A Tale of Confusion

Since the early 1980's there has been considerable interest in blades bearing the mei of Ichihara Ichiryushi Nagamitsu and Chounsai Emura. It had been believed that these smiths were the same person using different mei or at least that they were related in their work in some way. Others have felt that Nagamitsu and Emura are unrelated smiths. Much confusion has resulted when attempting to study these smiths. I feel that sufficient evidence has now been presented that Ichihara Nagamitsu and Chounsai Emura must be considered separate and unrelated swordsmiths.

I would speculate as to how the confusion between Ichihara Nagamitsu and Chounsai Emura began.

1. Hawley's Japanese Swordsmiths Revised (brown cover) published in 1981 incorrectly lists Nagamitsu (NAG296) as the warden of Okayama prison. No mention is made of Emura being related to Nagamitsu or as warden of Okayama. I do not know if this still persists in the newer editions.

2. An article in the JSSUS Newsletter (Aug. 1982) by Philip Wilsey has a translation (now known to be incorrect) of an article from Token Synzu (Japanese newspaper/Feb. Showa 55) that says "Nagamitsu Emura.....". I do not know if the article's author did this translation or whether it was from some other source. The error is that the correct translation (provided by Chris Bowen who accessed the original newspaper archives in Japan) is "Chounsai Emura...." as the warden of Okayama Prison. (see the Emura webpage for the full text) The problem arose, I think, because the same Kanji is used for both "naga" in Nagamitsu and "chou" in Chounsai. Mr. Wilsey concluded that they are the same smith using different signatures (mei).

3. Fuller and Gregory picked up this error and included it in their Swordsmiths of Japan 1926-1945 (pub 1983).

It was perhaps logical at the time to connect the two above (1 & 2) sources - Hawley lists Nagamitsu as warden of Okayama prison (incorrectly) and the JSSUS article is mistranslated as Nagamitsu Emura (rather than Chounsai Emura). Thus it is perhaps logical (but incorrect) that Emura and Nagamitsu were the same smith.

Unfortunately this combination of errors has been perpetuated in later articles in the JSSUS Newsletter and elsewhere. This web site originally had them as the same smith based on the above articles and information in Hawley as well as Fuller and Gregory's book until Chris Bowen pointed out the error based on his research. Ichihara Nagamitsu was a Rikugun Jumei Tosho (Army approved swordsmith), Emura was not. They originally resided in different locales; Nagamitsu in Okayama, Emura was originally from Tokushima in Shikoku and moved to Okayama to work at the prison there.

I suspect that if it were not for these combined errors, there would never be any connection between the two smiths - their various mei are totally different; their work is only vaguely similar in that they both worked in the Bizen tradition. I have spoken/mailed/emailed several collectors and togi in the US, Canada and Japan and most feel that they are in fact different smiths. No hard evidence has been presented to my knowledge relating the two smiths in any way.

In several correspondences with the NBTHK Japanese Sword Museum about Emura and Nagamitsu blades, there has never been a mention of any relationship between the two smiths. The NBTHK considers both to have made true gendaito and have awarded origami for blades by both Emura and Ichihara Nagamitsu.

It does need to be mentioned however, that both Emura and Nagamitsu had assistants and/or students also making swords in their workshops. The Token Synzu article states that Emura taught prisoners the craft of sword making. It is obvious that various Emura mei are carved by different hands. This is also true of Nagamitsu mei. It is likely that the assistants and/or students carved many of the mei for Emura and Nagamitsu. This would account for the vast number of blades bearing Nagamitsu and Emura mei and for the great variation in both the mei and in the quality of the blades by these smiths.

Thanks to the correct translation and research by Chris Bowen and the research of others, we can now better appreciate the works of these smiths for what they are - completely different swordsmiths working in Okayama in the war era. Hopefully there is yet more to be learned about these swordsmiths who worked during this tumultuous period.

I do want to especially thank Philip Wilsey for stimulating my continuing interest in Emura and Nagamitsu with his articles in the 1980's. I do not feel that early research on these smiths is to be faulted. New information is consistently being developed in the area of gendai swordsmiths. This is the way of research and should not be taken as criticism of any of the earlier publications on these swordsmiths.

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