The ^Emperor Go-Toba forging a sword
ca. 1840 (made)
Woodblock print: The Emperor Go-Toba participating in the forging of a sword. From the series 'Hyakunin Isshu' by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Japan, ca.1840.
Woodblock print from the series 'Hyakunin Isshu' (The Hundred Poets), showing the Emperor Go-Toba participating in the forging of a sword. In the relatively humble surroundings of the forge with its cracked mud walls, the emperor, in full court robes, beats out the sunobe for a new blade.
Emperor Go-Toba, in full court robes, beats out the rudimentary form (sunobe) of a new sword blade in the humble surroundings of a forge with cracked mud walls. This woodblock print of about 1840 is from the series ‘Hyakunin Isshu’ by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. In 1221, the cloistered Emperor Go-Toba attempted to overthrow the new military government but was defeated and sent into exile on the island of Oki. From this position he was able to concentrate on his great love of swords, their manufacture and history. From his exile he summoned eminent swordsmiths, together with the necessary professional sword polishers, to visit him on Oki for a fixed period during the year. He gave them the title Goban Kaji – ‘Smiths in attendance to the Emperor’. In return for the imperial patronage, the smiths taught the emperor the many techniques of the established five schools (Gokaden) of sword manufacture, particularly those of Bizen and Yamashiro. It is believed that Go-Toba was actually involved in at least the process of hardening the blades (yaki-ire) but the precise extent of his involvement in any of the more arduous tasks of forging the blades is not known. It was regarded as a great honour to work with the emperor, and blades produced by Go-Toba and his attendant smiths are not signed, but bear the 24-leaf imperial chrysanthemum crest on the hilt (nakago). With this previously unheard of patronage, the Japanese sword gained even more status as an art object during a period when its prime function, in the bloody and violent state of the country at that time, was as a killing instrument.
Location: In Storage