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Japanese Swords: Cutting Edge

Unknown artist, Retired warrior of the Nabeshima clan


This portrait is of a retired samurai warrior of the Nabeshima family. Members of the samurai class sometimes became monks on retirement. The term 'samurai' applied to all members of the warrior class that rose to power in the twelfth century and dominated the Japanese government until 1868. The ideal samurai was supposed to be a determined warrior who held bravery, honour and personal loyalty above life itself. Ritual suicide was a respected alternative to dishonour or defeat.

The Nabeshima family ruled Hizen Province during the Edo period (1600-1868). They closely controlled technology and commerce within their domain, and manufacturing thrived there. Their wealth was based on several different industries, including the famous Nabeshima pottery. However they were also highly successful in the manufacture and export of swords.

The Nabeshima family retained the family of Hashimoto Shinzaemon Tadayoshi as swordsmiths throughout the Edo period. The first-generation Tadayoshi was sent by Nabeshima Katsushige to study in Kyoto under the swordsmith Umetada Myôju at the end of the sixteenth century. The Nabeshima family swords retained their individual character right up until the beginning of the Meiji regime in 1868. They are all made of fine and even steel, and the blades are well shaped with an elegant curve.

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