{INTRODUCTION} {MAJOR KOTO SCHOOLS} {DIAGRAMS AND TERMINOLOGY} {GLOSSARY}{ARTICLES}




THE YASUTSUGU SCHOOL



The story of the Yasutsugu lineage starts with the birth of the first generation, Ichizaemon, who is believed to have been 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 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 swordsmiths flourished when they came under the patronage and protection of the local feudal lords. Yasutsugu was one such swordsmith. 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) who one knows is often as important, or more important, that what one knows. There were several contemporary swordsmiths of greater skill than Yasutsugu (i.e. Umetada, Hankei, Kunihiro), but because 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 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 (a nice word for forgeries) of these famous smiths. The answer is that he was probably asked (ordered?) to 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 more famous the sword the better. 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. Believe it or not, often times 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 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 swordsmiths became the kaji of the Tokugawa Family.

Earlier I raised the question of what made Yasutsugu's 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 retempering 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 most famous and beautiful of the carvings on his blades were done by the famous Kinai family of carvers. 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 Kodai ( 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.

Upon the death of the first generation Yasutsugu, the family mantle was taken up by his son, Ichinojo. His original signature was Yoshisuye and it was officially changed to Yasutsugu in the ninth year of Genna (1623) It was at that time that he received the official shogunate order to move to Edo on a permanent basis. This was two years after his father's death.

Nidai Yasutsugu made swords in the same style as the first generation. Some say that his ability was nearly the equal of his father's. While all do not agree, there seems to be a consensus that he was without a doubt a close second and certainly the best of the generations to follow the shodai.

As an interesting side note, there is a belief that during the prime of his life, the second generation Yasutsugu became associated with a gang of yakuza. It is noted that even though he was associated with a yakuza gang, he died a natural death. Later in life Nidai Yasutsugu became a lay priest and took the name of Yasuyoshi (Koetsu). Maybe he sought to repent his wild youth with the yakuza?

The Nidai made swords until the second year of Shoho (1645) and he died on February 15 of the third year of that same era (1646). His death caused a rift in the family that was solved in a most interesting manner.

At the time of the death of the Nidai Yasutsugu, his son, first called Umanosuke and later Ichinojo, was still too young to assume the succession. Despite this fact, he was supported for the succession by the students of the Nidai and the Shogun's Arms Office. His succession was opposed by the younger brother of the Nidai, who was the third son of the Shodai Yasutsugu. His name was Shirouemon and later, Ichiuemon. He lived and worked in Echizen.

The dispute was handled in a most unusual manner. It was decided that there would be two Sandai Yasutsugus. Umanosuke would assume his father's mantel and become the third generation Yasutsugu working permanently in Edo, while Shirouemon would remain in Echizen and become the Echizen third generation. Thus from this point onward two things happened. First the practice of alternate years service was permanently ended. Second, the Yasutsugu lineage of swordsmiths was split into two distinct branches, the Edo branch and the Echizen branch.

Edo Sandai Yasutsugu, the oldest son of the Nidai was called Umanosuke, later he was called Ichinojo. Though his work resembles that of the first two generations, his jitetsu can tend toward a very fine mokume and his hamon can become exuberant. Though his work is generally thought to be inferior to the first two generations, some of his finer swords are considered by some to be very close in quality to the earlier generations. Like his grandfather he was skilled at saiha (retempering) and he retempered many fine blades that had lost their hamon in fires.

Echizen Sandai Yasutsugu, the third son of the first generation Yasutsugu founded the Echizen branch of the Yasutsugu family. He was born Shirouemon and later was called Ichiuemon. He became the Echizen Sandai upon the death of his older brother, the Nidai. His style of workmanship resembles that of the first two generations. It is generally considered that the quality of his work is equal to that of his nephew, the Edo Sandai. The Echizen Sandai worked permanently in Echizen during the Kanbun and Enpo periods. He died in the third year of Tenna (1683) on New Years.

The two divisions of the Yasutsugu school continued for many generations. The Edo school continued through eleven generations. It is generally agreed that the only two smiths of the last eight generations that were of note are the fourth and the eleventh generations. The fourth generation had the advantage of being trained by the third generation, a quality smith. In addition, the fourth generation left several works in which he collaborated with the well known smith, Izumi (no) Kami Kaneshige. The fourth generation's working period was from the third year of Enpo (1675) to the Teikyo era (1684).

Details about the succeeding generations of Edo Yasutsugu swordsmiths are limited, but here are a few miscellaneous facts. The fifth generation was born in Shimosaka. His first name was Ichinojo. He died at the age of 52 in the nineteenth year of Kyoho (1734). He did not leave many works. The sixth generation was also born in Shimosaka. His first signature was Motoyasu. In the winter of 1734 he formally assumed the family leadership. His signatures were generally two characters (Yasutsugu). He died in the third year of Enkyo (1746).

The seventh generation of the Edo line assumed the mantle of the leadership of the school upon the death of the sixth generation in the fall of 1746. He also used the name, Motoyasu before taking leadership of the school. He died in the fifth year of Meiwa (1768). The eighth generation worked from the Meiwa era (1764) until the Bunka era (1804). The ninth generation worked around the Bunka era (1804). Like some of his predecessors, he used the name Motoyasu at first.

The tenth generation worked around the Bunsei era (1818) The Edo eleventh generation is best known for the large volume of work he left. He strived to re-capture the quality and style of the early generations. He worked from the Tenpo era (1830) to the Keio era (1865).

The Echizen line continued through nine generations. There were no smiths of significance after the Echizen Sandai (third). Here are a few facts about the later generations. The fourth generation was called Kichinosuke. He later became known as Ichizaemon. He was adopted into the family. He died in the ninth year of Kyoho (1724).

The fifth generation was first known as Takeuemon. He died around the Kanen era (1748). The sixth generation also used the name Takeuemon in his early years. He retired in the fourth year of Anei (1776). The seventh generation retired in the twelfth year of Kansei (1800). The eighth generation retired in the third year of Tenpo (1832). Finally, the ninth and last generation of the Echizen Yasutsugu line died in the twelfth year of Meiji (1879).

Thus I have presented a brief history of the Yasutsugu Kei (family). You will note that in the preceding and following pages, I make ample use of expressions such as "about this time", "probably", "usually","most often", and the like. The reason is not from a lack of conviction; but , rather, from the fact that if we have learned one thing from the study of Japanese swords, it is that there are no absolutes. When one uses many sources to assemble a paper such as this, one finds many conflicting theories as to dates, styles, facts, etc.

History is just that, history. We are dependent on what has been written by both historicaly contemporary authors and subsequent authors. In the world of swords, unfortunately, information is not always freely given nor should it be unconditionally taken as fact when it is received. We are often dealing with time periods which contain scanty historical records which creates room for speculation. After a period of time, what was speculation can often become accepted as fact.

Therefore, please accept this paper as an attempt at compilation of many sources pertaining to the history and characteristics of the Yasutsugu school. It was not written to be a definitive source of knowledge, but rather another tool to be used in the process of learning.



SHODAI YASUTSUGU (1ST GENERATION) CHARACTERISTICS:

Sugata
(Shape):
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, shinoji-zukuri is the most common. Occasionally we find a blade in katakiriba-zukuri. The mune is usually iori- mune, 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.

Jitetsu (Steel):
He is most famous for tight itame hada mixed with some mokume hada. There is always masame hada present in the shinoji-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.

Hamon (Temper):
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.

Horimono (Carvings):
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 who were specialists in carving horimono.

Boshi (Point):
Generally, Yasutsugu's boshi has an undulating pattern (notare) with a somewhat pointed tip. The kaeri (turnback) 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.

Nakago (Tang):
The nakago is kaku-mune and the tip is slender. The jiri (butt) can be kengyo, iri yama gata, or kuri in shape. The yasurime (filings) are katte-sagari (slanting) and sujikai (Oblique).

Mei (Signature):
The following are the types of signatures used by Yasutsugu:

ECHIZEN (no) KUNI SHIMOSAKA

HIGO DAIJO FUJIWARA SHIMOSAKA ECHIZEN JU

HIGO DAIJO ECHIZEN YASUTSUGU

HIGO DAIJO FUJIWARA ECHIZEN YASUTSUGU

HIGO DAIJO ECHIZEN YASUTSUGU

MOTTE NAMBANTETSU OITE SUNSHU ECHIZEN YASUTSUGU

MOTTE NAMBANTETSU OITE BUSHU EDO ECHIZEN YASUTSUGU *

ECHIZEN (no) KUNI JU YASUTSUGU

* This is the most commonly found signature.





NIDAI YASUTSUGU (SECOND GENERATION) CHARACTERSTICS:

Sugata
(Shape):
The second generation Yasutsugu worked in much the same style as the first generation. The shape of his katana, wakizashi, and tanto was typically shinogi-zukuri, hira-zukuri, and kiriba-zukuri. Some of his works were in the Keicho shinto style but he also reproduced swords in the older koto traditions such as Soshu. Many of his swords show a tendency towards a straighter shape without the oversized Keicho Shinto dimensions which may be perceived as a precursor of the Kambun Shinto shape of the 1660's.

Jitetsu (Steel):
He also produced swords with the classic Echizen- gane. As is attested to on the tangs of his works, he was also known for the use of Namban Tetsu or imported steel.

Hamon (Temper):
Again the Nidai's work is similar to the Shodai's. While the Nidai's nioiguchi is thick, however, it does not have the tendency toward the feeling of "disorderliness" that is present in the work of the first generation Yasutsugu. Abundant nie patterns will be evident often becoming hakeme (brush strokes).

Horimono (Carvings):
Perhaps one of the more evident links between the first and second generations is the fine horimono found on many blades. While the second generation's katana only rarely have horimono, it was used more often on wakizashi and tanto. Again, the Kinai family of carvers continued to do the masterful carvings found on the blades of Nidai Yasutsugu.

Boshi (Point):
While the tempering style of the second generation's boshi generally resembles that of the first generation, it is generally believed that the quality is somewhat lacking compared to the first generation. Additionally, the Nidai tended to get away from the extended boshi of the Keicho era. Nakago (Tang):
The nakago is kaku-mune ( squared off sides). The jiri (butt) is usually kengyo or kuri in shape. The yasuri-me (filing marks) are katte-sagari (slanting).

Mei (Signature):
Most of Nidai's blades have the Aoi-mon (Hollyhock Crest) above the signature. Later in life he took the tonsure and became a lay priest adopting the name Yasuyoshi (Koetsu). Typical signatures of Nidai Yasutsugu are as follows:

ECHIZEN YASUTSUGU

ECHIZEN (NO) KUNI YASUTSUGU

ECHIZEN YASUTSUGU MOTTE NAMBAN TETSU OITE BUSHU EDO TSUKURU KORE

OITE BUSHU EDO ECHIZEN YASUTSUGU

MOTTE NAMBANTETSU OITE BUSHU EDO ECHIZEN YASUTSUGU

YASUTSUGU NYUDO SAKU

YASUTSUGU NYUDO OITE BUSHU EDO TSUKURU KORE







EDO SANDAI YASUTSUGU (EDO THIRD GENERATION) CHARACTERISTICS:

Sugata
(shape):
Edo Sandai's blades are typically of a Kanbun Shinto shape with a noticeable taper from the moto- haba to the kissaki-haba. The blades have an average width and a modest torii sori. The boshi is chu-kissaki and tends to be slightly smallish.

Jitetsu (Steel):
The Edo Sandai exhibits typical Yasutsugu school kitae ( Echizen-gane). It is itame (wood grain) mixed with mokume (burl grain) with the presence of masame (straight grain) above the shinogi. The tendency toward more ko-mokume hada can be seen, however. The kitae is sprinkled with ji-nie and exhibits dark areas of a blue tint throughout the steel. There is also a tendency to exhibit shirake (white patches) in the steel surface. These are the characteristics of Echizen-gane.

Hamon (Temper):
The hamon of the Edo Sandai is like that of the first two generations. It can run the gambit from reserved to exuberant. It tends to have a nie covered habuchi (border between the ji and the yakiba), sunagashi and a thick nioi-guchi.

Horimono (Carvings):
Horimono is rare, but occasionally simple designs and bo-hi are found.

Boshi (Point):
Differs from the first two generations in that the Yakiba (temper) in the boshi is suguba (straight) while theirs tends to be irregular.

Nakago (Tang):
Tends to be the same as the first two generations. The jiri (butt) is found in both kuri (chestnut-shape) and kengyo (v-shape). Yasurime (file marks) are katte-sagari (slightly slanting).

Mei (Signature):
As had become the custom by this point, the Aoi-mon (Hollyhock Crest) was used. The Edo Sandai typically signed his blades as follows:

YASUTSUGU MOTTE NANBANTETSU OITE BUSHU EDO TSKURU KORE

ECHIZEN (NO ) KUNI YASUTSUGU (Rare)





ECHIZEN SANDAI YASUTSUGU (ECHIZEN THIRD GENERATION) CHARACTERISTICS:


Sugata
(Shape):
Since the Echizen Sandai also worked in the Kanbun period, his sugata was the same as the Edo Sandai's. There is a modest sori and a noticeable tapering from the moto-haba to the kissaki-haba.

Jitetsu (Steel):
The jitetsu of the Echizen Sandai also demonstrates typical Echizen-gane of tight itame mixed with mokume and exhibiting shirake (white patches). There is also masame hada in the shinogi.

Hamon (Temper):
Most hamons by this smith tend toward a hoso to hiro suguba often mixed with a shallow notare. There are also examples of Notare-gunome all showing a bright nioi-guchi.

Horimono (Carvings):
Horimono are rarely seen of the Echizen Sandai's works.

Boshi (Point):
Tends to be fairly straight following the curvature of the point. On some examples a slight notare can be found just past the yakote.

Nakago (Tang):
The nakago jiri (butt) tends to be kengyo and the yasureme (filings) are sujikai.

Mei (Signature):
Again, we find the use of the Aoi-mon (Hollyhock Crest) in this smith's works. The following are signatures used by the Echizen Sandai Yasutsgu:

YASUTSUGU OITE ECHIZEN TSUKURU KORE

ECHIZEN YASUTSUGU TSUKURU KORE

ECHIZEN YASUTSUGU TSUKURU KORE
MOTTE NAMBAN TETSU





EDO YONDAI YASUTSUGU (EDO FOURTH GENERATION) CHARACTERISTICS:

Sugata
(Shape):
Since this smith's working period is thought to have begun in the third year of Enpo (1675), we tend to find a more graceful sori in his works as compared to the straighter Kanbun period works of the third generations.

Jitetsu (Steel):
Generally a tight, well refined itame hada. We do not see the pronounced inclusion of mokume nor a strong distinctive Echizen type hada of the prior generations.

Hamon (Temper):
Most of the examples examined are based on a gunome type pattern. Sometimes there is choji mixed with the gunome. Ashi are often present as is an abundance of nioi in the habuchi.

Horimono(Carvings):
Rarely seen
Boshi (Point):
Generally a ko-maru (small) turnback. The pattern of the boshi can be slightly irregular, but it generally follows the outline of the point. The turnback extends beyond the yokote on occasion, but it genereally does not.

Nakago (Tang):
Generally tends to be kengyo or kuri in shape. The yasurime are sujikai.

Mei (Signature):
The following are the signatures of the Edo Yondai Yasutsugu:

YASUTSUGU NAMBANTETSU TSUKURU KORE

YASUTSUGU TSUKURU

MOTTE NAMBANTETSU OITE BUSHU EDO
ECHIZEN YASUTSUGU





THE YASUTSUGU MEI (SIGNATURE):

An important kantei point when determining which generation made a sword is the study of how the smith wrote "Yasutsugu". Of particular importance is the style of writing the character"Tsugu". The chart below shows how the character "Tsugu" was transformed by the various generations over the years.

The right hand column shows, from top to bottom, generations one through five of the "main line" or Edo branch. The center column shows the sixth through eleventh generation of the same line. The column on the left shows generations three through nine of the Echizen line of smiths. Use this chart and compare it to the oshigatas presented earlier.






{INTRODUCTION} {MAJOR KOTO SCHOOLS} {DIAGRAMS AND TERMINOLOGY} {GLOSSARY}{ARTICLES}





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