Japan. Steel, wood, lacquer.
Private collection, Italy
Nara in the province of Yamato was the ancient capital of Japan and it became an important centre for the production of armour after the Imperial Court moved to Kyoto. The name Kanabō derives from the fact that the maker of the group who made these spearheads worked at Kanabō tsuji or ‘Kanabō crossroads’ in Nara. Their origins were otherwise rather obscure, but are thought to have descended from the Tegai or Senjuin groups who produced swords for the Imperial court. The Kanabō began working in Nara during the Muromachi period (1337-1573) and continued until the Edo period. There were a considerable number of smiths in the group, all of whom used either 正 or 政 as the first character of their names, both being pronounced Masa-. Two smiths used the name Masatsugu but signed their swords with different signatures. The first of these smiths worked between 1532-1555, the other around 1555-1586 and appears to have been his son. It is not possible to say which of these smiths made these blades.
The blades are of hira sankaku shape broadening towards the point and cut with a single, red lacquered, straight groove in the base (bo bi). The grain of the blade is a well-forged, tight itame, the hamon being sugu ba (straight) with ko nie, sunagashi and other activity in the yakiba and at the point. Such weapons made in the Yamato province are renowned for their elegant forging.
The tang is signed:
南都住金房兵衛尉政次 Nantō ju Kanabō Hyobejō Masatsugu.
- Kanabō Hyobejō Masatsugu living in Nara (made this).
The first blade is marked just below the shoulder of the blade is the number two, 二, whilst towards the end of the tang are five small notches that were probably added by the shaft maker to match the blade to its shaft.
The second blade is similar in all respects to the first except that it is marked on the reverse side of the tang with the number 12 ,十二 ,preceded by an indecipherable mark that might represent, dai 第, indicating the number is an ordinal. Like the first blade, the tang is cut with a series of small notches along one edge near the base; in this case 12 of them matching the blade number. The presence of the number 12 on this blade indicates that the two yari once formed part of a number of identical weapons. Such sets were produced for the bodyguards of daimyo and other important officials. The blades are accompanied by their original scabbards in textured red lacquer.
Size: Length of blade 68.6 cm / 27”, Length of tang 75 cm / 29 ½”, with two holes at 20 cm / 7 7/8” and 28”