I was asked this recently and this is an interesting subject as it brings up some concepts in attribution which are somewhat important.
Hojoji is a bucket.
Officially Hojoji is somewhat synonymous with the smith Tanshu Kunimitsu, who is traditionally held as one of the three disciples of Soshu Sadamune.
The problems here are twofold: there are almost no signed pieces left by Kunimitsu and his style is nothing like Sadamune. So the story is very likely a legend, but his style has some things in common with the Soshu masters, however probably not through the Sadamune lineage.
Hojoji is a place name in Tajima (Tanshu) and it’s also the name of a temple in Kyoto. Kunimitsu is held to be the founder of this school and there are several smiths who follow him though we don’t really see any signed pieces around very often.
The blades that passed Juyo by Kunimitsu seem to be early Muromachi pieces by the second generation though there is one slightly tired tanto in suguba that seems to be by the first generation.
This piece is unusual in the overall body of work of the Hojoji smiths as it is in suguba and might testify to some relationship with the Soshu smiths that goes back to Shintogo Kunimitsu. However, the association is very sketchy.
Overall the Hojoji style looks a bit like later Bizen Ichimonji with some Soshu elements mixed in and this piece above is quite exceptional which is possibly part of why it passed Tokuju though it has a somewhat awkward shape.
One of the old Hojoji Kunimitsu blades belonged to the Izuishi Jinja which is in old Tajima province and has probably been there for quite some time as a result. This blade I think is also Muromachi period and by the second generation, and this blade had a prewar ranking of Kokuho but has been downgraded to Juyo Bunkazai in the present day. It also is (unusual and) suguba.
So we see a pattern in that the signed pieces that exist are tanto, and there are two more over the Kunimitsu blades and these look a bit like Norishige.
Tajima is a bit down the coast from Etchu where the Uda smiths were and Norishige, Go Yoshihiro and Tametsugu (in the beginning) had their careers. Between Etchu and Tajima are Kaga who had Sanekage, another smith thought to be related to Norishige, Echizen, Wakasa, and Tango provinces. These are somewhat small provinces all on the coast and it wouldn’t be surprising if the techniques and materials were similar as a result.
This is going somewhere, which is that the mumei attributions for Tanshu Kunimitsu and his school are weird.
That a body of work exists that is mainly signed tanto with unsigned daito is not surprising. So many koto tachi got cut down and lost their mei, by my count with about 6,000 mumei Juyo Token only 102 had mei preserved by orikaeshi and another 70 by gakumei. This tells us something, that the men who decided to preserve the signature underwent some expense and concern that was not normal in the carefree days of cutting nakago off.
The surprising element though is that the vast majority of Hojoji school blades are naginata naoshi.
How can it be?
Well the simple answer is that it can’t. In recent days more blades have been attributed to Hojoji, but it seems that based on three elements, we get this result.
- a single fine old naginata is attributed to Hojoji
- an old book says Kunimitsu made a lot of naginata
- Ichimonji/Soshu type of crossed techniques don’t have a lot of places to go
What we get then is the formation of a bucket. A bucket is a place where you can dump inconvenient things that don’t fit into easy classification elsewhere.
The signed pieces don’t look like the numerous naginata naoshi that end up being attributed to this school, but those naginata naoshi do have a lot in common with each other. They have gunome midare elements that would not be out of place with some Naotsuna work and sometimes you can look at one and think you’re looking at something related to Ichimonji.
Sometimes people think it looks like Soden-Bizen but I think that the distinction is a lot more clear and the works of Kanemitsu, Chogi and Kencho and their group when they are in Naginata Naoshi style will fall to Yoshikage rather than Hojoji because the style is significantly different.
The quality of Hojoji works is below the top rank of Soshu or Bizen but they are still well made. It seems very weird there are few to no tachi and this is one of the hallmarks that you are looking at a classification which is used in this way. It won’t cause any arguments and it is a way in the end of describing what you’re seeing. If the style is significantly better or more distinctive then such a piece could migrate to classification to a Soshu smith or an Ichimonji smith if Hojoji was felt to be too conservative. In practice and in looking at the Juyo works I haven’t seen any pieces reattributed like that.
Buckets are useful. Ganmaku is a bucket. Sue-Seki is a bucket. It is a broad classification for things that make for awkward presence in other places. So you make a bucket for it and all similar items can then call that bucket home.
So Tanshu Kunimitsu and his Hojoji school have become home for the naginata naoshi that looks a bit like Ichimonji with some Soshu stuff worked in but not as good as either. None of these have passed higher than Juyo, and all of them attributed to Hojoji are indeed naginata naoshi. The one naginata as mentioned is an exception and it is mumei and ubu unlike these others.
So the student who asks “why did Hojoji make so many naginata?” is getting it a bit wrong. The attribution is a magnet meant to collect up similar works and describe them and so you need to understand it as a description rather than as the solution to a question of who made it. The use of a classification like this to clean up loose ends in biology is called a Wastebasket Taxon.
It’s the same principle.
Remember attribution is a form of classifying something. If you say Sadamune or Hiromitsu you paint a connection between a blade and thier archetype.
Hojoji probably didn’t “like making naginata”, just on one mumei piece Tanshu Kunimitsu and his school got the rest of the load dumped on their shoulders.
Now I believe the blades are good and have a place. But it’s just a form of classification to give these things a home.
Now this is not to say that this school never made naginata or that these are not made by them. It’s just saying that it is a difficult to answer question and we may never entirely have a clear cut answer, and this is basically the route we take. If we could clearly define the work of the school we would see more tanto and katana/tachi in there rather than strictly naginata naoshi, so the naginata naoshi part one has to realize is a major part of why these blades are attributed as they are.