Skillfully Tempered Sharp Blades

(Sayetate no uchi kitai no wazamono, 鏗鏘手練鍛の名刄)

Publisher: Ise-ya Ichibei



This series of prints recognizes the contributions of famous sword smiths, as well as the warriors who used their swords.  Even today, great artisans are officially honored in Japan as “living national treasures”.  The prints in this series are each about 14 by 10 inches (36 by 25 centimeters), a size known as ôban.  I am grateful to Keiko Brand for assisting with this section.



Subject: Awa no Jurobei (阿波の十郎兵衛) dragging his terrified daughter

Swordsmith (刀工): Rai Kunitsugu (来国次), Kamakura period (12th-14th century)

Robinson: S51.1




Subject: Fukuoka Mitsugi

Swordsmith (刀工): Shimosaka Ichinojo Yasutugu (下坂市之丞康継), ?-1621, Echizen Fukui (today's Fukui prefecture).  The shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (家康), allowed Shimosaka to use the letter yasu () of Tokugawa Ieyasu (家康), and his crest Aoi () on the blade

Robinson: S51.2



Subject: Kamiya Jihei about to perform seppuku while a dog carries off the severed head of his beloved Koharu

Swordsmith (刀工): Sekino Mgoroku (関孫六) later Muromachi period (1338-1573).  His crest is Sanbonsugi (三本杉, three cedars) on the blade.  Real name is Kanemoto (兼元), Magoroku (孫六) is a nickname.

Robinson: S51.3


NOTE: The term “hara-kiri”, although more common in English than ‘seppuku’, is considered in Japan to be a vulgar and disrespectful description of an honorable action.



Subject: Katsuma Gengobei (勝間源言兵衛) holding the severed head of the bath-house girl (yuna) Kikuno (also known as Sakuraya Oman and as Koman).  Katsuma Gengobei loved her, but she was engaged to another.

Swordsmith (刀工): Bizen Morimitsu (備前盛光) Muromachi period (1338-1573).  Bizen is today's Okayama prefecture.

Robinson: S51.4


Subject: Ôkumo Hikoroku Tessan

Swordsmith (刀工): Goronyudo Masamune (五郎入道正宗), late Kamakura to the beginning of Nanpokucho period (12th-14th century).  One of the most famous swordsmiths in Japan. His other names are Okazaki Masamune (岡崎正宗) and Okazaki Goronyudo (岡崎五郎入道).

Robinson: S51.5



Subject: Sano Jirozaemon (佐野冶郎左衛門)

Swordsmith (刀工): Rai Kuniyuki (来国行), also known as “Two-character” Kuniyuki.  Rai school (mid-Kamakura to Nannpokucyo period (12th-15th century), Yamashiro (today’s Kyoto)

Robinson: S51.6



Subject: Sasaki Ganryű standing beside a stone statue of Jizô in the rain

Swordsmith (刀工): Osafune Nagamitsu (長船長光), late Kamakura period, Bizenn (備前, today’s Okayama prefecture).  Ganryu is known for his extremely long swords of approximately 1 meter, compared to the normal 70-80 centimeter sword.  He is also known as Monohoshizao (laundry pole)

Robinson: S51.7


Subject: Shirai Gompachi crouching to wash his hands while two dogs bark at him from behind

Swordsmith (刀工): Muramasa (村正) or Sengo Muramasa (千子村正), Edo period (17th century) Kuwana in Ise (桑名, 伊勢), today's Mie prefecture.

There is a legend that Tokugawa family was cursed by Muramasa swords. Muramasa swords were used for executions and for the murders of family members. The Bakufu therefore avoided Muramasa swords.

Robinson: S51.8


Subject: Shundô Jiroemon (春藤治郎右ヱ門) with a grey face from impending death plunges sword into heap of straw

Swordsmith (刀工): Shimosaka Yasutugu (下坂康継), also known as Echizen Yasutugu (越前康継).  The shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康) allowed Yasutugu to put the letter yasu () from Ieyasu (家康) and the Aoi () crest on his swordsRobinson: S51.9


Subject: Yodoya Shinshichi with bloodstained scroll

Swordsmith (刀工): “Two-character” Kunitoshi (国俊), Kamakura period (13th century)

Robinson: S51.10


NOTE: There were two famous swordsmiths named Kunitoshi, one signed with two letters (国俊), and the other with three (来国俊)


“Robinson” refers to listing in Kuniyoshi: The Warrior-Prints by Basil William Robinson (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1982) and its privately published supplement.