Musashi Taro Yasukuni (武蔵太郎安国) was a Japanese swordsmith who lived between 1650-1730. Born in Shimohara, Musashi province. His real name was Yamamoto Tōta (山本藤太). He was the son of Kinzaemon Yamamoto (Shimohara) Hiroshige. His nickname is Tota. Originally from the Shitahara school of Musashi province and signing Hiroshige (広重), he later moved to Edo to study under Ōmura Kaboku (大村加卜).1
Ōmura Kaboku was quite a character. He was a physician who studied both Chinese and Western medicine. He was also an intellectual and jiu-jitsu master who made swords as a hobby but reached a very high skill. He first worked for Mitsunaga of the Echigo Takata Matsudaira family but became a ronin when the family was disbanded over a power dispute. He befriended Zhu Shunsui, a Chinese Ming official in exile. Both were employed by Mito-daimyō Tokugawa Mitsukuni in 1685. Zhu Shunsui as a scholar working on the Dai Nihon Shi and Kaboku as a physician, companion, and swordsmith.
He liked to run around naked and, in one instance, is known to have defecated in the streets, in full view, in protest of noisy passers-by. But because of his connection to Mitsukuni, he was untouchable. As a swordsmith, he was enamored by the Dojigiri which he said he saw often, and worked in Bizen and Soshu styles. He studied many Koto works and wrote Kento Hiho (劍刀秘宝); Secret Treasures of The Sword. In the preface, he remarks that only four swordsmiths understood the true secrets of making a masterpiece; Ko-Hoki Yasutsuna, Kamakura Ichimonji Sukezane, O-Sa, and... himself!
His end was as remarkable as his life. In January 1699, he retired from his service to the Mito lord. Five years later he was standing in his garden, again naked, when an assassin showed up, possibly sent by one of the many people he insulted throughout his life. Kaboku parried the sword blow with his left arm, but his hand was severed in the process. He closed in on his assassin and thrust his hand into his mouth and smothered him with it. He then went inside and took his own life with a dagger.2
Back to Yasukuni
So he studied under Kaboku in Edo, and changed his name to Yasukuni possibly taking the Yasu kanji from Ko-Hoki smith Yasutsuna whom Kaboku adored. In 1685 when Yasukuni was 35 years of age, both him and Kaboku came to work for Mito-daimyō Tokugawa Mitsukuni, grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu. (The founder and first shōgun of the Tokugawa Shogunate.)
Mitsukuni ordered a sword from Yasukuni, and invited him to reside at Hitachi ́s Kyōtoku-ji temple to make it. In 1721, the 8th Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune, ordered Yasukuni to participate in the sword-forging exhibition in the lord’s residence in Edo. He later went to work in the Edo shogunate residence Hama-goten, and later still for the bakufu-retainer Togawa Michitomi (戸川逵富).3
According to the Nihon to Zuikan, Yasukuni, at some point, lost his right arm, and his master Kaboku helped him forge swords after the fact.4 This must have been before 1699 when Kaboku resigned from service.
He was the teacher of Musashimaru Yoshiteru (武蔵丸吉英), who became one of the teachers of Suishinshi Masahide (水心子正秀) who developed himself as a grandmaster swordsmith, considered the founder of Shinshintō sword making, hailing in a revival of "golden age" Heian and Kamakura period styles of sword making. Masahide is saijō-saku rated.5
Yasukuni passed away in 1730 at the age of 81. At least four generations followed, the last one working in the Meiji period (1868-1912). Their work is similar to the first generation, but of lesser quality. From the 2nd or 3rd generation the character for kuni 國 was written in a more simplified form.6
In popular culture
In the serial novel Dai-bosatsu Tōge by Kaizan Nakazato, the favorite sword of the main character is made by Musashi Taro Yasukuni. It was made into a black and white film in 1957. The novel was written between 1913 and 1941 and consists of 41 volumes.
Special steel constructions
Yasukuni often inscribed details on the construction of his sword on the tang. They include:
Shin jūgomai kōbuse (真十五枚甲伏鍛え) or "true 15 folded kōbuse forging".
Shin jōtan sanjū orikaeshi saku (真上鍛三拾折返之作) or “forged with high-quality 30-times folded steel”.
Shin maruku-gitae kore o saku (真丸鍛作之) “forged in the maruku-gitae technique”.
Nanban- tetsu o motte (以南蛮鉄) "using southern barbarian steel".
The shin jūgomai kōbuse was a technique that was passed down from Kaboku all the way to Suishinshi Masahide. For more information, see my glossary article: shin jūgomai kōbuse.
A nakago inscribed with:
Musashi Taro Yasukuni
shin jūgomai kōbuse saku
"Made by Musashi Taro Yasukuni
in real 15-layer kobuse"
Mandarin Mansion inventory 2022.
A very versatile smith who produced various different styles. The sugata of some of his swords follows old Kotō styles he and Kaboku loved to study, with shallow curvature and strong tapering in width from base to tip. In a way, he was a predecessor of the Shinshinto revival of Koto style.
His jigane tends to be hard with a hada exhibiting itame with some masame. Gassan-style ayasugi hada is also seen on occasion. He worked in several styles, some tending towards old Bizen styles with a gunome-chōji hamon in nioi-deki and other times more Sōshū inspired style with gunome mixed with ō-midare in nie-deki with ara-nie and nie-kuzure. His blades often exhibit an old early Koto-style mizukage-like utsuri. The boshi is often with wide temperline or fully tempered.
His works are rated jo-saku "superior" by Fujishiro.
1. Markus Sesko; Swordsmiths of Japan. Lulu Publishing. 2014.
2. Read the whole remarkable story by Thomas Helm; Mito Swordsmiths. 2010.
3. Markus Sesko; Swordsmiths of Japan. Lulu Publishing. 2014.
4. Kataoka; Nihon to Zuikan. Shinto. 1977. Page 484.
5. Markus Sesko; Swordsmiths of Japan. Lulu Publishing. 2014.
6. Kataoka; Nihon to Zuikan. Shinto. 1977. Pages 484-485.