One or Two Generations

After the Tokugawa made the final steps of unifying Japan, swordsmiths adopted more clear traditions of signing swords and dating them became much more common. The information they left behind and the fact that we’re dealing with “near history” makes it easier to understand swordsmith lineages. 

When it gets into the Muromachi period and earlier, things get a bit more murky. Many signatures were lost, dates are few and far between, and period specific references can contradict each other. 

In the modern period, with swords accessible to everyone and importantly with the work of the NBTHK passing Juyo blades and publishing them, the picture has become more clear. We owe a lot to Fujishiro Yoshio who’s work in the early 1900s on reference materials is more often right than wrong. So I’ll start this discussion with some of his general thoughts on this matter of one or two generations.

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How many Motoshige?

It’s necessary to know that different experts from different time periods saw different swords, and those swords that they saw form the basis for their judgments. For instance Soshu Sadamune signatures have been recorded but today we can’t find those blade or some dispute is made over the signatures. Unfortunately we do not have the actual work and cannot comment on it, other than that an old expert thought it was good and included it in their oshigata references. This implies at least that the work was as good as the signature proclaimed it to be.

The problem here is demonstrated by a parable called The Blind Men and the Elephant

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Pass Factor

I had a good question come in about my references to lower tier schools, and the question asked me to reflect on what were the top tier schools. You can find in Nagayama’s The Connoisseur’s Book of Japanese Swords good listings of the Leading Schools for each time period. I think every collector should have this book. It was out of print for a while and prices went way up, but it is back in print now and you can buy it following that Amazon link (which does not make me money, just get this book and use it).

Trying to get a handle on which schools are the best actually seems easy at first but it gets a little bit complicated the deeper you dig.

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A frantically, rich and proud blossoming of flowers

The word “kurui” is not easy to interpret, even for Japanese. Sometimes it is falsely translated into English as “madness” or “craziness.” The actual meaning is more like “a frantically, rich and proud blossoming of flowers” and the word expresses a splendour which far excelled that of ordinary work. To us the style of Masamune means both superior strength and a severe beauty.

— Nobuo Ogasawara, sword curator, Tokyo National Museum

I think those words are amongst the best I have encountered amongst descriptions of the work of Masamune

Most people will not have seen his work other than in photos, and fewer still will get a chance to have one in their hands.

In my own attempts, from what I’ve been lucky to hold, I have said that the best Masamune work is like a raging storm at sea. Shintogo appears to me like clear, cold ice. Sadamune as sunrise on a summer morning with dew on the grass.

If I wrote more, it would mean less.