Fukuoka Ichimonji

period: Middle Kamakura (ca. 1260)
designation: NBTHK Juyo Token
nakago: o-suriage, mumei
nagasa: 70.1cm
sori: 1.9cm
motohaba: 2.9cm
sakihaba: 2.0cm
kissaki: 3.4cm
nakago nagasa: 19.3cm
nakago sori: 0.1cm
price: -sold-

Before I begin, a note. There are a very large number of photos in the slideshow for this sword. Try to view them all. The sword is spectacular and exhibits an interesting utsuri that can be seen at certain angles, as such double the normal number of photos is required to properly document its features.

The name of the Ichimonji school comes from the habit developed by the early Fukuoka Ichimonji smiths of signing their blades with the single character “ichi” (), indicating the numeral “one.” Perhaps its bold meaning and intention remains rather obvious seven centuries later as human nature does not change that much, though times do.

Mr. Iwazaki Kosuke explains the Ichi of Ichimonji as Muteki, meaning “No enemy”, and this is not the name of a swordsmith, but is said to be a presentation name for a sword. It is not hard to imagine the feeling of strength when gazing down upon a battlefield with a Muteki sword in one’s sash. Fujishiro Yoshio

The intention of muteki — “no enemy” — is that no blade, and no warrior, could ever hope to stand against the one who would wield an Ichimonji blade.

The Ichimonji school is composed of several branches, spanning different periods of time and residing in different areas of Bizen province. The name of Ichimonji is synonymous with the peak of the Bizen tradition, and their work in flamboyant choji midare with utsuri is unmissable and distinct in the history of the Japanese sword. Coming first were the Ko-Ichimonji smiths in the late Heian and early Kamakura, followed by Fukuoka Ichimonji in the middle Kamakura, then Yoshioka, Katayama and Iwato Ichimonji in the late Kamakura to end of the Nanbokucho. As well, there is Kamakura Ichimonji, transplanted from Bizen to Soshu at the order of the Shogun.

Early Fukuoka Ichimonji works exhibit nie-deki which is inherited from its origins in Ko-Bizen. The style was developed during the period of the Go-ban Kaji and spread to influence swordsmiths as far away as Yamashiro province. Later would would shift to nioi-deki which is heat hardened at a lower temperature, and is thought to be a development which allowed the Ichimonji swords to remain tough while taking on a large amount of hardened material as can be observed in their hamon which became increasingly flamboyant through the years.

At the beginning period of Ichimonji, the hamon was ko-midare with nie, and was like that of early Bizen. The exuberant choji of Ichimonji was something which was achieved with the Goban Kaji of ex-Emperor Gotoba as the center. For this reason, the point that they held extremely advanced technology compared to other swordsmiths cannot be denied, and needless to say, the choji of Osafune Mitsutada and Hatakeda Moriie and such were received and continued from this Ichimonji, and this can also be seen in the works of the Yamashiro swordsmiths of the same era, such as Kunitsuna, Sadatoshi, and Kunitoshi. Fujishiro Yoshio

The Nihonto Koza waxes quite poetic when describing the works of Fukuoka Ichimonji. I think it requires no comment to clarify the author's feelings on the quality of the works of this school.

As for the juka choji of FUKUOKA ICHIMONJI they reached a magnificent region that they alone have traversed in all times in this skill, and the large pattern choji ha which is applied till it becomes stripes, along with the kage utsuri which is like mist, is of unparalleled beauty, like the double petaled sakura that is kissed by the rising sun.

Gotoba and the Ichimonji

In the year 1208 the cloistered Emperor Gotoba summoned the finest swordsmiths in the land to his place of exile and proceeded to take teachings from them. It is this process which begins the revolution of style and craftsmanship that made the Kamakura period the golden age of swords.

The first group of teachers were 13 smiths from three regions of Japan. Three smiths from Yamashiro Awataguchi, three from Bitchu Aoe, and seven smiths from Bizen Fukuoka:

  1. Fukuoka Ichimonji Norimune
  2. Fukuoka Ichimonji Nobufusa
  3. Fukuoka Ichimonji Sukemune
  4. Fukuoka Ichimonji Muneyoshi
  5. Fukuoka Ichimonji Yukikuni
  6. Fukuoka Ichimonji Sukenari
  7. Fukuoka Ichimonji Sukenobu

The majority of Gotoba's teachers coming from Fukuoka Ichimonji begins the long held belief of dominance of Bizen blades and the reverence of Fukuoka Ichimonji in the history of the Japanese Sword.

Spread of the Ichimonji

Some smiths of Fukuoka Ichimonji would sign only with the single “ichi” character, while others would add the “ichi” above their name. Some never used it, and other works were handed down ubu but with no signature at all. There is some difference between these “ichi-only” swords and those that bear mei ji, so it is likely that there is some kind of division between them.

It was not until after the Ichimonji smiths spread from Fukuoka past the middle of the Kamakura period that some smiths would place the town in front of their name. While the Yoshioka smiths often added Yoshioka (吉岡) to their signatures, in Fukuoka there is only one smith, Naganori (Einin, 1298-1299), who added Fukuoka (福岡) to his signature.

It is generally thought that the Yoshioka group is thought to be pre-eminent in the latter part of the Kamakura period, there is overlap in time and no firm agreement over where the majority of Ichimonji smiths resided. Because of this, some swords will gain attributions only to Ichimonji, while others with more strong stylistic cues can be attributed closer to their work centers.

The Ichimonji would dominate the creation of swords in Bizen, spreading to Iwato as well as Yoshioka above. Sukezane of Fukuoka would also leave Bizen entirely for Sagami at the command of the Shogun, and be called Kamakura Ichimonji for the swords he made there.

After the rise of the Ko-Osafune kaji in the middle Kamakura period who began by emulating the Fukuoka Ichimonji style, the Ichimonji would no longer be standing alone at the center of the Bizen tradition. Because Osafune would become so dominant, there is sometimes a misconception that the Ichimonji smiths were no longer active after the Kamakura period. They did flourish into the Nanbokucho period but would at this time become overshadowed by Osafune, which became the main line of Bizen development going forward.

Ichimonji Juyo Token Katana

This sword has long been held as work by the Ichimonji school, as it bears old origami from Honami Kochu, valuing it at 100 gold pieces. Honami Kochu is considered the most reliable judge among all the Honami, and was responsible for assembling the Kyoho Meibutsu Cho: the register of the most famous swords in the land. In this register is a particular Ichimonji called the Doyo Ichimonji. The Doyo Ichimonji is of interest because Honami Kochu also gave it a value of 100 gold pieces. This serves as a ruler then, showing that the same judge ranked this sword as equivalent in value to this famous Doyo Ichimonji, that this sword must have been very highly regarded by Honami Kochu. Today the Doyo Ichimonji is in the collection of the Emperor of Japan.

Fujishiro Yoshio was quoted above as indicating that the beginning works of Fukuoka Ichimonji are in nie deki. This is confirmed in the Nihonto Koza:

As for the older pieces, those having ko-nie are the most common, but with the coming of the later periods, they became nioi deki.

The sword being made in nie rather tha nioi can be used as a means of dating Ichimonji work. When this sword passed Juyo Token the NBTHK placed the time period as being middle to late Kamakura and confirmed it as Ichimonji. Tanobe sensei narrowed the attribution in later years to Fukuoka Ichimonji. The sword is completely covered with ko-nie which are obvious to see in the photos and are of extremely fine and beautiful nature. This confirms Tanobe sensei's attribution and I think further dates the work to at most the middle Kamakura, if not earlier, according to Fujishiro and the Nihonto Koza.

As well, the nakago has a couple centimeters left of the original nakago, it can be seen at the very end as a particularly old looking section. This would be in keeping with an early to middle Kamakura period tachi of around 85cm.

It is otherwise hard to even describe this sword in words, because the utsuri it possesses is a magnificent spectacle. The jigane is a very beautifully forged tight ko-itame. The entire surface is coated with very fine ji nie and when the right angle to the light is presented the utsuri erupts into amazing patterns. It has the best utsuri of any sword I've ever seen. The photos do a good job of illustrating most of it, but it will need to be held in the hand in order to experience it.

There are two additional bonuses with this sword. It comes with an old valuation by Honami Kochu of 100 gold pieces. These are quite rare and nice to have as part of a full package for a collector. Honami Kochu is one of the top appraisers of history, who along with Honami Kotoku represent the top two.

This sword also has beautiful and elegant black lacquered koshirae, with an Umetada school tsuba with alternating gold and shakudo petals. The gold is applied as a thick forged layer, and the menuki and fuchi have gold shi-shi on them, possibly waki-goto. The shape is the kiku, which is the chrysthanthemum flower and the symbol of the Emperor.

I cannot recommend this sword highly enough. In spite of a couple of minor flaws, the condition overall is outstanding, and the length just over 70cm is excellent. It is a remarkable example of the heights achieved by the renowned Fukuoka Ichimonji school. I believe it will achieve Tokubetsu Juyo in the future.

Juyo Token

Appointed on the 1st of July, 1971 - Session 22

Katana, Mumei, Ichimonji

Shape

shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, wide mihaba, relative deep sori, chû-kissaki

Kitae

dense itame with utsuri

Hamon

chôji-midare mixed with gunome, ashi and yô, there is ko-nie

Boshi

sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri

Nakago

ô-suriage, kirijiri, kiri-yasurime, three mekugi-ana, mumei

Setsumei

The Ichimonji school prospered from the early to the late Kamakura period and had branches working from different areas in Bizen province, e.g. from Fukuoka, Yoshioka or Katayama. The school gave rise to a great number of excellent and renowned smiths. The hamon of this katana bases on chôji but is mixed with a bit of gunome and so it can be attributed as a Bizen-Ichimonji work from the mid to the late Kamakura period.

Tanobe Sensei Sayagaki

Tanobe Michihiro is the retired former head research judge at the Nippon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK).

  1. 備前國福岡一文字
    Bizen no Kuni Fukuoka Ichimonji
  2. 第二十二回重要刀剣指定品
    Dai nijûni-kai jûyô-tôken shitei-hin
    Designated as jûyô at the 22nd jûyô-shinsa
  3. 但大磨上無銘也丁子乱變化有之而同派ノ特色ヲ顕現シ出来宜敷候
    tadashi ô-suriage mumei nari, chôji-midare henka no aru shikamo dôha no tokushoku o kengen-shi deki yoroshiku sôrô.
    This blade is ô-suriage and mumei. It shows a chôji-midare which is rich in variety and which displays the typical features of the school.
  4. 正徳二年本阿弥光忠代金子百枚折紙附帯ス
    Shôtoku ninen Hon´ami Kôchû dai-kinsu hyaku-mai origami futai-su
    The deki is excellent and the blade comes with an origami of Hon´ami Kôchû from the second year of Shôtoku (1712), evaluating it with 100 gold pieces
  5. 珍々重々
    Chinchin chôchô
    It is very rare, and very precious
  6. 平成甲申暦葉月穀旦
    Heisei kinoe-sarudoshi hazuki kokutan
    on a lucky day of the eighth month of the year of the monkey of the Heisei era [2004]
  7. 探山拝観并誌
    Tanzan haikan narabi ni shirushite + kaô
    Tanzan examined and appraised this.

Origami Envelope

Honami Kochu was one of the top Honami experts who served the Tokugawa Shogunate beginning in the late 17th century. His opinion is considered the most reliable of all the Honami. His given name was Saburobei and he was the 13th head of the Honami family from 1697 until 1725. In 1719 Tokugawa Shogun Yoshimune asked him to compose the register of the most famous swords in the country, the Kyoho Meibutsu Cho which remains famous today. One notable aspect of Honami papers is that they are all dated for the 3rd of the month. The family would meet on a monthly basis with the various experts giving their opinion on blades brought in for appraisal, with the family head giving a final judgment. This is the same process by which the NBTHK judges swords many centuries later. These papers would have cost 10 gold pieces to make in 1711, so the sword was most likely owned by a Daimyo at this time.

  1. 正徳二年辰極月三日
    Shôtoku ninen tatsu gokugetsu mikka
    Third day of the twelfth month Shôtoku two (1712), year of the dragon
  2. 一文字折紙
    Ichimonji origami
  3. 代金百枚ニ極まル
    daikin hyaku-mai ni kiwamaru
    appraised and evaluated with 100 gold pieces

Honami Kochu Origami

  1. 一文字
    Ichimonji
  2. 正真
    Shoshin
    Authentic
  3. 長サ貮尺参寸一分余
    nagasa 2 shaku 3 sun bu yo
    length about 2 shaku 3 sun 1 bu
  4. 少磨上無銘也
    sukoshi suriage mumei nari
    a little bit suriage and unsigned
  5. 代金子百枚
    dai-kinsu hyaku-mai
    value 100 gold pieces
  6. 正徳二年辰極月三日
    Shôtoku ninen tatsu gokugetsu mikka
    third day of the twelfth month Shôtoku two (1712), year of the dragon
  7. 本阿弥
    Honami (kao)
    Signature of Honami Kochu