|designation:||NBTHK Juyo Token|
|nakago:||o-suriage, kinzogan mei "Shizu"|
Shizu Saburo Kaneuji is a grand master swordsmith working from the end of the Kamakura period into the beginning of the Nanbokucho period. He was highly influential, and is the founder of the Mino tradition - one of the five general koto styles of swordsmithing. His path through life lead him from his beginnings in Yamato as a Tegai smith most likely working under Kanenaga, to tutelage under Masamune in Kamakura, and finally settling in Mino, Shizu where the mastery of these two styles emerged from his teachings as the Mino tradition.
Though he signed as Kaneuji, he is most often referred to as Shizu for the place in Mino in which he settled. Prior to his move to Kamakura he signed with Kaneuji as well, but used different characters to represent the Kane sound.
Swords from his time period in Yamato are refered in backronym style, as Yamato Shizu. The work after his time with Masamune are simply referred to as Shizu. This makes for some points of confusion, because the students he left behind in Yamato are collectively referred to as Yamato Shizu, and best scholarship today indicates a Nidai Kaneuji working in Yamato after he left. The students he left behind in Mino after his passing are called Naoe Shizu, as they moved and settled in Naoe, in Mino province. These Naoe Shizu smiths are known individually as Kanetsugu, Kanenobu, Kanetomo, and Kanetoshi and may also have been sons of his. Since they typically made Nanbokucho style sugata that have been cut down with signatures lost, it is particularly difficult to establish enough workmanship to make specific determinations between the Naoe Shizu smiths on mumei work, which leads to the frequent use of the school classification when attributing to them. Shizu attributed work however is always by the grand master Kaneuji, though there may be a nidai Kaneuji according to some scholarship.
While Shizu was not the first swordsmith in Mino province, the work style of the smiths who preceded him was lost in the revolution of Soshu stylings he brought with him from Kamakura. Work from earlier periods is not found, though the names of older smiths in Mino survive in writings. It's possible that some of the older work generally attributed to Yamato schools like Senjuin may be from some of these documented smiths. What we do know however is that Shizu's style and the students he left became the dominant force in swordmaking in Mino province.
In spite of his fame as founder of the Mino tradition, his own work style when classified as Shizu is almost entirely Soshu with inspired contributions from Yamato and so is a clear hybrid of the two. It is only with the passage of time that the work of the students, and the students of the students, passed in an evolutionary process through into what became a distinct style of its own that we refer to as Mino.
In terms of his own work style, he spans an evolutionary period from the end of the Kamakura into the beginning of the Nanbokucho and this is seen in the changing sugata of his work. There are everything in his work from those with a chu-kissaki and much curvature to very straight seeming blades with O-kissaki, which are of course the remnants of the massive swords we find in the mid to late Nanbokucho period. At least one of these still exists with his signature on it.
Thus by looking at the sugata we can classify his work as being early or late in his own period, and by the style whether it comes before or after Masamune.
Shizu also made tanto fairly frequently and his signature exists on several. These are often with mitsumune and exhibit characteristics of the Soshu den. His work has in the past often been judged as Masamune due to the strong resemblance between their work styles. He is in general, the closest craftsman to Masamune in terms of style, and is usually considered one of one of the leading Masamune Juttetsu. His work in tanto is generally of a form closer to smiths like Masamune, Norishige and Yukimitsu rather than those that came a bit later like Hasebe, Hiromitsu, Sadamune and Akihiro.
One of the traits that is common in the works of Shizu that is used to differentiate from Masamune is the presence of masame or straightish grain near the ha and shinogi, with itame between. This leads to frequent sunagashi and kinsuji in the hamon, as these activities will follow the grain under the yakiba. His work is usually marked with togariba, though in practice these are also seen in Masamune and not all Shizu blades bear togariba (pointed gunome). The hamon though is usually based in some type of mix of midare and gunome, in nie with these activities as mentioned. As well, when his blades are signed they are done so with a very rustic looking and lightly made signature. Fujishiro theorizes that this was a trait done to preserve the integrity of the sword during impact. He cites an example where a sword fractured in the nakago with a fault line running through the strokes of the mei. It's possible that the lack of signature on koto Soshu blades and the rustic looking and light signatures that do exist in the older period blades were in fact a feature meant to defeat this kind of failure. Fujishiro concludes that the various signatures of Choji, Kanemitsu, Samonji, and the fine small mei that are seen in the Muromachi Bizen blades at the beginning of this period, were in fact all design elements meant to preserve the integrity of the nakago as much as possible.
Regardless of the period of work, he seems to have experimented, along with Sadamune, more than other smiths in the variety of shapes of sword he made. He was surely not conservative, with his mixed background and various styles of sugata he produced. We see every type of shape, kissaki, hi, horimono and sori in his work, but always they are linked somehow to a seed of Yamato and strong presence of Soshu traits in the ji and ha, with very clear steel and a wet, black and formidable look that is very pleasing.
These works of his have been treasured for centuries in Japan, and were held in high esteem by many daimyo and powerful families. Today his works rank from Juyo and Tokubetsu Juyo, to Juyo Bijutsuhin and Juyo Bunkazai. He is of course regarded by Fujishiro as Sai-jo Saku, the rating of a grandmaster swordsmith.
This wonderful work by Shizu Kaneuji was previously owned by the very powerful Konoe clan, the original main branch of the Fujiwara and the premier noble family in Japan. They were one of the five families from whom the Sessho (regent to assist the Emperor before his coming of age) and Kampaku (regent and chief advisor to the Emperor) were chosen. These are considered the highest ranks in the Nobility, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi held the title of Kampaku. The other four are also branches of the Fujiwara: Takatsukasa, Kujo, Ichijo and Nijo. The current head of the family is Tadateru Konoe who is the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. They have been part of the Japanese Royal Family now for over 1,000 years. Prince Fumimaro Konoe served as Prime Minister of Japan in the lead up to WWII. The fact of their ownership is recorded in the sayagaki by Dr. Honma Junji, marking it as a denrai or heirloom of the konoe clan. It has been directly attributed to Kaneuji by the NBTHK in its Juyo paper.
This sword was also owned by Prince Takamatsu, the younger brother of Emperor Hirohito. It was purchased by Akiyama Umezo before the establishment of the NBTHK's building and the funds were part of those used as a donation to help establish the NBTHK. Prince Takamatsu was one of the major contributors throughout the NBTHK's history. Sadly I don't have any documents to confirm this part of the sword's history but it may be possible through further research.
In style it is similar to works of Masamune, featuring deep gunome midareba in billowing deep nie, with sungagashi, and kinsuji. Somewhat unusually for Shizu, and more in keeping with Masamune or Norishige, some yubashiri appears in the ji. These yubashiri features are the precursor to what will become hitatsura in the works of Hiromitsu, Akihiro and Hasebe. In sugata it looks like a piece that is halfway between the earliest conservative works and the late extended and straight Nanbokucho period works so I place it at the end of the Kamakura. The kissaki is somewhat extended, and the broad shape with deep curvature indicate a powerful tachi that would have stopped short of the extra length of the late Nanbokucho period pieces. The futasuji hi are seen on his works fairly often, as they are with Masamune, and Norishige, and beautifully compliment the style of the blade.
The jihada is a fine itame with a little bit of larger itame mixed in places, with black chikei and ji nie throughout. The nakago bears a two character attribution to Shizu which was done some time in the Edo period though it is now no longer clear which of the (likely) Honami did the appraisal. At an angle to the light nie of many colors stream back to the viewer and the effect is delightful.
I'm very proud of this particular piece and it's by one of my favorite smiths. I recommend it very highly. With the strong provenence of one of the top noble families throught Japanese History, it is an interesting item to own.
Appointed on the 1st day of March, 1973 (Session 21)
Katana, Kinzoganmei, Shizu
Shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, wide mihaba, thick kasane, relatively shallow sori, and elongated chu-kissaki.
Itame with plentiful of jinie and chikei.
Ko-notare mixed with a gunome with roundish yakigashira, the nioi is wide, quite full of nie and shows sunagashi.
Sugu with a somewhat pointed ko-maru-kaeri.
On the omote a futasuji-hi with kaki-toshi, on the ura a futasuji-hi with kaki-nagashi.
O-suriage, shallow kurijiri, katte-sagari yasurime, two mekugi-ana, the sashi-omote shows quite centrally on the nakago a two-character kinzogan-mei.
This is an o-suriage blade which was attributed to Shizu via a kinzogan-mei. It has a wide mihaba, an elongated kissaki, an itame with plentiful of chikei and a nie-loaded hamon with gunome, a wide nioiguchi and sunagashi, so it shows all in all the workmanship of Shizu Kaneuji (志津兼氏). The overall condition is kenzen (healthy or sound).
My thanks to Markus Sesko for the translation. He is the author of several excellent reference works for the advanced sword student and I recommend them heartily.