Katana Made for theEmperor by Akihide in Tachi Koshirae with NBTHK Hozon Certificate
Every now and then something really special comes along. Here we have a very historically important sword published in the Shinshinto Taikan, as the mei reads - carefully made by Kurihara Hikosabura Minamoto Akihide, bearer of the fourth court rank, as a prayer for the achievement of the Emperors work. This is an excellent example by Akihide with some of the finest horimono by Akitada I have seen on a showa sword. Mounted in a superb tachi koshirae, with the imperial Kikumon and Kirimon. All of the metalwork is of the finest quality and detail of which one would expect of a tachi made for the Emperor of Japan.
The following info is from The Yoshihara Tradition & The traditional craft of Japanese sword making, with thanks -
As Dr. Sato Kanzan is known to the sword world as the saviour of Japanese swords from destruction by the allied forces, so Kurihara Hikosaburo (Akihide) is known as the
saviour of Japanese swordmaking. Born in Kanma, Tochigi prefecture in 1879, Kuriharas interest in Japanese swords stemmed from his childhood.
His father, a keen sword enthusiast, invited a prominent member of the Inagaki family of swordsmiths to the forge he had built on his estate.
During his adolescent life, through a politician friend of his father, he went to live in Tokyo with Okuma Shigenobu (a future Japanese Prime Minister) whilst he attended
Aoyama Gakuin, a famous Tokyo English school. He later went on to become a member of the national diet (parliament).
As a politician, he had a reputation for being quite flamboyant. He once brought a live snake into parliament and threw it at a member of the opposition during a heated debate. Like his father, Kurihara, concerned that the traditional craft of Japanese sword making was being lost, was eager to remedy the situation.
The craft had suffered somewhat since the hatorei decree during the Meiji period, which banned the wearing of swords by samurai in public. The demand for swords had steadily decreased since that time and the number of swordsmiths had decreased along with it.
In 1933 the Japanese government realised the craft was endangered. The Prime Minister, Saito Makoto, aware of Kuraharas knowledge and enthusiasm for Japanese sword making, asked him to undertake a project devoted to increasing the number of Japanese swordsmiths.
Kuriharas answer was to open the Nipponto Tanren Denshu Jo(Japanese Sword Forging Institute) on the grounds of his estate in Akasaka, Tokyo on the 5th of July 1933.
Kurihara had no real formal training as a swordsmith, but enjoyed the yaki-ire process of quenching the blade. As a result, he became quite specialized in this aspect of sword making. Despite the fact that he lacked formal training, Kurihara, took the art name of Akihide, and placed himself in the position of Head Chief Instructor of the Denshujo.
He employed another swordsmith, Beppu Kiyoyuki, as Chief Instructor. Kiyoyukis time at the Denshujo was quite short, as he too was not a fully-fledged swordsmith. He’d had some training, and was accustomed to working with tamahagane(the type of steel produced for Japanese making), but this was mainly due to his formal training as a
In 1934, Kurihara invited one of the most famous smiths of the period, Ikkansai Kasama Shigetsugu, to become the chief instructor of the Denshujo. This was perhaps the most influential smith to teach there in its entire history. He also had the greatest impact on the students and teachers alike. Shigetsugu, born Kasama Yoshikazu on April 1, 1886 in
Shizuoka, started his apprenticeship under his uncle Miyaguchi Shigetoshi in 1899. In 1903 he entered the Tokiwamatsu Token Kenkyujo, on the estate of Toyama Mitsuru, to study under Morioka Masayosh. Later he went on to study metallurgy whilst collaborating with Dr. Tawara Kuniichi in formal research on the composition of
Tazawa built a special laboratory in Tokyo University for the project.
The results were published in a book called Nihonto no Kagakuteki Kenkyu(Scientific Research of the Japanese Sword), which remains to this day a definitive scientific work on the subject. First Graduating class of the Denshujo.
Shigetsugu worked mainly in the Bizen and Soshu traditions of swordmaking, which influenced many of the Denshujos students later work. It is recorded that full-time students of the Denshujo received the character Aki from Kurihara
(Akihide) to use as part of their Denshujo art names, whereas some direct students of Shigetsugu have been allowed to use Ikkansai gu.
This may not be a clear definition of terms as many of the Aki€Ł smiths also would have learned their skills from Shigetsugu during his term as chief instructor.
As well as a master swordsmith, Shigetsugu was also a very skilled carver of horimono (decorative blade carving). He often made swords on the estate of Toyama Mitsuru, a right-wing nationalist and founder of the Black Dragon Society. A recently rediscovered blade made by Shigetsugu on Mitsurus estate had been commissioned by Nagamatsubara Hiroshi of Nihon University.
This sword was a gift for the Governor General of Germany Adolf Hitler and was inscribed accordingly. The sword also had one of Shigetsugus wonderful horimono, one of the five Buddhist Kings of Light from esoteric Buddhism Fudo Myo-O (Acala). Fudo Myo-O, The Immovable, is the patron deity of Japanese swordsmen.
He has a fierce expression whilst clutching his sword in his right hand and a rope in his left and is surrounded by a halo of flames. The rope is to bind the enemies of enlightenment, while his sword, with a three-pronged Buddhist ritual instrument called a vajraas the handle, is to cut through the illusionary world to the ultimate reality.
Below this fierce exterior is an immovable nature, to which swordsmen wish to aspire. Ikkansai Kasama Shigetsugu was only to work at the Denshujo for two years. It would seem there was some kind of disagreement between Shigetsugu and Kurihara.
This could have been for a number of reasons. Shigetsugu was an accomplished prominent contemporary swordsmith. Kurihara, on the other hand, had never been fully trained in the craft. However, as is traditional within Japanese crafts, teachers have licence to sign students works. As Kurihara was the leader of the Denshujo, it was probable that he performed yaki-ire on his students swords and signed them as his own work.
Therefore, it is likely this was also the case with some of Shigetsugus swords. This was probably a thorn in the side of a smith of Shigetsugus expertise. There are also indications of a cash flow problem, which included Shigetsugus wages. The Denshujo was a self-financed organisation, which was initially started through sponsorship.
Kurihara, at times, had to sell some of his own belongings to continue the project.
As the rift between these two very strong characters grew, Shigetsugu taught at the Denshujo less, until in 1935, he stopped attending completely. This did not favor at all well with Kurihara, who was a very prominent figure in the sword world and as an expolitician, was extremely well connected in high society.
He used his influence to try to keep Shigetsugu out of the spotlight by not including him in his monthly publication that he produced called Nihonto Oyobi Nihon Shumi (Japanese Swords and Japanese Hobbies). This was a current events publication for sword enthusiasts.
The publication started a year after the initial split and continued through to 1945, so it is very surprising to see one of the periods greatest smiths and former Chief Instructor of the Denshujo rarely mentioned within the publication.
In response, Shigetsugu boycotted any sword events arranged by Kurihara. This doesnt seem to have affected Shigetsugu too adversely, as he still made swords for members of the imperial family and on the estate of one of Kuriharas good friends, Toyama Mitsuru, with whom he went on to co-found the Tokyo Swordsmiths Association.
Shigetsugu died in 1966. He was 80 years old.
At the end of the allied occupation Kurihara once again was an important factor in the revival of swordmaking, successfully petitioning the government for the resumption of sword manufacture. You will find that most of the smiths today would be able to trace their lineage through Kurihara or his work to keep swordmaking alive in the early and mid parts of the 20 th century.
Living National Treasures Miyairi Akihira and Amata Akitsugu are only two of the post-war swordsmiths who have been touched by Kuriharas efforts. Many other makers we also influenced by Akihide.
katana, signed: Carefully made by Kurihara Hikosabur˘ Minamoto Akihide, bearer of the fourth court rank, as a prayer for the achievement of the Emperor’s work. Engravings by Akitada which are a poem of my master [Akihide] dedicated to the Emperor. On a lucky day of January of the first year of the 16th New Structure Movement .
nagasa ~ 70.0 cm
According to the result of the shinsa committee of our society we judged this work as authentic and designate it as hozon-t˘ken.
July 9th 2014