Hizen Tadayoshi

period: Early Edo Shinto (1632)
designation: NBTHK Juyo Token
nakago: ubu
mei: Hizen no Kuni ju Fujiwara Tadahiro
uramei: Kanei kyûnen nigatsu kichijutsu (on a lucky day of February, 1632)
setsudanmei: Futatsu-dô setsudan Yamano Kaemon Nagahisa (Yamano Kaemon Nagahisa cut through two bodies) — Kanbun sannen jûgatsu nijûninichi (October 22nd, 1663)
nagasa: 71.15cm
sori: 1.2cm
motohaba: 3.05cm
sakihaba: 2.4cm
kissaki: 5.1cm
nakago nagasa: 19.6cm
nakago sori: 0.1
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.

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.


Tadayoshi Katana

This is a simply stunning example of the height of the Hizen craft. It shows the work of the best Hizen smith, working at the top of his skill, in the style that made his school famous. It is simply beautiful.

This work is unusual for several reasons.

Tadayoshi notably omitted the Musashi no Daijô title when he signed this sword. Referring to the above, this makes it one of the custom made kenjô-mei swords for the Nabeshima that show the highest levels of quality and skill. The particular attention lavished on this sword can be seen everywhere in its amazing, perfectly clear jihada and gorgeous elegant hamon with its fine detailed activities. It's beauty speaks for itself and singles it out as a particular masterpiece of Tadayoshi. It is in mint condition, without any alterations of any sort, and displaying workmanship without fault or flaw.

It very obviously bears a cutting test from Yamano Nagahisa indicating it was tested and cut through two bodies. It's not clear which cuts were used for these tests, in one case he's documented he cut two bodies through the chest at the armpits, which is a difficult cut through the shoulder blades in back. Nagahisa was a very highly regarded sword tester, possibly the highest in reputation, and he made this test when he was 66 years old (he would die a few years later). Nagahisa is said to have done 300 cuts and used five to 27 bodies every day. Over his lifetime he tested swords on 6,000 bodies by the time he turned 50, and continued cutting until the age of 68. Nagahisa wrote that he was able to judge the cutting ability of a blade simply by looking at it, or listening to the sound of the blade when another person cut with it. He even trained as a swordsmith for a time, no doubt to better understand his own craft. The cost for testing a blade and recording the results on the nakago in kinzogan was 10 gold pieces, which was no small sum. Not all blades had the result inlaid into the nakago, so it is more likely from the rarity and the price involved that Daimyo and the circle of the Shogunate were customers for this service. Nagahisa worked closely with swordsmiths Yasusada and Kotetsu through their lives, and their great cutting prowess is likely due to this collaboration.

Some cuts are referred to as saidan and the resulting inscription is called a saidan-mei. They are more correctly called setsudan-mei in particular when the sword has been recorded as using setsudan in the cut (as in this sword). Markus Sesko indicates that there is a subtle difference between these two terms which both mean to cut something.

Setsudan is also usually associated with cutting through something massive, solid, “three dimensional.” Saidan is a term which is used in the context of dressmaking and is mostly associated with cutting cloth or something more “two dimensional” like paper. For example the tailor´s cutter was called saidan-shi (裁断師). Thus some assume that the term setsudan was used by default and saidan to point out an “easier” cut.

Though Tadayoshi has a very high reputation for sharp blades, there are only three Juyo Token works that have recorded cutting tests. Of these three, this is the only one with Tadahiro signature bearing a cutting test, making it the only kenjô-mei sword that is Juyo with this significant addition. Furthermore neither of the other two cutting test blades was dated by Tadayoshi as this one was.

The date is marked as the 2nd month of Kanei 9, and this significant date is noted above as the last date found on any of his swords. I found two others with this date in the Juyo record but no others. So we know that this is one of the very last swords of his lifetime, and so there is a real chance that it may be his last work, though this is not something we can ever ascertain. All we know is that it is among the last, and it shows his return back to the classic style of Hizen.

This sword also bears an o-kissaki which is something he seems to have liked at the end of his life, as many works feature extended chu-kissaki and some venture into this o-kissaki form. It caps off a majestic sugata which was longer than normal but without being awkwardly long. The forging in this sword is so good, and because of the o-kissaki, the first time I saw this sword I thought that I was looking at a Tokubetsu Juyo level Rai Kunitsugu from the early Nanbokucho period.

The cutting test was made 30 years after the manufacture of the sword, and the timing to me makes it seem like it came after the passing of the first recipient of the blade. So possibly on the occasion of inheritance, the new owner, probably a son, brought it in for testing. This is just my speculation though based on the dates.

This sword comes with Edo period koshirae that are in great condition and show signs of use. The wear is not bad, as it indicates that this is indeed in antique condition and shows that the sword was worn and used like this rather than reconditioned or assembled from unrelated parts at a later date. I am not a koshirae expert so I can't comment too much on the style, and I will just present the koshirae via photos. They are fine quality and I believe would pass Tokubetsu Hozon with ease. The fuchi, kashira and tsuba are iron with silver zogan, and the menuki are gold Buddhist ritual implements called vajra. They are actually weapons (clubs) themselves and borne by the god of heaven Indra, and in use symbolize firmness of spirit and spiritual strength. The name comes from the words for diamond and thunderbolt. The sense of strength and firmness (indestructibility) comes from the diamond root, while the thunderbolt root is said to indicate rapid enlightenment. The system of Vajrayana, the Thunderbolt Way or the Diamond Way is one of the three main branches of Buddhism.



The vajra itself has a sphere at the center which represents Sunyata, the primordial nature of the universe (that all things in the universe are linked together). On either side are eight petaled lotus flowers. One of the flowers is Samsara, the phenomenal world. The other is Nirvana.

Arranged around the mouth of the lotus flowers are makara which are half-fish and half crocodile and represent the union of opposites. The tongues of the makara extend to meet each other in a central point which meets with a central prong. The most common form has four makara plus the central prong which corresponds to the five wisdoms and five poisons of Buddhism. The five wisdoms are the five most important aspects of enlightenment and the five poisons are mental states which prevent people from obtaining a pure mind. Each one of the five wisdoms corresponds to a Wisdom Buddha. So as far as symbolism goes, the vajra packs a lot in.

Himeji Castle

Cherry Trees at Himeji-jo

Lastly, the shirasaya was made by Maeda san, a top level artisan in Japan. The wood chosen for it has perfect straight grain and compliments this sword so very well, and in a subtle way. No sayagaki has gone on the shirasaya yet. The koiguchi and other parts of this shirasaya are made from 300 year old cherry wood. This wood was collected from trees that needed to be harvested from Himeji castle. It is a small touch, but something to know about this shirasaya and that this was done at high cost and to great respect for the sword. It completes the package.

And this is I think an amazing and very desirable package. Its status is confirmed by Juyo which is very difficult for Shinto blades to achieve. From its attributes it is it is a very rare and in fact singular work. A custom ordered blade from the absolute end of an extremely high level career of one of the foremost smiths of the Shinto period. From a smith with the highest reputation for cutting ability, and having a rare cutting test confirming this swords function. It is a sword specially made meant to impress someone important. For any collector, this would serve as one of the finest and complete examples of Shinto work that one can expect to encounter.

oshigata juyo

Juyo Token

Appointed on the 14th of April, 1989, session 35

Katana, Tadahiro


shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, wide mihaba, shinogi-ji is wide in relation to the mihaba, shallow sori, ô-kissaki.


very dense ko-itame with plentiful of fine ji-nie and chikei, the steel is clear.


chû-suguha with a wide, very ko-nie-laden, bright and clear nioi-guchi with fine kinsuji and sunagashi.


sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri.


ubu, iriyamagata-jiri, kiri-yasurime, one mekugi-ana, the haki-omote bears towards the back of the tang a thickly chiselled naga-mei and the ura side an identically interpreted date signature, apart from that there are two lines of a kinzôgan setsudan-mei recording a cutting test performed by Yamano Ka´emon Nagahisa.


The 1st generation Tadahiro was the same smith as the 1st generation Tadayoshi (忠吉). His civilian name was Hashimoto Shinzaemon (橋本新左衛 門). He worked for the Hizen Nabeshima fief (鍋島藩) and was sent by this fief in Keichô one (慶長, 1596) to Kyôto to study sword forging under Umetada Myôju (埋忠明寿). Three years later he returned to Hizen where his craft was, due to the patronage of his fief, greatly flourishing in the castle town of Saga (佐賀). In Genna ten (元和, 1624) he went to Kyôto to receive the honorary title of Musashi no Daijô (武蔵 大掾) whereupon he changed his name from Tadayoshi to Tadahiro and his clan name from Minamoto to Fujiwara. The earliest extant Musashi no Daijô signature is from the eighth month Kan´ei one (寛永, 1624) and he signed with this honorary title until the second month of Kan´ei nine (1632). But there are also swords, like this one, from the Tadahiro phase extant which do not mention any honorary title at all. Such swords without honorary title were those made on orders of the Nabeshima family and as they were made for presentation purposes, signatures of that kind are also called kenjô-mei (献上銘).

This katana shows a very densely forged ko-itame and a chû-suguha with a quite ko-nie-laden and wide nioi-guchi. There are fine kinsuji and sunagashi and the bôshi is sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri. This means we have here the typical characteristics of the smith and of his school. The jiba is bright and clear and the deki is excellent and the blade is also an important reference as its date signature from the second month of Kan´ei nine shows that it is from the 1st generation Tadahiro´s very late active period.