Naoe Shizu Katana

Naoe Shizu

periodNanbokucho (ca. 1350-1370)
designationNBTHK Juyo Token Katana
nakagoo-suriage mumei
nagasa69.6 cm
sori1.2 cm
motohaba2.95 cm
sakihaba1.95 cm
kissaki3.5 cm
nakago nagasa19.5 cm
nakago sori0.2 cm
price -sold-

Aside from Sadamune, I believe Shizu, Samonji, and this Go [Yoshihiro] should form the top three among the ten [of Masamune's disciples]. Dr. Honma Junji

Shizu Saburo Kaneuji is a grand master swordsmith working from the end of the Kamakura period into the beginning of the Nanbokucho period. He was highly influential, and is the founder of the Mino tradition - one of the five general koto styles of swordsmithing. His path through life lead him from his beginnings in Yamato as a Tegai smith most likely working under Kanenaga, to tutelage under Masamune in Kamakura around 1319. He finally settled in the Shizu area of Mino province at the beginning of the Nanbokucho period. The mastery of the Soshu and Yamato traditions merged in his teachings to become the Mino tradition.

Kaneuji started by signing his name with these characters: 包氏. The first character, for Kane, is commonly found in Yamato smiths and was handed down through the students he left behind when he moved to Kamakura. On his arrival to be taught by Masamune, he changed his signature to 兼氏 which was still read as Kaneuji. He has work signed like this that still is in Yamato tradition, showing that he may have come to produce in Kamakura and then learned from Masamune as a secondary effect of being fellow residents. After Kamakura, he moved to Shizu in Mino province, and he is now generally referred to with the nickname Shizu as a result of his final place of work.

Swords from his time period in Yamato are referred to as Yamato Shizu because of the nickname we use for him today. His work after his learning with Masamune are simply referred to as Shizu. This however makes for some points of confusion, because the students he left behind in Yamato are also collectively referred to as Yamato Shizu and there was also a nidai Kaneuji who left behind some excellent works in Yamato. Context is then necessary whenever examining a blade attributed to Yamato Shizu to determine if it is a school or individual attribution.

Kaneuji is famous today for being the student who's work was closest in style to Masamune, and we can confirm through dated works that were recorded in the Edo period that his dates align with the historical production of Masamune. Masamune of course is hailed as the greatest of the Soshu smiths and is usually considered the greatest smith of all time.

The last time I summarized Shizu, his swords have outperformed. Now there are 143 blades that the NBTHK has ranked as Shizu at Juyo and higher. 25 of these are now Tokuju and that leaves 118 Juyo blades and he is now number 5 on the list of all Juyo makers. He also has works ranked Juyo Bijutsuhin and Juyo Bunkazai. He is of course regarded by Fujishiro as Sai-jo Saku, the rating of a grandmaster swordsmith. He retains as well as Ryo-wazamono ranking for sharpness from the Edo period cutting test masters. One thing everyone agrees on is that blades from Mino cut well.

Detail of Juyo Naoe Shizu Katana

Naoe Shizu

The students Shizu Kaneuji left behind in Mino when he died are called Naoe Shizu, as they moved and settled in Naoe which was a village in the northern part of Shizu. These Naoe Shizu smiths are known individually as Kanetsugu, Kanenobu, Kanetomo, and Kanetoshi and may also have been sons of his. Since they typically made Nanbokucho style sugata that have been cut down with signatures lost, they were particularly subject to losing their signatures. Today, there are no signed tachi left by the Naoe Shizu group. This leads to the frequent use of the school classification when attributing to them, but we know the work styles and the smiths by signed tanto and ko-wakizashi.

Naoe-Shizu is an umbrella term for the sons and students of the ancestor of the Mino smiths, Shizu Saburō Kaneuji, who moved to Naoe which was located in the same province. Major masters of this group were Kanetomo and Kanetsugu. This blade shows a connected gunome that is mixed togariba, ara-nie, and sunagashi and due to the clarity of the ha, Kanetsugu comes to mind, although it is difficult to pin down individual names for this group. According to tradition, Shizu Saburō Kaneuji moved to Mino from Yamato province and was one of the Ten Students of Masamune. Accordingly, he worked in the traditional Yamato gunome that he enriched with vivid Sōshū elements. This wild and masculine style was very popular and inspired many smiths up to shinshintō times. Sano Bijutsukan, Showa 46 (1971)

Detail of Juyo Naoe Shizu Katana

Of the Naoe Shizu smiths, there is a nidai Kaneuji, and a sandai Kaneuji. The smith Kanetsugu among the Naoe Shizu smiths is said to be the son of Kaneuji, and it is possible that he is also the nidai Kaneuji. The style of the Naoe Shizu smiths is generally similar to Shizu but a level lower in quality, and those at the topmost level of quality may be thought to be works of Kaneuji now, it is difficult to tell in some cases.

It's written sometimes that one of the distinguishing characteristics is the amount of sunagashi being higher in Naoe Shizu but based on signed work that is not the case at all. Generally Naoe Shizu works are quieter than Shizu Kaneuji with less activity and more regular gunome hamon. There are more active ones than this but the Naoe Shizu smiths seem to have stayed pretty close to this template.

Naoe Shizu signed examples, largest 31.2 cm, smallest 22.4 cm
Naoe Shizu signed examples, largest 31.2 cm, smallest 22.4 cm

The school smiths have very few signed blades compared with Shizu Saburo Kaneuji. Today, there is no tachi known with this signature, and only wakizashi and tanto are seen with this signature. Kanetsugu has one Juyo Bijutsuhin tanto beside this one, and Kanenobu has two Juyo Token tanto. Generally, no later than the Nanbokucho time, Kaneuji hamon mostly have a large pattern, and sometimes ko-gunome styles are seen. With either style, one does not see a whitish jihada, and there are strong nie on the ji and ha.

Kanetsugu, Kanetomo, and Kanenobu's Naoe Shizu smiths hamon have smaller patterns and a somewhat whitish jihada when compared to Kaneuji's work, but Kanetsugu's work shows swords with both styles: a whitish jihada and with no whitish jihada. This wakizashi [by Naoe Shizu Kanetsugu] is a large size with somewhat large pattern gunome, and the jihada is not whitish. The ji and ha are clear, the glamorous boshi is a midare hamon and appears like a like a flame, and blade is full of spirit, and this is the O-Shizu style, and this is valuable information showing us that already in Kanno times (1350), this kind of shape has appeared. NBTHK Token Bijutsu

The reference to the Kanno times Kanetsugu is the large one in the example, showing that the Naoe Shizu smiths did not fall too far from the Kamakura period and helping us establish Shizu Kaneuji in time as he did not date any of his swords. Since the time of that writing a few signed Naoe Shizu daito have been found but these are from the early Muromachi period by the second generations of Kanetomo (both katana) and Kanekiyo (a tachi in Tegai style).

Detail of Juyo Naoe Shizu Katana

The best of the Naoe Shizu smiths are Kanetomo who ranks Jo-jo saku and Ryo-wazamono so not so far away from his teacher, but his works are few in terms of signatures. And, Kanetsugu is one of the sons of Kaneuji and seems to have worked earlier starting in the 1330s since we can see the change in shape of his tanto from straight blades to curved blades more typical with the general Soshu movement of this period. The two examples of his are above. Fujishiro ranks him at Jo saku but clearly the work is parallel to Kanetomo and that signed wakizashi will very likely be the first Naoe Shizu to pass Tokuju should it come back into public sight.

Detail of Juyo Naoe Shizu Katana

Some works of the Naoe Shizu group can be quite good and in one instance a blade was upgraded from Juyo to Tokuju and during this time it was converted to a Shizu Kaneuji attribution. In the case of that blade though it was an old Tokugawa property with a Honami attribution to Shizu Kaneuji already. So this act was more restoring an error made at Juyo in judging it too low.

There was a recently found Meibutsu Shimazu Masamune in Japan a year or two ago and I got to see it in the Kyoto National Museum. The blade looked to me like the Tokuju Yamato Shizu blade I had and when I looked it up later Yamanaka had written that be believed it to be Naoe Shizu.

In general this school needs to be understood as coming below Shizu Kaneuji in ranking and importance and skill, but their skill level is more than sufficient to penetrate the Juyo rankings and some blades within this group will be outstanding against this expectation backdrop.

Tanobe sensei has written that works of the Shizu school, were highly influential on the development and target style of the famous Shinshinto swordsmith Kiyomaro.

The Naoe Shizu works that have been ranked at Juyo by the NBTHK number 160. Of these only 7 are signed, which illustrates one of the problems left to us in differentiating the Naoe Shizu smiths. On top of the Juyo there are another four Juyo Bijutsuhin, with two by Kanetomo, one by Kanetsugu, and one unsigned and attributed to the school.

Detail of Juyo Naoe Shizu Katana
Juyo Token Naoe Shizu Katana

Naoe Shizu

This blade is evident at a glance to have some rather spectacular forging with a very clear itame pattern and some mixed in whirlpools of mokume that make it a pleasure to look at. The Soshu tradition is visible in the mix of hard and soft steels as chikei has formed everywhere on the blade making the forging pattern stand out. The NBTHK Juyo setsumei makes a point of saying that it is kenzen which is a very high degree of praise for health.

The hamon is also quite beautiful especially for Naoe Shizu school, featuring a lot of horizontal activities like sunagashi and kinsuji as well as the togariba and gunome that is synonymous with Shizu's techniques.

This blade tapers substantially and follows a late Kamakura period design rather than the wider middle Nanbokucho period works. Honami Nisshu (the Living National Treasure polisher) narrowed it to Joji in the sayagaki (1362) and noted that he made the sayagaki in 1994 for Hashimoto sensei, though I'm not sure who this man was. The blade was polished by Kenji Mishina, the well known Mukansa polisher and so is very bright and clear in his signature style. Unfortunately the dealer who was handling it seems to have left it at one point to rust and then repaired the rust himself in the kissaki and as a result the hadori there is thick and needs reworking and the yokote is now crooked. I can arrange for Ted Tenold to fix this and since the kissaki is an isolated area the repair will not affect the rest of Mishina san's polish.

It seems to have a knocked out portion on the katana omote of the nakago where there was likely an old kinzogan attribution. A blade like this in Soshu style and a great deal of health was a target for the later Edo period and their need for blades made out as Masamune and Go Yoshihiro as gifted items. I think in the case of this blade with the clear forging pattern and dark steel is close to Etchu work it is most likely one that was attributed as Go or possibly Norishige and this was removed later on and a more accurate attribution made. The NBTHK refers to a period attribution to Naoe Shizu so this means it likely had had an older sayagaki to Naoe Shizu at the time it passed Juyo. At the time of shortening I think the bohi were added on to lighten the blade as it is substantially healthy and so was heavy for its size.

For the Naoe Shizu school this is definitely in the upper third for quality and preservation. However there is a very similarly structured blade to this that passed Juyo with Honami Kochu attribution to Naoe Shizu Kanetsugu so that is probably confirming Naoe Shizu and gives an idea of who probably made this one within the group. The den relaxing this attribution a bit may point to Shizu as another possibility.

I have pointed out the difficulty recently in finding any Soshu works, with those by the upper level Soshu smiths almost completely vanishing from the market. Shizu as well has become hard to find the better works. This one is pretty close to the work of Kaneuji and I think for the quality of the work and its status it is a nice pickup for someone who wants a good example of the Soshu tradition for their collection.

Detail of Juyo Naoe Shizu Katana
Naoe Shizu Katana OshigataNaoe Shizu Katana Origami

Juyo Token Katana

Appointed on the 8th of September, 1980 (Session 27)

Katana, Mumei, den Naoe Shizu


shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, shallow sori, chū-kissaki


itame that is mixed with mokume, that tends to nagare towards the ha, and that features ji-nie


nie-laden ko-notare that is mixed with gunome, togariba, sunagashi, and kinsuji


midare-komi and running out in yakitsume style


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


The term Naoe-Shizu derives from Kaneuji’s (兼氏) students having moved from Shizu (志津) to Naoe (直江) which was also located within Mino province. Their workmanship is similar to that of master Kaneuji but characteristically features a more prominent amount of sunagashi.

The kitae of this blade is mixed with nagare and the hardening is a relatively varied, nie-laden midareba with sunagashi whereupon we are in agreement with the period attribution to Naoe-Shizu. The jiba is of an excellent deki and perfectly healthy (kenzen).

Naoe Shizu Katana Sayagaki


This sword has a sayagaki by Honami Nisshu, the Living National Treasure sword polisher. He wrote it on behalf of a Hashimoto sensei but I've been unable to find out who that owner of the sword was.

  1. 直江志津
  2. 重要刀剣指定
    Juyo Token Shitei
    Judged as Juyo Token
  3. 大磨上無銘、時代貞治之頃
    O-suriage mumei, Jidai Joji no goro
    Shortened and unsigned, the period is around Joji (1362)
  4. 長サ貮尺参寸有之
    Nagasa ni shaku san-sun kore are
    Blade length 69.7cm
  5. 為高橋先生平成六歳戌文月吉日記之 - 重要無形文化財
    Hashimoto-sensei no tame, Heisei rokunen inu fumizuki kichijitsu kore o shirusu - Jūyō-mukei-bunkazai
    Written by Hon’ami Nisshū, Living National Treasure, on a lucky day in July of 1994, year of the dog, for Hashimoto *sensei* + monogram.
  6. 本阿弥日洲「花押」
    Hon’ami Nisshū + kaō
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