Ko-Ichimonji Sadazane Tachi

Ko-Ichimonji Sadazane

periodKoto (early Kamakura ca. 1247)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Juyo Token (1980)
nakagoUbu1, 3 mekugiana (plus 2 overlaps), likely slight machi-okuri
nagasa77.9 cm
sori2.58 cm
motohaba2.97 cm
sakihaba2.06 cm
kissaki2.06 cm
nakago16.7 cm
price -sold-

Bizen province is home to the longest running and most productive tradition of Japanese sword manufacture. Dating back to the earliest days of the curved sword in the Heian period, the Bizen smiths were the dominant force right up until the massive floods of the Yoshii at the close of the Muromachi period put an end to major sword production in the villages that lined its banks.

The majority of collectors in Japan hold the Bizen tradition in the highest regard; Bizento were considered blades that not only had unique beauty, but were considered the most durable and so trustworthy companions. They were blades to which you could trust your life. The dominance of Bizen swords in history is played out in the number that have achieved Juyo Token or higher status. Over 40% of Koto Juyo come directly from Bizen province (not including the Bingo and Bitchu regions), leaving the other 60% for the rest of the country combined. Furthermore, there are three Koto Juyo for every 1 Shinto and shinshinto Juyo combined. This means that one out of three of all Juyo is a Koto Bizento.

The most impressive invention of the Bizen smiths is utsuri, a misty reflection in the jihada that for centuries has been chased after as a target for reproduction. Only recently have smiths been successful in effectively replicating its effect and this technique remains a closely guarded secret. It is considered that utsuri is found in areas that have additional hardness, though it is not the same as the tempering effects in the hamon. It is thought that it serves a role in the reliability and durability of Bizento, but at this point most of what we can do is to admire it as not many people are prepared to cut up an old Bizen tachi for the purposes of materials testing.

Unlike the Soshu den, which was a nova flare of magnificence that burned itself out quickly, the Bizen den stood the test of time and evolved over the centuries to suit current use. Documenting all of these changes is a book in itself. Most important in this context are the early Bizen styles and forms of manufacture.

Reaching back 800 years is a difficult thing for sword scholars, as further back the more unreliable the written record is, and the fewer works exist that can be used to form the boundaries into which schools, smiths and styles can be classified.

The very earliest Bizen work is called Ko-Bizen for the Old Bizen school. It is in these works that the foundation for all the Bizen schools to follow would be laid down. The famous smiths Tomonare, Masatsune, and Nobufusa hail from this school, and there are illustrious smiths that can be found in Ko-Bizen from the Heian period to the beginning of the Kamakura.

The sugata is generally torii-sori with koshi-sori still present, ko-kissaki and funbari. The jihada is excellent and beautiful, and is ranked almost with Awataguchi for its level of skill. Hamon is Ko-choji midare and ko-midare with nie and ko-nie, and featuring the standard activities one would expect with such a hamon: sunagashi, ashi, yo, kinsuji and inazuma. The boshi is midare komi, following through appropriate to the hamon. For utsuri, one expects jifu, which looks like dark thumbprints up and down the blade. The hamon is considered to be both artless, and artful at the same time. It is a duality, where the "naturalness" of the hamon, the simplicity and elegance combine with a rustic charm to produce something very pleasurable. [A good metaphor to explain it would be the warmth and charm of a live performance of a solo singer with acoustic guitar, compared to a compact disc recording of a modern rock band that featured thousands of hours of editing, dubbing and over-production to give a slick, technically perfect but usually soulless and forgettable result... but I digress.]

As we move into the early Kamakura period, the Ko-Ichimonji smiths appear, overlapping somewhat with the Ko-Bizen school. There are several smiths with the same name in both, and some of the Ko-Ichimonji smiths worked in a very classical style that makes it difficult to tell their work apart from those that came earlier. Emperor Gotoba chose half of the smiths for his Go-ban Kaji instructors from the Ko-Ichimonji, which illustrates the pre-eminence of this school during the early Kamakura times and indeed the reputation of this school is such that the blades of the Ichimonji group are considered the height of the Bizen tradition even today. In the words of Fujishiro, at the time of the Ko-Ichimonji, "the point that they held extremely advanced technology compared to other swordsmiths cannot be denied." The school would eventually differentiate and give rise to the various highly regarded Ichimonji schools to follow: Fukuoka, Yoshioka, Shochu, and Katayama.

The name of the school comes from the habit developed by the Fukuoka Ichimonji smiths of signing their blades with the single character Ichi, , indicating the numeral "one." Perhaps its bold meaning and intention remains rather obvious seven centuries later, as human nature does not change that much, though times do. Another theory is laid out by Mr. Iwazaki Kosuke and relayed by Fujishiro:

Mr. Iwazaki Kosuke explains the Ichi of Ichimonji as Muteki, meaning "No enemy", and this is not the name of a swordsmith, but is said to be a presentation name for a sword. It is not hard to imagine the feeling of strength when gazing down upon a battlefield with a Muteki sword in one's sash.

The intention of "no enemy" is that no blade, and no warrior, could ever hope to stand against the one who would wield an Ichimonji blade. Even though the theory is different, the meaning of being number one, or without peer, gives very much the same feeling.

To identify Ko-Ichimonji, we are looking for slender and elegant tachi sugata, with fine ko-mokume jihada. Sometimes one will find jifu utsuri, but this is a throwback to Ko-Bizen as mentioned above. The hamon will vary between a narrow ko-choji midare to wide choji midare. The boshi should be ko-maru or ko midare, with a short turnback.

Ko-Ichimonji Sadazane Tachi

This tachi is a magnificent object that has obtained the highest level of paper from the NBTHK. Tokubetsu Juyo Token swords are very rare, highly desired, and represent the pinnacle of sword collector's dreams. This level of paper is reserved for only the finest, and most important of blades.

Ko-Ichimonji Sadazane Tachi Toko

Sadazane is most commonly considered to be one of the Ko-Ichimonji smiths, though as stated above, there is some confusion as to dating and presence in schools. Ko-Ichimonji Sadazane is supposed to be the son of Ko-Ichimonji Munetada, and worked in a very classical style to the point where his blades appear to be quite older than his own father's work. Most old references place him around 1247, but this does not seem so consistent with the work and school, so the era is possibly several decades earlier. Both the Juyo and Tokubetsu Juyo papers date the work to the beginning of the Kamakura period. However, the uncertainty above plays out in that the Juyo papers attribute it to Sadazane of the Ko-Bizen school while the Tokubetsu Juyo reattribute it to the Ko-Ichimonji school. Both papers make note that there is a possibility the attribution could go the other way, but the Tokubetsu Juyo shina being more difficult and with 20 years more research carries more weight for the attribution.

In terms of rankings, Fujishiro rates him at Jo-saku for superior workmanship and the Toko Taikan places him at 1,200 man yen which places him higher than Sai-jo saku Soshu Akihiro and on a par with Sai-jo saku Soshu Hiromitsu in valuation. This blade is listed as the example work in the Toko Taikan and Dr. Tokuno states that he is the son of Ko-Bizen Takatsuna. Indeed research in the old times is difficult, and these kinds of conflicting opinions abound.

What we know objectively is that the work of Sadazane is extremely rare. There are only eight Juyo Token attributed to him. Of these, six are signed, five of those are tachi, and three of the signed tachi are Tokubetsu Juyo. Three of eight being Tokuju is a very high proportion, and certainly speaks to a high level of skill.

Ko-Ichimonji Sadazane Tachi Dti

This blade was the cover sword of the 2004 Dai Token Ichi, which is the largest sword show in the world and features many excellent blades from dealers who gather from all over Japan. I have a copy of this catalog, and will supply it to the purchaser of this sword.

I have a good reputation for photographing Japanese swords. I would like to say though that however good the photographs appear, they cannot come close to the experience of this blade in the hand. A long, original tachi with such beautiful construction... it just defies the laws of physics to be able to compress the experience of handling a blade like this into a 768 pixel wide photograph.

That said, the sword itself is everything that a Tokubetsu Juyo blade is expected to be. The level of skill is just extraordinary. It is exemplary in craftsmanship, with beautiful jifu settled in among thick ji nie in the itame hada. The hamon is classical and elegant, a mix of ko-midare and ko-choji with some areas of suguba, streaked with sunagashi and showing clear nijuba in the monouchi. It is very long at almost 78 cm, and maintains its tachi sugata well. It is possible the nakago may have been shortened, but Tanobe sensei is of the opinion that the blade is ubu. The elegant sugata and ko-kissaki are evocative of the early days of tachi making, and to find such a blade bearing a clear signature and intact sugata at nearly 800 years old is almost a miracle. The jihada is finely patterned with scattered jifu and appears like silk, confirming the reputation of the early Bizen smiths as being on a par with Awataguchi in this regard.

Lastly, this blade was one of the very first Juyo Token made, having passed in 1961 in the seventh shinsa. At this time, only the very best blades could pass Juyo, and many of them were those that went on to Tokubetsu Juyo when it was introduced in later years (as this did). Early Juto like this are held in high regard, and sought after by collectors because of their exclusive nature. It is simply a fantastic example of early Bizen work.

  1. Note on Ubu: At the Juyo session 44 years ago, and at the Tokubetsu Juyo session 25 years ago, the sword was recorded as having been very slightly shortened. Tanobe sensei examined the blade recently for writing a sayagaki, and has given his opinion that it is ubu and recorded that in the sayagaki. I also asked Mishina sensei for his opinion on this piece, and he also stated it is ubu.
Ko-Ichimonji Sadazane Tachi Oshigata

Tokubetsu Juyo Token Tachi

Appointed in 1961 - Session 7


The blade in shinogi-zukuri with iori-mune and the nakago is a little bit shortened. It has still deep koshi-zori, funbari and elegant tachi-sugata.


Dense ko-itame-hada with thick ji-nie and jifu.


Chu-sugu-ha mixed with ko-midare and ko-choji in ko-nie-deki then sunagashi are seen inside the hamon.


Gentle midare-komi then turns back in circle with hakikake.


Slight suriage and has kuri-jiri, kiri-yasuri and three mekugi-ana. There is a mei in two characters near the mune line.


A smith called 'Sadazane' exists in the Ko-Bizen and the Ko-Ichimonji schools. It is very difficult to know to which school this smith belongs. The blade shows a subtley tasteful workmanship without fault and flaw. The tachi appears to be a work of Sadazane of the Ko-Bizen school and the mei is clear and in good condition. There are a certain number of extant tachi of the Ko-Bizen school with signature.

Ko-Ichimonji Sadazane Tachi Tokuju

Tokubetsu Juyo Token

Appointed in 1980 - Session 7


The blade in shinogi-zukuri with iori-mune and has deep koshi-zori, funbari and elegant tachi-sugata with ko-kissaki


Visible itame-hada with thick ji-nie, chikei and jifu.


Chu-sugu-ha mixed with ko-midare and ko-choji in ko-nie-deki then sunagashi are seen inside the hamon.


Gentle midare-komi then turns back in circle with hakikake, niju-ba and sanju-ba.


Slight suriage and has kuri-jiri, kiri-yasuri and three mekugi-ana. There is a mei in two characters near the mune line.


It is said that Sadazane is a son of Ko-Ichimonji Munetada and was active in the Hoji Era (1247-1248) but his extant tachi show more classic workmanship than that of his father Munetada. He normally tempers ko-midare in ko-nie-deki and utsuri does not appear clearly. Therefore there is a possibility that he might belong to the Ko-Bizen school. This tachi has almost ubu-nakago and elegant tachi sugata with deep koshi-zori, funbari and ko-kissaki. The jihada is visible itame-hada with thick ji-nie and conspicuous jifu similar to that of the Aoe school. The hamon is based on sugu-ha and mixes ko-midare in thick ko-nie-deki then niju-ba are seen in places. The workmanship looks very classic on the whole. The signature of Sadazane is still clearly seen on the nakago.

Ko-Ichimonji Sadazane Tachi Sayagaki

Tanobe Sensei Sayagaki

Tanobe sensei performed an unusually long and detailed sayagaki for this blade. In particular he remarked that the quality of this blade was so high that it elevated the reputation of Sadazane, which is as great a compliment as can be made, making this likely the finest work by Sadazane.

  1. 特別重要刀剣指定品
    Tokubetsu Juyo Token Shitei Hin
    Extraordinarily Important Sword Designated Item
  2. 備前國貞真
    Bizen no Kuni Sadazane
  3. 生茎二字有銘同工ハ古一文字派ノ著名工而
    Ubu nakago, niji arumei doukou Ko-Ichimonji ha no chomei kou shikashite,
    With unaltered tang bearing the two character signature of Sadazane, a smith of the celebrated Ko-Ichimonji school,
  4. 時代鎌倉初期也
    ... jidai Kamakura shoki nari.
    ... it dates to the early Kamakura period.
  5. 本作ハ同作中ニアリテ最モ古調ニ出来申候而一脈古備前
    Honsaku ha dousaku naka niari te sai mo kochou ni deki shin sorou shikashite Ichimyaku Ko-Bizen.
    This work contains nearly the same workmanship as the oldest classical style, stating a connection to Ko-Bizen.
  6. 一類ノ風情ニ相透ズ姿態優美亦地刃古雅有之而
    Ichirui no fusei ni shou tooru zu sugata tai yubi mata jiba koga ari kore shikashite.
    The similar kind of tastefulness in the shape and gentle appearance together communicate a sense of beauty, as well the jihada and yakiba are classically elegant.
  7. 格調頗高矣加ウルニ健体ナルモ可誉揚焉
    Kakuchou takaku i uruni takeshi karada ka homare age.
    Its extreme nobility and healthy appearance elevate the reputation [of Sadazane].
  8. 珍々重々
    Chin chin, cho cho.
    It is greatly prized and treasured.
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