Yamashiro Hasebe KatanaYamashiro Hasebe

periodmid-Nanbokucho (ca. 1356)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Juyo Token
nakagoo-suriage, mumei
nagasa67.2cm
sori1.0cm
motohaba3.4cm
sakihaba3.1cm
kissaki7.8cm
nakago nagasa22.9cm
nakago sori0.1cm
price-sold-

The Soshu tradition starts with a tanto made by Shintogo Kunimitsu, famous now as the Midare Shintogo. It is otherwise in Yamashiro Awataguchi style, except for a beautiful nie-laden midare hamon. With the creation of this tanto, a whole new set of possibilities opened up in the sword world.

Shintogo Kunimitsu is famous in his own regard, and also probably had the three best students in the history of sword smithing, in Yukimitsu, Masamune and Norishige. These three would take the teachings of Shintogo and expand them, mastering the manufacture of activities in nie and binding together the best features of Ko-Hoki, Ko-Bizen and Yamashiro technique. With the subsequent generation, including Sadamune, Go Yoshihiro, Shizu and Samonji, the Soshu tradition would burn very brightly indeed.

Though these students have great fame today, the main line from Shintogo Kunimitsu was handed down to Shintogo Kunihiro who was likely his son and the headmaster of the Sagami forge in which all of these smiths would come to greatness. His style though never diverged from the traditional Yamashiro based style of his father.

Shintogo Kunishige had two other sons: Shintogo Kuniyasu and Shintogo Kunishige, but their work is difficult to find today. They would however have sat at the center of the Soshu tradition.

One important thing that Shintogo Kunimitsu and Shintogo Kunihiro did for us, was to record the place of their work as Kamakura on a small number of works. This allows us to confirm the place of manufacture and their central position in the Soshu tradition.

Hasebe Kunishige is recorded in old books as being a swordsmith from Yamato, which is given as one origin of the name Hasebe. He is said to have moved to Kamakura, made swords with the Kamakura smiths, and at the end moved to Kyoto in Yamashiro. Today he is often included because of this, along with his line, as a Yamashiro smith. However, his style has very little to do with traditional Yamashiro style but is entirely middle period Soshu. The story about Yamato may also just be apocryphal as an attempt to explain the origin of the Hasebe name, lacking information about its use in the Shintogo family. I personally discount the Yamato origin story because of the fact that Hasebe was used previously on works of Shintogo Kunimitsu, Shintogo Kunimitsu and Shintogo Kunishige.

There are opinions based on the surname Hasebe that their native place was Yamato. However, Kozan Oshigata and other authorized synopses list the name Hasebe as having been used also by Shintogo Kunimitsu and his sons, Kunishige and Kunihiro. This seems to indicate that Shintogo and Hasebe were consanguineous. It is most likely that shodai Kunishige was a direct student of Masamune, but it is also possible that he belonged to the Shintogo school and was influenced by Masamune who was trained by Shintogo. NBTHK Token Bijutsu (English)

Tokubetsu Juyo Token Yamashiro Hasebe Katana

Yamashiro Hasebe Katana

While this is not the longest antique Japanese sword I have seen, this is certainly the most massive. From the moment you pick it up in the shirasaya you will know that you are handling something very unusual. This sword is the largest dimensioned of all the blades attributed to Hasebe.

This blade is ranked Tokubetsu Juyo Token, and is one of the 900 or of the top ranked blades by the NBTHK. A fair number of these great blades seem to have been cut down in the Muromachi period for wear as an uchigatana: the famous Heshikiri Hasebe is now only 64cm or so, as is the first Hasebe to have passed Tokubetsu Juyo. Once the need for odachi went away at the end of the Nanbokucho period, there was no longer any purpose for such huge weapons and they were cut down to useful sizes. Oda Nobunaga, the great warlord who began the process of unifying Japan, seemed to like this length around 65cm and it's important to point out that this was a common length for newly made blades in the Muromachi Period. So we see this length frequently in suriage Nanbokucho blades. Those cut down in the Edo period I think were more likely to be preserved around 70cm.

To understand the size of this sword, the kissaki is nearly three times the size of an average kissaki, and the width of this blade at its most narrow in the upper part of the monouchi is wider than even many large blades are at their widest. It is really a magnificent piece that illustrates the scary nature of the oversized Nanbokucho period o-dachi. This blade would likely have been carried by a retainer and then drawn from its scabbard by the bushi on horseback. The size and momentum of the blade when striking from horseback would give it incredible cutting power.

sword picture

Comparison to Kamakura sword

This blade is currently attributed to Hasebe but also has been attributed to Chogi, who along with Hasebe Kunishige are grouped in the Masamune Juttetsu (the 10 great students of Masamune). Though the Hasebe school smiths are associated with Yamashiro province, they have a direct lineage in the Soshu tradition and Hasebe Kunishige learned his craft in Kamakura alongside Hiromitsu and Akihiro. As such the work of these three smiths are very similar. Chogi picked up Soshu most likely from Osafune Nagashige who is the first Bizen smith to learn Soshu techniques. Chogi is very famous for his massive and aggressive swords.

The NBTHK does not attribute mumei Hasebe blades to individual smiths unless the blade has an old Honami attribution, but the implication of a blade like this is that it would be Hasebe Kunishige. Tanobe sensei felt that the skill level shown in this blade was equal to or higher than Hasebe Kunishige.

This sword has an unusual feature of futasujibi on one side and bohi on the other, this is something seen rarely: somewhere around 70 Juyo blades over all schools have this feature. Soshu smiths like Shizu and his school, Kinju, Sadamune, Yukimitsu, and Samonji show it on a few of their blades and Shinto smiths copied it. Chogi and his student Kencho also show this feature. There is a bit of roughness in the bohi as this is the presence of the core steel, but this has no consequence other than a bit of aesthetic distraction. The blade itself is extremely healthy and in great condition as anyone will know by the weight of it when they pick it up.

The hamon on this blade is a riot of activity, rising very high to the shinogi and due to the extreme width of the blade this leaves a lot of activity all over the blade. Chikei are throughout the blade as well. The NBTHK liked this sword quite a bit, as it was promoted to Tokubetsu Juyo with glowing praise immediately after it passed Juyo Token, which is something that only the best swords achieve. At the time of this writing there are ten Hasebe works that are Tokubetsu Juyo, six of which are daito.

This is certainly an extreme example of the masculine, powerful Soshu blades from the middle of the Nanbokucho period, and not many like this exist anymore from any smith (Hiromitsu has one, and the entire Hasebe school has only 30 Juyo and higher katana or tachi). This rare and impressive blade has certainly earned its status as Tokubetsu Juyo Token.

sword picture

A massive sword tends to come with a massive habaki. In this case, someone went all out and had a solid gold two piece habaki made for this sword, which weighs 72 grams (almost two and a half troy ounces). To have this made today would cost in excess of $4,000.

Lastly, this sword shows signs of battle damage and the reason it was shortened. Inspecting the nakago shows five largish notches remaining laid out side by side just below the machi. I believe this to be damage from striking a helmet, where the ribs in the helmet would have impacted the cutting edge of the sword. As a result of this damage, the sword was likely shortened so that the impacted area was moved into the nakago.



Yamashiro Hasebe Katana Oshigata

Juyo Token Katana

Appointed on the 12th of October, 2006, Session 52

Katana, Mumei, Hasebe

Keijo

Shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, wide mihaba, relatively thin kasane, no noticeable taper, shallow sori, magnificent ō-kissaki

Kitae

Itame mixed with ō-itame and nagare, in addition plenty of ji-nie and much chikei

Hamon

Nie-laden chōji based ha that is mixed with yahazu-ba, gunome, ko-notare, plenty of ashi and yō, much kinsuji and sunagashi and tobiyaki everywhere what makes the ha tend to hitatsura

Boshi

Midare-komi with much nie-kuzure and a rather pointed kaeri with hakikake

Horimono

On the omote side a bōhi and on the ura side a futasuji-ji, both running with kaki-nagashi into the tang

Nakago

ō-suriage, kirijiri, katte-sagari yasurime, two mekugi-ana, mumei

Setsumei

The Hasebe and Nobukuni Schools are regarded as bringing forth the most representative Yamashiro masters of the Nanbokuchō period. The greatest Hasebe masters were Kunishige (国重) and Kuninobu (国信) who, due to the advancing times, were mostly focusing on hitatsura interpretations, although we also know notare-gunome-based works in midareba from them.

This blade is ō-suriage mumei. It is of a magnificent sugata with a wide mihaba that does not taper much and features an ō-kissaki. The kitae is an itame that is mixed with ō-itame and nagare and that shows plenty of ji-nie and chikei and the nie-laden hamon is based on chōji. It is mixed with yahazu-ba, gunome, ko-notare, plenty of ashi and yō, and tobiyaki all over the blade. Such a flamboyant, rich-in-variety interpretation is very typical of the Hasebe School and with this very ambitious approach, we have here a great masterwork among all blades that are attributed to this school. On top of that, the condition of the blade is outstanding.

Yamashiro Hasebe Katana TokujuYamashiro Hasebe Katana Origami

Tokubetsu Juyo Token Katana

Appointed on the 24th of April, 2008, 20th session

Katana, Mumei, Hasebe

Keijo

Shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, wide mihaba, relatively thin kasane, no noticeable taper, shallow sori, magnificent ō-kissaki

Kitae

Itame mixed with ō-itame and nagare, in addition plenty of ji-nie and much chikei

Hamon

Nie-laden chōji based ha that is mixed with yahazu-ba, gunome, ko-notare, plenty of ashi and yō, much kinsuji and sunagashi and tobiyaki everywhere what makes the ha tend to hitatsura

Boshi

Midare-komi with much nie-kuzure and a rather pointed kaeri with hakikake

Horimono

On the omote side a bōhi and on the ura side a futasuji-ji, both running with kaki-nagashi into the tang

Nakago

ō-suriage, kirijiri, katte-sagari yasurime, two mekugi-ana, mumei

Maker

Hasebe school of Yamashiro Province

Period

Mid-Nanbokuchō period

Setsumei

Contemporary to the mid-Nanbokuchō Sōshū smiths like Hiromitsu (広光) and Akihiro (秋広), were first and foremost the Yamashiro-based smiths of the Hasebe School. These smiths focused on a flamboyant hitatsura. Old documents like the Goto Tebiki Shō (如手引抄) state Inokuma (猪熊) as the place of residence of the Hasebe smiths and it is assumed that this site refers to what is the present-day area of the intersection of Gojōbōmon (五条坊門) and Inokuma. It has to be pointed out that there are no blades extant that bear supplements like “Yamashiro no Kuni-jū” [i.e. the blades don't bear Yamashiro as a place name] in the mei. Today the prevailing thought among experts is that the Hasebe School originated in Yamato, had its greatest success in Sagami [Soshu], and eventually settled down in Kyōto [Yamashiro] later.

The most representative Hasebe smiths were Kunishige (国重) and Kuninobu (国信). The Hasebe workmanship features a Sōshū hitatsura. However, the Sōshū hitatsura is based on a chōji-gunome that is enlarged with tobiyaki, muneyaki, and yubashiri whereas the Hasebe hitatsura is based more on a notare-gunome. Apart from that, the kitae of the Hasebe School shows a tendency towards masame what is not seen on Sōshū works.

This blade is ō-suriage mumei. It is of a magnificent sugata with a wide mihaba that does not taper much and features an ō-kissaki. The kitae is an itame that is mixed with ō-itame and nagare and that shows plenty of ji-nie and chikei. The nie-laden hamon is based on chōji and is mixed with yahazu-ba, gunome, ko-notare, plenty of ashi and yō, and tobiyaki all over the blade. Such a flamboyant, rich-in-variety interpretation is very typical of the Hasebe School and with this very ambitious approach, we have here a great masterwork among all blades that are attributed to this school. On top of that, the condition of the blade is outstanding.