|period||Muromachi (Oei, 1422)|
|designation||NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Token|
|nakago||ubu, 1 mekugiana (adjusted)|
|mei||Bishu Osafune Morimitsu|
|uramei||Oei 31 nen, ni gatsu hi (February, 1422)|
Bizen Osafune Shuri no Suke Morimitsu is one of the famous smiths of the Oei period of the early Muromachi, known as the Oei San Mitsu. The other two of the three named are his father Moromitsu and his colleague and likely younger brother Yasumitsu. Together, these three smiths are considered the representative Bizen smiths of this time. Kokan Nagayama writes that these three are "very famous, and excellent." Today there exist many highly rated swords from these smiths at the most prestigous levels, Juyo Bunkazai, Juyo Bijutsuhin and Kokuho (National Treasure). The three smiths together are considered to be the best swordsmiths active during their period.
Morimitsu traces his lineage back to one of the most renowned Bizen smiths, Kanemitsu, through his father Moromitsu, who learned from Kanemitsu's student Tomomitsu. Kanemitsu is one of the Masamune no Juttetsu (the Ten Disciples of Masamune), but it is currently disputed whether he learned directly from Masamune or was only partially influenced by the Soshu style which came into vogue at his time. Kanemitsu is thought to have made the sharpest nihonto, bar none, and his work was popular with generals and daimyo for this reason. They often carry names such as "The Stonecutter" which testify to their prowess.
After Kanemitsu's time, the Bizen tradition fell into a slow period of decline. The subsequent appearance of the Oei San Mitsu (Morimitsu in particular) is significant in reversing this decline bringing the Bizen tradition back to the fore. The two smiths Yasumitsu and Morimitsu are known to have worked together on pieces they have jointly signed, and these two smiths are recognized as O-wazamono, for a very great degree of sharpness on their works. Fujishiro states that in terms of swordmaking in general in Japan during the Oei period:
Individuals Yasumitsu and Morimitsu possessed superior technology and overwhelmed the others, and this is probably one of the facts contributing to the traditional story about the superiority of the Bizen swordsmiths. This activity of Yasumitsu and Morimitsu was after around Oei 15 or 16.
It is considered that the work of Morimitsu represents the pinnacle of nihonto artistry during his time period. Morimitsu also carries a very high rating for sharpness, O-wazamono, for highly superior cutting ability.
This delightful tanto is a real treat. My personal favorite activities are found in the jihada, and this piece does not disappoint as it is packed full of lively chikei. The depth of contrast in the color of steels in the jihada is remarkable. It has a slight mitsu mune, and the jihada is a ko-itame which looks to set the pattern for swordsmiths of the Osafune family who would come later on, such as Yosozaemon no jo Sukesada.
This tanto currently bears Tokubetsu Hozon papers from the NBTHK, certifying its quality and authenticity. There is one place on the sword that shows some o-hada and this catches the light in the formal photographs. In the handheld it is hard to spot but is photographed.
Morimitsu is known to mix suguba on wakizashi and tanto with other forms of hamon, and this tanto shows an ito suguba with a slight ko-notare at the base. Ito suguba is considered one of the most difficult hamon to create. It shows his skill well, with a bright line of nioi and beautiful tight turnback at the kissaki. Bo utsuri is vivid and can be easily seen in the photographs, which is normally very difficult to achieve unless the utsuri is as bright as this.
The nakago is beautifully signed with a nagamei, Bishu Osafune Morimitsu, and a date, Oei 31 Nen, Ni Gatsu Hi (a day in the second month of 1422). A long mei and date like this are a big positive.
This piece is accompanied by koshirae in an excellent state of preservation bearing the maker's signature (which is difficult for me to interpret). They are black lacquered and austere in true samurai style, and bear the Tomoe mon. There are many variations of this mon, and this one seems associated with the Choichi, Uchioka, Ujiasa and Oyama families... and it is generally found in the Kanto, the area north of the Eastern Provinces. However, since mon were used based on preference in the Edo period there is no surefire association that can be drawn at the present time from mon by themselves. The Tomoe was the most popular mon of the Kamakura period, and has been used as far back as the Heian.
This pattern can symbolize Ying and Yang in Chinese art, but in Japanese art reflects the swirling action of a whirlpool. As such, it can be found often on rooftop decorations where it represents water and is seen as protection from fire.
In conclusion, this is a great work by one of the representative mainline Bizen smiths, with fine koshirae in perfect condition. It is highly collectable, and a beautiful addition to any collection.