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Description

Tametsugu (為継), first name Shirōbei (四郎兵衛), was a well-known Japanese swordsmith of the Sōshū tradition who worked around the mid-14th century.

Tradition has it that he was the son of Go Yoshihiro, often regarded as the best student of Masamune, who in turn is regarded as Japan's greatest swordsmith. Go Yoshihiro died young, circa 1315, when he was around 30.

After Go's passing, it is believed that Tametsugu continued his study under Norishige (1290-1366), who, according to some sources, may have been Go's father and, thus, Tametsugu's grandfather. He was a grand master smith in his own right and a fellow student of Masamune (1264–1343) under Shintogo Kunimitsu, regarded as the founder of the Sōshū school.1

Originally from Mino, Tametsugu seemed to have started his working life in Etchū province (越中国), also known as Esshū (越州), where  Go Yoshihiro and Norishige had started a Sōshū school.2 Tametsugu then moved to Echizen in or before 1357.This was most likely to forge swords for the Ashikaga shogunate, who launched attacks on the competing southern court from Echizen.

Norishige passed away in 1366, and perhaps because of it, Tametsugu moved to Mino between 1369 and 1373. It is possible that he was attracted to Mino by Kaneuji (兼氏), a smith from the Yamato area Tegai school who moved to Mino in 1335. Kaneuji is known as a student of Masamune and is recognized as the official founder of the Mino-den, one of the five main traditions of sword-making in the Koto period.4

It appears that in Mino, Tametsugu either set up shop or worked closely with Kuniyuki (国行), who also moved from Echizen to Mino around the same time. They worked in the town of Akasaka (赤坂). They may also have worked with Kaneshige (金重).5

Notes
1. Markus Sesko; Swordsmiths of Japan. Pages 1100-1101.
2. Nihon To Koza Vol 2 Koto Part 1. Translation by Harry Afu Watson. Page 372.
3. See a signature in Markus Sesko; Koto-Meikan (古刀銘鑑). Lulu, Inc. 2014. Page 568.
4. Markus Sesko; Swordsmiths of Japan. Pages 1100-1101 and 294-295.
5. Nihon To Koza Vol 3 Koto Part 2. Translation by Harry Afu Watson. Page 22.

 

Work style

The work of Tametsugu shows the typical traits of the Sōshū school, resembling the work of Go Yoshihiro, Norishige, and Sadamune but often with a slightly coarser hada.

Typical for the school is a wild hamon consisting of larger martensite crystals called nie, with occurrences of coarser patches of them called ara nie. The steel consists of layers of higher and lower carbon steel which, after quenching, shows layers that produce more or less nie. The resulting lines resemble brushed sand and are called sunagashi, an effect that is very conspicuous in Tametsugu's works.

The steel's structure (hada) varies from a somewhat coarse itame on some blades to the matsukawa hada (松皮肌) or "pine bark pattern" that Norishige was known for, confirming their close connection. However, in the Nihon to Koza it is noted that the Matsukawa hada is mainly prevalent among unsigned blades attributed to Tametsugu.

 

Ratings

Fujishiro ranks Tametsugu Jō saku (上作), "Superior Made." A very good rating when one considers these ratings are contextual to the school, and in the Sōshū school, we find some of the most highly regarded smiths of Japan.1

Tametsugu's swords are rated wazamono in the Kokon Kajibiko (古今鍛冶備考) or "Ancient and modern blacksmith notes" of 1830.This rating relates to their cutting ability.

Notes
1. Fujishiro Matsuo; Nihōn tōkō jiten (日本刀工辞典), Koto Hen. 1961.
2. The original Kokon Kajibiko (古今鍛冶備考) of 1830 can be viewed online in Waseda University Library's Kotenseki Sogo Database. (A simple viewer is here.) Also see my glossary article: Wazamono.

 

Signatures

According to the Nihon To Koza, among the long signatures the most common are:
“Esshū-jū Fujiwara Tametsugu” (越州住藤原為継); Resident of Esshū, Fujiwara Tametsugu.
"Nōshū-jū Fujiwara Tametsugu" (濃州住藤原為継); Resident of Nōshū, Fujiwara Tametsugu.
"Fujiwara Tametsugu" (藤原為継) is also often seen.
"Tametsugu" (為継) or "Tametsugu Saku" (為継作) is seen mainly on tantō (daggers) .1

Dated examples of swords by Tametsugu include:

1357 Echizen no Kuni Fujiwara Tametsugu (越前国藤原為継).2
Dated "A day in the 2nd month of the year of the cock."

1369 Echizen no Kuni Fujiwara Tametsugu (越前国藤原為継).3

1373 Nōshū-jū Fujiwara Tametsugu (濃州住藤原為継), Ōan six (1373).4
(Modern-day Gifu prefecture).

1374 Nōshū-jū Fujiwara Tametsugu (濃州住藤原為継), Ōan seven (1374).5

Notes
1. Nihon To Koza Vol 3 Koto Part 2. Translation by Harry Afu Watson. Pages 47-48.
2. Nihon To Koza Vol 3 Koto Part 2. Translation by Harry Afu Watson. Pages 95.
3. Markus Sesko; Swordsmiths of Japan. Lulu, Inc. 2014. Page 1100.
4. Markus Sesko; Koto-Meikan (古刀銘鑑). Lulu, Inc. 2014. Page 568.
5. Nihon To Koza Vol 3 Koto Part 2. Translation by Harry Afu Watson. Pages 96.
 

Opinions in literature

Dealing with people who lived so long ago, there are bound to be many uncertainties. Here are some opinions from the main nihontō literature.

"Etchu Province.

As for this province, in the latter part of the Kamakura period, after Norishige and Yoshihiro had raised the banner of a Sōshū Ichiryu in the two districts of Gofuku and Matsukura the two smiths Sanekage and Tametsugu continued their forging methods, and started their lines.

(...)

Also, it is said that the renowned Yoshihiro died at the young age of 30; Sanekage, the best pupil of Norishige, returned to his birth province of Kaga and because Tametsugu returned to his birth province of Noshu, after the deaths of these two master craftsmen, as far as families of smiths in this province are concerned, the Uda Ke just about assumed the appearance of an unchallenged position."

-1930s Nihon To Koza vol 2 Koto part 1, page 372
Translation by Harry Afu Watson

 

"Those that are a hint of masa mixed in itame and are hadatachi are the most common, there are also some that are tight. There is ji-nie, and there is a feeling of the color of the tetsu being a bit muddy. I have seen chikei even in zaimei works, but there are none that are as reminiscent of Norishige MOM as those seen in the works attributed to him "

-1930s Nihon To Koza vol 3 Koto part 2, page 88
Translation by Harry Afu Watson

 

"Viewed from his work style, we can consent to his having been a pupil of Yoshihiro, but according to the mei inscriptions and the nenki, the fact is clear that around Enbun (1356-1361) he was in Echizen, and around Oan (1368-1375) he made swords in Noshu (Mino) Northern Province style is also in the pieces he made in Noshu."

-1930s Nihon To Koza vol 3 Koto part 2, page 88
Translation by Harry Afu Watson

 

Extant works

In total, 75 blades by Tametsugu reached the highly desirable Juyō level, a designation of the blade being important. Of those, 11 were signed, and the rest were unsigned pieces attributed to Tametsugu. Of those, 20 have the Den Tametsugu attribution.

The British Museum in London has a shortened blade in tachi koshirae that they attributed to Tametsugu. Accession number OA+.3808.a. It was published in Victor Harris; Cutting Edge: Japanese Swords in the British Museum. British Museum Press, London, 2004. Cat number 9.

The Metropolitan Museum in New York has a sword attributed to Tametsugu by Hon'ami Tadanori in 1893. It was valued at 70 gold pieces. Accession number 36.25.1664a–c. Ex George Cameron Stone collection.

Oshigata of Tametsugu's signed works appear among others in the Nihon to Koza, Kataoka's Nihonto Zuikan, Fujishiro's Nihon Toko Jiten and Markus Sesko's Koto-Meikan.

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