Naoe Shizu TantoNaoe Shizu

periodNanbokucho (ca. 1360)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Token Tanto
ratingJo saku
nakagoubu, mumei, 1 mekugiana
nagasa26.4 cm
sori0.1 cm
motohaba2.7 cm
nakago nagasa10 cm
nakago sorislight
price$23,500 -two for one special-

Bonus: I am including with this tanto a Nanbokucho katana by Esshu Kuniyuki, a Jo-saku smith from Echizen working in the Mino/Soshu group that migrated to this province in the Nanbokucho period. More on that in the end of the listing.

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.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Naoe Shizu Tanto
Shizu Kaneuji Reference
Shizu Kaneuji Reference
Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Naoe Shizu Tanto
Naoe Shizu Kanetomo Reference
Naoe Shizu Kanetomo Reference
Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Naoe Shizu Tanto

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.

Kaneuji is famous today for being the student of Masamune who's work was closest in style to the master. 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.

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.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Naoe Shizu Tanto

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

Today Shizu's swords rank from Juyo (of which he has 130, placing #6 overall in the list of makers) and Tokubetsu Juyo (of which he has 14). 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.

The Naoe Shizu works that have been ranked at Juyo by the NBTHK number 157. 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 Tokubetsu Hozon Naoe Shizu Tanto
Tokubetsu Hozon Naoe Shizu TantoNaoe Shizu Tanto Origami

Tokubetsu Hozon Naoe Shizu Tanto

This is a great example of Soshu work from the middle Nanbokucho period. This tanto is a bit polished down but still retains an extremely impressive hamon. This blade is very similar in structure to the Imagawa Shizu that I had on my site previously, where the hamon is the type that Kiyomaro copied and in fact is a lot closer to Shizu Kaneuji than to what is traditionally considered to be Naoe Shizu. Naoe Shizu works tend to have a lot less activity than what we see here, with very strong kinsuji and lots of sunagashi as well as dramatic ups and downs in the hamon.

The horimono on this blade is a gomabashi on one side which reflects chopsticks used in Buddhist ritual and invokes Kannon (Kanzeon Bosatsu), the goddess of mercy. On the opposite is a suken with tsume. The suken is an attribute of Fudo Myoo, the god of justice. This horimono layout is found on the works of various Soshu smiths starting with Soshu Sadamune.

Together these represent the opposites of forgiveness/atonement and punishment/justice, which reflect back on sayings about the sword that gives life, and the sword that takes life. The exact meaning is left for you to ponder but invokes philosophical choices and about the application of power that the sword represents. In the balance of these two extremes, one can hope for enlightenment and to use the sword or one's power in life in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time. Such a message would be left to the owner to consider, and reconsider as he wore, wielded and cared for his blade and a constant reminder of his duty and responsibility.

Shizu himself did not leave very many signed tanto behind but one of the very best examples has extremely similar hamon to this blade. There are according to the NBTHK just two authentic signed Kaneuji tanto. This blade shown here has a similar shape to the signed blade as well. Both have some muneyaki and intense sunagashi as well as a hamon that moves up past the midpoint of the ji and back down to close to the ha. The signed one though is quite small at only 19.15 cm and in spite of that small size someone cut off the end of the nakago jiri. Probably the machi was moved up a bit in that tanto too when this was done and it started out around 22-23 cm. For some reason these smiths that made large blades in the Nanbokucho period like Chogi and Shizu, along with Samonji made tanto that were quite small and we're not so sure why. It is possibly for convenience as a weapon of last resort when carrying an oversized tachi. Though this signed Kaneuji is not papered, the NBTHK documented it in the Token Bijutsu as one of the 12 annual masterpiece works for education and the signature is not in doubt.

This blade was made unsigned and is ubu, but the condition of the end of the nakago jiri being kengyo is consistent with an older attribution to Soshu Sadamune. The blade does have a sayagaki on it which is unsigned attributing it to Takagi Sadamune. Takagi Sadamune was either the second generation Soshu Sadamune or else his son, as there are many stories of Sadamune moving to Goshu (Takagi) at the end of his career. Old oshigata books have many clean examples of this Takagi Sadamune mei but only one blade has survived to the present day. The sayagaki also values the blade very highly at 200 gold coins. Given the nakago, an attribution to Takagi Sadamune or Soshu Sadamune is not out of the question, but Takagi Sadamune's work tends to be a bit bigger and the hamon is more in keeping with Shizu Kaneuji.

The Imagawa Shizu which had this same structure had some contesting opinions about it being Shizu or Naoe Shizu, and in this case as Tanobe sensei would say Naoe Shizu is safe harbor meaning that it is a conservative call. I personally think that these very vivid works are more likely to be Kaneuji than they are to be his students. Especially in this case with the signed reference piece having such a strong resemblance in the hamon, it makes a strong argument. I put up the Kaneuji reference as well as a signed example of one of his students, Kanetomo, which is very typical for the Naoe Shizu school. In case you want to check my text, you can do so very easily with your eyes and judge which you think matches this work best. The Kanetomo in this case is Juyo Bijutsuhin and is itself a masterpiece. Even so the activity is not as intense as Shizu Kaneuji.

This tanto as mentioned is a bit polished down but I think has a case to be made for Juyo especially on the strength of the hamon. I have not yet brought it to Tanobe sensei for his opinion but I will likely do this in the future.

Regardless of the above, it is very hard to find any exciting Soshu blades in the current market. New collectors who come into this field as well as existing ones are very fond of Soshu work (as am I), because good works are always very exciting and dynamic. This tanto shows the best qualities of Soshu den particularly in Shizu style in the hamon. Shizu tanto are unusual to find and Naoe Shizu tanto while still quite unusual do not generally have this amount vivid nie in them. Because of this, this blade I think is a nice acquisition for anyone who wants a good Soshu example but cannot step into a Juyo work. And I think that there is potential for Juyo in the future but this needs a bit more background investigation about the attribution before it can get there.

Koshirae LeftKoshirae Right

This blade also has a nice Edo period koshirae featuring some very nice lacquer work and several family mon. Japanese ownership is notoriously flippant when it comes to keeping kozuka original so I think it is more likely that the original kozuka for this blade was kiri mon that matched the menuki but at this point it's hard to tell. This kind of menuki would end up attributed to the Goto school or else Kyo Kinko or Yoshioka most of the time.

Naoe Shizu Tanto Kuniyuki PresentationNaoe Shizu Tanto Kuniyuki Origami

Tokubetsu Hozon Esshu Kuniyuki katana

Bonus Item!

Esshu Kuniyuki is a smith from Echizen province in the north of Japan who was influenced by the work of Norishige and the Soshu den. He seems to have worked side by side with Tametsugu, the son of Go Yoshihiro and student of Norishige. His work shows a lot of nie in the ha and Norishige-like forging with a lot of chikei and becoming close to matsukawa hada. His work has passed up to Tokubetsu Juyo by the NBTHK, and another 5 Juyo Token, but his work is very rarely seen. Kuniyuki is ranked at Jo-saku by Fujishiro, the same as Tametsugu.

There are extant blades by him dated in Joji (1364, 1365) and the Kozan Oshigata documents another two signed and dated blades by him, the first being Joji era (1365 - this one is the Tokuju example) and another that is hard to read but seems to be Oan 4 (1372). These begin with Esshu as the place name, and show very good forging skill with a lot of chikei and clear Soshu seems to influence in the later works. The earliest work is done with an ito suguba and horimono like Shintogo Kunimitsu, and the later works, the shapes are taken from Sadamune but the forging style comes down through Norishige. So this is very interesting as his work all seems to be focused on emulating recent Soshu smiths of his era.

The Umetada Meikan also lists one of his swords signed Esshu ju Fujiwara Kuniyuki side by side with a similarly signed Tametsugu Esshu ju Fujiwara Tametsugu so there is a clear connection between him and Tametsugu. As well on this page is a rare oshigata of the smith Yoshizane who is one of the sons of Go Yoshihiro. So from this oshigata we can see the Umetada were classifying these three as students of Go, or at least of Go and Norishige together. Especially as these immediately follow the swords of Go and Norishige in the Umetada Meikan, the context is pretty clear. As a side note from here, following these smiths on the next pages is a smith called Hata Chogi (秦長義) which can also be read as Hata Nagayoshi and signed based in Echigo (the third of the three Esshu provinces of Echizen, Etchu and Echigo). Fujishiro wrote that he is in the Kanro Toshinaga lineage which would relate him back to Takagi Sadamune and Soshu Sadamune. However the Umetada have him coming right after Yoshizane (橘義真), and Yoshizane's signature follows this same pattern of three characters, and of course the famous smith at the root of this also using the YOSHI (義) character is Go Yoshihiro (江義弘). So it seems like he may be a student of Go as well.

Yoshizane (left), Esshu Tametsugu (center) and Esshu Kuniyuki (right)
Yoshizane (left), Esshu Tametsugu (center) and Esshu Kuniyuki (right)

The date on the Kuniyuki in this example is Oan Rokunen (Oan 6, 1373) and the Tametsugu is not dated. There is another oshigata beside it with an Engen Gonen date (1340) and goes on to say Echizen Kuni before being cut off. This is likely a fourth sword that has been classified as Yoshizane based on how it's aligned on the page. This kind of mei is called kakikudashi where the mei follows the date, and given the length of these signatures a lot got cut halfway through during suriage. That the other Yoshizane is a katana and this kakikudashi one is cut implies it was a tachi. And we then have a work span for Yoshizane of 1340 to close to Oei where katana began to be fashionable.

Tametsugu and Kuniyuki both later signed with Noshu as their province indicating that they moved to Mino province and followed Kinju in doing so, another smith who made the move to Mino after training somehow in the Soshu den. These three examples with Noshu in the mei of Kuniyuki are further documented in the Kozan Oshigata and both the Tametsugu and Kuniyuki have an Oan 7 date (1374). So thankfully because of the Kuniyuki works we know the exact date of the move of Tametsugu and Kuniyuki to Mino to be right at the juncture of 1373-1374.

There is another extant Tametsugu which is Juyo Bijutsuhin and Oan era and Noshu signature but the year is obliterated on that blade. We can likely now pinpoint that as 1373 or later (Oan 6 and up). And there is a Juyo Naginata Naoshi still extant by Tametsugu with an Oan 7 (1374) date. All of this is very strong evidence that Tametsugu and Kuniyuki share the same workplace in Esshu/Echizen and then move together at the same time to Mino. That would also imply then that they share the same teacher (Norishige), and goes a long way to explaining the work style of Kuniyuki (very similar to Norishige).

The other great Masamune student Kaneuji and his disciples settled in Shizu and later on in Naoe Shizu which ended up giving them their school names. Kinju, Tametsugu and Kuniyuki all migrated to Seki town and established what would become the Seki school that became the focal point for the Mino tradition. In both cases these smiths brought Soshu technology and habits to Mino but over time they transformed into what we consider to be the fifth and final tradition of the Gokaden.

If this blade were in a bit better condition it would easily qualify for Juyo, as the skill level is very high and the activity is still quite flamboyant on the blade. The hamon is packed with nie, sunagashi and kinsuji and the hamon blurs into the hada like Norishige, forming a quasi-hitatsura. All of this shows the influence of Norishige and if one cannot buy a Norishige this is the second best. I am including it as a package with this tanto as they together form a good example of the early Mino tradition where it was still strongly Soshu oriented and have similar style of workmanship. As the skill level is high in this sword and the issues with it are from condition, Tanobe sensei still praised it well in the sayagaki that is attached. He also confirms this analysis in a straightforward statement about the move to Mino. He dates it to the middle Nanbokucho period, from before the move to Mino, so it is from about 1364.

Another nice thing about these old oshigata and signatures is that they do confirm a mass movement of swordsmiths to Mino province. Smiths moved from Yamato Senjuin and Tegai to make the Mino-Senjuin and Shizu schools. As well as Kinju coming from Yamato, we see these Esshu smiths moving along as well. What the core reason was for this migration to Mino province from all these other locales during the mid to late Nanbokucho period is a good question but may have to do with the Toki daimyo taking over the province under the Muromachi Shogunate and the need for weapons during the war between the Northern and Southern Court. Then as now, war means profits and weapons makers follow the profits.

This tells us something else about the Mino tradition. Kaneuji first went to Shizu and then his students after his death or during his old age moved to Naoe Shizu. They all used the Kane (兼) character. The middle and end of the Mino tradition in the Muromachi period saw almost all of the smiths in the province using Kane in the Shizu pattern, like Kanesada, Kanefusa, Kanemoto, Kanemitsu, and so on. These Kane smiths were found in Seki in the mid to late Muromachi though their origins were in Shizu and Naoe Shizu. The names of Tametsugu, Kinju and Kuniyuki seem not to have been transmitted too far down the line. So the Naoe Shizu smiths must in the end have come to Seki to join these makers and subsumed their school in the end. Even today Seki remains as a well known center for cutlery.

In form the blade is 71 cm length and has a motohaba of 3.0 cm and a lot of taper, down to 1.85 cm in the monouchi. This shape shows the final stage of Nanbokucho evolution when the massive o-dachi of the Enbun period (1356) went out of style. It has futasujibi which always look good on Soshu works, and the terminus of these shows about where the original habaki sat. So there is some original nakago on the blade still and it was about 85 cm in length originally as a tachi. If you look over the ji you can see the whorls of o-hada mixed with running itame that form something like matsukawa hada that came from his teacher Norishige.

This sword passed Tokubetsu Hozon at the NBTHK, but the previous owner lost the papers. I will try to recover them but I guarantee replacement at Tokubetsu Hozon for the next owner. Tanobe sensei's sayagaki was done in 2004 and at that time he was working at the NBTHK and as a result, only did sayagaki on blades that had already passed Tokubetsu Hozon.

Note: I will be adding some photos of the blade to the slideshow shortly.

Naoe Shizu Tanto Kuniyuki Sayagaki

Katana Sayagaki

This sayagaki is for the Esshu Kuniyuki katana and was written by Tanobe Michihiro, the retired head researcher of the NBTHK.

  1. 越前國藤原国行
    Echizen no Kuni Fujiwara Kuniyuki
  2. 但大磨上無銘也時代南北朝中期同工後ニ金重・為継等與共ニ美濃ニ移住シ美濃傳ノ源流トナル 本作同工ノ一作域ナル皆焼風ノ出来ヲ示ス佳品ニ候
    Tadashi ō-suriage mumei nari, jidai Nanbokuchō-chūki. Dōkō ato ni Kinjū, Tametsugu nado tomi ni suru Mino ni ijū-shi Mino-den no genryū to naru. Honsaku dōkō ichi-saku’iki naru hitatsura-fū no deki o shimesu kahin ni sōrō.
    This blade is ō-suriage and mumei and dates to the mid-Nanbokuchō period. Kuniyuki moved later in his career from Echizen to Mino province where he, Kinjū, Tametsugu, and other smiths laid the foundations for the Mino tradition of sword making. This masterwork is interpreted in a hitatsura-like deki, representing one of the known workmanships of Kuniyuki.
  3. 刃長貮尺参寸五分有之
    Hachō ni-shaku san-sun go-bu kore ari
    Blade length ~ 71.2 cm
  4. 平成甲申暦文月上浣探山鍳并誌「花押」
    Heisei Kinoe-sarudoshi fumizuki jōkan Tanzan kangamite narabi ni shirushite + kaō
    Examined and written by Tanzan (Tanobe Michihiro) in the first third of July in the year of the monkey of the Heisei era (2004) + monogram.
Naoe Shizu Tanto Sayagaki

Tanto Sayagaki

This sayagaki is for the Naoe Shizu tanto and dates to the end of the Edo period but the author is unknown.

  1. 高木貞宗
    Takagi Sadamune
  2. 代金子貮百枚
    Dai kinsu nihyaku-mai
    Valued at 200 gold coins
  3. 長サ八寸七分有之
    Nagasa hachisun nanabu ari kore
    The length is 8 sun 7 bu (26.4 cm)