Ayanokoji Sadatoshi

period:Early Kamakura (ca. 1200)
designation:NBTHK Juyo Token
nakago:machi-okuri, otherwise ubu or possibly slightly shortened
nagasa:75.1cm
sori:2.3cm
motohaba:2.85cm
sakihaba:1.8cm
kissaki:2.4cm
nakago nagasa:22.6cm
nakago sori:0.3cm
price:-please inquire-

The Yamashiro tradition in the Heian period is considered to be the first of all nihonto traditions to implement the curved, single edged shinogi-zukuri sword. This innovation gives rise to the shape that we commonly recognize today in tachi and katana. The smith to whom this honor is attributed is Sanjo Munechika, fondly known as Ko-Kaji (the old smith). Munechika is the author of a handful of great classic blades which still survive today. His most notable work is the Mikazuki Munechika, a blade handed down by the Tokugawa Shoguns. It is highly celebrated, and has been famous for centuries, numbered among the five most famous blades in Japan since the Muromachi period. Today it is also a Kokuho (National Treasure of Japan). It is thought to be made around the year 987 and is named after the crescent moon shapes in the hamon. This tachi is signed only as Sanjo from which we derive Munechika's school name. Sanjo is a street in Kyoto which still survives today, and the home of Munechika's forge.

Among the students and heirs of Sanjo Munechika are his grandson Gojo Kanenaga and his own son Gojo Kuninaga (of which there are likely several generations). These smiths of the Gojo school were also highly talented, rated at Sai-jo saku for grandmaster levels of skill. Kuninaga is the author of the Tsuru-maru, taking its name from the Japanese crane which decorates its koshirae. This blade is owned by the Emperor of Japan.

Together Gojo and Sanjo are called Ko-Yamashiro, the work of these early smiths are top ranked, very precious and also extremely rare. There are likely no more than 30 that still exist from these Heian period Yamashiro schools.

The signed work we have of Gojo and Sanjo schools seems to be from the first 100 years after Munechika, with there being a gap that leads up to the beginning of the Kamakura period, around 1200. There are smiths recorded from these schools, working in these periods, but signed blades are no longer found (or are in hiding). Following Gojo and Sanjo we have the appearance of Awataguchi and Ayanokoji schools, which are the inheritors of the Yamashiro tradition. These would later give way to Rai at the end of the Kamakura period, and then Hasebe, which would close off the major Yamashiro schools at the end of the Nanbokucho period.

Ayanokoji a district in Kyoto, as well as a street, not far from Gojo and Sanjo, and it's from this place that the Ayanokoji school takes its name. Its most well known smith is Sadatoshi, considered to be the founder of the school. Kokan Nagayama lists a smith called Nagamasa as the first smith of Ayanokoji, but this would be one of the confused origin theories of Ayanokoji from the old books. No work of his exists or has been found, and there is no name connection to Sadatoshi so there isn't anything to support this theory.

Sadatoshi was born with the name Yataro, but took the name Ryoami when he entered the Buddhist priesthood. Sadatoshi has long been thought of as a peer in skill and in time to Rai Kuniyuki. There are stories of them working together on swords and sometimes signing on behalf of each other. This is probably due to the similarity in work style, based on choji and the fact that both are Kyoto based Yamashiro smiths. However, Sadatoshi's work style is a generation older than Kuniyuki. Where Kuniyuki is famous for wide mihaba and ikubi kissaki blades of the middle Kamakura, Sadatoshi makes a tapering tachi with ko-kissaki which is something that throws back to the Heian schools of Sanjo and Gojo in Yamashiro.

[Ayanokoji] Sadatoshi is regarded as one of the masters of the Mid Kamakura Period and currently there are few examples of his works remaining, of which only a few are in a fairly good state of preservation. [...] The steel is very well worked and is very fine and delicate, and will have uruoi (wetness). [There is an] abundance of ji nie and where [they are] strong they will form chikei and yubashiri. Albert Yamanaka, Nihonto Newsletters

Scholars hedge their bets a bit by saying that indeed if they lived in the same age, then the earliest years of Kuniyuki only overlap with the very end of Sadatoshi's career. Because of this we now conservatively place works of Sadatoshi at the early Kamakura.

A theory says that Ayanokoji Sadatoshi was active in the Bun-ei Era of the Kamakura Period and lived next to Rai Kunitoshi then substituted each other. It is true that the classic workmanship of Rai Kunitoshi resembles to that of Sadatoshi but Sadatoshi appears to be older smith than Kunitoshi considering sugata, jihada and hamon. If they lived in the same age, Sadatoshi correspondents to his later years and Kunitoshi to his early years. Token Bijutsu #577

Old swordsmith directories say that he was active around the Bunei Era (1264-1275) and his workmanship resembles to that of Rai Kuniyuki. A theory says that he was on friendly [terms] with Rai Kuniyuki and [they] worked together on occasion. Though, his extant work shows more classic workmanship [than Rai Kuniyuki] and is similar to Sanjo and Gojo smiths of the old Yamashiro schools and he appears to have been active earlier age than Rai Kuniyuki. Token Bijutsu #584

There are records of master smiths inheriting from Sadatoshi in the Kamakura period by the name Sadanori, Sadanari, Sadayoshi, Sadahiro and Sadaie, Kuninobu, Sadatsugu and Ieyasu. There are other names stretching into the Nanbokucho such as Tadaie, Sukesada, Sadakage, and Sadayasu. Among the work of his sons and followers, signed work is hard to find (some say thee is none besides Sadayoshi but this is not correct).

Throughout history there has been some confusion generated by various other smiths signing Sadatoshi in other schools (Ichimonji, Samonji, and Ko-Bizen). Sadatoshi signed the first character of his name in grass script. Because of this we can separate his work out from the other smiths using this name in other schools, and we can formulate a good template for his work style as a result. As a side note, his signature has been praised for its calligraphic skill. Fujishiro says that the Ayanokoji origin story is accurate, and it has been a settled matter for quite some time now.

Some of the old texts list these [Ayanokoji] smiths in the Sa School as well as in the Fukuoka' Ichimonji School but from the works of this swordsmith [Sadatoshi], it is very much evident that his work is greatly different from any of the other works or schools. Especially his Jitetsu which is by far better than others, in so far as the Yamashiro style Jitetsu is concerned. Albert Yamanaka, Nihonto Newsletters

Relationship With Sanjo and Gojo

Ayanokoji is located between Gojo and Sanjo on the map. There is a smith of the Gojo school with a similar name, Gojo Sadatoshi according to Yamanaka, and Markus Sesko documents a Sanjo Sanetoshi (which could be the same smith with a kanji mis-copied at some point in time). It is possible that Ayanokoji Sadatoshi is handed down from this smith, or one of these smiths, or in fact may be one of these two smiths. Sanetoshi according to Sesko works at 1163 which is close to the beginning of the Heian period. If Sadatoshi is this man, or his student, or is Gojo Sadatoshi, then it would place him right at the Heian/Kamakura border as his work appears to belong. We don't currently see signed works from these smiths other than Ayanokoji Sadatoshi so it's difficult to ascertain beyond the work style which appears to agree with name inheritance.

Kokan Nagayama indicates twice in his book that he believes Ayanokoji is a branch of the Sanjo school. This would agree with Ayanokoji inheriting from Gojo, or else from Sanjo directly. Their styles are all similar enough that Yamanaka indicates that Ayanokoji is to be grouped together with Gojo and Sanjo schools as equivalent answers for atari dozen in kantei (an equivalent to correct answer).

Sadatoshi's descendants are supposed to have continued through the Kamakura period and into the Nanbokucho, but finding signed work is rare. I have seen though an Ayanokoji Sueyuki tachi in Japan which was Tokubetsu Hozon and signed, so it is possible that there are others in hiding.

Of Gifts and Daimyo

The Tokugawa daybook refers to a very interesting event, which I've researched. Some nicknames are used which I have replaced with proper names, and there are typos in the transcript which I've corrected and noted.

Setting the scene: on September 21st of 1636 the third Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu visited the Owari Daimyo Yoshinao (also known by his rank Dainagon). Owari Yoshinao is born as Tokugawa Yoshinao, the 9th son of Tokugawa Ieyasu and became the founder of the Owari Tokugawa great house (one of the three branches of the Tokugawa family).

Yoshinao was the great-uncle of Shogun Iemitsu. Iemitsu, as the grandson of Ieyasu through his first son Hidetada, was however only 3 years younger than his great-uncle and very likely they would have been childhood friends due to the closeness in age. In 1636 during this visit, Shogun Iemitsu was 32 years old and Yoshinao was 36 years old.

Also in attendance were Owari Mitsutomo and Mito Komon1 (Tokugawa Mitsukuni). Mitsutomo was the son of Yoshinao, and was only a boy of 9 years old at this time. Mitsutomo and would grow up to be the head of the Owari house. He also became a major expert in tea ceremony, calligraphy, and an expert swordsman of the Shinkage-ryu school taught by the Owari Yagyu masters. He would eventually name become the 6th soke, or headmaster of the school, and develop several new techniques. Mitsukuni was the nephew of Yoshinao, eight years old, and likely the friend of Mitsutomo. He would grow up to be the lord of the Mito domain (among his claims to fame he is apparently the first Japanese to eat ramen!)

Shogun Iemitsu begins this visit by giving Owari Yoshinao a tachi by Ayanokoji Sadatoshi, and a tachi by Ko-Hoki Sanemori2 to the young boy Mitsutomo.

Afterwards a banquet is held, and sake is consumed, and sake cups are exchanged among the four daimyo. Shogun Iemitsu begins by giving a sake cup to Yoshinao, who responds with a gift of another cup back to Iemitsu. Then, Iemitsu gives a cup to the boy Mitsutomo who also presents a gift cup back to the Shogun. Lastly a cup is given to Mitsukuni who in turn gives a sake cup to the Shogun.

This ritual of cups is repeated three times. On the third exchange, swords are given. Shogun Iemitsu gives Yoshinao a sake cup, a Masamune katana and a wakizashi by Awataguchi Yoshimitsu3, which would be the finest daisho possible to give.

Yoshinao responds with a third sake cup, and the meibutsu Nabeshima Go (the top work of Go Yoshihiro), and a Rai Kunimitsu wakizashi (so, his return gift was likely another extremely fine daisho).

Next, cups are exchanged with Mitsukuni and the Shogun, but no swords (as Mitsukuni was accompanying the Shogun on this visit and not resident at the Owari castle). Mitsutomo next receives a cup and a Masamune wakizashi, and gives back to the shogun a sake cup and a katana by Sadamune4.

After this ritual, the four move to the great hall and Yoshinao gives the shogun a tachi by Awataguchi Hisakuni (as important a sword as can be), and Mitsutomo presents a tachi by Awataguchi Kunitsuna5 (one of the founders of the Soshu tradition). After this the various retainers of Yoshinao present their gifts to the Shogun which are not recorded.

To anyone who knows swords, the list of makers should produce goosebumps. The Shogun gave the Owari Daimyo an Ayanokoji Sadatoshi, a Masamune and a Yoshimitsu. Though Sadatoshi would be the smallest of those three gifts, it shows the company in which it is kept. In total, two Masamune are given, a Sadamune, three top works of Awataguchi, a Sadatoshi, Sanemori and the best work of Go Yoshihiro. What a day for a sword lover to be able to see all of that and what even this must be celebrating has been left out, but it must have been major.

Note: In this history, there seem to be some errors and omissions.

  1. This is listed as Hoki Sanemori, but we refer to this now as Ko-Hoki school, this smith is also known as Ohara Sanemori
  2. Mitsukuni is first referred to as "Komom" and this is a typo, should be Komon.
  3. Yoshimitsu is referred to as Izumi Yoshimitsu, and this should be Awataguchi. It is possibly a meibutsu blade known as the Izumi Yoshimitsu.
  4. The Sadamune katana given is stated as Sanemune, but there is no high level smith. The character for "Sane" is and the character for "Sada" is which can be confused, especially when dealing with handwritten notes like the old diary.
  5. The Awataguchi school is not referred to with these gifts but it is clearly Awataguchi from the smith names Hisakuni and Kunitsuna.

It's my hope then that this anecdote helps to give context to the reader and to understand the importance of a tachi like one by Ayanokoji Sadatoshi and its presence at the highest levels of Japanese society on what appears to be an extremely important occasion.

On September 28th of 1639, the Shogun and Owari Yoshinao met again on the marriage of Mitsutomo to Princess Chiyo, the daughter of Shogun Iemitsu. During this visit it's noted that a Sanemori and Sadatoshi tachi are both given to the Shogun by Yoshinao. This is not coincidental, they are the exact two swords first given by the Shogun to Yoshinao and it was common for Daimyo to return important swords like this on occasions such as a marriage. It seems strange by modern western standards, but it's something that they did and was looked at kindly. On this occasion the Shogun responded by giving Yoshinao another famous Go Yoshihiro: the Samidare Go (noting above that Yoshinao first gave a famous Go to the Shogun, now receives another in return), as well as a daisho of swords by Awataguchi Yoshimitsu, a katana by Sadamune (likely the one the Shogun received from Yoshinao on the first visit), and the meibutsu Omori Yoshimitsu wakizashi (which probably took its name from this moment in time).

Tokugawa Ietsuna, the 4th Tokugawa Shogun, gave an Ayanokoji Sadatoshi tachi to Abe Shigetsugu in 1663. This is likely the same tachi exchanged above. This tachi would be handed down through the Abe clan, and is now the most famous work of Sadatoshi, being the Kokuho (National Treasure) tachi currently in the Tokyo National Museum. There are only 19 Kokuho from the entire Yamashiro tradition, and 110 swords in total.

This blade is the top masterpiece work of Sadatoshi and was the personal sword of Emperor Meiji (and said to be his favorite) after its stewardship in the Abe clan. It is fully intact, with a deep koshi-sori and with kijimomo nakago. Ogawa Morihiro compares it to the top works of Sanjo and Awataguchi and says even amongst these schools this work is outstanding in quality which speaks to the regard in which this smith must be held. It is 78cm, and viewing the elegant and deeply curved sugata as well as antique looking nakago, it is quite clear that it looks very much like Heian period work.

Among the other swords remaining to us by Sadatoshi are 3 Juyo Bunkazai tachi, the Kokuho tachi listed above, 3 Tokubetsu Juyo tachi (one mumei, all three suriage) and 24 Juyo Token items. Of the NBTHK items there are only 13 signed, which leaves us with a total of 16 signed works known by this smith. This makes them all particularly precious. As a side note, there are no tanto known in the work of Sadatoshi which further places him as an early smith.

Conclusion

Fujishiro ranks Sadatoshi at Sai-jo saku for highest level of skill and quality. Bear in mind that these grades are given relative to school and time period. As his peers are between Gojo, Awataguchi and earliest Rai, this is a very high ranking indeed. Dr. Tokuno ranks Sadatoshi at 20 million yen. For context, this is the same ranking as Rai Kunitoshi, Bungo Yukihira, Ichimonji Yoshifusa, Awataguchi Kuniyoshi, and the great Soshu smiths Norishige, Sadamune and Samonji, as well as Emperor Gotoba himself. By these rankings, Sadatoshi is one of the all time grand masters.

Sadatoshi Tachi

Of the thirteen signed works that the NBTHK has authenticated of this smith, one is a wakizashi with gakumei, one is a tachi with gakumei, and one is orikaeshi mei. Of the ten remaining there are two ubu nakago, then three others with nearly ubu but slightly altered nakago. This one of those three and then also one of 10 signed tachi available for collectors outside of Japan to acquire.

At 75cm in edge length it retains the sugata and majesty of the early Kamakura tachi, and being a signed Kamakura tachi at all makes the work very rare. This sword has a highly active hamon and yubashiri throughout the ji making it eminently enjoyable for viewing. The fine nie sprinkled everywhere make the sword look like a kaleidoscope under the light. This is mixed in with nie utsuri and jifu utsuri making it a real spectacle. It also bears a kirikomi (battle scar) testifying to the fact that this sword was not just for show: it was used to fight, and it served with honor. These kirikomi are generally left in place, especially if they are along the mune or in the shinogi-ji as marks of valor. Interestingly enough one of the Tokubetsu Juyo Ayanokoji Sadatoshi bears a similar scar.

The nakago showing kijimomo (pheasant's thigh) shape is particularly precious as this is a hallmark of the very old tachi of the Heian period. This is one of only two in the set of NBTHK blades, and the third after the Kokuho, to have this shape, though it has been written about in this smith's work for centuries. The ko-kissaki further gives an ancient impression. The large signature, something that is noted for this smith but not always seen, is the icing on the cake.

The oshigata for some reason does not give the full impression that the text description or the photos of this blade show. It really needs to be viewed in hand to truly appreciate just what it is.

It is next to impossible to find swords like this anywhere. A signed, long, healthy masterpiece tachi by a famous top ranked smith from the early Kamakura period is something very special. It is in fact, as a rare, signed example, important reference material for early Kamakura craftsmanship. Because of its great age and the fact it has seen battle, it's seen its share of polishes and has some o-hada and rough spots showing on the blade. These are normal for a sword of such great age. In the photos they appear white from uchiko that has collected in the texture of the steel, this can be removed with some care.

In all honesty, this kind of blade is rare and wonderful: it is a treasure sword and an important item historically, preserving the signature of Sadatoshi and almost completely intact in its graceful tachi sugata. Though some suriage blades may be a bit more healthy in the ji, preservation of sugata of the oldest blades is very rare and important, and this sword will do well in the collection of a connoisseur of old blades.

Juyo Token

Appointed on the 15th of October, 2004

Tachi, mei: Sadatoshi

Keijo

shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, slender mihaba, noticeable taper, deep koshizori which bends down towards the tip, ko-kissaki

Kitae

itame mixed with mokume, very well forged but with some standing-out ô-hada in places, in addition plentiful of ji-nie, chikei, jifu, and a nie-utsuri

Hamon

ko-midare mixed with ko-gunome and ko-chôji, the midare elements are small dimensioned and rather densely arranged but connected with ko-gunome elements, in addition many ashi and yô, kinsuji and sunagashi, and small punctual tobiyaki and yubashiri above the yakiba, the nioiguchi is wide, thickly laden with ko-nie, and tends to urumi all over

Boshi

notare with a ko-maru-kaeri

Horimono

on both sides a bôhi with kaki-nagashi

Nakago

a little suriage, kirijiri, katte-sagari yasurime, three mekugi-ana, on the haki-omote side, above of the second mekugi-ana (the ubu-ana), and towards the nakago-mune is a rather largely chiselled niji-mei

Setsumei

Sadatoshi was a smith who lived in the Ayanokôji district (綾小路) of Kyôto. The meikan dates him to around Bun´ei (文永, 1264-1275) and a theory says that he was a close friend of Rai Kuniyuki (来国 行) and that both smiths made daisaku works for each other. However, looking at the extant works of Sadatoshi, we learn that they have a more classical appearance influenced by early Kyô-mono like Sanjô and Gojô. The midare elements of his hamon are smallish and densely arranged and there are small dots of temperings atop of the yakigashira which can appear as a kind of nijûba. In addition, his nioiguchi is subdued, urumi, and this all speaks for an earlier active period than commonly assumed.

This tachi is a little suriage but looks almost as ubu, bearing even the unique niji-mei of the smith. It is slender, has a ko-kissaki, and a deep koshizori, i.e. shows an elegant and magnificent tachi-sugata, and the jiba displays all the characteristic features of the smith.

Sayagaki

This sword bears an extensive inscription (sayagak) by Tanobe Michihiro. He is the retired former head researcher of the Nippon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK) and still officiates over the high level shinsa.

  1. 第五拾回重要刀剣指定品
    Dai gojû-kai jûyô-tôken shitei-hin
    Designated as jûyô at the 50th jûyô-shinsa
  2. 城刕綾小路定利
    Jôshû Ayanokôji Sadatoshi
  3. 生ブニ近ク区送ノ雉子股茎ニ二字銘有之優美ナ姿態ヲ呈シ精妙ナリ鍛錬ニ乱ノ間近ク小模様 ノ刃取デ湯走ガ点續シテカカル状ノ刃文ヲ焼キ銘字共々同工ノ典型作ト云ヘリ
    ubu ni chikaku machi-okuri no kijimomo-nakago ni niji-mei ari kore, yûbi na shitai o tei-shi seimyônari tanren ni midare no machikaku ko-moyô no hadori de yubashiri ga tenzoku-shite kakaru jô no hamon o yaki meiji tomodomo dôkô no tenkei saku to ieri
    This blade has a close to ubu kijimono-nakago (with machi-okuri) with a niji-mei. It has a graceful sugata, is excellently forged, and shows a small-dimensioned midare accompanied with spots of yubashiri.
  4. 古様サヤ優 雅ナ品格ヲ湛ヘル味ワイ深キ優品哉 
    koyôsa ya yûga na hinkaku o tataeru ajiwai fukaki yûhin nari kana
    This interpretation and the signature style are both very typical for this smith and the blade has a classic feel and is highly elegant. A very tasteful masterwork.
  5. 長貮尺四寸八分有之珍々重々
    nagasa 2 shaku 4 sun 8 bu ari kore chinchin-chôchô
    Blade length ~ 75.1 cm, very rare, very precious
  6. 旹季甲午暦仲呂探山邉道観并誌
    toki kinoe-umadoshi chûryo Tanzan Hendô mite narabi ni shirushite + kaô
    Examined and written by Tanzan Hendô [pseudonym of Tanobe Michihiro] in the fourth month of the year of the horse of this era [2014]