Sakakura Gonnoshin Terukane

period: Shinto (ca. 1655)
designation: NBTHK Hozon
mei: Echigo no Kami Kanesada
nakago: ubu, two mekugiana (both original)
nagasa: 17.55cm (center blade)
price: $12,500

If one were to ask who the greatest smiths of the shinto period were, it would be reasonable to expect responses like Kunihiro, Umetada Myoju, Tadayoshi, Kotetsu, Sukehiro, and Shinkai. While some might contend that Shinto works are inferior to koto works, there is little doubt in anyone's mind that the product of these smiths fits in well with the excellent work of the koto period.

Near what we now consider to be the beginning of the Shinto period, Kunihiro was a retainer of the Ito family in Hyuga Obi. In 1577, disaster struck the Ito clan and Kunihiro was set to wandering the various kuni, so the story goes, researching and learning forging techniques, eventually settling in Kyoto. He is regarded as a genius, and his works are held in very high regard.

One of the students of Kunihiro before he died, was the excellent smith Shodai Izumi no Kami Kunisada. The nidai and son of Kunisada would eventually go down in history as the truly brilliant smith Inoue Shinkai. Shodai Kunisada was still very young when Kunihiro died, and at this time he became a student of Echigo no Kami Kunitomo.

After the death of his master, Kunisada moved to Osaka, along with a fellow student Kunisuke, and together they pioneered the unique Osaka Shinto swordmaking tradition. Osaka was a thriving city during this time and one of Japan's cultural centers. It is thought that the unique energy and prosperity of the city was a key influence on the gorgeous workmanship of Osaka Shinto.

Around 1644, a Yamato native and smith from the Tegai school arrived in Osaka: Mutsu no Kami Kaneyasu. He had a unique habit of signing his work with a mirror image signature (his characters were backwards). The school he founded included Iga no Kami Kanemichi, who taught Echigo no Kami Kanesada, and who in turn taught Sakakura Gonnoshin Terukane.

Terukane originally signed Echigo no Kami Kanesada like his teacher, and when his high level of skill became evident, Shodai Kanesada adopted him into his family (relationships of choice like this were apparently considered deep bonds in old Japan). After the death of the Shodai in 1666, Terukane abdicated the rights to the name Echigo no Kami Kanesada to the Shodai's young biological son, and began signing Terukane. This is something that I find illustrates a particular strength of character, to give up his name in this fashion.

Terukane is rated Jo-jo Saku by Fujishiro, near the top of his school and times, and 850 man yen in the Toko Taikan, making him highly valued, as much as some great smiths of the koto period. (I have seen Juyo Token katana by this smith offered for sale in Japan between $66,000 and $80,000 USD). He is also rated as O-wazamono with a reputation for producing very sharp swords. Only 16 kaji rate higher at Sai-jo Wazamono, the highest rating.

Osaka Shinto is a particularly beautiful style, though possibly criticized for focusing more on aesthetics than on functionality. The school produced mostly wakizashi and katana, with few tanto. The sugata is expected to have little sori, with a slightly extended chu-kissaki. The hada one expects from Osaka Shinto is a very fine and beautiful ko-mokume, one that seems to have a sheen or almost an internal glow to it.

The hamon will be mostly thick nioi; as for pattern, it will run the full gamut of possibilities. Furthermore, several new hamon styles were invented by Osaka Shinto smiths. One key kantei point though is the straight Osaka yakidashi that will then usually expand into a notare or midare based hamon. The boshi will usually be a ko-maru in suguba regardless of the hamon.

For Terukane in particular his hada was similar in ways to Shodai Kanesada, his teacher. In addition, his was clear, extremely fine and tight and in some cases almost muji (undiscernable), with bright ji nie. The hamon on his works was a toran midare or gonome midare similar to Sukehiro, mixed with yahazu midare. It will be bordered on one side with fine ji nie, and on the other with thick nioi, and full of ashi and sunagashi. To my eye, the hamon looks cold and frosty, as the thick and wide nioi resemble crystals of ice and snow within the hamon.

Terukane's skill was very high, and there are currently over 80 Juyo Token to his credit, and some of them are Tokubetsu Juyo. There are 40 each signed Terukane and Echigo no Kami Kanesada.

This yari speaks very well to the talent of Terukane. There is one kizu on the back side of the yari as shown in the photographs, but otherwise the jigane is perfect, gorgeous and luminously full of ji nie. The hamon is gentle in suguba, with extremely fine ashi here and there. Making a yari of this form is extremely difficult (as is the polishing of Jumonji yari in general, but Chidori Jumonji yari even moreso). The grace and beauty of this work speak easily to those deep into the love of the Japanese sword, as well as those who may otherwise have no interest.

Tanobe Sensei Sayagaki

  1. 攝州越後守包貞
    Sesshu Echigo no Kami Kanesada
  2. 刃長縦五寸九分横三寸五分有之
    Hacho tate go sun ku bu, Yoko san sun go bu ari kore.
    The length of the middle blade is 5.9 sun, the side blades 3.5 sun.
  3. 二代包貞即チ坂倉言之進照包同人也
    Nidai Kanesada sunawachi Sakakura Gonnoshin Terukane dounin nari.
    The second generation Kanesada is also known by the name Sakakura Gonnoshin Terukane.
  4. 此工作中珍敷千鳥十文字槍而
    Konokousakuchu mezurashiku Chidori Jumonji Yari shikashite...
    In his works, Chidori Jumonji Yari are very rare and...
  5. 刃出来優矣
    jiba deki suguretari.
    the construction of the jihada and yakiba (in this example) are excellent.
  6. 癸未暦皐下巻湛山徴
    Mizunoto Hitsuji Koyomi Satsuki Gekan Tanzan Shirusu.
    Tanzan wrote this in the last days of May 2003.



Osaka Shinto Zufu

This exact yari is featured on page 300 of the important reference Osaka Shinto Zufu as an example of Terukane's work, a scan of the photograph in the book is included to the right. A rough translation of the commentary is included here.

Kaisetsu (Description)

Ryokawagata (both sides, kama style). The top of the center blade is widely forged ko-itame with some masame and fine ji-nie. [The hamon is in] chu suguha with ko-midare, hard nioi guchi and delicate nie. Boshi is yakitsume on both sides.

Nakago is ubu, kurijiri, yasuri is kattesagari, mekugi ana are two. Signature is above the mekugi ana.

Sunpyo (Comment)

The shape and form of both kama are very beautiful. The ko-itame hada is very good, and overall it is a very nice yari. The maker's high level of skill for making swords shows in this yari.

Additional Notes: Chidori Jumonji Yari

This type of yari is known as Chidori Jumonji, with Chidori meaning "cow's horns", referring to the side blades, and Jumonji refers to the character for the number ten, which is a cross and refers to the layout of a yari with side blades.

Yari and Naginata were the weapons of choice on the battlefield. A heavy Naginata could be used to attack a horse and unseat a rider. A yari can attack at distances not possible for a sword to counterattack. It is only inside of the effective radius of the yari that a sword came into use, almost a weapon of last resort (that role would be reserved for the tanto).

The Japanese yari has several different variations, and the jumonji yari has particular fighting techniques in which it excels. The right angle between the side blades and the center blade can be used to parry another yari or a sword far more effectively than a simple spear as the opposing weapon can be trapped and controlled. A followup thrust can run the yari up along the shaft of the opponents weapon, giving the opponent a choice between dropping his weapon or losing his fingers.

Producing a yari with blades and points also allows for chopping and slicing actions, that a simple spear cannot perform effectively.

When the side blades are pointed in the opposite direction, back towards the wielder, they can be used to trap and twist an opponent's weapon, forcibly pulling it from their grasp. Stories also exist of ninja using this kind of yari to hook into trees and scale walls, disappearing out of sight. They can also be used to hook and unseat a horseman.

This style of yari combines both forward facing and slight rearward facing points, which can provide all of the above options to varying levels of effectiveness to a well trained samurai.