PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
A rare and important Hizen katana
Signed Hizen kuni no ju Fujiwara Tadahiro (Tadayoshi I; 1574 -1632) and dated Kan'ei kyunen nigatsu kichi jitsu (An auspicious day in the second month of 1632) and with a gold inlaid cutting test inscription Futatsudo saidan Yamano Ka'emon Nagahisa (Yamano Ka'emon Nagahisa cut through two bodies) with kao and date Kanbun sannen jugatsu nijuni hi (The twenty second day in the tenth month of 1663) , Edo period (1632)
Sugata: [configuration]: hon-zukuri, iori-mune, broad with broad shinogi, even breadth, shallow even curve, o-kissaki
Kitae: [forging pattern]: clear hagane with tightly packed ko-itame, overall rich in fine ji-nie with chikei
Hamon [tempering pattern]: chu-suguha of deep nioi, bright and clear nioi-guchi,
much ko-nie, fine kinsuji and sunagashi,
Boshi [tip]: sugu with ko-maru
Nakago [tang]: ubu, single mekugi-ana, kiri file marks, with smith's signature on the sashi-omote, date on the ura together with a gold inlaid cutting test record, iriyamagata-jiri
Habaki [collar]: Single gold
Nagasa [length of blade]: 71.1 cm long
Koshirae [mounting]: katana mounting, the saya of alternating lateral bands of red and black lacquer, fuchi-kashira of iron with inlaid silver linked manji, gilt menuki of vajra, 99 cm
The blade accompanied by a certificate of registration as a Juyo Token (Important sword) no. 8589 issued by the Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (Society for the Preservation of the Japanese Art Sword), dated 14th April 1989
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This sword is a fine example of the highest art of the sword smith.
The sword smith Tadayoshi of Hizen province was born in 1574 as Hashimoto Shinzaemon, the son of a swordsmith of Nagase named Michihiro . On Michihiro's death the thirteen year old Shinzaemon was recognized as a valuable young man of good family by the Nabeshima daimyo of Hizen who allowanced him the substantial yearly income of 13 koku of rice. When he was twenty five in 1596 Nabeshima Katsushige arranged for him to go to Kyoto where he lived for three years studying sword making under the great master of the shinto era, Umetada Myoju. He duly returned from Kyoto together with a household of fifteen relatives and around sixty retainers, moving from his home at Nagase to live in the castle town of Saga, where lord Nabeshima was domiciled. He adopted the name Tadayoshi, using the character Tada from the name Umetada of his teacher in Kyoto. His great skill earned him the honorific title Musashi Daijo bestowed on him in Kyoto in 1624. He then took the name Tadahiro, and changed his clan name from Minamoto to Fujiwara. He made swords as a retainer of the Nabeshima clan and became famous throughout Japan during his lifetime, His sons and pupils (lots 36 and 37) established branch schools which continued alongside the main Tadayoshi beyond the end of the feudal era and the Meiji Restoration of 1868. This sword was made just months before Tadayoshi died in 1632 aged just sixty one. For this reason alone the sword is a most valuable historical document and testament to both the Hizen sword tradition and the wisdom of the Nabeshima family in sponsoring Tadayoshi and later generations of branches of the family throughout their lives.
The fine and pure quality of the jigane of Hizen swords was maintained throughout the Edo period, and became known as konuka hada, in allusion to the white lady's facial cosmetic made from rice powder. The Nabeshima similarly sponsored other industries with the understanding that the craftsmen should never leave the province on pain of death, thereby ensuring continuity of the various craft traditions. Through this means the domain flourished and produced goods for export both within Japan and overseas, and built up unmatched civil industries. The purity of white Hizen porcelain parallels the clarity of the konuka hada of Hizen swords, and potters at kilns established in places like Hirado and Arita similarly preserved their tradition throughout the Edo period just as the sword smiths did. Among the finest Hizen porcelain is that which has become known as Nabeshima - the potters themselves adopting the name Nabeshima. Nabeshima porcelain was made predominantly for the use of the daimyo and his favored families. Such porcelain is known as kenjo (presentation ware). Since this sword does not bear the title Musashi daijo in the signature it is known to be such a kenjo piece, made specially at the behest of the daimyo, and likely intended as a gift to a daimyo of another province. Like Hizen porcelain the swords retained the beauty of fine jigane introduced by Tadayoshi throughout the Edo period.
The inscription on the tang includes a gold inlaid record of a later cutting test made by Nagahisa of the Yamano family of professional sword testers of Edo. It states that Nagahisa successfully cut through two bodies with it, probably commissioned during one of the daimyo's annual sojourns in Edo. The practice of testing the cutting efficacy of swords on either the living or dead bodies of condemned criminals was established in Japan centuries well before the date of this 17th century test. Yamano Nagahisa (1697 -1667) had been officially appointed for the office by the Tokugawa government and was able to undertake commissions to test swords for private individuals, invariably daimyo or their appointed retainers during the middle to latter part of the seventeenth century. Nagahisa and the second generation, Hisahide, tested swords made by the great Edo smiths of the time including Kotetsu, Izumi no kami Kaneshige, Yamato no kami Kanesada, and Kozuke no suke Kaneshige . These swords were inscribed with gold inlaid records of the cutting tests , including details of which part of the bodies were cut through. Hisahide was to introduce Yamada Asaemon to the terrible art, and the Yamada family continued in the practice until the Meiji period. The present sword is unique in not only being one of the last blades made by Tadayoshi (Tadahiro) before his death in 1632, but in being one of the last blades recorded to be tested by Yamano Nagahisa before his death some decades later in 1667. Such efficacy of the sword as a cutting weapon is testimony to the essence of the Japanese aesthetic in that beauty in arts and crafts results from the pursuit of technical excellence. Although no longer primarily a weapon the Japanese sword so highly regarded in the distant past is still appreciated in this modern age as a timeless and universal work of art. This sword by the first and greatest generation of the Tadayoshi school lineage embodies this Japanese aesthetic and can only be described as a masterpiece of the sword smith's art.
Click here to watch vintage 1930s film of the making of a samurai sword.
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