picture of demon menuki

Origins of Honorific Titles

The Eifu (guard detachments) from which many early swordsmiths derived their titles were created in 811 CE and were divided into divisions which paralleled the organisation of the Japanese Court Ministries of the day.

The 'Ministry of the Left' was concerned with arts, sciences and cultural matters.

The titles held by the incumbents of the Ministry of the Left always included the phrase SaemonSaemon

The 'Ministry of the Right' dealt with military and martial arts matters.

Titles of the Ministry of the Right included the phrase UemonUemon

The Ministry of the Left was considered superior to the Ministry of the Right.

A third division was the Ministry of the Centre which was subordinate to the others and was responsible for administrative affairs.

Titles conferred on individuals were frequently incorporated into their names over time and across generations as an 'honorific' title. This is the case with many swordsmiths' lineages who were originally honoured with titles.

Ranks, Titles and Offices of the Ministries
of the Left and Right

  1. Kami(no) Kami = Chief SaemonKami Saemon(no)Kami
  2. Suke(no) Suke = Deputy SaemonSuke Saemon(no)Suke
  3. Jou (no) J˘ = General Affairs SaemonJou Saemon(no)J˘
  4. Sakan (no) Sakan = ScribeSaemonSakan Saemon(no)Sakan
  5. Daibu(no) Daibu = OfficerSaemonDaibuSaemon(no)Daibu

Note the no in the above is an implied 'of'. Occasionally the word no may be included in an honorific title within a mei as hiragana No hiragana or as kanji No kanji

Examples of smiths whose names derive from titles such as those above include:

Yauemonj˘ Yauemonjou   Gensaemonj˘ Gensaemonjou

Other titles, which have similar pronunciation but different kanji, derive from other and/or later branches of government. Many of these are also found on nakago within mei as honorific titles. Examples include:

Provincial Governors' Titles

Kami (no) Kami         Suke (no) Suke        Jou (no) J˘

'Experts' Titles

Kami (no) Kami         Suke (no) Suke        Jou (no) J˘

When seen on the nakago of blades, these represent a provincial title given to the smith. When this is the case the honorific is written immediately following the Province name.

Examples might be:

MinoSuke  Mino (no) Suke   (Deputy Provincial Governor of Mino)

EchizenKami Echizen (no) Kami (Chief of Echizen (Experts Rank))

Source: Solveig Throndardottir (1994)'Name Construction in Mediaeval Japan'

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