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Original content Copyright © 2012 D. Brockbank

Omi Daijo Tadahiro

period:Edo (around Kanbun 1661)
designation:NBTHK Hozon Token
nakago:ubu, tachi mei: Hizen Kuni Ju Omi no Daijo Fujiwara Tadahiro
nagasa:75.7cm
motohaba:2.95cm
sakihaba:1.85cm
sori:1.3cm
nakago nagasa:2.95cm
price:$16,500

The Hizen school of the Shinto period is certainly one of the most famous and easily recognized by collectors and students of all levels.

Hashimoto Shinzaemon was born in 1572 to a samurai family. His father and grandfather were both killed early on, and being orphaned at the age of 13 he took up sword smithing with relatives (possibly Iyo no Jo Munetsugu) at Nagasemura. He took up the name Tadayoshi, and his skill must have grown rapidly, for at the age of 25 he travelled to Kyoto and was accepted as a student of Umetada Myoju.

Myoju was fond of performing horimono for Tadayoshi's blades, and this illustrates a close bond and no doubt a respect on the part of the teacher for the imposing potential of his stop student and these two are often counted among the top five smiths of the entire Shinto period.

Tadayoshi would eventually leave Kyoto to work for the Nabeshima clan in Hizen province. The Nabeshima specifically fostered the school set up by Tadayoshi and Hizen became a great swordmaking center, and no doubt brought much revenue back to the Nambeshima daimyo.

Late in his life Tadayoshi received the title of Mutsu no Daijo, and on this occasion he changed his name to Tadahiro and his style changed along with his signature. In 1614 he became father to Hashimoto Heisakuro, who would join his father's forge at the young age of 10 and eventually take on his personal name Shinzaemonnojo, and then his father's art name of Tadahiro.

Omi Daijo Tadahiro

After Shodai Tadayoshi died in 1632, his young son at the age of 19 was left in charge of the shop and the many students of the late master. During these first few years he received much assistance and instruction from the Shodai Masahiro and Yoshinobu.

In 1641 at the age of 28, the nidai Tadahiro received the title Omi no Daijo, and today just the simple reference of Omi Daijo is used to indicate him in discussions between enthusiasts. His skill was very high (Jo-jo saku), though only on few occasions did he challenge his father (Sai-jo saku) in the art of swordsmithing. Possibly if his father had lived longer to teach his son more, then Omi Daijo might have surpassed him on all counts. As it was, Omi Daijo lived for 81 years so put his signatures into blades for a very healthy 60 year timeframe. He would train his own son into the family profession and see him restore the Tadayoshi name as Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi. Under the tutelage of Omi Daijo, Mutsu no Kami would even surpass the great works of the Shodai Tadayoshi.

Omi Daijo died in 1693, having built the Hizen school into a great manufacturing center for swords and satisfying a great demand throughout Japan for their work. In fact, demand for Omi Daijo blades reached such a peak that students of the Shodai Tadayoshi (Masahiro and Yoshinobu) as well as his son Mutsu no Kami created daisaku under his name to address the demand.

He is perhaps the most prolific smith of the Shinto period, with a work span of over 60 years and he would also outlive his own son, the third generation of the line, Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi. Tadahiro died at the age of 80 on May 28 of 1693 and he is ranked at Jo-jo saku by Fujishiro for extremely superior work, 800 man yen (very highly regarded) by Dr. Tokuno and O-wazamono for blades of formidable cutting ability.

Work Style

His style is typical for the Hizen Tadayoshi line: a strong sugata and a kitae and hamon that borrowed elements of the Rai School, mostly Rai Kunimitsu. Like Rai, the skin steel was forged very thin on Hizen swords so it is common to see shingane showing through. The jigane is usually a fine quality itame, sometimes nishijihada (pear skin hada) based on the works of the Rai smiths. The typical suguba hamon is done in nie deki, though there are departures into choji midare (and other smiths of the Hizen school like Masahiro do specialize in these more florid styles).

It was an old rule that swords with a sharp nakagojiri were works of Omi Daijo and if the point was not so strong then it was daisaku by his students. The current thinking states that the strongly pointed ones are early work of Omi Daijo, and lacking this it is the template for work in later life (so either a late work of Omi Daijo or else daisaku).

Since the founding of the school, the Nabeshima Daimyo who controlled Saga in Hizen made a point of sponsoring the work of the Tadayoshi line of smiths and encouraging an export market for their work. The business acumen of the Nabeshima combined with the excellent quality of the swords from the Tadayoshi school made them a dominant school in Japan through the nine generations of the main line.

The smiths of this school are known for their ability to work in multiple styles based on great koto works. This has its root in the teachings of Umetada Myoju, the teacher of Shodai Tadayoshi and from whom Tadayoshi received part of his name. Umetada Myoju was an expert in the Soshu den and the early Mino den of Shizu Kaneuji, and Tadayoshi both learned and mastered the necessary techniques for this style of production. The style synonymous with his own lineage though is based on the Rai style of Yamashiro, and in particular the work of Rai Kunimitsu is the main template for their work. Older Yamashiro work by smiths like Niji Kunitoshi and Rai Kuniyuki uses a flamboyant choji which was in imitation of the Ichimonji smiths working at the same time in the Kamakura period. This style is also adopted into the Tadayoshi school but the violent midareba is usually more commonly found in associated smiths off the main line.

Mutsu no Kami

The son of Omi Daijo is Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi, the third in the line. It is possible that having more time to develop as a swordsmith under the teaching of Omi Daijo without the pressure of running the school allowed him to flourish and reach higher skills than his father. Mutsu no Kami is known for an extremely fine and tight kitae and is even more highly regarded than his talented father. Though he is rated Jo-jo saku he is more highly rated at 1,000 man yen by Dr. Tokuno and is also considered Sai-jo O-wazamono and is one of only 14 smiths to have achieved this grand-master status for cutting ability. At the end of the days of Omi Daijo, his students which included the third and fourth generation Tadayoshi made works in his name: daisaku and daimei. In the case of daimei, the student has signed the master's name to the master's work. In the case of daisaku, the work has been created entirely by, and signed by the student with his master's name. Both are overseen by the master and he will perform "quality control," if judging the work to be of sufficient skill to support his name he will authorize it.

This makes a lot of business sense, and allows the extension of the work of a famous master smith who has talented students... in this case a well regarded "brand" continues to enter the market, without any concern about some new-fangled product that may not be initially accepted. In many cases in the Shinto period, second or later generation smiths eclipsed the skill of their master: we see this in Inoue Shinkai (Nidai Kunisada), Tsuda Sukehiro (Nidai Sukehiro), Ikkanshi Tadatsuna (Nidai Tadatsuna), Echigo no Kami Kanesada (Terukane) and so forth.

In this case, Mutsu no Kami eclipsed his master's skill quite handily, but unfortunately he died young like his grandfather, in 1686 at the age of 49 and seven years before the death of his father. Because of his early death, his work is quite rare. Regardless, the unusual skill of Mutsu no Kami makes for an unusual situation where daisaku by this smith are more precious than the work of the teacher.

Tadahiro Tachi

This is an elegantly tapering tachi of unusually long length for the time. The signature dates the sword past the beginning decade of his working career, and the shape of the nakago jiri simlarly dates the sword past his early period and into the middle to the end of his days. I think the shape and length of the blade supports it being a work from the middle third of his career, around the Kanbun period though the shape is not perfectly Kanbun in style.

The hamon is the standard, uniform, nie deki work that is the signature of Omi Daijo, in chu-suguba, with a short kaeri in perfect harmony. Unusually, bo-hi follow one side of the sword and on the opposite are futatsuji-bi, something which is not very common and in combination with the length makes me wonder if it were a custom order for a client. I think maybe these two things together are what lead me to believe it is an exception to the Kanbun sugata and is a custom made tachi in the style of the late Kamakura period.

The jihada is uniform and beautiful, with some nie utsuri appearing on the sword. There is a kitae ware in the shinogiji in the upper of the monouchi. The condition of this sword is excellent, with no modifications to nakago or machi.

I can recommend this sword to all collectors, as a fine example of the work of Omi Daijo with some unusual bonuses in length and horimono. As work of a famous, well known and well regarded smith, it can serve as a good starter piece for a serious collection or as a good Shinto example in an established collection.