Osafune Yoshikage KatanaOsafune Yoshikage

periodMiddle Nanbokucho (ca. 1356)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Juyo Token Katana
ratingJo-saku, O-wazamono
nakagoo-suriage
nagasa70.6cm
sori1.8cm
motohaba3.2cm
sakihaba2.6cm
kissaki5.5cm
nakago nagasa19.7cm
nakago sorislight
price$94,000

Yoshikage is a smith who is traditionally held to be a Kanemitsu student, but this is no longer thought to be correct. Dr. Honma points out that his work period goes from Kenmu (1334) to Oei (1394) and Fujishiro was very early in stating that he is most likely a student of Chikakage, the student of Nagamitsu and junior smith to Kagemitsu.

He is said to be the son-in-law of Nagayoshi (Chogi), but he was probably a pupil of Chikakage. Fujishiro Yoshio, Nihon Token Jiten

Fujishiro was on the right track, and today he is thought to be the student of Chikakage rather than Kanemitsu. It's thought then that his father is either Kagemitsu and he's the younger brother of Kanemitsu, or else the son of Chikakage. Most likely Yoshikage was a peer in time to Kanemitsu and comes before Chogi, who is another smith he has been associated with. Thus, Yoshikage's line is: Mitsutada - Nagamitsu - Chikakage - Yoshikage.

Yoshikage has long had a reputation for making naginata (for use in nagamaki in particular) and as such there are many Soden Bizen style naginata attributed to him I think almost on reflex. There are 11 signed works by him at Juyo and 3 of these are shortened naginata so there may be a seed of truth in this.

Detail of Tokubetsu Juyo Osafune Yoshikage Katana

Fujishiro ranks Yoshikage at Jo-saku and along with his father he has a reputation for sharp blades, achieving the high ranking of O-wazamono for cutting ability. The work and how it is embraced seems to be more at Jo-jo saku since there are two Tokubetsu Juyo works (as of the 2018 shinsa), two Juyo Bijutsuhin works and two Juyo Bunkazai. One of these Juyo Bunkazai appears to be a nagamaki due to its very straight shape though it is classified as a tachi. The other is a dated wakizashi with a 1374 date, no doubt how he ended up classified as a student of Kanemitsu. However this is well within the work range given by Honma Sensei and is just a work of his last period.

The Toko Taikan ranks Yoshikage at 12 million yen which is the same level as Soshu Hiromitsu, and above Soshu Akihiro, Yamashiro Nobukuni and Hasebe Kunishige, smiths who are ranked Sai-jo saku (first two) and Jo-jo saku (last two) respectively. So this should help to explain where Yoshikage fits in.

Shallow sori, wide mihaba, high shinogi and wide shinogi-ji. This smith produced many nagamaki, but they survive today as nagamaki naoshi, as a result of suriage. Hi are commonly seen on blades, but horimono are rare. The jihada is o-mokume hada, and utsuri appears. The yakihaba is not regular. His choji midare tends to be oblique and mixed with kataochi gunome. Kokan Nagayama

Detail of Tokubetsu Juyo Osafune Yoshikage Katana

Further argument for him being master of a line coming from Chikakage are in that the blades do not perfectly match either Chogi or Kanemitsu in stylistic construction or in signature style. There are some Soshu flavorings as happened to Kanemitsu and Chogi and Kencho and others after the Enbun period. But, his style seems a bit closer to Motoshige but they are often tightly packed gunome with togariba and choji mixed in. Some of these move to kataochi gunome and look like Motoshige and others take on their own character with double lines of hamon forming and sometimes the hamon loses any implied structure and just looks like flames.

Kamakura Aoe vs. Nanbokucho Yoshikage sugata
Kamakura Aoe vs. Nanbokucho Yoshikage sugata

For signing, there is a clear relationship between Chikakage and Yoshikage, and Morikage (the Bizen Omiya founder) is said to resemble these two as well. These smiths all started their horizontal lines from the opposite side to the other Osafune smiths, so this seems to be a little rebellion from the main line. It's called saka-tagane according to the English Token Bijutsu but is referred to elsewhere as gyaku-tagane. So this signing style seems to imply that the Bizen Omiya school of Morikage has its root with Yoshikage and Chikakage before him and represents the end point of this lineage that starts at Nagamitsu.

The top smiths of Osafune in the middle Nanbokucho received a stylistic injection from Soshu, likely from Osafune Nagashige who has the earliest dated Soshu style Bizen work in 1334. This date makes his work period overlap with Masamune. Nagashige was long thought to be a younger brother and student of Chogi, until the modern period made it clear by their dated work that the relationship was the other way around. Nagashige's best work likely got subsumed into Chogi's work when in similar styles, and Yoshikage probably got his work subsumed into Chogi and Kanemitsu as well under mumei attributions.

All works of this smith were made extremely long in the style of the Yoshino Period, consequently what remains today are almost all SURIAGE MUMEI. In all cases the tip of the HI will be lowered considerably.

Worked in NIOI with the pattern in CHOJI MIDARE which will have the HAMON in SAKA style. Also KATAOCHI GUNOME are seen and these will have some variation in the width as well as variations in the size of the MIDARE. There will be much NIOI ASHI which will have NIE worked around it. The grain of the steel within the HAMON will stand out and all in all the whole of the HAMON will be quite lively and this is especially so around the MONOUCHI area.

The steel is very finely worked with the grain in O-MOKUME HADA and there will be JI UTSURI.

Albert Yamanaka, Nihonto Newsletters

Detail of Tokubetsu Juyo Osafune Yoshikage KatanaDetail of Tokubetsu Juyo Osafune Yoshikage Katana

Yoshikage works are recorded in the Tokugawa register as gifts from daimyo to the Shogun on five occasions. And the Tokugawa Shogun gave a Yoshikage to Narisada Naruharu on his first meeting of the young man. All of this shows that Yoshikage was held in high esteem by the noblemen of the Edo period. This carries into the modern day as there are 60 Juyo items under his name, one Tokubetsu Juyo, two Juyo Bijutsuhin and two Juyo Bunkazai (cultural treasures illegal to export from Japan).

Tokubetsu Juyo Token Osafune Yoshikage Katana

Osafune Yoshikage Katana

This is a mighty sword that boldly shows the shape of the middle Nanbokucho period. There is the expected o-kissaki and the body is wide throughout, and the sugata is highly masculine and powerful on this piece. The sakihaba is 2.6cm and this makes the blade wider at the top than most Heian blades are at the bottom, and some Kamakura blades as well. Many Nanbokucho swords were made in more modest proportions than this sword. When a sword was made in this kind of large proportions in its original length, it was not the kind of thing you were looking to carry around. These were made for fighting. They got used, abused and polished down as a result. Finding one that in spite of suriage has otherwise survived the centuries perfectly intact is a lucky day and suggests the blade was treasured and cared for immaculately over the centuries.

It's likely that many of Yoshikage's best blades ended up attributed to Kanemitsu when they were similar. This piece passed Juyo in session 12, in 1964 when Juyo was the highest paper possible. At the time the NBTHK said this style parted from Chogi and Motoshige but his work is Soden Bizen and so for a long time it was assumed he was the student of Kanemitsu. Nothing much more added at this point other than that the blade was in perfect condition with excellent construction.

When the blade passed Tokuju in 2010 it marked the first time a Yoshikage has advanced so high with the NBTHK, in spite of there being signed work of this smith available. It testifies to the truly outstanding quality of this sword. This sword at a glance shows that his top work does deserve to stand with the masterpieces of Chogi and Kanemitsu. The Den in the attribution is possibly reflecting the opinion of one of the judges that the work could be Motoshige or Kanemitsu who rank higher than Yoshikage but the decision of the panel as a whole was to Yoshikage.

The nakago though suriage shows a carefully reshaped jiri and a desire to present good, balanced aesthetics. These usually indicate earlier shortenings, so the blade was likely remounted as a katana sometime in the middle Muromachi and due to the quality of work probably was already owned at a high level though this information is now lost.

Later period suriage nakago tend to be cut straight across which minimizes the effort required. Also we see, even at the Juyo level, some horrific shortening jobs that show some, let's call it cost control in the aesthetics of resulting work. In contrast, this kind of beautifully achieved suriage in this sword shows a lot of respect and is more time than would be necessary for a swordsmith to finish an originally made nakago. This is because the original nakago he makes is first shaped by the hammer when the steel is hot and malleable, before heat treatment. In the case of a suriage nakago it is going to be done by filing and working hardened steel that had part of the hamon in it. There are some tricks involved like clamping red hot copper to the new nakago to soften the steel before working it, but still, we know it's a lot of work because over time this kind of lovely aesthetic is given up on in favor of butcher jobs I suppose under the theory that nobody but the owner knows what's under the tsuka anyway.

This blade itself is simply great as it mixes together both influences of Bizen and Soshu very well, with utsuri, jifu, nioi-deki with nie mixed in, and utsuri from the Bizen side, but yubashiri that starts to look like hitatsura, chikei, and ji-nie from the Soshu side. The mihaba is very wide in this blade, at 3.2 cm and in spite of that the width of the shinogi-ji is narrow and fully occupied by a bohi which is something that carries over from top Soshu works as well as is seen in some Yukimitsu and definitely Sadamune. Look carefully at the photo gallery to see the misty utsuri in the jihada.

Detail of Tokubetsu Juyo Osafune Yoshikage Katana

This sword has a long list of interesting features and elements, with small complicated workings in the hamon. It is a great beauty to behold. Combined with – as the NBTHK calls it – a magnificent shape and the perfect state of presentation, this masterpiece holding Tokubetsu Juyo would be wonderful for anyone to own. So for a collector who truly wants to buy the work he sees in front of him, this blade had to rise to where it is truly on its own merits without being able to coast at all on a reputation such as Kanemitsu or Chogi. It shows the great capability of the other Osafune smiths of this time period, and as an example of the powerful Nanbokucho sugata, it is very precious and desirable.

Osafune Yoshikage Katana Oshigata

Juyo Token

Appointed on the 30th of June 1964, session 12

Katana, Mumei, Den Osafune Yoshikage

Keijo

shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, wide mihaba, thin kasane, shallow sori, ō-kissaki

Kitae

itame that tends somewhat to nagare and that features ji-nie and a faint midare-utsuri

Hamon

hiro-suguha-chō in ko-nie-deki with a rather tight nioiguchi that tends a little to a slightly undulating notare and that is mixed with many ashi and yō

Boshi

midare-komi with a rather pointed ko-maru-kaeri and hakikake on the ura side

Horimono

on both sides a bōhi which runs with kaki-nagashi into the tang

Nakago

ō-suriage, kurijiri, kiri-yasurime, three mekugi-ana, mumei

Setsumei

As there exist a few tachi with “Bishū Osafune-jū” as prefix in the mei, we know that Yoshikage was an Osafune smith. His workmanship is that of the Nanbokuchō-period Sōden-Bizen style and therefore it is assumed that he might has been a smith from the Bizen Kanemitsu school.

The workmanship of this blade differs from that of the Chōgi and from that of the Motoshige School and reflects the style of Yoshikage. Its jiba is kenzen (in perfect condition) and its deki is excellent.

Osafune Yoshikage Katana Nbthk PhotoOsafune Yoshikage Katana Origami

Tokubetsu Juyo Token Katana

Appointed on the 23rd of April, session 21

Katana, Mumei, Den Osafune Yoshikage

Keijo

shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, wide mihaba, no noticeable taper, the shinogi-ji is in relation to the mihaba narrow, thick kasane, relatively shallow sori, ō-kissaki

Kitae

rather standing-out itame that is mixed with mokume and that features plenty of ji-nie, much chikei, jifu-chō along the forging structure, and a midare-utsuri

Hamon

suguha-chō in nioi-deki with ko-nie that tends to a slightly undulating notare along the upper half of the blade and that is mixed with rather small dimensioned ko-gunome, gunome, some togari, and some chōji, in addition, ashi, saka-ashi, and yō appear all over the blade and there are a few yubashiri-like elements and sunagashi

Boshi

notare-komi with hakikake a the tip and with a rather pointed ko-maru-kaeri

Nakago

ō-suriage, kurijiri, kiri-yasurime, three mekugi-ana, mumei

Artisan

Osafune Yoshikage from Bizen province

Era

Nanbokucho Period

Setsumei

In the past, the theories prevailed that Osafune Yoshikage was either a smith from the Kanemitsu or from the Chōgi School but despite of similarities in workmanship with these schools, his peculiar signature style that makes use of gyaku-tagane made more recent studies rather associate him with Osafune side lines like that of Chikakage and Morikage.

This blade is ō-suriage but its magnificent shape with a wide mihaba, a not very noticeable taper, a shallow sori, and an ō-kissaki speaks for the typical sugata from the heyday of the Nanbokuchō period. The kitae is a rather standing-out itame that is mixed with mokume and that features plenty of ji-nie, much chikei, jifu-chō along the forging structure, and a midare-utsuri.

The hamon is a suguha-chō in nioi-deki with ko-nie that is mixed with various but overall rather small dimensioned elements like ko-gunome, gunome, some togari, and some chōji. The ha shows in addition ashi, saka-ashi, and yō all over and also some yubashiri-like elements and sunagashi appear. Thus, in comparison to the Nanbokuchō-period Osafune main line, the elements of the ha are rather small dimensioned as mentioned, although quite varied, and therefore we were in agreement on the attribution to Yoshikage. A masterwork with a jiba in perfect condition (kenzen).

Detail of Tokubetsu Juyo Osafune Yoshikage Katana
Osafune Yoshikage Katana Sayagaki

Sayagaki

This sword bears a sayagaki by Dr. Honma Junji, the founder of the NBTHK. He usually doesn't write any commentary, and his terse sayagaki are much appreciated for their solemn nature and his good reputation as an accurate judge.

  1. 備州長船義景
    Bishu Osafune Yoshikage
  2. 大磨上
    ō-suriage
  3. 刃長二尺三寸三分
    hachō 2 shaku 3 sun 3 bu
    Blade length 70.6cm
  4. 昭和甲辰卯月
    Showa Kinoe-tatsu Uzuki
    Showa era, April in the Year of the Dragon (1964)
  5. 依鈴木富昌氏之嘱
    Suzuki Tomimasa-shi no tanomi ni yotte
    Written by Kunzan on request of Mr. Suzuki Tomimasa