By Fred Weissberg 12/06

The Yasutsugu lineage starts with the birth of the first generation, Ichizaemon, was born around the middle of the sixteenth century. His place of birth was in Shimosaka of Shiga-gun in the province of Omi. Omi is next to Mino and contains Lake Biwa. Yasutsugu was born into a sword making family headed by his father, Hironaga, who was reputed to be the last descendent of Yamato no Kuni Senjuin. Though his father was from Omi, he was trained in the Mino tradition.

Yasutsugu's early training was in the Senjuin style of Yamato as well as the Mino tradition. His first signature was Echizen Ju Shimosaka. Later he started experimenting with the Soshu tradition and he became adept in all of these traditions. During Bunroku (1592-1596) he received the title of Higo no Daijo. About this time or around the beginning of the Keicho era (1596) he moved to Echizen Province and settled in Fukui.

Throughout Japanese history, many wordsmiths flourished when they came under the patronage and protection of the local feudal lords. Yasutsugu was one such wordsmith. Whether by chance or intent, he became noticed and supported by Matsudaira Hideyasu, who was the third son of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Hideyasu was the daimyo of Echizen province and as such was in a position to be of great help in spreading the fame of Yasutsugu. As has often been the case throughout Japanese history (and world history in general) that one knows is often as important, or more important, than what one knows. There were several contemporary sword smiths of greater skill than Yasutsugu (i.e. Umetada, Hankei, Kunihiro), but due of the patronage of Matsudaira Hideyasu, Yasutsugu became known to Tokugawa Ieyasu and Tokugawa Hidetada, the first two Tokugawa Shoguns.

By the fifth year of Keicho (1600) Yasutsugu was well established in Echizen. His patronage by Hideyasu secured his livelihood and allowed him the freedom to produce swords in a variety of styles. About this time, using the “Echizen (no) Kuni Shimosaka” signature and the "Higo (no) Daijo Fujiwara Shimosaka Echizen (no) Ju" signature, he began to produce utsushi-mono (reproductions) of famous Soshu-den works of Masamune and Sadamune as well as Awataguchi Yoshimitsu and others.

One may ask why would Yasutsugu make reproductions of these famous smiths. The answer is that he probably was asked to do so by his sponsors, Hideyasu, Ieyasu, and Hidetada. We must remember that throughout Japanese history and up until today, gift giving is an integral part of the culture. In those days, especially, a very appropriate gift or reward for service was the gift of a sword. The thinking of the times was that more famous the sword the better the gift. For the Tokugawa family, swords made by Yoshimitsu and his descendants were thought to be especially auspicious. Of course, there were a finite number of real ones around to be used as gifts. Therefore, it was necessary to "create" a few extra from time to time. The recipient was fully aware that the sword was not the real thing. It truly was the thought that counted especially since it was not uncommon for the same sword to be presented back to the donor at some suitable future date.

Around the 11th or 12th year of this same period of Keicho (1606-1607), Yasutsugu's fame reached the point that he was called to Edo (Tokyo) to share his time with Tokugawa Ieyasu. About this time Yasutsugu was given the privilege of using the character "Yasu" from Tokugawa Ieyasu's name. Thus he changed his name to Yasutsugu from that point on. About the same time (some feel that it was a few years later) he was given the additional privilege of carving the Hollyhock crest (Aoi mon) on his blades. These privileges were given in perpetuity to Yasutsugu and his descendents. Thus the Yasutsugu sword smiths became the kaji of the Tokugawa Family.

Earlier I raised the question of what made Yasutsugu fame and fortune seem to spread disproportionately to his skill when we compare him to some of his contemporary smiths such as Umetada Myoju and Horikawa Kunihiro. About this time, non-oriental foreigners made their presence felt in Japan for the first time. Things from the "West" were new, exciting, strange, and highly sought after. Yasutsugu was one of the first advocates of using namban tetsu (foreign steel) in his swords. He proudly incised this fact on the nakago of his later works. It was new, it was exciting, and there is no doubt that this use of foreign steel helped spread his fame.

The first generation Yasutsugu was also adept at the art of saiha, the re-tempering of blades that had lost their tempered edge in a fire. Since this was the end of the Sengoku Jidai (the age of the country at war) there were still battles being fought and many important blades being damaged. This was especially true after the summer and winter campaigns at Osaka Castle in 1615. Many of the famed Meibutsu-cho owned by the Toyotomi family were damaged in the burning of the Osaka castle and were re-tempered by Yasutsugu.

One also cannot but help to notice that many of the blades by the first generation Yasutsugu contain wonderful, skillfully done carvings (horimono) on the blades. While it is believed that Yasutsugu carved his own early blades, the famous Kinai family of carvers did the most famous and beautiful of the carvings on his blades. They were skilled in carving a variety of subjects on swords.

Yasutsugu worked in Echizen and Edo, as was the custom with the Tokugawa family in those days. It was much like the practice of Sankin Kotai (alternate year attendance) that was practiced by the Daimyo of the country. He died in seventh year of Genna (1621) probably in his 70's.


Shodai Yasutsugu made katana, wakizashi, and tanto in many styles. His original works were most often made in typical Keicho-Shinto style with wide mihaba (width), extended nagasa (length), marked sori (curvature), and often with an extended boshi (point). He was also famous for making blades in the style of the koto Soshu School. Of his katana, shinogi zukuri is the most common. Occasionally we find a blade in katakiriba-zukuri. The mune is usually iorimune, but there is an occasional mitsu-mune blade. Wakizashi can be found in shinogi-zukuri, ukubi zukuri, o-hira-zukuri, shobu-zukuri, and kata kiriba-zukuri. His tanto are most often hira-zukuri, but he did use other styles as in the wakizashi. Generally, his blades give the feeling of great strength as in the Nambokucho period.


He is most famous for tight itame hada mixed with some mokume hada. There is always masame hada present in the shinogi-ji. The Yasutsugu School is famous for what has been called Echizen gane or hadadachi-gokoro. This hada consists of the tight itame/mokume mentioned above with the presence of shirake or whitish patches in the steel structure that are mixed with the real color of a darker hue.


Yasutsugu made temper lines in various styles. Generally speaking his nioiguchi tends to be somewhat rough and unclear with an abundance of nie in the habuchi. His blades show sunagashi,kinsuji, uchinoke, hakikake, and nijuba. Also there are frequent cases when the nie is very coarse which adds to the overall feeling of "disorderliness" for which he was famous. Of course, he also made tanto with hoso-suguba where the nie is extremely fine and the nioi line is as wide as possible.


His swords contain the usual types such as ken, and bonji. Swords are also encountered with the engravings of plum branches and bamboo. It is generally thought that while he did some carvings by his own hand, the majority of the carvings on his blades were done by the famous Kinai family that were specialists in carving horimono.


Generally, Yasutsugu's boshi has an undulating pattern (notare) with a somewhat pointed tip. The kaeri (turn back) is always long, extending below the yokote. This is an important kantei point. The pattern of the temper in the boshi can vary from quiet to hakikake.


The nakago is kaku-mune and the tip is slender. The jiri can be kengyo, iri yamagata, or kuri shaped. The yasurime (filings) are katte-sagari (slanting) and sujikai (oblique).


The following are the types of signatures used Yasutsugu:









* This is the most commonly found signature.




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