Yoshioka Ichimonji KatanaYoshioka Ichimonji

periodLate Kamakura (ca. 1315)
designationNBTHK Juyo Token Katana
ratingJo-jo saku
nakagoo-suriage
shusho吉岡一文字 · 本阿「花押」(光遜)
Yoshioka-Ichimonji · Hon’a + kaō (Honami Kōson)
nagasa62.7 cm
sori1.4 cm
motohaba2.8 cm
sakihaba1.8 cm
kissaki2.8 cm
nakago nagasa18.2 cm
nakago sori0.1 cm
price$36,000 -hold-

The name of the Ichimonji school comes from the habit developed by the early Fukuoka-Ichimonji smiths of signing their blades with the single character “ichi” (), indicating the numeral “one.” Perhaps its bold meaning and intention remains rather obvious seven centuries later as human nature does not change that much, though times do.

Mr. Iwazaki Kosuke explains the Ichi of Ichimonji as Muteki, meaning “No enemy”, and this is not the name of a swordsmith, but is said to be a presentation name for a sword. It is not hard to imagine the feeling of strength when gazing down upon a battlefield with a Muteki sword in one’s sash. Fujishiro Yoshio

The intention of mutekino enemy — is that no blade, and no warrior, could ever hope to stand against the one who would wield an Ichimonji blade.

The Ichimonji school is composed of several branches, spanning different periods of time and residing in different areas of Bizen province. The name of Ichimonji is synonymous with the peak of the Bizen tradition, and their work in flamboyant choji midare with utsuri is unmissable and distinct in the history of the Japanese sword. Coming first were the Ko-Ichimonji smiths in the late Heian and early Kamakura, followed by Fukuoka-Ichimonji and then Katayama in the middle Kamakura, then Yoshioka and Iwato-Ichimonji in the late Kamakura to end of the Nanbokucho. As well, there is Kamakura Ichimonji, transplanted from Bizen to Soshu at the order of the Shogun in the middle Kamakura period.

Early Fukuoka-Ichimonji works exhibit nie-deki which is inherited from its origins in Ko-Bizen. The style was developed during the period of the Go-ban Kaji and spread to influence swordsmiths as far away as Yamashiro province. Later would shift to nioi-deki which is heat hardened at a lower temperature, and is thought to be a development which allowed the Ichimonji swords to remain tough while taking on a large amount of hardened material as can be observed in their hamon which became increasingly flamboyant through the years.

Detail of Juyo Yoshioka Ichimonji Katana

At the beginning period of Ichimonji, the hamon was ko-midare with nie, and was like that of early Bizen. The exuberant choji of Ichimonji was something which was achieved with the Goban Kaji of ex-Emperor Gotoba as the center. For this reason, the point that they held extremely advanced technology compared to other swordsmiths cannot be denied, and needless to say, the choji of Osafune Mitsutada and Hatakeda Moriie and such were received and continued from this Ichimonji, and this can also be seen in the works of the Yamashiro swordsmiths of the same era, such as Kunitsuna, Sadatoshi, and Kunitoshi. Fujishiro Yoshio

Detail of Juyo Yoshioka Ichimonji Katana

The Nihonto Koza waxes quite poetic when describing the works of Fukuoka-Ichimonji. I think it requires no comment to clarify the author's feelings on the quality of the works of this school.

As for the juka choji of FUKUOKA ICHIMONJI they reached a magnificent region that they alone have traversed in all times in this skill, and the large pattern choji ha which is applied till it becomes stripes, along with the kage utsuri which is like mist, is of unparalleled beauty, like the double petalled sakura that is kissed by the rising sun.

In spite of the high fame this hamon has received, most Ichimonji works are not so flamboyant. The works of the Ko-Ichimonji smiths resemble quiet style Ko-Bizen. Since the Ko-Ichimonji seem to have resided in Fukuoka, there is a bit of confusion in labelling some of the early Ichimonji smiths. They can receive both Ko-Ichimonji or Fukuoka labels, however this use of the name Fukuoka tends to be synonymous with the middle Kamakura flamboyant works of the school. The development of the flamboyant hamon aligns with the dividing line in time where we address the smiths as Fukuoka-Ichimonji rather than Ko-Ichimonji.

After this middle period of Ichimonji the hamon became more subdued, and in theory this is due to the difficulty of maintaining a sword that won't break while covering the blade mostly with hardened martensite which is what we get with a florid hamon. With Soshu as well we see hitatsura rise up and then go away fairly quickly, possibly for similar reasons. Osafune has the same development where the works of Mitsutada are carried forward only partway by Nagamitsu before he abandons his father's hamon and begins working in smaller choji midare or consciously cutting the heads off of the choji with an overlay of suguba in order to limit the amount of hardened material in the blade. So while these works done in more quiet style may be less visibly impressive to us as art collectors, we need to view this not as a loss of technique or ability but as an ongoing attempt to perfect the function of the Bizen sword.

Detail of Juyo Yoshioka Ichimonji Katana

Gotoba and the Ichimonji

In the year 1208 the cloistered Emperor Gotoba summoned the finest swordsmiths in the land to his place of exile and proceeded to take teachings from them. It is this process which begins the revolution of style and craftsmanship that made the Kamakura period the golden age of swords.

The first group of teachers were 13 smiths from three regions of Japan. Three smiths from Yamashiro Awataguchi, three from Bitchu Aoe, and seven smiths from Bizen Fukuoka:

  1. Fukuoka-Ichimonji Norimune
  2. Fukuoka-Ichimonji Nobufusa
  3. Fukuoka-Ichimonji Sukemune
  4. Fukuoka-Ichimonji Muneyoshi
  5. Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yukikuni
  6. Fukuoka-Ichimonji Sukenari
  7. Fukuoka-Ichimonji Sukenobu

The majority of Gotoba's teachers coming from Fukuoka-Ichimonji begins the long held belief of dominance of Bizen blades and the reverence of Fukuoka-Ichimonji in the history of the Japanese Sword.

Spread of the Ichimonji

Some smiths of Fukuoka-Ichimonji would sign only with the single ichi character, while others would add the ichi above their name. Some never used it, and other works were handed down ubu but with no signature at all. There is some difference between these ichi-only swords and those that bear mei ji, so it is likely that there is some kind of division between them.

It was not until after the Ichimonji smiths spread from Fukuoka past the middle of the Kamakura period that some smiths would place the town in front of their name. While the Yoshioka smiths often added Yoshioka (吉岡) to their signatures, in Fukuoka there is only one smith, Naganori (Einin, 1298-1299), who added Fukuoka (福岡) to his signature.

It is generally thought that the Yoshioka group is thought to be pre-eminent in the latter part of the Kamakura period, there is overlap in time and no firm agreement over where the majority of Ichimonji smiths resided. Because of this, some swords will gain attributions only to Ichimonji, while others with more strong stylistic cues can be attributed closer to their work centers.

The Ichimonji would dominate the creation of swords in Bizen, spreading to Katayama and Iwato, as well as Yoshioka above. Sukezane of Fukuoka would also leave Bizen entirely for Sagami at the command of the Shogun, and be called Kamakura Ichimonji for the swords he made there.

Detail of Juyo Yoshioka Ichimonji Katana

After the rise of the Ko-Osafune kaji in the middle Kamakura period who began by emulating the Fukuoka-Ichimonji style, the Ichimonji would no longer be standing alone at the center of the Bizen tradition. Because Osafune would become so dominant, there is sometimes a misconception that the Ichimonji smiths were no longer active after the Kamakura period. They did flourish into the Nanbokucho period but would at this time become overshadowed by Osafune, which became the main line of Bizen development going forward.

Simplified Representation of Kamakura Bizen Groups
Kamakura Bizen Groups

There is some discrepancy between authors because the history of the spread of the Ichimonji smiths is a bit confusing. There is a grey area between when Ko-Ichimonji stops and Fukuoka-Ichimonji begins as it is the same group in the same place, and mostly reflects a style change. This is important to keep in mind when reading books as sometimes Ko-Ichimonji smiths are indicated as Fukuoka-Ichimonji smiths. We can most likely summarize the founders of the various branches as such:

  1. First Fukuoka Generation: Ko-Ichimonji/Fukuoka-Ichimonji Sukefusa
  2. Second Fukuoka Generation: Yoshifusa, Norifusa, Sukezane
  3. Sukezane moves and starts Kamakura group
  4. Norifusa moves and starts Katayama group
  5. Norifusa's son-in-law Sukeyoshi moves and starts Yoshioka group
  6. Sukeyoshi's student Yoshiuji starts Iwato group
Detail of Juyo Yoshioka Ichimonji Katana
Yoshioka Ichimonji Katana Bizen Groups Map

Yoshioka Ichimonji

The founder of Yoshioka Ichimonji is considered to be Sukeyoshi (助吉). He started in Fukuoka around 1278. There are some niji mei signed works with this name that may be the same maker as the Yoshioka founder, but the styles are different so it is an open area of study currently. He is was responsible for moving the center of swordmaking from Fukuoka to Yoshioka around 1305.

Yoshioka is on the west side of the Yoshii river and Fukuoka on the East. No reasons are usually given for this move, but my own theories involve exhausting local resources and so moving the forge closer to new sources of material. This would easily explain how the Ichimonji school drifted amongst these various centers of sword making. It may be surprising to people to know that these schools were located so close to each other. But in ancient times without transportation, moving two kilometers closer to your resources is going to save two kilometers transit out and back for fetching those resources.

There are very few works remaining by Sukeyoshi. Fujishiro says only one, but several have been located in the last century and documented in the Juyo oshigata (four total), and there are two Juyo Bijutsuhin. There are several generations of this smith however, since three of these Juyo dated works found have Nanbokucho dates of 1331, 1339 and 1350. The 1305 date for the founding of Yoshioka is probably a bit late, since a dated work of Sukeyoshi that belonged to the Sakai family is used to derive this. So the actual founding is maybe 10 years or so prior.

There are a large number of known smiths in Yoshioka, and most begin with the Suke (助) character that comes from Sukeyoshi. Due to the similarities in work style and the lack of signed blades, most blades will be attributed either as Yoshioka Ichimonji, or even just as Ichimonji if the work style is found in both Yoshioka and Fukuoka groups.

These smiths generally signed with the ichi character only, but sometimes signed with their name and prefixed with ichi and put their location as Yoshioka in Bizen for these. Normally, two character Ichimonji signatures will belong to the earlier Fukuoka group. In some cases Ichimonji tachi were made unsigned, probably for similar reasons as always (made to order for high ranking customers).

Detail of Juyo Yoshioka Ichimonji Katana

In terms of work style, the most flamboyant hamon belong to the Fukuoka group. In whole, the extremely flamboyant works come from only about a 10 to 20 year period in Fukuoka before they go out of style. The other Ichimonji groups show reduction in size of the hamon and in Yoshioka, a shift toward gunome rather than choji. This is not due to lack of skill, but was a conscious change during the time of their activity, as we see it in Osafune too as Nagamitsu's hamon becomes smaller and sometimes more quiet than in his early work closer to the middle Kamakura period. If we examine Nagamitsu's work, there is a conscious effort to chop the heads off of some choji and make a smaller hamon. We see this as well in Rai as the more flamboyant choji hamon of Rai Kuniyuki and Niji Kunitoshi make way for suguba and smaller choji developments of the later Rai smiths.

This all goes along with the idea of making a more robust sword, since if the entire sword is composed of martensite it becomes brittle. So the knee jerk reaction of thinking these smiths were less skilled because the hamon is not as large and flamboyant as what came before is not correct in the least.

The Noa Bon states that the Yoshioka Ichimonji group would continue working as late as Kakei (1387-1389) which is only a handful of years before Oei begins, and it is speculated that they may have lasted into the Muromachi period. However their heyday was from the founding around 1300 and the next 30 years until the end of the Kamakura period.

Detail of Juyo Yoshioka Ichimonji Katana

Most Yoshioka smiths of note are ranked Jo-jo saku and the quality is quite even among them and Fujishiro assigns the group as a whole a Jo-jo saku rating. There are currently 150 works of this school that passed Juyo. Thirteen of these went on to pass Tokubetsu Juyo. There are another four Juyo Bijutsuhin, 6 Juyo Bunkazai and two Kokuho blades made by this group.

Detail of Juyo Yoshioka Ichimonji Katana
Juyo Token Yoshioka Ichimonji Katana

Juyo Token Yoshioka Ichimonji Katana

This is a really nice Ichimonji in great health, something that was noted by the NBTHK when it passed Juyo. The hamon is a mix of gunome and choji and has some beautiful sunagashi and kinsuji throughout. This sword is in fact on the higher side of Yoshioka-Ichimonji school work and dates to the end of the Kamakura period when Yoshioka was at its peak. It is right on for the attribution.

Honami Koson did the shusho on this blade (red lacquer inscription), attributing it to Yoshioka. Koson was a key figure in sword scholarship, and maintained the Honami traditions during a difficult time in sword history (period through the end of WWII). He was a good judge and his inscriptions and origami can be found on 83 Juyo to date, which indicates that he was both pretty busy and accurate in his judgments. He has several Kao (monograms) he signs with and this one is his earliest one I believe, so it is from the beginning of his career.

This sword saw some rough treatment with uchiko, this shows up in the layout photo here as some white hazing. You don't really notice this in the hand, it's more something that comes out during photography. However it is another example of how damage is done with uchiko and there is no place for this kind of antique treatment in today's modern world. Eventually swords end up with some hazing and need a shiage (the final stages of polish) to resolve it. I will include a free shiage in the purchase price which will resolve these uchiko scratches without removing anything more than a microscopic amount of material on the sword.

I think otherwise this blade is pretty close to Tokubetsu Juyo quality and it received high praise from the NBTHK when it passed Juyo a couple of years ago in session 61. It's made in nioi deki but there is ko-nie mixed in, allowing for the sunagashi and chikei which are seen throughout the blade. The hamon is quite active and very bright, the jihada is well forged and overall it's a beauty in great condition which is something we do not always see now in Ichimonji school works. That is, Ichimonji is held in very high regard and as such we treasure their swords even when a bit tired and worn out. Those in near perfect health like this one are in the minority.

The blade is a little bit short around 62.7 cm, but this was a length that was chosen in the Muromachi period when shorter blades were in vogue. Today it lowers the price but the overall quality of the blade is very high, so for someone who may not be able to shop for a longer blade or a signed blade, it allows you to get access to a great quality item at 60 percent of the price it would otherwise go for if it was 7 cm longer. There is a hakobore near the machi that seems to be fairly old.

Accompanying this sword is a decent quality koshirae. Overall this is a great package, especially if you were looking to put together a good Goka-den collection (the 5 traditions) without completely breaking the bank. Ichimonji is right at the center of all things Bizen.

Koshirae LeftKoshirae Right
Yoshioka Ichimonji Katana OshigataYoshioka Ichimonji Katana Origami

Juyo Token Katana

Appointed on the 20th of July, 2015 (Session 61)

Katana, shusho, Yoshioka-Ichimonji (吉岡一文字). Hon’a + kaō (本阿「花押」) (Kōson, 光遜)

Keijo

shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, normal mihaba, noticeable taper, shallow sori, chū-kissaki

Kitae

overall dense itame mixed with mokume, in addition ji-nie, fine chikei, and a midare-utsuri

Hamon

chōji mixed with gunome, togariba, plenty of ashi and yō, small tobiyaki, kinsuji, and sunagashi, the elements of the hamon are overall rather small dimensioned, the hardening is in nioi-deki with ko-nie and the nioiguchi is bright and clear

Boshi

yakikomi over the yokote and then some notare-komi with a ko-maru-kaeri

Nakago

ō-suriage, kirijiri, very shallow katte-sagari, two mekugi-ana, the sashi-omote side bears under the first mekugi-ana and towards the ha the red-lacquer attribution “Yoshioka-Ichimonji” and the ura side the inscription “Hon’a + kaō” (by Hon’ami Kōson)

Setsumei

The two major currents of Kamakura era Bizen were the Ichimonji and the Osafune Schools with the former spreading successfully into the Fukuoka, Yoshioka, Iwato and other local branches into the Nanbokuchō era. All of these gave rise to many outstanding smiths. The name of the school goes back to the habit of some of its smiths signing their blades just with the character for “one” (ichi). However, some Ichimonji smiths also signed with a name under the character Ichi, or just their name and without the character Ichi.

The Yoshioka-Ichimonji School took the place of the earlier Fukuoka-Ichimonji School and prospered from the end of the Kamakura until the Nanbokuchō period. Representative Yoshioka-Ichimonji smiths were Sukemitsu (助光), Sukeyoshi (助吉), Sukeshige (助茂), and Sukeyoshi (助義), i.e. the smiths of this school shared the character for Suke (助). As for the workmanship of the school, we hardly find the large dimensioned midare that was applied by the earlier Fukuoka-Ichimonji School but usually a rather small dimensioned midare which shows a noticeable amount of gunome.

This blade shows an overall dense itame that is mixed with mokume and that features ji-nie, fine chikei, and a midare-utsuri. The hamon is a chōji that is mixed with gunome, togariba, plenty of ashi and yō, small tobiyaki, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The hardening is in nioi-deki with ko-nie and the nioiguchi is bright and clear. Thus the jiba shows very well the characteristic features of the Yoshioka-Ichimonji School and we therefore agree with the red-lacquer inscription. The blade is of a superb deki, having an excellently forged kitae and a yakiba with a clear and bright nioiguchi, and additionally in outstanding condition.

Yoshioka Ichimonji Katana Sayagaki

Sayagaki

This sword bears an extensive inscription (sayagaki) by Tanobe Michihiro sensei. He is the retired former head researcher of the Nippon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK). This sayagaki was written some time before the blade passed Juyo Token.

  1. 備前国吉岡一文字
    Bizen no Kuni Yoshioka Ichimonji
  2. 大磨上無銘ナリテ本阿弥光遜先生ノ同派極ノ朱書有之
    Ō-suriage mumei narite Hon’ami Kōson sensei no dōha-giwame no shusho kore ari.
    It is shortened and unsigned, with a shusho (red lacquer inscription) written by Honami Koson sensei.
  3. 地刃ハ一類ノ典型ヲ示ス者而所傳ハ妥當ト云フベシ
    Jiba wa ichirui no tenkei o shimesu mono shikashite shoden wa datō to iubeshi.
    The jiba does show the typical characteristics for the school and therefore I am in agreement with the attribution.
  4. 時代鎌倉末期。出来宜敷ク地刃共健ヤカ也
    The era is the end of the Kamakura period. The blade is of an excellent construction and both ji and ha are very healthy.
  5. 刃長弐尺七分有之
    Hachō ni-shaku sun shichibu kore ari
    Blade length 62.7 cm
  6. 惟時壬辰葉月探山邉道識「花押」
    Koretoki mizunoe-tatsu hazuki Tanzan Hendō shirusu + kaō
    Written by Tanzan Hendō (Tanobe Michihiro) in August of the year of the dragon of this era (2012) + monogram