Seki Kanemoto KatanaSeki Kanemoto

periodLate Muromachi
designationNBTHK Hozon Token Katana
ratingJo-jo saku, Ryo-wazamono
nakagoubu
mei兼元
Kanemoto
nagasa74.9cm
sori1.9cm
motohaba3.0cm
sakihaba2.0cm
kissaki3.4cm
nakago nagasa16.6cm
nakago sorislight
price$27,500 -new-

The four big smiths of the middle Muromachi period are Yosozaemon no jo Sukesada, Sengo Muramasa, Magoroku Kanemoto and Izumi no Kami Kanesada (Nosada). Each of these smiths specialized in blades that were sharp and no nonsense, as the time period was one of very intense fighting that called for this type of sword.

Kanesada is fondly known under the nickname, Nosada after the signing habit of the second character of his name, and Kanemoto as Magoroku as this was his civilian name. The impact of Magoroku Kanemoto's work was such that his name was often used by the line of Kanemoto smiths that followed him. This created a confusing naming pattern where the 2nd Kanemoto is the 1st Magoroku, and the 3rd Kanemoto is the 2nd Magoroku and so on. In general this is not a good example to follow, its better to call the second generation Magoroku and name the other generations by their place in line.

The blades of Mino province in particular gained fame at the end of the Muromachi period for their suitability as weapons in the field. They were very reliable and extremely sharp. The reputation of Kanemoto and Kanesada today is carried forward as two of the 14 smiths who have achieved the highest ratings for sharpness (Sai-jo O-wazamono).

Magoroku Kanemoto and Nosada, along with Shizu Kaneuji and Kinju are the representative smiths of the Mino tradition. While Shizu and Kinju worked in a Yamato flavored Soshu style, during the Muromachi period under Nosada and Magoroku, the Mino tradition thrived and became its own distinct form. While we don't usually think of Mino blades as the most beautiful swords, their claim to fame is primarily due to their cutting prowess and reliability in the field.

Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi armed their troops with these blades made in Mino province, and their ongoing consolidation of the warring provinces into a nation caused them to bring the Mino smiths and technology wherever their armies needed to be. At the same time, at the very end of the Muromachi period, the Yoshii river had a devastating series of floods which destroyed the Osafune kaji almost to a man and essentially wiped out sword making in Bizen. Because of this combination of factors, the Mino tradition can be found very strongly at the roots of what would later develop into the Shinto tradition.

The Nihonto Koza places Nosada and the Shodai Kanemoto (father of Magoroku) as fellow students under the Shodai (Oya) Kanesada and furthermore says that Nosada was an immigrant arriving from Kai province. After this time Shodai Kanemoto relocated to Akasaka and recorded this town in his signature.

Magoroku Kanemoto inherited the forge and continued work in Akasaka, while Nosada worked in Seki. Later on in the book it claims that Nosada and Magoroku were both students under the same teacher which conflicts a bit with the previous information. The reason for this is the general confusion between generations in older times due to a lack of signed and dated examples to study. However, both stories can be true, if the father of Magoroku was quite old and his son was one of the last pupils of his own teacher Shodai Kanesada as a result.

Nijimei of Magoroku
Nijimei of Magoroku

There are legends that Nosada lived to be 111 years old, and had a long working term. Also it is known that these two smiths rather than being rivals had taken an oath of brotherhood. This kind of chosen brotherhood is considered to be a greater tie than brotherhood by birth, since it is one made of choice rather than by random chance.

After Magoroku passed the torch to the Sandai Kanemoto, the forge seems to have been relocated to Seki, which was the major source of sword production during the Muromachi period. This is known by a dated work of the Sandai Kanemoto in which he signs Noshu Seki ju Kanemoto (Noshu is an alternate name for Mino province). This sword has a Tenbun 12 date (1541 in the book, but this is incorrect, it is 1543). The last dated Akasaka resident blade by Magoroku is in 1529, so we can calculate the move of the forge to be in the 1530s.

As well, the Sandai Kanemoto worked with a smith named Toraaki on a naginata that was dated Tenbun 2 (1533), so we can assume that Magoroku has died by this time. To me this seems to be probably a turning point, with the death of Magoroku the Sandai moved the forge to Seki to start fresh, probably for economic reasons as Seki was the major production center in Japan at this time.

Sanbonsugi

Magoroku Kanemoto is known for three basic points: the extreme cutting ability of his blades (he is one of the Sai-jo O-wazamono smiths), his beautiful and distinctive signature which features very sharp lines in the moto character, and the introduction of the sanbonsugi hamon – though he never completed its development. With the Sandai Kanemoto the lines of the moto character become more cursive, and this helps us decide which generation made the blade when they lack a date.

Sanbonsugi is a three peaked hamon that repeats throughout the blade with the middle of the three peaks higher than the others. This is a derivation of the togariba that came down from Shizu, and it can first be seen mixed into the work style of the second generation Kanemoto. From there it becomes more established until later generation Kanemoto works appear to look like a saw due to the strict regularity of the sanbonsugi and the ever sharpening tips of the peaks.

Sanbonsuji of Magoroku, more uniform than most.
Sanbonsuji of Magoroku, more uniform than most.
In kantei, sanbonsugi on a koto blade will almost always imply Kanemoto school. On rare occasions it may also be made by the nidai Kanesada (Nosada). The generations of Kanemoto used sanbonsugi as follows:

  • 1st generation Kanemoto: traces to no sanbonsugi at all
  • 2nd generation Kanemoto (Magoroku): relaxed sanbonsugi (doesn't hold to perfectly repeating patterns of 3, plus some tops can be rounded) mixed with gunome and togariba
  • 3rd generation Kanemoto (i.e. nidai Magoroku): becomes a more uniform sanbonsugi over his work span, repeats more often, and sharper peaks
  • 4th generation Kanemoto (i.e. sandai Magoroku): perfectly uniform sanbonsugi in groups of 3, with very sharp peaks

This kind of specialization in sanbonsugi makes Kanemoto works easy to recognize and the super regularity of the fourth generation is the easiest to identify. Though this is a trademark look, the perfectly regular works are also not held in very high regard compared to those that mix sanbonsugi with midareba.

There were several generations of smiths known by the mei Kanemoto. Those who came at later times produced regular and more patterned sanbon-sugi-midare. However. the sanbon-sugi-midare of earliest days when the midare were still irregular used to have a more attractive quality as well as technical superiority.English Token Bijutsu

Though Magoroku brings up ideas of sanbonsugi, he also worked in suguba from time to time, and like his brother Nosada, these seem to be Rai copies. We don't see much written about them, and there are two Juyo like this so it does show that he has some versatility similar to Nosada. I have a feeling that the Rai style was taught to him by Nosada who was quite good at it.

Seki Kanemoto Katana Shodai Nidai Mei

Lineage

The Kanemoto smiths did not usually date their work, and there are some confusing dates in Fujishiro as a result (he places the Shodai at 1492, Magoroku at 1528 which is a big gap, the Sandai at 1532 which is a very small gap, and then the Yondai at 1570, another big gap). Because of similar work styles it can be a bit difficult to determine sometimes which Kanemoto is the author of a blade, or if we are sure which Kanemoto made the blade, it can still be a bit hard to settle exactly in time. The Nihonto Koza places Magoroku a bit earlier starting work in 1504 and then the third Kanemoto is working 1521-1528 (by dated works likely) and refers to him as Seki Sandai Kanemoto. This is also used by Yamanaka, calling Magoroku Seki Kanemoto, but I think all of this is basically a historical error. Magoroku Kanemoto never signs with Seki as a place name, and in 1529 he is still signing Akasaka while the first dated Sandai blade appears only 3 years later. So there is no time in here for him to establish himself and strongly associate himself with Seki, when he's worked his whole life in Akasaka.

The Shodai is represented by works dating from Meio (1492-1500) and Eisho (1504-20) days. The Nidai's works date from Taiei (1521-27) and Kyoroku (1528-31) eras. The following diagrams show the differences between the first two Kanemoto in the ways the mei are chiselled in. Tanobe Michihiro, NBTHK

Since the time of the writing of those books we now have Juyo Token to study, and within the Juyo blades of Kanemoto we see dated work of 1499 to 1529, both stating Akasaka as the work place and this is the best record so far of the work span of the first two generations. From the dated works, Magoroku probably has about a 20 year career between 1510 to 1530 and maybe died a bit young. This would imply that the 3rd generation's work is from around 1530-1570, following his father, compared to how the books have it. The fourth generation follows as previously thought around 1570.

All of this illustrates some of the difficulty of trying to completely clarify the generations. In addition this same article states that there is a Tenbun 20 (1451) work with Seki in the name, which shows that Magoroku is the one who moved to Seki at the end of his career. This is another case of mistaken identity I think, as this blade is probably the Tenbun 12 (1443) work cited in the Nihonto Koza as Sandai Kanemoto. Unless both of these smiths were working at the same time, signing the same name, and I don't think that is very likely. I just bring this up as when you do your own research you will find there to be some conflicting information and it will have to be settled out as I've done in this article.

The sanbonsugi of [Magoroku] Kanemoto is famous, but even though it is only partially sanbonsugi, it does not become the true sanbonsugi that is complete throughout, like that of Darani Katsukuni. The hamon is about what could be called ko-gonome or gonome with sanbonsugi. As for the figure on the right, this is made with a wide yakihaba for a Kanemoto, and has some resemblance to Ise Muramasa.

[...]

Judging from the sandai Kanemoto signature and Magoroku Kanemoto, there is a nidai [Magoroku]. There are many works in which the sanbonsugi is much clearer than that of the shodai Magoroku [i.e. Nidai Kanemoto].

[...]

The reason for this smith being recognized as the sandai Kanemoto is due to the fact that the era is seen as being around Genki. The hamon of sanbonsugi is a complete sanbonsugi as compared to the shodai Magoroku. Fujishiro Yoshio

The Sandai Kanemoto is the one who took the irregular sanbonsugi idea of Magoroku and made it more uniform throughout his life, and then handed this finished style to the fourth generation. The third generation also institutes a mei change from the block character used for Moto to a cursive character.

There is an extant joint-work by Takatenjin Toraaki and 3rd Kanemoto. The ‘Moto’ of the 2nd Kanemoto is done in the square style but that of the 3rd generation in the running [i.e. cursive] style. Meanwhile, the second generation tempers irregular sanbon-sugi or togari-gunome and the third generation does regular sanbon-sugi. Dr. Honma Junji, History of Koto

Dr. Honma goes on to state:

There is a katana with the mei of ‘Magoroku Kanemoto’ in the running style. This is the work of the second generation. It is speculated that the commonly known name of ‘Magoroku’ was also used after the second generation. Dr. Honma Junji, History of Koto

Overall these are the facts:

  1. Magoroku Kanemoto never signs Seki as place name but only Akasaka
  2. Sandai Kanemoto's earliest known dated work is 3 years (1532) after the last Akasaka signed/dated work of Magoroku (1529)
  3. Sandai Kanemoto is the first Kanemoto to sign with Seki in his name (1543)
  4. Sandai Kanemoto is the first Kanemoto to make a pure sanbonsugi hamon
  5. Sandai Kanemoto occasionally signed blades with the Magoroku name

In the sword world it is very common that generations get compressed down into an ideal. We look at the work of the group of smiths under Nagamitsu and Nagamitsu gets most of the fame for that. The second generation Muramasa gets the fame of his entire line. The best works of Yukimitsu get subsumed into the umbrella of Masamune, and the great works of Nagashige prop up the reputations of Chogi and Kanemitsu. In all of these cases, the master who is getting the reputation boost certainly deserves it. But over centuries, these stories get simplified and talented smiths in and around the most famous guy see the great things they achieved get shuffled over and placed in the hands of someone else. This makes for a better story and people gravitate to that kind of message.

What I see here is that though Magoroku was the most talented smith of his lineage, the fame of the line at the time seems to be strongly related to the work performed in Seki by the third generation... to the point where authors in recent times refer to Magoroku as Kanemoto of Seki when he seems to have never lived there. This is, I think, just subsuming the work of the third generation and moving it under the umbrella of the first. Fujishiro as usual, is quite good in this regard as he ranks the third generation quite highly at Jo-jo saku and the Edo period cutting masters also held his swords in high regard ranking him at Ryo-wazamono.

To date there are 32 Juyo blades by the first and second generations of Kanemoto and one Juyo Bijutsuhin. There is one issaku beautiful koshirae made by Goto Ichijo for a wakizashi by this smith as well. Of note, Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi presented Queen Victoria of England a blade by Kanemoto and this sword is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Another famous work is the Aoki Kanemoto aka. Magora-giri Kanemoto. This was used by Aoki Kazushige to kill Magora Jurozaemon Naotaka during the Sengoku period wars under Oda Nobunaga.

Hozon Seki Kanemoto KatanaSeki Kanemoto Katana Origami

Seki Kanemoto Katana

This blade in particular appears to be firmly transitional between the work of the second generation's irregular sanbonsugi and the fourth generation's perfectly uniform sanbonsugi, so from its style is likely to be early work of the third Kanemoto. The NBTHK didn't ascribe it to a generation, only saying it is late Muromachi Kanemoto, so I asked Tanobe sensei to examine the sword and determine a generation. In his sayagaki he said the blade comes after Magoroku but no later than Genkei, which is the beginning period of the fourth generation Kanemoto so this falls squarely on the work span of the Sandai Kanemoto. The cursive signature rules out Magoroku though the blade is entirely in a style that would be standard for him, though it is longer than usual for early Kanemoto work. All of this makes the third generation the most likely answer, with an outside shot at the fourth generation being possible but not so likely as he is known for making perfectly uniform sanbonsugi.

Yamanaka states that the hamon of the third Kanemoto also becomes wider than in the second generation and we certainly see that in this blade with its active and wide hamon. He also notes that the masame hada will stand out very prominently in this smith's shinogi-ji and we see this as well in this blade, while the jihada is formed of tight ko-itame as Yamanaka says it will. The boshi also corresponds as he says it will be very deep but have very little kaeri.

These blades featuring the relaxed sanbonsugi and with the sunagashi are considered by Nagayama sensei to worked in Soshu style, and there is a picture of this on page 221 of the Connoisseur's Book in regards to Kanesada and Kanemoto.

The founder of the Mino tradition is Shizu Kaneuji, one of the top students of Masamune, and from time to time in later period Mino works we see strong callbacks such as this blade to the work of Shizu. It features a lot of sunagashi and kinsuji as well as the ups and downs of irregular sanbonsugi that make it one of these Mino works with a high degree of Soshu flavor. In fact of all the Kanemoto and Nosada works I have seen, this one shows the strongest attempt to emulate the horizontal activities of the earlier master smiths.

This blade is wide and tapers gracefully, and is quite long for a Muromachi blade. Though have recently had a couple of long ones on my website, the vast majority were made in lengths below 70cm, so it is always nice to get one at 75cm like this one. This helps it look quite nice mounted as a tachi. There is unfortunately a fingerprint on one side of the blade. Kanesada was the top Mino smith after Shizu in terms of forging jihada, and other Mino smiths tended to make a more workmanlike effort in this area. Traditionally Kanemoto blades were praised highly for their functionality and cutting ability, though as can be seen in this blade, sometimes they had very exciting and active hamon. However the jihada won't match the levels of intricacy seen with Nosada, who can forge at the level of Rai smiths in this regard.

This blade is also accompanied by rather beautiful tachi mounts featuring gold tosogu. Once a katana is placed into tachi mounts it is worn as a tachi and can be described as such. Since the time is past for this blade to be worn in its mounts it should be described now as a katana, and this was the original purpose of the blade.

The Hozon paper records a torokusho of Showa 26. This is the first year of licensing in Japan and is when the daimyo collections were for the most part assessed and handled, so it is usually a sign of daimyo provenance. Given the standing of Kanemoto and the quality of the mounts it seems to agree with its position as a daimyo possession, but it would be difficult at this point to figure out which one. Furthermore, these mounts feature the Imperial Chrysanthemum and the Kiri mon which descends from Toyotomi Hideyoshi but was generally available for use for the daimyo and aristocracy. I think given the Imperial mon on these and the solid gold, they were set up some time after the Tokugawa era finished, in or after the Meiji or Taisho periods for someone in service to the Imperial Household.

Seki Kanemoto Katana Koshirae Left
Seki Kanemoto Katana Koshirae Right

Magoroku Kanemoto and his descendants retained a great reputation for cutting ability throughout the Edo period, and it would seem for this reason someone placed the tachi mounts to this blade and wore it with honor. It is however difficult to tell when mounts join up to blades in life.

Good quality works of Magoroku Kanemoto often pass Juyo, but usually what we see are sometimes cut down at the nakago or worn out. Those can hit the market at good prices because that kind of condition is more acceptable only for Nanbokucho or earlier blades. In this case, the blade is not Magoroku but it still shows the strong traits of the school, and is of an excellent length (lucky it didn't get cut down a bit in Edo being this long). In combination with the nice mounts, this blade serves as a good and collectible example of the Mino tradition for any collection. Though this blade is Hozon I guarantee Tokubetsu Hozon or a full refund should anyone wish to submit this after purchase. The Hozon papers are only a couple of years old and basically it is a money saving measure as Tokubetsu Hozon quality should be evident for most people using their eyeballs and it keeps a bit of extra money in the pocket. Tanobe sensei will not do a sayagaki either on a blade that is of less than Tokubetsu Hozon quality so it confirms what I'm saying here.

Seki Kanemoto Katana Sayagaki

Sayagaki

This sword bears a front side sayagaki but it is signed only with a kao, and I am still working on getting an answer to who made this... I however asked Tanobe sensei to add his commentary on the back to clarify the Kanemoto attribution. He is the retired former head researcher of the Nippon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK).

  1. 濃刕関住兼元
    Noshu Seki Ju Kanemoto
  2. 生茎二字銘也同名重代アリテ本作ハ孫六ト通称サル
    Ubu-nakago niji-mei nari dōmei jūdai arite honsaku wa Magoroku to tsūshō-seru
    Has an ubu-nakago with a niji-mei
  3. 二代兼元ヨリ後ノ年代ト目サルが元亀天正ハ降ラズト推セラル
    Nidai Kanemoto yori ato no nendai to mokusaru ga Genki - Tenshō wa kudarazu to oserare
    There were several generation with this name and this blade dates somewhat later than the second generation, Magoroku Kanemoto, but not later than around Genki (1570-1573) and Tenshō (1573-1592)
  4. 三本杉ヲ草ニ崩シテ尖刃主調ノ変化アル乱ヲ見セ出来宜矣
    Sanbunsugi o sō ni kuzushite togariba shuchō no henka aru midare o mise deki yoroshii
    It shows a varied midareba that bases on togariba elements which appear as a quite freely interpreted sanbonsugi and is of an excellent construction.
  5. 長弐尺四寸七分余有之
    Nagasa 2 shaku 4 sun 7 bu yo kore ari
  6. 于時戊戌松風月
    Koretoki tsuchinoe-inu matsukazezuki
  7. 探山識「花押」
    Tanzan shirusu + kaō*

Anonymous Sayagaki

  1. 兼元
    Kanemoto
  2. 長さ弐尺四寸余此有--反り四分余--生在名--時代室町末期
    Nagasa 2 shaku 4 sun yo kore ari--sori 4 bu yo -- ubu zaimei -- jidai Muromachi-makki
    Nagasa a little over 72.7 cm, sori a little over 1.2 cm -- ubu and signed -- era is end of Muromachi
  3. 刃文互の目尖り刃交る--形往時の姿がそのま々に残されて居り
    Hamon gunome togariba majiru -- katachi ōji no sugata ga sono mama ni nokosarete ori
    The hamon is a gunome that is mixed with togariba -- The shape shows a reminiscence of an earlier sugata
  4. 鍛へ目板目示室町の独特の出来共に美濃伝伝へられる
    Kitae-me itame shimeshi Muromachi no dokutoku no deki tomo ni Mino-den tsutaerareru
    The kitae is an itame and the overall deki, i.e. in terms of hamon and kitae, is typical for the Muromachi-period Mino tradition.
  5. 平成年月日
    Heisei nengappi
    On a day in the Heisei era.
  6. 霜月 「花押」
    Shimotsuki [kao]
    November. Kaō

Note, the slideshow will be coming shortly...