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
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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 who were
specialists in carving horimono.
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.
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).
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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 (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:
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
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.
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
Horimono is rare, but occasionally simple designs and bo-hi are found.
Differs from the first two generations in that the Yakiba (temper) in the
boshi is suguba (straight) while theirs tends to be irregular.
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).
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:
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.
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.
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 are rarely seen of the Echizen Sandai's works.
Tends to be fairly straight following the curvature of the point. On some
examples a slight notare can be found just past the yakote.
The nakago jiri (butt) tends to be kengyo and the yasureme (filings) are
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
Generally tends to be kengyo or kuri in shape. The yasurime are sujikai.
The following are the signatures of the Edo Yondai Yasutsugu:
YASUTSUGU NAMBANTETSU TSUKURU KORE
MOTTE NAMBANTETSU OITE BUSHU EDO
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.
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