Yamato Shizu Kaneuji KatanaYamato Shizu Kaneuji

periodEarly Nanbokucho Koto (ca. 1340)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Juyo Token Katana
ratingJo-jo saku
nakagoo-suriage mumei
nagasa71.4cm
sori2.0cm
motohaba3.1cm
sakihaba2.1cm
kissaki3.4cm
nakago nagasa20.3cm
nakago sorislight
price -please enquire-

Kaneuji is a smith of the Tegai school in Yamato and he was immensely skilled. He moved from Yamato to Kamakura (Soshu) and further honed his skills under Masamune, and came to emulate his style. After this, he moved to Shizu in Mino province and the school he left behind formed the basis for the Mino tradition. Because of his movements and style changes he is addressed by no less than four names which makes for some confusion.

These are:

  1. Kaneuji – 包氏
  2. Yamato Shizu – 大和志津
  3. Kaneuji – 兼氏
  4. Shizu – 志津

It is fairly common in the koto period that smiths would pack up and leave for other locations. There are various rationales for this that can be easily imagined.

For instance, the fortunes of the local warlords expanding or contracting may require the presence of more smiths to meet demand, or if demand falls the lack of business could cause some to pack up and leave.

Local resources over periods of centuries can be exhausted or their quality diminish. If you were unable to easily obtain what you needed to make a sword as well as your father did, you could decide to look for a better location to make swords. It’s possible this is the reason that the Ichimonji school drifted from place to place, and a possible reason why the Soshu school declined from the peak at the end of Nanbokucho on a gentle straight line.

Detail of Tokubetsu Juyo Yamato Shizu Kaneuji Katana

Oda Nobunaga’s rise coincided with a great demand for swords, and not coincidentally we see a great rise in production in Mino near to his home base. After the wars of the Muromachi period had ended, these Mino smiths scattered into the castle towns and their techniques became part of the Shinto tradition.

Smiths from Yamato may have migrated when the power of local temples rose and fell. The Uda school is thought to be a group of smiths that left Yamato and migrated to Etchu, learning from Norishige in their new home. Hasebe Kunishige is said to be another Yamato smith who moved to Kamakura, learned the Soshu tradition, and then went on to Yamashiro province. Kinju and Kaneuji are two Yamato smiths who also made this trip, but ended up in Mino when they were done in Kamakura.

Mino Kaneuji, Juyo Bunkazai
Mino Kaneuji, Juyo Bunkazai

Kaneuji

Of all of these smiths none was as talented before or after his move as Kaneuji. He is affectionately known as Shizu after his final place of residence in Mino province. He is very well regarded as a grand master of the Soshu tradition and the founder of the Mino tradition, which became the dominant tradition at the end of the Koto period.

Kaneuji was a smith of the Tegai school and signed his name 包氏 with a similar Kane character as Kanenaga 包長 and other descendants of Tegai. When he left, he left behind trained students who maintained his name and techniques, and collectively these are known as Yamato Shizu in a backwards generated nickname. This causes extra confusion because this name ambiguously refers to his work as an individual, and the lineage he left behind. So some care is necessary in determining what is being said when this name is used. It’s possible that some of these Yamato Shizu classified works now are actually later works from Mino which are just more heavily styled with Yamato flavor. It is difficult to be absolutely sure.

This move of his is thought to coincide with the end of the Kamakura period, around 1326, so sometimes he is said to be a late Kamakura smith and sometimes an early Nanbokucho smith. His first move was to Sagami province where he learned the Soshu tradition from Masamune, and today his work is said to be closest to Masamune of all those that Masamune trained. There are some swords that over history have passed back and forth in attribution between Shizu and Masamune.

After his move he changed his name to 兼氏 which is still pronounced Kaneuji, and he blended together the teachings of Kanenaga and Masamune to create a hybrid style that became the Mino tradition. It can be a little bit hard to determine sometimes if a work of his is Yamato or Soshu style due to both being highly skilled work, so it depends on the balance of features seen.

Shizu Kaneuji retains a ranking of Sai-jo saku and also a cutting ranking of Ryo-wazamono for great sharpness. There are many masterpiece works attributed to him both under the Yamato Shizu and Shizu titles, as well as a small number of signed works. There are currently 136 Juyo Token, 16 Tokubetsu Juyo Token, 9 Juyo Bijutsuhin, and 6 Juyo Bunkazai. As Yamato Shizu it is a bit harder to count due to the fact that the NBTHK mixes together the nicknames for the school and for this smith in particular, but these are more rare as most of the Yamato Shizu seem to be school attributions to the branch of Tegai he founded. There are five Tokubetsu Juyo though and all of these are Kaneuji blades, either by the Shodai or Nidai Kaneuji.

Detail of Tokubetsu Juyo Yamato Shizu Kaneuji Katana

Shizu Lineage

I've made an attempt to clarify the migration of this smith and the two schools he founded and left behind.

shizu heritage chart
Meito Mi-nemuri Three Sleeps, Nidai Kaneuji
Meito Mi-nemuri Three Sleeps, Nidai Kaneuji

Nidai Kaneuji

The smiths he left in Mino maintained the use of the new Kane character 兼 he adopted after his training under Masamune and this use of Kane is something we see all the way to the end of Muromachi in Mino province. The smiths Kanesada 兼定 and Kanemoto 兼元, both famous Muromachi Mino smiths maintained this tradition.

There seems to have been at least one more generation of Kaneuji left behind in Yamato, and somewhere between one to three descendants in the Mino lineage. The name Kaneuji was still being used in the Shinshinto period, so it’s possible that it continued on until close to the present day. When generations fall in skill over time they can kind of go off the radar, and not be closely tracked in books and documents but they still faithfully hand the name down.

The Mino descendants seem to have moved to Naoe town away from Shizu, and so they are collectively referred to now as Naoe Shizu. Some of these are Kanetsugu and Kanetomo, but there is also a Kanetomo with a Yamato style signature who is classified as Yamato Shizu as well.

It may be possible there was some communication back to Tegai as some of these signed Yamato Shizu works of the 2nd generation Kaneuji, are strongly Soshu flavored. No perfectly authenticated signed work of the first generation's original signature signature remain today. Very few signed works exist of any of them, making classification difficult.

The Mi-nemuri meito by the 2nd generation Yamato Kaneuji above is a fantastic artifact and one of the five Yamato Shizu Tokubetsu Juyo swords. It is the heirloom of the Makino daimyo family and was given to them by the Tokugawa Shogun Ietsuna.

Meito Mi-nemuri Oshigata
Meito Mi-nemuri Oshigata

The name means Sleeping Three Times or Three Sleeps and the NBTHK documented this blade in the Token Bijutsu. I've been lucky enough to have seen this blade and it is outstanding and is clearly in the Soshu style with all the hallmarks of Masamune in it. It even has mitsu-mune as we would expect a high class Soshu tanto to have.

This example has the most outstanding quality of all Kaneuji works that are in existence today. A close examination brings out the characteristics similar to the Meibutsu work named Wakebe Shizu. Also, the character UJI is quite similar to (Mino) Kaneuji's illustrated in Kozan Oshigata. It thus seems necessary to study this swordsmith's relationship vis-a-vis Shizu Kaneuji.

The beautiful jigane containing a great many chikei and the diversified midare-ba structure both have admirable quality. The pronounced clarity of both ji and ha is also superb. [...] It was praised by the late Meiji sword connoisseur Imamura Choga. NBTHK Token Bijutsu English

The NBTHK in this description is saying that the signature follows Mino Kaneuji quite well and that the work is very similar to the Wakebe Shizu which is known as the best work of Mino Shizu Kaneuji. Both of these lead me to the conclusion that there was interchange between the Mino Shizu and Yamato Shizu schools as the maker of the Mi-nemuri is the nidai Yamato Shizu Kaneuji. If this is the case, it would seem that Kaneuji was the captain of quite the business empire. Since his name was carried forward in both regions it would seem to argue for the value attached to the Kaneuji brand.

Regardless, the NBTHK praised this work of the 2nd generation as the best of all Yamato Shizu school works, which includes the work of the 1st generation Kaneuji himself. It speaks to the high degree of skill of the smith. The nidai Kaneuji has left behind dated works from 1350 to 1370 which overlaps with the end of the Shodai's career and just after the death of Masamune.

Detail of Tokubetsu Juyo Yamato Shizu Kaneuji Katana
Tokubetsu Juyo Token Yamato Shizu Kaneuji Katana

Tokubetsu Juyo Token Yamato Shizu Kaneuji Katana

The blade described here today was attributed at Juyo to Yamato Shizu and implied as work of the first generation, and therein stated to be one of the finest works of the smith. Tanobe sensei as well when he wrote the sayagaki after Juyo stated it to immediately look like the work of Shizu, but the standing out masame in the blade lead him to narrow the evaluation from all of Shizu's repertoire to Yamato Shizu.

The presence of the Mi-nemuri I think and the discovery of more signed second generation Kaneuji works has since then made it harder to classify a work flat out via quality to Shodai Yamato Kaneuji. The NBTHK accordingly at Tokubetsu Juyo noted that this work was attributed to Kaneuji with the larger scope of Yamato Shizu in mind.

The blade itself is outstanding and radiates power. At first glance without knowing the attribution, I thought it surely to be the work of Shizu. It is wide, imposing and heavy and has incredible hataraki through the ji and seems to have been made with this as the point of focus. The hamon though is based on similar shapes to the Mi-nemuri but is more quiet in its execution. One side is midareba with gunome and togariba which is exactly Shizu style, and the other is based on suguba with smaller togariba shapes mixed in.

Standing above it all though is the amazing jigane which is clear and gorgeous with streaks of nie applied to it as if they were painted by a calligrapher. Both at Juyo, and by Tanobe sensei in the sayagaki, and finally at Tokubetsu Juyo, each time it was remarked that this piece is a masterpiece which singles itself out among all blades by Yamato Kaneuji and the Yamato Shizu school.

It retains a good length at 71.4cm, and is heavy in the hand. The fact that the blade tapers from a wide base and has a smallish kissaki puts it at the earlier part of the Nanbokucho period and could be work of either the first or second generation Kaneuji by this method as well. The nakago when it was shortened was finished expertly and with a graceful shape, which is not always seen, so it is evidence that the blade was held in high regard at the time.

Mori Daimyo Ke

mori kamon

The blade came into the modern period in the possession of the Mōri daimyo Ke, one of the most powerful and historically important clans in Japan. The Mōri were one of the most powerful clans in feudal Japan, descending from the Imperial House, and were located on the southern end of the main island. The clan was founded in 1247 by Mori Suemitsu and continues on today.

Mōri Motonari was one of the major daimyo from this family and one of the top warlords of the Muromachi period. He would have been in power around the time this sword was shortened at the end of the Muromachi period and there is an extensive history available on him and on this clan at the two links above.

The emblem of the house was handed down from before Motonari's time, but it may relate to a story Motonari is said to have told his three sons. He used a metaphor of three arrows, that individually he had no problem breaking them, but if he bound them together they would withstand his attempt to snap them in two. This lesson is still taught in school in Japan today.

The Mōri lead the West Army in opposition to the Tokugawa forces at the Battle of Sekigahara. This proved disastrous for the clan, as at the time they were in control of 13 provinces with an incredible 1.2 million koku production value. After their defeat the Tokugawa stripped them of most of their domains but they retained the provinces of Nagato (Choshu) and Suo, and 369,000 koku which still made them one of the most powerful clans.

Even after centuries of Tokugawa rule, the samurai of the west would never forget. In the 1800s the Tokugawa Shogunate ultimately fell after the Boshin War was instigated at the hands of Satsuma (under the Shimazu) and Choshu (under the Mori) provinces and concluded with the installation of the Meiji Emperor and the fall of the the Tokugawa.

As a result the Mori clan were ennobled under the new Imperial Japan, and the head of the clan was ranked as a Duke (Koshaku) in the new peerage system. This is the top rank in the nobility, under the Emperor.

Today Mori Motohide is the head of the clan, and the 32nd of an unbroken lineage going back to the Kamakura period.

Detail of Tokubetsu Juyo Yamato Shizu Kaneuji Katana

Owning this blade is the opportunity to have a major precious daimyo heirloom. And of course, it remains ranked Tokubetsu Juyo. This is the top ranking available from the NBTHK and extremely hard to get. There are only about 1,000 swords at this level. In order to attain Tokubetsu Juyo, a sword must have all the properties of a Juyo Bunkazai. It has to be in excellent condition, and to strongly stand out even among the other masterpieces by the maker.

Yamato Shizu Kaneuji Katana Oshigata

Juyo Token Katana

Appointed on the 30th of October, 1992 (38th session)

Katana, Mumei, Yamato-Shizu

Keijo

shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, thick kasane, relatively wide mihaba, rather deep sori, chū-kissaki

Kitae

itame with plenty of ji-nie and much nagare which overall tends to masame

Hamon

nie-laden gunome that is mixed with ko-gunome, gunome-chōji, togariba, ashi, some sunagashi, and kinsuji

Bōshi

midare-komi with a ko-maru-style kaeri and much hakikake

Horimono

on both sides a bōhi which runs as kaki-nagashi into the tang

Nakago

ō-suriage, shallow kurijiri, sujikai-yasurime, two mekugi-ana, mumei

Setsumei

Initially, the term Yamato-Shizu referred to Kaneuji’s (兼氏) time in Yamato, i.e. before he moved to Shizu in the Taki district of Mino province and when he still signed his name with the characters (包氏). However, there were some smiths remaining in Yamato who continued the Kaneuji (包氏) name so in the wider sense, the classification Yamato-Shizu can include these smiths too.

Although this katana is ō-suriage and mumei, the abundance of nagare in the jigane that makes the hada almost appear as pure masame identifies it as a work of the Yamato tradition. In addition, the nie-laden gunome hamon that is mixed with ko-gunome, togariba, sunagashi and kinsuji is very typical for the Shizu workmanship and when this is combined with the rather connected gunome sections, Yamato-Shizu should be considered as the most appropriate attribution. This is a masterwork that is outstanding among all works attributed to this smith and was owned during the Edo period by the Mōri (毛利) family who were the daimyō of the Chōshū fief.

Detail of Tokubetsu Juyo Yamato Shizu Kaneuji Katana
Yamato Shizu Kaneuji Katana Tokuju ZufuYamato Shizu Kaneuji Katana Origami

Tokubetsu Juyo Token Katana

Appointed on the 27th of April, 2016 (24th session)

Katana, Mumei, Yamato Shizu

Keijo

shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, wide mihaba, noticeable taper, thick kasane, noticeable sori, chū-kissaki

Kitae

rather standing-out ko-itame that shows masame all over and that features plenty of ji-nie, chikei, and that is mixed with some jifu-like elements, the steel is somewhat blackish

Hamon

ko-nie-laden suguha-chō that is mixed with gunome, ko-gunome, some togariba, many ashi and yō, nie-kuzure along the monouchi of the sashi-ura side, and kinsuji and sunagashi, the nioiguchi is wide and bright

Bōshi

a little notare-komi with a ko-maru-like kaeri and much hakikake which makes the bōshi appears as nie-zukure

Horimono

on both sides a bōhi which runs on the omote side as kaki-nagashi into, and on the ura side as kaki-tōshi through the tang

Nakago

ō-suriage, kurijiri, shallow sujikai-yasurime, two mekugi-ana, mumei

Artisan

Kaneuji (包氏) from Yamato province

Jidai

Nanbokuchō period

Denrai

Mōri (毛利) family,  daimyō of the Chōshū fief of Nagato province.

Setsumei

Initially, the term Yamato-Shizu referred to Kaneuji’s (兼氏) time in Yamato, i.e. before he moved to Shizu in the Taki district of Mino province and when he still signed his name with the characters (包氏). However, there were some smiths remaining in Yamato who continued the Kaneuji (包氏) name so in the wider sense, the classification Yamato-Shizu can include these smiths too.

This katana has a wide mihaba and a thick kasane and shows a jigane in a rather standing-out ko-itame that tends to masame and that features plenty of ji-nie. The hamon is a boldly interpreted suguha-chō with a bright nioiguchi that is mixed with gunome and ko-gunome and that shows an abundance of hataraki like nie-kuzure, kinsuji, and sunagashi. Taking all this into consideration, it was decided unanimously that the attribution must be to Yamato-Shizu, that is, in the aforementioned wider sense of this classification. Due to the robust sugata, the calm notare ba, and the hataraki along the habuchi and inside of the ha, this blade is truly impressive and the powerful deki featuring a vivid bōshi and a nie-laden jiba is excellent and outstanding among Yamato-Shizu works. The blade was once a heirloom of the Mōri (毛利) family who were the daimyō of the Chōshū fief of Nagato province.

Yamato Shizu Kaneuji Katana Sayagaki

Sayagaki

This sword bears a detailed inscription (sayagaki) by Tanobe Michihiro sensei. He is the retired former head researcher of the Nippon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK). He wrote this when the blade was still Juyo in 2013. Tanobe sensei implies states here that the work is Shizu (i.e. Shodai Kaneuji) and is narrowed down to Yamato Shizu.

  1. 大和志津
    Yamato Shizu
  2. 第丗八回重要刀剣指定品
    Dai 38-kai jūyō-tōken shitei-hin
    Designated as jūyō-tōken at the 38th jūyō-shinsa
  3. 大磨上無銘也柾ガガッテ流レル肌合ニ志津然トシタ
    Ō-suriage mumei nari masa-gagatte nagareru hadaai ni Shizu satoshita.
    The blade is ō-suriage and mumei but the nagare-hada that tends to masame speaks for Shizu.
  4. 乱ヲ焼申候而地刃共厚ク沸付キ理論的ニ狭義ノ大和志津ト鑒スルハ正ニ妥當也同工極メノ中デモ殊ニ出来傑レ加ヘテ健ヤカ也長府毛利家ノ襲蔵品ノ一
    Midare o yaki mōsu-sōrō shikamo jiba tomo ni atsuku nie-tsuki rironteki ni kyōgi no Yamato-Shizu to kansuru wa masa ni datō nari dōkō kiwame no naka de mo koto ni deki masare kaete sukoyaka nari Chōfu Mōri-ke no shūzō-hin no hitotsu.
    With the hardening in midare and the fact that both ji and ha are nie-laden, the attribution can be narrowed down to Yamato-Shizu. The blade shows a truly excellent deki among all blades attributed to this smith and is on top of that very healthy. It was once a heirloom of the Mōri family, the daimyõ of the Chōshū fief.
  5. 長弐尺参寸五分余
    Nagasa 2 shaku 3 sun 5 bu yo
    Blade length 71.4 cm
  6. 㞱季癸巳高秋探山邉道識「花押」
    Toki mizunoto-mi kōshū Tanzan Hendō shirusu + kaō
    Written by Tanzan Hendō in the height of fall in the year of the snake of this era (2013) + kaō