Tensho Kanagushi KoshiraeTensho Kanagushi

periodLate Muromachi (ca. 1570)
designationNBTHK Juyo Tosogu Koshirae
length105.3 cm
saya length78.9 cm
saya sori3.2 cm
tsuka length26.1 cm
tsuka sori0.2 cm
price -sold-

The wars of the Muromachi period were extensive, lasting about a century, and concluding with the activities of three warlords which ultimately united Japan. These were Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, the latter two of which were retainers of the first.

Oda Nobunaga

Without destruction there is no creation. There is no change. Oda Nobunaga

Oda Nobunaga came from Owari and his rise to power started with a defensive action involving 3,000 of his men against the Imagawa and Matsudaira army of 25,000 in 1560. Through good use of strategy and a sneak attack, Nobunaga was victorious on the field. During this time a particular sandal-bearer of common birth was noticed by Nobunaga and eventually promoted due to his capabilities. This man was Toyotomi Hideyoshi and rose to a position of general. After this battle, Nobunaga made an alliance with the Matsudaira. In particular, with Matsudaira Motoyasu which was the original name of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Thus the three men who laid the groundwork for the future Japanese nation came together on this battlefield of Okehazama.

Nobunaga's armies were composed of soldiers bearing matchlock rifles on foot and this new tactic was superior to cavalry bearing bows and arrows. I had read previously that Nobunaga made a lot of use of the Mino swordsmiths and this is one reason why the Mino tradition proliferated in the mid to late 1500s and ended up spreading to castle towns where it became one of the primary sources for the Shinto tradition.

Nobunaga with his use of firearms was an iconoclast who thought ouside the box. He was open to and tolerated the spread of Christianity from Europe. Though the Ironclad warships of the US civil war made armored warships a worldwide phenomenon, Nobunaga had the idea in the 1500s to use iron plates to protect his ships. He opened up free markets and broke trade monopolies, unions and guilds. This stimulated the economies of provinces he controlled and allowed him the source income to engage in manufacture of bullets, artillery and gunpowder, and construction of roads and bridges. These civil engineering projects increased the mobility of his forces and are of course another economic stimulus, both in the building and in their effect in making inter-city and inter-province trade easier. He collected swords and art, in particular western art and is said to have worn western clothes at times. But mostly he had a ruthless streak, and slaughtered his enemies while showing no mercy.

Nobunaga's exploits are very long and can't be summarized here. Over the next 22 years he would sweep through Japan, conquering 20 provinces, defeating various daimyo and making alliances with others. It came to an end in 1582 when Nobunaga travelled to the Honno-ji in Kyoto for a tea ceremony, and one of his vassals, Akechi Mitsuhide betrayed him. Nobunaga was trapped in the temple where he was not at all prepared to defend himself, having no army or active bodyguard to speak of. The temple was set on fire and Nobunaga knowing that he was doomed, committed seppuku.

Tensho Kanagushi Koshirae Hideyoshi Japan

Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Fight only after creating conditions for victory. Toyotomi Hideyoshi

After Nobunaga's death the wars continued under his general Toyotomi Hideyoshi (at the time known as Hashiba Hideyoshi). Hideyoshi was a completely self made man, rising from a peasant under Oda Nobunaga to becoming his top general and eventually the leader of the allied forces Nobunaga had built.

He was a capable man, and is known to have used bribery to convert his enemy's vassals to his side before attacking, and was possibly the biggest driving force behind Nobunaga's successes. When Nobunaga was betrayed, Hideyoshi moved quickly by first making peace with the Mori with whom he was engaged, and then attacking and defeating Mitsuhide at the Battle of Yamazaki.

Though Nobunaga had left an heir in Oda Nobutaka, Hideyoshi cleverly supported a younger son Oda Hidenobu for succession. This allowed him to split the Oda into two factions, and install a younger and thus weaker clan head which of course he was able to dominate to his own benefit. This concluded in open warfare between the Oda's chief general Shibata Katsuie and Hideyoshi, and Hideyoshi ended up crushing him in the field. By breaking the Oda into component parts, and making alliances and destroying his enemies, Hideyoshi ended up in an uncontested position of power.

In 1585 Hideyoshi got himself declared as Kampaku, or Imperial Regent. He was not declared Shogun, nor was Nobunaga before him, and the Emperor created the clan name of Toyotomi for him (keeping in mind until this point, Hideyoshi was still a commoner).

From this point onward he would build Osaka castle, and gather up the remaining independent Japanese provinces of Kii, Shikoku, Etchu, and the island of Kyushu. He engaged in a sword hunt as well to disarm the populace and undermine the daimyo (this effectively terminated their ability to quickly raise local militias), and created the samurai class.

By 1590 the last remaining holdout was the Hojo clan in Odawara, and by defeating them Hideyoshi closed out the Sengoku Jidai and Japan was unified under a single ruler. Unfortunately for Hideyoshi his son and heir Tsurumatsu died in 1591. This lead to his eventual adoption of his nephew Hidetsugu who became the new Kampaku while Hideyoshi took on the title of Taiko in his retirement.

From here, things took a turn for the worse, as his health declined and having conquered Japan, he engaged in the fruitless task of making war overseas. Many times Japanese warlords had plans to subjugate Korea and China over the centuries, and all it did was cause misery and tears on all sides without any benefit provided in any way. Hideyoshi invaded Korea twice to no great result, and had another son at this time. The failures to succeed in Korea left the invasion of China as a bad idea for future generations of Japanese to try.

The birth of Hideyori made him banish his existing adopted son and command him to commit seppuku, along with his relatives. When the relatives resisted he simply had them all killed.

Hideyoshi finally died in 1598 and left behind a Council of Five Elders to take care of his young son Hideyori in his position of regent. This was to be the undoing of the short Toyotomi dynasty, as these elders were:

  1. Tokugawa Ieyasu
  2. Ukita Hideie
  3. Maeda Toshiie
  4. Uesugi Kagekatsu
  5. Kobayakawa Takakage. Takakage died in 1597 and his place was taken by Mori Terumoto.

These men all represented very powerful daimyo clans and were experienced in war from the battles of the Sengoku Jidai. As can be expected from such men, some of them had their own ambitions as well.


Tokugawa Ieyasu

The strong manly ones in life are those who understand the meaning of the word patience. Patience means restraining one's inclinations. There are seven emotions: joy, anger, anxiety, adoration, grief, fear, and hate, and if a man does not give way to these he can be called patient. I am not as strong as I might be, but I have long known and practiced patience. And if my descendants wish to be as I am, they must study patience. Tokugawa Ieyasu

Ieyasu held the greatest amount of power at this time among the Five Elders, and he set about using it to benefit his clan. Ieyasu also had been with Oda Nobunaga and Hideyoshi both during all of the wars and had gained a reputation for patience and good generalship. The rice production of Tokugawa held territory which had been carefully added to over all these decades was at this time an astounding 2.4 million koku (one koku can feed one man for one year). This was more than double the 1.2 million of Uesugi Kagekatsu who was the next most powerful daimyo at the time.

Ieyasu had a reputation as a careful man. He knew when to wait, and he knew when to strike. He knew the value of loyalty and he was loyal to his friends, to Nobunaga and he made sure to reward his retainers. He knew the danger of leaving an enemy with strength and made sure to cripple and destroy those he did not believe he could control. He knew when to show mercy and accept the apologies of those who resisted him, along with their new support. Of course, he was smart as well so he instituted policies that ensured that this converted loyalty stayed true.

Ieyasu waged his war first politically by marrying his children off to other significant warlords. The other Elders were aware of what he was doing and tried to head it off both by passing rules restricting these marriages and Kagekatsu on the sly began building forts and increasing the size of his military. When Maeda Toshiie died in 1597, Ieyasu took advantage of Kagekatsu's actions and Toshiie's absence to enter open conflict and attacked the Uesugi. Ishida Mitsunari rallied an alliance against Ieyasu and his supporters at this time, and the result ended in the Battle of Sekigahara.

Battle of Sekigahara
Battle of Sekigahara

The Tokugawa's 75,000 men were able to defeat the the alliance's Western Army of 120,000 men and lead to Ieyasu becoming Shogun, and redistributing the lands and power of those he defeated among those who were loyal to him. Some daimyo clans at this time ceased to exist, and others were severely and permanently damaged by Ieyasu. One of the samurai who is said to have been in this battle (on the losing side), was the ideal warrior Miyamoto Musashi who wrote the Book of Five Rings, which is still heavily read today.

Though Ieyasu had defeated this alliance against him, he did not specifically target the Toyotomi heir Hideyori who remained in Osaka Castle who still had support among many. Ieyasu invented a causus belli in Hideyori's construction of a temple. At this time Ieyasu worked from a position of retired Shogun, and his son Hidetada rode to Osaka as Shogun and laid siege to Osaka Castle. The Toyotomi fell along with the castle in 1615, and fires in the castle destroyed many of the best swords in Japan that had come to Hideyoshi from the wars and inheriting Nobunaga's power.

With the Toyotomi extinguished, there was nobody left to challenge the Tokugawa Shogunate and they would remain in power for centuries. Ieyasu never saw it though as he died the very next year.

Koshirae LeftKoshirae Right
Tensho Kanagushi Koshirae Tsuba

Juyo Tensho Kanagushi Koshirae

The wars of the Sengoku Jidai were vicious, featuring large armies, and firearms for the first time. There were wholesale slaughters under Nobunaga that were acts of terror in order to weaken resistance to his advancing forces. We see the reaction to this in tosogu of the time, which often feature flowers and simple, peaceful nature scenes. It is thought that this offered a counterpoint to the bleak reality of the decades of vicious war.

Also among the daimyo, gold tosogu with dragons and lions was also popular as these expressed raw power. These would be in the mitokoromono and be paired with simple iron tsuba. The kiri mon was also given to generals and in particular to Toyotomi Hideyoshi who used it as his family crest. So we see it in the position of topmost prominence in gold tosogu of this era.

Fancy tachi koshirae existed and were for use in the civil or court domain, while the daimyo favored uchigatana koshirae in the field. For soldiers who had to fight in the rain, walk in the mud, and be ready on a daily basis, it was possible to weatherproof leather by lacquering and a more rugged field koshirae was important as a reliable mount for a sword.

This koshirae has menuki made from yamagane (raw copper) and suaka (refined copper). The menuki are a dragon on one side and peony flowers on the other. This can be thought of as a reference to the sword that gives life and the sword that takes life, but is similar in layout to the shishi/peony themes that represent the king of beasts and the queen of plants. The tsuka is wrapped tightly in leather that was lacquered, to keep it waterproof and it remains long enough for a blade of about 75 cm, so it was not meant for the katate-uchi of the time. The tsuba is possibly a tosho tsuba, it is simple iron, round and made strictly for utility without any thought to adornment. It is for fighting and killing, only.

Mostly today what we see for koshirae are those from the Edo period, which reflected a society at peace and advancing artistic forms and goals. Also, they represent fashion, taste, and are meant to reflect social status and economic power. At the end of the Edo period, tosogu became fine art and in some cases basically were too good to even use.

If we can look at those tosogu and consider them three piece suits and tuxedos, then this koshirae represents combat fatigues. It was with koshirae like this that those battles and daimyo fought in the Sengoku Jidai.

The Tensho era of 1573 is usually used to describe the general form of these late Muromachi koshirae. This is the time at the height of the activity of Nobunaga and continued through to Hideyoshi's unification of Japan which introduced the Momoyama period. Nobunaga himself actually chose the era name:

1573 Tenshō gannen (天正元年): The new era name was created to mark a number of regional wars. The era name was inspired by a passage from the Chinese classic Laozi: Those who are at peace with nature bring all under Heaven into its correct pattern (清静者為天下正).

The era name Tenshō was suggested by Oda Nobunaga. The previous era ended and a new one commenced in Genki 4, the 28th day of the 7th month. Wikipedia

As this kind of koshirae was made for use, and was used and were superseded by artful koshirae in the Edo period, they are now quite rare. Saya and lacquer fall apart and so without careful custodianship it is very difficult to maintain a koshirae over centuries and in this case the koshirae is around 550 years old or more. There are only 65 Muromachi koshirae that have passed Juyo. 30 of these are tachi koshirae which are more likely to have seen light or no use and thus easier to preserve. The remaining 35 are split between 18 katana koshirae, and the remainder are wakizashi and tanto.

Of these 18 Juyo Muromachi katana koshirae, those meant for use show wear and damage of some sort, some missing their menuki, and some are from the Momoyama flat out with gold tosogu and not a fighting style. By my count there are a total of 11 field koshirae like this at Juyo.

The condition of this one is well preserved considering its use in war. It is a rare and wonderful thing for a collector to have, because it is a chance to have an example of how things were in the field. I am the first one to commit to and love highly refined, and blingy koshirae. I am going to put this koshirae side by side with the most fancy Tokuju daisho koshirae in existence on my website, and for a collector I think this kind of span of attention is very important to have. While we can be seduced by the high degrees of beauty and craftsmanship on the topmost constructed pieces for the Edo period nobility, we should also make sure to give time and thought to the elegance and hardiness of a koshirae that actually did the fighting to establish the society that followed and produced that high level art.

Given the rarity and integrity of a koshirae like this, it has passed Juyo very deservedly and can feature in any serious sword or tosogu collector's library of important reference items.

As a side note, this koshirae was exhibited at the Frasier Museum in Louisville for several months. Now you can add it to your own personal museum.

Tensho Kanagushi Koshirae OshigataTensho Kanagushi Koshirae Origami

Juyo Koshirae

Appointed on the 30th of October, 1997

Koshirae, Mumei


Hinshitsu-keijō: hilt wrapped katate-gangi-maki style with black-lacquered leather; omote-menuki depicting rain dragon, of yamagane, in katachibori, ura-menuki depicting peonies, of suaka, in katachiborii, lacquered black; fuchi of polished yamagane, in higata shape, lacquered black; tsuba in marugata, of iron, with tsuchime finish, undecorated, lacquered black, kaku-mimi ko-niku, no hitsu-ana; saya lacquered black


End of Muromachi to Momoyama period.


The hilt is wrapped katatemaki-style with leather and is lacquered black. The omote-menuki is of yamagane and depicts a rain dragon and the ura-menuki is of suaka and depicts peonies, both being interpreted in katachibori and lacquered black. The fuchi has a higata shape, of polished yamagane, and is black lacquered. The kashira is of black lacquered horn and the tsuba is in marugata, of iron with a tsuchime finish , and is apart from being lacquered black undecorated, featuring no hitsu-ana. The saya is lacquered black and has a small and simple kurigata. The kaerizuno is no longer extant and its gap was covered with bamboo.

This is a plain and entirely black-lacquered Tenshō-koshirae (天正拵) which is of a rather rough make. However, such mountings which were intended for actual use were typical for that time and are of a certain elegance. Especially the entirely black-lacquered hilt with its leather katatemaki wrapping is very tasteful.