Sekishu Naotsuna KatanaSekishu Naotsuna

periodNanbokucho Koto (ca. 1340)
designationNBTHK Juyo Token Katana
nakagoO-suriage, three mekugiana
nagasa67.6cm
sori2.0cm
motohaba3.0cm
sakihaba1.7cm
price -sold-

When Masamune, Norishige and Yukimitsu completed the top achievements of the Soshu tradition, the style of sword making that came out of their forge in Kamakura swept through Japan. Smiths from other provinces came to train in Kamakura according to old books and then took what they learned back to their home province. Shizu is said to come from the Tegai school in Yamato, moved to Kamakura to study under Masamune, then later moved to Mino and became the founder of the Mino tradition. Samonji is said to have come from Chikuzen to study Soshu techniques, and there is a sharp difference between the blades of his youth in the traditional Chikuzen style vs. these he learned after being in Kamakura. The Noami-bon was published about 120 years after the death of Masamune, so this was more recent history for this author than it is for us today.

Naotsuna is a line of smiths from Iwami province and the founder of this line has been included amongst the Masamune Juttetsu in books since the Muromachi period. There is some debate still about the time period or style being right for this to be true, but this is mostly confusion over separating the work of the first and second generations (which was not done in the past, the only sure date anyone ever had was 1376 on a Nidai tanto, which would make this too late to be working under Masamune). If we look at all the work of Naotsuna, we will see there are three generations (at least), and that spreads reference examples over some time.

However the Noami-bon, which has frequently been shown to be correct, is the first time he is mentioned in the Juttetsu. This book was published in 1483, and this is just a bit more than a century after Masamune's death which we believe was around 1340. The writer of Noami-bon was not looking that far into his past in order to write the things he wrote. Noami-bon as well cited the fact already that Masamune's signed work was few and far between as he was simply the best in Japan.

Shodai Sekishu Naotsuna
Zaimei Naotsuna
Tokubetsu Juyo

What we are also told from the old books though is that the Shodai worked in Kenmu (1334) and the nidai in Eiwa (1375) and the Sandai is an Oei period Muromachi smith.

SEKISHU NAOTSUNA — This swordsmith has been considered a pupil of Masamune since the publication of Noami-bon in Bunmei 15th year (1483). The oldest extant date inscription goes back only as far as Eiwa 2nd year (1376) and the tanto carrying this date is considered a work of the nidai (second generation). There is also a signed example attributed to the shodai, and the mei on this long sword bearing strong Soshu characteristics was obviously incised by a different hand from the maker's of the aforesaid tanto.

This slim tachi [note: this reference piece to the right], considered to have been made by the shodai, contains outstanding chikei as well as kinsuji and sunagashi, which all clearly indicate the characteristics of the Soshu product. The Yamato influence, however, can be sensed in the masame mixed in the itame texture as well as in the boshi which is embellished with hakikake and rendered almost in yakizume. Though there still remains the question as to whether Naotsuna actually had a direct connection with Masamune, there seems to be no room for doubting that he did have some kind of contact with the great master of the Soshu tradition. English Token Bijutsu

There is but one other [signed] example slightly older than those considered works of the pupil of Masamune and showing still more obvious ties with Masamune (Tokubetsu Juyo Token).

English Token Bijutsu

Detail of Juyo Sekishu Naotsuna Katana

Sekishu Naotsuna has since olden times counted as one of the Masamune Juttetsu by the Honami family, and his group is thought to have prospered well in Sekishu. At the present time there also seems to be some who have doubts about his being among the Masamune Juttetsu. I think that from both the standpoint of time and work style, it is justified to believe that he was one. Kokura Souemon, Nihonto Koza

Detail of Juyo Sekishu Naotsuna Katana

Naotsuna's Shodai is considered to have been one of Masamune's ten best students, but the validity of the popular belief has not been firmly established yet. This tachi [the reference piece above] could be work of the Shodai. It has the oldest appearance both in the style and the mei, among all the swords bearing the same art name. The mei is clearly different from the one in the tanto dating from Eiwa 2. [...]

His craftsmanship produced a dark iron hue in the ji. Both ji and ha are admirably nie-structured. The hamon is gunome mixed with ko-notare and choji-gokoro variations, creating florid midare accompanying a lot of sunagashi. This almost forms hitatsura-gokoro in places and indicates its having its root in the Soshu tradition. Tanobe Michihiro, English Token Bijutsu

Detail of Juyo Sekishu Naotsuna Katana

There is as mentioned above only one signed example left to the Shodai Naotsuna. There are another 3 Juyo Bijutsuhin, 1 Tokubetsu Juyo and 3 Juyo Token that were made by the 2nd generation Naotsuna and bear signatures.

The NBTHK states that the Shodai Naotsuna may indeed have worked at the very end of the Kamakura period, which is early enough to have been concurrent with the end of the career of Masamune. The NBTHK generally says that the connection to Masamune still needs more study, but takes pains to note that there were a number of generations of this smith, and one needs to keep this in mind while reading expert opinions from earlier on.

Detail of Juyo Sekishu Naotsuna Katana

Without a signature the NBTHK tends not to make a strong statement on first vs. second generation construction. My feeling is that most work looks like the 2nd generation, with fewer works looking very strongly Soshu style like the signed Shodai above.

Sekishu Naotsuna Katana Mei Compare

Naotsuna's Iwami School

Fujishiro states that his father was likely Moritsuna of Sekishu (who now has no work left to us but was working in 1312). Fujishiro thinks that Naotsuna's teacher was Sa Sadayoshi rather than being a student of Masamune. This would make Naotsuna inherit from Sadayoshi and in turn Samonji and then Masamune. This would be an explanation for his learning the Soshu den, as Sadayoshi learns from Sa, who is another of the great students of Masamune.

I think Fujishiro's opinion is based on seeing the signed work of the Nidai, and in particular the dated item from 1376, as he talks about Oei period (1394) primarily. Fujishiro cites the traditional start year of 1324 for Naotsuna (end of the Kamakura period) but did not see the signed tachi used by the NBTHK as evidence for a connection to Masamune. As well, there is not enough time to fit in three generations of Naotsuna if we view the first generation as a student of Sadayoshi.

Since the Shodai's style is gunome and choji influenced, it is possible that he inherits through Kamakura Ichimonji Suketsuna. This would place him at the correct time in Kamakura to line up with the old books attestation to his work period in 1326, as Suketsuna is working in the early 1300s. They share half a name, and it explains where he obtained his Soshu style originally as well as making him a contemporary of Masamune and able to take study with him as a co-resident in Kamakura. Note that this is my musing and theory. I think there is always some seed of truth in the old stories if not outright truth, and Naotsuna coming from the Suketsuna line would explain a lot of things.

Following the three generations of Naotsuna are three generations of Sadatsuna (possibly sons and younger brothers). Sadatsuna is also considered a good smith with a Jo-saku rating, and again we encounter a problem deciding between generations. As well as Sadatsuna there is a remarkably large school from Iwami. They include: Kanetsuna, Tsunekane, Naoshige, Naosada, Hirosue, Hirosada, Rinsho, Yoshisue, Kazusada, Sadayuki, Sanetsuna, Suesada and Tsuguhiro (as well as others).

In terms of signing style, the Shodai signed with only Naotsuna 直綱, while the Nidai signed Sekishu Izuha ju Naotsuna 石州出羽住直綱, Sekishu ju Naotsuna 石州出羽住直綱 or Naotsuna Saku 直綱作.

Detail of Juyo Sekishu Naotsuna Katana

Suesada is said to be one of the sons of Naotsuna, and he has left behind a Juyo Bijutsuhin O-Dachi with a cutting edge of 167cm.

The Meikan says “Suesada is a son of Iwami Naosada and signs in two characters. There is an extant work with the production date of Oei 19.” It is believed that any swordsmith needs exceptional forging skill to make odachi and then the maker tends to be attributed to one in the earlier period. Dr. Honma Junji

Nagayama includes him with Soden-Bizen makers, though it is hard to exactly conclude a strong Bizen influence in his work. The Naotsuna style is said to look like a mix of Shizu with Samonji, with a black look to the steel. The hamon is usually energetic but in later generations of the Iwami school becomes less wild.

Fujishiro ranks Naotsuna at Jo-jo saku for highly superior skill. His peers in time and school are smiths like Samonji and Shizu. Naotsuna ranks one level below these great grand masters, yet his line is still very highly regarded. Naotsuna works have passed Tokubetsu Juyo, and Juyo Bijutsuhin. Also, Toda Ujiyoshi (a daimyo from Sagami) gave a Naotsuna to the fourth Tokugawa Shogun Ietsuna as a gift to thank him for a promotion. Kuroda Naokuni (daimyo from Buzen) gave a Naotsuna to the 5th Shogun Tsunayoshi. Giving a maker at this kind of level, that is, from a daimyo to the Shogun, indicates that the maker had to be held in high regard by all parties involved.

Juyo Token Sekishu Naotsuna Katana

Sekishu Naotsuna Katana

Not too long ago a Juyo Naotsuna sold at Bonham's for $134,000 and I had an opportunity to buy one of the Tokuju Nidai Naotsuna blades some years ago for $220,000. I think those prices are a bit expensive for Naotsuna but quality comes at a price.

I owned this sword more than 15 years ago and it was one of my favorite pieces. I bought it back recently from the collector who I sold it to then, as he's getting on in years and his kids are not interested in sword collecting.

This blade is one of the more exciting Soshu tradition blades I've had the pleasure to own. It is thick and robust, in good health with a clam shell shaped niku and the hamon is jammed with all the typical Soshu activities. Though it is loosely based on gunome, it is stacked and layered, broken up by shining inazuma, kinsuji and yo. The jigane is finely forged with ji nie coating it, and fine chikei throughout.

Naotsuna hardened his blades with a lot of heat in the monouchi part of the blade, and as a result ara nie form in this area of the blade. It is not so far from nie kuzure which are also seen in Masamune and Shizu.

When I owned this blade, it was one of my first swords and unfortunately I used uchiko then as many people starting out do. There are some abrasions on the blade now which date to my ownership I believe. They cannot be seen in hand but show up in the formal style photos due to the type of light I use. There are a couple of scratches in the kissaki which predate my ownership. The polish though is excellent and I wouldn't recommend changing a thing as the blade was very lovingly polished by Mitsumine who signed his name in the bohi and submitted the blade to Juyo Token in 1966. This is about five years before Tokubetsu Juyo existed, and blades that passed Juyo in this era were receiving the highest possible ranking. So this needs to be taken into consideration when looking at Juyo Token that predate 1972.

I think the bohi are atobori from when the blade was shortened in the Edo period. The blade is thick and heavy and the owner likely wanted it to be a bit quicker in the hand. At the time they would cut the grooves to the new machi after the blade was shortened. If this was done today to try to fake old bohi they would cut it all the way through the end of the nakago to make it look like they went down to the old machi which was cut off the blade. At this time I think an umegane was added in part of the hi. These atobori hi are not considered detrimental (though original is preferred by collectors) as they are part of the history of the blade, and blades routinely pass Juyo and Tokuju like this. As can be seen in the papers below, no extra note is made about this and it is never mentioned in papers nor do dealers ever bother telling people in person or online as it's expected that you can figure it out on your own (though I like to educate on these matters).

This blade has long been one I have wanted to get back, as at the time I sold it my photographic skills were rudimentary and I always wanted to get the blade properly shot and documented. The jigane is very clear and due to the health of the blade there are almost no kitae ware in it.

I have been writing lately that it's very difficult getting good Soshu blades from the Nanbokucho and Kamakura periods anymore. When they come up they tend to disappear very fast. Just last week a Norishige wakizashi with blurry photos appeared online on a Japanese website and sold the next day. Norishige in particular has seen great price increases, with asking prices at the Dai Token Ichi being double and triple what I would have expected the blades to go for previously.

Detail of Juyo Sekishu Naotsuna Katana

A blade like this with flamboyant and densely packed activities, beautiful in the hand and by one of the Masamune Juttetsu is going to get even harder from here as sword collecting continues to internationalize. When they are bought and brought to China or Russia, they go off the western market permanently and won't be seen again. If you are interested in building out a collection of the Masamune Juttetsu, bear in mind that not all the Soshu Juyo are in this kind of condition nor are all the Juyo so packed with gorgeous activities as a blade like this. It's an opportunity not to be looked over if you have the desire and the means.

Sekishu Naotsuna Katana OshigataSekishu Naotsuna Katana Origami

Juyo Token

Appointed on April 20, 1966 - Juyo Token Session 14

Katana, Mumei, Sekishu Naotsuna

Keijo

Shinogi-zukuri, iori mune, little sori, Chu-kissaki.

Kitae

Dense itame hada, very fine ji nie.

Hamon

Gunome mixed with ko-gunome, soroi (even), with ko-ashi and yo, showing sunagashi, deep nioi with ko nie and ara-nie here and there.

Boshi

Omote: Midarekomi, saki komaru hakikake Ura: Midarekomi, hakikake

Horimono

Bohi is carved on both sides.

Nakago

O-suriage, sakigiri, yasurime is katte sagari, with 3 mekugiana, mumei.

Setsumei

Naotsuna is a swordsmith came from Sekishu Izuha. The first Naotsuna is said to be one of the Masamune Juttestu (ten disciples). This sword is o-suriage mumei but its hamon with ji nie on itame, gunome mixed with ashi and yo and strong nie affirms that its created by Naotsuna. The jiba (i.e. jigane and hamon) is excellent.

Shomeisho Certificate - 証明書

In 1993, the previous owner lost the Juyo paper. In these cases the NBTHK issues a replacement paper. This is the translation of the replacement paper.

Designation number1761
Nagasa67.6
TōrokushōŌsaka, No. 43130
Issued dateApril 7, 1964

katana, mumei, Sekishū Naotsuna (石州直綱)

We hereby confirm that the above listed blade has been designated under the given number as a jūyō-tōken on April 20, 1966.

December 3, 1993

[Foundation] Nihon Bijutsu Tōken Hozon Kyōkai, NBTHK



Sekishu Naotsuna Katana Sayagaki

Sayagaki

This sword bears a sayagaki from Dr. Honma Junji, one of the co-founders of the NBTHK and its chairman, and the top Soshu scholar of the 20th century. The last two sentences indicate it was attested to by Kunzan in his studio at his retreat which was named Kugasanbo. It is unusual to see an additional note like this from Dr. Honma so it is something to be cherished.

  1. 石州直綱
    Sekishū Naotsuna
  2. 大磨
    ō-suriage
    Shortened.
  3. 刃長二尺二寸三分
    hacho ni shaku, ni sun san bu
    length 67.6 cm
  4. 昭和壬。。。
    Showa mizunoe ne minazuki kinoto-hebidoshi shinshin no hi
    June 1972), year of the rat.
  5. 於久我山房 薫山(花押)
    Kyugasanbo ni oite. Kunzan shirusu (kao)
    Written at Kugasanbo. Inscribed by Kunzan (monogram)