Tsunbo Nagatsuna KatanaTsunbo Nagatsuna

periodKanbun Edo (ca. 1661)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Token Katana
ratingJo saku, Wazamono
nakagoubu zaimei
Sesshu ju Fujiwara Nagatsuna
nakago nagasa21.6cm
nakago sorislight
price$24,500 -new-

A quite famous student of the 1st generation Tadatsuna was Nagatsuna (長綱). He signed with the supplement tsunbo (聾, lit. deaf, hard of hearing) and so he is called Tsunbo-Nagatsuna, i.e. the deaf Nagatsuna. It is said that he also made daisaku works for his master. The meikan records list another smith of the Tadatsuna school who signed tsunbo, namely Hirotsuna (広綱). Either the 1st generation Tadatsuna had started a kind of campaign to support deaf young men and train them to become swordsmiths, or it was as others assume that Nagatsuna and Hirotsuna were the same person. However, Hirotsuna is listed as a Kishū-Ishidō smith with Kii as his main production place (i.e. not Ōsaka). Markus Sesko, Nihon Shinto Shi

NAGATSUNA and TADAYUKI. Worked in Yamashiro Tradition, Bizen Tradition and in Shinto Tradition. Yamanaka, Nihonto Newsletters

The Tadatsuna school is founded by Omi no Kami Tadatsuna (Shodai) who worked around 1658 and was a talented smith. He traced his lineage back to Yamashiro Awataguchi Kunitsuna. This smith of course moved from Awataguchi in Kyoto to Kamakura in Sagami, and was one of the first three major smiths who worked in Soshu. Kunitsuna remained true to his native style but his son Shintogo Kunimitsu would take the Awataguchi technique and begin enhancing it to plant the seeds from which Masamune, Yukimitsu and Norishige would harvest the fruit of the Soshu Tradition.

Anyway it's likely that the Tsuna in his name is a callback to his ancestor Kunitsuna, and though he worked in Osaka, he used the school name Awataguchi in his signatures and the Fujiwara clan name.

Tadatsuna is included in the Osaka Shinto group along with Sukehiro, Inoue Shinkai, Echigo no Kami Kanesada, and some of the other top Shinto makers. These smiths made a gorgeous, soft feeling hamon and in many cases utilized toranba which is a hamon featuring large and deep wave shapes and invented by Sukehiro.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Tsunbo Nagatsuna Katana

Sukehiro passed away in Tenwa 2 (1682) on March 14 at the age of 46 years. At that time, Osaka was an active place for swords, an the first generation smiths had moved from Kyoto or other areas and established themselves and their work, and the second generations flourished from this foundation. In a historical Osaka record, “Nanba jan” (in Empo 7), and “Nanba kaku” (in Empo) were listed as Sukehiro’s residence. That was Fushimi Itachibori, and a later name was Tokiwa-cho. Today that area is around the Osaka-fu Chuo-ku Toriwa-cho 1- chome area.

In the same town where Sukehiro lived, there also lived Echizen no kami Kanesada, Hitachi no Kami Muneshige, Kawachi no Kami Yasunaga, Sagami no Kami Kunimasa, Omi no Kami Tadatsuna, and Settsu no Kami Tadayuki. Around that area, over 30 sword smiths were living, and these also included Inoue Shinkai, and Omi no Kami Sukenao. In addition, there were all kinds of sword craftsmen and related shops, such as horimono carvers, polishers, saya makers, saya finishers, sword dealers, kanagu makers, tsukamaki craftsmen, same shops, and menuki shops.

A little farther away, next the riverside, there were steel and iron wholesalers such as Kawasakiya, Chigusaya and Amagasakiya. In this environment, the Osaka Shinto smiths were working hard to create a new type of sword which had never been seen before, and finally the Nidai Sukehiro developed the original Toranba midare sword. Because of this, many smiths were influenced by Sukehiro’s style and many of these works are still present today. Among these are the Nidai Echizen no Kami Kanesada (Itakura Gennoshin Terukane) who used to live next door to Sukehiro, and who made many swords in a similar style to Sukehiro’s. His characteristics included a flat or thin hiraniku, a sharp angled ihorimune, and toranba style hamon. NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Tsunbo Nagatsuna Katana

The Osaka Shinto smiths forging and steel seems to have been better than a lot of the other Shinto makers as well, as the kitae is often beautiful with chikei and looks like Yamashiro tradition. There are about 30 smiths in this group, all with good talent to grand master talent.

Ikkanshi Tadatsuna

Shodai Tadatsuna worked in Settsu province, Osaka city. Fujishiro ranks him as Jo-saku, and he was given a sharpness rating of Wazamono. Because of this we can regard his work as high quality as well as functional. He is an accomplished smith but he was outshone by his son Ikkanshi Tadatsuna who is ranked Jo-jo saku and Ryo-wazamono. This second generation Tadatsuna is a formidable swordsmith, however his true talent lay in his horimono work. Blades he made often have gorgeous horimono of dragons or other scenes, and in this regard he is second to none. I often use one of his works that is Tokubetsu Juyo to explain to people that length isn't everything. Because this Tokuju sword is not so long at 63 cm, a lot of westerners wouldn't give it a second glance. It however has his masterpiece horimono on it, and as such stands above all other Tadatsuna including the Juyo Bijutsuhin example of his work.

When Ikkanshi Tadatsuna made horimono, he signed soemei into the nakago indicating he made it himself, stating hori do saku.

Because Tadatsuna's horimono are so well received, it makes two pricing bands in the market: those with good horimono and those without have vastly different valuations. Since the days of the smith people have been making after-market modifications to Tadatsuna work because of the valuation of his horimono. He was probably aware of this going to happen, which is why he made sure to add to his signature when he himself made the horimono. These works with third party horimono added to them can only be seen as vandalized because the idea was not to make the sword more suitable for use like with suriage. Attempts to fake his horimono are simply attempts to get higher valuations in the secondary market. When you view those Tadatsuna that have strange looking horimono or any horimono other than bohi, without an addition to his signature as above, just pass them by. The price on such a thing should be much less than a blade without any horimono at all, because it is irreparably scarred at this point.

A Tadatsuna with no horimono is still a fine sword and worth owning, it is just that it can't be valued in the same way as those with intricate horimono. Those with graffiti on them, unless you want to be sad every day, avoid them.

Other Students

Shodai Tadatsuna had a prolific school and he taught both his younger brother Tadayuki, as well as his son Ikkanshi Tadatsuna. His other students were Masatsuna (his second son), Nagatsuna, Kanetsuna, Yoshitsuna, Kunimitsu and Kunitsuna. We can note similar signatures to those smiths that came before these in the koto Awataguchi and Soshu traditions (especially as Soshu is basically a branch off of Awataguchi). There is one more smith called Hirotsuna, and this smith may be a name change of Tsunbo Nagatsuna.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Tsunbo Nagatsuna KatanaDetail of Tokubetsu Hozon Tsunbo Nagatsuna Katana

Tsunbo Nagatsuna

Nagatsuna was born with the name Kitamura Ichiuemon. He was one of the earlier smiths in Tadatsuna's school, and received the tsuna character in his name from his teacher. Nagatsuna also had the nickname of Tsunbo which means he was deaf. This is very interesting, because in this time he took pride of this fact and eventually added it to the signatures of his swords. Hirotsuna also took up the name Tsunbo and it implies that Nagatsuna either took another deaf person and trained him as a swordsmith or else he changed his own name later in life while retaining his nickname. It's valuable knowledge transmitted to us by this method that swordsmiths were able to accomplish their tasks and instruction in spite of physical conditions like this. Smiths often worked into old age throughout all sword periods, so had to deal with things like loss of eyesight and aching joints like the rest of us do. But they continued working in a very physically demanding job that required precision and they were able to excel at it. It's worthwhile to think more about the struggle to remain healthy and whatever individual challenges they may have surpassed in order to achieve what they did.

Tsunbo Nagatsuna is also thought to have taken training under Kawachi-no-kami Kunitsuke, as Sato Kanzan states that he was one of his students. Kunisuke invented a variation of choji hamon that spread throughout Osaka and Nagatsuna was one of the smiths that adopted this technique. Fujishiro otherwise writes that he made many katana with a strong form, so he appears to have ignored some of the trends of the Kanbun period or else exercised that mostly for work he made under Tadatsuna, and in his own name preferred powerful shapes.

Nagatsuna is ranked Jo saku, the same ranking as his teacher, for superior craftsmanship and also obtained a Wazamono ranking for making sharp blades. The various smiths of the Tadatsuna school were all talented makers with good rankings and Wazamono ratings and it can be seen as a result that the Shodai Tadatsuna was a great teacher. Nagatsuna's work is fairly rare under his primary name and under the Hirotsuna name, and it's said that this is because he was spending most of his time helping Tadatsuna manufacture swords.

Tokubetsu Hozon Tsunbo Nagatsuna KatanaTsunbo Nagatsuna Katana OrigamiTsunbo Nagatsuna Katana Habaki

Tokubetsu Hozon Tsunbo Nagatsuna Katana

One of the students of Osafune Chogi in the Nanbokucho smith is named Nagatsuna (長綱) in the same way as this smith. It is possibly an inspiration for this sword, because the blade is extremely wide at 3.5 cm motohaba and in the upper is still 2.75 cm. To understand that, it is common for some late Kamakura swords to be 2.7-2.8 cm for the motohaba and this blade is on the extreme side for width even for the Nanbokucho period and this is a Kanbun Shinto sword from around 1661. It is the most powerful shape I've had on my website for a shinto sword, hands down.

In the Momoyama period, copying smiths like Sadamune, Shizu and Chogi happened frequently along with the powerful shapes these smiths are known for. In the late 1600s this kind of powerful shape goes away for a basic and conventional standard Shinto shape with a chu-kissaki. It isn't until the 1800s that the Nanbokucho period shape takes on its second revival and third iteration under smiths like Kiyomaro who were fascinated by the masculine and powerful appearance of Nanbokucho blades.

This particular blade is an exception to its period due to the massive size and masculline shape. In craftsmanship, it is very well done, with a deep billowing hamon filled with Soshu type activities and clear influence from Sukehiro's toranba hamon. The jihada is beautiful and well forged ko-itame featuring chikei. This smith was fluent in Bizen and Yamashiro tradition and this blade seems based in Soden Bizen, in particular aimed at Chogi as stated above. Chogi's best work tapers very little and has a substantial o-kissaki, though not all of his katana have this appearance. It leads us to believe that there were two different uses for them and the longer kissaki blades that don't taper much were o-dachi or no-dachi instead of traditional tachi. Whatever the case, those huge pieces were all cut down and Chogi's fame relies primarily on them. For some reason Chogi made massive tachi, but he made only small tanto, and while he was a good tanto smith, when people think Chogi they think of these big tachi which are all cut down to katana length now. They represent the archetype for the best of the Nanbokucho period.

Otherwise, in this sword we see some typical features of Tadatsuna's school. The smith's chisel work in his mei resembles Tadatsuna, and it is quite common on Tadatsuna's blades to have multiple mekugiana. There are blades with two and three holes like in this one. The lower one is meant for extra security. It is relatively hard to find original koshirae which make use of the lower mekugiana but some examples still exist. The nakago also has the signature shape of the Tadatsuna school which makes it identifiable at a glance. Also there is clear ububa in the work, indicating it has not been polished that much. Ububa is an era of a blunt edge just above the machi. As swords get polished down this blunt edge becomes sharpened, and tells us how original the condition is of the sword as a result. In this case the blade is very close to original condition due to the presence of this feature.

Multi-mekugiana Nakago
Multi-mekugiana NakagoMulti-mekugiana Nakago

The upper two mekugiana are laid out to allow the sword to go into tachi mounts or katana mounts. The lower mekugiana is called a shinobiana and is there for extra security, which is maybe not surprising given the mass and size of a blade like this. To the right are some examples of Tadatsuna's Juyo work that show these two mekugiana layouts. It is also common to see these on Hizen works of the 1600s so it appears to be something that people were concerned about with their katana (i.e. being able to change koshirae into tachi koshirae for formal occasions). In the case of the upper leftmost sword, it has the same mekugiana layout as this blade, with two upper mekugiana and one lower one. One of the upper holes was filled in later periods. I've had this three mekugiana layout on a Hizen blade before as well.

It has an interesting habaki as well, which is silver and I think the original habaki. It looks similar to the style used by the Umetada and is nice on its own right. There are a couple of openings on the ji which can be seen in the photos but nothing serious.

For those who cannot afford a great Nanbokucho period Juyo Token work, this is the next best thing, and it is also a very good representative work of Tadatsuna's important Shinto school. For its time period it is an unusually beefy and intimidating blade with a gorgeous sugata. I think it is a very worthy addition to a collection because of the strength of the work, and these various historical aspects that let us see deeper into the koto period through the eyes of a Shinto swordsmith. This is a really nice blade and I hope you will appreciate it.