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Article By: David E. J. Pepin & Tim Pepin, © 2008

 

 

MINAMOTO KIYOMARO OF THE YAMAMURA FAMILY BEGAN HIS CAREER WITH THE NAME MINAMOTO MASAYUKI, AND WAS BORN IN 1813 A.D. IN SHINANO PROVINCE. HE WAS A STUDENT OF SECOND GENERATION TOSHITAKA, AN ACCOMPLISHED SWORD MAKER, AND THE GRANDSON OF TOSHINORI, HE WAS OF THE KAWAMURA FAMILY.  KIYOMARO WHILE TRAINED IN THE BIZEN STYLE, EMULATED THE GREAT MASTER MASAMUNE FROM SOSHU AND EXCELLED IN THE SOSHU STYLE, OF WHICH THIS SWORD IS ONE. KIYOMARO CHANGED HIS NAME IN 1846 FROM MASAYUKI. HIS FAME AND POPULARITY AS A MASTER SWORD MAKER RIVALED THAT OF (AND DOES TODAY) OF SOSHU MASAMUNE.  MINAMOTO KIYOMARO, IS CONSIDERED TO HAVE ACHIEVED THE SAME LEVELS OF SKILL, DESIRABILITY AND FINANCIAL VALUE AS “SOSHU MASAMUNE”, BY ALMOST ALL SWORD EXPERTS AND COLLECTORS ALIKE.  HE WAS EVEN GIVEN THE NICKNAME OF YOTSUYA MASAMUNE (MASAMUNE OF YOTSUYA) DUE TO HIS RECOGNIZED TALENT.

KIYOMARO WAS AFFLICTED WITH SERIOUS PROBLEMS OF A PERSONAL NATURE THAT GREATLY AFFECTED HIS PRODUCTION OF SWORDS. A SWORDSMITH WOULD NEVER COMMENCE WORK ON A BLADE UNLESS HE WAS IN THE ABSOLUTE PEAK OF HIS PERFORMANCE LEVEL. AND AS ALL SWORD SMITHS, KIYOMARO FOLLOWED STRICT PREREQUISITES.  LIKE OTHER GREAT GENIUSES, KIYOMARO WAS A VICTIM OF NEARLY INSURMOUNTABLE PERSONAL PROBLEMS, WHICH RESTRICTED HIS TIME AT THE FORGE. THESE PROBLEMS ALSO CREATED IMMENSE DIFFICULTIES IN HIS CASH FLOW AND AS A RESULT HE WOULD LEAVE A NUMBER OF SWORDS UNSIGNED. IN THIS MANNER, THEY COULD BE RAPIDLY SOLD WITHOUT NEGATING THE HIGH MARKET VALUE AND DEMAND FOR HIS PERSONAL WORKS. MANY OF THESE WERE UNDOUBTEDLY SOLD FOR MARKETING BY KIYOMARO AS THE WORKS OF HIS STUDENTS, THEREBY ALLOWING THEM TO BE SOLD FOR CONSIDERABLY LESS AND MORE RAPIDLY. THE WORKMANSHIP OF THESE PIECES WERE COMPARABLE TO HIS SIGNED PIECES AS HE WOULD NEVER COMPROMISE HIS QUALITY. IT IS MOST LIKELY THAT THE MAJORITY OF THESE PIECES WOULD BE SIGNED WITH ALTO-MEI (Mei was signed posthumously by student). THIS BLADE COULD POSSIBLY BE AN ALTO-MEI BLADE OF KIYOMARO.

HIS PRODUCTION OF SWORDS UNDER THE NAME KIYOMARO SPANNED ONLY 8 YEARS AS IN 1854 AT THE YOUNG AGE OF 41, HE LOST HIS BATTLE WITH HIS ILLNESS AND SUCCUMBED TO THE HONORABLE DEATH OF SEPPUKU (SUICIDE – CONSIDERED A HONORABLE DEATH AND DONE WITH GREAT CEREMONY AND RELIGIOUS TRADITION). KIYONDO, ONE OF KIYOMARO’S GREATEST STUDENTS, ASSUMED RESPONSIBILITY IN THE CONTINUATION OF KIYOMARO’S FORGE AND AS WELL AS SUPPORTING HIS FAMILY.

SOME OF KIYOMARO’S STUDENTS BECAME THE FOREMOST MASTERS OF THE SHIN SHINTO PERIOD, TO NAME A FEW; KIYONDO, MASA-O, SANE-O, NOBUHIDE. KIYOMARO AND THE WORKS OF HIS FOREMOST STUDENTS TODAY ARE AGGRESSIVELY SOUGHT AFTER BY STUDENTS AND JAPANESE SWORD COLLECTORS WORLDWIDE.                                       

THIS KATANA IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPRESSIVE MASSIVE SWORDS WE HAVE EVER OWNED, WITH AN OVERALL LENGTH OF "107.5cm. / 42.25 INCHES". THIS BLADE EXEMPLIFIES THE TRAITS AND CHARACTERISTICS OF THE KIYOMARO SCHOOL. KIYOMARO'S MOST FAVORED STYLE IS EXHIBITED IN THIS SHINOGI-ZUKURI BLADE. PROPORTIONS ARE LONG, WIDE, AND VERY GRACEFUL WITH THE SOUGHT AFTER VERY LARGE O-KISSAKI. THE KITAE (BODY) CONSISTS OF JI-NIE AND IS CONSTRUCTED TIGHT KO-ITAME (FINE WOOD GRAIN) WITH SOME AREAS OF MASAMI (STRAIGHT GRAIN). THE HAMON IS ROUNDED GONOME MIDARE WITH GENEROUS ASHI AND YO (FOOT PRINT) AND AREAS OF ARA-NIE (AREAS OF LARGE COURSER NIE). THE UNUSUALLY LONG TSUNAGASHI AND KINSUJI (STREAKS OF NIE), ALSO SHOW AREAS OF YUBASHIRI (LIKE ISLANDS IN PLACES). THE O-BOSHI AND KISSAKI (LARGE POINT) ARE MIDARE-KOMI (TEMPERING) AND SHOW AREAS OF KAERI (LIKE FLAME TIPS), ALSO HAS HAKIKAKE (BROOM SWEEPINGS). THE HA IS EXCEPTIONALLY BRIGHT AND CLEAR WITH STRONG JI-GANE, THIS BLADE IS ABSOLUTELY SPECTACULAR AND A MARVEL TO VIEW IN NATURAL SUNLIGHT

THE "HORIMONO" IS IN THE STYLE, (AND OF THE QUALITY) OF "YOSHITANE". HE WAS ONE OF THE GREATEST HORIMONO MASTERS WHO EVER LIVED. HE BEGAN HIS TRAINING AS A SWORD SMITH (KAJI), AND ENGRAVER (HORIMONO) WITH "TAIKEI NAOTANE", IN THE EARLY 1800's.  HE BECAME AN ACCOMPLISHED SWORD SMITH. HOWEVER, IT WAS SOON DISCOVERED THAT HIS TRUE SKILL'S WERE HIS ABILITIES AS A HORIMONO (ENGRAVING) ARTIST. IN THIS FIELD HE SURPASSED EVEN THE SKILL'S OF HIS TEACHER. "TAIKEI NAOTANE" WAS ONE OF THE GREATEST SWORD MAKING MASTERS, OF THE SHIN SHINTO PERIOD C - 1800 AD. 

 

THESE ARE THE (TOUCHED UP) PHOTOS OF "NOMURA TO" (From the Pepin Collection). THE SAMURAI / DAIMYO WHO OWNED IT IN THE KOTO PERIOD, HAD HIS NAME "NOMURA DENJIRO", AS WELL AS AN TESTAMENT TO ITS CUTTING ABILITY INLAYED IN GOLD (KINZOGAN). THIS WAS COMMON PRACTICE BY FAMOUS SAMURAI DURING THIS PERIOD ( MORE THAN 500 YEARS AGO), FOR THE PURPOSE OF PERPETUATING THERE NAME. AS YOU CAN SEE IT WORKS QUITE WELL!

THIS IS WHAT I SUGGEST FOR THE KIYOMARO:


 

I WOULD RECOMMEND THAT "KINZOGAN" (GOLD INLAY) SUCH AS ON "NOMURA-TO" BE DONE REGARDING THE OWNER, AS THIS WOULD BE IN KEEPING WITH THE "SAMURAI  EPIC". I WOULD ALSO ADD THE DATA AS OBTAINED FROM THE "N.B.T.H.K." SHINZA. THE REMOVAL OF THE EXISTING INSCRIPTION, AND THE GOLD INLAY WORK COULD BE DONE FOR A NOMINAL SUM. THE GREATEST DETRIMENT WOULD BE THE TIME INVOLVED. I WOULD ESTIMATE THAT IT WOULD TAKE FROM; 3 TO 12 Mo.'s, DEPENDING ON THE CRAFT MANS BACK LOG. THIS MUST BE ADDRESSED AT THE TIME OF THE PURCHASE.

 

 

 



YOSHITANE WAS BORN IN "DEWA" PROVINCE. HE WAS GIVEN THE NAME "KAMI-NO-SUKE", AT BIRTH. HE FIRST APPROACHED THE MON (SCHOOL) OF "TAIKEI NAOTANE" TO STUDY THE ART OF KATANA KAJI (SWORD MAKING), AND RESIDED AT THE RESIDENCE OF NAOTANE, IN THE "TEN-PO" (1830 ~ 1843). ALTHOUGH HE BECAME AN ACCOMPLISHED SWORD MAKER (HIS EXISTING WORKS ARE FEW), HIS TRUE EXPERTISE WAS AS A HORIMONO ARTIST! HE SERVED AS HORIMONO SENSEI  (INSTRUCTOR) TO "SUISHINSEI MASAHIDE I", "SECOND GENERATION MASAHIDE", "TAIKEI NAOTANE", "SUISHINSEI MASATSUGU", "NOBUHIDE", AND MANY MORE! HE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE MAJORITY OF THE HORIMONO THAT IS SEEN ON THERE BLADES. ON OCCASION THE SIGNED HIS WORK ON THE NAKAGO'S OF THE BLADES. OUR BLADE IS ONE OF THESE SELDOM SEEN PIECES!

"YOSHITANE" WAS ONE OF THE FOREMOST HORIMONO CARVERS THAT EVER LIVED. THERE IS ONE REFERENCE THAT LIST'S THE "TOP 12" ARTISTES, HE IS RATED SECOND ONLY TO "UMETADA MYOJU"! YOSHITANE ALSO ACHIEVED FAME AS A KODOGU (SWORD FURNITURE), AND "TSUBA" MAKER. I HAVE INCLUDED SOME OF HIS MOST POPULAR HORIMONO'S. HE IS RATED "JO - JO" SAKU (UPPER - UPPER) CLASS FOR HIS TSUBA, AND KODOGU WORK. HE WAS SUCCEEDED BY HIS SON, WHO'S WORK IS ALSO SUPERB. IT SHOULD BE CONSIDER IT A GREAT PRIVILEGE TO OWN A BLADE WITH HIS HORIMONO.

 

*

*- SAME BASIC STYLE AS ON OUR SWORD WITH DEEP RELIEF CARVING OF THE FLAMES, VERY FEW MASTERS PRACTICED THIS METHOD.

 

Nobuhide, whose personal name wAS Kurihara Keiji, was born in Bunka 12th year (1815) and originally hailed from Echigo province and he went to Kyoto where he became a skilled mirror maker. NEXT THREE IMAGES COURTESY OF Clive Sinclaire.

COURTESY OF Clive Sinclaire

Nobuhide (from a print dated Meiji 7th year)

In the 3rd year of Kaei (1850) at the age of 35, he entered into the school of Kiyomaro where he served a short apprenticeship of only 2 years. He is considered the most skilful of Kiyomaro's students and was especially skilled at carving horimono, HE EMULATED THE STYLES OF YOSHITANE IN MANY WAYS AND WAS HIGHLY SKILLED IN DEEP RELIEF CARVING AS IN THE EXAMPLES BELOW. THE HORIMONO ON OUR BLADE COULD BE OF HIS EXAMPLE OF HIS WORK. In his earlier works he often inscribed "hori do saku" indicating that he made the carving himself, not so common on his later works.

In Keio Gannen (1865) Nobuhide was granted the title of Echizen (no) Kami after which he is known to have forged swords in Osaka and around this time he signed NOBUTAKA. After his teacher, Kiyomaro committed suicide, Nobuhide with his fellow pupil Kiyondo, undertook to discharge Kiyomaro's debts and made many dai- saku and dai-mei and eventually they built a tombstone for Kiyomaro at Koyazan. After the prohibition against wearing swords in 1876 (the Haito-Rei) Nobuhide returned to Echigo province and resumed mirror making. He died in Meiji 14th year (1881) at the age of 66.

 

COURTESY OF Clive Sinclaire

COURTESY OF Clive Sinclaire

(Reduced size oshigata)

COURTESY OF Clive Sinclaire*

*- SAME BASIC STYLE AS ON OUR SWORD WITH DEEP RELIEF CARVING OF THE FLAMES, VERY FEW MASTERS PRACTICED THIS METHOD.

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