home photos email swords
Original content Copyright © 2012 D. Brockbank

Hizen Omi Daijo Tadahiro

period:Shinto (ca. 1670)
designation:NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon
nakago:ubu, 21.7cm, two mekugiana
mei:Hizen no Kuni Ju Omi no Daijo Fujiwara Tadahiro

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 Shodai 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

Hashimoto Heisakuro was the second son after the adopted brother Yoshinobu, so stood in line to inherit by his blood relation to his father. When Shodai Tadayoshi died, this left Heisakuro to inherit the Tadahiro name and left him to run the school with the assistance of his father's older students Masahiro and Yoshinobu. He would later adopt his father's personal name of Shinzaemonnojo as well as forging swords with his father's late signature.

The Nidai Tadahiro received the title of Omi no Daijo in 1641 at the age of 28, and under him the Tadayoshi school would become synonymous with the name of the province. 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.

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.

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.

Tokubetsu Hozon Omi no Daijo Tadayoshi Katana

This is a sword that I personally find very exciting. Right away, it is clear that there is something special about this piece as it is flawless and with a flamboyant Ichimonji-inspired hamon. The kitae being extremely fine and the high quality of the piece brings to mind the work of the third generation, and in this situation it is my opinion that this is daisaku work done by Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi for his father.

Beyond the tight jihada filled with fine ji nie, one can look to the yasurime which are an indicator in Tadayoshi school blades to the generation. In the case of Omi Daijo, his yasurime are a very straight kiri, while those of Mutsu no Kami are ever so slightly sloped. Consider this comparison image with this sword on the left, Mutsu no Kami in the middle, and Omi Daijo on the right. The second hint is in the nakagojiri, which indicates a late work at minimum by Omi Daijo, but rules out early work and rules in daisaku. The sugata agrees, as it is the type that comes after the Kanbun period, so falls into the prime period for work of the third generation. I tend to think that the flamboyant choji midare is also more typical for Mutsu no Kami than to be found in his father's more standard repertoire of suguba.

In terms of condition, the sword is extremely healthy and well preserved. As well the nakago is beautifully finished and the sword has been cared for in Japan very well until I acquired it. It's possible that the machi has been moved up slightly, though I showed this sword and got an opinion that the second mekugiana is only for mounting it in a second koshirae of Efu no Tachi form. Swords of Mutsu no Kami in Katana length are more usually found in the $40,000 price range and up even at Tokubetsu Hozon. I have seen wakizashi by this smith at $33,000.

Adding to the value of the package however are some simply wonderful koshirae that I think would easily obtain Tokubetsu Hozon papers if submitted. The saya is ribbed black lacquer with a horn kojiri, and is dating to the middle 1800s. The tsuba is deep black shakudo with a gold mimi and the mon of the Shimazu clan of Satsuma province. The situation only gets better as one encounters gorgeous apparently solid gold Mino menuki that I believe are from around the Momoyama period or else a little bit later. This work seems to stand between Ko-Mino and then the Mino Goto work that would follow later on.

The best being left for last, the fuchi and kashira are master work with the signature of Sano Naoyoshi (founder of the Sano school) and the fuchi is signed. The signature matches his textbook examples very well, but the koshirae and tosogu are currently unpapered.

The work is also just excellent in the extreme, featuring gold on shakudo, the quality of which does more to confirm the signature than simply matching it up in a book. Please check out the slideshow pictures to see more. I have had friends estimate the value of the fuchi and kashira alone to be as much as $5,000. As well, Pete Klein was kind enough to research a bit about Sano Naoyoshi, for which he has my thanks:

Naoyoshi, Sano also Yanagawa
worked in Edo, eighteenth century
student of Naonori, Konakamura

note: Haynes listing shows some inconsistency here as he lists Naonori as a student of Sano Naoyoshi and of Yanagawa Naomasa the founder of the Yanagawa school but there is a timeline problem as he lists Naoyoshi as dying in 1862 and Naomasa died in 1757. Okabe Kakuya (Japanese Sword Guards 1908) lists Naoyoshi as being a student of Naomasa so I believe the problem is with Naoyoshi's date of death as listed by Haynes.

[Naoyoshi is] The founder of the Sano family school. He was still working beyond the age 66. Retainer of the Akimoto Daimyo of Tatebayashi in Kozuke Province.

Wakayama -- Toso Kinko Meiji Taikei vol. I, page 100 - 103
Ken'ichi Kokubo -- Shinsen Kinko Meikan revised ed., page 264.

from 'Tosogu', Gemmell, Graham 1991:

...'the predilection that the Sano School appears to have had for "single object" decoration, as opposed to landscape or genre scenes, and in particular for animals and other creatures. It also shows the enormous naturalism with which they were able to imbue their works...The Sano School, founded in the latter part of the eighteenth century by one Sano Naoyoshi, owes much of it's style to Naoyoshi's first master Yanagawa Naomasa. At one point in his career he moved way up north to become tsuba-ko to the Daimyo Akimoto Tajima no Kami Tsunetomo at the town of Yamagata in Dewa Province. Wakayama records only five direct pupils of Naoyoshi who took the Sano name although it is known that Naoyoshi also numbered amongst his followers several amateur workers of samurai rank. It is also said the Daimyo Akimoto was educated in the skills of metal working by his vassal.

Japanese Sword Mounts... Gunsaulus, Helen C. 1923 Chicago corroborates the above information in general.

note: The Yanagawa School of Naomasa numbered amongst it's members Inagawa Naokatsu, Y. Naohisa, Y. Naomitsu, Y. Naoharu who's student Hogen Haruaki was and is highly regarded to this day.

Yanagawa Masatsugu, (1670-1721) student of the first Yokoya Soyo, was the founder of the Yanagawa school with Y. Naomasa being his second son the heir.

Overall, this wonderful work of the Hizen Tadayoshi school with its beautiful koshirae should make its eventual owner very happy, and provide a lot of enjoyment over the upcoming long winter months!