Awataguchi Hisakuni

by Jim Kurrasch
from the December 1996 Nanak Token Kai Newsletter

I am writing this article because I have been informed that the owner of the blade shown is one of our members (I really should review the membership list one of these days). I was going to write about it later along with the article on ‘Missing Important Nihontô’. But since we are studying Yamashiro, and the owner gave me some additional information, I figure this will be a very good time. I am sure we will not be able to study this blade first hand since the owner lives quite a distance away.

The Awataguchi School was founded by Kuniie around the early 1100’s. The name comes from it was founded in the Awataguchi section of Kyoto. The Goban Kaji = Emperor Gotoba teachers in the art of sword making included 4 smiths from this school. They were Kunitomo, Kuniyasu, Kunitsuna, and Hisakuni. Hisakuni is considered to have been the best. There were 2 groups of Goban Kaji. The first was 12 smiths, and the second was 24 smiths. In the first case Hisakuni and Bizen Norifusa were listed separate from the others, as Goshihan Kaji = instructors. In the second group Hisakuni was listed as the Bungyo = Administrator. Hisakuni was also given the title ‘Ôsumi no Gon no Kami’.

Kunitsuna later went to Kamakura along with Sukezane of the Fukuoka Ichimonji, and Kunimune of Bizen. The Hôjo Regent had requested their assistance in setting up a sword smith school there.

Awataguchi characteristics; in general there is little differences between one smith and another in the Awataguchi School.
Shape; basically a strong Heian shape with torii sori. That means the tachi is slender, but not as much as most others. Most have mitsu-mune. The tantô are uchizori, or have a slight sori. They maybe fairly short.

Horimono; bô-hi going well up into the bôshi, and down into the nakago. The Awataguchi were known to make very nice hi.
Jitetsû; the Awataguchi tetsû was a trade mark. They had a very fine well worked ko-mokume. Some of the smiths had occasional ô-hada. The ji-nie is deep, and forms yubashiri and chikei. The ko-nie is deep and bright. Awataguchi tetsû is a very tight nashiji-hada. It is a ko-itame hada that is thickly covered with ko-ji-nie. This is also known as habutae jigane.

Hamon; overall the hamon is narrow, and ko-nie deki. It starts slightly wider at the machi and narrows as it goes towards the bôshi. The patterns maybe ko-chôji midare, or suguha hotsure. Much activity is always present (such as inazuma and kinsuji).
Bôshi; is done in ko-maru, ô-maru, yakizume, kaen, or nie kuzure. There will be a short kaeri. The nie will be larger and brighter than in the rest of the blade. Hisakuni’s was notare.

Nakago; is long with kuri-jiri, and kaku-mune. The yasurimei is katte-sagari or yoko. It is normally signed ni-ji-mei. But Hisakuni also signed ‘Tôjirô Hisakuni’.

This tachi was part of the Koga family collection of Saga-shi (in Hizen Province) for “hundreds of years”. It was part of a 100 sword collection. This family manufactured sake for centuries. It was brought back by a GI after W.W.II. It came in it own marked wooden box. But the GI also carried 5 other swords in this box. In the late 1980’s several persons were notified by that GIs widow that this collection was for sale (all or nothing). They included some fairly important dealers in the US. The current owner took the bet and bought the lot. In the bottom of the box he found newspaper clippings, telling of Honami Koson discovering this sword, and it becoming Jûyô Bijutsuhen (December 16th 1942). Also the box contained both Honami Koson’s papers as well as the original Jûyô Bijutsuhen papers. The lid of the box has a hakogaki by then Prime Minister Senjuro of Japan (in the 1930’s), stating that he had examined the sword.

When copies of these papers were sent to the NBTHK, Tanobe Sensei responded with congratulations on the find. This is the kind of story I like to hear; where a ‘True Collector’ takes a ‘Leap of Faith’ and beats out the dealers, who business it is to know. Tanobe Sensei of the Sword Museum when sent a copy of the papers, confirmed that it was that sword. He also stated that it is fortunate that it is in a American collection so we can learn from it. And he stated that the current owner should show the sword to others so they may learn from it. And the owner is doing such by having it on display when possible. The owner also contacted the Koga family through Tanobe Sensei, and Koga San said that he was pleases that the sword was in trusting hands, and had not been destroyed.

This tachi is 72.65 cm and suriage by about 8 cm. It is signed ‘Hisakuni’. The sori is 2.8 cm. and it is 6 mm. thick. The hamon is a narrow ko-nie-deki notare, with sunagashi, and kinsuji. The bôshi is ko-maru.