Osafune Nagashige

period: Early Nanbokucho (ca. 1330 – 1340)
designation: NBTHK Juyo Token
nakago: suriage, mumei (shortened 6cm)
nagasa: 78.9cm
sori: 2.4cm
motohaba: 3.45cm
sakihaba: 2.3cm
kissaki: 4.5cm
nakago nagasa: 21.9cm
nakago sori: 0.1
price: -sold-

At the end of the Kamakura period and beginning of the Nanbokucho period, a revolution was taking place in Sagami province as the Soshu tradition went through its formative years. The great master Shintogo Kunimitsu made a tanto with midare hamon and fine jigane in nie deki, incorporating elements of Yamashiro and Ko-Bizen traditions and made the first pure Soshu tradition blade somewhere around 1290. Shintogo taught the smiths Yukimitsu, Norishige and Masamune, each of whom would become grand masters and would advance and enhance the Soshu tradition further.

It is true that the Soshu tradition became dominant in the Nanbokucho period with the fading of Yamashiro and the adoption of the Bizen smiths of Soshu techniques. Masamune seems to have trained some master smiths who were resident in Sagami such as Sadamune and Hiromitsu and Akihiro. As well the revolution in style that is found in Bizen, Echizen and also Chikuzen, where traditional styles were modified or thrown out entirely and Soshu adopted, is attributed to his direct or indirect influence as a teacher.

In the Edo period a tradition began to explain the spread of the Soshu style throughout Japan. The following smiths local and traditional styles were either hybridized with, or replaced entirely with Soshu forms. They were known as the Masamune no Juttetsu, or the Ten Disciples of Masamune: Etchu Norishige and Go Yoshihiro; Chikuzen Samonji; Yamashiro Rai Kunitsugu and Hasebe Kunishige; Mino Shizu Saburo Kaneuji and Kinju; Bizen Kanemitsu and Chogi; Sekishu Naotsuna. Today, evidence supports many of them as being direct students of Masamune, but many of them we think learned Soshu through an intermediary smith who took his learning directly from Masamune.

In Bizen it has been held that the smiths Chogi and Kanemitsu became students of Masamune and so adopted Soshu. Their work is what we call Soden Bizen, or Soshu influenced Bizen tradition as it incorporates hallmarks of both sets of techniques and becomes a hybrid.

With modern scholarship — which has brought us a wider view of swords now exposed that were hidden away in the collections of regional lords and the nobility — we have access to dated pieces which clarify some of the legends. We believe still that smiths like Go, Norishige, Samonji and Shizu likely made the journey to Kamakura to learn the Soshu tradition. Others like Naotsuna, Kanemitsu and Chogi instead learned Soshu from a third party due to date discrepancies.

Kagemitsu style Nagashige

In the case of Chogi, his work style is distinctive and strongly Soshu flavored. His dated work however comes too late to be a student of Masamune. With Kanemitsu, his work began much earlier, towards the end of the Kamakura period and would line up with Masamune, but his work at this time emulated his father Kagemitsu so closely that old theories make for two generations of Kanemitsu, with the second learning Soshu style around the Enbun period (1356). Currently, as in most of these cases, it's believed that these swords represent the work of only one smith who made a stylistic transition midway through his career. Generally the theories go that there are trends in sword manufacture that would sweep the nation and all smiths would tend to follow as the style became popular. This caused demand for learning the techniques to spread. As one result we see choji midare of the middle Kamakura Osafune Mitsutada, Yamashiro Rai and Bizen Ichimonji works become replaced with a quieter suguba with ashi in late Kamakura Rai Kunitoshi and Osafune Nagamitsu (who did more than suguba). Both Nagamitsu and Rai Kunitoshi also adopted shapes which were more gentle than their forebears. It's thought that a similar thing then happened in Enbun where Soshu hybridized with Bizen took over as the predominant style in the Kanemitsu workshop and Chogi grew up learning this hybrid technique from the beginning.

Updating the Historical Nagashige

The historical Osafune Nagashige was given to us in the old books as a younger brother and student of Chogi (the name of Chogi can be read as Nagayoshi, by tradition we use the alternate character pronunciation). His works are not often seen, so traditionally he has not been a kantei target. With Kanemitsu and Chogi, there are a great number of signed works and unsigned works attributed to these smiths. This points to an overwhelming popularity at the time and likely many students in the forges working in collaboration with their teachers. So for a long period Nagashige was thought to be in Chogi's circle and this potentially explained the few swords known as he would be working for his master most of the time.

However, the availability of dated work appearing to modern scholarship has rewritten the old books. Nagashige's dated work first appears in 1334 and continues to 1361. Chogi's first dated work appears in 1350 (Teiwa 6) and goes until 1385. This would reverse their roles and make Nagashige the older brother of Chogi. They would seem to share a father in Osafune Mitsunaga, grandfather in Sanenaga and great grandfather in Mitsutada. True to their lineage both Chogi and Nagashige made a fair number of works in traditional Bizen styles. In particular one signed tanto of Nagashige is very similar to Kagemitsu in its use of kataochi gunome (horse tooth pattern). This style can be seen in early works of Kanemitsu and Motoshige as well, which would indicate them being contemporaries beginning work in the late Kamakura to early Nanbokucho under the influence of Kagemitsu who was the head of the school at this time. A 1342 dated tachi of Nagashige also shows the style of Nagamitsu in suguba ashi mixed with gunome which was also passed down through Sanenaga and Kagemitsu and was also shared with Kanemitsu.

The Kinoe Inu Nagashige

Nagashige has but a mere handful of signed pieces, and the most important of these dated works is a tanto that is a National Treasure of Japan (Kokuho) and is purely Kamakura in shape. It bears the date of 1334, zodiac dated Kinoe Inu, by which it is known. Historically it may not have been clear which era this tanto belonged to due to the unusual zodiac dating, but today it is known to commemorate the first year of the Kenmu era and is significant in dating the work period of Nagashige. This tanto belonged to and was faithfully carried by no less an expert than the great Honami Kotoku. Of note Kotoku commissioned Goto Tokuju to make fittings for the sword, and it still bears them on its koshirae. Albert Yamanaka writes that there has been no greater expert ever since Honami Kotoku. He states that this choice of Kotoku to carry this tanto among all he was exposed to indicates how highly we should regard the work of Osafune Nagashige. This tanto has since been handed down through the Honami family and was last known to be owned by the Living National Treasure Honami Nisshu.

This [Kinoe Inu] tanto has an even more florid midare pattern [than Chogi] as well as nie and chikei, presenting a style entirely different from the Bizen style. This example with this date and style is directly associable with Masamune. Dr. Honma Junji

This Nagashige masterpiece bears the strongest Soshu style influence of all Bizen blades in its especially outstanding nie grains in both ji and ha forming chikei and kinsuji. Showa Dai-Meito Zufu

This signed and dated blade in Kamakura style, clearly fabricated in Soshu den appears almost a full generation before Kanemitsu and Chogi exhibit any Soshu style. It is the first Soden Bizen work and that makes a strong case for Nagashige being the conduit between Kamakura and Osafune and the founder of the Soden Bizen style. Dr. Honma as seen above argues that Nagashige has a direct association as a student of Masamune and in examining his rare work it is difficult to argue otherwise. The works of Chogi and Kanemitsu do indeed show Soshu influence but never so much as Nagashige. In them the hamon still retain general Bizen characteristics of tight nioi-guchi and distinct ashi, often with clear patterns of choji and gunome. In contrast the violent thickly nie based midare of Nagashige seems to be lifted straight off of top ranked Soshu works. It is interesting that he has mastered this style while continuing to produce swords in the traditional style inherited through his father.

Dr. Honma further states that the skill of Nagashige surpasses Chogi:

This example at first glance is almost mistakable for Chogi's, but it is even much more excellently made than the best work of Chogi, emphatically displaying Soshu-style workmanship. Nagashige's high reputation is almost wholly based on this single example. It fully deserves the special favor of Honami Kotoku, the great connoisseur in the Edo period. Dr. Honma Junji, Showa Dai-Meito Zufu

Albert Yamanaka has examined the same tanto and came to the same conclusion as Dr. Honma about direct training in Kamakura of Nagashige.

From the description, one can see that this blade [i.e. Kinoe Inu] is not in the true Bizen Tradition, but has some of the Soshu Tradition incorporated ... the fact that Chogi is regarded as one of the Masamune Juttetsu and the fact that this Nagashige's work is made in Soden Bizen style suggests that it was not only Chogi and Kanemitsu that went to study in Kamakura but that there were others that studied there too. Albert Yamanaka

Yamanaka's writings are based on the traditional Honami documents which have Chogi starting work much earlier than the dated record proves. In fact, it is likely the presence of Nagashige's work that causes this historical error that Chogi is an earlier smith than we now know him to be. The work of Kanemitsu has since been clarified to illustrate his Soshu leanings do not start until approximately Enbun. We can rule them out by modern scholarship, while both Yamanaka and Dr. Honma rule Nagashige into the Kamakura Soshu circle of smiths. The explanation of who teaches these Bizen smiths the Soshu techniques then becomes simple. Nagashige as older brother and sometimes teacher of Chogi remains the only one by date, work span and style, who fits all the criteria to be the one who carries Soshu to Bizen.

Nagashige, Kanemitsu and Chogi

Interestingly, there are only 11 works marked to Nagashige by the NBTHK, of which three are signed. Seven are daito, and two of those daito are Tokubetsu Juyo. On top of these we have the Kokuho tanto, and there is at least one more Juyo Bijutsuhin tachi (from 1335) and one mumei katana making 14. So we have in this a smith of a very high level of skill, able to work in his master's style, his grandfather's style and as well mastering Soshu den with work accepted at the highest rankings. This implies a great deal of skill and his dates also imply a long work period. That leaves us with a simple, and aching question. Where have all his swords gone?

Since he is coming almost a full generation earlier than Chogi, and some of his time seems to have been spent in Kamakura, it is likely that his work faced the same attrition rates of the Nanbokucho era Soshu smiths. So we are beginning with a situation of fewer swords to begin with, on top of the problem of his blades being cut down and their signatures lost. The tachi of Hiromitsu and Akihiro are almost never found now and are rare in the case of Hasebe. These are smiths who carried a lot of fame and even so, we have relatively few works left by them (20 or 30 or so in the case of Hiromitsu and Akihiro). Nagashige's work amounting a total of 14 pieces or so is even more rare, so we need an extra explanation on top of this.

Nagamitsu style

Nagamitsu style Nagashige

This explanation can be found first in his signed work spanning the styles of Nagamitsu and Kagemitsu. These, when made mumei and outnumbered to a large degree by signed works of Kanemitsu, have likely been swept up into the box with Kanemitsu. That is to say his work likely still exists in these forms but being indistinguishable from early Kanemitsu works, and signed Nagashige almost never seen, they have through the years been attributed to Kanemitsu by the Honami and those that followed.

His large style tachi which overflow with Soshu den; those that survived were traditionally swept into the boxes of Kanemitsu and Chogi. Nagashige we are told, the work is rarely seen so it is not a target for kantei, and instead the work is put to Chogi or Kanemitsu. This becomes a self fulfilling prophecy where any unsigned Nagashige slowly become Chogi and Kanemitsu works over the centuries and works of Nagashige become even fewer by comparison, and so more likely to justify downplaying him as a kantei target. Through careful study of his signed Soshu style work though, we can identify the features that distinguish him from Chogi and Kanemitsu, and use those features to re-assess the most Soshu like work of Soden Bizen and make proper attributions going forward.

[Chogi's] career however cannot be associated directly with Masamune's for the dates on his existing works are never earlier than 1360 [now 1350]. In this connection it should be noted that Nagashige, said to be his elder brother, has left a sword dated 1334 and that his style is even richer than Chogi's in the characteristics of the Soshu school. Dr. Honma Junji

This re-attribution based on this kind of analysis is one form of work in which the NBTHK has been engaged. Not only with Nagashige but other cases of mis-attribution such as Shizu mistaken for Masamune.

Honma sensei further indicates that Chogi may have been a student of Nagashige, which is something that may be so based on their dated work. It agrees with the thought that it is Nagashige that is the conduit of the Soden Bizen style since Chogi's work carries such fame as being highly Soshu influenced:

Two collateral schools [i.e. separate from the Osafune main line handed from Kagemitsu to Kanemitsu] represented by Motoshige and Nagashige exist in this province […] As described before, a commonly accepted theory that Nagashige was a younger brother of Chogi, is not correct. I conclude that Chogi is a younger brother or a student of Nagashige. Another theory that Nagashige and Chogi are the same smith could be denied by oshigata of Nagashige with a production date of the Jowa Era and of Chogi with a production date of the Koei Era (if the oshigata are genuine). Dr. Honma Junji

Both Kanemitsu and Chogi seem to have left behind very large amounts of work, more than one can expect for the production of one smith. There are very close to 200 Kanemitsu that have been accepted at the Juyo Token level, which is the highest of all koto smiths. There are many more at Kokuho and similar rankings that have not passed through the NBTHK. So it would seem to agree with the idea that vanished Nagashige may be hiding in amongst those Kanemitsu and Chogi unsigned works.

In conclusion, his direct role as the first smith working in Soden Bizen style, and most probably his legacy as a student of Masamune, is something that has also over the centuries been subsumed into the history of Kanemitsu and Chogi. By the work that he left, he seems to be the “missing link” which ties Soshu to Bizen Fujishiro rates him at Jo-jo saku for highly superior craftsmanship. However, with his work mixed in with that of Kanemitsu, and Dr. Honma rating his best work as beyond the skill of Chogi (Sai-jo Saku) there is a clear argument to be made for Sai-jo saku for Nagashige.

oshigata

Nagashige Tachi

This blade was made as a tachi and according to the NBTHK is only 6cm from being ubu. As such it remains a tachi as original nakago is still present, as well as horimono. It may also be called a katana at this point in time since it is shortened a bit and unsigned, with these alterations being made probably to fit it into katana koshirae.

This sword has extremely vivid hataraki throughout the hamon and as well has strong midare utsuri which make it easily spotted as a work of Soden Bizen. In fact the construction is nearly identical to the famous Kinoe Inu. The yakiba is a storm of nie all the way down to the ha, and reminds me of work of Yukimitsu in some ways. It is entirely Soshu den and does not follow the Bizen pattern of tight nioi-guchi and clearly defined gunome or choji midare shapes.

This work supports the analysis laid out above, as it has spent much of its life attributed to Kanemitsu by the Honami. There are remnants of a kinpunmei — which must have read “Kanemitsu” — on the nakago and the shirasaya bears two old sayagaki. The first is by an unknown Honami and the blade may also have had an old paper as well. The oldest sayagaki, only a remnant at this point, remains and states that the blade has a value of 150 pieces of gold. This is a high valuation, Kotetsu is said to have sold his works for 100 pieces of gold and this kind of valuation would put it among other great works of high level smiths.

Honami Koson appraised the sword in 1934 and confirmed it as work of Kanemitsu and apparently was impressed. He wrote the upper part of the sayagaki and increased the value to 200 gold coins. I believe that it is the remnants of his kinpunmei which are on the nakago still.

This indicates that the sword easily competes with the best of Kanemitsu's work and skill in the eyes of Honami Koson. It remained as a Kanemitsu for another 80 years as the blade went Juyo only in 2011, and in this year was re-attributed by Tanobe sensei of the NBTHK.

Vs. 70cm Kamakura katana.

Compared with Chogi, the height of Nagashige's hamon is a little lower, and there is not not much strong up and down variation in the hamon width. From these details, his signed swords show a variety of styles [Nagamitsu, Kagemitsu, Soshu, Soden Bizen], but his mumei swords are mostly like the “Kinoe Inu” tanto, and among Nagayoshi school work, his yakiba are smaller, and do not show not much up and down variations in width, and these are his characteristic features. This [reference Juyo Bijutsuhin work] shows the same style, and the entire hamon is narrower, but it has nie on the ji and ha, and the hataraki inside of the ha are dynamic, which is what we see in Nagayoshi’s work. Partly ear shaped hamon midare are seen, and this is Nagashige’s characteristic style. Tanobe Michihiro, NBTHK Journal

This work follows the pattern of the Juyo Bijutsuhin above in matching the Kinoe Inu tanto, and Tanobe sensei explains his re-attribution in a long sayagaki on the opposite side of the shirasaya. This also concurs with the description of Nagashige's work in the Nihonto Koza.

Other than the amazing Soshu yakiba, what is very remarkable is the length and massive size of this blade. The kasane is thick and the mihaba is wide, making the blade noticeably heavy in the hands. There are horimono remaining in the bottom half of the blade which the NBTHK explains in the Juyo setsumei. Though some of this has been polished off the blade is still very thick compared to normal blades. When made it must have had the aspect of an axe and would have had an original length of 85cm. Carried on horseback, with the speed of the horse and the weight of the blade, it must have hit like a freight train. Because this sword is made to scale and in an exaggerated form, the photos alone do not explain its size without a reference of another sword. I have made such a comparison to illustrate its size.

As massive as the blade is, it is not the exaggerated type of sugata which comes at the middle to the end of the Nanbokucho. That is, those blades have a markedly elongated o-kissaki in relation to the blade. Though this blade's kissaki is long enough to qualify, the mihaba is so wide that the kissaki becomes mostly in normal proportion to the rest of the blade. This is I think marking the beginning of the giant Nanbokucho period blades from its shape, and is a transitional piece. This makes sense from what we know of the work period of Nagashige.

This blade is the largest and longest, most complete Soshu daito remaining to us by Nagashige. Even without its rarity as one of eight daito by the smith, the fact that it is so close to ubu and is a prototype for the out-sized Nanbokucho blades to come, makes it significant. The Juyo paper refers also to an old registration of Showa 27: this is the remarkable 1952 date where Daimyo collections were processed for licensing. Who owned it, we can't say, but highly regarded as a Kanemitsu and handed down through history with these high gold ratings it is certainly the type of blade held by Daimyo.

Of the other Juyo daito by Nagashige, there are only two that show this much depth of Soshu tradition in them (and one of those is already Tokubetsu Juyo). Even the narrow shinogi with respect to the mihaba is something that we see in Yukimitsu and Sadamune more than Kanemitsu and Chogi. Keeping in mind that this smith was able to work in various older styles of Bizen and was at the root a Bizen tradition smith, this is to be expected that not all of his blades will show Soshu style. When we include the Jubi and Kokuho blades which are significantly Soshu, this is one of only five currently known that are left to us. When combined with the extreme size, this sword I think represents a major coup for anyone collecting Soshu swords. It is an important masterpiece and bridge work that stands at one of the transformative periods of sword making both for the Nanbokucho style and as a representative piece of the origin of Soden Bizen.

Given the appearance of Nagashige's Soshu work at Kokuho, Jubi, and Tokuju levels, I think this sword, with nearly complete sugata and the only example remaining with horimono on the ji, stands a shot at being further elevated to Tokubetsu Juyo.

oshigata juyo

Juyo Token

Appointed on the 14th of October, 2011, Session 57

Katana, Mumei, Den Nagashige

Keijo

shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, rather wide mihaba, no noticeable taper, compared to the mihaba the shinogi-ji is narrow, thick kasane, somewhat funbari, deep sori which tends to koshi-zori, ô-kissaki

Kitae

itame mixed with some ô-itame and mokume, in addition plentiful of ji-nie, much chikei and a midare-utsuri

Hamon

mix of gunome, ko-gunome and ko-chôji with togari-ba and ko-notare, compared to the mihaba the yakiba is rather narrow, there are ashi, yô, hotsure, kinsuji and sunagashi and some Yamashiro-like elements on the ura side, the nioi-guchi is wide, rather subdued and nie-laden

Boshi

tending to midare-komi with strong hakkikake and a ko-maru-like kaeri

Horimono

on both sides a bôhi with maru-dome, below on the omote side and along the shinogi ridge traces of characters which were once probably Hachiman-Daibosatsu, and on the ura side we see below of the bôhi a polished-down sô no kurikara

Nakago

suriage, kirijiri, sujikai-yasurime, three mekugi-ana, mumei

Setsumei

Smiths like Nagashige (長重) and Chôgi (長義) displayed a workmanship different to the contemporary Nanbokuchô-era Osafune main line represented by Kanemitsu (兼光). The old records say that Nagashige was the younger brother of Chôgi but judging from extant date signatures, it rather seems that it was the other way round, i.e. that Nagashige was the older brother of Chôgi. We have namely date signatures of Nagashige from Kenmu one and two (建武, 1334, 1335) and Kôan one (康安, 1361) whereas Chôgi’s earliest known date signature is from Teiwa six (貞和, 1350 = Shôhei [正平] five).

This katana has a rather wide mihaba, doesn’t taper that much and ends in an ô-kissaki, that means its shape reflects very well the typical sugata for the Nanbokuchô period. It is assumed that the blade was shortened by about 2 sun (/ 6 cm) but it is anyway still quite long. It has a thick kasane, remnants of funbari and a deep sori which tends to koshi-zori, so all in all it is quite close to an original ubu shape which is very nice. The kitae is an itame with much chikei and a midare-utsuri and the hamon is a rather nie-laden midare mix of gunome, ko-gunome and other elements, with a wide and subdued nioi-guchi and showing ashi, yô, hotsure, kinsuji, sunagashi and yubashiri-like elements, i.e. we have Sôden-Bizen characteristics. In addition, the sô no kurikara is done in the so-called hiiragi-ryû manner (柊龍, lit. “holy dragon”), a peculiar interpretation typical for the smiths in the vicinity of Chôgi. But compared to Chôgi, the yakiba is rather narrow with smaller dimensioned elements so an attribution to Nagashige is the most appropriate one. This impressive blade has not only a magnificent sugata but comes with a ji rich in variety and a habuchi with plentiful of hataraki.

sayagaki

Tanobe Sensei Sayagaki

This sword bears an extensive inscription (sayagak) by Tanobe Michihiro is the retired former head research judge of the Nippon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK).

  1. 備前国長船長重
    Bizen no Kuni Osafune Nagashige
  2. 少シ磨上無銘也佩表腰元ニ草倶梨迦羅裏ニ八幡大菩薩ノ神號ノ陰刻残存ス
    Sukoshi suriage mumei nari, haki-omote koshimoto ni sô no kurikara ura ni Hachiman-Daibosatsu no shingô no inkoku zanson-su.
    The blade is a little suriage and mumei and bears on the hako-omote side at the base and on the ura side traces of carvings of a sô no kurikara and the characters of the deity Hachiman-Daibosatsu respectively.
  3. 本作ハ兼光ノ古極 有之ト雖モ私見デハ長重ト鑒ス可キガ妥當ト思量セリ同工ハ長義ノ兄デ光長ノ子ト傅ヘ祖父 ガ眞長也
    Honsaku wa Kanemitsu no ko-kiwame aru no to iedomo shiken dewa Nagashige to kangami-subeki ga datô to shiryô-seri, dôkô wa Chôgi no ani de Mitsunaga no ko to tsutae sofu ga Sanenaga nari.
    The blade comes with an old appraisal to Kanemitsu but after a careful consideration I come to the opinion that it is more likely to be a work of Nagashige who was according to tradition the younger brother of Chôgi, the son of Mitsunaga, and the grandson of Sanenaga.
  4. 造込豪壮而地刃ハ沸主調ノ見事ナル出来映ヲ示ス優品也
    Tsukurikomi gôsô shikamo jiba wa nie-shuchô no migoto no dekibae wo shimesu yûhin nari.
    This magnificent masterwork has a grand sugata, a nie-based jiba, and on top of that an excellent deki.
  5. 刃長貳尺六寸餘有之
    hachô 2 shaku 6 sun-yo ari kore
    blade length a bit over 2 shaku 6 sun
  6. 惟吋辛卯暦睦月
    kore toki kanoto-u koyomi mutsuki
    First month, an intercalary month, of the year of the hare of this era (2011)
  7. 探山邊道觀并誌
    Tanzan Hendô mite narabi ni shirushite + kaô
    Examined and written by Tanzan Hendô (the pesudonym of Tanobe Michihiro)

sayagaki

Honami Koson Sayagaki

The front side of the shirasaya bears two sayagaki, one a remnant from an older Honami, the writer of which is now unknown. The upper part is by Honami Koson, who was one of the great sword scholars of the 20th century and teacher of many luminaries such as Dr. Honma Junji, Dr. Sato Kanzan, Honami Nisshu and Albert Yamanaka.

  1. 備前国兼光
    Bizen no Kuni Kanemitsu
  2. 極代金子貮百枚ニ上ル
    kiwame dai kinsu nihyaku-mai ni agaru
    raising the blade's value to 200 gold coins
  3. 昭和九甲戌
    Shôwa kyû kinoe-inu
    Shôwa nine (1934), year of the dog
  4. 光遜
    Koson + kaô
  5. 代金子百五拾枚
    dai kinsu hyakugojû-mai
    value 150 gold coins (original sayagaki remnant)