Jump to content

A Gift to Hachiman - the saga of the famed "Tsukiyuki"

Recommended Posts

A Gift to Hachiman・or how NOT to conserve a sword


“TSURUGAOKA HACHIMANGU ; Famous temple located at Kamakura, dedicated to the god of war-in 1103 Minamoto Yoriyoshi had erected a temple on Yui-ga-Hama, dedicated to Hachiman, the titular god of his family. Yoritomo transported it (1193) to Kamakura and erected it on the Tsurugaoka hill, where it may be seen to the present day. In 1219 the Shogun Sanetomo went there in great pomp to render thanks for his nomination to the dignity of udaijin. After the ceremony, on descending the steps, his nephew, Kugyo, assassinated him.  In 1526 Satomi Yoshihiro, the governor of the province Awa plundered the treasures of the temple but Hojo Ujitsuna obliged him to retreat.- The temple of Tsurugaoka is one of the last remnants of the grandeur of Kamakura. Interesting souvenirs of the middle ages are kept in it.”

- E. Papinot

            The layout of Kamakura today is dominated by Wakamiya Oji, the main street in town, which runs dead straight from the beach to the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. It was built by the order of Yoritomo, when the Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine was erected. Moto Hachiman, or the former Hachiman is not far from my house near Zaimokuza beach.  There are three Torii that stand over the road to the shrine from Ni no Torii to Ichi no Torii, which stands at the entrance to the shrine grounds; there is a raised path, which is contained within sloping stone walls like a castle.  There are cherry trees set all along this path: the Dankazura.  It actually tapers down to about a half its width at the shrine

end, but due to an engineered optical illusion, it does not appear so.  It seems Yoritomo built everything in the town with an eye to warfare; an invading army might charge down this welcoming path four or five across only to find themselves fighting in space wide enough for only two or three.  April is the time to don your kimono and stroll the Dankazura enjoying the cherries in bloom.

Yoritomo built the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in fulfillment of a promise he made at the Moto-Hachiman, “should I be successful in my campaign against the Taira, I will build the biggest Hachiman shrine Japan has ever seen right here in Kamakura”. As we all know, the first Shogun’s prayers were answered, and thereafter many people high and low made offerings in thanks for the favors bestowed upon them by the spirits of this beautiful place.  For some four hundred years, the storehouse of the shrine collected treasure until in 1526,

during the13th battle of Kamakura,・the aforementioned Satomi Yoshihiro caused the destruction of the temple.  What wonderful things were lost, we might never know, but there are as yet interesting souvenirs of the middle ages kept here.


Kobizen Masatsune tachi, Kokuho

Bizen Nagamitsu tachi, Juyo Bunkazai

Kuniyoshi tachi, Juyo Bunkazai

Soshu Tsunahiro tachi, Kanagawa ken Juyo Bunkazai

Tsunaie tachi, Kanagawa ken Juyo Bunkazai

Hirokuni tachi, Kanagawa ken Juyo Bunkazai

Kunimura, Senjuin, Chikuzen Nobukuni, and Muramasa, all number among the one hundred or so swords that are still in the storehouse of Hachimangu.

Hojo Ujitsuna, the 8th, 9th, and 10th Tokugawa Shoguns and the Meiji Emperor are some of the more notable persons making offerings here.  It is the ultimate in presumption to consider myself among their number, but the fact remains that late last year I, too determined to present a sword to the shrine.

Last year, I retired my Iai-to and though I felt it didn’t need a polish, I

decided to do my bit for the Japanese economy and have it polished and put it in a fresh shirasaya. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, the kawagane proved too thin and the shingane was exposed during polish, to be expected perhaps with a Kamakura period tachi but the mark of death for a shinshinto blade which mine happened to be. I now had a considerable investment in a sword which had cost me too much already and there was certainly no way for me to recover any of the money spent.  I resolved therefore to lovingly preserve it as it had near been a very part of my body daily for close to ten years.  In the event of my passing on, on some long distant future day, it could be treasured in my family as an heirloom.  Reflecting upon the loose hold my family now has on reality and the sheer lack of interest in things Japanese they exhibit, I began to have my doubts about future generations the more I thought about it.  How then to conserve this blade in a way I could be reasonably assured it would not be mistreated in the future.

As you must have guessed, I hit upon the brilliant idea of donating the sword to the Hachiman shrine.  Owing to the poor condition of the blade, I felt it would surely be rejected by the priests.  To my surprise Hon’Ami Koji Sensei, my iai teacher, a sword polisher and conservator of the Hachiman shrine sword collection was delighted with my idea. In fact he sat down and immediately started working on a schedule for the presentation. April, 2001 was determined to be the best time so we set things in motion to carry out our Ho-no-shiki or offertory ceremony.

What sword you ask is worth all this.  It is not at all special, I assure you.

 Signed OHIRA TO YUKISADA, Dated MANEN GANNEN HACHIGATSU HI.  It is a 2 shaku 5 sun 8 bu katana with chu kissaki, shallow koshizori, tight tight itame hada and a rather wide choji midare hamon.  The nakago is 27cm long with kurijiri and kattesagari yasurime with kesho yasuri.  The gojimei is located in the shinogiji, midway between the mekugi-ana and the habaki moto.  There are 2 mekugi-ana, one of which is a shinobi-ana, which was a popular addition in the Bakumatsu era.

Ohira Yukisada or Yukikazu is listed as a Musashi area smith who worked around the time of the Meiji restoration or a little before. He styled himself  Yu no shin・or bird of progress・ The To (藤) in the signature is also read Fuji・as in Fujiwara so this is an abbreviation. The year 1860, Manen gannen, started out with the assassination of the great elder II Naosuke, by a group of Mito ronin, angered by his policies of placating the foreign powers and punishing those who opposed him including the lord of Mito. The country was taking sides for a battle many were certain was soon to come, one has to wonder which side of the conflict this blade was destined for.

This sword was originally purchased at the Great Western Gun Show, at the San Francisco Cow Palace sometime before 1983 for $700.  At that time it was in shirasaya with late Edo/Meiji period copper habaki, iron tsuba, iron fuchikashira, a blue linen wrapped tsuka with white same and menuki which had been stripped by the owner prior to me.  I bought it in 1987 in this condition.  There is perhaps some justice in this sword finding peace back in Japan after the abuse it suffered in America.  I immediately sanded down the shirasaya and painted it with green auto-lacquer.  Then began the years of swinging, whacking and cutting.  Over time I had a new saya made and rebuilt and rewrapped the handle. Now it has a new silver habaki, shirasaya and proper Japanese polish.

On a gorgeous Saturday in April some thirty members of the Kamakura Iaido Kyokai and guests gathered at the Hachimangu Shrine. Dressed in formal montsuki and hakama

We collected in the maeden, on the same stage that Shizuka Gozen stood upon as she plead for Yoshitsune’s life in song. We bowed before the priest where receiving his blessing we presented for all the gods and buddhas to see, the faithful sword which had seen me through three thousand days of determined practice.

Following this, myself and two others had their new swords blessed in a ceremony known as Nyu-kon-shiki and here

upon the stage practiced for the first time with those swords. The swords used in the ceremony to be invested with the true spirit of a samurai sword were tied with mizuhiki cord, after each was blessed an attendant handed the swords to Hon’Ami Sensei who then drew his Umetada Myoju tanto and cut the cord. After which each of us presented five kata or forms to the gods of the shrine. As I took the stage to perform my forms, in each corner sat a friend acting as guard against evil, the Shitenno. In the Northeast sat Iwamura Nobuhiro, who some of you have met, 6th dan Muso Jiki Den Eishin Ryu. To the Southeast from Brazil; Candido Roberto Nunez Sequiera, 3rd dan Toyama Ryu Batto-jutsu. To the Northwest from Sri Lanka, Siri Herath, 2nd dan Toyama Ryu Batto-jutsu and in the Southwest from France, Evelyne Sentenac, Shodan Muso Shinden Ryu. Thus all the parts of the globe were represented as I drew my sword and symbolically cut down evil with my newly christened blade. 

Following the ceremony there was a luncheon, where I was presented with a certificate acknowledging my gift and where I was asked to give a little speech. I thanked everyone and expressed my hope that the sword would reside within the shrine as a symbol of amity between San Francisco and Kamakura, between the U.S. and Japan and persons everywhere.

So now this vet pick-up old beater iaito with Mike Virgadamo saya, Russ Axt handle and wrap, Fred Lohmen menuki, Cary Condell oshigata and lacquer job by yours truly, will join the other swords in the treasure house of the great Tsurugaoka Hachimangu where it will be lovingly cared for, for perhaps another 800 years carrying with it a tale of woe all too many swords know today, along with my sincere thanks for the life changing lessons it taught me during our brief journey together and of course the dear friends it has brought me to.

@Kamakura in Japan,

Thomas C Helm






  • Like 5
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites



All the times we have been drinking together and I never heard this anecdote before... or perhaps the tale was told and erased

due to the volume of nihonshu....


I love it!  Not just the act of the donation but the great story it became....


Yours in dudism,


Another Lebowski,



  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Text fixed. When pasting, always paste as plain text. Otherwise you are carrying over formatting from the source that prevents the forum software from compensating for differing styles/themes.
Or paste into notepad, then copy and paste.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks Brian

And yes John now whenever I am in Japan, saying prayers at the Hachimangu is de Rigueur...


Oh and Bobby! I dont tell this story often, pride is a thing for the inside you know, I told it once in the newsletter and figured everybody knew it now. Next time I'm in town we'll go with Hon'Ami Sensei to visit the treasure swords of Kamakura!


Link to comment
Share on other sites

This thread is quite old. Please consider starting a new thread rather than reviving this one, unless your post is really relevant and adds to the topic..

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...