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Guido

Crossed off my Bucket List: The Holy Grail

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I’m usually not much of a show-and-tell guy, but being more or less confined to my apartment recently, my mounting boredom finally drove me to make an exception. Or, more candidly: facing the choice over the Easter weekend between filing my tax return, another day of binge-watching, starting drinking at 9:30 AM, and writing something up for the NMB, my liver and brain convinced me to opt for the latter  ;-).

 

When I started collecting Japanese swords more than forty years ago, I set my sights on a daishō as the ultimate goal – after all, it’s often considered the epitome of samurai culture. But progressing in my studies, and losing quite a few romantic notions along the way, I realized that it wasn’t really that important to me anymore. My collecting focus had shifted to Sō-den kotō, and there are simply no “true” daishō from that period: some are from the shintō period, but the vast majority is from the shinshintō period – and all of them are hard to find anyhow, being few and far between.

 

I don’t want to go too much into what constitutes a true daishō, Darcy Brockbank already explained that in one of his excellent blog entries: https://blog.yuhindo.com/daisho/; he calls it jokingly “the holy grail for sword collectors”, but considering its rarity, this isn’t too far from the truth.

To summarize: the swords have to be obviously made as a pair in regard to the deki, carry the same date, have consecutive tōrokushō numbers, and both blades are on one kanteisho.

 

Other than swords and tsuba, I also collect and research koshirae, and over the years was able to add five daishō-koshirae to my collection; however, acquiring the blades themselves seemed to remain as elusive as ever. During my decades of collecting, I only saw a very few daishō up for sale, and those that were of a quality that I found desirable, were expectedly way beyond of what I was able or willing to pay.

 

Well, while going on a road trip to the North of Honshū with Robert Hughes about 1 ½ years ago, he told me that he had bought a daishō at a dealers auction the day before – which immediately piqued my curiosity. About a week later, I was able to inspect the swords, and really took to them. However, the katana came in a very old shirasaya (saya only), and the wakizashi in a koshirae that had the ito cut off, and was stripped of tsuba, kōgai, kozuka, and menuki. Both blades needed a polish, as well as new shirasaya and habaki, but already had tokuho papers.

 

And there it was, my new project to bring back this daishō to its former glory, kind of making an old, almost forgotten dream come true Bob even took the legwork out of getting the swords to the involved craftsmen for me, so I concentrated on having the wakizashi-koshirae restored. (Btw, the polishing was done by Ikeda Nagamasa.)

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Without further ado, here are the swords:

 

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Dai signed 伊勢国桑名住三品廣道作 Ise (no) Kuni Kuwana Mishina Hiromichi saku
Shō signed 伊勢国住三品廣道作 Ise (no) Kuni Mishina Hiromichi saku
Both are dated 元治元年八月吉日 Genji gannen hachigatsu kichijitsu (a lucky day in August of 1864)

 

The swords are shinogi-zuruki, low iori-mune. Sori, kasane and mihaba are moderate, strong hira-niku, chū-kissaki. Fine ko-itame-hada, the shinogi-ji shows masame.

 

The hamon is ko-nie-deki gunome-midare with a bright nioiguchi; ashi, sunagashi, and kinsen. Profuse ji-nie, forming jubashiri towards the shinogi. Typical Mishina-bōshi and -yakidashi.

 

Ubu-nakago, ōsujikai with keshō-yasurime, ha-agari-kurijiri, one mekugi-ana.

Nagasa: 71.7 cm (dai) / 34.9 cm (shō)
Sori: 1.2 cm (dai) / 0.6 cm (shō)

 

Since sword photography and drawing oshigata isn’t exactly my forte, I had Mr. Tsuruta of Aoi Art do that for me:

 

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Some background info on the katana-kaji:

 

Mishina Hiromichi 三品廣道, real name Mishina Tōemon 三品藤右衛門, was a smith who belonged to the Mishina-ha 三品派. He was either the son or the younger brother of the 9‘th generation Mutsu no Kami Daidō 九代目陸奥守大道, records are somewhat conflicting. He worked mainly in Ise province 伊勢国 , but also in Iga 伊賀国. He was active at least from Kaei to Keiō (1848 - 1868), and was succeeded by his first son Mishina Hanbei Hirofusa 三品半兵衛廣房, and second son Mishina Tōkuro Hiromichi 三品藤九郎廣道.

 

At that time the Kuwana domain 桑名藩 was ruled by Matsudaira Sadaaki 松平定敬, a descendant of Tokugawa Ieyasu's brother. Sadaaki was the Tokugawa shōgunate's last Kyōto-shoshidai 京都所司代 (the shōgun's deputy in the Kyōto region, responsible for maintaining relations between the shōgunate and the imperial court, and controlling access of the daimyō to the court) until 1864, the year these swords were made.

 

And finally, here’s the restored wakizashi-koshirae:

 

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It’s a pity that the katana-koshirae got lost, but at least having a koshirae (sans some fittings) that is contemporary - and even original - to the blade isn’t something one encounters too often.

 

Last but not least: a huge thanks goes to Bob Hughes, who’s not only a good friend, but who also can make the impossible possible for you. He certainly doesn’t need yet another endorsement, but I do that gladly anyhow. Quite a few items in my collection come from him, and he also sold some for me when I felt the itch to upgrade. Also, his prices are *very* fair and competitive!

 

I hope you enjoyed going with me on this little sword journey, all comments are welcome. If you own a “true” daishō, please post it here. Regarding daishō-koshirae, I’ll open another thread in the tōsōgu forum soon.

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Fantastic set. And a great write up Guido. Awesome to think that these were carried as a paid, and managed to stay together through the generations.
Congrats, and great work on the restoration. That is a great looking koshirae.

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Wow, always love your contributions because they're brutally honest and we can learn from that, no use in sugarcoating. The result you've achieved here is absolutely top class - which can only be the outcome if you employ top artisans and have a lot of patience.

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Great to read and see that they were kept together, keep an eye out for matching Katana fittings Guido :)

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Great Swords Gudio thanks for showing.

 

Thanks for sharing, Guido.

 

Ken did you notice that the nakago ana goes through the mei  ;-)

In remember of your last comment  :thumbsup:

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 ... facing the choice over the Easter weekend between filing my tax return, another day of binge-watching, starting drinking at 9:30 AM, and writing something up for the NMB, ...

 

I've known you for many years Guido.  You're capable of doing all these at the same time.  You've had years of government training!

 

 

Seriously, Congratulations!  Quite the achievement and addition!

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Thank you for sharing, congrats, and 3 cheers for your brain and liver. Having tried and finally giving up, yes, a very difficult task to accomplish. 'It's the swords/koshirae that find the owner.'

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I've known you for many years Guido.  You're capable of doing all these at the same time.  You've had years of government training!

 

Well, eventually I also did my taxes, watched a movie, and had a bottle of Shiraz. Still bored, I had a chat with my wife; she actually seems to be a nice person.

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Thank you for sharing.

They look nice. Yubashiri is one of my favorite activities in a sword.

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I'm about to have a chat with my wife over the dinner table.after doing some rare work outside, to wit, cleaning gutters.  I'm encouraged by Guido's example and will open a bottle of Shiraz as dinner cries out for it.  I've even been know to walk into the house at dinner time, sniff what's cooking and say "That meal cries out for wine", turn on my heel and drive to the bottle shop to get a Shiraz.  My wife is really a nice person - she lets me collect...

 

Another daisho story.  This one goes back some 40 years when Alan Harvie used to visit Sydney in Australia as Chief Engineer on the "Monterey" cruise liner.  He always had stuff to show us as we did him.  On one visit he found in a shop (our local shop!) a wakizashi IDENTICAL in mei and nenki to a katana he had found in San Fran.  Were we all green with envy!!  Still, green in Japanese connotes first class, as in Green (railway) Car, does it not??  First Class find by Alan.

 

Sniff sniff - dinner is near.  Time for the Shraz, a case of which is at my feet...

 

BaZZa.

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Great story, dreams do come true.

 

Congratulations and thanks for sharing.

Ed

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Wow Guido, that was a much better decision than pickling your liver with morning drink or binge watching Netflix!  I didn't realize that a "true" daisho required blades made and signed at the same time in the same way by a single maker.  I guess that if one were to find a daisho made by the same worker, say Tadayoshi, that were not dated, there would be the risk that they are married, even if in the Edo period.  I do have a pair of swords that I acquired separately but were made by the same smith.  I bought the second one, and have hung on to it (an out of polish ubu wakizashi) mostly for that reason.  Like you, I have three sets of daisho mounts, all quite beautiful, but only one has swords mounted in it - one osuriage and the other with a bizen signature.  Thanks for a great post.  

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I just received the latest Ginza Chōshūya sales catalog, and here’s your chance to own a ‘true’ daishō:

 

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It already has jūyō papers, so no extra legwork involved, and was polished by the living national treasure Honami Nisshū, bearing his sayagaki. It can be yours for a mere 11,000,000 Yen, or about 100,000 US$ (plus some change).

 

P.S.: Peter (BIG) is probably already on a defibrillator right now, Naotane being his favorite smith.  :laughing:

 

P.P.S.: Only through sheer willpower was I able to not comment on the polish …  :lipssealed:

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