Norishige KatanaNorishige

designationJuyo Token
periodLate Kamakura
nakagoO-suriage mumei, 2 mekugiana

Note, the photography on this page was done by Ron Bingham, who runs the site .

Norishige is one of the all time great and famous smiths. For a long time he was considered to be one of the better students of Masamune. There is an old story though that he is a student of Shintogo Kunimitsu, and a close analysis of his style will place him earlier in time so that he does not come after Masamune at all. He, along with Yukimitsu, is now considered a senior pupil to Masamune in the Shintogo Kunimitsu mon.

There are works by Norishige which are Kokuho (National Treasure) designated, as well as Juyo Bijutsuhin, Juyo Bunkazai, and Tokubetsu Juyo Token. He is considered to be a peer to Masamune in skill, and is famous for what is known as matsukawa hada, a pattern in the steel which looks like the bark of a Japanese pine tree. This typical style of Norishige is found to have elements of ko-Bizen and ko-Hoki in it. It is considered that Yasutsuna was one of the primary influences on both Norishige and Masamune.

The ghostly shapes of matsukawa hada are formed when strong chikei combine in an o-hada pattern. Though this is his famous trademark (and his key kantei point), it does not appear in all of his works. It is possible that it is something that he developed on his own along his personal progression as an artist. The students of Norishige were also able to produce this, though not as well, and the technique died soon after their passing.

Some of the Shinto greats, like Hankei and Kunihiro tried to emulate and recreate the work of Norishige. They were able to come close, but not quite hit the nail on the head in their quest after the great master. It is interesting to see their work though, and to imagine the trials and effort they expended trying to figure out just how Norishige was able to accomplish what he did.

It has been written in the NBTHK publication, Token Bijutsu, that Norishige is superior to Masamune in producing hataraki of nie both in the jihada and hamon. On the other hand Masamune has the upper hand in the clearness of jigane and the brightness of the hamon.

Fujishiro sensei in his writings about Norishige, questions the skill of Masamune, but has no reservations about Norishige, calling his work superb. He rates him Sai-jo Saku, for highest level of skill and quality. He also notes that in the jitetsu of Norishige, and the hamon can blend into the jihada, where the excessive amounts of activity in both can make it unclear where one stops and the other begins.

Norishige is rated at 2000 man yen, which places him on an equal footing with other grand-masters like Rai Kunitoshi.

Juyo Token Norishige

This particular sword was discovered in gunto mounts in the United States, and restored to health by Cary Condell. He has noted that it is one of relatively few Juyo Token that lack the Den designation by the NBTHK. This indicates that it shows all of Norishige's typical traits and does not show any workmanship in excess of his repertoire. It was offered previously on at $77,000.

This particular sword shows excellent matsukawa hada, and is precious for this reason because of the previous observation that it is not always found in the works of Norishige. The NBTHK in their oshigata took the time to draw in the matsukawa patterns, which is unusual as hada is generally ignored in oshigata.

This sword was requested by the American Branch of the NBTHK to be featured in two exhibits, "The Influence of Masamune" in August 2003, and "Etchu Blades" in August 2004. The 2003 exhibit has since been made available in published form, and the 2004 exhibit will be published when the necessary work is completed.


This sword at 62cm is a bit on the short side, but still has a well preserved sori despite it being suriage. This indicates that it possibly started life as a kodachi and has been shortened slightly, only barely losing the signature. It now resides in high quality Higo mounts.

I have taken this sword to Japan with me to get the comments of Michihiro Tanobe sensei, who also wrote the sayagaki on the shirasaya. There is a small fukure on the shinogi-ji near the kissaki on this sword, and he said in reference to this that if a bit healthier, it would be a strong Tokubetsu Juyo candidate. It is nice comment to hear, because it is a statement to the overall importance of this work in the body of Norishige.

He then went on to speak about it, and said, "20% Go, 80% Norishige." I asked him to explain this comment, and he said that he felt the work was strongly flavored by the influence of Go Yoshihiro. Go, of course is considered the number one student of Masamune and rivals him in skill.

There is a story in Japan about Go submitting a sword to judgment in a competition, and having it come in second. Where he lived, he was doubtless the greatest master and when he found out that his sword had not been judged the best, he angrily sought out the man who made the sword that bested him so that he may confront and challenge him.

When he arrived in Kamakura at the workshop of Masamune, he was instantly humbled by the peaceful, pristine and spiritual conditions under which the grand-master worked. He immediately knew that he was outranked, and fell to his knees and asked Masamune to take him on as his student.

Now this is only a story -- a legend -- but the works of Go are marvelous and among the best (in my opinion) Japanese swords I have had the pleasure to behold. While this story may be only fictional, it is accepted that Go became the student of Masamune and he comes from the same home province of Norishige. So one can possibly imagine the introduction of Go to Norishige as someone from home, and possibly the energy of the young man infecting the work of his elder and flavoring the works toward the close of his career... as can be seen in this one.

This sword was polished by Fujishiro Okisato san.

Norishige Katana Oshigata

Juyo Token Katana

Appointed in September 1999

Katana, Mumei, Norishige

Keijo (form)

Shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, standard width, slight sori, chu-kissaki.


Basically notare with gunome, ashi, well applied nie, kinsuji and abundant sunagashi.


Itame mixed with mokume becoming o-hada in places, abundant jinie with chikei.


Shallow notare-komi with slight kaeri and hakikake at the tip.


O-suriage, kurijiri, sujikai yasurime, two mekugiana, mumei.


Norishige is recorded in Edo period token reference books such as the Kokon Mei Zukushi, as one of the ten disciples of Masamune. However, due to the shape of his tachi and tanto and with dated works from the Showa and Gen-o periods (1312-1321) he is now regarded as a disciple of Shintogo Kunimitsu. Muromachi period references considered him to be a peer of Masamune whose style is the closest to Masamune among Soshu-den swordsmiths, however, his application of nie is much more vivid than Masamune and his kitae-hada is hadatatsu (standing out), which takes the form of matsukawa hada (resembling pine tree bark).

In this piece, if a careful observation of the hada is made, one will see the subdued indications of matsukawa hada. With the abundant nie, kinsuji and sunagashi in the hamon, the kiwame (determination) can be to none other than Norishige, due to all the distinguishing features present in this work.


Tanobe Sensei Sayagaki

Tanobe sensei told me that this represents one of his earlier sayagaki.

  1. 重要刀剣指定
    Juyo Token Shitei
    Important Sword Designation
  2. 越中呉服郷佐伯則重
    Etchu Gofuku Go Saeki Norishige
  3. 但大磨上無銘也同工極ノ佳品而
    Tadashi o-suriage mumei nari doukou kiwame no kahin shikashite.
    Although shortened and unsigned, this is judged an excellent work of Norishige.
  4. 地刃共二其特色ヲ顕現セリ
    Jiba tomo ni sono tokushoku wo kengen seri.
    The jihada and hamon clearly show his characteristics.
  5. 珍々重々
    Chin chin, cho cho.
    It is held in highest esteem.