THE YAMATO SENJUIN SCHOOL
By Fred Weissberg 5/5/14
The Yamato school of sword making consists of five sub-schools. They are the Senjuin, Hosho, Taima, Tegai, and Shikkake. The Senjuin school is acknowledged as the earliest and most elegant of the five schools. During the Tenroku Era (970-973) the Senjuin was moved from Senju valley near Wakakusa mountain to a location northwest of the Todaiji Sangatsu-do. It is said that in the reign of Horikawa Tenno (1086-1107) a smith named Yukinobu made a naginata there for the first time. There is some controversy as to these dates and the current thought is that he actually worked around the Ninpei Era (1151-1154). After that, this trade of smithing was handed down for a number of generations and they were called the Senjuin kaji. There were a large number of smiths in this group, but zaimei swords by them are almost non-existent.
Swordsmiths belonging to this school were connected to the Senjuin Temple of Nara. The workmanship in this school was not particularly uniform. The school is divided into three sub-schools. Those smiths working from the late Heian Era through the early Kamakura Era are known as Ko-Senjuin smiths. Those working from the middle of the Kamakura Era through the Nanbokucho Era are called the Chu-Senjuin (middle Senjuin) smiths. Sue-Senjuin (late Senjuin) refers to the swordsmiths of this school who were active after the Oei Era.
It is believed that Yukinobu was the founder of the Ko-Senjuin school. He is said to have been active around the Ninpei Era (1151-1154). He was followed by the sword smith, Shigehiro. Shigehiro served the Emperor, Gotoba, and is said to have later migrated to Akasaka in and founded the Akasaka Senjuin school. Other smiths of the Ko-Senjuin school were Shigenaga, Yukiyoshi, Yukimasa, and Rikinao. Signed examples from the smiths of this school are rare.
The characteristics of the Ko-Senjuin school are as follows:
JIGANE: The jigane is well forged and beautiful. The mokume-hada is mixed with ji-nie and chikei. Yubashiri appears.
HAMON: The hamon is suguha hotsure, mixed with ko-choji and ko-midare. The nie are highly reflective and rather rough. Activity such as uchinoke, kuichigaiba, kinsuji, and inazuma are attractive and readily visible. The nijuba looks like yubashiri.
BÔSHI: The boshi is yakitsume, nie kuzure, and kaen. The nie is highly reflective and tends to become rough from the yokote toward the tip.
Workmanship of the Chu-Senjuin school is generally similar to that of the Ko-Senjuin school, but it is somewhat inferior in grace and quality. The sugata is stout and shows features typical of this period. When they made tanto they usually had the following characteristics:
SUGATA: Josun takenoko sori or Shobu-zukuri.
HAMON: Hoso suguha with much ko-nie.
BOSHI: Most will be found in ko-maru shape with fine nie.
JITETSU: Very finely forged steel resulting in ko-mokume hada.
There are some surviving examples with signatures and dates of manufacture such as a tanto by Senjuin Yoshihiro that is dated Bunna ni-nen, hachi gatsu or August of 1353. Other Chu-Senjuin smiths were Sadashige, Rikio, Kuniyoshi, Yoshihiro, and Kiyomune.
Swordsmiths we refer to as being of the Sue-Senjuin school produced swords that no longer have any traces of the Senjuin characteristics produced by the Ko-Senjuin and Chu-Senjuin smiths. They may be mistaken for poor Mino or poor Bizen works. The hamon is made in notare-midare without nie for the most part. The boshi is in notare, midare, or yaki-kuzure. The jitetsu will seem hard with a mokume-hada.
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