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Help With Miyaguchi/ikkansai Kunimori Please

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Fellow members, I am requesting your help with some questions in regards to the Ikkansai/Miyaguchi Kunimori signed blades.

 

I am currently doing some very informal research into Miyaguchi Ikkansai Toshihiro/Yasuhiro, especially his time at Okura Tanrenjo. As I understand it, the current thinking is that these Kunimori signed blades were made in bulk using western steel by a smith named Mitsukoshi Hiromasa and only signed Kunimori by Miyaguchi Ikkansai Toshihiro/Yasuhiro. I have found the following references:

 

From Markus Sesko's, "Index of Japanese Swordsmiths":

“Toshihiro (寿広), Shōwa (昭和, 1926-1989), Tōkyō – “Miyaguchi Ikkansai Toshihiro” (宮口一貫斎寿), “Toshihiro saku” (寿広作), “Miyaguchi Toshihiro” (宮口寿広), civilian name “Miyaguchi Shigeru”     (宮口繁), he was born in April 1897 as son of Yonezawa Kanjirō Masatoshi (米沢勘治郎正寿) in Tōkyō, he and his father were both adopted into the Miyaguchi family, after the death of his father he continued his studies under Kasama Shigetsugu (笠間繁継), he used the gō “Ikkansai” (一貫斎) from August 1916 onwards, in 1934 he entered the Yasukuni forge, special-order blades were signed by him with the name “Toshihiro”, the larger numbers of blades he made for the Yasukuni forge were signed with his Yasukuni-name “Yasuhiro” (靖広), blades made with western steel and some made by his students were signed by him with the pseudonym “Kunimori” (国護), in December 1936 he entered the Ōkura forge (大倉鍛錬所) and died on March 21st 1956 at the age of 59, his posthumous Buddhist name is “Kantoku´in Han´a Shinshō”  (貫徳院繁阿真照), records say that he made about 500 blades for the Yasukuni forge.”

 

From Fujishiro:

“Yasuhiro Miyaguchi (Showa 1926 Tokyo)

He is the chakushi of Miyaguchi Masahide, and is called TOSHIHIRO. He is in the Kasama Hankei Mon, he became the Kudan Nipponto Tanrenkai Toko for a number of years and signed YASUHIRO. However, later, without changing his name, he used both TOSHIHIRO and YASUHIRO. Also, in response to the demand for Yotetsu Gunto, he produced under the name of KUNIMORI (means “defend the country”). He also did horimono such as ryu, Fudo, Bonji nado. He died on Showa Sanjuichinen (1956) at the age of 60.

Signatures:         MIYAGUCHI IKKANSAI TOSHIHIRO

                             MIYAGUCHI YASUHIRO

                             YASUHIRO”

 

From Chris Bowen:

It is well known (in Japan) that these Kunimori blades were made with western steel (Fujishiro points this out in his Shinto Hen) and they are not considered nihon-to thusly, in the mainstream. Most seem to be oil quenched as well. It is certainly possible to forge western steel and oil quench it to produce a defined nioi-guchi. What one does not generally produce in these blades is nie, which is what a shinsa team is looking for in WWII era blades where there is concern about the blade being made in a non-traditional way.”

 

"…his swords were not made by Miyaguchi, only signed by him. According to his son, who helped hold the blades while his father cut the signatures, they were made in bulk by a smith in Shizuoka prefecture named Mitsukoshi Hiromasa, using western steel. Apparently they were forge welded, but the exact nature of their construction is not known."

 

From Slough’s Reference on page 182:

“His real name is Miyaguchi Shigeru, and he was born in 1897. He was trained by his father Masatoshi, and also studied under Kasama Ikkansai Shigetsugu. In July 1933, he received an appointment as a master swordsmith for the Nihonto Tanren Kai and was given the Tosho name of Yasuhiro. Then in January 1937, he became head instructor for the Okura Tanrenjo. The founder of this forge was Baron Okura Kishichiro, which was located on the grounds of his estate. Yasuhiro applied the mei Ikkansai Kunimori on swords made at the Okura Tanrenjo. He passed away on March 21, 1956.”

 

My main question is:

Why are there no stamps indicating non-traditional methods (such as the Seki or Gifu stamps) on Kunimori signed blades if they were known to be made of yotetsu/yohagane/western steel?

 

If it was mandated by 1940, then why do we not see stamps on any of the Kunimori signed blades? Was the lack of stamping an indicator that it was common knowledge that the “Kunimori line” (so to speak), was made with steel other than tamahagane, therefore not requiring or exempt from a stamp? Or was the “Kunimori” used as the stamp? I have not found any information about this aspect.  Does anyone have any information on this subject and if so, could you please help me or point me in the right direction?

 

Thank you for any help,

Mark

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Hello:

I don't think that it is an issue of Western steel for after all Nanban-tetsu was proudly proclaimed on nakago in Shinto times, and such highly regarded smiths as Hayama Enshin are thought to have incorporated the same in late Meiji times. It may have been that Kunimori blades were simply sorted out from the truly traditional blade of Yasuhiro by being failed at shinsa in post war times. In the olden days when oshigata helpers were needed at the Yoshikawa NTHK shinsa I saw several Kunimori pink papered by Koen sensei, as nice looking as the blades were. Why no stamps I have no idea; by signing that way he was in sort of a gray zone I suppose.

Arnold F.

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Arnold----

 

Thank you for your insight.  I agree that nanban-tetsu was proudly used by some smiths and from some of the sources I’ve read, it apparently was not easy or cheap to acquire. (I actually have a Ki Masayoshi special order blade made with nanban-tetsu from 1818.)  I also agree that the use of western steel does not make a sword worthless in my own humble opinion. However, I get the impression when I read about the Kunimori signed blades that most collectors view them as the quote goes, “they were made of western steel and inferior to the Yasukuni made blades.” Maybe it’s just me and I am getting the wrong impression, but whenever I read a current discussion about Kunimori signed blades the reaction seems to be negative and the responses are either it’s inferior due to the use of western steel or because it was made by another smith (Mitsukoshi Hiromasa). If the argument is that these Kunimori blades are not Miyaguchi Toshihiro/Yasuhiro’s own work and therefore not as desirable as blades made and signed by his own hand, I understand that argument and agree. But to imply that these Kunimori blades are “inferior” to other swords made with similar materials seems to be extreme, especially if some of these blades were indeed made by his students—some of whom went on to be Mukansa rated smiths.

 

And here lies the confusion for me, if these Kunimori signed blades were indeed known to be made with western steel then why no stamp indicating such? If other smiths were required to have a stamp indicating the use of non-traditional methods, then why did Miyaguchi Toshihiro/Yasuhiro not use a stamp if it was required by law?  

 

Quote:

It may have been that Kunimori blades were simply sorted out from the truly traditional blade of Yasuhiro by being failed at shinsa in post war times. In the olden days when oshigata helpers were needed at the Yoshikawa NTHK shinsa I saw several Kunimori pink papered by Koen sensei, as nice looking as the blades were.”

 

Arnold, I think you are absolutely right about the shinsa failing the Kunimori blades having a major effect on “sorting out” these from traditional blades. I think it also created a self-fulfilling prophecy in that over time all of the Kunimori blades got lumped into one big batch and labeled as being non-traditional and made by the smith Mitsukoshi Hiromasa—whether they were or not.  Where in actuality, like most things there are probably exceptions to that generalization. Fast forward and here we are today saying all Kunimori signed blades fall into this category of non-traditional methods, when we should be looking at each individual sword and letting the blade speak for itself instead of using only the signature to judge quality---because that is what is easy.

 

Thanks again for your input.

 

Mark

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Hello Mark:

The abstracts alone that you have gathered and the alternatives you have mulled over are useful and I will print off to put in my file of a very early Shrine made Yasuhiro that I have. I am as curious as you are as to just what separated Kunimori and Yasuhiro in a shinsa context. If steel source were the determinant it would have to be made not entirely of but incorporated I would guess as particularly after 1941 Western steel would have been somewhat hard to come by.

Just to add little first person story, I was "working", which of course was a great pleasure, at one of the shinsa and a friend came over with a Kunimori that Koen sensei had pinked. He could not believe it and thought some mistake had been made. So he asked if I would run it through a little later under my name which I did. I was watching it progress along to Mr. Yoshikawa and when he got ahold of it he looked around with a twinkle in his eye to see the joker - I don't believe he would have known us by names - and at once grabbed for another pink paper, then off to the next blade. That sort of thing happened more than once I am pretty sure with blades associated with smiths who actually worked at the Yasukuni Shrine and also did side work with another name. If Chris Bowen would care to chime in here in greater detail it would doubtless help.

Arnold F.

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Arnold--

 

 

 

Thank you for sharing your personal experience about working at shinsa, I imagine that was an incredible experience. It is very interesting that you have first-hand experience of a Kunimori blade getting a pink paper, I am glad you mentioned that detail. Do you happen to remember whether or not that particular sword was signed “Miyaguchi Kunimori” or “Ikkansai Kunimori”?

 

 

Also, you had mentioned your interest in Yasuhiro research and your early Yasukuni made blade. I will send you a PM with some info.

 

 

Yes I agree that Chris Bowen is incredibly knowledgeable and could most likely shed some light on the subject. Talking to him is what initially got me started into this very informal research. I’m the caretaker of a blade signed Ryujin Kuniteru and due to the similarities with Yasuhiro I contacted Chris and asked his opinion. Best guess at the moment is that Ryujin Ikkansai Kuniteru was one of Yasuhiro’s students while at Baron Okura’s forge. As this smith is unlisted I thought the best course of action was to research Yasuhiro and concentrate on his post Yasukuni time.

 

 

Thanks again,

 

 

Mark

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It's almost two years to the day since this topic was initiated. So I am wondering if there has been any new information on this much documented sword Smith. 

In particular, with relation to whether any have been papered. In light of the recent papering of Koa Isshin swords, I wonder. I still class Kunimori swords as Gendai-to, as they have the attributes, and NO stamps! 

No doubt when Kunimori made swords in the Yasukuni Shrine, they are regarded as nihonto. 

Any thoughts or information would be appreciated. 

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Seeing as Yoshikawa Koen passed away many years ago and the NTHK then split in two different groups.  I wonder now with more information that has come forth ( WW11 swords in general) , if pinking would still occur?   Also, has anyone ever submitted a Kunimori to the NBTHK?

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My 2 cents - the stamping of non-traditional blades, didn't really kick in in a big way until December of 1940. There were many non-traditional blades made prior to that which never got stamped. Blades can be found prior to that with stamps, but they are few in number.

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Bruce, mine has no date, so David's revelation about post 1940 production still leaves the question unanswered. I hope, as David asks, someone recently has submitted a Kunimori to the NBTHK. 

post-3858-0-09087700-1595399419_thumb.jpg

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These are all great points. I am curious as well if there have been any Kunimori blades submitted and the results. Out of the 16 examples I found in open source there are zero examples that were papered. Unfortunately the examples I found were mostly of the nakago and mei, there were very few pictures of the blades themselves and it was impossible to tell anything about the hada, hamon or kissaki. I will be the first to admit I’m a novice at research and Nihonto in general, so take my opinions for what they are.

 

Neil brings up a good point that the Kunimori blades lack any stamp indicating that they were made by non-traditional methods. Why no stamp if it was mandated by law? The references to Yasuhiro after leaving the Yasukuni Shrine were that he was working at Okura Forge, where “fine military blades were made.” Not much else is said about his post Yasukuni time. Why not? For such a well documented smith there seems to be little info for this time.

 

When I first began looking into this subject, I was under the impression that all Kunimori signed blades were the same. Now, I think there are subgroups of blades signed Kunimori and I’ll explain why. We must keep in mind that there are basically two different Kunimori signatures: the blades signed Miyaguchi Kunimori and then those signed Ikkansai Kunimori. These are clearly differentiating the blades otherwise why the different signatures. Ikkansai Kunimori signed blades give a location where they are made, whereas Miyaguchi Kunimori do not.

 

What if the Miyaguchi Kunimori signed blades were the ones made with western steel and the Ikkansai Kunimori signed blades were made by Yasuhiro’s students with traditional materials and methods? As time passed now all Kunimori signed blades are regarded as being made with western steel whether they actually are or not. Just a thought.

 

The short of it is I think Yasuhiro used the signature as an indicator of quality, materials used, where it was made and also who made it. It is documented that other smiths used variations in kanji and signatures to indicate similar things so I believe it feasible that Yasuhiro did the same thing. For example, in addition to the different Kunimori signatures (Miyaguchi Kunimori and Ikkansai Kunimori) note the way in which the kanji for Kuni varies in the signatures. I believe this is also an identifier. There are two basic types of Kuni kanji I see repeated in the signatures. Interestingly this Kuni variant is seen in other blades signed by Yasuhiro including the Ryujin Ikkansai Kuniteru and Ryujin Kuniteru signed blades.

 

Personally I think that until we can find a correlation between the different Kunimori signatures (Ikkansai and Miyaguchi) and the hada, hamon, and materials used— it will be difficult to separate the truth from tainted information being repeated. With the kanji variation on Kuni being consistent across multiple signatures (Ikkansai Kunimori, Miyaguchi Kunimori, Ikkansai Kuniteru, etc) there is some identifier clearly attached to it, but is as of yet unknown. Hopefully there will be some submitted to shinsa so that more examples can be examined.

 

More study is needed clearly. It would be interesting to see good quality pictures of the blades to start comparing quality of the steel with that of the mei.

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Mark, thanks for reconnecting with this topic again. Your earlier research was interesting. Here are some photos that may help. 

post-3858-0-16027600-1595828304_thumb.jpg

post-3858-0-64032700-1595828317_thumb.jpg

post-3858-0-50161500-1595828330_thumb.jpg

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Here is a NBTHK Hozon paper for a Kunimori sword. The sword is dated 1944. The paper is dated February, 2020. 

 

post-34-0-19796000-1595849087_thumb.png

 

 

 

 

 

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