During World War II a swordsmith named Chounsai Emura (real name: Emura Shigetaro), originally from Tokushima in Shikoku, operated a swordmaking school on the grounds of the Okayama Prison. He made sword blades himself and also trained prisoners to make sword blades in support of the Japanese war effort. Emura san died in 1960. He made numerous very good blades which are now much sought after by collectors and students of the Japanese sword.
The following is an excert from an article from TOKEN SYNZU (Showa 55, Feb. 7, No. 213) as translated by Chris Bowen:
Yoshikawa Tsunetaro (father of the current NTHK head,
Yoshikawa Kentaro) wrote an article in the Token Synzu called "Nihonto to Kyo ni", which means roughly, "Swords and I". In this article, Yoshikawa sensei reminisces about his days as a polisher and official for the military's sword polishing office during the war years. In the
middle of the article, he mentions an Emura san, the head of a prison in Okayama. Yoshikawa states
that in his official capacity, he often travelled around the country to inspect and "looked in on" various
tanrenjo around the country. He mentions that his visit to this prison forge was perhaps the most touching of his trips. He states that Emura san signed blades "Emura" and sometimes "Emura Chounsai". He says that he made blades in the Bizen style with choji hamon. (3)
The article reads:
"Among my visits, the most memorable was a visit to a prison in Okayama. The head of the prison, Mr. Emura, while not a professional smith, made swords as a hobby. The swords made (by Emura) were polished within the prison by the prisoners. Blades were signed using his family name, "Emura", and also "Emura Chounsai". These blades were made with a nioi based shimatta choji in the Bizen tradition.
At first, before entering the facility, I wondered what type of person would be in this prison-I felt a bit of anxiety at the thought of these criminals. When the time came and I entered the prison, I witnessed the prisoners, large streams of sweat pouring from their brows as they worked, and I forgot my prior anxiety. I clearly remember the strenuous effort with which the prisoners toiled as they learned the craft of the sword." (3)
Kiyoshi Morita noted that Emura exhibited his swords at the 1st Gunto exhibition in 1943; these were signed as being from Doshu in Kochi prefecture (mei "F"), not from Bishu in Okayama (mei "H,K,M"). This would lead one to speculate that before 1940 Emura was in Takamatsu city in Kagawa prefecture in Shikoku. Around 1940 he was located in Okayama prefecture (Bishu-mei ("H,K,M")) as the head of the Okayama prison, then around 1943 he returned to Kochi prefecture (Doshu-mei "F"). Probably various mei were used as he was the head of Okayama prison and traveled considerably.(10)
There is at least one documented case of a Japanese Army General surrendering an Emura blade at the end of the Pacific Conflict. Lt-Gen.(Japanese 17th Army) Kanda Masatane's sword, an Emura made blade, was surrendered on September 16, 1945 in New Guinea to Brigadier Garret of the Australian 2nd Corp. The sword now resides in the Australian War Museum (cat. no. AWM20314). [This information was obtained from Fuller & Gregory "Japanese Military and Civil Swords and Dirks". (4)]
Emura blades have received Hozon origami from the NBTHK in Japan. Emura blades have also received Shinteisho and Kanteisho origami from the NTHK(3). This confirms that Emura blades are judged to be true gendaito.
It has been generally believed that Ichihara Nagamitsu and Chounsai Emura blades were the work of the same swordsmith. New evidence and translations by Chris Bowen and others confirms that they are different and unrelated swordsmiths, but this debate has been a tale of confusion.
Listed below are what are believed to be mei (signatures) of Emura swords
of which I have copies. I have shown only the mei rather than the entire oshigata to save bandwidth and
download time. For the same reason, I have not included date mei. The mei are not to the scale of
the nakago, they have been enlarged or reduced for readability. The oshigata of the mei
are shown below coded by letter.
- A. Chounsai Emura saku
- B. Emura saku (4)
- C. E
- D. Chounsai Emura saku (different carving from "A") (4)
- E. Emura saku (different "mura" character style from "A")
- F. (a) Ojite Tomioka Shi Motome (b) Doshu Chounsai Emura saku
(Made by Chounsai Emura of Doshu in accordance with the request of Mr. Tomioka)(5)
- G. Chounsai Emura saku (slightly different carving from "A") (7)
- H. Bishu Chounsai Emura kin saku (6)
- I. Chounsai Emura saku
("chou" and "e" characters much more curved than other mei)
- J. Chounsai Emura kitau kore (8) (Chounsai Emura forged this)
(very unusual style of mei for Emura)
- K. Bishu Chounsai Emura saku (9)
- L. Chounsai Emura saku
- M. Bishu Chounsai Emura saku
Besides my own collection, the above oshigata are courtesy of Malcolm Cox, Philip Wilsey, Gordon Bailey, Richard Fuller, Aoi Arts-Tokyo, Fred Weissberg, Gary Sawnick, Ron Polansky, Vic Diehl and David Browton.
Chounsai Emura worked in the Bizen tradition. The blades which he made
are rather robust blades but many are barely over the 2 shaku length to qualify as daito.
The hamon is generally in suguha or choji-midare (may be mixed with gunome-midare).
The hada can be itame (may tend toward mokume) or mixed itame - masame. At least until 1942, Emura personally did
the hardening (yaki-ire) of all the swords made at Okayama prison (10).
The oshigata below, supplied courtesy of Aoi-Art, Tokyo, shows the typical choji-midare hamon mixed with gunome-midare hamon used by Chounsai Emura.
It is known that many Emura signed blades were in fact made by his students, inmates at the Okayama Prison, and not by the master smith himself. Due to the variation in quality of Emura signed blades, each blade must be judged on its own merits and not simply on its mei.
Chounsai Emura blades are found mounted in both standard shingunto mounts and in late 1944 type (so-called Marine mounts). Some Emura blades have recently been mounted in shirasaya or buke' mounts by current collectors. Those in late 1944 mounts have saya which are generally quite dark brown with a slight bark finish to the saya lacquer as opposed to the light brown, metal saya commonly found on late '44 style gunto. The tsuka of the late '44 style is usually rough lacquered fiber ito over burlap. Many tsuka have two mekugi-ana (one or both may be screws). [caution - I have seen folks nearly destroy a tsuka trying to remove the blade not realizing there were two mekugi or screws.]
The following articles are available: (1) JSS/US Newlsetter August 1982; (2)JSS/US Newsletter Sept 1985; [NOTE: these two articles were written in the 1980's and consider Emura and Nagamitsu to be the same swordsmith. This is now known to be incorrect.] ; (3) TOKEN SYNZU, No.213, February 7, 1981; (5) JSS/US Newsletter September 1998.
Thanks to all who have contributed to the knowledge of Chounsai Emura. Special thanks to Philip Wilsey (1,2), Chris Bowen(3), Richard Fuller(4), Ron Gregory (4), Malcolm Cox, Gordon Bailey, Dic Marxen, Edward Harbulak (5), Mark Jones, Gary Sawnick(6), Fred Weissberg (7), David Browton (8), Ron Polansky (9), Kiyoshi Morita (10), Aoi Arts-Tokyo
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