|period||Late Kamakura (ca. 1310)|
|designation||NBTHK Juyo Token Katana|
Note: this blade is pictured with an existing koshirae from another sword I had. I am in the process of making koshirae for this blade, the koshirae will be almost the same style as that in the photo above. The tosogu being used for the koshirae are shown exactly below. When the saya is finished I will update the photos.
With the establishment of the military government in Kamakura in the 1200s, Regent of the Kamakura Shogunate Hojo Tokiyori called out for swordsmiths to come to Sagami province and make swords for the warriors and the elite of his court. Heeding this call were the master swordsmiths Sukezane and Kunimune of Bizen province, and Kunitsuna of Yamashiro Awataguchi. Their work was proud and majestic, but never departed from the foundations of the teachings handed down in their respective schools.
Shintogo Kunimitsu is most likely considered to be a son of Awataguchi Kunitsuna or possibly of Bizen Kunimune. Having learned and mastered the Awataguchi style he became preeminent in Sagami in the art of making swords, and tanto in particular. Influenced by the local culture and the work of the master smiths around him, his style took on a new form showing vibrant jigane with chikei and a yakiba of nie filled with activity. His work is credited as the beginning of the true Soshu den. His first dated work is mentioned as Einin 1 (1293), and it is interesting to note that the only existing dated work of Awataguchi Kunimitsu is dated Ko-an 11 (1288). In the past, works of these smiths have been confused for each other, though their signatures are somewhat different.
Yukimitsu is said to have been a student of Shintogo Kunimitsu and also is recorded to have been the son of Bungo Yukihira. Yukimitsu is not only famous as being the father of Masamune, but he is famous in his own right, for his skill is regarded very highly, and of course, he is also considered to be one of the swordsmiths who founded the early Soshu Tradition. [...] the works of the Early Soshu Tradition still maintain many traits of the Yamashiro Tradition left to them from Awataguchi Kunitsuna to Shintogo. Albert Yamanaka, Nihonto Newsletters
Shintogo was also a master teacher as well as a smith, since his students achieved unprecedented fame throughout the history of Nihonto. These men were Shintogo Kunihiro, Tosaburo Yukimitsu, Saeki Norishige and Goro Nyudo Masamune. Kunihiro and Yukimitsu, being senior pupils made many works in similar style to their teacher but very few works by them exist signed in their own name. These are all limited to tanto. It is thought that their production mostly consisted of daimei and daisaku (works done in the name of the teacher) as Shintogo Kunimitsu was a dominant force in the world of Kamakura.
Three of the students of Shintogo Kunimitsu went on to ultimate levels of fame and are recorded in the sword books as important masters. Yukimitsu, Masamune, and Norishige together took the Soshu style to its peak. Norishige went on to develop his unique style of matsukawa hada, while Masamune went on to fame as the greatest of all swordsmiths for his remarkable achievements within the Soshu den.
The eldest student, Yukimitsu, bore the personal name of Tosaburo and he is said to have been the foster father of Masamune. Albert Yamanaka names him speculatively as a son of Bungo Yukihira. If true, his name is a combination of his father's and his teacher's. Yukimitsu is noted as an excellent carver of horimono, though these are sometimes attributed to Daishinbo. Yamanaka believes that the carving work though is Yukimitsu's and it is inherited through Bungo Yukihira who is also noted for his horimono, particularly in the hi.
The relationship between Masamune and Yukimitsu was likely one of brotherhood given the relative closeness of their ages, rather than a father/son relationship. There exists a signed and dated work by Yukimitsu with the Kareki era (1326). While there are no signed works by Masamune that bear a date, there are two oshigata that have been handed down of works that are now lost or destroyed. These oshigata have dates bearing the era of Showa (1312) and Kareki (1326). Norishige's dated works also appear from this period, and these dated works are very much in the style of Shintogo. So it would seem that this was the formative age for Masamune and Norishige, while for Yukimitsu it would be during the height of his skill. The sugata of the works of Masamune, Norishige and Yukimitsu, daito and tanto both, never depart those associated with the end of the Kamakura period.
Work Style and Quality
The style of Yukimitsu was very wide ranging, from the confident elegance of Shintogo to the explosive beauty of Masamune; old books always comment on his virtuosity. Some Masamune that exist today have in older times had appraisals as Yukimitsu and vice versa. The chief example of these is the Kokuho Hosokawa Masamune. It was a gift to Toyotomi Hideyoshi from Tokugawa Ieyasu and came with an attribution to Soshu Yukimitsu. Honami Kochu later remade the attribution to Masamune and valued it at 300 gold coins. Today his judgment is upheld and it is recognized as one of the truly great works of Masamune. The later work of Yukimitsu and the top work of Masamune overlap each other in skill and presentation quite a bit, resulting in this kind of confusion. Honma sensei writes about the overlap in regards to a Den Yukimitsu Juyo Bunkazai (from Great Masterpieces of Japanese Art Swords):
It is described in archives that Yukimitsu left blades of the greatest variety in style of sword making among advanced smiths of the Soshu school. Some of the attributions done in the Edo period need to be discussed carefully again in the future. On the other hand, this example of excellent quality at a glance bears workmanship equivalent to that of Masamune. As it has a more classical appearance in shape and hamon than Masamune work, this old attribution is naturally accepted.
About this same sword:
Yukimitsu's own specialty is appreciated by the clearly shining quality of nie which thickly cover the blade surface, as well as by beautiful activity of chikei and kinsuji. Among his unsigned works, this is the most remarkable masterpiece. Sato Kanzan
In particular, his work in gunome midare is very similar to Masamune, both in style and in quality. Among experts he is held in highest regard.
His works are few and there are only tantō [among works that bear a signature]. Hamon is a fine sugu, there are some which resemble Shintōgo [Kunimitsu], and there are also gonome ko-midare which must be regarded as the upper grade of the Sōshū Den.Fujishiro Yoshio
It is clear from these statements that his best work shows Yukimitsu as a peer to Masamune in talent. Though the styles overlap, often there are small telltale signs present that allows for the detection of the hand of Yukimitsu. It would seem to be the case that the use of Den on some of these works that there is some argument to be made that they were indeed made by Masamune, but that the strongest and most likely possibility remains Yukimitsu.
Since Yukimitsu comes a bit before Norishige and Masamune, his own work style in his younger years most closely resembles Shintogo Kunimitsu. We see this in his suguba tanto and in one style of conservatively shaped tachi (now all shortened to katana) that features suguba. These blades vary in quality, from excellent to those that are very high masterpieces. In this style, the best of them resembles and rivals the work of Shintogo Kunimitsu, with silky jigane and nie that look like millions of bright stars embedded in a nebula. These works embrace the height of classical elegance and show all of the features of the root of Soshu den.
The Nihonto Koza writes about this, and also refers to the variety of work he made as an experimentation expected during the transitional times of the forming of Soshu den:
YUKIMITSU reflects the traits of the times, many of his works show a transitional shape, and there are pieces among both his katana and tanto which are not of a standard pattern, but as would be expected, the excellence of his forging, which beautifully shows the chikei, and the strength of the nie as a joko (superior smith) of SOSHU are extraordinary. It equals the nagare of SHINTOGO KUNIMITSU, and he executed a type of work which assents to a time and position which is intermediate to the appearance of MASAMUNE and SADAMUNE
One of the early enhancements Yukimitsu made in his tanto was to make a more powerful sugata in contrast to Shintogo. It may have simply been an effort to strengthen the more elegant style from a simple physical standpoint. This may be foreshadowing of the trend of Nanbokucho to continue to lengthen and widen the styles of the Kamakura period.
Today, we do not see very many works by any of the Soshu smiths. The theory is that most of them were destroyed in the fighting from the Mongol times up through the Nanbokucho.
The Nihonto Koza compares the invention of the Soshu den to the development of the atom bomb in World War II: they were weapons that appeared suddenly and outclassed everything else on the battlefield by an order of magnitude. They say that these were also the Shinshinto of their time. While older treasure swords were squirrelled away and kept from use, the Soshu swords were the ones taken to the battlefield by over half of the warriors on the field at the end of the Kamakura and through the Nanbokucho.
A New Appreciation
The Muromachi period brought great battles and long periods of warfare in Japan. Large armies took the field and the forges of the day began specializing in mass production of low quality weapons to arm them. The cost of this was the gradual loss of techniques required to make the most superior swords. This loss in skill was seen everywhere, though Bizen held on the best to their inheritance even they suffered. The problem was economics: the need of the day was for many functional blades, and the focus was on creating these efficiently instead of expending time making that single, mighty, superior sword. Because of this, techniques to produce these great swords fell into disuse and then were not transmitted from teacher to student. In their place, methods to produce many swords cheaply and quickly flourished.
Over the period from 1400 to 1600, the Soshu den fell from its great heights and almost all skill was lost. The smiths of the day couldn't come close to replicating the high art of earlier years and quickly ceded their position to the smiths of Bizen and Mino. Soshu had shone very brightly, and for only a brief moment in time.
At the end of the Muromachi period, the time of wars began to come to a close and the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi for the first time (temporarily) unified Japan. During his rise to power he became a great lover of the Soshu den. These swords had graduated from the most imposing high technology modern swords of their day to artworks from ancient times that could no longer be replicated by modern technology. The Soshu swords that had survived the earlier periods of warfare were now raised to stand with the treasure swords of older times. They took the primary role as gifts to and from the Shogun and Daimyo of later periods. This we can see by looking at the Tokugawa daybook. It makes note of many Soshu works of all smiths, including Yukimitsu, going back and forth from Daimyo to Shogun. Works of Masamune, Go Yoshihiro, Yukimitsu and Sadamune were those that recognized the status of giver and recipient at the highest level.
Most of the famous swords in the Kyoho Meibutsu Cho of the Edo period belong to the Soshu smiths and among them are many Yukimitsu. In spite of this, or maybe because of this, the signed pieces that we have are very few. There are only a handful of signed tanto and no signed tachi exist as they were all cut down to be worn by Daimyo and high ranking samurai in Edo period katana koshirae. This is the fate of most Soshu tachi: those by Go, Masamune and Sadamune are now all suriage mumei katana. Those by Akihiro cannot be found and only one exists by Soshu Hiromitsu. Three or so Norishige have survived with signature intact, as have a handful of Shintogo Kunimitsu. Of all the great Soshu tachi made over the period of 150 years, the number we have left can be held in the arms of one person.
These great Soshu works remained out of the public eye for the most part during the Edo period. It was not until the major collections were broken up and sold off in the 20th century that normal people had a chance to see smiths like Masamune, Yukimitsu and Go Yoshihiro. For me, works by Yukimitsu never disappoint and they are among my favorites of all makers of swords. I carry a bias towards Awataguchi and Soshu works, and for me, in Yukimitsu we get to see the best of both worlds so I find them particularly wonderful.
The tally of known work attributed to Soshu Yukimitsu includes:
- 101 Juyo Token
- 24 Tokubetsu Juyo Token
- 6 Juyo Bijutsuhin
- 7 Juyo Bunkazai
- 1 Kokuho
A further five blades are listed in the Kyoho Meibutsucho, the list of most famous swords of the Edo period:
- Sato Yukimitsu
- Fudo Yukimitsu
- Oshima Yukimitsu
- Goto Yukimitsu
- Yanone Yukimitsu
All of this corresponds with his placement as one of the top masters of the Soshu tradition. He is of course ranked Sai-jo saku by Fujishiro, for grandmaster level of work.
In December of 2017 an old document called the Ryûzôji Bon Mei Zukushi was discovered inside a Japanese library, which discusses some of the
recent information about swordsmiths. This document is dated 1351 and is from just after Masamune and Yukimitsu's deaths. Both Masamune and Yukimitsu are named in this document as important Soshu smiths and there appears to be an implication that Yukimitsu is the Nidai (Shintogo) Kunimitsu. This is new information and still being digested, Markus Sesko is translating the old document and a Japanese transliteration is online. I've provided a copy to Tanobe sensei and will talk to him further about it the next time I see him, but it's extremely interesting.
Juyo Token Soshu Yukimitsu Katana
Albert Yamanaka learned from the Honami and he described Yukimitsu's style as follows:
Tachi shape of the Mid Kamakura Period, Yamashiro Tradition in Torii Zori. The width of the blade begins wide at the machi then gradually tapers narrow toward the kissaki. There will be much hiraniku, the shinogi will be high and the whole appearance of the blade is very firm and graceful. [...] Although the nie are the types that are found in the works of the Awataguchi swordsmiths, they will have much more vigor [in Yukimitsu's work]. The color and the sheen of the nie will be very brilliant. The steel will be extremely fine and beautiful. There will be an abundance of ji nie which turns into yubashiri and chikei.
This blade conforms very strongly to the above description. It is wide, measuring 3.0cm at the machi and the length is good at just a hair under 69cm. The nakago shows some great age and from the shape of the nakago, it was shortened in the Muromachi period. The jiri has been reshaped carefully as was done in the early to middle Muromachi period when tachi were first being shortened for katana use (later shortenings tend to simply be cut straight across and left like that) and the nakago was not made as long as later period shortenings would have.
This sword shows Yukimitsu's evolving style, earlier works are more strongly suguba and more closely aligned with Shintogo's style, and this one shows the underpinnings of Masamune and similar traits to the best Sadamune works. So I would place this sword more toward the end of Yukimitsu's life, when Masamune and Norishige were working with him to evolve the Soshu tradition.
This is the kind of sword I really like for myself. Soshu Yukimitsu swords, the best of them, exhibit a great deal of control which is a counterpoint to the more flamboyant works of Norishige and Masamune. But, the nie are just as vibrant and in place of flamboyance they show a calm dignity which is fitting as the eldest of the three great students of Shintogo.
Some time in the Edo period the blade was attributed to Yukimitsu and received its kinzogan mei. There are only six Yukimitsu blades that passed Juyo that have kinzogan mei signifying an old attribution (there are two that were done after Juyo by Dr. Honma). Having kinzogan mei like this is a nice bonus feature because it lets us know the sword has a long history as Soshu Yukimitsu vs. something that has been recently upgraded from a different attribution.
The opposite side has the name of the owner Hayami Sakon and it was then likely set up as a gift for him. To be given a good Soshu Yukimitsu is quite a gift and that it was given kinzogan and his name put into it reflects on him having a high position. What I can dig up is that he might have been a high level Tokugawa retainer, there is a current NHK drama in which he features as a character and is a Hatamoto (high level retainer) to the 10th Shogun. There were a couple other hits on this name during my research that seemed to be peripheral daimyo. In theory placement as a Tokugawa retainer would make sense given the level and quality of this sword given to him.
The NBTHK in its Juyo setsumei and Tanobe sensei in his sayagaki single this blade out as a special masterwork among Yukimitsu blades and when you have it in hand it becomes instantly clear why. The blade is very healthy and heavy, the jihada looks like the first ice on a pond on a winter day, and the hamon is very bright featuring nie going all the way to the ha. It's just like the blade is freezing and forming crystals everywhere. This kind of clear and beautiful jihada shows well his inheritance from Shintogo and the Yamashiro techniques that are one of the supporting roots of the Soshu tradition. The best Yukimitsu works in practice have more finely and beautifully forged jihada than Masamune and Norishige and its this quality I love best in Yukimitsu.
In the Edo period Yukimitsu was often a default attribution for blades known to be Soshu den but difficult to fit to a particular smith. In the modern period some of those retained their Yukimitsu attributions, and others have moved into Soshu Sadamune and Soshu Masamune in particular. That is one sort of Yukimitsu, but this is the other sort, that shows the powerful shape of Kamakura period Soshu den rather than mixed in Nanbokucho features, the jihada that comes from Awataguchi plus the new Soshu hamon put on top of it. This is the most true style to Yukimitsu and so there is no confusion over the attribution.
This blade has a Showa 26 Torokusho has can be seen. I'm making more of an effort to record these. In the first two years of the licensing regime, 1951 and 1952, daimyo were encouraged to come in and get their swords processed. So a lot of the great blades come up with these first edition Torokusho and they can be guesstimated to connect the blade back to a daimyo. Especially when you combine with quality and importance of the blade.
This blade is a very strong Tokubetsu Juyo candidate and I will be submitting it in 2020 if I still have the blade. I will be giving the buyer a partial refund on this blade if they buy it and submit to Tokubetsu Juyo and it does not pass. A lot of people throw around the word candidate but I don't know any who are willing to give some money back if they don't pass after they make that claim, as very often it is just a marketing gimmick. I have sold blades on this proposition in the last three years and Shikkake, Norishige, Kagemitsu, Suketsuna, Yoshifusa passed Juyo for the buyers, while Takagi Sadamune, Yukimitsu, Shizu, Norishige have passed Tokubetsu Juyo. This one fits in with the Tokuju group and I feel pretty good about its chances of passing.
I am midway through assembling koshirae for this sword in Tokugawa style. The tosogu to be used are very nice quality Yoshioka Aoi mon, this is being matched with a plain polished shakudo tsuba called a kenjo tsuba, an Aoi mon fuchi and a horn kashira. The mitokoromono has been papered by the NTHK, and Yoshioka is one of the top two groups who made tosogu for the Shogunate (the other being the Goto family of course). This will be with a black saya, and this style was defined by the Tokugawa as appropriate for use in Edo castle. It is a very dignified samurai style that shows off some prestige without getting into over the top competitive flamboyance and I believe that was the point (like wearing a good suit vs. club suitable clothing). Brian Tschernega will be doing the work on the koshirae and he is well known as a top craftsman.
This set also includes a nice katana stand with Tokugawa Aoi mon.
It is getting very hard to find good Soshu blades anymore, one collector in Japan is accumulating them at a high rate and they are ever more popular outside of Japan. Chinese dealers and collectors have been entering the scene in the last couple of years, at the moment they seem focused on Shinto and Gendaito. Other collectors are appearing in Asia at the top level as well, at the Dai Token Ichi in 2017 the top price achieved was a Sukehiro shinto Tokubetsu Juyo sword that took a price over $500,000 to a Taiwanese collector. It's already hard enough to find a Tokubetsu Juyo contender like this blade, let alone any good and healthy Soshu den, and I see that only getting more difficult in the future due to the emergence of high level collectors and economic growth in Asia.
Juyo Token Katana
Appointed on the 15th of October, 2004 (50th session)
Katana, Mumei, Soshu Yukimitsu
shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, wide mihaba, relatively deep sori, somewhat elongated chū-kissaki
itame that is mixed with mokume and that features plenty of ji-nie and much chikei, the steel is clear
nie-laden ko-notare with a wide, bright, and clear nioiguchi that tends to suguha-chō from the monouchi upwards and that is mixed with ko-midare, ko-gunome, some prominent nie-kuzure, hotsure in places, yubashiri, kinsuji and sunagashi
tending to sugu with a brief roundish kaeri with hakikake at the very tip
on both sides a bōhi which runs as kaki-tōshi through the tang
ō-suriage, ha-agari kurijiri, sujikai-yasurime, one mekugi-ana, the sashi-omote side bears under the mekugi-ana and on the hira-ji of the tang the kinzōgan-mei attribution “Yukimitsu” and the ura side the kinzōgan-mei “Hay ami Sakon” which is also located on the hira-ji of the tang but which starts with its first character above of the mekugi-ana
Yukimitsu (行光), Masamune (正宗), Norishige (則重) and other fellow students under Shintōgo Kunimitsu (新藤五国光) perfected the Sōshū tradition that had been introduced by their master. Yukimitsu appears to be somewhat senior to Masamune and extant signed works of him are limited to tantō. His workmanship is described as being manifold in old sources, i.e. it is mentioned that he hardened apart from suguha also in midareba and occasionally also in hitatsura but the majority of extant works that are attributed to Yukimitsu mostly show a suguha or a calm and shallow midareba, with the jiba basically resembling that of Shintōgo.
This blade shows a kitae in itame that is mixed with mokume and that features plenty of ji-nie and much chikei. The steel is clear and the hamon is a nie-laden ko-notare with a bright and clear nioiguchi, that tends to suguha-chō from the monouchi upwards, and that is mixed with ko-midare, ko-gunome, kinsuji, and sunagashi. Particularly magnificent is the brightness and clarity of the jiba and the prominent kinsuji and sunagashi within the ha, identifying this blade clearly as a work by one of the great Sōshū masters, whereupon we were in agreement on the existing attribution to Yukimitsu. The fine and beautifully forged kitae is especially outstanding and together with the healthy jiba we have here a great masterwork among all blades attributed to this smith.
This sword bears an extensive inscription (sayagak) by Tanobe Michihiro is the retired former head research judge of the Nippon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK).
- 相模國行光Sagami no Kuni Yukimitsu
- 第五十回重要刀剣指定品Dai gojū-kai jūyō-tōken shitei-hinDesignated as jūyō-tōken at the 50th juyō-shinsa
- 大磨上無銘.而二字ノ金象嵌銘ト四字ノ所持者ノ金象嵌有之.地沸厚ク地景入リ温潤ナル板目ノ肌合ニ刃取ハ静穏ナレド沸匂深厚而砂流・金筋・湯走等ヲ頻リニ織成ス湾ニ小乱交ジリノ刃文ヲ焼キ.地刃明ルク冴ヘ沸出来ノ妙ヲ存分ニ示ス同工極メノ優品也Ō-suriage mumei. Shikashite niji no kinzōgan-mei to yoji no shoji no kinzōgan kore ari. Ji-nie atsuku chikei hairi onjun naru itame no hada-ai ni hadori wa seion naredo nie nioi shinkō shikamo sunagashi, kinsuji, yubashiri nado o shikiri ni shokusei-su notare ni ko-midare majiri no hamon o yaki. Jiba akaruku sae nie-deki no tae o zonbu ni shimesu dōkō kiwame no yūhin nari.The blade is ō-suriage mumei but bears a two-character kinzōgan-mei and another, a four-character gold inlay in the form of the name of its former owner. The blade shows “wet” looking itame with chikei and plenty of ji-nie. The hardening is an overall rather gentle notare but which features much nie and nioi and which is mixed with midare elements and an abundance of hataraki like sunagashi, kinsuji, and yubashiri. Both ji and ha are bright and clear and with the excellence of its nie-deki, we have here a masterwork among all blades attributed to this smith.
- 長貮尺二寸七分有之Nagasa 2 shaku 2 sun 7 bu kore ariBlade length 68.8 cm
- 戊戌高秋探山識「花押」Tsuchinoe-inu kōshū Tanzan shirusu + kaōWritten by Tanzan (Tanobe Michihiro) in the height of fall in the year of the dog (2018) + kaō