The Tonbo-giri Yari or the Dragonfly Slicer Lance treasured by Honda Heihachirô Tadakatsu [本多平八郎忠勝] (1548-1610)is signed “Fujiwara Masazane saku” [藤原正真作]. If we reference the Nihontô Meikan or Compendium of Japanese Sword Signatures [日本刀銘鑑] (Honma & Ishii, 3rd edition, 1979), it has two entries for smiths with this signature. The first entry reads, “[Masazane], [Fujiwara Masazane], [Fujiwara Masazane saku], Kanabô. Mikawa Monju. Originally from Yamato. Made the famed Jûman-kiri or Tonbo-giri Yari handed down in successive generations of the Honda family. Resided in Tahara. Eishô (1504-1521). Dates: Eishô 12 (1515), Eishô 13 (1516), Daiei 6 (1525). Note: said to be either the younger brother or student of Muramasa, ‘and although known as Mikawa Monju, there is a katana with a two character Masazane signature that closely resembles the work of first generation Muramasa, the signatures closely resemble those of Muramasa, and his style of workmanship is more refined and skilled than that of the Kanabô School. Tentatively, I would like him to be a member of the Muramasa School (Kunzan).’”
The second entry reads, “[Sesshû Kuwana jû Sengo Masazane], [Fujiwara Masazane], [Masazane], student of Muramasa and also said to be the younger brother of Muramasa. Later moved to Mikawa. Circa Bunki (1501-1504). Ise. Note: probably the same sword-maker who signed [Fujiwara Masazane] and known as Mikawa Monju. Although he is said to have been active circa Bunki, because of first generation Muramasa’s period of activity, he is probably his brother or a member of the same school.”
One can only wonder why the descriptions of these two smiths are so tortured. Are these two different smiths or are they the same? If they are the same, why is Mikawa Monju Masazane rated higher in the Meikan than Sengo Masazane? Although minor points, the second Masazane entry has his first signature as “Sesshû Kuwana jû Sengo Masazane,” which has never been seen on an extant sword, and, it looks more like a book entry than a signature. Moreover, the “Fujiwara Masazane” signature is almost always accompanied by “saku.” Another problem raised by the relationship between these smiths and the Tonbo-giri Yari is the fact that Honda Tadakatsu was born during the 17th year of Tenbun or 1548, which is far after either Mikawa Monju Masazane’s or Sengo Masazane’s period of workmanship. Moreover, according to the website Meitô Gensô Jiten or Dictionary for the Reverie of Famed Swords [名刀幻想辞典] (https://meitou.info/index.php/蜻蛉切), Tadakatsu used this yari at the battle of Mikatagahara in the third year of Genki (1572), when he was 24 years old. There would seem to be only two possible solutions to this problem, either Tadakatsu did not originally order this yari and either inherited it or won it on the battlefield, or a different Masazane made this spear.
Let’s start with the traditions surrounding Tadakatsu’s possession of this yari. In the description of this yari in the Nihon no Meisô or Famous Spears of Japan [日本の名槍] (Numada, 1974), there is no mention of Tadakatsu winning it on the battlefield. Although this source does not specifically state this, the fact that they refer to a second Tonbo-giri Yari being owned by Tadakatsu, there is the implicit implication that these yari were order made for Tadakatsu. As such, none of the smiths listed in the Meikan could have made these yari. By the way, the second Tonbo-giri is signed “San Fujiwara Masazane saku; San [三 藤原正真作; 三], with the “san” character engraved on both sides of the nakago, and, of course, a number of writers have opined that the “san” means Mikawa [三河]; however, one would expect that if “san” referred to Mikawa, it would be written Sanshû [三州] as the Chinese reading of the place name Mikawa.
Moreover, there are photographs of a different Tonbo-giri that was displayed at the Sano Museum in 2017 (see number two below). Unfortunately, there are no online photographs that show the signature clearly; however, the hamon and the state of the polish are clearly different from the usually seen Tonbo-giri. Thus, it seems safe to conclude that there are three Tonbo-giri Yari and that the “three” on one of them that is only known from an oshigata found in a fifth year of Kansei (1793) sword book refers to the number produced.
Now we should turn to the actual signature on the Tonbo-giri. Next to the photo of the Tonbo-giri #1 above is a photo of the signature. In addition, below I have provided two examples of katana nakago from the sixth year of Daiei (1526) signed “Fujiwara Masazane saku”. The oshigata is from Ise no Tôkô or Sword-Smiths of Ise [伊勢の刀工] (Satô, 1963) and the photograph is curtesy of Mr. Thomas Helm, who took this at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, where this sword is now part of their collection.
In addition, I have provided a much clearer oshigata taken from Tôken Bijutsu of a similar signature.
The most obvious impression is that these signatures are completely different. Beginning with the top three strokes in the ‘fuji” character where in the Tonbo #1 signature, the upper two vertical strokes do not cut through the horizontal stroke as they do in the comparison signatures. The shape of the “hara” characters is completely different. The “masa” characters are very similar; however, the three strokes in the interior of the “sane” character go from right to left in the Tonbo #1 signature and left to right in the comparison signatures. I think it is safe to say that the smith listed in the Meikan as being Mikawa Monju Masazane, who has works dated to the same years as Sengo Masazane, not only did not make the Tonbo-Giri Yari, but, in fact, does not exist.
SHODAI AND NIDAI MASAZANE
Here seems like a perfect opportunity to introduce the works of first and second generations Masazane. It would seem appropriate to first establish Masazane firmly in the Sengo School by comparing his style of workmanship with that of first generation Muramasa as well as showing his relationship to Heianjô Nagayoshi, who is considered a teacher of both Muramasa and Masazane.
Let us begin with a comparison of katana by these three smiths. Below from left to right we have a katana by Heianjô Nagayoshi. The center blade is a katana by the first generation Muramasa that is dated as being made in the tenth year of Eishô (1513). The katana on the right is by Masazane.
What is striking are the similarities in the construction and hamon of the three blades. Also, one should pay attention to the similarity of the carvings on the Nagayoshi and Muramasa blades. You will note that the oshigata of the example Masazane from Tôken Bijutsu shown on page 5 above has similar carvings.
All three blades have a gunome-midare koshi-ba with a wide suguha above that. Notice how very long Masazane’s koshi-ba is in comparison to the other two swords. This is a typical characteristic of Masazane’s hamon. (Source: Tôken to Rekishi, [刀剣と歴史], History and the Sword, Issue Number 664, Nihon Tôken Hozon-Kai, 2005, page 40.)
Now let us turn to a few example swords of the first generation beginning with the example from Tôken Bijutsu shown below. For a larger version of this image refer back to page #5.
Katana: Fujiwara Masazane saku [藤原正真作]
Length: 2 Shaku, 2 Sun, 8 Bu, 9 Rin
Sori: 7 Bu
The construction is hon-zukuri with an iori-mune. The shape is deeply curved and has powerful saki-zori. The kitae is ko-itame mixed with flowing mokume that is entirely well worked and covered in ji-nie. The hada pattern is prominent. The hamon has a box-shaped gunome-midare koshi-ba, and above that it is suguha with a mixing in here and there of small gunome. The habuchi is covered in ko-nie, and there is slight ko-ashi activity. The nioiguchi is subdued and tight. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru and slightly long kaeri. The carvings are centered on the shinogi line with a sô-no-kurikara and a narrow groove above that carved on the omote with a rendai and sô-no-kurikara carved on the ura. The nakago is slightly machiokuri, and the yasuri are kiri.
This is the representative work of Masazane, showing the influences of first generation Muramasa and second generation Heianjô Nagayoshi. The jigane is very tight and gorgeous without a hint of masame, the long koshi-ba and the Heianjô carvings all show that this sword is completely different from a Kanabô School sword. The first generation produced a large number of katana and tantô; however, ko-wakizashi and yari have not been seen.
Katana: Masazane [正真]
Length: 2 Shaku, 2 Sun, 3 Bu, 5 Rin
Sori: 6 Bu, 5 Rin
This is a hon-zukuri constructed katana with an iori-mune. The shinogi is high, the shinogi-ji is wide and the ko-shinogi is long. There is narrowing towards the point, and the shape has saki-zori. The kitae is mokume that is covered in ji-nie and very well worked. The shinogi has a mixing in of flowing masame. The entire hada pattern is coarse and beautifully prominent. The hamon on both sides at the base has a kake-dashi style koshi-ba tempered in box-shaped ô-gunome, and above that it is suguha. The habuchi is covered in ko-nie; however, it is entirely nioi based with a tight nioiguchi. There is a great deal of slanted ko-ashi activity. The bôshi is midare-komi and thickly covered in ko-nie with a Jizô style tip and short kaeri. The nakago is ubu, and the yasuri are kiri.
This is a classic work of first generation Masazane with his trademark extremely long koshi-ba. The jigane is very tight and gorgeous, and the suguha hamon is highly active with ko-ashi, making this a highly pleasing work. Moreover, the bôshi with its Jizô style tip harkens back to Masazane’s presumed relationship with Mino (Source: Tôken to Rekishi [刀剣と歴史], History and the Sword, Issue Number 619, Nihon Tôken Hozon Kai, 1998, pages 44-45.)
Tantô: Masazane [正真]
Length: 6 Sun, 8 Bu, 5 Rin
This is a hira-zukuri tantô with an iori-mune. The blade is narrow and thick, and the shape is old in style with uchi-zori. The kitae is itame mixed with flowing masame that is covered in ji-nie. The jigane contains conspicuous bô-utsuri. The hamon, which is uniform on both sides of the blade, is shallow notare mixed with gunome. The habuchi is covered in ko-nie, and the nioiguchi is tight, bright and vivid. The bôshi is shallow notare-komi with a ko-maru and short kaeri. The nakago is ubu, and the yasuri are kattesagari.
Although few in number compared to the second generation, tantô by the first generation can be identified based on the signatures. The workmanship can be placed firmly in the Sengo School, which is noted for matching the hamon on both sides of the blade. (Source: Aitô [愛刀] Aitô Bijutsu-kan)
Katana: Fujiwara Masazane saku [藤原正真作]
Length: 2 Shaku, 4 Sun, 2 Bu, 5 Rin
Sori: 7 Bu, 6 Rin
The construction is hon-zukuri with an iori-mune. The blade is wide with average thickness. The shape has saki-zori and is magnificent. The kitae is itame that is covered in ji-nie. The hamon at the base has a box-shaped ô-gunome koshi-ba, and above that, it is a wide suguha. The habuchi is covered in nie, and there is hotsure and ko-ashi activity. The hamon is uniform on both sides. The bôshi is sugu and ko-maru with brushing and a rather long kaeri. On the omote is carved a koshi-bi with soe-bi, a rendai and bonji, and on the ura is carved a sankoken and bonji. The nakago is ubu, and the yasuri are kiri.
From the characters in the signature, this is clearly the work of the second generation. There are few katana among the works of the second generation with a greater number of tantô and yari.
(Source: Nihontô Zuikan, Kotô-hen [日本刀随感、古刀編], Random Thoughts on Japanese Swords, Kotô Edition, Kataoka, 1982, page 295)
Tantô: Fujiwara Masazane Saku [藤原正真作]
Length: 9 Sun, 1 Bu, 5 Rin
Sori: 5 Rin
This is a hira-zukuri constructed tantô with a shin-no-mune. The fukura is not full, and the blade is thin. The shape has slight saki-zori. The kitae is itame mixed with powerfully flowing masame that is wildly covered in ji-nie and vivid. The entire hada pattern is coarse, largely flowing and prominent. The hamon is gunome-midare with a mixing in of box-shapes, and from around the middle of the blade and above, it becomes hitatsura. The interior of the ha is well covered in nie, and there is brushing and streaks of sunagashi. The bôshi is kaen in style and powerfully brushed with a long kaeri. There is a koshi-bi carved on the omote with gomabashi carved on the ura. The nakago is ubu, and the yasuri are kiri.
The signature on this sword looks extremely close to the signature on the Tonbo-giri Yari. Moreover, this is a rare example of a Sengo School blade that is copying a nie based Sôshû hitatsura-ba work.
(Source: Tôken to Rekishi [刀剣と歴史], History and the Sword, Issue Number 598, Nihon Tôken Hozon-Kai, 1995, pages 42-43)
Tantô: Masazane [正真]
Length: 7 Sun, 9 Bu
This is a hira-zukuri tantô with a shin-no-mune. The blade is wide and thick. The shape is stubby and there is slight curvature in the middle of the blade. The kitae is itame and flowing with a mixing in of ô-hada that is covered in ji-nie. The jigane is slightly coarse and prominent, and there is chikei activity. The hamon has a short and narrow sugu yakidashi with a box-shaped ô-gunome koshi-ba, and above that, it is chû-suguha. The habuchi at the lower half of the blade is nioi based with a mixing in of ko-nie, and the upper half is covered in ko-nie. There is hotsure and streaks of sunagashi. The bôshi is sugu with brushing, a ko-maru and kaeri. The nakago is ubu, and the yasuri are kiri.
In comparison to the previous tantô, this work has a hamon more typical of a Sengo work, and a signature that clearly shows it to be a second-generation sword. In particular, notice the rather angular shape of the “masa” character as opposed to the more rounded first generation version, and the three strokes in the interior of the “sane” character being struck from right to left. (Source: Kantô Hibi-shô, Zokusan [鑑刀日々抄、続三], Summary of Daily Sword Study, Vol. 3, Honma, 1988, page 60)
Finally, in Kataoka Ginsaku sensei’s seminal two volume work Nihontô Zuikan [日本刀随感] (1982), there are two oshigata of katana both signed Masazane with takanoha yasuri. As Sengo Masazane typically used kiri-yasuri, Kataoka sensei reasons that these two swords must be by Mikawa Monju Masazane. However, I believe that I have pretty clearly established the fact that such a smith has continuously been confused with Sengo Masazane, and, in fact, there is no such smith as Mikawa Monju Masazane. I have provided the two oshigata below and will describe them as follows.
Katana: Masazane [正真]
Length: 2 Shaku, 5 Sun, 5 Bu
Sori: 7 Bu
This is a hon-zukuri constructed blade with an iori-mune. The kitae is itame mixed with masame that is covered in ji-nie. The hamon is chû-suguha that is covered in ko-nie, and the nioiguchi is tight. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru and short kaeri. There are pairs of suji-hi with round ends carved on both sides of the blade. The nakago is ubu, and the yasuri are takanoha.
The “Masa” character in this signature differs from the usually seen Sengo Masazane “Masa” character; however, the “Sane” character is very similar to that of first generation Masazane, with the three interior strokes being cut from left to right. The early sword books claim that first generation Muramasa moved from Mino to Ise. I believe it is possible that Sengo Masazane also originated in Mino, and that his early period work retains the Mino style takanoha yasuri. The style of workmanship in this sword, and the example below, with the exception of the lacking koshi-ba, are very similar to that of Sengo Masazane. It is very likely that these works predate Masazane studying with Heianjô Nagayoshi. Finally, it seems to be a great stretch to create a non-existent smith, Monju Masazane, in order to explain a difference in yasuri.
Katana: Masazane [正真]
Length: 2 Shaku, 3 Sun, 9 Bu
Sori: 8 Bu
This katana has a hon-zukuri construction with an iori-mune. The kitae is flowing itame mixed with masame that is powerfully covered in ji-nie. The hamon is chû-suguha that is covered in ko-nie. There is a great deal of ko-ashi activity. The bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru and kaeri. There are round-ended bôhi with soe-bi carvings on both sides of the blade. The nakago is suriage and machiokuri, and the yasuri are takanoha.
With the exception of the takanoha yasuri, the nakago and signature on this sword looks exactly like the two-character first generation signature on the katana above. The hamon, with the exception of the lacking koshi-ba, is also almost identical with the great abundance of ko-ashi activity. Actually, a second difference is the shape of the nakago-jiri. However, as the grooves continue down onto the nakago, it is very clear that this blade has been shortened and is machiokuri, resulting in the shape of the nakago-jiri being changed. Based on this signature, the shape of the nakago and the style of workmanship, I think we can safely attribute this to first generation Sengo Masazane as an early period example.
This brings an end to my critique of the available evidence surrounding the maker of the famed Tonbo-giri Yari. I am not alone in the belief that there are two generations of Sengo Masazane and that the second generation is the smith who created this great work. However, there seems to be a continuing reluctance to go on record that such is the case. Moreover, there seems to be a lingering desire to somehow create a smith who seems to never have actually existed. The traditions surrounding Mikawa Monju Masazane, including that he was from the Yamato Kanabô School are certainly untrue. Moreover, that a smith dating to Bunki, Eishô, Daiei and the early years of Tenbun, basically 1501-1540 or so, could have made this to order for Honda Tadakatsu is not possible.
I hope that my readers will find this both interesting, educational and compelling. I would also welcome any comments or counter arguments in the spirit of furthering knowledge not just of this great blade, but of the Sengo School, about which a great deal is yet to be learned. Finally, the opinions expressed in this article are mine alone and do not reflect any position taken by the NCJSC.
(Note that this article is partially based on one written by Robson, G. (2005) in Japanese and published in three parts to be found in Tôken to Rekishi or History and the Sword, [刀剣と歴史], Issue Numbers 664, 665 and 666.)
Gordon L. Robson
Aitô [愛刀], (date unknown), sales catalogue of the Aitô Bijutsu-kan, Tokyo.
Kataoka, G., (1982), Nihontô Zuikan or Random Thoughts on Japanese Swords, [日本刀随感], Kotô Edition, Yamagata Publishing, Yokohama.
Honma, K., (1988) Kantô Hibi-shô, Zokusan or Summary of Daily Sword Study, Vol. 3 [鑑刀日々抄、続三], Ôtsuka Publishing Co., Tokyo.
Honma, K. & Ishii, M., (1979), Nihontô Meikan or Compendium of Japanese Sword Signatures [日本刀銘鑑], 3rdedition, Yûzankaku Publishing K.K., Tokyo.
Meitô Gensô Jiten or Dictionary for the Reverie of Famed Swords [名刀幻想辞典] (https://meitou.info/index.php/蜻蛉切), PukiWiki.
Numada, K., (1974), Nihon no Meisô or Famous Spears of Japan [日本の名槍], Yûzankaku Publishing K.K., Tokyo.
Robson, G. (2005) “Tonbu-giri no Sakusha wa Dare” or “Who Made the Tonbo-giri,” Tôken to Rekishi or History and the Sword, [刀剣と歴史], Issue Number 664, Nihon Tôken Hozon-Kai.
Satô, K., (editor, 1963), Ise no Tôkô or Sword-Smiths of Ise [伊勢の刀工], Nihon Bijutsu Tôken Hozon-Kai, Tokyo.
Tôken Bijutsu, (date unknown), Nihon Bijutsu Tôken Hozon-Rekishi or History and the Sword, [刀剣と歴史], Issue Number 619, Nihon Tôken Hozon-Kai, Tokyo.