Kotetsu Tanto

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Kotetsu Tanto with Koshirae by Miyata Nobukiyo

KOTETSU (虎徹), Kanbun (寛文, 1661-1673), Musashi – “Nagasone Okisato” (長曽祢奥里), “Nagasone Okisato
Nyūdō” (長曽祢奥里入道), “Nagasone Kotetsu Nyūdō Okisato” (長曽祢虎徹入道興里), “Okisato” (興里), “Kotetsu
Nyūdō Okisato” (乕徹入道興里), “Nagasone Okisato Nyūdō Kotetsu” (長曽祢興里入道乕徹), “Nagasome Okisato”
(長曽祢興里), “Nagasone Okisato shin no kitae saku” (長曽祢興里真鍛作, “carefully forged by using high-quality
steel from Izuha [出羽] and by adding old steel too”), “Jū Tōeizan Shinobugaoka-hen Nagasone Kotetsu Nydō”
(住東叡山忍岡辺長曽祢虎徹入道, “Nagasone, priest name ´Kotetsu´, close to Shinobugaoka at the Tōeizan”),
“Nagasone Okisato Nyūdō Kotetsu Jū Tōeizan Shinobugaoka-hen” (長曽祢興里入道乕徹住 東叡山忍岡辺). Historic
works say that Kotetsu was born in Nagasone (長曽祢) in the vicinity of the castle town Sawayama (佐和山), in Ōmi
province, but moved later to Echizen province. There are signatures extant that mention “Hongoku Echizen-jūnin”
(本国越前住人) what lead to some confusion as some took the prefix hongoku (“home country/province”) literally,
assuming that he was born in Echizen. However, hongoku does not necessarily mean that a person was also born in this
country but simply that he or she lived or had lived there for a longer period of time. This in turn suggests that Kotetsu
must had left Nagasone rather early in life to think of Echizen of his “home province.” But there might also be another
reason. After the Battle of Sekigahara, Ieyasu had entrusted Echizen province to his second son, Yūki Hideyasu
(結城秀康, 1574-1607), who made the local Kitanoshō Castle (北ノ庄城) his stronghold and who reverted to the
former family name Matsudaira. Kitanoshō became Fukui Castle, which also served as a name giver for the surrounding
fief. So Fukui was, because of its direct connection with the family of the shōgun, a high ranking fief and smiths like
Yasutsugu (康継) were proud to mention in their signatures their relationship with it or their patronage by this
Tokugawa branch. And “Echizen” became, as “Echizen Yasutsugu” (越前康継), an inseparable pseudonym of this
master. Anyway, it is transmitted that Kotetsu worked in Fukui as an armorer and the commonly accepted theory says

that around the age of 50 he went to Edo to change his profession to a swordsmith. When we examine all extant blades
by Kotetsu we learn that the earliest specimen, i.e. those which are signed with Okisato (奥里), have a great deal in
common with the tang finish of works by the Kaga smiths like Kiyomitsu (清光) and Yukimitsu (行光). This gives the
impression that he had gained experience as a swordsmith before he moved to Edo. Well, the exact reasons for Kotetsu´s
change of profession are unknown but there exists roughly three approaches. One says that when he faced his 50th
birthday, the demand for newly made armour had drastically dropped. Sekigahara happened 40 years earlier, Ōsaka had
fallen more than 30 years ago, and the last great armed conflict – the Shimabara Rebellion from 1637 to 1638 – was at its
tenth anniversary. That means there was a generation of active armourers who produced items more or less for parades
and celebrations for high-ranking samurai, daimyō and the family of the shōgun or repaired extant pieces. The second
approach is that Kotetsu was just looking for a new challenge. And there exists a story which gives another reason for his
change of profession. This story says that he had killed a man from Echizen and was on the run. The third approach is
about one of his helmets being tested and in fear of an unfavorable outcome, he disturbed the sword tester so that his
cut did only minimal damage to the helmet bowl. After that it is said that he approached his students Okihisa (興久) and
Okinao (興直) and said that “without this interruption, the swordsman would surely have cut through my helmet. From
this day on I will retire as an armourer and devote my future life to the craft of sword forging…,” leaving Kanazawa and
setting out for Edo the very same night. The assumption that Kotetsu changed profession at the age of 50 in Edo goes
back to a signature on one of his blades. This mei reads: “Hongoku Echizen-jūnin, hanbyaku ni shitatte Bushū Edo ni
kyojū-su, kaji no kōsei o tsukusu nomi” (本国越前住人至半百居住 武州之江戸鍛冶之工精尽爾) which translates
as: “After 50 years in my home country Echizen I devote now myself to the craft of sword forging in Edo, Musashi.”
Unfortunately, the blade – it is a wakizashi with a nagasa of 45.7 cm and a horimono of the Deva guardians (Niō, 仁王) on
both sides – is not dated. But on the basis of comparative studies of other (dated) signatures – especially the
interpretations of Kotetsu and Okisato – we are able to pin down the production date around the second and third year
of Kanbun (寛文, 1662~63). If we take the aforementioned first year of Keichō (1596) as his year of birth, we come up
with Shōhō three (正保, 1646) for his 50
th birthday. The earliest extant blade by Kotetsu with a date – another wakizashi
– is from the second year of Meireki (明暦, 1656). That means now that it took him either eight or nine years until he
had finally become a swordsmith in Edo, or that the year Keichō one is not correct for his year of birth. Many experts
assume that, as an armourer, he only needed one or two years to start up a new career as a swordsmith. This assumption
is also backed by a drawing of a helmet by Kotetsu found in Matsumiya Kanzan´s (松宮観山, 1686-1780) Meikō Zukan
Zokushū (名甲図鑑続編). According to Kanzan, the helmet bears the following signature: “Genryaku-gannen kinoto-mi
hachigatsu-hi – Nagasone Okisato – Bushū Edo ni oite kore o saku” (明暦元年乙未八月日・長曽祢奥里 ・於武州
江戸作之, “made by Nagasone Kotetsu in Edo in Musashi province on a day of the eighth month of Meireki one
[1655], year of the sheep.”). To summarise, we can now say that Kotetsu still made helmets in Edo, in Meireki one, but
two years later at the latest he also made swords. Thus, when he left Echizen in 1655 at the age of 50 – i.e. around the
time he made the above mentioned helmet – then his year of birth can be calculated as Keichō ten (1605). Anyway, all
the extant sources and reference pieces do not allow us more precise statements. But it is highly unlikely that it took him,
as fully trained armourer, nine or ten years to forge decent sword blades. On the other hand, the obituary record of the

Myōkanji (妙観寺) where Kotetsu is buried lists Keichō one (1596) as his year of birth, is a circumstancial evidence we
can´t brush aside that easily. Maybe the answer lies somewhere in the middle. It is possible that he arrived in Edo in the
mid 1640´s but continued to work there as an armourer. This is approach backed up by an exact copy of an armour by
Kotetsu of which the signature was also copied 1:1. This copy was made by the Edo katchū-shi Asai Katsushige
(浅井勝重) and the choice of characters for his name allows us to date the original piece to the first year of Kanbun
(1661). That means for at least five years Kotetsu still occasionally made armours while he was already working as a
swordsmith. Anyway, his master is not transmitted. Suishinshi Masahide (水心子正秀) assumed that it was the 5th
generation Ise no Daijō Tsunahiro (伊勢大掾綱広, 1616-1683) who also worked in Edo´s Shitaya district (下谷) for a
certain time. But, from the point of view of workmanship, we can´t see any connections between the two smiths. The
commonly accepted theory is that Kotetsu´s master was the 1st generation Izumi no Kami Kaneshige (和泉守兼重) who
worked in Edo for the Tōdō family (藤堂). Some also say it was Kaneshige´s son, the 2nd gen. Kazusa no Suke
Kaneshige (上総介兼重), but this does not match for chronological reasons because the latter smith was active
somewhat later than Kotetsu. The 1st gen. Kaneshige came originally from Echizen too and his workmanship is quite
similar to Kotetsu´s. However, after Kotetsu gained some fame because of the sharpness of his blades, he was employed
by the Nukada fief (額田藩) of Hitachi province. Extant records say he worked for this fief from the third year of Manji
(万治, 1660) to the second year of Kanbun (1662). After that he was hired by Inaba Masayasu (稲葉正休, 1640-1684), a
hatamoto and the daimyō of Mino´s Aono fief (青野藩). He worked for him until Kanbun ten (1670). Masayasu´s uncle
Inaba Masafusa (稲葉正房) was, by the way, a retainer of the Fukui fief, so it is possible that this employment was
arranged via this connection. But it has to be mentioned that Kotetsu always worked from the Edo residences of his
employers. According to transmission, Kotetsu died on the 24th day of the sixth month of Enpō six (延宝, 1678), and if
Keichō one is correct as his year of birth then he enjoyed a very long life of 82 years. The cause of his death is unclear
but some speculate that his exaggregated ambition to forge whenever possible was the result of a psychosis and that he
eventually commited suicide by drowning himself in a well in Hirokōji (広小路), in Edo´s Ueno district. But it is possible
that the story with the well is a confusion with the swordsmith Inoue Shinkai (井上真改) because, according to
transmission, the latter fell completely drunk into a well and died at the young age of 53 in Tenna two (天和, 1682).
Blades from Kotetsu´s early artistic period have a shallow sori and a wide mihaba and sometimes we see a high shinogi or
an ō-kissaki. Later he changed to a Kanbun-shintō-sugata, i.e. he applied a shallow sori, a noticeable taper, a high shinogi, a
thicker kasane and a relatively small kissaki. Sometimes he also made blades in another shape than shinogi-zukuri. His jigane
is an excellent forged ko-itame with fine ji-nie or a somewhat rougher jihada also with ji-nie and mixed with masame. But
masame appears in the shinogi-ji in both interpretations. Usually a peculiar ō-hada called tekogane (梃鉄) is seen at the base of
the blade until about 6 to 9 cm in front of the habaki. At the vicinity of this tekogane the hamon is sometimes darker and a
bit unclear. Kotetsu also applied a sugu-yakidashi or yakidashi with ko-midare. The hamon is wide and consists of vivid nie.
Characteristic of Kotetsu is an uniform gunome based on a hiro-suruga or notare. This hamon interpretation reminds us of a
Buddhist rosary (Jap. juzu) and is therefore called juzuba (数珠刃). Some of his early works show also an ō-gunome which
tends to hako-midare or a hamon which is mixed with togariba which reminds us therefore of the Mino tradition. The bōshi is
ko-midare with gunome-ashi and a ko-maru agari whereas the area of the kaeri might appear in a slightly pointed manner.

Apart from that, the yakiba suddenly becomes narrower from the yokote onwards and turns into a beautifully hardened komaru agari.

This feature is also called Kotetsu-bōshi. Due to the supreme sharpness of his blades, he is ranked as saijō-ōwazamono.

When he started to make swords he signed with the name “Okisato”. From Meireki two (明暦, 1656) to Manji
four (万治, 1661), he used the character (奥) for “Oki”. He then moved on to using the character (興) for “Oki” but in
two ways: From Kanbun one (寛文, 1661) to Enpō five (延宝, 1677), he executed the lower radical in a way which
reminds of the hiragana syllable i (い) what earned this interpretation the nickname i-Oki (い興). And from Kanbun eight
(1668) to Enpō five (1677), he executed the lower radical in a way which reminds of the katakana syllable ha (ハ), thus
the name ha-Oki (ハ興) for this interpretation. Another classification or rather dating of his signatures can be made on
the basis of the character for “Ko” in Kotetsu. When he started to use this pseudonym, he signed it with the characters
(古鐡). That was between Meireki two and three (1656~57). With the second year of Manji (1659), he chose (虎) for
“Ko”, and (徹) for “tetsu”, a variant he kept until Kanbun four (1664). In Kanbun four, he switched to the character
(乕) for “Ko” but kept (徹) for “tetsu”. As he executed the former character (虎) with the last stroke sweeping like a
tiger´s tail, this interpretation is hanetora (lit. “jumping tiger”). And as the latter character (乕) has a more angular
appearance, this interpretation or rather phase is called hakotora or kakutora (lit. “box” or “square tiger”). Incidentally,
both characters (虎・乕) mean “tiger”. He used the hakotora until Enpō five but reintroduced the hanetora in Kanbun
eleven (1671), although in a slightly different interpretation. From that time on, we are talking about the last years of his
career, he also dropped “tetsu” and also just signed with “Ko Nyūdō” (虎入道). saijō-saku


Miyata Nobukiyo (宮田信清)

Nobukiyo was born in Kyōto on the 22nd day of the twelfth month of Bunka 14 (1817) as the third son of Kinoshita Yahachi (木下弥八), a retainer of the Inaba family (稲葉). In Tenpō four (1833), when he was 15 years old, he was adopted by Miyata Yūzen (宮田右膳), a Shintō priest of the Kamo-jinja (加茂神社) in Kyōto. His first name was first Tetsunosuke (鉄之助) and later Orie (織江). At 16 he entered an apprenticeship with Gotō Mitsuyasu (後藤光保), the 5th gen. of the Hanzaemon line. When he was 21 he received a stipend from the Inaba family and spent two years refining his craft. Two years later he went to Edo and opened up his business in Kayaba-chō in the Nihonbashi distirict in the 14th year of Tenpō (1843, at the age of 25). Subsequently he worked for a small Edo branch of the Hosokawa family (細川) and also for the Nanbu family (南部) of Mutsu province who both granted him a stipend for the support of twelve persons. Nobukiyo used the gō Kakumeisai (鶴鳴斎) and Jurakusai (寿楽斎). In his later years he moved to Kanasugi (金杉) in the Nippori district (日暮里) of Edo where he died on the third day of the twelfth month of Meiji 17 (1884) at the age of 68.