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Sakyōnosuke Yasumitsu (Yasumitsu II) (active 1421-44)

Court-style sword (kazaridachi) and scabbard blade, 1421-44; mounts, 1750-1850

Steel, lacquered wood, shakudō, gold, turquoise, enamel, ray skin, leather | 12.8 cm (Width) x 5.0 cm (Depth); 93.8 cm (Length) (whole object) | RCIN 62628

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  • Elaborately mounted swords of this kind were worn from the tenth century until the late nineteenth. They were purely ceremonial, rather than being used in combat, and were carried by imperial courtiers and high-ranking samurai. The lacquer decoration of the scabbard includes numerous instances of the Tokugawa family crest – three leaves of the aoi (wild ginger) plant, often erroneously referred to as ‘hollyhock’ leaves. The use of aoi continues into the superb shakudō openwork metal fittings which are also decorated with engraved scrolling Chinese grasses (karakusa) and gold lotuses in relief. The hilt is of the finest ray skin and has gold fittings in the form of auspicious rice-bales.

    The Tokugawa crest is testament to the links between the ruling Tokugawa family and that of the Matsudaira clan, the traditional rulers of the Takamatsu domain (now Kagawa Prefecture). The fine sword was very likely a Matsudaira family heirloom and so deemed a worthy gift for so important a guest as the Prince of Wales. During the prince’s visit in May 1922, Count Matsudaira gave a banquet in his honour which was said to have taken 300 people over a week to prepare. A Nō play was performed, followed by a dance by twelve geisha wearing ‘silk kimonos especially woven for the occasion, in which Union Jacks and the Rising Sun were intermingled’. On his return to Britain, the prince in turn presented this superb sword to his father, King George V.

    The steel blade is signed Yasumitsu (Sakyōnosuke Yasumitsu, known as Yasumitsu II) of Bizen Province in western Japan. His father, Uemonnojō Yasumitsu, was one of the most renowned smiths of the Bizen school. The tang (nakago) has several holes, indicating that it has been remounted several times. The present lacquer and metal mounts probably date to about 1750–1850.

    Text adapted from Japan: Courts and Culture (2020)

    Provenance

    Presented to King Edward VIII when Prince of Wales by Count Matsudaira of Takamatsu, Inland Sea, and by him to King George V, 1922 (no. 2440).

    First recorded in the North Corridor Inventory at Windsor Castle.

  • Medium and techniques

    Steel, lacquered wood, shakudō, gold, turquoise, enamel, ray skin, leather

    Measurements

    12.8 cm (Width) x 5.0 cm (Depth); 93.8 cm (Length) (whole object)

    91.0 cm (length)

    66.0 cm (blade length)

  • Place of Production

    Japan