Hizen Tadayoshi

period: Early Edo Shinto (1616)
designation: NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Token
nakago: ubu
mei: 肥前国忠吉 (Hizen no Kuni Tadayoshi)
nagasa: 50cm (overall length just over 100cm)
sori: 4.0cm
motohaba: 2.6cm
sakihaba: 3.2cm
nakago nagasa: 52.0cm
price: -sold-

The Hizen school centered in Saga town on the western side of Japan was one of the glorious successes of the Shinto period. It is founded by Hashimoto Shinsaemonjo who took on the art name of Tadayoshi, under the sponsorship of the daimyo Nabeshima Naoshige. The house style is based on the work of Yamashiro Rai, and swiftly gained and maintained a reputation for high quality swords, both beautiful and practical with excellent cutting ability.

Tadayoshi was born in 1572 and began learning sword-craft at the end of the koto period. His father was a swordsmith of average average ability who signed under the name Michihiro. His lineage descends from the Sa school. Michihiro died in 1584 and Tadayoshi was orphaned. His father and grandfather (Morihiro) were both in the service of the Nabeshima daimyo and at the time of his father's death, Tadayoshi was too young for service. Instead he took up sword crafting in the village of Nagase-Mura. Roger Robertshaw's excellent reference books The School of Hizen Tadayoshi states that his teacher was likely Iyo no jo Munetsugu. Tadayoshi may have taken on some learning from the nearby Dotanuki school as well.

At the age of 25 with some 12 years of study under his belt, Tadayoshi had entered the service of Nabeshima Naoshige as a swordsmith, and was sent to study under the great master Umetada Myôju in Kyoto. Myôju was able to produce high quality copies of the work of Shizu and Sadamune, and early Tadayoshi work of this period follows his teacher in exploring these forms. Throughout the history of the Hizen school a midareba which is based on this work appears as part of the repertoire its smiths. Myôju seems to have taken a liking to the young Tadayoshi as he co-signed several of his works stating that “This Tadayoshi is my student” on the nakago as a soemei. Umetada Myôju granted Tadayoshi the tada character (忠) which has been faithfully handed down the main Hizen line ever since.

After three years under Myôju, Tadayoshi returned to Hizen and with funds made available through the Nabeshima daimyo he set up his forge and took on sixteen relatives and 60 or so local workers under employment in sword manufacture. Over the years he would sign his swords in various different ways, beginning with a simple five character signature (gojimei) Hizen (no) Kuni Tadayoshi (肥前国忠吉). Though most of his work is not dated, the changes in his signature allows us to group his work into periods. Without going too deeply into the details, for more study on the signature I will simply refer you to Roger Robertshaw's book. During this time Tadayoshi also continued to experiment with midareba and it would be a common form seen in other smiths of the Hizen school such as Tadakuni and Masahiro. In spite of this, the core style of Hizen remained centered around Rai in its settled form of the late Kamakura and early Nanbokucho.

Tadayoshi tempers various hamon but he shows himself at his best in suguba that reminds us of Rai Kunimitsu. Token Bijutsu 556

After much success and ever increasing skill in sword making, in 1624 Tadayoshi received the honorary title of Musashi no Daijô during a visit to Umetada Myôju in Kyoto. At this time he also received the noble clan name of Fujiwara from the Imperial Court. In commemorating these events he changed his name to Tadahiro, a combination of his teacher's name and his father's name, making for a new long signature of Hizen (no) Kuni ju Musashi (no) Daijô Tadahiro (肥前国住武蔵大事藤原忠廣). His son would inherit the Tadahiro name and we generally refer to him with the nickname Omi Daijô from his own honorary title. Tadayoshi would not live to see his grandson, the third generation who resumed the name Tadayoshi and who would rival him in talent.

oshigata Samurai with Naginata

The Hizen school was very prosperous towards the end of Tadayoshi's life. After he changed his name to Tadahiro, some other habits seem to appear. One is that dates more frequently appear on his blades, and those with the Tadahiro signature tend to show his highest degree of skill. By my count there are 96 Juyo blades by Tadayoshi which is an extremely high number for a Shinto smith. 58 of these represent his work up until the name change at age 53. The next 8 years of signing his name Tadahiro show 38 more Juyo. This represents 2.4 Juyo per year of work in the first part of his career. For the last part under the Tadahiro name this rises to 4.75 Juyo per year. During the end of his life he dealt with a fair amount of sickness too, and I theorize that the swords he made and signed himself as Tadahiro were likely above the commercial caliber of swords previously made and that were continuing to be made by the large number of swordsmiths working in his forge. I think he likely slowed down his own personal production due to illness and lessened commercial necessity for output from his own hands with the success of the workshop. As he seems also to have had an extreme amount of natural talent, I think also that he continued to accumulate skill as the years progressed and this also culminates in these works from the last period of his life being recognized at Juyo much more frequently than those that come before. The combination of these two I think increases the number of masterpieces that are directly associated with his personal work.

During the last period of his life Tadayoshi took orders from the Nabeshima daimyo to make a special form of blade to be used as gifts.

From August 1630 Shodai Tadahiro began signing custom order swords of exceptionally high quality for high ranking people, using the mei Hizen Kuni Jû Fujiwara Tadahiro i.e., without the Musashi Daijô title. He used a thick chisel and carved extended chisel strokes. The mei are called Kenjô-mei and obviously indicate a valuable sword. Roger Robertshaw The School of Hizen Tadayoshi

These kenjô-mei blades of exceedingly high quality specifically withhold his honorary title. As Mr. Robertshaw says, these blades were used as gifts to high ranking people. This served the Nabeshima daimyo well in several ways, not only were they spectacular gifts but they were very smart marketing packages for the skill of the Hizen forges. I think that the honorary title is withheld on these because the intended recipients of these blades were people who had legitimate titles (that is, not honorary ones) and it would be a sign of respect for that person as being a legitimate lord. It is not a large leap to accept what Mr. Robertshaw says, given that these were custom ordered gift swords, that they would be made in such a way to have the finest quality possible that Tadayoshi could manufacture.

In the Juyo output, I count 11 such blades out of the 38 from the Tadahiro mei period, and according to Mr. Robertshaw, these would have all been made from the years 1630 to 1632.

There are three swords that bear the date of the 2nd month of Kanei 9 in the Juyo record. This corresponds with February of 1632. Swordsmiths had a habit of only using the months of February and August for dating blades, because these were the 2nd (二) and the 8th (八) months. The characters used for these two numerals appear as two horizontal or two vertical strokes, and it symbolizes something being parted by a sword. So the dates are not exact, and it is not clear to me if the 2nd month would be used right up until the 8th month then the date would roll over, but I think this is a good assumption to start with. What we do know is that these three swords show the last date used for the manufacture of his swords and no other later date was used. Tadayoshi would die on August 15th of 1632 and was bedridden for some time up until this date. His 19 year old son would pick up the name Tadahiro and with a large amount of help from his father's students, would continue to grow and nurture the family business.

The work of the last part of his life continue to show an exploration in form, from tanto with detailed horimono, to works in pure suguba and those that appear with Muramasa-like mirror hamon with mixed in gunome or choji, to the Shizu or even a Masamune like style that dates back to his learning under Myôju. Taken as a whole they look like the ongoing experimentation and enjoyment in expanding and practicing a broad repertoire of style. Throughout this though Tadayoshi continued to return to the core form of Hizen-to, the elegant Rai based suguba on konuka hada that made the school famous.

When the Shodai died on the 15 Aug. 1632 his swords epitomized the classic Tadayoshi traits of koroai sori (“just right”, that is graceful torii-zori), even width, chû-sugu hamon (medium straight temper) with brilliant nie (found on Goji-mei), ko-maru bôshi (small turnback in the tip temper), and an unobtrusive yakidashi (taper in the temper line at the hamachi). Roger Robertshaw The School of Hizen Tadayoshi

Tadayoshi is considered one of the true luminary smiths of the Shinto period and one of its representative smiths. His work is held in great esteem and has been from the day of its manufacture, and even from the days of his study under Myôju who seems to have been the first to fully appreciate his talent. Sword testers who experimented with his swords throughout the Edo period would grant him the reputation of Sai-jo O-wazamono indicating a grand-master level of sharpness. Only thirteen smiths over the history of swords achieved this rating. Fujishiro also rates him at Sai-jo saku for grand-master level of skill. This puts him in a very elite club, the fellow members being Kotetsu, Kanemoto, Nosada, Kunekane, and his grandson Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi, as the only smiths to carry both top ratings.

oshigata oshigata

Tadayoshi Naginata

Naginata were one of the essential weapons on the battlefield, a front line weapon unlike swords. The earliest naginata we have today come from the middle Kamakura though references to them exist from a bit earlier than the beginning of the Kamakura period. It's thought the design originates from China from the Guan Dao.

The heavy build of naginata and their two handed use at the end of a long pole made them particularlly useful weapons for attacking riders on horseback and the horses themselves. As such they were essential and primary arms and were not out-done on the battlefield until firearms were introduced into Japanese warfare.

In the first half of his swordsmith life Tadayoshi made some naginata from time to time. According to Tanobe sensei they are quite rare. This form of work of his is highly respected and he is a master of making naginata. None of them however have the later mei of Tadahiro so it seems to be something he was doing for necessity in the earlier part of his life.

The NBTHK has made 10 naginata from the Tadayoshi school Juyo Token, and two of these are work by the third generation. The other eight belong to the Shodai. Two of these Shodai Tadayoshi naginata are very similar, in one case identical, to this work which leads me to believe this is a very good candidate to be submitted for Juyo. All of these Tadayoshi naginata have his early 5 character signature or else the "Junin" signature on them. Two reference oshigata are below for you to compare against this work.

The style of this naginata recalls Tadayoshi's early work copying Soshu den as it has an undulating notare hamon and there are sprays of black ji nie which come up and into the ji. The forging is a smallish itame and the steel is very clear. None of the naginata he made are strictly suguba but have some kind of rolling activities, either notare or else a ko-notare with some ashi mixed in. Each of them is approximately 50cm in cutting length and just over 1m in total size, so they were made to a standard shape for the time.

I have a history with this naginata as I saw it in Japan almost 12 years ago and loved it when I saw it. It had been purchased by a friend and brought back to the USA where it went underground for a while. It recently came to me as part of a trade proposal and I was very happy to get my hands on it (it took a year of negotiating). I have not had a fully formed naginata in the 15 years or so I've run my website so this is a first for me.

The forging is beautiful in this naginata, showing off Tadayoshi's skill in itame with chikei and the hamon is bright and beautiful. Making a naginata is quite difficult due to the changes in geometry through the work and the extra size and deep curvature. Like jumonji yari these are an extra test of the swordsmith's skill.

I think it would be a great addition to any collection as the swordsmith's reputation is so very high, and finding good and intact naginata is quite rare: not to mention the possibility of upgrading the papers on this piece. It's just really beautiful, and rare Hizen work.

Juyo Reference Examples

oshigata oshigata

Sayagaki

This naginata bears an extensive inscription (sayagaki) by Tanobe Michihiro is the retired former head researcher of the Nippon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK).

  1. 肥前国忠吉
    Hizen no Kuni Tadayoshi
  2. This is a work of Shodai Tadayoshi of around Genna 5 or 6 (1619-1620)
  3. This is an example of a rare naginata by this same smith.
  4. In addition to being tempered with the notareba in which he specialized, the construction of the jihada and hamon are quite excellent.
  5. Length is slightly over 1 shaku, 6 sun, 5 bu (50cm)
  6. Heisei jugonen mizunoto-hitsuji reki satsuki jo-in Tanzan shirusu... (kao)
    Appraised by Tanzan (Tanobe Michihiro, monogram)