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SWORD #245-55 - Nagata-No Suke Minamoto Yoshitsugu

A Smith of the late Edo period of great skill was in the service of the Lord of Hemeji castle in Harima province - Sakai Tadashige.

In this capacity, Yoshitsugu's job was to provide the family with all of their weaponry. First and foremost, this is the reason his swords are so scare. He did not make swords for the general populace and I suppose that's why his skills as a Swordsmith are not well known. However, the fact that the NBTHK rates him Tokubetsu Hozon which more or less qualifies this sword as a Juyo Token candidate speaks for itself. He is without a doubt, a master Swordsmith.

NBTHK TOKUBETSU HOZON certificate translation

April 6th, 1992 Forged with care by Minamoto Yoshitsugu on a lucky day in the 9th month of Man’ein one (1860), year of the Monkey. For Tsubosak Morinobu from Matsunomoto from the province of Harima. With the use of water from the famous and blessed Tenjin’yama spring which is located on the property of the sword owner. Katana, Tokubetsu Hozon, Smith: Minamoto Yoshitsugu from Harima (Shinshinto)

Question 1) Why are there so few blades remaining from a Shinshinto smith, who obviously made very high-quality blades?

Question 2) What information can be obtained about the original owner Tsubosaka Morinobu from Matsunomoto (village) who commissioned this sword?

Question 1) In general, the low number of blades in existence from a particular smith can have the following reasons:

Reason 1) The smith died young.

Reason 2) The smith worked mainly as an assistant to a famous master and only accepted sporadical orders himself.

Reason 3) Local conditions didn’t allow for the production of many swords. For example, the fief only had few smiths employed or the supply of raw materials was limited. *In this particular case, the level of high quality which this sword displays requires many years of practice by the smith in order to reach this level. This means that an occasional forging of blades doesn’t explain this level of quality. Unless the smith was very talented, in that case, he could have made exceptional swords even if he only forged occasionally, and only accepted special order work.

This sword is one of only a few remaining blades which were made by this smith. The fact that this sword obtained Tokubetsu Hozon, which for Shinshinto blades is quite difficult, shows the quality and rarity of the work. This is an important reference piece for this smith. Also, the fact that the smith was given the honor title “Nagato No Suke” speaks for his talent and quality work.

Unfortunately, there is not much information remaining about the smith Yoshitsugu. We don’t know when he was born or when he died. So we can’t make any assumptions in respect to reason 1. I did find out though that Yoshitsugu was employed by the Himeiji Daimyo, but he didn’t work in Harima. His shop was located in Edo in the neighorhood north of the Edo castle. This district used to be called Hakusan in Edo times, and today, it’s called Bunkyo.

In respect to reason 2, we don’t know from which master Yoshitsugu learned his trade. So it’s unknown if he worked for a famous smith or not.

In regard to reason 3, the Himeiji domain was doing financially quite well back then. The annual income was allotted to 150,000 Koku, and their Daimyo the Sakai occupied high positions within the government of the Shogun.

During the time of Yoshitsugu the Meikan records show that only a few smiths were employed by the domain.

Let’s now talk about the signature on the blade. Yoshitsugu mentions the use of water from a famous and blessed spring (used for the Yaki ire, hardening, process), which is located on the property of the owner of the blade. His name was Tsubosak Morinobu from Matsunomoto in Harima. The spring was called Tenjin’yama and there are several such springs within the Himeiji domain. So, the exact spring is unknown. Question 2. What do we know about the original owner who commissioned this sword? Since the beginning of the Edo period, there has been the Tsubosaka Sake brewery AD: 1600 (Tsubosaka Shuzo) operating in Harima.

In the year Bunka 2 (1805) this brewery moved from the Kanzaki district to the Yumesaki district. This is located about 15 km north of the city center of Himeiji. (Red marking on map1). Today this brewery is still owned by the Tsubosaka family and is located in the same location where it moved to back in 1805.

I also found out that the neighborhood located just south of the brewery used to be called Matsunomoto in Edo times. This neighborhood is located on several hills which are 200-300 m high. All this information fits perfectly with the signature on the Nakago. So one has to come to the conclusion that this Morinobu must have been a member of the Tsuboska Sake brewery family. Either he had this sword forged fro him as a collection piece, as many rich business owners did during the later Edo period, or he became a Samurai either through marriage or other circumstances. This second option seems a little more likely if one studies the sword. The sword was forged with combat in mind as evidenced by its’ high weight of 850g, the strong Suguha Hamon and the long Nagasa of 70.7cm. Most wealthy business owners who had themselves swords made opted for lighter and shorter blades with a flamboyant Hamon.