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Did Myochin Nobuie exist?

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  • Did Myochin Nobuie exist?

    For years I have been having difficulty over what I see as the problem of Nobuie. The accepted wisdom is that he was one of the most skilled and famous armourers of the early 16th century, producing 62 plate suji bachi that survive in considerable numbers. Sasama, in Shin Katchushi Meikan states that he was working in Eisho (1504 - 1521) and illustrates rubbings of a number of what are supposed to be his early signatures but acccepts that there are so many differences between them that 'we end up with several dozen different armourers'. Sasama also states that by the beginning of the Edo period Nobuie was listed as one of the 'sansaku' or three most famous makers with Yoshimichi and Takayoshi. There is a legend that Nobuie was originally called Ujiie who made two armours for Takeda Nobutora (1494 - 1574) which were a great success. He is later said to have made a helmet for Nobutora's son, Harunobu (Shingen) being granted the character 'Nobu' and changing his name to Nobuie. What mitigates against this is that he was using the name Nobuie before Shingen was born. In short, we have a considerable number of 62 plate suji bachi, bearing the name Nobuie in a variety of signature styles and that the maker of some at least was a smith originally called Ujie who was granted the character 'Nobu' by a member of the Takeda family, the most probable being Takeda Nobutora.

    Now let us look at the surviving pieces. I have already alluded to the fact that there are so many helmets signed 'Nobuie' by a variety of hands that many must be fakes or copies. Assuming he did exist and that he was famous in his lifetime, it is incredible that not one armour survives from the period in which he is supposed to have existed that incorporates one of his helmet bowls. Sasama illustrates numerous examples of rubbings of what are supposed to be helmets by 'The Nobuie' . Several have a date in Eisho 永正chiselled down the back plate and the name 'Myochin Nobuie' chiselled in the cramped space below where the backplate overlaps the koshimaki. It seems very odd that the emphasis is being placed on the date rather than the maker of the helmet. In another example where the date is inscribed, the two characters are separated by the bent over legs of the soft metal agemaki no kan fixed to the rear of the helmet, clearly indicating that the date was added later. In other cases the character ‘ei’, written high on the backplate is virtually unreadable and consistent with having been added in a place where using a hammer and chisel to cut is very difficult. All this suggests that these inscriptions have been added to unsigned helmets.

    The whole of the Myochin saga was first set down by Myochin Kunimichi and Munesuke writing in the mid 17th century. Prior to the Edo period they admitted themselves they were the makers of horse bits and used the name Masuda. In that genealogy they claimed all manner of armour makers were family members. Among these was Yoshimichi 義道who definitely did work around the middle of the 16th century and was probably the first armour maker to sign his work, but only with the two characters of his name. Contrast this with some of the signatures attributed to Nobuie who often included his address, clan name (Ki ) and other titles. What is indisputable is that the Myochin did became very famous and multiplied in numbers that suggest they formed what today we would describe as a franchise, allowing all manner of smiths to use the Myochin name.

    So in summary a vast number of suji bachi exist signed Nobuie, that are often dated and include other information, decades before other armourers did so. Many of these hachi are accepted as fakes and the style of signature is variable. Some show clear evidence that the signature and date has been added to an unsigned helmets. No helmet signed by Nobuie occurs in armours made and worn during the period he was said to have worked. It is the mid 17th century genealogy written by the Myochin themselves that makes claims about the superior quality of Nobuie’s work.

    I am now of the belief that there never was a Nobuie in the 16th century but that the whole saga was a Myochin ploy to enhance their reputation and make money by creating and selling either unsigned helmets that did have some age, or making helmets themselves they could sell at a high price on an unproven provenance.

    Ian Bottomley - UK

  • #2
    Intriguing Ian. What do the Japanese experts say about this? Do they have a modern day opinion? Thanks for starting this thread. Mark

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    • #3
      The Japanese are split on this matter - in fact there is such a gulf that the two sides will not talk to each other.

      I have now scanned images of the signatures showing how the name Nobuie is crammed in at the base below the date.
      Ian Bottomley - UK

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      • #5
        My experience from doing a lot of research on the subject of Japanese matchlocks, have made me very careful when it comes to accepting old records and boosted family traditions from the pre Edo period. Most of the time, as the case was with the Myochin, this was only a marketing trick in order to best the competition.

        Jan
        Jan - Sweden

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        • DaveT
          DaveT commented
          Editing a comment
          Agreed. The paperwork above is the original certificate issued by the myochin. At the time they were the boys and their armours were very desirable. In Japan you must have history, so in their case they invented it. Now you have to admit that their armours are tangible so someone made it. So I think as Nobuie as a brand. Also his kabuto are in many national museums.

        • Luc taelman
          Luc taelman commented
          Editing a comment
          Myochin Munemasa (宗政, 26th master) most probably made not a single armor. Only one menpo is known. He was known for this kind or 'attribution- papers'
          Last edited by Luc taelman; 08-28-2019, 08:42 AM.

      • #6
        well Ian, what a question. If you start talking about this among Japanese katchufreaks, it becomes quiet at once. Some turn pale white around the nose, others turn red. Nobuie, the 'ghost smith' according Orikasa.. Nobuie, the partycrasher in katchuland.
        The stronges argument against his existance is indeed that there are no surviving complete armors with sound provenance with a Nobuie kabuto on top.
        On the other hand, there exist (one or two, I have to check) signed and dated momoyama Yukinoshita with a Nobuie. thus way before Kunimichi.
        An important point in the study of Nobuie is the study of the different craftsmen that signed Nobuie. There are 2 interesting categories, that exell from the numerous gimei and atomei. These 2 smiths signed on the frontplate with their name and kao, the date on the backplate. I think only this 2 are eventually 'real' Nobuie.

        As a sidenote, the Yukinoshita loved it to put a sansaku kabuto on their armors.

        to be continued.
        Last edited by Luc taelman; 08-21-2019, 11:02 PM.
        Luc Taelman -

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        • #7
          I remember a member of our Swedish NBTHK-club once brought the helmet bowl of a 62-ken Koboshi kabuto to a meeting. The execution of the kobushi was really top-notch.
          It also came with a very nicely cut Nobuie signature. And it was dated. It don’t remember exactky what year, but it was very early 16th century.
          I also remember feeling bad for the guy cos he paid a lot of money for it, as my immediate reaction was ”gimei”.
          After that I read texts from both camps which left me confused

          Jan
          Jan - Sweden

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          • Luc taelman
            Luc taelman commented
            Editing a comment
            Jan, can you get pictures of thiskoboshi?

          • Jan Pettersson
            Jan Pettersson commented
            Editing a comment
            Yes, I think that would be possible. I will contact the owner and ask for some pictures.

          • Jan Pettersson
            Jan Pettersson commented
            Editing a comment
            I got hold of the owner and he will send over some pictures of his Nobuie shortly.

            Jan

        • #8
          https://ja.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/明珍信家

          J Wiki has an evolving page which goes into some detail on this, even offering suggested dates of birth and death, and the names of the 16th and 18th generations.
          Piers D - Japan / UK

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          • #9
            Interesting and intricate subject thanks detailed opinions !
            .
            (l like the Sendai armor Dave)
            ​​​​​​.
            Laurent

            Comment


            • #10
              Luc, Yes, the yukinoshita dou does raise a question about dates and so forth. From the information I have, the yukinoshita style was devised in Aizu by the Ashina clan, who called them hodoki dou. The smiths who made them seem to have moved from Yukinoshita in Kamakura with Ashina Naomori in 1379 and took the name of their original place of work. Obviously at that period they would have been making do-maru of kozane but during the Sengoku they started to make plate armours. Dave Thatcher has a type of yukinoshita dou that is the same shape as the more usual versions, but it is made like an okegawa dou of horizontal plates which I am sure is an early version. The all plate versions seem to have originated after the introduction of guns and the makers I have names for are Masaie, Hisaie, Masamune, Masazane and Naotsugu. I have no record of any who signed Nobuie. Date Masamune came across these dou when he invaded Aizu in 1589 and was so impressed by these dou he gathered all he could and kept two for himself and gave the rest to his senior retainers. From all this I deduce there may have been a yukinoshita smith called Nobuie but these dou are somewhat later than the supposed date of THE NOBUIE.
              Ian B.
              Ian Bottomley - UK

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              • #11
                Ian; this is the story (of course not in such detail) that a local ”expert” in Aizu also told me during my visit there in 2016. He was mighty proud over the fact that ”they” had made the best armour of the early modern era.
                Who was I to disagree with him

                Jan
                Jan - Sweden

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                • #12
                  Ian, I was referring to the fact that some known Yukinoshita dou are paired with a Nobuie kabuto. This Nobuie was not related with the Yukinoshita, they also used other sansaku kabuto. Gunma province, not so far from Aizu, and was the craddle of Nobuie (if he existed).
                  Last authum, I was invited by Nagata san and Hinoo san ,( who wrote several books about the history of the region.) for a visit of the Tohoku region, Aizu castle was on our road. We also saw the excavated yukinoshita from Date Masamune and Tadamune in the Zuihoden. Most likely both with a Yoshimichi or Takayoshi kabuto.
                  it is important to know that we are talking about Eastern armors and kabuto. Not to compare with what happened in Kansai.
                  some known Yukinoshita with a Nobuie kabuto:
                  Yukinoshita (Hisaie) saku (雪下(久家)作), undated, kabuto signed “Nobuie” (信家) (owned by the Tôji’in [等持院], Kyôto)
                  Yukinoshita Hisaie saku (雪下久家作), dated “on a lucky day of the ninth month of Keichô ten (1605), signed with the supplement “Hachiman Daibosatsu,” kabuto signed “Nobuie” (信家)
                  Yukinoshita Masaie saku (雪下政家作), dated “on a lucky day of the fifth month of Tenshô 18 (1590), signed with the supplement “Hachiman Daibosatsu,” kabuto signed “Nobuie” (信家)
                  Luc Taelman -

                  Comment


                  • DaveT
                    DaveT commented
                    Editing a comment
                    As above, you can see that my Yukinoshita is indeed paired to a Nobuie.

                  • Luc taelman
                    Luc taelman commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Indeed, but you can also find atomei Nobuie or Yoshimichi on these yuki’s. Not a shame, but interesting. I don’t know about yours, I forgot the signature.
                    The former owner of yours made the effort to ask Myochin Munemasa for papers. Munemasa was known for this (~1714-1773).
                    The Japanese Armor Society shinsa papers never confirm the authenticity of a mei.
                    Last edited by Luc taelman; 08-23-2019, 07:03 AM.

                • #13
                  About Ujiie, I know only one. It lacks the detais of a Nobuie so I think it is gimei. But... it is also on top of an edo yukinoshita.
                  Luc Taelman -

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                  • #14
                    I see something of a parallel here with Masamune swords and the Hon'ami. Prior to the late Muromachi those who had achieved great military victories were rewarded by the gift of a fine sword. The Sengoku Jidai led to the need for swords of exceptional quality to reward exceptional victories. How do you achieve this? You invent a smith who was so superior, nobody was better and hand out very fine unsigned blades with documents saying they were by Masamune. If, as I suspect, the Myochin started to claim their superiority in the mid 17th century to get official recognition and orders, they needed a pedigree. How better to do that than invent a superior ancestor whose helmets protected the heads of the great and the good during the civil wars. As for their incorporation in armours I am reminded of a long conversation with Orikasa Sensei in which he acknowledged that surviving armours of famous warriors had been 'improved' during the Edo period to reflect their reputations.
                    Ian Bottomley
                    Ian Bottomley - UK

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                    • #15
                      I agree, that’s why I call them atomei, and not gimei. It is a kind of a military reward:, you are worth the best, A real Nobuie. So the best smith in town makes the best possible copy, and attributed it to the legend.
                      i think this counts for the numerous copies.
                      Luc Taelman -

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