This is a lacquer replica of a blade for a thirteenth-century dagger (tanto) by Toshiro Yoshimitsu. It is made as one piece together with a black-lacquer mounting with design of reeds (ashi). The design gives the work its title, "Yoshimitsu going to the plain of reeds."
Yoshimitsu was a smith of the Awataguchi school in Kyoto. The known blades by him are all daggers, except for a single sword that was once owned by Hideyoshi. In Kyoho meibutsu cho (Catalogue of famous things, compiled in the Kyoho era), an eighteenth-century catalogue of Japan's finest swords and swordsmiths, Yoshimitsu is ranked as one of the three best smiths of all time. Yoshimitsu's blade is known as "Hirano Toshiro" because it was owned by Hirano, a merchant in Settsu (Osaka). Hirano passed it on to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. It subsequently passed through the hands of Maeda Toshinaga (Lord of Kaga from 1599 to 1605); the second Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Hidetada (ruled from 1605 to 1623); Maeda Toshimitsu; and, finally, Emperor Meiji.
Atarashi Yoshitaka, the lacquer artist, was born in Tokorozawa in Saitama Prefecture. His father, Ichiro, was a sword expert and his brother, Mitsutada, was a lacquer artist. Yoshitaka studied drawing with Tateishi Tetsuomi (1905-1980), a Western-style painter, and basic lacquer techniques under his brother. He began his career by making lacquer objects for use in tea practice. Later, he was inspired by the beauty of metalwork, and he began making cars, airplanes and guns in lacquer. He was the first to attempt this feat.
In 1997, he began making lacquer swords, copying classic examples of the Heian and Kamakura periods that have been designated National Treasures, Important Cultural Properties, or Gyobutsu (works formerly in the collection of the imperial family). Each piece is numbered, beginning with the number 101, and each is unique. The works replicate exactly not only the shape of the blades but the pattern of tempering and the tang. When setting out to make a replica, the artist first sketched the original blade many, many times and tried to reproduce not only the appearance but the process of manufacture of the blade, the way in which heated iron is continuously hit, expanded and folded. He builds up his blades from numerous extremely thin layers of lacquer. To obtain maximum verisimilitude, his replicas are lacquered with silver powder and then polished. Blade and display mounting are one object. Looking at the finished work, you may be tempted to pick up and hold the blade.