The province of Yamato (大和) was the center of Japanese culture during the Nara (奈良) period before the capital was transferred to Kyôto (京都) in Yamashiro (山城). At the end of the Heian (平安) period a number of sword making schools were founded and flourished in the Yamato (大和) area that was in close proximity to the cultural center of Nara (奈良).According to legend, Yamato is said to have been the home of Amakuni (天国) and Amakura (天座), the earliest swordsmiths. After that, the Senjuin smiths Yukinobu (行信) and Shigenobu (重信) are believed to have worked in Yamato at the end of the Heian period. The earliest confirmed time of manufacture for a sword with a signature from this province, however, is the middle of the Kamakura period.
Yamato (大和) was an area of a great many powerful Buddhist temples and from the end of the Heian period the temples in Yamato province acquired vast manors and many branch temples. Accordingly, many temples sought to arm themselves to guard their rights and property. Five sword-making schools were founded and patronized by powerful temples for that purpose. The five major Yamato schools, the Senjuin (千手院), Taima (当麻), Tegai (手搔), Hosho (保昌), and Shikkake (尻懸) were groups of swordsmiths who supplied the temples with arms.
The Senjuin School (千手院) is acknowledged as the earliest and most elegant of the five schools. The Senjuin School belonged to a sub-temple of Tôdaiji located near to the Senju valley on the eastern foot of the Wakakusayama (若草山) in Nara. During the Tenroku Era (天緑 970-973) the Senjuin (千手院) school moved from Senjû valley near Wakakusayama (若草山) to a location northwest of the Tôdaiji Sangatsu-dô. It is said that in the reign of Horikawa Tennô (1086-1107) a smith named Yukinobu (行信) made a naginata there for the first time. There is some controversy as to these dates and the current thought is that he actually worked around the Ninpei Era (仁平) (1151-1154). After that, this tradition of smithing was handed down for a number of generations and they were called the Senjuin-kaji (千手院鍛冶). There were number of smiths in this group, but signed swords by them are almost non-existent. There are two main reasons for this. First, as these smiths were working for temples, signatures were not required, and second, many of these swords are ô-suriage and have thus lost their original nakago, which might have been signed.
Swordsmiths belonging to this school were connected to the Senjuin Temple of Nara. This temple was a subsidiary temple of the famous Todai-ji temple in Nara. The workmanship in this school was generally uniform. The school is divided into three sub-schools. Those smiths working from the late Heian Era through the early Kamakura Era are known as Ko-Senjuin (古千手院) smiths. Those working from the middle of the Kamakura Era through the Nanbokuchô Era are called the Chû-Senjuin (中千手院) (middle Senjuin) smiths. Sue-Senjuin (末千手院) (late Senjuin) refers to the swordsmiths of this school who were active in the Muromachi period after the Ôei Era. The Senjuin temple was destroyed in 1567 when Hidehisa Matsunaga’s troops set it on fire. As the result the school disappeared at that point in time.
It is believed that Yukinobu (行信) was the founder of the Ko-Senjuin School (古千手院). He is said to have been active around the Ninpei Era (仁平) (1151-1154). He was followed by Shigehiro (重弘). Shigehiro (重弘) served the Emperor, Gotoba, and is said to have later migrated to Akasaka (赤坂) in Mino (美濃) and founded the Akasaka Senjuin (赤坂千手院) School. Other smiths of the Ko-Senjuin (古千手院) school were Shigenaga (重永), Yukiyoshi (行吉), Yukimasa (行正),and Rikinao (力直). Signed examples from the smiths of this school are rare.
The characteristics of the Ko-Senjuin (古千手院) School are as follows:
SUGATA: Slender with funbari and taping towards the tip, with a ko-kissaki showing the elements of a classic tachi-sugata. Blades are thick with deep torîzori. The shinogi is high and the shinogi-ji is wide.
JIGANE: The jigane is well forged and beautiful. The itame-hada is mixed with masame that is covered with ji-nie. There is chikei activity.
HAMON: The hamon is a relatively narrow suguha with hotsure and occasionally mixed with ko-chôji and ko-midare. The nie are highly reflective and rather rough. Activity such as uchinoke, kuichigaiba, smallish kinsuji and inazuma are attractive and readily visible. There is often nijûba.
BÔSHI: The bôshi is yakitsume, nie kuzure, and kaen. The nie is highly reflective.
Workmanship of the Chû-Senjuin (中千手院) school is generally similar to that of the Ko-Senjuin (古千手院) School, but it is somewhat inferior in grace and quality. The sugata is stout and shows features typical of this period.
When they made tantô, which are extremely rare, they usually had the following characteristics:
SUGATA: Hira-zukuri construction with takenoko-zori or uchi-zori and Kanmuriotoshi-zukuri (one known example).
JITETSU: Very finely forged steel resulting in ko-itame hada with a mixing in of flowing hada, tending towards masame that is covered in ji-nie.
HAMON: Narrow suguha with much ko-nie. Activity is similar to that of tachi.
BÔSHI: Most will be found in ko-maru shape with fine nie.
There are some surviving examples with signatures and dates of manufacture such as a tantô by Senjuin Yoshihiro (千手院義弘) that is dated Bunna ni-nen, hachi gatsu (文和二年八月日) or the 8th month of 1353. A second tantô signed Yoshihiro (吉広) and dated Kôei ni mizunoto hitsuji (康永二癸未) (10th calendar sign, ram, 2nd of Kôei, 1343). Other Chû-Senjuin smiths were Sadashige (定重), Rikio (力王), Kuniyoshi (国吉), Yoshihiro (義弘), Kiyomune (清宗), Yasushige (康重), Yasuhiro (保弘), Yoshihiro (吉広) and Chô Aritoshi (長有俊).
Swordsmiths we refer to as being of the Sue-Senjuin school produced swords that no longer have any traces of the Senjuin characteristics produced by the Ko-Senjuin and Chû-Senjuin smiths. They may be mistaken for poor Mino or poor Bizen works. The hamon is made in notare-midare without nie for the most part. The bôshi is in notare-komi ormidare-komi. The jitetsu will seem hard with a mokume-hada.
A branch of the Senjuin (千手院) School was founded by Ryûmon Nobuyoshi (龍門延吉) who worked at the end of the Kamakura period around the Shôô period (正応-1288-1293), in the Ryûmon (龍門) area of the same name between the northern foot of the Yoshino mountain range and the village of Uda (宇陀). Nobuyoshi (延吉) made Yamato like blades with unobtrusive sugata, but he applied a different deki with utsuri and a quiet midare-ba with mixed-in ko-chôji which reminds us of the Bizen tradition. There are only a very few blades extant bearing the signature of Ryûmon Nobuyoshi, and many mumei works by him have the attribution to just the Senjuin School.
Tanobe Sensei stated, “When we see a blade with the typical Yamato-sugata, whose classical jiba dates not later than the Kamakura period, and whose workmanship shows characteristics which cannot be classified into one of the four schools of, Taima, Tegai, Shikkake, or Hoshô, it is very likely that it is a Senjuin work.
Nihonto.com is very proud to present this fantastic Senjuin blade from the late Kamakura era. This blade exhibits many of the characteristics of those produced by Ryûmon Nobuyoshi. It is from his time period and exhibits a graceful sugata (shape). It also has utsuri, which is rare for a Yamato blade. This blade was awarded the status of Jûyô Tôken (Important sword) at the 66th NBTHK Jûyô Tôken shinsa in the fall of 2020.
The translation of the Jûyô documents for this blade is as follows:
Jūyō-tōken at the 66th jūyō shinsa held on December 15, 2020
Katana, mumei: Senju’in (千⼿院)
Nagasa 68.1 cm, sori 1.9 cm, motohaba 3.0 cm, sakihaba 1.95 cm, kissaki-nagasa 3.6 cm, nakago-nagasa 20.8 cm, nakago-sori 0.2 cm
Keijō: shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, about standard mihaba and kasane, relatively noticeably taper, high shinogi, despite the suriage a deep sori, chū-kissaki
Kitae: itame that is mixed with mokume and rather standing-out nagare and that features plenty of ji-nie and much chikei
Hamon: suguha-chō with some gently undulating notare and mixed with connected ko-gunome and some gunome-chōji and thus a tendency towards ko-midare-chō as well, in addition, plenty of ashi and yō, hotsure, and parallel to the habuchi also a few yubashiri appear, the nioiguchi features an abundance of mura-nie and also some nie-kobore in places
Bōshi: sugu-chō, on the omote side with hakikake at the tip and on the ura side with some kuichigaiba and yubashiri, the bōshi runs out as yakitsume, but with a slight tendency towards a maru-kaeri on both sides
Nakago: ō-suriage, very shallow kurijiri, the original yasurime are indiscernible due to corrosion, the new yasurime are kiri, two mekugi-ana, mumei
On the western foothills of Mt. Wakakusa (草⼭) in Nara a Senju Hall (千⼿堂) exists, at which Senju Kannon is worshipped, and the swordsmiths located in the vicinity of this hall were traditionally referred to as Senju’in (千⼿院)school. Senju’in is the oldest of all the five major currents of sword production in Yamato province. Period sword documents list the two Senju’in masters Yukinobu (⾏信)and Shigehiro (弘) as having been active as early as in the late Heian period, although it appears that no authentic works of these two smiths have survived. In general, and even with later periods, renowned masterworks of the Senju’in school are rare. This blade shows a kitae in itame that is mixed with mokume and rather standing-out nagare and that features plenty of ji-nie and much chikei. The hamon is a suguha-chō some gently undulating notare and is mixed with ko-gunome and some gunome-chōji, displaying thus a tendency towards ko-midare-chō as well. In addition, hotsure and yubashiri appear and the bōshi shows hakikake. Therefore, we recognize the characteristic features of the Senju’in School and are in agreement with the period attribution of this blade to this school. The blade can be dated not later than to the late Kamakura period. This masterwork feels heavy in hand and the prominent nie make it even more impressive.
This blade is, by far, the finest example of the Senjuin school that I have seen in many years. It is hard to believe that this sword is some 700 years old.
This blade is accompanied by a late Edo period tachi koshirae as shown in the photos below. The majority of the fittings are gilded brass engraved with a floral pattern and the saya is done in aogai chirashi lacquer.