Omi Daijo Tadahiro

period: Kanbun Shinto (ca. 1661)
designation: being submitted to the NBTHK
nakago: ubu, one mekugiana
mei: Hizen no Kuni Ju Omi no Daijo Fujiwara Tadahiro
nagasa: 69.7cm
price: -hold-

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.

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

In 1640 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 fulfill the demand.

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).

Fujishiro rates him Jo-jo saku, and he is considered the third best of all the smiths in the very large Hizen school. Dr. Tokuno rates him at 800 man yen, which is very high. Omi Daijo blades are also highly respected for their cutting ability, and he received the rating of o-wazamono for extreme sharpness.

This particular blade comes with provenance. It bears a sayagaki by the late Fukunaga Suiken sensei of the NTHK done on behalf of RB Caldwell. Caldwell was a highly respected collector and author who established one of the great western collections of swords, sword fittings, and other items of Japanese culture. Items from his collection have graced museum exhibits, and Sotheby's in 1994 auctioned 340 high pieces from his extensive collection.

Fukunaga sensei writes that the blade comes from the Kanbun period, and this is something that can be determined by the shape of the nakago jiri and style of mei. Omi Daijo would have been in his 50s when he made this sword. It is signed tachi style, which is typical for the Hizen school, and the wide mihaba throughout and elongated kissaki recall blades of the Nambokucho, specifically Rai Kunimitsu who was the idealized target of the main smiths of the Tadayoshi line.

The hamon is beautifully made in nie deki, with areas of fine inazuma, a touch of mixed in gunome, and lovely ko-ashi and foating yo. The nioi guchi is moderately tight and very tasteful. The boshi is elegant and in keeping with the manufacture of the sword. There are no kizu on the ko-itame hada, testifying to high skill in forging. The nakago has one mekugiana, ubu without alterations to the machi, it is a good and whole example of one of the very fine smiths of the Shinto period.