July, 2010




Mei To Kanshou

Examination of Important Swords


Classification: Juyo Bijutsuhin

Type: Tachi

Mei: Sukekuni


Length: 2 shaku 4 sun  (72.7 cm)

Sori : 8 bu  5 rin (2.56 cm)

Motohaba: 1 sun 1 rin (3.05 cm) 

Sakihaba: 6 bu 7 rin (2.05 cm)

Motokasane: 2 bu 4 rin (0.8 cm ) 

Sakikasane: 1 bu 7 rin (0.5 cm)

Kittsaki lenth: 1 sun 9 rin (3.3 cm)

Nakago length: 7 sun 2 bu 3 rin (21.9 cm)  

Nakago sori: 3 rin (0.1 cm)




This is a shinogi-zukuri sword with an ihorimune, wide mihaba, thick kasane, and the width  at the moto and saki are slightly different. There is a slightly high shinogi suji, a high koshisori, and a chu-kissaki. The jihada is a tight ko-itame, and around the koshimoto this is mixed with ohada. There are fine jinie, and a jifu type clear midare utsuri. The hamon is suguha mixed with ko-gunome and ko-choji; there are frequent yo and ashi, and some parts of the hamon are slanted or a saka type. The hamon is nioi-deki, and from the middle there is a tight nioiguchi, and the entire hamon is bright. The boshi is straight with a komaru, there is a slight return, and there are nijuba, and the ura has some hakikake. The nakago is suriage, there is one mekugiana, and on the omote nakago center, there is a large nijimei signature made with a fine tagane (chisel).

In Bingo prefecture, the Mihara and Hokke Ichijo schools are famous, and  Kokubuji Kunisuke is a pioneer in  this area. Today, we have his blades dated Genko 3 ( 1323 ), Gentoku 1 (1329), and Kenbu 5 ( 1338 ). Besides these, there are oshigata in the meikan and densho, dated Tokuji 2 ( 1307), and Karraku 3 (1328 ), and Kunisuke’s active period was the same as Bizen prefecture’s Kagemitsu. He signed swords Sukekuni, Sukekuni saku, Bishu Kokukbunji ju Sukekuni, Bishu Kokubunji ju-nin Sukekuni saku, and in the Kozan oshigata, there is a signed Bingo kuni Yasuna Tojo Sukekuni. Yasuna is one of over 14 counties in Bingo prefecture, and is located on the east side, and along the boundary with Bichu prefecture. Kokubunji was located in Yasuna, which Sukekuni included in his signatures, and today the area is in Hiroshima prefecture in Fukuyama city, Kamibe-cho. Sukekuni’s work is in the Ko-Mihara (old) style which has a strong Yamato suguha. His work also includes details foubnd in Bizen style work, such as  a Jufu type midare utsuri suguha style which reminds one of Unrui. Another feature is a suguha style mixed with gunome and a square type hamon, and the same type of hamon with saka-ashi, which reminds us of Kagemitsu and Chikakage’s Osafune style. Another style shows beautiful ko-choji with a lot of variation. From this work, some of the meikan and old books considered Kokubunji Sukekuni a Bizen smith. In late Kamakura times, his tachi are sometimes signed “Bishu”. However, except for a few tachi, his tachi signed with “Bizen kuni Osafune ju” are signed towards the mune edge in small kanji. However, the Bingo kaji including Ko-Mihara, used to sign along the center of the nakago with a large size kanji, and Sukekuni  signed with either two kanji or a long signature like the Bingo smith’s style. Today because of the location in which he worked, the prevailing opinion is that he was a Bingo prefecture smith and that he was not Bizen smith. But his style is still related to Bizen, and in the future there should be more studies of his school and work.

This tachi has a wide mihaba, thick kasane, and is a heavy blade. The nakago is suriage, but there is a high sori, a dynamic tachi shape, and the jihada is a tight refined ko-itame. There is a clear midare utsuri, the hamon is suguha style mixed with ko-gunome and ko-choji, and these are Bizen sword characteristics. This work shows his very high level of skill, so we could say this is one of his best swords. This tachi was owned by Ito Hirobumi (Japan’s first prime minister), and in Showa 9, at the Juyo Bijutsuhin classification meeting, it was owned by Saito Minoru, who had positions as the Navy secretary, head of the Korean military administration, a cabinet position, was prime minister, and had other ministerterial positions, and was assassinated during the February 26 civil strife in the early Showa period.


Comentary and oshigata are by Hiyama Masanori.




Shijo Kantei To Number 642


*In issue No.641 (the June issue) the answer is  a tachi by Awataguchi Kuniyasu.


The deadline to submit answers for the No. 642 issue Shijo Kantei To is August 5, 2010.

Each person may submit one vote. Submissions should contain your your name and address and be sent to the NBTHK Shijo Kantei. You can use the Shijo Kantei card which is attached in this magagzine. We will accept any votes postmarked on or before August 5, 2010. If there are sword smiths with the same name in different schools, please write the school or prefecture, and if the sword smith was active for more than one generation, please indicate a specific generation.



Length: 2 shaku 4 sun 3.5 bu (73.78 cm )

Sori: 5 bu (1.52 cm)

Motohaba: 1 sun 4 rin (3.15 cm )

Sakihaba: 7 bu 3 rin (2.2 cm )

Motokasane: 2 bu 8 rin (0.85 cm )

Sakikasane: 1 bu 8 rin (0.55 cm )

Kissaki lengh: 1 sun 1 bu 2 rin (3.4 cm )

Nakago length: 7 sun  1.5 bu (21.66 cm )

Nakago sori: very slight


This sword is shinogi zukuri with an ihorimune, a normal mihaba, and the width at the moto and saki are different. There is a very shallow sori, and a small short chu-kissaki. The jitetsu is a tight ko-itame mixed in places with with ohada. There are frequent ji-nie, fine chikei, and the shinogi-ji has a conspicuous itame type hada, and the entire jigane is clear. The hamon and boshi are as seen in the picture. There are thick ashi along the entire hamon, a wide nioiguchi, thick nie, and a bright and clear hamon with kinsuji and fine sunagashi. The nakago is ubu, and the yasurime is katte-sagari. There is one mekugi-ana, and on the omote side, the first kanji character is on the mekugi-ana. On the mune side, the center of  shinogi-suji  has a long signature.






Tokubetsu Juyo Toso


Kuro-urushi shibokawa tutumi saya (black lacquered saya covered with leather) aikawamaki no tsuka tachi koshirae 


This is long o-tachi with a kawatutumi saya (covered with leather) and kawamaki tsuka (tsuka covered with leather), which was made no later than the Nanbokucho era.  At first glance, the tsuka looks too long for the length of the saya, and for a tachi, there are no ashi-kanamono for the obi, and also no kurikata and origane (like an uchigatana would have). This kind of tachi koshirae is called a naga-tachi, and when the owner is in a litter or on horseback, a servant carries it. This is called a mochi-tachi which is carried by a servant.   On this koshirae, both the tsuka and saya are covered with leather and lacquered with urushi, and over this, they are covered with tsukamaki and watarimaki. This is called kawatutumi-tachi, and was popular during the Kamakura, Nanbokucho and Muromachi eras. It is not so decorative, but was a good design for protecting a sword, and was useful. After the end of the Kamakura period when there was a large amount of combat, it is possible that people preferred this style because it was practical for fighting and very endurable.This tsuka and saya have thin nikuoku (thin walls), and are tight. Both  the tsuka and saya are covered with black urushi lacquered shibokawa (covered with a type of leatherwith a crepe-like surface), and both the tsukamaki and watarimaki used aikawa (blue leather) hirahishimaki. The long tsuka has a long bamboo leaf  menuki with kintokinji-yobori (a gold plated menuki). Some parts of the koshirae look like they have been repaired, but it is in good condition. It is unfortunate that its past ownership is uncertain, but may have been owned by a prominent well known general. This is a simple and very dynamic tachi koshirae.


( Commentary by Iida Toshihisa)   



Teirei Kansho Kai For June


The swords discussed below were shown in the June meeting at the NBTHK headquarters building. This discussion presents answers concerning the makers of these blades.


   During these meetings, five swords are displayed for examination. The blades can be examined, but the nakago are covered and cannot be seen (they are left in the shira saya tsuka). After examining the 5 swords, the meeting attendees must decide who they think made the 5 swords which were available for examination, and submit a paper ballot with these names. The 5 swords seen in the September meeting are described below, and the correct names of the makers are presented, along with an explanation of important details which should lead a person to pick the correct sword smith’s name. This lecture and the explanations were given by Ooi Takeshi.


Kantei To No.1: tachi


Mei: mumei, Chogi (go hachimonji Chogi )


Length: 2 shaku 5 sun 9 bu

Sori: slightly less than 7 bu

Design: shinogi zukuri

Mune: mitsunune

Jihada: itame hada mixed with mokume hada; the hada is visible; there are dense ji-nie, worn down chikei, and around the center there is midare utsuri.

Hamon: based on a gentle notare hamon, it shows a mixture of ko-gunome and ko-choji; there are frequent ashi, yo,  nie,  tobiyaki, yubashiri, kinsuji, sunagshi, and a bright nioiguchi.

Boshi: midare-komi, frequent hakikake, with a yakizume style.

Horimono: omote and ura both have smooth bo-hi.


This katana has a Hachimonji Chogi meibutsu or name, and was owned by the Satake family in Akita. In Eiroku 10, in a battle with the Hojo, Satake Yoshishige used this sword, and cut an enemy samurai on horseback in half, include the kabuto, the body fell down the horses left and right sides, just like kanji hachi (the kanji for hachi is , and hachi equals 8). This sword has a very wide mihaba, and the width at the moto and saki are not different. There is a shallow sori, an o-kissaki, a thick kasame, and it is heavy. From these characteristics it reminds us of a shinto or shin-shinto, but in both eras sword were made in this size. On this sword, the koshimoto has a funbari type curve. But there appears to be no funbari, and this is o-suriage. It is likely that this sword was originally a Nanbokucho otachi, with a thick kasane. The jihada is a visible itame hada, and there are chikei. The hamon is based on a notare pattern, and alternates with a midare pattern. There are nie which is characteristic of Soshu-den, but the midare utsuri is clear. Fro these details we can guess this is Soshu-Bizen work. The most popular representatives of Soshu-Bizen smiths are Kanemitsu and Chogi. In comparing these two smiths, Kanemitsus work is more sophisticated, and Nagamitsus is more dynamic. This has a gentle notare hamon, but there are no  mountain shapes and ear shaped features which are most characteristic of Nagamitsus style (but this analysis is mainly for tanto, and not for every single sword, and this is only one of his characteristics). Because of these details, some people voted for Kanemitsu. However, compared with Kanemitsus work, this kitae has a rustic charm, a midare hamon mixed with gunome, ko-gunome, and ko-choji and varies. There are distinctive ashi and yo, which makes the hamon lively. There are also tobiyaki, yubashiri, kinsuji, and sunagashi, so this blade is very rich in hataraki. The boshi is a midare hamon and there are frequent hakikake, and the entire sword produces a lively impression, and from these details, among the Bizen smiths, Nagamitsu is the most unlikely sword smith.   



Kantei To No. 2: wakizashi


Mei: Bishu Osafune Tsuneie

         Oei 33 nen 8 gatsu hi


Length: 1 shaku 2 sun 4 bu

Sori: 1 bu

Design: hira zukuri

Mune: ihorimune

Jihada: itame mixed with mokume with some nagarehada; there is ji-nie and chikei, and the top of the hamon has bo-utsuri. 

Hamon: low yakiba; a square type of hamon containing kataochi gunome and ko-gunome; overall pattern is notare; in places the hamon has saka-ashi, and is narrower; there are ko-ashi, saka-ashi, ko-nie, and a strong and bright nioiguchi.

Boshi: midarekomi; the tip is sharp; there is a short return.

Horimono: omote and ura have katana-hi with marudome.


In Oei 15, the Muromachi shognate’s fourth shogun Ashikaga Yoshitoki’s father Yoshimitsu had a dispute with him. In a break with the past, Yoshitoki changed his political views to a more conservative view which was the opposite of his father, and tried to restore a strong bushi spirit. Possibly this kind of movement influenced the samurai’s taste, and after about Oei 10, the Osafune smiths’ hamon styles changed from a Kosori style to open bottom gunome mixed with choji which is an Ichimonji style. Suguha styles based on examples from the end of the Kamakura period’s Osafune style were used with saka-ashi midare hamon mixed with kataochi gunome, and square pattern type hamon which are Kagemitsu and Motoshige styles, and also Unrui and Aoe type swords. This style has bo-utsuri and a square type hamon mixed with kataochi-gunome, and some parts of the hamon have saka-ashi. From these characteristics, some people voted for Kagemitsu and Kanemitsu. But the shape is an important consideration. This sword has a shallow sori, and for a normal or slightly wide mihaba, the length is long, and majority of swords with this type of shape are seen in the Oei era. Also, the hi stop above the machi, and are finished with marudome, and this characteristic narrows it down to an Oei-Bizen sword. Many people did not miss this point, and voted for Yasumitsu who has good kataochi-gunome hamon, and midare-hamon mixed with saka-ashi hamon. Among the people here, some did not miss the fact that some parts of the midare hamon are narrower, and mixed with a notare hamon, and they voted for Tsuneie, which was very impressive.                   




Kantei To No 3: katana


Mei: Hizen Ichimonji Dewa no kami Yukihiro


Length: 2 shaku 3 sun 4.5 bu

Sori: 6 bu

Design: shinogi zukuri

Mune: ihorimune

Jihada: ko-itamehada; barely visible; has strong thick ji-nie, fine chikei, and the color of the jigane is a little dark

Hamon: the moto is a yakidashi style low midare, and above it there are gunome mixed with notare; in places, this is mixed with a yahazu style hamon; there are double o-gunome, ko-choji, and large midare hamon with ashi, yo, a thick nioiguchi, thick nie, tobiyaki, sungashi, kinsuji and a bright nioiguchi.

Boshi: straight with komaru and slightly long return. 

Horimono: omote has bo-hi, and the ura has smooth futasuji-hi.


The Shodai Yukihiro is supposed to have received the Dewa daijo title in Shoho 5, and the Dawa no kami title in Kanbun 3, and he passed way in Tenpo 3. This was made at the peak of the Kanbun-shinto era, but the shape is different from the ususal era sword. There is a wide mihaba, and the widths at the moto and saki are not much different. There is a slightly long chu-kissaki, and this sword has a good shape. Of course, it has some resemblance to a Kanbun shinto shape, but this good shape is an important point to narrow this work down to the Hizen school.

The jihada is ko-itame. There are dense ji-nie and fine chikei. The hamon is a yahazu style, and has tulip shaped tobiyaki, and the valleys of the midare hamon have thick nie. The hamon side of the nioiguchi does not gradually change color, but changes suddely (if this were suguha, it would form a belt type of suguha). In the cneter of the blade, the hamon is a midare, but the boshi is straight with a komaru and return, and these are characteristics of Hizen to. If one looks more carefully, the barely visible hada is dark, and the hamon has a yakidashi. Between the waves in the midare hamon, the hamon is suguha and notare which produces a large space between the midare waves, and these details are characteristic of we Bizen swords.In the voting, because of this dynamic midare hamon and lively style, many people voted for the Shodai Masahiro. Because of the space between the midare waves, and the fact that the narrow hamon between the waves contains many strange shaped plant-like ashi, and from the fact that these characteristics are different from the usual Yukihiro style and the blade is well made, Masahiro was treated as a correct answer. The other votes were mostly for major Hizen smiths, but their midare hamon are smaller, their choji hamon stand out, they have less smooth notare hamon, and between midare hamon waves there is not much space, and fewer yakidashi. Also, Tadakuni has fewer yakidashi, and his hamon have kinsuji and frequent sunagashi, and many of boshi are midare and have hakikake.           



Kantei To No. 4: tanto


Mei: Uda Kunifusa

       Oei 12 nen 8 gatsu hi


Length: 9 sun 4 bu

Sori: none

Design : hirazukuri

Mune: mitsumune

Jihada: tight ko-itame with dense thick ji-nie, and fine chikei; along the hi there is a fine white appearing surface cast.

Hamon: chu-suguha mixed with ko-gunome, occasional gunome, and togariba in places; there are ashi, frequent yo, a soft nioiguchi, dense ko-nie, small yubashiri, sunagashi, some kinsuji, and a bright nioiguchi.    

Boshi: a slightly midare hamo; frequent hakikake, and there are yubshiri, small tobiyaki, and small prominent nie; the omote tip is komaru, the ura tip is sharper and both sides have a long return.

Horimono: omote and ura have smooth katana hi.


Usually, many of the tanto made around the Oei era have a long length for their mihaba and have some sori (many of them are wakizashi size in length), but this tanto has a slightly wide mihaba, is a little long, has a thick kasane, almost no sori, is hirazukuri, and has a mitsumune, and this shape is often seen at the end of the Kamakura to early Nanbokucho eras. But this tanto is dated Oei 12. The Uda school has many tanto with this kind of shape and these are well made tanto (there are very few Oei Nobukuni and Oei Bizen in this style). Some people recognized this fact and the fact that the boshi has strong characteristics such as a sharp tip (this is on the ura side), strong hakikake, dense small nie,  and a long return. From these details, this can be judged as an Uda work, and from the fine tight jihada, it can be narrowed down to Kunifusa. Some people voted for Kunihisa, and because of the tight jigane, this is a good judgement. Kunimune has few swords dated in the Oei period, and most of his were made around the Bunmei era. In addition, his jihada is nagare hada, and mokume hada stands out, and the hada is visible. Also, many of his hada are darker. Among others, many people voted for Rai Kunimitsu, but this tanto has no bo-utsuri, only a fine white cast along the katana-hi, and except famous meibutsu swords such as Shiokawa, Yuraku and Ikedarai, on his midare hamon tanto, many boshi have his usual kaeri or have a short kaeri (return), and these details are different from what we see on this sword. 


Kantei To No. 5: wakizashi


Mei: dosaku hori kore; Nakasone Okisato Kotetsu Nyudo

        Kanei 1 nen Shimotsuki (February) 25 nichi

Kinzogan: Yamano Kaemon 64 sai Nagahisa (kao)

                  Wakige 2 tsudo tabitabi 3 tsudo saidan

Length: slightly less than 1 shaku 6 sun 3 bu

Sori: slightly over 3 bu

Design: shinogi zukuri

Mune: ihorimune

Jihada: ko-itame hada, mixed in places with itame hada; there are strong ji-nie, chikei, and there are small areas of jifu type hada. 

Hamon: straight long yakidashi; above this are two gunome grouped together which is called hyotanba; the bottom part has some saka-ashi; there are thick ashi, yo, a soft nioi guchi, strong nie, some sunagashi, and a bright nioiguchi. 

Boshi: gunome hamon at the yokote, and above it a straight hamon and komaru; there is a slightly long return. 

Horimono: omote and ura have futasuji-hi with marudome; on the omote, under the hi there is a long bonji; the ura has a daikokuten horimono inside a frame.



On this sword, for its length, the mihaba is very wide, and the widths at the moto and saki are almost the same. The kissaki is long, it is  a shinogi zukukri sword, but is a strange  strange shape for a wakizashi. Okisato has made a few swords with this kind of exaggerated shape during his career, but especially in his early work, swords with this kind of shape are seen.  The jihada is a ko-itame and clear and visible and it is mixed with a jifu type of hada. The uniformity of his jihada is not as consistent as Osaka shinto work, but frequent chikei and a strong hada are good characteristic features in Kotetsu’s work. The hamon has a yakidashi at the moto which is very long. There are hyotanba gunome, a thick nioiguchi, which is bright and clear, dense nie, and at the boshi, the yokote changes from a gunome hamon to a straight hamon with a komaru and return which is called a Kotetsu-boshi. THe horimono is carved inside of a frame and is a daikokuten in relief (there are very few pronounced or prominent horimono on his katana ). The ihiorimune is slightly high (in his  Hakotora period, it is low), and all of these features are characteristic of work by Kotetsu, and most of the people voted for the correct answer during the first vote. Because of the shape and daikokuten horimono, a few people voted for Kunihiro. But the big kissaki and exaggerated shape of this wakizashi is not seen often with a shinogi-zukuri style. Also, both of these smiths made daikokuten horimono on the ura side, but Kunihiro’s work is more realistic; the back of his straw rice bag is smaller and behind the body, and has more depth. One should pay attention to these fine details. Kunihiro’s horimono is not inside of a frame, and this is another difference between these two smiths.



Shijo Kantei No 640 (in the May issue)


Answer and Discussion for Shijo Kantei To 640

The answer is a tachi by Osafune Nagamitsu


This sword has normal mihaba, and the widths at the moto and saki are different. There is a high koshizori, funbari, the tip has sori, there is a chu-kissaki, and from this shape, we can judge this as a tachi from the end of Kamakura period. The hamon has midare-utsuri, and from these details, a Bizen smith occurs to us first. There is a tight ko-itame hada, clear utsuri, and a refined hada, and these are characteristics for mainline Osafune smiths. Nagamitsu’ s early work is seen in the Kokuho sword Daihannya Nagamitsu, and the Tsuda Omi Nagamitsu which has a wide mihaba with an inokubi kissaki, a dymamic shape, and a hamon which is mostly o-choji mixed with kawazoka-choji, which is close to his father Mitsutada’s beautiful and striking style. Later, his hamon become gentle, and do not show much up and down variations like this tachi. These hamon consists primarily of round top choji and gunome mixed with togariba,  Nagamitsu’s own original style was thus established, and today we see mostly this style. Later, his work shows a narrow tachi shape, the hamon is suguha mixed with ko-choji and ko-gunome, and there are tight nioiguchi suguha swords. These changes show roughly how his style changed. Nagamitsu is known to use a Sansaku-boshi which is a suguha style mixed with ko-choji and ko-gunome, or suguha swords. On swords with this kind of active and beautiful hamon, the boshi is usually midarekomi and the tip is sharp (or it is midarekomi with a komaru and return), and the hints for the sword suggested this. Nagamitsu’s nakogo tip is kurijiri, the yasurime are kattesagari, and the mei is either two kanji or a long mei. The two-kanji mei are usually signed on the omote mune side and above the mekugi-ana. In the mid-Kamakura era, many smiths, such as Nagamitsu, Bizen kuni Saburo Kunimune, and Yamashiro school Kunimitsu, who had made wide yakiba with very active and beautiful choji midare hamon changed their style. After the Sho-o and Einin eras (1288-1299), in the late Kamakura era,  many of these smiths changed their hamon to have a narrow yakiba with a gentle midare hamon, and also a suguha style with ko-choji mixed with ko-gunome, or a suguha style, and this change is seen in all prefectures. There are two opinions about this change: one is that individual smiths changed their style, and other opinion is that the same name was used by a second generation with a different style. However, currently, we are taking the view that a single smith could change his style in different periods. Before Nagamitsu’s time, most smiths signed with two kanji, and there are very few examples of smiths who signed with long mei including his name, the place he lived in, and the date. Many of the long mei, such as “Bizen Kuni Osafune ju Sakon Shogen Nagamitsu Sho-o 2 nen 10 gatsu hi” begin to appear all over Japan around the Sho-o era and especially after Sho-o 2 (1289). This is a sudden event when these long mei begin to appear. The Tokyo National Museum owns a Juyo Bunkazai Kunitoshi tachi  with a niji-mei (2 kanji mei), which has a wide mihaba, an inokubi kissaki, a very dynamic shape, and a beautiful very active o-choji hamon. This sword is dated Koan 1 during the mid-Kamakura period, and seems to have been made at a long interval from the Sho-o and Einin eras, but the periods are not actually so far apart. During the Genko events (i.e. the period when the Mongol invasion occurred), the Bunei war was on Bunei 11 (1274) and this nijimei Kunitoshi sword is dated Koan 1 (1278). The Koan war was on Koan 4 (1281), and between Koan 1 and Sho-o 2 (1289) there are only 11 years. As people know, around that time, the style of  swords changed all over Japan. This stylistic change occurred right after the Genko era, and it is known fromhistory that the reason was the war with the Mongols. Today we do not have enough information aboutperiod, but it appears certain that something happened at that time, and we can say that in the Sho-o and Einin eras there was a notable change for Japanese sword history. During this meeting, we saw the usual excellent results, and many people arrived at the correct answer.


Commentary by Hinohara Dai.