信, 1572-1593) for his great achievements on the side of the Date. A tradition says that the Ashina-Kanemitsu went to Munenobu´s father Endō Motonobu (遠藤基信, 1532-1585), but four years earlier Motonobu had followed his lord Date Terumune (伊達輝宗, 1544-1585) – Masamune´s father – in death at the fall of Kurokawa Castle.


Portrait of Date Masamune.

Chronicles of the Date family note that Masamune wore later „at home“ in Sendai Castle (仙台城) either the Kuronbogiri-Kagehide, the Habaki-Kuniyuki (鎺国行), or the Watari Rai Kunimitsu (亘理来 国光). It is said that the Habaki-Kuniyuki has its name from the fact that the swordsmith Rai Kuniyuki forged the blade in one piece with its collar (habaki, 鎺). Later, when the blade was shortened to 72.1 cm, the steel habaki was lost but a two-layer “substitution” or “tribute piece” was made of gold which showed sukashi openings in the form of the characters Kuni and yuki. At the time of Date Tsunamura (伊達綱村, 1659-1719) the Hon´ami issued an origami for this sword with the incredible high value of 100 gold pieces. The tradition says that it came into the possession of the family as a present from Hideyoshi. The Watari Rai Kunimitsu was once owned by the Watari family (亘理) of the same name who competed with the Date in the Kamakura period for supremacy in the northern Ōshū region. But the latter were victorious and the Watari were assimilated into the Date family towards the end of the Muromachi and beginning of the Edo period by marriages and adoptions. The Watari Rai Kunimitsu has a nagasa of 73.2 cm and was particularly worshipped by the sixth Sendai-daimyō Date Munemura (伊達宗村, 1718-1756).

The Date family also owned a sword from the former possessions of the Usami family (宇佐美) who were introduced in this story. The piece in question is the meibutsu Usami-Nagamitsu (宇佐美長光, see picture below). It was once worn by Usami Takatada (宇佐美孝忠), lord of Biwajima Castle (琵琶島城) in Echigo province. It is said that he cut through the hilt of a yari and right through the skull and mouth of an enemy with this sword. When the Uesugi became military governors (shugo, 守護) of Echigo province the sword came into the collection of Uesugi Sadazane (上杉定実, 1478?-1550), a nephew of Kenshin. Some years later, more precisely in the eleventh year of Tenbun (天文, 1542), Date Tokimunemaru (伊達時宗丸, 1527-1587) was nominated by Sadazane as his successor and everything was arranged for the political marriage and adoption.

He received the “Uesugi-name” Sanemoto (実元) and the sword Usami-Nagamitsu but his older brother Date Harumune (伊達晴宗, 1519-1579) thwarted the plans and the adoption was never carried out. But the sword remained with the Date family and later became the favourite piece of Masamune´s second son Date Tadamune (伊達忠宗, 1600-1658). From a note of an unknown author we know that the Usami-Nagamitsu was shortened to the present-day katana size of 74.2 cm when Tadamune had it mounted into an uchigatana-koshirae.


jūyō-bijutsuhin, tachi, meibutsu Usami-Nagamitsu, nagasa 74.2 cm

In the fall of Keichō one (慶長, 1596) Date Masamune made Hideyoshi a splendid and practical present, namely a new 64 m long and entirely red lacquered royal deluxe boat (gozabune, 御座船) which made it easier for the unifier to travel from and to Ōsaka Castle. One day after he received the present Hideyoshi invited Masamune to Ōsaka. On this occasion he wore a katana mounted with silver fittings and a red hilt wrapping, a rather loud combination but which reflected the pomp of the Momoyama era. As Masamune was constantly looking at the sword, Hideyoshi rose to speak: “It bears a blade by Mitsutada (光忠).*2 One of the 25 Mitsutada from the Uesugi family. Do you want to see it?”

“It would be an honour for me,” replied Masamune and the sword was handed-over. After re-sheathing the blade he gave it back to Hideyoshi with a deep bow: “Truly a masterwork!” “If you like it, I will offer it to you,” said Hideyoshi unexpectedly and of course Masamune agreed. The very next day they arranged a meeting to the south of Kyōto as Hideyoshi had to inspect the rebuilding of his castle Fushimi (伏見) after it had beed destroyed in a major earthquake in the seventh month of that year. One of Hideyoshi’s escorts saw how Masamune proudly wore the eye-catching sword in his belt and shouted: “He has stolen the sword of our lord! Get it back!” The nearby samurai started to run towards Masamune but the latter was able to leave them behind. After a short moment of shock the confusion was cleared up and the attentive man was of course not punished.

Some time later Date Masamune argued with a servant whose name is not known. The servant hid behind a huge bronze candle holder (shokudai, 燭台) but his lord was so upset that he cut in half the candle holder and the poor devil crouching it with his sword. Thereupon he nicknamed the blade Shokudaikiri-Mitsutada (燭台斬り光忠, lit. “candle holder-cutter Mitsutada”). When Tokugawa Yorifusa (徳川頼房, 1603-1661), the first generation of the Mito-Tokugawa branch, stayed at the Date residence some years later, Masamune told him about the story of the Mitsutada and the candle holder and showed him the sword in question. The sword chronicle Buko Tōsan (武庫刀纂) of the Mito-Tokugawa family says that Yorifusa “fell undyingly in love” with the blade and mentioned frequently and emphatically that he wanted to have it. When this wish was not granted it is said that he acquired it by force and fled to his Edo residence, i.e. far away from Sendai. Incidentally, Yorifusa held a grudge against Masamune. When he was promoted to the third court rank lower grade (jū-sanmi, 従三位) on the 19th day of the eighth month of Kan´ei three (寛永, 1626), the same rank was given to Masamune too.

According to tradition Yorifusa was very upset because he was related to the shōgun family and should have received a higher court rank than a daimyō. So he complaied to the competent court official and one year later he received an “urgent promotion” to the third court rank first grade (shō-sanmi, 正三位).


*1 The family name Ashina can be written with the characters (蘆名) and (芦名). However, for the family the former and for the sword the latter became naturalized.

*2 Mitsutada is regarded as the founder of the Bizen-Osafune school (備前長船). He was active from around Ryakunin (暦仁, 1238-1239) to the early Bun´ei era (文永, 1264-1275). He was the father of Nagamitsu.

The tragic love story of Hosokawa Tadamasa

I like to tell you about the tragic love story of the swordsmith Hosokawa Tadamasa (細川忠正). Tadamasa was born in the eighth year of Tenpō (天保, 1837), the eldest son of Hosokawa Tadayoshi (忠義) who worked for Shimōsa´s Sakura fief (佐倉藩) which was ruled by the Hotta family (堀田). Tadayoshi in turn was the second son of the famous master Hosokawa Chikaranosuke Masayoshi (細川主税佐正義). Already in his early years Tadamasa was introduced to the craft of sword forging by his father and there exists a joint work of father and son from the third year of Kaei (嘉永, 1850), when Tadamasa was only 14 years old (according to the Japanese way of counting years). But ten years later he ended up in distant Kyūshū, to be more precise, in the castle town of Nobeoka (延岡) in Hyūga province. There is a blade extant which he made in the eighth month of the first year of Man´en (万延, 1860) for Kondō Daiyū (近藤大夫), one of the elders of the Nobeoka fief of the same name. Thereupon he was hired by the fief which was ruled by the Naitō family (内藤).

It is said that Tadamasa was a giant and was very arrogant, who boasted everywhere of his great skills. This, and the fact that he was insufferable when he was drunk, did not exactly make him one of the most popular contemporaries. He even fell out with Kondō who was one of his few customers who adored his work. So he wandered through Hyūga with no particular destination. One of his stations was the small Sadoawara fief (佐土原藩) which was a branch fief of the powerful Satsuma fief (薩摩藩). The samurai serving there had not much money and were therefore not able to pay the 10 ryō Tadamasa asked for a long sword. They finally agreed upon free board and lodging as “payment” and they tried hard so that the smith didn’t lack of anything.

When Shimazu Tadahira (島津忠寛, 1828-1896), the last daimyō of the Sadowara fief, supported the Satsuma Rebellion in Keiō four (慶応, 1868) with 500 men, it is said that many of the blades worn by these warriors were works of Tadamasa. After that he visited the southern village of Takaoka (高岡), but the arrogant stranger caused problems from the beginning. The young samurai of the village decided one night to kill the swordsmith but he somehow heard about the conspiracy and was able to escape in a cloak-and-dagger operation via a stopover in Miyakonojō (都城) to the further south Obi fief (飫肥藩). There the daimyō of the fief, the Itō (伊東), hired him as a swordsmith in the second year of Keiō (1866).

In Obi he met Toku (登久), the daughter of a certain Matsuda Kaku´emon (松田覚右衛門), who came from the neighbouring village of Maezuru (前鶴). It was love at first sight. Toku too did not have a good reputation. She was considered as being arrogant, egoistic, nymphomaniac and faithless, that means she was a “perfect match” for Tadamasa. But her father Kaku´emon was against their relationship and strictly against a marriage. So they lived in separate houses during the day and met secretly at night. One balmy May night the secretiveness was too much for Tadamasa and he broke, completely drunk, into the house of Kaku´emon to demand the surrender of his daughter. A fight broke out and Tadamasa started to riot. The incident became public and, in the end, Toku was regarded the most impious and disrespectful towards her father. The fief official ordered that her hair be shaved and arranged a committal to a special prison for sick and juvenile offenders in Edo.

When she became aware of her desperate situation she cut her throat with a razor thirteen days after the incident at her father´s house and bled to death. Devastated, Tadamasa submitted a written application at the fief for a leave of abscence. The same night this was granted he disappeared to an unknown destination. Two months later he wrote two letters to retainers of the Obi fief but then his trace disappears. His name pops up again, on surface only, in the fifth year of Meiji (1872) when everybody had to register in the course of the new personal statute law. At that time he was staying at the Takanabe fief (高鍋藩) which had actually been dissolved the previous year. He had already visited the fief in earlier years when it was ruled by the Akizuki family (秋月). Tadamasa´s year of death is unknown but the latest extant signature with a date is from the second month of the 29th year of Meiji (1896).



katana, mei “Hosokawa Tadamasa saku” (細川忠正作), nagasa 72.1 cm, sori 1.0 cm

The Gokotai-Yoshimitsu

The tradition says that this tantō was once owned by an envoy of an unknown name who was sent to Ming-China at the beginning of the Muromachi period. His mission was connected with the erection of Kyōto´s Tenryūji (天龍寺).*1 On the way to his destination he and his men were suddenly surrounded by five tigers. In panic he drew his dagger and started to wave it around like a maniac. But it helped and the big-cats went away.

Back home in Kyōto he proudly told this story to the then shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利義満, 1358-1408) by saying: “With this dagger I alone drove away (Jap. shirizokeru/tai, 退) five tigers (Jap. goko, 五虎)!” Thereupon the tantō by Awataguchi Yoshimitsu (粟田口 吉光) received the nickname Gokotai-Yoshimitsu (五虎退吉光).

Somewhat later it is said that it came into the possession of Nōami (能阿弥, 1397-1471) who was the artistic advisor of the Ashikaga family. At the end of the Muromachi period it was owned by emperor Ōgimachi (正親町天皇, 1517-1593), and when Uesugi Kenshin visited Kyōto in Eiroku two (永禄, 1559) to attend an important audience with shōgun Ashikaga Yoshiteru (足利義輝, 1536-1565) and Ōgimachi, he was presented with the dagger Gokotai-Yoshimitsu. Thereupon it became a heirloom of the Uesugi family.

About 400 years later, or to be more precise in October 1881, emperor Meiji visited the northern Yonezawa which was ruled by the Uesugi during the feudal years. Everybody knew that the emperor was a sword lover and so he was shown several pieces of the former Uesugi collection. Even late at night he still asked for more blades and so it was decided to extend the stay for another day and night. Miyajima Seiichirō (宮島誠一郎, 1838-1911), the then secretary of the Imperial Household Agency who attended Meiji, noted the entire trip in detail.

At one poiny the Gokotai-Yoshimitsu was brought and handed over to the emperor. He was carrying a dagger by Awataguchi Yoshimitsu that he received from his predecessor emperor Kōmei (孝明天皇, 1846-1866) and compared it with the piece from the Uesugi collection: “The length is the same, also the deki, what is the opinion of the Hon´ami expert?” When the latter joined the group and had examined the two blades carefully he turned to Meiji and said: “I think that the sword of Your Highness has to be rated somewhat higher.” And the emperor laughed and replied: “Well, then I should be able to ward off ten tigers with it!”


tantō, mei “Yoshimitsu” (吉光), nagasa 24.8 cm, takenokozori


*1 The construction of the temple was initiated in 1339 by Ashikaga Takauji and it was completed in 1345. In the year 1342 trading ships were sent to China to find more money to fund the continuation of the temple’s construction.

The bean matter

From works like Nishimura Hakuu´s (西村白烏) Enka Kidan (煙霞綺談) or Yuasa Jōzan´s (湯浅常山, 1708-1781) Jōzan Kidan (常山紀談) we know, that the Takemata-Kanemitsu was also temporarily called Azuki-Kanemitsu (小豆兼光) because of the incident with the red Azuki beans. And apart from that, these publications tell us that there were two more swords in the possession of the Uesugi whose name goes back to beans, namely the Azuki-Nagamitsu (小豆長光) and the Aka-azukikayu-Yukimitsu (赤小豆粥行光, “Azuki-bean gruel Yukimitsu”). The former work mentions that Kenshin fought a duel with the Azukikayu-Yukimitsu measuring 3 shaku 1 sun (~ 93.9 cm) at one of the Kawanakajima Battles with Takeda Shingen, but this clash can´t be confirmed by other historical documents.

Hon´ami Kōetsu adds the following comment on the Azuki-Nagamitsu in his Hon´ami Kōetsu Oshigata: “Azukikake (あつき かけ), nagasa 3 shaku 5 sun 8 bu (~ 108.5 cm), comes from lord Usami (うさみ).” The latter refers to the Kenshin-retainer Usami Sadamitsu mentioned in this story. Kake refers probably to the word (欠け) which means “fragment, piece, splinter.” So in the context and with the prefix Azuki it becomes “[Azuki] bean splitter.”


Azuki beans

There is the following interesting anecdote about the name „Azuki“ in connection with swords. It is said that the legend about a bean-cutting sword bothered the bakufu official Kubota Sugane (窪田清音, 1791-1866) for a long time. So he visited his protégé and favourite swordsmith Kiyomaro (清麿, 1813-1854) to get to the bottom of the matter. After several tests they found out that even the sharpest and most freshly polished blade was not able to cut through an Azuki bean dropped on it soley by its force of gravity. The bean was too hard and bounced back instead of being cut into two. So both paid master Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤, 1778-1857) a visit and he enlightened them: “The bean matter is an old fairy tale. The name azuki goes back namely to the similar sounding word nazuki which means ‘head.’ This means that swords with such a name had sometime split a skull!” From an etymological point of view Naotane was right because nazuki (脳髄) actually means “skull,” “head” or “brain,” but others assume a more harmless background, namely that the name azuki goes back to certain characteristics of the blade´s hamon which probably reminded people of little beans.

But let us return to the so-called Azuki-Kanemitsu. Fukuda Kenryū (福田顕龍) writes in his 1862 publication Tōken Shōzan (刀剣正纂) that the name Azuki goes back to the incident with Mochizuki Heidayū. Fukuda explains that the characters of the family name Mochizuki (輪形月) can also be read Wazuki which became in the course of time – or by wrong and/or repeated transcriptions – Azuki.

Before we continue with the Azuki-Kanemitsu it has to be pointed out that there existed several swords with the name Azuki-Nagamitsu. After the dissolution of the feudal system one of them was in the possession of the Ōzeki family (大関), the former daimyō of Shimotsuke´s Kurobane fief (黒羽藩). Another blade, which is shown in picture 36, comes from the former possession of the Uemura family (植村). In the genealogical records of the bakufu called Shintei Kansei Chōshū Shokafu (新訂寛政重修諸家譜) we find the following entry:

“In fall of the third year of Genki (元亀, 1572), Uesugi Kenshin expresses his gratitude for the receipt of the Osafune Nagamitsu sword and an armour in yamabushi style which was granted to him by Tōshōgu (東照宮, the author uses the posthumous name of Ieyasu) to strengthen the friendly relations of their families.” So the Uemura piece came from the Uesugi family but does not correspond to the length of 3 shaku 5 sun 8 bu (~ 108.5 cm) quoted by Kōetsu. As the blade shown in picture below is unshortened and has its original ubu-nakago with the signature of Nagamitsu we can safely assume that there were at least three swords going round which had the nickname Azuki-Nagamitsu.

According to a tradition, the Azuki-Kanemitsu had another nickname, namely Namioyogi-Kanemitsu (浪およぎ兼光, “wave-swimmer Kanemitsu”). The accompanying legend says that there was a sword duel at Ise´s Kuwana (桑名) after which the loser tried to escape via the nearby river. He was able to swim five or six metres before his body fell into two halves! The chronicle Kawasumi Taikō Ki (川角太閤記) says that the sword went later to Tokugawa Ieyasu who presented it to his son Matsudaira Tadateru. When the latter was exiled (see this story) it was handed-over to Doi Toshikatsu (土井利勝, 1573-1644) who was then one of the top-ranking bakufu officials.


jūyō-bunkazai, tachi, mei “Nagamitsu” (長光), nagasa 77.3 cm, sori 1.8 cm

An unverifiable tradition says that Sasabe Shigemasa (雀部重政, 1559-1595) took with this blade the head of Toyotomi Hidetsugu (豊臣秀次, 1568-1595) when he was his kaishaku at the seppuku ceremony. In the end it was eventually owned by Tachibana Muneshige (立花宗茂, 1567-1643) and became a heirloom of the Tachibana family. Picture below shows the Namioyogi-Kanemitsu from their records. It bears a kinzōgan-mei which refers to a different context, namely to when it was allegedly worn by Kobayakawa Hideaki (小早川秀秋, 1577-1602), who bore at a time the name “Hashiba Hideaki” (羽柴秀詮), the time when he was Chūnagon of Okayama. The gold inlayed inscription reads: “Hashiba Okayama Chūnagon Hideaki no shoji – Namioyogi matsudai no ken Kanemitsu ya” (羽柴岡山中納言秀詮所持之・ 波およぎ末代剣兼光や, “the Namioyogi-Kanemitsu for the future generations [of our family], worn by Hashiba Okayama Chūnagon Hideaki”). By the way, it is also speculated that the nickname “wave-swimmer” goes back to the carving of the dragon which really looks like a dragon swimming atop of waves.


Namioyogi-Kanemitsu from the possessions of the Tachibana family

Let us summarize: A bean-splitting ōdachi by Kanemitsu was in the possession of the samurai Takemata, then Uesugi Kenshin who killed Mochizuki Heidayū with it and split his teppō. Also in the possession of Kenshin was the Teppōkiri-Kanemitsu with which he cut through an unknown man and his matchlock during a rainy typhoon night. And then there was the Azuki-Kanemitsu which was maybe a temporary nickname of the Takemata-Kanemitsu based on the story of the split beans. Or the latter was a mix-up with the Azuki-Nagamitsu because there exists several blades with that name and the nickname Azuki-Kanemitsu never existed. Anyway, the Hon´ami Kōetsu Oshigata depicts three different blades: The Azuki-Nagamitsu, the Takemata-Kanemitsu and the Namioyogi-Kanemitsu. So in short, it is rather likely that the nickname Azuki-Kanemitsu was never in use.