Sekishu Naotsuna

period:End Kamakura / Beginning Nanbokucho (ca. 1334)
designation:NBTHK Juyo Token
nakago:o-suriage mumei
nagasa:72.4cm
sori:1.3cm
motohaba:2.9cm
sakihaba:1.9cm
kissaki:3.15cm
nakago nagasa:19.2cm
nakago sori:0.2cm
price:$50,000

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.

Compared to Shodai tachi

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 masake 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

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

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 like the signed Shodai above.

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.

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: Kanetsuna, Tsunekane, Naoshige, Naosada, Hirosue, Hirosada, Rinsho, Yoshisue, Kazusada, Sadayuki, Sanetsuna, Suesada and Tsuguhiro (as well as others).

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 167cm.

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.

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.

Naotsuna Katana

I have always had a soft spot for Naotsuna. Whenever I see his work in good condition, it is spilling over with energetic activities and has been as impressive to me as Shizu. The difficulty ends up being finding a healthy one. Naotsuna's blades tend to have large nie grains which indicates a higher temperature during yaki-ire. In this case he has not made excessively large nie grains but the jihada is completely covered with dark chikei.

This sword came to me recently from Japan and it was love at first sight. The jigane is crystal clear featuring strong black chikei throughout the entire blade. These crisscross in and out of the hamon creating inazuma, and sunagashi inside. I find this blade to be very much like the work of Shizu and as well some Masamune. There is a longish kitae ware on the omote monouchi but the sword remains in very healthy condition and is stunning. It shows the connection to Masamune very well. The black ji nie and dark steel in fact could lead one to an attribution to Go Yoshihiro or Norishige, except that the hamon pattern in this case seems to incorporate more gunome than would be normal for those smiths. Overall it feels to me like Go or Norishige in the jihada mixed with Shizu in the hamon. The hamon itself is very bright and rich in Soshu activities.

Not too long ago a Juyo Naotsuna sold at Bonham's for $134,000 and I had an opportunity to buy one of the Tokuju Nidai Naotsuna blades some years ago for $220,000. I think those prices are a bit expensive for Naotsuna but quality comes at a price.

I think this blade also matches very well with the last signed work of the Shodai. Both of these blades show a calm sugata that tapers, and similar activity in the jigane and hamon. However, this one is not signed, but is in better condition than the Tokuju example. I think because of this late Kamakura work and the similarity with the Shodai blade, that this is first generation Naotsuna.

It is accompanied by good quality black lacquered koshirae, featuring gold dragons and shakudo tsuba. The fuchi in particularly is beautiful and is signed Hamano Naohiro (kao) 浜野直寛. The Hamano school is excellent, branching from Nara Toshinaga. I can't find out too much about this individual smith though I have seen other fine works by him online. I didn't try to paper this one and without a lot of references available, I can only say that I feel it will probably paper fine but try to make your own conclusion on the mei. It can be seen in the slideshow. The menuki and tsuba to me seem to be Waki-Goto.

The entire blade is covered with ji nie that collect together into shiny dark chikei, making the attribution of this blade quite straight forward. The black chikei and nie activities nail the Soshu origins of this blade as well as well make it clearly attributable to Naotsuna. I really love blades like this, with beautiful jihada and gorgeous activity everywhere. At just over 72cm in length, it is also nicely premium sized. This blade as well passed Juyo in the 1960s, before Tokubetsu Juyo existed, making this the highest grade available at the time from the NBTHK.

It's getting harder and harder to find high quality Soshu blades from the Nanbokucho and Kamakura periods. If you were looking to collect the Masamune Juttetsu, this would be an excellent example to fill the spot of Naotsuna.

Juyo Token

Appointed on the 10th of February, 1967 (Session 15)

Katana, Mumei, Den Naotsuna

Keijo

shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, shallow sori, chû-kissaki

Kitae

itame that tends to nagare and that shows ji-nie

Hamon

ko-notare in ko-nie-deki that is mixed with ko-gunome, togariba, ko-ashi and much sunagashi and that features a wide nioiguchi

Boshi

sugu-chô with hakikake

Nakago

ô-suriage, shallow kurijiri, shallow katte-sagari yasurime, mumei

Setsumei

Naotsuna was a swordsmith who lived in Izuha (出羽) in Iwami province. The first generation is said to have been a student of Masamune but this is hard to accept in terms of the different workmanship of the two smiths.

This blade is ô-suriage mumei but as it shows an itame that tends to nagare and that displays ji-nie and hamon that is nie-based and mixed with gunome, togariba, and much sunagashi, there was agreement that the attribution should be to Naotsuna.


Sayagaki

This sword bears a sayagaki from Dr. Sato Kanzan, one of the co-founders of the NBTHK and a 20th century scholar. This sayagaki is from 1965 and predates Juyo which was in 1967 for this blade. Dr. Sato updated it to add the Juyo information.

  1. 石州直綱
    Sekishû Naotsuna
  2. 但大磨上無銘也
    Tadashi ô-suriage mumei.
    The blade is shortened and unsigned.
  3. 重要刀剣指定
    jûyô-tôken shitei.
    Designated as a Juyo Token
  4. 長七二糎六有之
    nagasa 72.6 cm kore ari
    length 72.6 cm
  5. 昭和乙巳歳新春日
    Shôwa kinoto-hebidoshi shinshun no hi
    On a day in the first month of the year of the snake of the Shôwa era (1965)
  6. 寒山誌「花押」
    Kanzan shirusu (kaô)
    Inscribed by Kanzan (monogram)