Sekishu Sadatsuna Katana

Sekishu Sadatsuna

periodNanbokucho (ca. 1362)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Token Katana
nagasa71.2 cm
sori2.0 cm
motohaba3.1 cm
sakihaba2.3 cm
kissaki3.5 cm
nakago nagasa18.3 cm
nakago sorislight
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.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Sekishu Sadatsuna Katana

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 [i.e. signed blade at 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

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. Fujishiro ranks him at Jo-jo saku for highly superior skill.

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 Tokubetsu Hozon Sekishu Sadatsuna 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 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 Tokubetsu Hozon Sekishu Sadatsuna Katana

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

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.

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.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Sekishu Sadatsuna Katana

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 in turn 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.

Fujishiro's opinion I think is based on him seeing the signed work of the Nidai and in particular the dated item from 1376 as he talks about Oei period (1394) though he cites the traditional start year of 1324 for Naotsuna (end of the Kamakura period). There are notable changes in the signature over the years which reinforces the NBTHK opinion. 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.

Iwami school signatures from the Kozan Oshigata
Iwami school signatures from the Kozan Oshigata

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: Hirosada, Hirosue, Kanesada, Kanetsuna, Kazusada, Masanaga, Masayoshi, Moritsuna, Naganobu, Naosada, Naoshige, Rinsho, Sadasue, Sadatsuna, Sadayuki, Sanetsuna, Suetsuna, Suesada, Sukesue, Tsunekane, Tsunesada, Tsuguhiro, Yoshihiro, Yoshisue, Yukihisa and many others.

This school was quite prosperous and had many smiths that went right up to the Shinto period. The vast majority of the work is lost now though and just some oshigata remain as well as records that these smiths existed.

All of these origins point to a connection to the Soshu tradition, and the blades of this school are considered Soshu tradition or sometimes Soden Bizen.

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.

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 167 cm.

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.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Sekishu Sadatsuna Katana

Naotsuna is one level below Samonji and Shizu, yet the line is still very highly regarded with works passing to 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.

The school seems to have made two main branches through the second generation, where the Naotsuna name continued through the oldest son and the youngest son of the first generation, Sadatsuna, maintained the second branch. In both cases the name Naotsuna and Sadatsuna were handed down through three generations.

Of the works left to us that still bear signatures, there are only Naotsuna, Sadatsuna, Kanetsuna, Sanetsuna, Suesada and Naoshige left to us. In the case of some of these smiths there is only one example left. There is only one dated blade from this school, by Naoshige who is the second son of the first generation Naotsuna. The year on this one is 1370 which supports a late Kamakura/early Nanbokucho timing for the first generation Naotsuna.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Sekishu Sadatsuna Katana

Sekishu Sadatsuna

Sekishu Sadatsuna as the youngest son of the first generation Naotsuna has left behind four signed works, allowing us to get a window into his style. These are all based on gunome and so we usually see more simple gunome style works that best are fit into the Sekishu school get attributed to this smith. His work passes Juyo with 11 items total having passed. One of these passed jointly with a koshirae and the koshirae went on to pass Tokubetsu Juyo. The four signed works all show clear inheritance of the Soshu style and then Naotsuna's particular flavor with some of these gunome in twisted togariba or with the heads flattened similarly to Kagemitsu of Osafune. They feature sunagashi and kinsuji and other Soshu style activities. His work span is around 1350-1370 and he is a peer in time with some similarities in style to the students of Shizu that settled in Naoe. Fujishiro ranks him at Jo-saku for superior workmanship.

Wakizashi 37.7 cm
Tachi 72.8 cm
Tachi (now katana) 71.5 cm
Tanto 27.4 cm
Tokubetsu Hozon Sekishu Sadatsuna KatanaSekishu Sadatsuna Katana Origami

Tokubetsu Hozon Sekishu Sadatsuna Katana

This blade is attributed to Sadatsuna but has an older attribution by Honami Nisshu, the living national treasure sword polisher, to Naoe Shizu. If you asked me to kantei this blade I would have put it to Shizu or Naotsuna. I think this sword bears a return to Japan to reconsider the attribution. The Sadatsuna attribution is quite new having been done in 2018. The quality of this blade is extremely high and more interesting to look at than some blades by even greater masters attributed to Norishige or others of the top rank of Soshu. I think this is easily at the upper end of Sadatsuna's accomplishments. This is part of why I think Shizu is a possible reading on the blade, or Naotsuna. This of course is easy for people to write, which is why I back up my statements with oshigata examples such as shown above. For Sadatsuna this work is really at the top class of skill and flamboyance. I would like to take this blade back in for examination by Tanobe sensei. Regardless of the attributions they are both agreeing on excellent Soshu work from the associated Soshu smiths of the middle Nanbokucho period.

This sword is absolutely filled with activity. There are sungashi and kinsuji everywhere, yubashiri in the ji along with sprays of thick nie and chikei in the jihada. It is an exciting sword to look at and one that anyone can enjoy. The activities are more intense than the Juyo examples above and the flamboyant nature is in keeping with the Shizu school. At 71.2 cm the blade is a great length and it is 3.1 cm wide at the machi with a slight taper to 2.3 cm, showing off a nice strong Nanbokucho shape.

It further bears a cutting test by a samurai, Mori Kosuke Naotoshi who did cutting tests in the late 1600s. He states that the blade passed with ease through two stacked bodies.

There are two Mori clans with different kanji (森, as in this case, and 毛利 which was the larger clan in Choshu). Mori Kosuke's clan descended from the Genji (Minamoto) and have their origin in Soshu. They were retainers of Oda Nobunaga during the Muromachi period and Hideyoshi made them daimyo in Mimasaka province. and this It is quite rare to find a cutting test on a koto blade as this was something generally done to prove the worthiness of newly made blades. There are only 28 Juyo and Tokuju swords out there with cutting tests on them from the koto period. So this blade needs to be understood as something rare and precious, not only for the activities and beauty but for being one of the very few koto blades put to Edo period test examination.

These cutting tests are sometimes called saidan-mei but Tanobe sensei says they are more accurately described as setsudan-mei.

This cutting test says:

  • 貞享丙寅仲冬五日 — Jokyo hinoe-tora chuto itsuka — 1686, middle of the winter of the year of the tiger, November 5th
  • 森小助尚利「花押」— Mori Kosuke Naotoshi (kao)
  • 一撃快剪両軀 — Cut swiftly through two bodies.

This indicates that it was used in 1686 to cut through two bodies.

Sekishu Sadatsuna Katana Torokusho

This sword had at the time a Torokusho (pictured and validated in the Tokubetsu Hozon papers) that was registered in Saga prefecture in 1952. This is the year that daimyo blades were registered, the first year of the licensing scheme in Japan. Furthermore this was done at the absolute beginning as the serial number is 62, written by hand. I have seen four digit serial numbers but never two. Later items are also stamped. The Nabeshima family were the rulers of Saga and this blade then most likely belonged to them through the entire Edo period. It will be worthwhile to try to verify this in the Nabeshima documentation, but because of the ridiculously low serial number it seems to me to be a sure thing that this was a Nabeshima property.

This blade due to its state of health, and very flamboyant hamon, I think stands a very excellent chance to pass Juyo Token in the next shinsa. I highly recommend this blade as finding Soshu swords at all these days is very difficult, let alone one with this kind of amazing hamon.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Sekishu Sadatsuna Katana
Sekishu Sadatsuna Katana Sayagaki


This sword bears a sayagaki by Honami Nisshu who attributed it to Naoe Shizu.

  1. 直江志津
    Naoe Shizu
  2. 大磨上無銘
    O-suriage mumei
  3. 時代貞治
    Jidai Joji (1362)
  4. 貞享丙寅仲冬五日
    Reference to the cutting test
  5. Hacho ni shaku san sun go bu ari kore
    Length 2.35 shaku
  6. 昭和。。。
    Showa era, Honami Nisshu signature and monogram
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