Yamanouchi Fumiharu grew up in post-war rural Japan in a small town in the northern part of Kagoshima Prefecture. His ancestors were samurai and this showed in the education his father gave to him. Thinking back to his childhood he says, “We literally had nothing. It was just after the war. All I can remember is how tough it was and the strict education my father gave to me.”
Today Yamanouchi is the chairman of Meiko Technos – a large utilities and power company, supporting the wider infrastructure of Kagoshima Prefecture. Started by his father in 1951, the company grew rapidly in the post-war years, and now is headed by his son.
Satsuma Samurai Roots
Yamanouchi was influenced from an early age by the annual Myoen-ji Mairi, a historical 20 km pilgrimage in full samurai armour held once a year in Kagoshima to remind participants of the suffering of the samurai who left Kagoshima to fight in the Battle of Sekigahara in the year 1600. The event formed a part of the education of samurai throughout the Edo period and has continued until the present day. As a young boy Yamanouchi remembers some participants bringing swords that had been passed down in their families to the parade as a symbol of their former samurai status. He says, “I remember some kids bringing their family swords along, but my father would never let me touch ours – it was too valuable”.
Success Story and Japanese Sword Collector
As Meiko Technos grew, Yamanouchi began to look into collecting Satsuma style swords and bringing them back to their home in Kagoshima. Through a network of contacts in the sword business he made sure he was the first person to be contacted when a Satsuma sword came on the market.
Satsuma swords were generally made by the Naminohira line of swordsmiths. They are less curved and slightly longer than a regular sword, with a hamon (pattern on the blade) which is a straight line. The sword tipis quite small and rounded, and the blade is generally fairly thick. Yamanouchi says, “Normally you would have notare (wave) or choji-no-mon (clove) pattern. It depends on the sword maker’s school, but the Naminohira school only uses the suguha pattern. Also the tip of the blade is komaru, meaning it’s quite small. I think they are very well forged swords, and they can certainly cut very well indeed”.
Passing on Tradition
Yamanouchi currently has a collection of over 270 swords, the oldest being from the 900’s. Many of the swords he owns are 200-300 years old. Yamanouchi has a strong desire to share the history of Satsuma swords and samurai culture with the next generation. He says, “Our ancestors in Satsuma created such wonderful items and I want to share that with the younger generation today. They are weapons of course, but they are also works of art. I certainly think of them as art pieces. I hope that young people will understand that and also be able to see the beauty in their history as well”.
Yamanouchi also personally funded the matchlock rifle group called Hioki Teppo-tai, who regularly perform demonstrations of marksmanship in full samurai armour at historical events. The group recreate tactics used on the battlefield by the Shimadzu clan forces. They perform regularly at the house and gardens of the Shimadzu clan Sengan-en.
Yamanouchi’s sword collection is held in a private museum at his company Meiko Technos and is currently only open with a personal introduction.