This is the second part of Chapter 7| Overview of the Kamakura Period Swords (1192-1333). Please read chapter 7 before reading this section.
The red circle above indicates the time we discuss in this section.
The Kamakura period was the golden age of sword making. Approximately half of the well-known swords at present were made during the Kamakura period. It is probably because the war between the Genji and the Heishi demanded many swords, and the swordsmiths improved their swords through the war experience. Also, Emperor Gotoba (後鳥羽) invited many skilled swordsmiths to his palace and treated them highly, and encouraged them to create excellent swords by giving them high ranks. During the Kamakura period, the techniques of sword making improved significantly.
Middle Kamakura Period —- Yamashiro Den (山城伝)
The Middle Kamakura period was the height of the Yamashiro Den. Among Yamashiro Den, there were three major groups (or families). They are Ayanokoji group (綾小路),Awataguchi group (粟田口), and Rai group (来).
Among the Awataguchi group, six swordsmiths received the honor as the “Goban-kaji ” from the Emperor Gotoba (後鳥羽上皇). Awataguchi is the name of an area in Kyoto.
Ayanokoji ( 綾小路 ) group lived in the Ayanokoji area in Kyoto. My sword textbook had a note that I saw Ayanokoji Sadatoshi (綾小路定利 ) on March 22nd, 1972. The note was not much but it said O-suriage, Funbari, narrow–body, and Ji-nie.
Rai group started from Rai Kuniyuki (来国行 ). Rai Kuniyuki and Ayanokoji Sadatoshi are said to have had a close friendship. Rai Kuniyuki created many well-known swords. His famous Fudo Kuniyuki (不動国行) was owned by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiteru (足利義輝 ), then changed hand to Matsunaga Danjo (松永弾正), then to Oda Nobunaga ( 織田信長 ) to Akechi Mitsuhide (明智光秀 ), then to Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉). They were all historically famous powerful daimyos. It is said that Toyotomi Hideyoshi held this sword for the memorial service of Oda Nobunaga. Rai Kuniyuki’s son was Niji Kunitoshi. He also created well-known swords.
Middle Kamakura Period —– Bizen Den (備前伝)
The Bizen Den during the Heian period was called Ko-bizen. They are similar to the one in the Yamashiro Den style. The true height of the Bizen Den was in the Middle Kamakura period. The Bizen area (today’s Okayama prefecture) had many ideal aspects for sword making: the good climate, the good production of iron, the abundant wood for fuel, and the convenient location. Naturally, many swordsmiths moved there, and it became a major place to produce swords.
The Bizen region produced many swords whose quality level was higher than other sword groups and more famous swordsmiths. Fukuoka Ichimonji Norimune (則宗) and his son Sukemune (助宗 ) received the honor of the Goban-kaji from the Emperor Gotoba.
Among the Osafune group (長船), famous Mitsutada (光忠) and Nagamitsu (長光) appeared. My father owned four Mitsutada. Three Tachis and one Tanto. He was so proud of owning four Mitsutada that he asked his tailor to monogram Mitsutada on the pocket inside of his suit jacket.
From Hatakeda group (畠田), Hatakeda Moriie (畠田守家), and from Ugai (鵜飼) group, Unsho (雲生 ) and Unji (雲次) appeared. The famous Kunimune (国宗) also appeared around this time. Because there were many swordsmiths in the Bizen Den, a large number of Bizen swords exist today. Each swordsmith showed his own characteristics on their swords. Therefore, kantei on Bizen swords can be complex. This is the time Ikubi Kissaki appeared.
The classification of the sword ranking from the top
- Kokuho (国宝: National Treasure)
- Jyuyo Bunkazai (重要文化財: Important Cultural Property)
- Jyuyo Bijutu Hin (重要美術品: Important Artwork)
- Juyo Token (重要刀剣: Important Sword) more to follow
Below are my father’s four Bizen Osafune Mitsutada. He took those pictures many years ago at home. You can see he was not much of a photographer. He wrote the name of the swordsmith, the period the sword was made, the name(s) of Daimyo who owned it in the past, and the classification on a rectangular white paper.
Osafune Mitsutada (Juyo Bukazai) Osafune Mitsutada (Juyo Bunakzai)
Osafune Mitsutada (Juyo Token) Osafune Mitsutada(Juyo Bunkazai)
Late Kamakura Period —– Soshu Den (相州伝 )
Yamashiro Den started to decline in the latter part of the Kamakura Period. At this time, many swordsmiths moved to the Kamakura area under the new power of Kamakura Bakufu (鎌倉幕府) by the Hojo clan. The new group, Soshu Den (相州伝 ), started to emerge. Fukuoka Ichimonji Sukezane (福岡一文字助真) and Kunimune (国宗) from Bizen moved to Kamakura. Toroku Sakon Kunitsuna (藤六左近国綱) from Awataguchi group of Yamashiro Den moved to Kamakura. Those three are the ones who originated the Soshu Den in Kamakura. Kunitsuna‘s son is Tosaburo Yukimitsu, and then his son is the famous Masamune (正宗). Outside of Kamakura area, Yamashiro Rai Kunitsugu (来国次), Go-no-Yoshihiro (郷義弘) from Ettshu (越中) province, Samoji (左文字) from Chikuzen province (筑前) were the active swordsmiths.