Sword ID 0000-0578  
源信國 貞光 信清 信貞 貞次
minamoto nobukuni sadamitsu nobukiyo nobusada sadatsugu
kōō 2 nen 3 gatsu hi
Type Ken Tsukurikomi
Nagasa (cm) 68.18 Sori (cm)
Moto-haba (cm) Saki-haba (cm)
Moto-kasane (cm) Saki-kasane (cm)
Mekugi 1 Nakago Ubu


Smith Nobukuni School Yamashiro Nobukuni
Period Nanbokuchō (1336-1394) Year 1390
References[?] NMK-715-2
Location Kumano Hayatama Jinja 熊野速玉大社
Certificate Type Certificate ID  


I've seen this sword mentioned a number of times in Nihonto Meikan as an example of joint work of Nobukuni smiths: Nobukuni (Sandai?), Sadamitsu, Nobukiyo, Nobusada, Sadatsugu. Meikan also says that the signature style is similar to Shikubu Nobukuni/Nobusada. The sword was referred to as 金銀装飾鳥頸剣.

One day I looked up this reference again and decided to search for more information. Search for swords in Kumano Hayatama Shrine revealed few references to 'Phoenix head' tachi (金銀装鳥頸太刀 - kin gin sō torikubi no tachi, take a note it's the same name as in the Meikan). See the photos here and the related links in the Links section above. Two sets of koshirae are still there in the Shrine, but the blades are missing. One blade was apparently lost in Meiji, 6 (1873, no details in regards to the way it was lost given), while the other one was confiscated by the US Occupation Forces on January 17th, Showa 21 (1946). The length of the blade was 2 shaku 2 bu 5 sun. The sources don't mention the long mei with Nobukuni clan smith names but just the date (応永三十二二年二月日) and that the sword was made by Nobukuni group. As you may see from the photos, the koshirae are perfectly straight, as if made for ken.

Reference to the confiscated blade gave me another clue to follow. Albert Yamanaka's 'Missing Kokuho' article has been the main source of information for any famous 'lost' swords. And indeed, this sword was mentioned there! Items 3, 4 and 5 in Yamanaka's article are as follows:

Item 3
Inscription: MASATSUNE 正恒
Particulars: On January 17, 1946, 1st Lieutenant Ward H Maris (phonetic) of the 390th Infantry Regiment of the 98th Division, on visiting the Kumano Hayatama Shrine of Shingu Shi, Shingu Machi, Wakayama Prefecture 1 ‘removed’ this blade with 3 others from the shrine. Note: This blade was presented to the Shrine by the 8th Tokugawa Shogun Yoshimune (1683-1751) and it is known to be AOE MASATSUNE

Item 4
Category: KOKUHO
Designated: December 28, 1897
Type: TACHI in archaic mounting with phoenix bird head at the KASHIRA of the TSUKA. Two blades are in this ‘lot’.
Length: 26 7/8 inches - 2 Shaku 2 Sun 5 Bu
Particulars: These two blades were "sacred" items of the Kumano Hayatama Shrine. It was included in the lot which Lieut. Maris removed (Item 3).

Item 5
Category: KOKUHO
Designated: April 13, 1913
Type: TACHI in archaic style mounting with phoenix bird head at the KASHIRA of the TSUKA.
Length: 29 5/8 inches - 2 Shaku 4 Sun 8 Bu
Inscription: Unsigned
Particulars: The blade comes from the Niu Shrine of Kawahara Mura, Naka Gun, Wakayama Prefecture. The blade was 'removed' from the shrine by Lieut. Maris, same person as that mentioned in Item 3 and 4.

This is interesting. We'll get back to Aoe Masatsune later, but for the moment let's have a look and 'Phoenix head' mounting.

First of all, item 5 looks like some sort of mistake. Those 'Phoenix head' mounts look quite unique. How probable is it for the same person, Lieut. Maris, to confiscate swords with the same unique design from 2 different shrines? It may well be the case that it's just a filing mistake and item 5 is unrelated to the other lot.

Description of Item 4 matches the text from the link above. Few things aren't clear:

  1. Item 4 mentions two swords. What was the second one?
  2. If the swords were confiscated together with koshirae, how did koshirae end up back in the Shrine, while the blade(s) went missing? Were gold-plated mounts left behind with just the blades taken away?
  3. As there were two straight swords, which one (if any) was bearing the 'long' signature - lost blade from Meiji era or the one handed over to Lieut. Maris?

More information is required.

Link to Aoe Masatsune

These is a continuation to this story. Jim Kurrasch in his Important Missing Nihonto article leaves a note about Aoe Masatsune sword which was confiscated together with the 'Phoenix head' swords:

Jim Kurrasch wrote:

There is a fairly happy ending to this part of the story, and that is Sensei Yumoto found this sword, and Endo San bought it back for the Shrine in the early 1980's.
I was lucky enough to be one of the persons who was with Endo San and Sensei Yumoto on October 30th, 1985 when they visited this sword at the Shrine.

Then he repeats what we already know about the missing swords from Yamanaka's Newsletter:

Jim Kurrasch wrote:

The sadder part of this story is that the other swords taken at the same time apparently are still missing. The 1st was a 2 shaku, 2 sun, 5 bu - 26 7/8 inch tachi in archaic 'Phoenix Head' mounts (birds head tachi). It was designated Kokuhō on December 28th 1897. This tachi was considered a sacred item by the Shrine. This was Nihontō Newsletter's missing Kokuhō # 4.

A second similar tachi was also taken from the Niu Shrine of Kawahara Mura, Naka Gun, Wakayama Prefecture by 1st Lieutenant Maris. It was designated Kokuhō on April 13th, 1913. It was 2 shaku, 4 sun, 8 bu - 29 5/8th inches long, and mounted as a 'Phoenix Head' Tachi, in archaic mounts.

This means that at least in 1985 the swords were still missing.

Sensei Yumoto may have known more about the fate of these swords. Maybe he mentioned it in his Scrapbook?

Regarding 1st Lieutenant Ward H. Maris

I tried my luck again in hope of finding something about the officer who took the swords from the Shrine.

Quick search renders at least two officers called Ward H. Maris. General Ward H. Maris and his son, Ward Maris Jr. General Maris was too senior to have a rank of 1st Lieutenant during WWII. There is no proof it's the same person as mentioned in the sword confiscation documents, but records reveal a sad story about Lieut. Ward H. Maris Junior:

Union City Times-Gazette, Friday, July 5, 1946 wrote:

Brother-In-Law Is Dead From Injuries.

Mrs. James Maris of 302 ? North Columbia street, Union City, has received word from her mother-in-law, Mrs. Ward Maris, Sr., of Pasadena, Calif., that her son, Lt Ward H. Maris, Jr., died in Japan Wednesday morning as a result of a fire which destroyed his barracks. Lt. Maris and the other officers in the barracks were unable to escape the fire.

General Ward Maris, Sr. was visiting the son at the time and rushed to his assistance but it was impossible to get into the building. No other details were disclosed.

Source: Union City Obituaries