Yamato Senjuin KatanaYamato Senjuin

periodKoto (Kamakura ca. 1300-1326)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon
nakagosuriage, two mekugiana

The Yamato den is considered to be where the Japanese sword begins its story. It is a curiosity of nihonto study that though this is accepted it is difficult to identify true Yamato den swords until the end of the Heian period. There are various reasons given for this.

Yamato swords were generally made for the arsenals of the great Buddhist temples, and were rarely signed to begin with. Being owned by the temples, they stayed close to home rather than being handed down as an heirloom in a family for the most part. When Oda Nobunaga broke the the power of the warrior monks who so irritated him during his quest to unite Japan, many of them were destroyed. When Toyotomi Hideyoshi rounded up the swords distributed through the countryside in an attempt to pacify the country, using the rationale of building a great Buddha out of steel, no doubt many more Yamato swords from the remaining temples were confiscated and destroyed.

So today, we have very little reference work with which to identify old Yamato swords, and the number of signed Juyo Token to date from the entire koto Yamato school numbers less than 200. It is then difficult to go deep into the past and correctly identify and attribute old Yamato works, and when done there tends to be not enough specific examples for individual smiths to provide more than just the name of the school for any particular sword. They are just simply rare, and the hardest to study and understand as a result.

In terms of modern sword scholarship, it is accepted that the earliest known and identifiable Yamato school is the Senjuin school. It is also among the top Yamato schools for quality. Shigehiro, one of the early smiths of Senjuin and considered one of the founders, served as a Goban Kaji for the ex-Emperor Gotoba. While the majority of smiths that were called to serve the Emperor directly were of Bizen (Ichimonji) and Yamashiro (Awataguchi) schools, it shows that the Senjuin school was held in high regard even then.

Old fine works of the Yamato school, especially old Senjuin, are often confused with works of the master Soshu smiths. Most common is Yukimitsu, as some of the features can be quite similar. The trademark of the Yamato den is the high shinogi, and the use of masame somewhere on the sword. Though masame is strongly identified with Yamato, it is only usually seen in its pure form in the Hosho school. Senjuin, Taema, Shikkake, etc., all will tend to have a mix of mokume or itame.

As the clientele of the Yamato smiths were temple devotees, it's thought that this is an explanation behind Yamato blades almost always having a classical and conservative expression to them. Due to their nature as serious warrior's swords, there is a small but devoted following among collectors that consider the Yamato blades to be the finest of the Gokaden.

Yamato Senjuin Kodachi

This sword is a kodachi, a blade made intentionally as a small tachi so the nagasa is to be expected to be shorter than if it were a full tachi. It still retains its original graceful form, showing elegant curvature and a ko-kissaki as well as retaining some of the nakago curvature it would have had in its original shape. It has been slightly shortened in later years.

The jihada of the sword is itame with some areas of flowing masame, the boshi shows noticable hakikake. The hamon is composed of nie, it is ko-choji based on suguba with small yo and inazuma throughout, and it is quite classical. The condition is a bit worn in places, showing some kitae ware now, but this is to be expected on most Kamakura period blades due to the old age and frequent use these swords saw.

The sword has received Tokubetsu Hozon papers attributing its origin and quality. It is not so often that a Kamakura blade from a top school is available at this price point.