Hiraoka Yorikatsu (平岡頼勝) was born in Eiroku three (永禄1560) as son of Hiraoka Yoritoshi (平岡頼俊). Yorikatsu’s given name was Tōzō (藤蔵), and for a brief period of time, he also bore the official first name Shigesada (重定). Yorikatsu’s honorary title later in life was Iwami no Kami (石見守).
The Hiraoka family has its origins in the Seiwa-Genji (清和源氏) clan, with Minamoto no Yorimitsu’s (源頼光, 948–1021)grandson Minamoto no Sukekane (源資兼) being the actual ancestor of the family. Sukekane had adopted the family name of Mizogui (溝杭) as this was the name of the lands he ruled in Settsu province. Ten generations after Sukekane, Sukemitsu (資光), the brother of the then head of the Mizogui family, Sukemoto (資元), relocated to Hiraoka (平岡) in Kawachi province and adopted that place name as his family name. The lineages of Mizogui Sukemoto (溝杭資元) and Hiraoka Sukemitsu (平岡資光)then continued to coexist for many generations, and both of them used the kuyō-mon (九曜紋, “Nine Illuminaries”) as their family crest.
The exact circumstances are unknown, but we know that Yorikatsu spent his early life as a Rōnin, wandering with his father Yoritoshi around many provinces before Toyotomi Hideyoshi became aware of his abilities and accepted him as his retainer. When Hideyoshi’s nephew Hideaki (秀秋, 1582–1602), was adopted into the Kobayakawa (小早川) family, Yorikatsu became his Karō (elder/advisor). It appears that it was around this time that Yorikatsu abandoned the family name, Mizogui, and adopted the Hiraoka family name of his related lineage, which, by the way, had been retainers of the Takeda (武田) family in Kai province, and subsequently retainers of Tokugawa Ieyasu after the downfall of the Takeda.
Yorikatsu’s spouse, whose name we do not know, was the daughter of Kōzuki Kagesada (上月景貞, ?–1578), and through her, Yorikatsu was able to become close friends with her cousin, Kuroda Nagamasa (黒田長政, 1568–1623). Nagamasa was, at that time, an influential warlord and trusted retainer of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. (豊臣秀吉).
At Sekigahara, Yorikatsu and Nagamasa were instrumental in convincing their Lord, Kobayakawa Hideaki to change sides and fight for the Eastern Army of Tokugawa Ieyasu. At a crucial point in the battle, Kobayakawa Hideaki did change sides and joined with Ieyasu causing a major shift in the tide of the battle in Ieyasu’s favor. The defection of Hideaki Kobayakawa
(小早川秀秋) caused the defection of other daimyo who, like Kobayakawa and Nagamasa, were on bad terms with Toyotomi loyalist and leader of the Western army, Ishida Mitsunari (石田三成,
During the battle, it was Karō elder Hiraoka Yorikatsu who persuaded Kobayakawa Hideaki to secretly communicate with the Eastern Army of Ieyasu. After Kobayakawa and his army of 15,600 samurai switched sides, Yorikatsu led the charge and played an integral role in the defeat of Western Army general, Ōtani Yoshitsugu (大谷吉継, 1559–1600). This attack on Ōtani heralding the end of the battle as it forced other armies, who had secretly pledged betrayal to the Toyotomi, to turn against Ishida Mitsunari (石田三成) as well.
After Sekigahara, as a reward for his loyalty, Kobayakawa Hideaki was installed as new Daimyō of the Okayama fief (岡山藩) north of Kojima. Hiraoka Yorikatsu remained a Karō elder of Kobayakawa Hideaki and was given lands worth 20,000 koku in the Kojima (児島郡) District of Bizen province.
At the time of the battle of Sekigahara, Kobayakawa Hideaki was only 19 years old. He never got over the trauma of the battle and the pressure of changing sides at the critical point in the battle. His behavior became erratic and he started drinking to excess. He drank himself to death in 1602, just two years after Sekigahara. Some felt that he suffered mentally, going insane.
By the time of Daimyo Kobayakawa’s death, many of his retainers had fled during his illness but Yorikatsu remained loyal. Thus, after a short period of becoming yet again a rōnin following Hideaki’s death, Yorikatsu entered the service of Ieyasu and was given the Tokuno fief (徳野藩) in Mino province in the eighth month of Keichō nine (慶長, 1604), which yielded an income of 10,270 koku.
Yorikatsu passed away only three years later, on the 29th day of the second month of Keichō twelve (慶長, 1607) at the relatively young age of 48. He is buried at the Zendai-ji (禅台寺, present-day city of Kani, Gifu Prefecture), which was erected after Yorikatsu’s passing to become the local family temple of the Hiraoka. Yorikatsu’s posthumous Buddhist name is Kōzen’in-dono Shingetsu Sō’an (高善院殿心月宗安).
Although Yorikatsu’s heir Hiraoka Yorisuke (平岡頼資, 1605–1653) was only three years old at the time, he succeeded as second Daimyō of the Tokuno fief, but he was too young to participate in the Siege of Ōsaka in 1615 and strengthen the bonds between the Hiraoka and the Tokugawa. Towards the end of his life, a dispute about the inheritance of the family lineage broke out between Yorisuke’s second son Yorishige (頼重, ?–1673) and Shinjūrō (新十郎), who was Yorisuke’s eldest son, but who was born out of wedlock. When Yorisuke died in Jōō two (承応, 1653) without naming an official successor, the dispute between the two brothers worsened to the degree that the Bakufu stepped in and decided in favor of discontinuing the Tokuno fief for good. However, this was not the end of the Hiraoka family, as Yorishige was given lands in Mino province that yielded an income of 1,000 koku, and his successors were serving the Bakufu as Hatamoto until the Meiji Restoration, with their income having risen to 6,000 koku at that time. The crest the Hiraoka Hatamoto family later used was that of the Kuyō crest within stylized handles.
 The forgoing historical information on Hiraoka Yorikatsu was largely compiled with the help of Markus Sesko.
This blade, was at one time owned by Hiraoka Yoshikatsu. It is a splendid katana by Wakasa (no) Kami Ujifusa (若狭守氏房). Ujifusa (氏房) is said to have been the son of Seki Kanefusa (関兼房). He was born in Mino and later moved to Mikawa in Owari to serve Imagawa Ujizane (今川氏眞). His primary working period was the Tensho era (1573-1592) thorough the Keicho Era (1596-1615). The prevalent thought today is that he started out his sword-making career using the name of his teacher, Kanefusa (兼房), and after moving to Owari, changed his name to Wakasa no Kami Ujifusa (若狭守氏房). He probably was granted the use of the character “Uji” (氏) from Ujisane (氏眞).
Interestingly, as is often the case with the study of Japanese swords, there is some divergence of thought on the Ujifusa (氏房)lineage. One school states that the lineage is as outlined above with Wakasa (no) Kami Ujifusa (若狭守氏房) being the direct son and student of Seki Kanefusa (関兼房). The other says that there were two generations of smiths by this name with the first one being in the Bunki era (1501-1504) and the second generation being the one we are discussing today. Since there are no definitive works left by the first generation, the general school of thought is that there was only one generation and he was the smith who made today’s kantei blade in the Tensho Era (1570’s). His lineage continued into the Edo era and his descendants produced many fine swords.
The following are the general characteristics of the Wakasa (no) Kami Ujifusa (若狭守氏房).
SUGATA: His works have a wide body and an extended bôshi. The shape gives a Soshu like feeling to the blade. It will look like a blade from the Nanbokucho era that has been shortened, however there will be hiraniku and the kasane will be thick. The fukura will have a roundness to it. These characteristics are all contrary to the Soshu works of the Nanbokucho era.
JITETSU: Most of his works are in ko-itame with some masame mixed in. Some will have ko-mokume. There will be masame in the shinogi ji. There will be ji-nie. Tobiyaki will occasionally be seen giving an almost hitatsura type of appearance.
HAMON: His works are generally done in nie deki and consist of o-notare and gunome with midaremixed in. There will be profuse nie becoming mura nie in some places. The hamon will contain such irregular patterns as two gunome in succession with some forming karimata-gokoro (the appearance of a web-footed goose design). There are blades with a hamon of ko-chôji and ko-gunome in notare, with ko-ashi and yô. Sunagashi will be found. Thehamon will be somewhat narrow at the hamachi and become wider as it works toward the kissaki (this is particularly true for Kanefusa).
BÔSHI: The bôshi will be made in a midare-komi or in ichimai with a deep kaeri, particularly on his hira-zukuri wakizashi.
NAKAGO: Wakizashi nakago will be made short and stubby in the tangobara style. Katana nakagowill be somewhat short and end in a kurijiri shape. The yasurimei is generally katte sagari.
HORIMONO: Bôhi and futatsu-hi are frequently found.
MEI: Usually it is naga-mei, there is an occasional niji-mei. Of note is the fact that the characters, Ujifusa (氏房), will be carved larger than the balance of the mei.
WAKASA (NO) KAMI UJIFUSA SAKU 若狭守氏房作
WAKASA (NO) KAMI FUJIWARA UJIFUSA SAKU 若狭守藤原氏房作
WAKASA (NO) KAMI FUJIWARA UJIFUSA TSUKURU 若狭守藤原氏房造
The subject katana has a hon-zukuri construction and an iori-mune. The curvature is average, and there is slight narrowing towards the point. There is torii-zori, and the kissaki is long on this stoutly shaped blade (the shape is excellent). This blade exhibits a typical Keicho shinto shape wherein the blade resembles a shortened (o-suriage) blade from the Nanbokucho era. This is a large and powerful sword. When you hold it, you are amazed that a sword that is so long and wide can feel so light in your grip. You are keenly aware of its power, yet entranced by its beauty.
The kitae is ko-itame mixed with some mokume. There is profuse ji-nie covering the habuchi and some pockets of detached ara nie clustered in the ji some of which extend to and occasionally above the shinogi. This gives the blade a feeling of hitatsura in some areas. . The masame in the shinogi-ji is powerful. The hamon is nie-deki notare mixed with gunome and ko-gunome. There are areas of kinsuji throughout the hamon. The bôshi is almost ichimai and covered in niewith a hint of hakkake. There is a ko-maru turnback that extends about 2.5 cm down the mune. The nakago is slightly suriage and about one inch machi-okuri. The shape of the nakago is a very slight kijimono-gata and the yasurime are shallow kattesagari.
The nagasa of the sword is 29.18 inches or 74.1 cm. The sori is torii sori measuring 0.73 inches or 1.84 cm. The kasane (thickness of the blade) is 0.31 inches or 0.80 cm. The moto-haba (width at the base) is 1.27 inches or 3.24 cm and the saki-haba (width at the kissaki) is 1.00 inches or 2.53 cm.
The nakago of the blade is signed on the omote by the smith, Wakasa (no) Kami Ujifusa (若狭守氏房). You will note that the last two characters (Ujifusa) are written in larger kanji than the first three. This is a kantei point for this smith and is his trademark. The reverse (ura) of the nakago contains two cutting tests inlaid in gold that not only describes the test, it also helps to validate the prior ownership of this blade by Hiraoka Yoshikatsu as he is mentioned as the owner of the blade in the cutting test description. It refers to him by his honorary title as “Hiraoka Iwa no Kami. Also mentioned are the blade’s name and its former name. It reads the following:
Nami no Kawashima – Kono ki yūin imyō shimesu kore o tamesu wakige saido setsudan utsu no mono Utsuki Hachizaemon no Jō Nagatsugu + kaō Hiraoka Iwami no Kami shoji, moto kaimei gō Nukiashi, shu Kagetada
“Waves Around a River Island – This uncommon nickname goes back to the two cutting tests performed with this blade by Utsuki Hachizaemon no Jō Nagatsugu, one through a body at the height of the collarbones, and one through a body at the height of the armpits. Owner: Hiraoka Iwami no Kami.
The blade was renamed and its former nickname was Stealthy Footsteps. Patron Kagetada.”
This blade also comes with an old saya that is entirely lacquered black. It is, in essence, a shirasaya (white scabbard), but because it is black, we call it a kurosaya (black scabbard). Pretty obvious but I thought I would mention it. This kurosaya has an attribution that is written in thick gold lacquer telling the story of this sword and its lineage. The story written on the saya is as follows;
“Old name: Waves Around a River Island
Hiraoka Yorikatsu served Kobayakawa Hideaki, and it was his ruse of war that decided on the outcome of the Battle of Sekigahara. Apart from that, Yorikatsu lead the attack on the camp of Ōtani Yoshitaka [also named Yoshitsugu], who died by his own hand upon defeat. Because of these merits, Yorikatsu was rewarded greatly by Tokugawa Ieyasu, receiving lands worth 30,000 [sic.] koku in Kojima in Bizen province after Hideaki had besieged Sawayama Castle. After Hideaki’s passing, Ieyasu granted Yorikatsu with the Tokuno estate in Mino, which yielded an income of 10,000 koku. This is the tradition that was handed down.
Presented to Col. Watanabe. Written by Buddhist layman Kanko.”
It is a rare circumstance when we have such a detailed history of the owner of a blade, especially when that owner was someone as significantly important historically as Hiraoka Yorikatsu (平岡頼勝). The defection of his Lord, Kobayakawa Hideaki from the armies of Ishida Mitsunari to Tokugawa Ieyasu has been lauded by historians as being the pivotal turning point in the battle of Sekigahara. That decisive victory by Tokugawa Ieyasu solidified his control of Japan and led to approximately 260 of peace and never before unity in Japan.
This blade comes with NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon papers attesting to the quality, condition, cutting test, and lineage of this blade. It also comes with a fine katana koshirae in excellent condition as may be viewed in the photos below. Unfortunately, it is not the original koshirae that belonged to Hiraoka Yoshikatsu at the time of Sekigahara. That koshirae has been lost to history.