Experts confirmed the authenticity of a famous sword that had been missing since it was presented by the Tokugawa family to the imperial family late in the Edo Period (1603-1867).
The Shimazu Masamune sword was a gift for the marriage of Princess Kazunomiya to Tokugawa Iemochi (1846-1866), the 14th shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
A collector of famous swords in Osaka donated what he said was the Shimazu Masamune sword to Kyoto National Museum last fiscal year. The man obtained the sword in 1969 from a member of the Konoe family, which has close ties to the imperial family. He said he made the donation because of his advanced age.
Experts said the sword should be considered a national treasure because it was crafted by Okazaki Masamune, one of Japan’s most outstanding swordsmiths who was active in the late Kamakura Period (1192-1333).
Many Masamune swords still in existence have been named national treasures or important cultural properties.
Kazunomiya was the eighth daughter of Emperor Ninko (1800-1846) and stepsister of Emperor Komei (1831-1867).
A volume published in 1919 about famous swords in Japan includes a passage about the Tokugawa family presenting the Shimazu Masamune along with gold coins to the imperial family when Kazunomiya married Iemochi.
Toshihiko Suekane, a curator at the Kyoto National Museum specializing in the history of Japanese metalwork, pointed to three factors that led to his conclusion that the sword was authentic.
The first is that the sword came from the Konoe family. The two other factors are related to entries in documents from the Edo Period about famous swords.
One document was compiled by the Honami family under the orders of Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684-1751), the eighth shogun. The Honami family handled the appraisal of famous swords at that time. The entry for the Shimazu Masamune sword listed it as 68.7 centimeters in length, matching the sword in question.
The other document was a catalog of swords that contained the designs made on the blades. The design for the Shimazu Masamune was very similar to the one on the sword being studied.
Taeko Watanabe, head of the Sano Art Museum in Mishima, Shizuoka Prefecture, and a researcher of swords, also said the uncovered sword was authentic.
“While the design on the blade is somewhat mild compared to other Masamune swords, it is still a fine work that transmits a sense of movement within a calm atmosphere when one observes it closely for a time,” Watanabe said. “Another very interesting fact is how the sword was passed on from the Tokugawa family to the imperial family and then to the Konoe family.”
The sword will be displayed in the second phase of the opening exhibition of the Heisei Chishinkan Wing at the Kyoto National Museum. The exhibition titled “Kyoto: Splendors of the Ancient Capital” begins on Sept. 13, with the second phase running from Oct. 15 until Nov. 16.