Tsukamoto Okimasa KatanaTsukamoto Okimasa

periodShowa (1943 AD)
designationNBTHK Hozon Token Katana
ratingYokozuna
nakagoubu zaimei
mei塚本一貫斎起正作 (刻印・日本魂)
Tsukamoto Ikkansai Okimasa saku (Nippon-damashii)
昭和十八年二月四日
Showa 18 (1943) February 4th
nagasa67.8cm
price$13,500 -hold-

Okimasa was born on the 13th of November in Taisho 3 (1914) and hailed from Koriyama city in Fukushima Prefecture. He claimed to be a descendant of the koto Echizen Yamamura Masanobu family of swordsmiths. Okimasa had three brothers and a nephew who all became excellent smiths.

His study in swordsmithing began under the master smith Kasama Shigetsugu in 1934, an event precipitated after a bicycle trip he made to Tokyo from Koriyama to see the shinsakuto exhibit. Okimasa later married the daughter of Shigetsugu and became his son-in-law.

By Showa 14, Okimasa had opened his own forge at his residence in Setagaya-machi, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo. During this period he also made swords at the estate of Toyama Mitsuru in Tokiwamatsu, Setagaya. He was a member of of the Nihon Toto Tanren Tosho Gyou Kumiai the Rikugun Gunto Gijutsu Shiyo Rei Kai, and a meisosho, or master craftsman, member of the Koku Koin Kai, which was a national association of craftsman.

Okimasa was held in extremely high regard during his active period. In 1943 the Nihon Token Tanrenji (NTT) and the Nihon Token Shinbunshi (NTS) rated the various modern swordsmiths. They broke the smiths into three partitions, one for the older senior smiths who received honorary rankings, and then two partitions, East Block and West Block for the others, with the East Block rankings considered to be superior to West Block.

The format follows Sumo rankings, and the senior smith at Yokuzuna rank (highest) of the East block was Tsukamoto Okimasa, indicating that he stood without parallel.

Detail of Hozon Tsukamoto Okimasa Katana
Tsukamoto Okimasa
Tsukamoto Okimasa

Okimasa was also shinsa-in, or judge, at the later annual Shinsaku Nihonto Tenrankai. He had won all of the major awards, including the President's Award at the Rikugun Gunto Gijutsu Shiyo Rei Kai, the Navy Minister's award, the Prime Minister's award, and the Education Minister's award. In the NBTHK's annual contests, he won the Yusho, or Excellence award once and the top award of Tokusho, four times. The Imperial Household also requested him to make the shrine donation blade for the Grand Shrine at Ise in Showa 28.

He left many superior works done in the Bizen and Soden styles, and his work also embraces the style of the famous shinshinto smith Kiyomaro, with gunome-midareba and profuse hataraki.

He also produced many works in choji-midare, similar to those of his teacher and was also skilled at horimono. In particular he made a special effort to study and perfect an Awataguchi style jihada, and as a result, his jihada is especially refined.

Detail of Hozon Tsukamoto Okimasa Katana

Due to the destitute condition most sword makers lived in after the war, it is said that he made many excellent gimei of Kiyomaro, Ichimonji, and other famous swordsmiths in order to make a living. He enjoyed drinking and it is said that this contributed to his untimely death due to tuberculosis on May 27 in Showa 35 at the age of 46. Some sources indicate he passed away in Showa 33, however, it is known that he entered a blade in both the Showa 33 and Showa 35 NBTHK contests, so it would seem that the Showa 35 date is correct.

Detail of Hozon Tsukamoto Okimasa Katana
Hozon Tsukamoto Okimasa KatanaTsukamoto Okimasa Katana Origami

Hozon Tsukamoto Okimasa Katana

This sword is fairly new on the market, as the papers were made in 2015. Unusually this sword also has a Showa 26 license as shown on the front of the Hozon papers. This is the year the daimyo swords were processed for sword licensing, and I think it indicates this sword must have been with someone of some high standing in the military and connected to a daimyo family. It is in a new polish by the Honami family.

This sword also bears a hot stamp of Nippon-damashii which originates from Yamato-damashii, or the Japanese Spirit. This is the only one I've seen on any of his works other than the one in the Dr. Walter Compton collection, so I think he singled this one out as special and furthur hints at a custom order for someone high ranking.

Literally, “Japanese spirit”; Yamato damashii is also written 大和魂. This term is often contrasted with “Chinese Learning” (karasae), that is, knowledge and scholarship imported into Japan from China. Yamato damashii refers to an inherent faculty of common-sense wisdom, resourcefulness, and prudent judgment that is characteristic of, and unique to, the Japanese people. It also refers to a practical, “real life” ability and intelligence that is in contrast with scholarship and knowledge acquired through formal education. It is a term used to express such ideas as the essential purity and resolute spirit of the Japanese people, the wish for the peace and security of the nation, and the possession of a strong spirit and emotion that will meet any challenge, even at the expense of one's own life. Yamato damashii is synonymous with Yamato gokoro (lit. “Japanese heart”). Encyclopedia of Shinto

Okimasa stands out from most of the other WWII era smiths, as his best made works jump out and look almost like koto blades, with excellent jigane, chikei and a lot of activity in the ha. Some of his works look rushed as may be expected during wartime, but some were made to his highest standards such as this blade. Given the date on the blade is 1943 it was most likely made for use, but never left Japanese hands as can be seen by the early license date of 1952.

The jigane of this sword is clear and gorgeous and the hamon shows beautiful chikei and fine sunagashi throughout a hamon built with choji midare and gunome. I think his target for this is Kiyomaro due to the Soshu style and kinsuji and sunagashi joining the choji and gunome. This sword I think is just about the height of accomplishments for wartime manufacture and would place highly against the best skilled smiths of the Shinshinto period.

Okimasa's swords were meant for use during the war, and a lot of those from this era got into rough shape from the 50-60 years they have spent out of the hands of collectors who could care for them. This one, having never left Japan, remains in excellent condition and it comes with its original habaki, and a civilian mount. I'm not sure of the era of the mount if it comes from the time the sword was made or shortly thereafter but, it is of course modern manufacture either way.

Koshirae

So few could make something of this beauty at this time yet Okimasa made this sword at only 29 years of age, and it shows the high level of skill he had already obtained. It's been said that he would have been one of the first to obtain Living National Treasure status had he lived longer, and from this work it seems to be true. He did after all get the same ranking at 350 man yen in the Toko Taikan as the first four Living National Treasure smiths. It certainly has a right to bear the stamp of Nippon-damashii. Since he died so young, it reduced the number of blades he has available and this one I think of all I have seen speaks most highly to his skill. This one is a must for someone looking to complete a collection spanning various eras or who is interested in gendaito. For a good sword, this beats out a lot of Shinto swordsmiths as well and even makes me think long and hard about it, known koto snob that I am.