JSSUS Newsletter Volume 8, no.1, 1969

The articles on this page originally appeared in JSSUS newsletter Volume 8, no.1, 1969.  

Sword Sentiment- Page 42

Sword Sentiment

Few man-made decisions have had such an effect upon a class of people as the Haitorei Regulation of 1876 in Japan. Suddenly, due to the transition from a feudal to a modern society, thousands of samurai found themselves without work and support for themselves and their families. Many poignant tales are told of samurai, reduced to near starvation, parting with their most treasured possession: their swords.

Again, in a like manner after World War II, many old samurai families, again in reduced circumstances, found it necessary to part with their heirlooms.

The following two letters, reproduced exactly as written, demonstrate the distress engendered by such forced sales and the high regard in which the blades were held by their owners.

Short History of "Kanesada Sword"

My Family Sword

This Japanese sword was made by Fujiwara Kanesada who lived about 500-600 years ago around central part of Japan. At that time there is no machine to make it, so this sword was made by only hand, using hammer, some small tools and fire. How to decide a sword is good or not? It is depend mainly upon the sharpness of the sword. The Book of Japanese sword, written about sharpness enumerated 12 famous good famous sword maker in which you can find the name of Fujiwara Kanesada. Here is family story about sharpness of this Kanesada sword. Tokugawa Shogun era about 300 years ago, a lord, named Hosokawa, Tadaaki, who occupied northern part of Kyushu Island, had this famous sword so called "Kasen". Sometimes this lord, on his return trip from Edo (Tokyo) to his country Kyushu, he came around Hakone road (now this area became national park) and met some disturbance on the street. A Samurai (knight) quarreled with about 50 persons and he took off his sword and cutting down many persons in a short time. It is a splendid sight and the lord admired very much this man and his sword, then requested to see it. This sword was made by Kanesada and the dead men numbered 36. In Japan we had 36 famous poets which were called "Sanjyu Roku (36) Kasen". The lord bought this sword with plenty of money and named the sword as "Kasen" thinking about same number of 36, and kept it family treasure until the Meiji era. A Kanesada sword is worthy of national treasure of Japan and this one especially so because after the war so many good sword disappeared and lost. Hope you have good enjoyment from this sword I would never sell but for necessary feed my family.

Letter Presenting the Daishō-swords.1

The weather has become very cold, but I assume you are well. As to my family, all are in the enjoyment of perfect health.

In compliance with your request, I have sent out, by the Forwarding-Company a daisho, the two swords (large and small) which have been handed down in my family from a remote ancestor (see their history on the following pages).

They are called the "Yakiri-Maru" (the honorable eight-killer) and were made by Hoei of Yamato. When they reach you, please take them as a gift.

Swords are weapons for which Japan is particularly famous and especially those of olden times are very hard to get, and still more so, in the case of those valuable ones carefully transmitted in a family from generation to generation.

But, when I consider with what kindness and fidelity my benefactor will use these swords, I am quite ready and willing to part with the long kept treasures, as a token of my sincere regard to him.

November 30th, 1885,

1 Japanese Works of Art; Armour / Weapons Sword- Fittings Lacquer Pictures/Textiles / Colour-Prints selected from the Mosle Collection (Leipzig: E. A. Seemann, 1914).

The History of the Yakiri-Maru (the honourable eight-killer).

The Yakiri-Maru were bequeathed as a part of the family legacy by one of my ancestors, Tanaka Yakurō, who lived eleven generations back from me. In the wars of the time of Kembu (1319) the Yakiri-Maru rendered many good services, and according to a family chronicle, their name was derived from the circumstance that at one time they were used in killing eight highwaymen. In November 1885, when I was about to send them to my brother San in Tokyo, I was one night aroused by a voice at my pillow, calling my name. Raising myself, I perceived my swords gracefully making bows to me. dressed me as follows: Presently they addressed me as follows: "It is now the twelfth generation since we first entered the services of your family. From the days of our first master to those of your honored father, we were treated with great kindness and care. Wherever the master might have been, at home or out traveling, we were sure to be made his nearest companions, but, in your generation the times have changed and we have not been able to guard your person. Your magnanimity however, has been large enough and the degree of kindness shown to us by you does not unfavorably compare with the treatment we received at the hands of our famous masters. We have long been thinking of returning your kindness and our pleasure now is to be able to show even a slight mark of our gratitude to you by going with your message to your brother in Tokyo. Our whole self, we have offered to your service and in order to do your will, we do not hesitate to face even water and fire. We are afraid we may not be able to see you again, and for that reason we have ventured to be permitted to have the last audience with our benevolent master!"

To this I replied:

"Be not anxious! By this journey you shall be enabled to see large towns and renowned cities, and to see great men, so that you may have an opportunity of becoming useful implements. I hear that a benefactor of my brother San, a heroic gentleman, now residing in Tokyo, has been captivated by the history of your past careers. When you greet him there, you will be happy for having obtained a rare friend of a far off land. Germany is a strong power in Europe, and is famous for her military spirit. You may then expect to be able to show your capacities, when you accompany your new master to his own native country. Go, then, and be active!" When I awoke from my dream, lo! the Yakiri-Maru were lying at the head of the bed. This was on the morning of the 30th day of November, 1885.