Ryujin Swords

Gendaito by Yasuhiro (Yasukuni-to), in koshirae, NTHK

Click on any picture for more detail.


Period: Showa, no earlier than 1933, no later than 1936.

Mei: No signature. Attributed by NTHK to Yasuhiro.

Sugata: Shinogi-zukuri, shallow tori-zori, iori-mune.

Overall length: 32.44 inches (824.00 mm)

Nagasa: 25.52 inches (648.00 mm).

Nakago: 6.93 inches (176.00 mm), ubu, two mekugi-ana, katte-sagari yasurime, kurijiri nakagojiri.

The twin mekugi-ana are not a later modification, but something that was intended by the smith, and were made when the sword was created. It has been suggested that the nakago and its corresponding tsuka were designed for cutting tests; it certainly indicates a sword made to fit the recipient's tastes.

Kissaki: Chu-kissaki, 1.36 inches (34.60 mm), ko-maru boshi.

Moto-haba: 1.14 inches (28.90 mm). Moto-gasane: 0.24 inches (6.10 mm). Saki-haba: 0.80 inches (20.30 mm). Saki-gasane: 0.23 inches (5.80 mm).

Sori: 0.25 inches (6.30 mm).

Hamon: Suguha with ko-ashi, sunagashi, and kinsuji.

Hada: Ko-itame.

Blade condition: In fresh polish and flawless. The polisher has been complimented by Mishina. For pictures of the blade, see further down.


The koshirae, including the tsuka-ito, are the original mounts for the sword; the holes in the tsuka correspond exactly to the mekugi-ana in the nakago. By contrast, a replacement tsuka would have almost certainly omitted one mekugi-ana. Again, the colour of the same is consistent with a 1930s date. However, although the koshirae as a whole are contemporary with the blade itself, some items - the tsuba, the menuki and the fuchi-kashira - are about 200 years old.


I have spent several months researching this sword. It has fascinated me, ever since I bought it from a Japanese sword museum.

The future Yasuhiro was born Miyaguchi Shigeru in Hayashi-cho, Koshikawa, Tokyo in 1897. After the death of his father, Yonezawa Kanshiro Masatoshi, he learnt swordsmithing from Kasama Ikkansai Shigetsugu, who was arguably the most important swordsmith of the pre-war Showa period. The future Yasuhiro was the 3rd generation of Miyaguchi Ikkansai, grandson of Miyaguchi Shigetoshi. He started using "Ikkansai" as his personal title in August 1916, at the age of 18-19.

In the early Showa period (the Showa period is 1926-1989) he took the smith name of Toshihiro and, later, Miyaguchi Kunimori. However, on 8 July 1933 he was summoned by the War Minister, General Araki Sadao, and given the smith name Yasuhiro. The newly named Yasuhiro was then appointed in charge of the newly-formed Yasukuni Tanren Kai Foundation, where he was to instruct in the art of swordmaking. The Yasukuni Tanren Kai Foundation listed him as one of its founders. As Yasuhiro, he made approximately 500 swords (i.e. 3-4 swords per week) at the Yasukuni shrine.

War Minister Araki at the Yasukuni shrine

Although this sword dates to his time at the Yasukuni Tanren Kai, it is not a typical Yasukuni-to. The Yasukuni Tanren Kai generally made swords for high-ranking military people using a sue-Koto Bizen-derived sugata. Exceptions were made for onkashi-to (swords made for the emperor to present to distinguished graduates of military staff colleges) and for homei-to ('rewarding swords').

The sugata of this sword is more reminiscent of the straighter Kanbun era swords; it will not fit the mounts used by the Japanese military during the 1930s and 40s, so it wasn't made as a military sword. This is not an onkashi-to; the dimensions are all wrong and there is no mei (Ishida p.71). It is not a homei-to; the mei would say so (Ishida, p.65). Other possibilities are special order swords; however, the mei invariably states that they are special order swords, as well as stating the name of the person for whom they were made (e.g. a sword by Takenori for Admiral Kusaka, Ishida p.64). Finally, it is not a sword dedicated for a shrine; again an inscription would say so (e.g. a Yasunori mei, Ishida, p.63).

This is thus an exception to the known exceptions. It has all the hallmarks of a custom-made sword made to satisfy the tastes of a very high-status civilian individual. However, the sword is unsigned, which is very odd considering Yasuhiro's very senior position as one of the founders of the Yasukuni Tanren Kai. It would be quite a feather in the cap for a contemporary customer to own a sword made that had been custom-made for them and signed by Yasuhiro, a founder of the Yasukuni school. The modern expression 'bragging rights' would be quite apt.

There is however one explanation for Yasuhiro making such an unsigned custom-made sword. There is a long-standing Japanese tradition of giving swords to high status individuals in return for - or to a lesser extent, in realistic expectation of - a great favour or honour. If a smith specifically made a sword as a reciprocal gift to a powerful individual – for example, in return for an honorary title – it would be unsigned.

It therefore pays to look at the koshirae, since these are original (i.e. made for this sword when it was forged). I admit that studying the artefact as a whole, rather than just looking at the blade, is a result of my archaeological training. However, this is a valid approach for this sword, given that the koshirae are the original koshirae.

There is a Japanese tradition of combining elements of the koshirae to convey meanings. There is also a tradition in Japan of giving great thought to all the elements of a gift, so that the whole conveys meaning in a subtle manner. The koshirae of a sword given as a gift would be chosen with particular care, particularly if the smith was repaying a debt to a high status individual.

There is one prominent high status individual in Yasuhiro's early career; his teacher, Kasama Ikkansai Shigetsugu, was a long-time friend, colleague and protege of Toyama Mitsuru (d. 1944). Toyama had been a founder of the Genyosha, and had subsequently helped found the Kokuryu-kai (Black Dragon Society). Although he had retired in 1912, he remained the patron and advisor of the Kokuryu-kai. Toyama's estate was at Tokiwamatsu in the Shibuya district of Tokyo.

Onisaburo Deguchi (spiritual leader of the Oomoto religious movement), Toyama Mitsuru and Uchida Ryohei (founder Black Dragon Society, Pan-Asianist, martial artist and ultranationalist theorist), circa 1923. Public domain photo, courtesy Wikipedia.

It would be difficult to underestimate the power of either Toyama or the Kokuryu-kai, as a rather biased 1941 Time article shows. The Kokuryu-kai was an extremely rich, powerful and highly influential group. It penetrated the contemporary Japanese government to the extent that it undertook intelligence work for the government; at one point it probably had the most efficient counter-intelligence network of the time. Eventually it became so powerful that all military attaches abroad had to be cleared with the Black Dragon Society. It has, with some justification, been called a shadow Japanese government.

Toyama was also extremely influential with, and highly respected by, people as diverse as government ministers, yakuza, swordsmiths, senior military figures, and ordinary people. It was documented by Captain Kennedy in his Diaries that on one occasion a government minister was reported to have had a private meeting with Toyama and his colleagues in order to ask them to support government policies. It would have been extremely difficult to enact policies without the support of Toyama and his associates. As a result of his various activities, Toyama attracted epithets such as “Shadow Shogun”, “Spymaster” and “Boss of Bosses”. These are possibly overdramatic epithets to modern ears, but it gives an indication of the power that he wielded. Kennedy’s Diaries, which cover the period 1917-1946, frequently mention Toyama.

Part of the reason for his wide popularity was his desire to see the end of Western imperialism in Asia, and the development of Asian transnational unity and co-operation to balance the ambitions of Western powers. This did not make him popular with America (which had an ambition to militarily and economically dominate the Pacific), the European colonial powers (who wished to maintain the imperial status quo), and Russia (which wanted a warm water port and the Sakhalin Islands). Not surprisingly, contemporary Western accounts of him are usually both biased and vitriolic. On one occasion Toyama simultaneously enraged both the pre-war British and Japanese governments by meeting Subhas Chandra Bose and other supporters of Indian independence and freedom from British rule. The British government ordered the Japanese government to arrest the Indians and deport them to British territory. The Japanese government caved in; however, when the police went to Toyama's estate, he told them that the men that they sought were not there, and invited them to enter. The police accepted Toyama's word and left. Toyama somehow got the Indians out of Japan. Toyama's reputation suffered no harm in Japan from this incident. The Japanese government's, however, did.

Toyama, like many since, was aware of the damage caused to indigenous cultures by Western cultural domination. He was, in particular, strongly opposed to the damage caused to Japanese culture and society during the Meiji and Taisho periods by the wholesale and unthinking adoption of Western models, and by the political corruption that developed from the social upheaval that followed. His stance was, in many ways, comparable to that of Saigo Takamori, the reluctant leader of the Satsuma Rebellion earlier in the Meiji period. In fact Toyama was, in his lifetime, seen as the political successor to Takamori.

In Toyama's opinion the nihonto was an important part of Japanese culture. He was himself an accomplished swordsman and an avid collector. However swordsmithing had gone into a major decline following the hatorei (edict) of 1868 banning the wearing of swords in public. Furthermore, the dress swords of the Meiji and Taisho eras aped western hangers, rather than traditional Japanese designs, and cheaper, modern western methods of making swords were introduced. Traditional swordmaking was a dying art.

Toyama was dedicated to the preservation of Japanese culture and traditions. In order to preserve traditional swordsmithing he established the Tokiwamatsu Tanren Kenkyu Jo in the grounds of his estate at Shibuya. In doing so he was partly responsible for saving traditional swordmaking for posterity. In 1903 the young Kasama Ikkansai Shigetsugu entered the Tokiwamatsu Token Kenkyujo to study under Morioka Masayosh. He stayed to become an instructor smith and the most famous and influential smith of the Taisho and Showa periods. Shigetsugu taught some of the most important and talented smiths of the later 20th century, such as Toshihiro (latter known as Yasuhiro, the maker of this sword) and his cousin Shigemasa. His students also worked under Toyama's patronage; the future Yasuhiro is recorded in the Tokyo Kindai Toshi (IV, 3) as forging swords at the Tokiwamatsu Token Kenkyujo. This makes Toyama the patron of both Yasuhiro and Shigetsugu.

Front Row far left: Yasuhiro's teacher, Kasama Ikkansai Shigetsugu; 3rd from left: Toyama Mitsuru, 4th from the left: Kurihara Hikosaburo (Akihide)

Shigetsugu's close relationship with his patron opened doors into contemporary Japanese high society opened doors for the smith and his pupils. For his part, Toyama frequently acted as Shigetsugu's sakite (hammerman), even into his 80s. Toyama also founded the Tokyo Swordsmith's Association with Shigetsugu and Kurihara Hikosaburo, an ex-politician otherwise known to posterity as the smith Akihide, and another protege of Toyama. On a more bizarre note, Shigetsugu was commissioned by Matsubara Hiroshi (a member of the Kokuryu-kai) to forge a special order sword as a diplomatic present for Adolf Hitler on Toyama's estate following the German-Japanese Agreement of 1936. Whether this sword was ever delivered to Hitler is moot, and if so, what he thought of it. However, the sword still exists.

As a result of all this activity Toyama and his proteges maintained the embers of traditional swordsmithing during the lean years of the early 20th century, as well as creating the foundations upon which the modern Japanese swordmaking world is based. Whilst it is frequently claimed that Akihide is responsible for saving traditional swordsmithing for posterity, this is probably inaccurate. Had it not been for Toyama, there would have been no nucleus upon which to build. In addition, Akihide did not have the power and position of Toyama. If he made a later impact, and if doors opened to him (as they did) it is because he was Toyama's protege.

Eventually the pendulum swung back from Westernising influences to fostering traditional culture. In 1933 the Japanese government finally realised that the craft was endangered and turned turned to those involved with the Tokiwamatsu Token Kenkyujo. Akihide was asked by the Prime Minister, Saito Makoto, to undertake a project devoted to increasing the number of swordsmiths. On 5 July 1933, and as a direct result of the Prime Minister's request, Akihide opened the Nipponto Tanren Denshu Jo (Japanese Sword Forging Institute) on the grounds of his estate in Akasaka, Tokyo. Three days later the War Minister summoned another of Toyama's proteges, the young Toshiro and appointed him, as Yasuhiro, chief instructor of the newly-formed Yasukuni Tanren Kai Foundation. Finally, in 1934 Akihide invited Ikkansai Kasama Shigetsugu (no doubt with Toyama's agreement) to become the chief instructor of the Denshujo, although by 1936-1937 their relationship had seriously deteriorated and Shigetsugu returned to forge swords at the Tokiwamatsu Token Kenkyujo.

Thus by 1934 Toyama's colleagues, proteges and clients (in the patronage sense) were involved in two projects that were extremely important to the government. It is inconceivable, especially in Japan, that the government would have not consulted the patron of all involved, and the founder of the Tokiwamatsu Token Kenkyujo, Toyama Mitsuru, and asked for his recommendations. It is even more inconceivable, given Toyama's political stature in contemporary Japan. Even in the West, it would be considered downright rude and disrespectful to do otherwise.

Which brings us back to the sword. It is, as previously remarked, an exception to all the exceptions amongst Yasukuni-to. It is unique. It has all the hallmarks of a sword made by a smith as a gift to his patron for a great favour. Since the koshirae are contemporary with the blade, it pays to consider the details of the fittings:

1) The tsuba features a black dragon.

2) the menuki are tsuta kamon. The tsuta kamon was the mon or family crest of the long-extinct Shibuya clan.

3) in contrast to the extremely high class work of the rest of the koshirae, the material used for the bindings is almost identical to the material used in Satsuma Rebellion bindings. This has to be intentional. The Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 was led by Saigo Takamori.

4) the extra mekugi-ana indicates a custom sword for someone who knew exactly what they wanted from a sword.

Yasuhiro's patron prior to Yasukuni was a renowned swordsman who was the patron of the Black Dragon Society, who lived in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, and who was regarded as the political heir to Saigo Takamori, whose example he greatly admired. Given the documented patron/client relationship between Yasuhiro and Toyama, the likelihood of it not being for Toyama is probably on a par with any named individual winning the Lottery.

What was the great favour occasioning such a gift? Well, it is highly likely that Toyama, as the future Yasuhiro's patron, played a role in his appointment to Yasukuni. Toyama's contacts with Araki are documented; the Foreign Minister, Koki Hirota, was Toyama's favourite protege and contact between them was maintained. Hirota worked closely with Araki. In addition, Toyama seems to have had open access to government ministers whenever he wanted (Yoshida 1923, 888).

Toyama was thus uniquely placed to advise Araki on a suitable candidate. Araki would have been more than predisposed to listen to Toyama's opinions, both out of respect for his position and in acknowledgement of Toyama's breadth of knowledge on the subject. Indeed, Araki may have sought Toyama's advice. Such a conversation would have been in keeping with the very traditional pattern of deciding things through private, behind-the-scenes, conversations. It was the way that Japanese society worked at the time (see Kennedy’s Diaries for 6 December 1930) and, to a certain extent, still does (see the discussion of the role of kuromaku in modern Japanese society here). This was not a society that would advertise the position in the national papers and ask for CVs. Who you knew was important.

The circumstances of Yasuhiro's appointment to the Yasukuni Tanren Kai suggest that this was what happened. In 1933 Miyaguchi Shigeru was 35-36. He was talented, but nowhere near as well-known as many other smiths, including his teacher. Despite this, he was summoned by the War Minister, Araki, given the smith name Yasuhiro and put in charge of what the Japanese government of the day regarded as a highly important project. It was the plum job of 1930s Japanese swordsmithing, the sort of job that many other smiths would have given their eye teeth for. The appointment to the Yasukuni forge really marks the point at which the young smith's career takes off. His subsequent appointment to the Okura Tanrensho Dojo came as the result of his work at the Yasukuni Tanren Kai.

The only thing that really marks out the future Yasuhiro from other potential candidates are his connections and the connections of his teacher. He was a talented smith who knew the right people i.e. Toyama. However, there is nothing particularly unusual about this; other contemporary Japanese also benefited greatly from Toyama's patronage.

One could therefore deduce that this sword would have been made very early in Yasuhiro's career at Yasukuni, and probably soon after he was appointed. There is a high probability that it may well have been the first sword that he made at Yasukuni. After all, one does not delay saying “Thank you” to an extremely powerful man who has just got you the job of your dreams.

There would have been plenty of time to make such a sword; after all, Yasuhiro could make 3-4 swords a week. Further, when the Yasukuni Tanren Kai was founded in 1933, it spent the first six months with just two smiths; Yasuhiro and Yasutoku. Their job was to set things up. The rest of the personnel, and thus sword production, came later.

Yasuhiro left the Yasukuni shrine on 20 December Showa 11 (1936) when he was recruited as chief instructor and sensei of sword making at the Okura Tanrensho Dojo. This dojo was founded by danshaku (baron) Okura Kihachiro. This marks the end of his period smithing as Yasuhiro; his Okura Tanrensho swords are signed Ikkansai Kunimori.

He was was accompanied in this move by Sakai Shigemasa and Kakizawa Sadayoshi. Although his Okura Tanrensho swords are inferior to his Yasukuni swords he was, during this period, ranked Saijo Saku (roughly "top quality" or "the best") by Kurihara Hikosaburo (Akihide) in 1942. Akihide was another close colleague of Toyama's. He remained at the Okura Tanrensho Dojo until 1945.

When sword making started again in 1954, he obtained a license to make swords. His skill in swordmaking, along with his skill in horimono and gold inlay work are still considered superb. Some of his most significant works included a sword for the Showa Emperor (as Hirohito is correctly called); a sword donated to the festival commemorating the 700th anniversary of the retired Emperor Gotoba; a tachi for the Ise Shrine; and a tachi for the Yasukuni shrine.

Toshihiro/Yasuhiro died in 1956 at the age of 59.


Hawley YAS-1038

Toko Taikan TK-701

Nihonto Meikan NMK-1088

Slough p. 182

Kishida T & Mishina K (2004), The Yasukuni Swords: Rare Weapons of Japan, 1933-1945, Kodansha International.

Kennedy Capt. M D The Diaries of Captain Malcolm Duncan Kennedy 1917-1946

Kim Dr J (1999-2007) The World of Yasukuni-to

Ricecracker.com (2005), Koto Katana - Shigetsugu

Pranin S (1974-2009), Kobukan Dojo Era (Part 1). About Morihei Ueshiba, but also documenting his links with Toyama Mitsuru via Onisaburo Deguchi.

Pranin S (1974-2009), Kobukan Dojo Era (Part 2)

Sterngold J (7 June 1991), A Japanese-style 'Old Boy' Network, The New York Times.

Time Magazine, Nov 24 1924, The Unknown Patriot

Time Magazine, Sep 25 1933, Weary Count

Time Magazine, Dec 17 1934, Niceties of assassination

Time Magazine, Jan 6 1941, Super patriots in the saddle

Token Society of Great Britain (2009), The Yoshihara Tradition for a photo of Toyama with Shigetsugu.

Yoshida T (10 February 1923), Japan's Silent Mussolini, Japan Advertiser. A contemporary Japanese view of Toyama to balance up the pro-American view of Time magazine. The truth is somewhere in the middle.