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Tenka Sansaku: The Three Great Swords Beloved by Hideyoshi – Yoshimitsu, Masamune and Yoshihiro

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Hitotachi Blog

Tenka Sansaku: The Three Great Swords Beloved by Hideyoshi – Yoshimitsu, Masamune and Yoshihiro

Published: Thursday, 11 May 2017

Tōshirō (Awataguchi Yoshimitsu), Masamune, Gō no Yoshihiro… Many people have surely heard of at least one of these names, sword makers who are referred to as the Tenka Sansaku (the “Three Great Masters Under Heaven”).

These names have been introduced in many Japanese anime and games, as makers of great swords who are talked about even to this day. The regions in which these swords were made also differed between swordsmiths: for Yoshimitsu it was Kyoto, for Masamune it was Kamakura, and for Yoshihiro it was Ecchū (present-day Toyama Prefecture).

The first time that the three great sword makers who made these swords were treated clearly as being in a different class from other swordsmiths was in a book referred to as the Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō. Until then, there were no sword books introducing the Sansaku.

When, then, did the Tenka Sansaku first appear? A memo shedding some light on the answer to this question (called the Kōetsu Tōken Meibutsu Ki) was introduced in an article published in the April and May 1971 issues of Tōken Bijutsu (“Sword Art”) by the sword researcher Dr. Honma Kunzan.
It is thought to have been written by the craftsman Hon’ami Kōetsu, and was being kept as a family treasure by the Kaga Hon’ami family.

The three sword makers are listed at the end of the memo in the order Yoshihiro 15, Masamune 42, Yoshimitsu 25. This bears a striking resemblance to their listing in the Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō as Yoshihiro 11, Masamune 41, Yoshimitsu 16. If the memo was written by Hon’ami Kōetsu, that could mean that the original form of the Sansaku existed at that time.

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