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Swords as Gifts
Topic Started: Oct 8 2017, 08:55 PM (1,069 Views)
Toranosuke
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Tosa no kami
Swords were a prominent, significant, form of gifts between samurai (as well as between samurai and the Imperial Court, or courtier families; between tributaries and the Chinese Emperor, etc etc). In the Edo period, daimyo regularly (on seasonal and special occasions) gave heirloom swords as gifts to the shogun - swords by big-name historical smiths, and/or which had a prestigious provenance - and the shogun often gave such swords as gifts to the daimyo as well.

I've been reading some rather interesting stuff about swords as gifts, and am happy to share the citations:
*Morgan Pitelka, Spectacular Accumulation, U Hawaii Press
*Martha Chaiklin (ed.), Mediated by Gifts, Brill, 2017.
*Usami Kosumo 宇佐美 こすも , 「中世公家日記における『剣』『太刀』表記」, 日本歴史 (824), 139-146, 2017-01
*Asô Shin'ichi 麻生伸一, 「近世中後期の贈与儀礼にみる琉球と日本」、日本史研究 (578), 1-28, 2010-10
*Mori Yoshikazu 母利美和, 「武家儀礼と刀剣--江戸時代の刀剣贈答を中心に」、月刊文化財 (311), p30-37, 1989-08

But what I still have not found answers to is, was there a special significance to giving swords as gifts? I'm tempted to say there's something special about it, because of the way that historical documents (primary sources) about swords presented to the shogun by envoys from Ryukyu talk about the sword separately, specifically, apart from the rest of the gifts. Indeed, in the audience ritual itself, the envoys place a sword (or, actually, simply a piece of paper listing that a sword is being given as a gift) on a platter, placed between them and the shogun, and explicitly present the sword to the shogun as a separate element of the audience ritual by itself - while all the rest of the gifts are arranged on the veranda, are listed all together on another piece of paper, and are presented all together, at the end of the ritual.

So, what I'm getting at is, do you folks know of any scholarly published work, in English or Japanese, that talks about the distinctive and special meaning of sword gifts (esp. but not necessarily exclusively in the Edo period)? Thanks so much.
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Kurogami
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Toranosuke
Oct 8 2017, 08:55 PM
But what I still have not found answers to is, was there a special significance to giving swords as gifts? I'm tempted to say there's something special about it, because of the way that historical documents (primary sources) about swords presented to the shogun...
The first thing that comes to mind are the imperial treasures 三種の神器: sword, jewel, mirror. Chaiklin even uses the Amaterasu/Susano-o legend to introduce the gift-exchange ritual. And yet, a very cursory Google books search of the Pitelka and Chaiklin sources reveals plenty of swords with nary a single mention of mirrors or jewels/jade. ^o)

I found this unpublished draft of an essay, Gift Exchanges in Edo Castle, singling out swords as significant gifts, "Since the days of Ashikaga shoguns (1338-1573), there were occasionally ritualistic visits and exchanges of gifts of swords and other arms between a shogun and a vassal, by which the loyalty of the vassal to the shogun was symbolically confirmed." Perhaps the reference cited in the footnote contains some information, 元禄・京保の時代 (1992) 高埜 利彦?

The essay also mentions that by the late Edo period, the gift-giving ritual devolved into a " instead of a real sword, a stick of wood painted black as a short sword was placed on the salver or presentation table. Such ersatz objects were mass-produced strictly for ritual presentation purpose. What happened to these useless wooden swords afterward is anyone’s
guess. Evidently there were merchants who sold and bought back all these ritualistic pseudo-gifts." :blink:

Oh, and I suppose there is the katsujinken/Fudo Myou angle...
Edited by Kurogami, Nov 25 2017, 09:26 PM.
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Toranosuke
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Tosa no kami
Thanks so much for this. It's a start, for sure.

By the way, what's "katsujinken"? I feel like this is at least the second time I've come across it, but my Googling isn't bringing up anything other than anime references and the like...
上り口説 Nubui Kuduchi – Musings on the arts of Japan and beyond
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Kurogami
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Toranosuke
Nov 25 2017, 09:47 PM
Thanks so much for this. It's a start, for sure.

By the way, what's "katsujinken"? I feel like this is at least the second time I've come across it, but my Googling isn't bringing up anything other than anime references and the like...
活人剣 殺人剣 Katsujinken (life-affirming sword)/Satsujinken (life-taking sword), and yes, very pop culture these days. Or gendai budou. Oh gee, I can't remember where it comes from either. :ouch: I want to say it's a Zen Buddhist metaphor from Takuan Souhou 沢庵宗彭, maybe? Sorry, nor can I remember where I got the association of katsujinken with Fudo Myoo. I mean, he does wield a sword to cut through ignorance/attachments.

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J. L. Badgley
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The term "Katsujinken" at least goes back to the Yagyu Heiho Kadensho. I think in there it is Katsujinken and Satsujinto (活人剣 / 殺人刀), but I would need to look it up again.

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Kurogami
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J. L. Badgley
Nov 26 2017, 03:03 PM
The term "Katsujinken" at least goes back to the Yagyu Heiho Kadensho. I think in there it is Katsujinken and Satsujinto (活人剣 / 殺人刀), but I would need to look it up again.
Yes, thank you. Heihou Kadenshou 兵法家伝書、written by Yagyuu Munenori 柳生宗矩. He also describes mutou 無刀 (swordless sword). Oops, and thank you for correcting the term satsujintou (katana vs tsurugi).

Posted Image Illustration from Shinkage Ryuu Heihou Mokuroku no Koto 新陰流兵法目録事.
Posted Image The Rurouni Kenshin version.
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