Emperor Gotoba – Swordsmith(1180-1239)
The Emperor Gotoba. 82nd Emperor of Japan took the throne at age 5 when his eight year old brother Antoku drowned at the Battle of Dan-no-Ura taking the Kusanagi sword into the deep with him. At age twelve he was forced to officially sign over power to Minamoto Yoritomo awarding him the title “Sei-I-Tai-Shogun”.Ichimonji Swordsmith GroupsEmperor Gotoba had an interest in sword making and through his acquaintance with Bizen Norimune he organized what would be three seperate Ichimonji or swordmaking groups for his personal instruction. This was no mere hobby but a concentrated project of research and development designed to produce a superior Japanese sword. His position as emperor allowed him the power to force smiths to share what had been closely guarded trade secrets.In 1208 the first a group “Sho-Gen Goban” consisted of 13 masters, seven from the Fukuoka school, 3 from the Bitchu school and 3 from the Awataguchi school, who were summoned to Kyoto for the emperor’s personal instruction. These swordmakers worked on a rotating monthly schedule.The second Ichimonji the “Twenty four Goban-Kaji” was made up of a more diverse group of 24 smiths again employing a rotating schedule two per month. The purpose of these smiths was to share their knowledge and create a “perfect sword”, these blades were then to be mass-produced in order to arm his imperial guards in hopes of wresting power back from the Shogunate and restore it to the imperial line in Kyoto. It is said that Gotoba prayed to the kami for help and was visited by Inari the patron of swordsmiths in the form of a fox who helped him make a sword.Quest to Restore power to the EmperorIn 1221 Gotoba saw his opportunity when Minamoto-no-Sanetomo was assassinated. He organized the Jokyu rebellion hoping to gain enough partisan support from those who were unhappy with the dictatorship of the Hojo clan. Unfortunately he lost the battle and Gotoba and his son were forced into exile on Oki island. While in exile he had yet a third Ichimonji the “Oki Goban-Kaji” of 12 smiths from the Awataguchi and Fukuoka schools.While Gotoba was unsuccessful in his bid to regain power for the Imperial House there is no doubt that the forced sharing of what had been closely guarded family secrets among swordsmiths greatly improved the quality of Japanese sword making as a whole. Emperor Gotoba Forging a Sword
print ca.1840 by Kuniyoshi

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