Sue Tegai KatanaSue Tegai

periodKoto (Muromachi)
designationNBTHK Hozon
nakagoO-suriage, three mekugiana

As the koto era reached its close, many of the old classical schools faded away. The Soshu school that once dominated the nation with its bright and powerful work became a shadow of its former self. The Yamashiro school as a whole had essentially vanished as its top smiths adopted the Soshu Den. Bizen and Mino continued to thrive, though in lesser stature to their grand origins, by supplying lower grade weapons that fueled the endless wars of the Muromachi period.

In Yamato, the grand old schools associated with the temples had also faded away. The smiths of Senjuin had migrated to Mino and flavored that regional style with their own deep tradition. Hosho, Shikkake and Taima had all experienced the fade that many of the other koto schools had. Only Tegai soldiered on.

The Tegai school takes its name from their association with the Todai-ji temple in Nara. They began work in the late Kamakura, and the smiths fabricated swords beside the Tegai gate. The most famous of the Tegai smiths is Kanenaga 包永, who is considered the founder. His style of sword bears some typical Yamato traits, such as the wide shinogi-ji, high shinogi, yakizume boshi and some masame mixed into the mokume hada. Three generations would go on to use this name documented by Fujishiro (probably more descended from there), and as a result there are relatively many that are in existence today (please keep in mind that Yamato works are not so common compared to the other schools).

Most of the smiths of this school maintained the square style Kane character inherited from their founder. The smith we refer to today as Shizu got his start in the Tegai school and had the name Kaneuji 包氏, and for work of his period in Yamato we now call him Yamato Shizu. For his later period work, where he took tutelage under Masamune and then moved to Mino province, he changed the Kane character to the local version giving himself a new signature of 兼氏 .

The Tegai school continued working right up and into the Shinto period, as the smith Kanekuni is considered to be the father of Nanki Shigekuni one of the very great Sai-jo smiths of the Shinto period. Shigekuni continued to make swords in pure Yamato style, so this is one of the rare episodes where a koto school has descended well into the Shinto period.

Sue Tegai Katana

This katana is thought to be from the Tegai school and received NBTHK Hozon papers. It has been shortened, so must have been in the 70cm or so length before this. What is unusual for Tegai school is that the sword is mostly composed of masame. Although we always hear masame as one of the traits of Yamato swords, only the Hosho school typically produced pure masame hada. Most others you will see short runs of masame that are mixed into itame, or in the case of Yamato Shizu, you tend to see masame along the shinogi and the ha, with itame and mokume inbetween.

This katana is about 80% flowing masame, that is very similar to Hosho school. The balance is in small burls of mokume that break up the masame, which is probably why it was assigned to Tegai rather than Hosho, as Hosho is purely masame.

The shinogi is high and the shinogi ji is wide, and ji nie can be seen in the jihada that follow the masame and form into chikei in places. The hamon shows typical Yamato hallmarks of hotsure and small inazuma, and the activity in the monouchi is beautiful.

The Sue Tegai school refers to Tegai that is working in the Muromachi period, in the middle to the end. Normally this goes hand in hand with a decline in quality, but this blade is well made. For someone looking to get a good example of the Yamato school in an attractive blade exhibiting the much talked about but seldom seen masame hada, this would be a nice package to pick up.