Hizen Tadakuni KatanaHizen Tadakuni

nakago
periodEdo Shinto (ca. 1648)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Token Katana
ratingJo-saku, Wazamono
ubu zaimei
meiHizen ju Harima no Kami Fujiwara Tadakuni
肥前住播磨守藤原忠國
uramei延宝五年
Enpo Gonen (1677)
風単 二ッ胴切落 前嶋八郎友次「花押」
Kazetan - Futatsu-dō kiri-otoshi - Maejima Hachirō Tomotsugu [kao]
己八月六日
Tsuchinoto hachigatsu rokuhi
nagasa69.5cm
price$21,000

The Hizen school centered in Saga town on the western side of Japan was one of the glorious successes of the Shinto period. It is founded by Hashimoto Shinsaemonjo who took on the art name of Tadayoshi, under the sponsorship of the daimyo Nabeshima Naoshige. The house style is based on the work of Yamashiro Rai, and swiftly gained and maintained a reputation for high quality swords, both beautiful and practical with excellent cutting ability.

Tadayoshi was born in 1572 and began learning sword-craft at the end of the koto period. His father was a swordsmith of average average ability who signed under the name Michihiro. His lineage descends from the Sa school. Michihiro died in 1584 and Tadayoshi was orphaned. His father and grandfather (Morihiro) were both in the service of the Nabeshima daimyo and at the time of his father's death, Tadayoshi was too young for service. Instead he took up sword crafting in the village of Nagase-Mura. Roger Robertshaw's excellent reference books The School of Hizen Tadayoshi states that his teacher was likely Iyo no jo Munetsugu. Tadayoshi may have taken on some learning from the nearby Dotanuki school as well.

At the age of 25 with some 12 years of study under his belt, Tadayoshi had entered the service of Nabeshima Naoshige as a swordsmith, and was sent to study under the great master Umetada Myōju in Kyoto. Myōju was able to produce high quality copies of the work of Shizu and Sadamune, and early Tadayoshi work of this period follows his teacher in exploring these forms. Throughout the history of the Hizen school a midareba which is based on this work appears as part of the repertoire its smiths. Myōju seems to have taken a liking to the young Tadayoshi as he co-signed several of his works stating that “This Tadayoshi is my student” on the nakago as a soemei. Umetada Myōju granted Tadayoshi the tada character (忠) which has been faithfully handed down the main Hizen line ever since.

After three years under Myōju, Tadayoshi returned to Hizen and with funds made available through the Nabeshima daimyo he set up his forge and took on sixteen relatives and 60 or so local workers under employment in sword manufacture. Over the years he would sign his swords in various different ways, beginning with a simple five character signature (gojimei) Hizen (no) Kuni Tadayoshi (肥前国忠吉). Though most of his work is not dated, the changes in his signature allows us to group his work into periods. Without going too deeply into the details, for more study on the signature I will simply refer you to Roger Robertshaw's book. During this time Tadayoshi also continued to experiment with midareba and it would be a common form seen in other smiths of the Hizen school such as Tadakuni and Masahiro. In spite of this, the core style of Hizen remained centered around Rai in its settled form of the late Kamakura and early Nanbokucho.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Hizen Tadakuni Katana

Tadayoshi tempers various hamon but he shows himself at his best in suguba that reminds us of Rai Kunimitsu. Token Bijutsu 556

After much success and ever increasing skill in sword making, in 1624 Tadayoshi received the honorary title of Musashi no Daijō during a visit to Umetada Myōju in Kyoto. At this time he also received the noble clan name of Fujiwara from the Imperial Court. In commemorating these events he changed his name to Tadahiro, a combination of his teacher's name and his father's name, making for a new long signature of Hizen (no) Kuni ju Musashi (no) Daijō Tadahiro (肥前国住武蔵大事藤原忠廣). His son would inherit the Tadahiro name and we generally refer to him with the nickname Omi Daijō from his own honorary title. Tadayoshi would not live to see his grandson, the third generation who resumed the name Tadayoshi and who would rival him in talent.

The Hizen school was very prosperous towards the end of Tadayoshi's life. After he changed his name to Tadahiro, some other habits seem to appear. One is that dates more frequently appear on his blades, and those with the Tadahiro signature tend to show his highest degree of skill. By my count there are 96 Juyo blades by Tadayoshi which is an extremely high number for a Shinto smith. 58 of these represent his work up until the name change at age 53. The next 8 years of signing his name Tadahiro show 38 more Juyo. This represents 2.4 Juyo per year of work in the first part of his career. For the last part under the Tadahiro name this rises to 4.75 Juyo per year. During the end of his life he dealt with a fair amount of sickness too, and I theorize that the swords he made and signed himself as Tadahiro were likely above the commercial caliber of swords previously made and that were continuing to be made by the large number of swordsmiths working in his forge. I think he likely slowed down his own personal production due to illness and lessened commercial necessity for output from his own hands with the success of the workshop. As he seems also to have had an extreme amount of natural talent, I think also that he continued to accumulate skill as the years progressed and this also culminates in these works from the last period of his life being recognized at Juyo much more frequently than those that come before. The combination of these two I think increases the number of masterpieces that are directly associated with his personal work.

The work of the last part of his life continue to show an exploration in form, from tanto with detailed horimono, to works in pure suguba and those that appear with Muramasa-like mirror hamon with mixed in gunome or choji, to the Shizu or even a Masamune like style that dates back to his learning under Myōju. Taken as a whole they look like the ongoing experimentation and enjoyment in expanding and practising a broad repertoire of style. Throughout this though Tadayoshi continued to return to the core form of Hizen-to, the elegant Rai based suguba on konuka hada that made the school famous.

When the Shodai died on the 15 Aug. 1632 his swords epitomized the classic Tadayoshi traits of koroai sori (“just right”, that is graceful torii-zori), even width, chū-sugu hamon (medium straight temper) with brilliant nie (found on Goji-mei), ko-maru bōshi (small turnback in the tip temper), and an unobtrusive yakidashi (taper in the temper line at the hamachi). The School of Hizen Tadayoshi, Roger Robertshaw

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Hizen Tadakuni Katana

Hizen Tadakuni

Hirosada was a Hizen swordsmith and half brother to Shodai Tadayoshi. During the rise of Tadayoshi, he likely studied under the Shodai and changed his name to Yoshiie, taking the last half of Tadayoshi's name. His own sons in order of birth were also students of the Hizen school: Kunihiro, Hironori, Hirosada (nidai), and Munehira. The pattern of these names shows that they probably began independent work before Hirosada changed his name to Yoshiie.

Hironori was the second son, his civilian name was Hashimoto Rokurosaemon, and he was born in 1597. He was old enough to train directly under Shodai Tadayoshi who died in 1632 when Hironori was 35 years old. At some point before Tadayoshi died, Hironori he received the Tada character used throughout the Hizen Tadayoshi school and took on the new name Tadakuni.

Tadakuni is known for a gorgeous midareba as well as works done in the tradition Hizen style of suguba. He is known for making very sharp blades and some of his work carry cutting tests from various masters proving their sharpness. Hizen swords in general carried a great reputation as both beautiful items and excellent cutting swords.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Hizen Tadakuni Katana

There is an oshigata of a Tameshigiri on a Tadakuni 1st blade also tested by Kanjurô Hisahide and dated 16 March in the the year 1674, showing the full inscription with Kao. Tadakuni was the son of the brother of Tadayoshi 1st . It reads “Futatso Dô Kiriotosu, Yamano Kanjurô Hisahide , Enpô Ni-nen San-gatsu Jû-Mui-Ka. Hizen Jû Harima no Kami Fujiwara Tadakuni” or “two chests with one stroke by Kanjurô Hisahide from Yamano, on 16 March 1674, the blade made by Fujiwara Tadakuni (1st) Lord of Harima, living in Hizen”. The School of Hizen Tadayoshi, Roger Robertshaw

Shodai Harima no Kami Tadakuni
Shodai Harima no Kami Tadakuni

Books usually say that the first generation Tadakuni used the title Harima no Daijo and the second generation is Harima no Kami. According to the NBTHK Juyo Zufu, the first generation used Harima no Kami at the end of his life. Fujishiro states that the second generation sometimes used Botan and Kiku mon in the nakago, but again we see this in Shodai Tadakuni's late work and most of those that have passed Juyo seem to all have notes that they are the work of the Shodai.

Tadakuni is a smith of great skill, ranked Jo-saku by Fujishiro and carrying the Wazamono rank for great cutting ability. He left behind 30 Juyo works, two of which bear cutting tests. Tadakuni died in 1691, at the age of 94, and at least four smiths would follow him using this name.

Tokubetsu Hozon Hizen Tadakuni KatanaHizen Tadakuni Katana Origami

Tokubetsu Hozon Hizen Tadakuni Katana

This sword is an unusual sword, as it bears a name of Kazetan - 風単. The first character means wind or breeze, and the second character means simple, single, or lone. These nicknames can be a bit hard to figure out but usually signify some fondness of the owner for the blade and profess to its cutting ability. If we romanize this as the Single Wind, it may reflect on the owner's opinion that it will kill with one stroke.

Maejima Hachirō Tomotsugu is a known cutting master, and he performed the cutting test on this blade and recorded the results in gold. He cut through two stacked bodies in one strike, and the name of the sword precedes the cutting remark. Cutting tests are fairly rare, I have counted only 127 over all Juyo items up to session 62. There are relatively more at Tokubetsu Hozon, but it does reflect that they are unusual and partially because of this they are often in high demand from collectors.

Setsudanmei

Enpo gonen

Kazetan — futatsu-dō kiri-otoshi Maejima Hachirō Tomotsugu + kaō

Tsuchinoto hachigatsu roku hi

The test cut was done in Enpo 5, which is 1677. He followed it up by saying it was the earth cycle, and done on the 6th day of the 8th month. This was still within the work dates of Tadakuni, and this is also some useful information as it implies that he was alive when it was made. So, it was likely done on the blade when it was new and we can estimate its date of manufacture. As well, this blade has the longer and more unusual signature of Shodai Tadakuni using both Harima no Kami, and Fujiwara. In older books it was thought that Harima no Kami blades were all by the second generation, but the NBTHK has pointed out on various Juyo blades that they are late works of the first generation. So he seems to have obtained this title some time before 1677 and used it at the end of his life, handing it off to his son. Given his long life, there was probably a smooth handoff to the son who stepped in and maintained the family name (the son is also ranked Jo-saku by Fujishiro).

This is not just opinion as the papers on this blade are new, from Heisei 29 (2017), and place a notation at the end of the signature of Shodai to clarify which Tadakuni generation made this work, similar to some of the Juyo works carrying this mei.

The sword itself is made in signature Hizen school style of suguba. Some of these have passed Juyo though Tadakuni is more known for a flamboyant midareba. The hamon on this blade is bright and classy, the length is good at 69.5cm. This style brings to mind the work of Rai Kunimitsu who was so heavily influential in the work of the Rai smiths. There are many ashi, and this style decends down from Rai Kuniyuki as the choji compressed into suguba leaves this kind of construction with many ashi in it. The yakiba is thick with nie and the hamon bright and beautiful.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Hizen Tadakuni Katana

In all it's a nice quality blade that has a fairly rare cutting test, and finding swords with names is highly unusual and adds a lot to the collectibility. I bought this blade in Japan in November of 2017 and didn't have enough time to bring it in to get a sayagaki done for it. I guarantee there will be no problems requesting a sayagaki if the owner wishes one.

There is a bit of pitting on one side, I think because the blade rusted at one point. I had Ted Tenold do a shiage and as can be seen in the photos the result is quite nice in the hand. There are not many good quality blades around with cutting tests and even fewer that have a name. At the sale price this is a good opportunity to own an interesting artifact like this.