Osafune Mitsutada

period:Middle Kamakura (ca. 1250)
designation:NBTHK Juyo Token
nakago:suriage, zaimei “Mitsutada” (光 忠)
nagasa:74.4cm
sori:2.0cm
motohaba:2.8cm
sakihaba:1.9cm
kissaki:3.5cm
nakago nagasa:22.7cm
nakago sori:0.1cm
price:-sold-

The greatest of all schools is the Osafune school of Bizen province. It lasted for 350 years of continuous sword production, and even though the end of the koto period represents the limits of its endurance, there were indeed still smiths working and signing Osafune into the Shinto period making a span of over 500 years.

The man behind it all is Mitsutada. His is a towering figure in the sword world. His immediate line of Nagamitsu, Kagemitsu, and Kanemitsu stands alone in history in terms of skill. Nagamitsu in fact towers above almost every other smith, though he is not quite the peer of Mitsutada. His other sons and relatives, Sanenaga, Kagehide, Chikakage, and others are each grand masters on their own. But Mitsutada begins it all in Osafune some time around 1238. He is the son of a smith named Chikatada, though his work is lost to history and is not even recorded in old books, his son would be one of the giants in Japanese sword history.

Nagamitsu is equal to Mitsutada in the gorgeousness of the hamon but Mitsutada is superior in the hataraki of the hamon and the quality of the jigane. NBTHK Token Bijutsu

We date Mitsutada to a roughly 35 year period beginning at 1238 but his work is not dated, so we don't know the actual time span. We do know that the earliest work of his son Nagamitsu is dated 1274 so this establishes the range of his work being the generation previous.

Mitsutada blades have been famous for centuries and come in a range of forms from elegant smaller tachi to wide flamboyant pieces with O-kissaki. The second type were always found shortened and mumei, or with kinzogan mei added, and this left some debate as to whether they were works of the same smith. There is however a work found by Dr. Honma in the imperial collection which unites the two groups and has a long signature of Bizen no Kuni Osafune Mitsutada, the only one that remains with such a long signature. It's now thought that the wide blades were made very long at the end of his career and these were made shorter for use in the Edo period. The earlier works were not made longer than 82 cm, so when shortened (and a couple remain ubu) some were able to retain their signatures.

On the other hand, it should be noted that his works with the original mei remaining in the tang include a few examples which can be considered to represent the type in between the above, two major types Mitsutada produced. That is to say, the Mitsutada work with the ko-kiwame, which has an exceedingly tight kitae with ji-nie very close to the quality present m the Kyo-mono (works of schools in the Yamashiro tradition) as well as the hamon with fine nie forming kinsuji and sunagashi, obviously has much in common with the Gyobutsu tachi which has a long mei reading BIZEN­no-KUNI OSAFUNE MITSUTADA. The characters composing the mei are smaller than usual, and the chisel cuts have the traits close to Nagamitsu's. This probably suggests that it is one of the last works of Mitsutada. Dr. Honma Junji, Nihonto Koza

This style is the moderately flamboyant style which shares elements in common with the quiet style of the smaller tachi and the highly active style of the wide ikubi-kissaki tachi of the later part of his work period that is without peer in the entire history of Japanese sword manufacture. Of the quiet end of his work, there exists one blade that is entirely in suguba so he has made blades encompassing the full spectrum of possibilities. This suguba work is quite like the works of Nagamitsu so may in fact come from the very end of his work period rather than the beginning.

Mitsutada is ranked Sai-jo saku by Fujishiro, and Dr. Tokuno ranked him at 3,000 man yen in the first edition of the Toko Taikan. This ranking was the highest in the book and only shared with Ichimonji Yoshifusa, Awataguchi Yoshimitsu, and Awataguchi Hisakuni. In the current edition Dr. Tokuno increased the value to 3,500 and this is only exceeded by Masamune at 3,800.

This Mitsutada is a blade in which the choji of Fukuoka Ichimonji shows further embellishment. This has a most exuberant o-choji, and this is probably the ultimate in choji beauty. Fujishiro Yoshio, Nihon Token Jiten

Oda Nobunaga is one of the pivotal figures in Japanese history. He is the first warlord who made a credible attempt at uniting the country. He didn't quite make it and one of his generals Toyotomi Hideyoshi completed the job. When Hideyoshi died, the country immediately split into two factions, and that lead by Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged victorious and set up the next 250 years of stability under the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Today, for a person to own even one Mitsutada is a great feat and Nobunaga to have acquired 25 tells what a dictator can do especially in a society like 15th-16th century Japan. Albert Yamanaka, Nihonto Newsletters

Hideyoshi's favorite works were Soshu den, but Nobunaga's favorite was Mitsutada. His ability to accumulate 25 Mitsutada at face value is quite a result, but for a man with essentially unlimited resources, it shows that even in this day four hundred years ago Mitsutada must have been difficult to come by. Many of those blades he had have since vanished or perished or have been consumed in fire.

Yamanaka relays this anecdote about Nobunaga and his Mitsutada blades. He had accumulated these by conquest and was attempting to determine which one was a particularly famous blade.

Nobunaga called a sword merchant from Sakai (Osaka) and told the man, “You, supposedly being an expert on swords, should be able to tell from my collection which one belonged to Miyoshi Jikkyu... the blade which Miyoshi considered to be very outstanding.” The merchant inspected the many Mitsutada, picked one out and told Nobunaga that this was the one.

Nobunaga asked, “How do you know?” to which the merchant replied, “In the battle of 1562, Miyoshi met defeat and death against the forces of Hatakeyama Takamasa at Kishiwada. Before his death he was in hand to hand combat with a man named Negoro Sakyo who stabbed Miyoshi with his lance. But Miyoshi had swiped Negoro's shin guard with the Mitsutada and the kissaki was chipped on striking the shin guard. As you can see, this kissaki has been polished down.”

So then Nobunaga, being pleased with his new find, kept the blade by his side constantly thereafter. Nobunaga is said to have had this Mitsutada with him when he met his death at Honoji Temple on 1582 and the blade went through fire in the temple along with Nobunaga when it was burned down by attackers. Toyotomi Hideyoshi recovered the blade after the battle and the fire, and had Umetada Myoju re-temper it, and supposedly treasured it afterwards. The blade is supposed to have had 18 battle scars from the Battle of Honoji.

Mitsutada remained famous throughout the Edo period and was a prize to be received from the Shogun or to be given to the Shogun. I recorded the following transactions (I may have missed a few) from the Tokugawa daybook. All of these men giving and receiving are daimyo and many of them are famous. The swords in question, some of these have survived and are also famous as noted above.

  1. April 19, 1605: Shogun Ieyasu gives a Mitsutada katana to Yamanouchi Kunimatsu.
  2. February 20, 1624: Shogun Hidetada receives a Mitsutada katana from Date Masamune.
  3. July 13, 1624: Shogun Iemitsu receives the O-Mitsutada from Fukushima Masanori.
  4. June 28, 1627: Shogun Iemitsu gives a Mitsutada tachi to Mito Yorifusa.
  5. December 26, 1630: Shogun Hidetada gives a Mitsutada katana to the second son of Hori Naoyori.
  6. July 6, 1634: Shogun Iemitsu gives a Mitsutada katana to Okubo Tadamoto.
  7. July 28, 1634: Shogun Iemitsu gives a Abe Masatsugu.
  8. December 27, 1636: Shogun Iemitsu gives So Yoshinari a Mitsutada katana.
  9. August 8th, 1641: on the birth of the future Shogun Ietsuna, Kato Akinari presents the Shogun Iemitsu with a daisho of Mitsutada and Yoshimitsu. Hoshina Masayuki presents a daisho of Mitsutada and Sa Yoshisada. Mizuno Tadayoshi presents a Mitsutada katana.
  10. February 10th, 1642: on the visit of the young heir to the Ii domain, Ii Naotaka and Naoyoshi present gifts of gold and silver and cotton, and receive a Go Yoshihiro katana and Mitsutada katana.
  11. April 3, 1647: Dainagon receives a Mitsutada katana from Shogun Iemitsu.
  12. September 5, 1661: Hideari Tenkyu presents a Mitsutada tachi to Shogun Ietsuna.
  13. June 1, 1681: Matsudaira Tsunanori presents a tachi by Mitsutada to the Shogunate.
  14. December 28, 1691: Saigo Nobuhito presents a Mitsutada katana to the Shogunate.
  15. March 11, 1697: the Shogun presents a wakizashi by Mitsutada to Matsudaira Terusada.
  16. September 28, 1752: Arima Yorimune presents a katana by Mitsutada to the Shogun.

Mitsutada remained a prize as the Edo period ran out, and today they are highly prized and treasured. There are only 19 works that I have counted that have passed through Juyo by the NBTHK, of these there are 7 tachi and 7 katana, 1 kodachi, 3 wakizashi and one ken. Eight of these are Tokubetsu Juyo which is a staggering percentage. There are another 15 items that are Juyo Bunkazai (Important Art Object) and another 3 that are Kokuho (National Treasure of Japan). I don't have the count of the Juyo Bijutsuhin but when we add those in, there are more blades that are protected from export by the Japanese government than there are Juyo and Tokubetsu Juyo works. This is quite amazing.

Albert Yamanaka tells us about one of the three Kokuho blades. This anecdote is amusing because it shows the peril of taking opinions too seriously without doing in depth research, something which affects sword owners today as dealers "talk" them out of their treasures quite like it happened in this situation.

A story is told about a Mitsutada. Baron Iwasaki Koyata, the founder of the Mitsubishi cartel had purchased a blade which had been attributed to Mitsutada. This was in the mid-Meiji era. He went to the Chuo Token Kai sword meeting once with this blade and showed it around to the various so-called experts of the time, like Imamura Choga, Bessho and others and was told that it was a Shinshinto, and a very good fake. Whereupon Iwasaki is said to have given the sword on the spot to an acquaintance of his and the blade was in this man's hands until about a few years after the end of WWII. The blade when the family sold it found its way into the hands of a famous collector and the blade presently is a national treasure (Kokuho). Albert Yamanaka, Nihonto Newsletters

In 1934 the Imperial Museum purchased one of these Kokuho blades for 23,500 yen. Prewar yen were worth about 10,000 per 1980s yen, so that is an equivalent of about $3 million dollars in today's funds. So one can imagine that Baron Koyata made a rather poor decision that day and it helps to clarify the precious nature of works of Mitsutada.

As for the products of the above mentioned various smiths in the initial period of OSAFUNE, the sugata is good, the jitetsu is good, the technique for the hamon is good, and since there is nothing needing an apology in regard to all their points, from olden times they have been prized as swords worn by famous generals and brave warriors, and there are no small number of historical facts and oral traditions related to this.

Oda Nobunaga very much admired the works of MITSUTADA and it is said that he had collected 25 of his swords. Swords such as the FUKUSHIMA MITSUTADA, which is the sword worn by Fukushima Masanori; the IKEDA MITSUTADA which was originally owned by Sogo Saemon, a daimyo of Settsu no Kuni Ikeda; and the SHOKUDAI KIRI MITSUTADA, about which it is said that, when Date Masamune punished a page-boy by beheading him, it also cut through a large iron candle holder (shokudai) that was at his side, are all famous. Nihonto Koza

Suffice it to say at this point, that Mitsutada exists in the very pinnacle of the sword world, in a zone inhabited only by a very select group that includes Hisakuni, Yoshimitsu, Yoshifusa and Masamune. To have one is to have something that has been treasured and revered for centuries in Japan.

Mitsutada Tachi

So, it comes to this part where I describe this blade. Of the 19 items that the NBTHK passed through Juyo, if I counted them all right, there are only four tachi that have intact signatures that are beyond doubt. The famous Mitsutada ken which has passed Tokubetsu Juyo also has a doubtless signature. There are some others with cut signatures (one of these has just the "Bi" of "Bizen" left on it) or partially worn away, and there are another three with notes left that the signatures need further study.

There are only four doubtless signatures which are also complete. Three of those are already Tokubetsu Juyo, and this is the fourth.

In the works of Mitsutada with reliable and complete signatures, there are nine more that are Juyo Bunkazai and one more that is Kokuho. So it's possible to get to these if you have money to spend going into millions of dollars and don't mind the blade staying permanently in Japan.

This blade has been shortened but not by a lot, the signature has a good amount of space before the bottom and the cluster of three mekugiana at the end probably contains the original mekugiana in it. It looks to have been remounted twice and then shortened once in total. It's length remains excellent at over 74cm. Any length over 70cm is generally considered premium and preserving an important signature like this cannot be measured in terms of the importance especially when it comes to a smith like Mitsutada.

This blade is of the middle type that is more than quiet, the NBTHK describes it as moderately flamboyant, and the oshigata resembles the blade in the Imperial Collection with many similar activities and shape to the hamon. The blades that are extremely flamboyant, all of these are mumei and they all reside in the Juyo Bunkazai to Kokuho categories.

Considering that all other Mitsutada with reliable signature are Tokubetsu Juyo or higher, in export-protected Ministry of Education categories, I believe that it is safe to say that this blade stands as an excellent candidate for Tokubetsu Juyo. It will be submitted in 2016 if it has not been sold by then.

This blade is owned by a private collector with an exquisite collection and he is reluctant to sell it (which I think anyone can understand). It needs to be understood that this is not a run of the mill smith, or a run of the mill blade. It is not something that anyone can drum up on the internet or by making a phone call. Obtaining something similar to a signed Mitsutada is the life goal of many collectors, and actually finding a signed Mitsutada is past the hope that many may have.

The blade itself is simply gorgeous with chikei throughout the jihada, and all kinds of activities in the hamon that extend into the ji. It's an old blade, it's eight hundredth birthday could pass while in the possession of the next owner. Blades like this have been used by warriors and generals and then retired and preserved if they were not lost to war, conquest, and fire. As in Nobunaga's story above, they've been polished and this has exposed flaws. All of this is normal for very old koto blades and the flaws shown in this sword do not detract from it at all.

Masamune is a name that everyone knows, and everyone appreciates. Mitsutada is more towards the scholarly, but I really cannot emphasize what type of treasure it is to encounter a blade like this. The founder of Osafune and one of the top two or three ranked smiths of all time, this is not a normal thing to encounter without access to top museum collections in Japan. This is a blade for a true connoisseur.

Juyo Token

Appointed on the 11th of November, 1994

Tachi: Mitsutada

Keijo

shinogi-zukuri with an iori-mune. Both the width and thickness are average. Though the blade has been shortened there is still ample length and curvature.

Kitae

itame-hada mixed with mokume that is well covered in ji-nie. The jigane contains minute chikei and there is prominent midare-utsuri.

Hamon

ko-choji with a mixing in of ko-notare and ko-gunome. There are tobiyaki and undulations in the hamon, making the hamon somewhat flamboyant. The habuchi is nioi based in style but is well covered in ko-nie with kinsuji and a hint of sunagashi.

Boshi

light tempered sugu with ko-maru.

Horimono

square-ended bohi carvings on both sides of the blade.

Nakago

suriage, nakago-jiri is kiri. There is a two-character signature that was engraved with a rather thick chisel on the lower half of the haki-omote near the mune.

Setsumei

Mitsutada was active in the middle Kamakura period in Osafune, Bizen. As the true founder of the Osafune school, his technique was excellent and his school gave rise to many master smiths such as Nagamitsu, Sanenaga, and Kagemitsu. Most of Mitsutada's works at this point in time are shortened and unsigned, and are attributed to him. These show a magnificent sugata, a beautiful and excellently forged jihada with beautiful ji-nie which has features in common of Kyoto swords, and a large-dimensioned choji-based midareba. On the other hand, extant signed blades are in general more calm than mumei blades with attribution as they show a rather normal tachi-sugata and a more quiet hamon.

This blade has a normal tachi-sugata and the kitae is itame mixed with mokume and shows a prominent midare-utsuri. The hamon is a ko-choji mixed with ko-notare and ko-gunome. There are undulations in the hamon that give the blade a relatively flamboyant style. Here and there the nioiguchi is cloudy, but this does not effect the great beauty of this blade. The boshi is entirely intact. This blade is among the very few signed Mitsutada tachi that exist, therefore this blade is a highly important source of research information.

Sayagaki

This sword bears an old sayagaki which appears to have been made by one of the Honami. It needs more research as it does not have a signature. The sayagaki values the sword at 200 gold pieces. It's possible that the signature was left off of this out of respect for the blade. I will do some digging and find out.

  1. 備前国光忠
    Bizen Kuni Mitsutada
  2. 長さ弍尺四寸五分有之
    Nagasa futatsu shaku shi sun go bu ari kore
    Edge length 74.2 cm
  3. 代金子弍百枚
    Dai kinsu futatsu sen mai
    200 gold coins (value)

Date Masamune and the Shokudaikiri-Mitsutada

Taken from Legends and Stories around the Japanese Sword by Markus Sesko. Date Masamune is one of the most famous daimyo and the Date were lords of the Sendai fief.

In the fall of Keichō one (慶長, 1596) Date Masamune made Hideyoshi a splendid and practical present, namely a new 64 m long and entirely red lacquered royal deluxe boat (gozabune, 御座船) which made it easier for the unifier to travel from and to Ōsaka Castle. One day after he received the present Hideyoshi invited Masamune to Ōsaka. On this occasion he wore a katana mounted with silver fittings and a red hilt wrapping, a rather loud combination but which reflected the pomp of the Momoyama era. As Masamune was constantly looking at the sword, Hideyoshi rose to speak: “It bears a blade by Mitsutada (光忠). Do you want to see it?”

“It would be an honour for me”, replied Masamune and the sword was handed-over. After re-sheathing the blade he gave it back to Hideyoshi with a deep bow: “Truly a masterwork!”

“If you like it, I will offer it to you”, said Hideyoshi unexpectedly and of course Masamune agreed. The very next day they arranged a meeting to the south of Kyōto as Hideyoshi had to inspect the rebuilding of his castle Fushimi (伏見) after it had beed destroyed in a major earthquake in the seventh month of that year.

One of Hideyoshi’s escorts saw how Masamune proudly wore the eye-catching sword in his belt and shouted: “He has stolen the sword of our lord! Get it back!” The nearby samurai started to run towards Masamune but the latter was able to leave them behind. After a short moment of shock the confusion was cleared up and the attentive man was of course not punished.

Some time later Date Masamune argued with a servant whose name is not known. The servant hid behind a huge bronze candle holder (shokudai, 燭台) but his lord was so upset that he cut in half the candle holder and the poor devil crouching it with his sword. Thereupon he nicknamed the blade “Shokudaikiri-Mitsutada” (燭台斬り光忠, lit. “the Candleholder-cutter Mitsutada”).

When Tokugawa Yorifusa (徳川頼房, 1603-1661), the first generation of the Mito-Tokugawa branch, stayed at the Date residence some years later, Masamune told him about the story of the Mitsutada and the candle holder and showed him the sword in question. The sword chronicle “Buko-tōsan” (武庫刀纂) of the Mito-Tokugawa family says that Yorifusa “fell undyingly in love” with the blade and mentioned frequently and emphatically that he wanted to have it. When this wish was not granted it is said that he acquired it by force and fled to his Edo residence, i.e. far away from Sendai.

Incidentally, Yorifusa held a grudge against Masamune. When he was promoted to the third court rank lower grade (jū-sanmi, 従三位) on the 19th day of the eighth month of Kan´ei three (寛永, 1626), the same rank was given to Masamune too. According to transmission Yorifusa was very upset because he was related to the shōgun family and should have received a higher court rank than a daimyō. So he complained to the competent court official and one year later he received an “urgent promotion” to the third court rank first grade (shō-sanmi, 正三位).