Koyama Munetsugu

period: Shinshinto
designation: Tanobe sensei sayagaki, NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon guarantee.
nakago: ubu, one mekugiana
mei: Bizen no Suke Fujiwara Munetsugu
uramei: Ka-ei Rokunen Hachigatsu Hi (August, 1854)
nagasa: 69.7cm
sori: 2.0cm
motohaba: 3.13cm
sakihaba: 2.15cm
kissaki: 3.7cm
nakago nagasa: 19.6cm
nakago sori: slight
price: -sold-

Going by a sword he made dated in 1868 stating that he was 66 years old, we can calculate that Koyama Munetsugu was born in 1802. He had the personal name of Koyama Sobei, his place of birth was Shirakawa, Oshu, and he is the younger brother of Koyama Tadatsuna and did his training in the Kato Tsunahide school but his direct teacher seems to have been Chounsai Tsunatoshi.

After his apprenticeship he worked for the Matsudaira daimyo of the Kuwana Han in Edo in the 1830s, who extensively tested the swords he supplied through Yamada Asauemon (Yoshimasa), Yamada Gosaburô, and Iga Norishige. This no doubt helping him refine the cutting ability of his works. His work appears to have been very popular, as he left behind a large number of high quality items, and famous people of the time owned Munetsgugu swords. These include the Goto master craftsman Ichijo, the Furukawa daimyo Doi, and the Uwajima daimyo Date and interestingly the 7th Yokozuna sumo wrestler Inazuma ("Lightning") Raigoro (pictured to the right). So by this we can determine that he was very successful at his craft, both in making functional blades due to his work with the various cutting masters, and in reputation, making beautiful blades that were owned at the highest level of society.

The Nihonto Koza states that he is the likely the foremost master of Bizen style during the Shinshinto period, which is high praise indeed, and notes:

The works of the Tenpo era (1830-1844) in particular are nothing but amazing [TN: Literally, they pull your eyes out].

His reputation for quality is confirmed by the number of his blades ranked Juyo Token, and the NBTHK has noted that he always demonstrates very steady forging skill and the quality of his work is always high. The total number of Juyo are 41, which is a very high number for a Shinshinto smith. Among these are daisho and naginata, as well as some utsushi of older swords, one being an interesting naginata naoshi utsushi. One of his most famous works is a copy of the Kokuho Koryu Kagemitsu which at the time was in the Imperial collection. He appears to have made it twice: once as an ubu sword, and the other a more exacting suriage point-for-point copy. These appear to have been made for the Yamada sword testing family with whom he was very close.

Munetsugu was granted the title Bizen no Suke in 1845, possibly due to his master work in the Bizen tradition. These works tend to mix both nie and nioi with a tight jihada in ko-itame mixed with mokume. His boshi tends to be midare-komi in ko-maru, and he has a habit at the end of his life of repeating the patterns of his choji in about 10cm intervals. He used a variety of signatures using his personal family name Koyama and sometimes signed in niji mei Munetsugu. However mostly we find longer signatures for his work. When horimono appear on his work, sometimes it is the work of his son Yoshitsugu or Tairyusai Sokan, who was his student and went on to be a very highly regarded smith on his own.

While this smith put an emphasis on Bizen style, sometimes utilizing muji hada, he did make works in other styles from time to time as a diversion and liked to make Soshu den.

Fujishiro rates Munetsugu at Jo-jo saku for a high degree of excellence in craft, and as one of the top smiths of the Shinshinto period. There is a substantial and interesting entry on this smith, and I will quote it here:

... [Munetsugu] was in the Kato Tsunahide Mon, and was called Koyama Sobei. Also, he had the Go of Issensai or Seiryosai. He went to Edo and became the swordsmith of the Kuwana Han, and he lived in Asabu Nagasaka and Yotsuya Samon-cho. He underwent training in the sharpness of blades with Yamada Asauemon and Iga Tomo nado. He received the title of Bizen no Suke in Koka Ninen (1845), and there are works remaining from up until the beginning of Meiji.

There is a story that, when Minamoto Kiyomaro began a sword industry in Yotsuya Iga-cho, since it is said that he did not notice Munetsugu, who was living in Samon-cho at the same time, Munetsugu became angry and sent him a letter of challenge. This is an interesting affair which illustrates and reminds us of the disposition of swordsmiths. His works include some with a ji of strong ko-mokume and some with o-itame hada, and hamon is nioi shimari gonome choji. Also, there are horimono which are thought to have been made by him, and I have seen engravings of ryu and kenmakiryu.

Munetsugu Katana

I bought this sword some time ago in Japan, at the time its previous papers were lost I think, but I had no doubts about its signature as the style, quality of work, and signature are all purely Koyama Munetsugu.

I asked Tanobe sensei to make a sayagaki for the blade, which is something he takes very seriously as it is the same level of importance as an origami and he is placing his name as an affirmation of quality and accuracy onto the blade. This is something he will not do if there is any question as to either, so really when we ask him to do this we are asking him if he will. Sometimes he won't. In this case, he has confirmed the correctness and quality of this blade, and in general blades bearing his sayagaki confirm to the level of standards for Tokubetsu Hozon and higher. As a result, I am giving a three year guarantee for any buyer of this blade who wishes to submit to the NBTHK for Tokubetsu Hozon papers, for full money back and submission fees if there is an issue achieving the papers. I ask only that you submit through me, this will be a free service from my point of view, only expenses for papering need to be paid.

This sword is made in Munetsugu's trademark Bizen den, and the martensite crystals in the yakiba vary from nioi and ko-nie through to sprays of nie in the mid to lower of the blade, in keeping with his style. The gunome hamon is mixed with choji and ashi and also exibits his kantei point of a repeated pattern, and overall makes me think of Osafune Yasumitsu. The hada sparkles with ji nie and is forged in a very fine ko-itame. The kissaki is a bit elongated and the sori relatively deep, making for a very pleasing shape.

There is unfortunately a very slight impression of a thumbprint which is just above the patina on the nakago, and sits under the habaki. It does not show up in the hand but due to the kind of lighting I use on the formal sword photography it appears here and so I've documented it. This was on the sword as it came, and I will cover the cost out of my pocket for repairing this with Robert Benson, Ted Tenold, or Moses Becerra for the new owner.

oshigata oshigata This sword is also accompanied by some flashy koshirae, featuring red and black lacquer and some tosogu in Mino Goto style, featuring the mantises and blossoms in gold on black shakudo, and the menuki are shakudo with some gold and copper. The tsuba is shakudo with gold as well and matches nicely. There is a little bit of damage to the lacquer, but this was a working koshirae. It shows the signs that it was in use and was made for the sword it bears in the mid-1800s. So I would not make any modifications to it, rather I think it is important to just preserve it as is as an artifact of the times. The fuchi bears the signature of the artisan, Mino jo Yoshinaga.

I never profess myself to be an expert on tosogu, but I like the flashy style myself and I'm working on testing the kogai at the moment to see if it is solid gold. I don't want to make that assumption just yet.

Overall it is a beautiful koshirae that suits its blade and its period of manufacture. I think together with the sword in shirasaya with Tanobe sensei's calligraphy, this would make a beautiful display item for a collector at any level and an excellent, complete and authentic example of a combined, mounted, and actively used late Edo period katana.

Tanobe Michihiro Sensei Sayagaki

  1. 固山備前介藤原宗次
    Koyama Bizen no Suke Fujiwara Munetsugu
  2. 七字銘並ニ嘉永六年八月日紀有之得意ノ丁子乱ヲ焼申候
    Shichiji-mei narabi ni Kaei rokunen hachigatsu hi no ki ari kore tokui no chôji-midare o yaku môsu-sôrô
    This blade bears a seven character signature and is dated with a day in the eighth month Kaei six (1853).
  3. 而彼ノ眞面目ヲ存分ニ發揮シ加ヘテ地刃共健ヤカ也
    Shikamo kare no majime o zonbun ni hakki shi kuwaete jiba tomo sukoyaka nari
    It shows the smiths typical chôji-midare tempering and apart from that, and also shows his outright dedication to his craft. Furthermore, the jiba is perfectly healthy.
  4. 刃長貮尺参寸有之
    Hacho ni shaku san sun ari kore
    Blade length - 2 shaku 3 sun (69.7cm)
  5. 惟時壬辰紀卯月探山邉道觀并誌
    Koretoki mizunoe-tatsudoshi uzuki 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 dragon of this era (2012) + kaô