form known today as the Japanese sword was created in the 11th century.
Superb works were created during the pinnacle of swordsmithing which
occurred in the 13th century, the height of Japan's Kamakura Era. This
period saw the birth of many master swordsmiths, among them Sanjo Kokaji
Munechika, Awataguchi Hisakuni, and Rai Kunitoshi in Yamato province on
the outskirts of present day Kyoto, and Tomonari, Ichimonji Norimune, Yoshifusa,
Osafune Mitsutada and Nagamitsu in Bizen province, present-day Okayama
prefecture. These men were commissioned by the samurai of their day to
create the magnificient swords today designated as meito, or master swords.
end of the 13th century, the Japanese military rulers predicted an upcoming
war with Mongols, and they set out to strengthen the country's power and
heighten the nation's chances in battle. The samurai warriors prepared
beautifully wrought armor and helmets to wear into the battlefield, and
they sought out the tachi created by swordsmiths. These developments led
to the creation of magnificient and indeed beautiful tachi long swords
during this period. The Mongols invaded Japan twice, in 1274 and 1281,
and incurred great damage on the northern section of Kyushu island. These
invasions also hastened the weakening of the Kamakura shogunal government.
of shogunate and the imperial court's preparations for yet a third invasion,
they ordered an ongoing round of kajikito rituals to be held at Buddhist
temples and Shinto shrines throughout the nation. The shogunate donated
tachi to these temples and shrines as offerings, and ordered taht they
be used in these kajikito rituals. The Masamune is thought to have created
his swords amidst these social and historical conditions.
is said to have created many superb swords in Kamakura, Sagami province,
but today swords signed with Masamune's own signature is extremely
rare. The unsigned swords that have been attributed to Masamune and their
splendid craftmanship have led to the high praise of Masamune as a master
swordsmith. Today, Masamune is Japan's best-known swordsmith, far outstripping
the fame of many other master swordsmiths.
is thought to have been trained by swordsmiths from Bizen and Yamashiro
provinces, such as Kunitsuna and Kunimitsu. Masamune himself went on to
train many disciples, and the swordsmiths in the swordmaking lineages formed
by Masamune's pupils continued to forge swords with Masamune's own particular
in this page are swords made by Masamune, his teacher Shintogo Kunimitsu,
his senior fellow Yukimitsu, his son Sadamune, other men of the Soshu School
in the same province such as Hiromitsu and Akihiro, and the 10 Great Pupils
of Masamune who gathered from various regions of Japan, namely Rai Kunimitsu,
Hasebe Kunishige, Kaneuji, Kinju, Yoshihiro, Norishige, Naotsuna, Kanemitsu,
Chogi, and Sa.
There were three smiths, Kunitsuna,
Sukezane, and Kunimune, who founded the Soshu tradition. However, the first
blade which has been regarded as being produced in the Soshu-den was made
by Shintogo Kunimitsu, known as "Midare Shintogo". Usually, he used suguha
but this blade has an exceptional midareba hamon, which took a full one
hundred years, from the start of the Kamakura shogunate, to develop. Kunimitsu's
workmanship usually shows signs of the Yamashiro tradition and is similar
to blades of the Awataguchi school. The oldest date on his work is 1293.
Although having earlier studied the Awataguchi School of Kyoto, he created
his own style. He educated Masamune, Yukimitsu, and Norishige.
Tanto by Kunimitsu
Meimono "Midare Shintogo"
Yukimitsu was one of the pupils
of Kunimitsu. The end of his active period was probably not later than
1334. His works are mainly limited to tanto and he used suguha while midare
and hitatsura are often founded without signatures. It is said that the
horimono on blades by Yukimitsu and Masamune were carved by a man named
Daishinbo. The old story regarding Yukimitsu as Masamune's teacher is chronologically
wrong. Most likely he was a senior fellow student of Masamune and helped
him to establish his style.
Tanto by Yukimitsu
Masamune's familiar name is
Goro Nyudo. He studied under Kunimitsu and made blades in suguha but he
made magnificient notare hamon which has never been found in Yukimitsu's.
There are also some blades with ko-midare which appears to have been copied
from the Old Bizen and Hoki styles. His works are well characterized by
rich chikei and kinsuji, and beautiful nie.
Signed works of Masamune are
quite few. The examples "Fudo Masamune", "Kyogoku Masamune", and "Daikoku
Masamune" are acceptable as his genuine works. Judging from his style,
he was active from the late Kamakura era to the Nambokucho era. His works
are the most frequently cited among the swords listed in the Kyoho Meibutsu
Cho, a catalogue of excellent swords in the collections of daimyos
edited during the Kyoho era by Hon-ami.
Tanto by Masamune
Meimono "Houchiyou Masamune"
Nagasa 21.8cm, Sori 0.1cm
Hikoshiro Sadamune is said to
have been a son or adopted son of Masamune. He inherited Masamune's style
very well and his skill was comparable to Masamune. His katana mostly have
broad mihaba and large elongated kissaki. Most of his tanto are more than
a foot in length, a variety termed wakizashi. This shows that he worked
from the end of Kamakura to the Nambokucho era. In comparison with Masamune's
work, he produced more gentle midare, and exhibited a variety of midare
which tend to spread into a hitatsura. He was quite good at engraving horimono
on blades also. No authentic signed work of Sadamune exists. A swordsmith
referred to as Takagi Sadamune, who worked at Takagi in Omi province, is
considered to be his pupil.
Katana by Sadamune
Meimono "Kiriha Sadamune"
Nagasa 71.6cm, Sori 2.5cm
Kuni Ju Nin Hiromitsu
Hiromitsu, a swordsmith lived
at Kamakura in Sagami province, was said to be a pupil of Masamune or the
son or a pupil of Sadamune. The oldes date found on his blades is 1350,
which says that he worked during the Nambokucho era. The majority of his
existing works are wakizashi of the hira-zukuri. Hitatsura is the most
frequent hamon although a few have suguha.
Wakizashis by Hiromitsu
All Juyo Bunkazai
Left : Nagasa 32.1cm, Sori
Center : Nagasa 37.2cm, Sori
Right : Nagasa 36.9cm, Sori
Kuni Ju Nin Akihiro
Akihiro, said to be either the
son or the younger brother of Hiromitsu, worked at Kamakura in Sagami province.
The oldest date on his works is 1362. His blades are mostly wakizashi and
tanto of hira-zukuri type. Usually, he used hitatsura, which makes hard
to distinguish from Hiromitsu's.
Tanto by Akihiro
Nagasa 29.8cm, Sori 0.3cm
Rai Kunitsugu was a man of the
Rai school in Kyoto. Having reportedly studied under Masamune, he is popularly
referred to as "Kamakura Rai" and produced many masterful tanto. Some of
his blades show suguha and ko-midare which were traditional in the Rai
school, but he often produced florid midare. His works among those of Rai
swordsmiths are notable for their rich nie.
Tachi by Rai Kunitsugu
Nagasa 82.1cm, Sori 2.3cm
Kunishige was a swordsmith in
Yamato province, studied under Masamune, and later lived in Kyoto. It appears
that the name Kunishige was used by three generations of his family or
school. The oldest date signed Kunishige is from 1352, but some of unsigned
blades show a style older than those of signed and even better in workmanship.
His style shows wide mihaba, thin kasane,longer kissaki, and shallow sori.
He produced many hira-zukuri tanto or ko-wakizashi of about 30cm in length.
The hamon is o-midare with nie-kurure, and becomes hitatsura.
Katana by Hasebe Kunishige
Meimono "Heshikiri Hasebe"
Nagasa 64.4cm, Sori 0.9cm
Kaneuji was a man of the Tegai
school in Yamato province, studied under Masamune, and moved to Shizu in
Mino province. He is regarded as a founder of the Mino-den. There are sugata
dating from the end of the Kamakura and from the Nambokucho era which has
o-kissaki. He differs from Masamune in that hamon is tinged with gunome
and jihada is mokume mixed with masame. It is a characteristic feature
of the Mino tradition that togariba can be seen somewhere. Kinsuji, inazuma
and sunagashi appear vigorously.
Tachi by Kaneuji
Nagasa 66.7cm, Sori 1.3cm
Kinju moved from Suruga in Echizen
province to Mino and then learned from Masamune in Sagami. His signed blades
are extremely few and his works refelct the Soshu style and similar to
Kaneuji's. The hamon is ko-gunome midare mixed with togariba.
Tanto by Kinju
Nagasa 29.7cm, Sori 0.3cm
One of Naotsuna's swords has
the signature "Naotsuna, inhabitant of Izuha, Iwami province" and a date
of 1375, and there are some others which are even older than that date.
Still these dates are a little too far removed from the period of Masamune's
activity. Zai-mei are rare and usually mumei as a result of o-suriage.
Tanto are few, hi are common, but horimono is rare. The yakihaba is irregular
and hamon is o-midare mixed with uniform gunome. His style shows some characteristics
of the Soshu-den but he is a little bit inferior to Masamune's other students.
Tachi by Naotsuna
Nagasa 66.8cm, Sori 1.8cm
Go Yoshihiro lived at Matsukura-go
in Etchu province. He was one of the most famous Masamune's students and
later called even superior to Masamune. His works are mostly o-suriage.
A little larger kissaki, but no o-kissaki, can be seen. The jigane is beautiful,
oily, and well forged. The jihada is mokume mixed with o-hada, or occasionally
mixed with masame. Abundant ji-nie, chikei and yubashiri appear. The hamon
is based on wide o-notare, the bottom area starts with a smaller pattern
which becomes larger in the monouchi area.
Katana by Yoshihiro
Nagasa 71.0cm, Sori 2.2cm
Norishige lived at Gofuku in
Fukie of Etchu province. He is popularly referred to as Gofuku-no-go. Since
the Edo era, he was regarded as a pupil of Masamune, but an older story
which sounds more reasonable says that he was a pupil of Shintogo Kunimitsu.
His signed works exist both tachi and tanto. The kissaki never becomes
larger and tanto has a fukura which is not rounded, and uchi-zori. The
jihada is a distinctive matsukawa hada and hamon is gunome midare with
nie kuzure, ashi, and sunagashi.
Tachi by Norishige
Nagasa 71.3cm, Sori 2.3cm
Kanemitsu was a representative
of the Osafune school in Bizen province. The dates on his blades range
from 1331 to 1370. Kanemitsu is said to have been the name used by two
generations of smiths in the main family of the Osafune school. The first
generation was Kagemitsu's son, and a blade dated 1331 is the oldest. Workmanship
of Kagemitsu, whose sugata shows typical of the late Kamakura, with hamon
that are uniformly kataochi gunome consisting of nioi, continued to the
Nambokucho era. Beginning in the Bunna era(1352-1356), the style of Kanemitsu
changed remarkably. The sword known as "Embun Kanemitsu" dated 1356 is
said to be a work of second generation and almost in the notare style.
Tachi by Kanemitsu
Nagasa 93.0cm, Sori 3.0cm
Chogi was a man of the Osafune
school, in a different branch from Kanemitsu's, in Bizen province. His
works include those in the traditional Bizen style and those showing what
may be regarded a derivation from the Soshu style. His career, however,
cannot be associated directly with Masamune's, for the dates of his existing
works are never earlier than 1360. Therefore, his elder brother Nagashige
who left a sword dated 1334 is more close to Soshu-den of Masamune. The
jihada of Chogi blades is itame with mokume, or occasionally pure itame
hada. His vigorous hamon bears a resemblance to the hamon of Soshu Akihiro,
Hiromitsu, and the Samonji school.
Tachi by Chogi
Nagasa 71.0cm, Sori 2.3cm
"Sa" is the abbreviation of
Saemon Saburo Yasuyoshi, an inhabitant of Okinohama, Hakata in Chikuzen
province and a worthy inheritor of the tradition of the Chikuzen school.
He is called Samoji as he used just the character "Sa" as his name when
signing his work. He was also called "O-Sa"(Great Sa) and said to have
been Jitsua's son. Sa didn't copy his father's work, a style that is commonly
seen in Kyushu. His work is much more sophisticated than that of other
Kyushu smiths, with easily recognizible, conspicuous signs of influence
of the Soshu-den. O-Sa was active from the end of the Kamakura through
the early Nambokucho. His works can be roughly classified as two groups:
Chikuzen style with suguha and masame hada; and those with midare mixed
with gunome and ko-mokume.
Tachi by Sa
Meimono "Kousetsu Samoji"
Nagasa 78.2cm, Sori 2.7cm
- Soshu-den Meisaku Shu,
Honma Junji, 1975
- Masamune, Nihon no
Bijutsu No.142, 1978
- Masamune to sono Ichibun,
International Rotary Meeting, Tokyo, 1961
- Token Kantei Tokuhon,
Kokan Nagayama, 1995