|nakago||ubu, one mekugiana|
|mei||Omokige Niju Roku Hyaku Nen Gassan Sadakatsu Kinsaku (Kao) Made by Gassan Sadakatsu In the 2,600th year of the Empire's Founding (1940)]|
|uramei||Nippon satetsu kou gyu kabu futatsu kai sha motte seiren kou Steel refined from Japan Iron Sand Corporation stock.|
Gassan 月山 is the name of a mountain in Ushu (the second character is the kanji for mountain), and this gives the old Gassan school of the koto period its name. The Gassan smiths made swords in a remarkable style in which the jihada appears as a series of rolling waves, called ayasugi hada. It is considered the key kantei point in identifying works of this school.
Though Gassan starts in koto, and there are smiths of this school in the Shinto period, it is not until the late Shinshinto period that the school begins to rise to its zenith.
At the beginning of the Shinshinto period, the grand-master Suishinshi Masahide had travelled the country encouraging swordsmiths to return to the work styles of the koto greats of old. In the revolution in technique that followed, Masahide accumulated many students of great skill. Among these students was Gassan Sadayoshi.
While Sadayoshi did not have the skill of Masahide, he sired a son who began working as a swordsmith at 14 years old, and was regarded as highly skilled at 20. He took the name of Gassan Sadakazu, and went on to become one of the true masters of his time.
In 1869 Osaka, the son of Sadakazu was born and set on the path of his talented father and eventually took the name Gassan Sadakatsu. Soon after taking up a hammer, the son like the father became considered a genius swordsmith, capable of working in all classical traditions with a high degree of skill.
Sadakazu had been appointed an Imperial Court Artist in 1906, and died twelve years later in 1918. Towards the end of his father and teacher's life, Sadakatsu often made daimei and daisaku works. As their level of skill and their styles were nearly identical, it has been concluded that it is impossible to determine whether a particular sword is only daimei or whether it is actually daisaku. That this is impossible shows how well the student inherited his father's skill.
After the death of Sadakazu, Gassan Sadakatsu in turn made swords for the imperial household, other dignataries, and shrines. During this period (the 1940s) Kurihara Hikosaburo ranked over 400 of the working swordsmiths of the time, and included Gassan Sadakatsu in the first rank (Sai-jo Saku, a rank including the top twelve of these 400).
As well as having inherited his father's talent, Gassan Sadakatsu also proved to be an excellent teacher. His son Gassan Sadaichi (also read as Sadakazu II), and his student Takahashi Sadatsugu went on to become Living National Treasures. This designation by the Japanese government is the most prestigious one can receive, as it considers that the essential and highest cultural qualities of Nihonto are embodied in the recipient.
Hozon Sadakatsu Tachi
This beautiful tachi was made in kogarasu-zukuri form by Gassan Sadakatsu in 1940, a shape he used sparingly and from time to time. This year was the legendary 2,600th year of the founding of the Japanese Empire, and with World War II raging Sadakatsu often used this patriotic form of date as a commemoration.
The particular shape of this tachi dates back to the legendary smith Amakuni, who is said to have made the Kogarasu Maru (The Little Crow), around 1300 years ago. It is one of the most famous blades in Japan, and the choice of this shape by Sadakatsu for this tachi probably goes hand in hand with the commorative date or possibly as a special order.
The Kogarasu Maru is more likely a product of the late Heian period, of the Yamato school, and showcases a transitional form between the straight swords with two cutting edges of the earlier periods, and the final graceful form of the late Heian tachi that established the pattern for Nihonto for the following millenium. Kogarasu-zukuri is a much more difficult shape for the swordsmith given the extra details in the shape and the additional surface provided for heat-hardening. Dr. Sato Kanzan in his writings indicates that one of the possibilities that this shape did not become the dominant form was due to the difficulty of manufacture.
Sadakatsu also forged this tachi in his signature ayasugi hada. While he was capable of creating blades in all of the major traditions, ayasugi hada is strongly associated with Gassan going back to its foundation in the koto period and is rarely found in any other school. It is much sought after by collectors interested in this school. The hada of this tachi rolls in and out of the hamon, creating a steady pattern of inazuma and uchinoke where chikei pass into the yakiba.
The blade is completely flawless, and forged with great care. The state of preservation is extremely good, with almost no patina having set in on the nakago and ububa indicating that the blade has seen very few polishes (possibly only one). Capping it off, the solid silver habaki is done in Osaka style, and was likely made by the swordsmith or one of his students.
This sword with its unusual shape, perfect construction and condition, would be a great addition for those collecting great works of the previous century.