Munetsugu’s given name was Koyama Sobei and he was born in 1802 in Shirakawa province in Oshu Prefecture. He was also known as Issensai or Seiryosai. He was the younger brother of Koyama Munehira and Koyama Munetoshi. He was a member of the Kato Tsunahide Mon and he also studied sword making under Tsunahide’s younger brother Chounsai Tsunatoshi. Later Munetsugu went to Edo and worked as a retained swordsmith of Lord Matsudaira of the Kuwana family.
This sword is truly one of his masterpieces. His best blades are considered to be those made in the Tenpo era and this one is dated as being made in the twelfth year of Tenpo or 1841. He would have been about 39 years old when he made it and likely at the height of his skill and strength. This massive blade reflects that. It is signed Koyama Munetsugu Saku. He was given the title of Bizen no Suke in 1845 so this blade does not have that title. It appears that Munetsugu collaborated with the Yamada family of professional sword testers, especially Yamada Yoshitoshi and Yamada Asauemon Yoshimasa, the head of the family. As the clan smith of the Kuwana clan, the Han samurai often subjected his blades to cutting tests. For that reason, there are many of his blades surviving with cutting tests.
This blade has one such cutting test. The tang is inscribed stating that it took place at Senjo Ryosha in September of 1842. It states that it made a Dodan Barai or a cut through the waist. For whatever reason, the cutting tests on Munetsugu blades are carved into the tang like the mei, they did not use the gold inlay that one often sees on cutting tests from the 1600’s.
The translation of the mei of Munetsugu and the cutting test inscribed into the tang is as follows:
“Made by Koyama Munetsugu on a day of the second month Tenpō twelve (1841). Tested on the eleventh day of the ninth month Tenpō thirteen (1842) at Senju by cutting through a body at the height of the hips and into the earthen mound below.”
The high number of Munetsugu made blades with cutting tests shows that, as with his contemporary, Kiyomaro, Munetsugu’s talent and reputation were well respected and understood even while he was alive.
As stated, this is a massive blade measuring 77.4 cm or 30 1/2 inches. The width of the blade at the hamachi (base) is 3.3 cm or 1.30 inches. The width at the kissaki (point) is 2.6 cm or 1 inch. The kasane (thickness) of the blade is 0.99 cm or 0.39 inches. The blade has a torii sori (curvature) measuring 2.24 cm or .88 inches.
It has an o-kissaki and bo-hi together with soe-he on both sides. Blades by Munetsugu with horimono are rare and these grooves were carved into this blade to lighten it because of its size. The hada is a very tight ko-itame which is beautifully formed without any openings. The hamon is a choji-midare with kinsuji, ashi, ginsuji, and other activities throughout. Really breath taking in all respects. The nakago is ubu with two original mekugi ana, again because of its massive size.
Munetsugu was considered to be the master of the Bizen Den Ichimonji style of choji midare during the early part of the Shinshinto period. Both the ji and the ha are clear and distinct in his works, and he was probably the best of the smiths at that time tempering blades in the Bizen Den style. This blade reflects those skills.
Accompanying this blade is what is probably its original koshirae. The koshirae is strong as one would expect and of excellent quality from beginning to end. The saya is lacquered black with wide and narrow ribbons of crushed abalone shell traveling down its length. The tsuba is made of iron with both sides containing a large Karimata shaped arrow (cord cutting arrow) made of shakudo feathers, silver point, and copper shaft on each side. In addition, the obverse has a silver family crest. The fuchi and kashira are made of shibuichi and also contain the same family crest. Also interesting is the fact that both the fuchi and kashira are comprised of two pieces, a copper lining and the shibuichi outer piece. This is high quality and shows the pride that this sword’s Samurai owner had for this blade. The menuki are also large Karimata arrows made of shakudo, silver, and copper laying under a silver rendition of the same family mon. Another interesting point is that the two seppa, one on either side of the tsuba, are made of copper covered with a thick foil of solid gold.
The sword comes in a shirasaya with a sayagaki by Dr. Junji Honma, the man who was one of the founders of the NBTHK in the 1950’s. He was, until his passing, the foremost authority in the world on Japanese swords. Owning a blade with hi sayagaki is always extra special. Finally the one piece habaki is made of copper covered with a thick solid gold foil.
The blade was awarded Tokubetsu Hozon papers by the NBTHK attesting to the quality and condition of this fine blade. Blades with cutting tests are getting exceedingly difficult to find and the prices of them have been rising significantly. I highly recommend this blade, not only because of its quality and condition, but because of the cutting test also.
For more information about this smith, please refer to the article on Munetsugu in the articles on this website.