Juyo Masamune tachi
This item has been sold.
Length (nagasa)

Overall 89 cm

Nakago 20.6 cm

Blade 68.4 cm

Curvature (sori)

Blade 1.5 cm

Nakago 1 mm

Blade thickness (kasane)

Thickest at nakago 9 mm

Bade 8 mm

Tip 4 mm

(at yokote line)

Blade width

Hamachi (base) 28 mm
Kissaki (tip) 18 mm

Tip length

30 mm

Materials

Tempered steel blade with lead plugs

Koshirae: wood, silk, lacquer, shakudō, brass gold, deerskin

Origin

Sagami Province, Japan

Dating

Early 14th century

Provenance

Tokugawa family, Japan

Private collector, Japan

Darcy Brockbank, Canada

Private collector, Europe

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Introduction

Gorō Nyūdō Masamune (五郎入道正宗) is widely hailed as Japan's greatest swordsmith. He lived from the late 13th to early 14th century, spanning the late Kamakura and early Nanbokucho periods. He worked in the city of Kamakura in Sagami province and was a student of Shintogo Kunimitsu, who founded the Sōshū school of bladesmithing there, serving the Kamakura rulers.

This school combined elements from Bizen and Yamashiro traditions, and is characterized by the presence of lots of fine nie (martensite crystal particles) throughout the blade. Shintogo Kunimitsu's work is quite calm, creating a very fine forging structure, often tempered with a straight suguha hamon. Masamune broke the mold and started to create very wild hamon, focusing on creating fine nie with different intensities of sparkle, while often getting a bit looser with his hada.

It is often said that he pioneered the use of two different types of steel, one lower and one higher in carbon, to strengthen the blade and enhance the forging and hardening activities seen in the steel that the Japanese prize so much. Having studied several swords that predate Masamune for about a century, I'm skeptical about that statement. You already see it, for example, on Ko-Hoki swords dating from the late Heian to early Kamakura period. Such swords were known to have been studied by the Sōshū masters and served as their inspiration.

Masamune's excellence, to me, is really in the control of the formation of nie. On swords created with an emphasis on nie we often see the particles form a narrow line at the demarcation between hard edge and tougher steel body. Masamune somehow managed to create fine nie in the entire hardened zone, from hamon line to edge. Their size and spread is even, with no rough patches, no clumping. And the hamon itself shows different grades of sparkle, fine lines of brighter or less bright nie. And yubashiri; patches of nie that only sparkle under a very specific angle and seem to go in and out of existence as you turn the blade while the rest of the hamon stays bright. Yubashiri typically form as small patches but Masamune managed to create long lines of yubashiri showing off his total control over nie formation.

Several of Japan's best swordsmiths are associated with Masamune. He is said to have had ten students, the jittetsu, but the composition of these lists varied over time. All were notable smiths in their own right, who are believed to have come to study with Masamune at some point in their career and added Sōshū elements to their forging. Among the names are Norishige, who was actually a peer of Masamune under Shintogo Kunimitsu, Go Yoshihiro, a brilliant smith whose blades are among the rarest of all masters because he supposedly died young. (Hence the Japanese expression: "You never see a ghost, or a Go"). Then there is Kaneuji, who became the founder of the Mino tradition, which in turn became the main production site along with Bizen for most of Japan's history. Masamune also had a son, Sadamune, who was the official holder of his line and as such isn't counted as a student. He is a worthy successor with a skill that is considered equal to Masamune, albeit he forged a finer hada and often calmer hamon.

Masamune's tachi swords have all been shortened over time, so none of them are signed. Only a few tantō survive with his signature intact.

 

This Masamune tachi

Presented here is one of the few undisputed Masamune tachi that are in circulation. The sword is remarkably healthy for something that is 700 years old, with no weak spots in hada or hamon, and still retaining a remarkable 8 mm thickness at the base. It shows how much it was treasured and cared for since it was made.

 

Masamune tachi

 

The blade is forged with a prominent hada with angular elements to the forging lines, making me think he may have used a square-headed hammer. The pattern goes from large-dimensioned "o-hada" at the base that reminds of Ko-Hoki works to a finer hada more in line with Shintogo Kunimitsu near the tip. The entire blade surface is covered with fine nie, has a moist appearance with dark chikei

Masamune hadaMasamune hadaMasamune hamon

 

The hamon appears in layers of different intensities of brightness and with streaks of yubashiri. The entire hardened zone lights up, from temperline to edge.

Unsigned swords are often subject of debate, and with many blades attributions have changed over time as sword appraisers gained more knowledge. This piece was designated as a Masamune 267 years ago, and every consecutive expert has re-confirmed this attribution into recent times.

Its paper trail starts with a Hon'ami appraisal dating from 1757, on which it was stated to be authentic and appraised at 500 gold pieces. It was again appraised by Hon’ami Heijūrō in 1839 and Hon'ami Kisōji in 1840, the latter raised the appraisal to 700 gold pieces. One gold piece roughly equaled a koku, the amount of rice needed to feed a person for a year. In 1989 Hon'ami Nisshu, living national treasure polisher, polished the blade, re-confirmed the attribution and further wrote on the resting scabbard that he thought it dated from roughly the Karyaku period (1326-1329). On April 14, 1989, it passed as jūyō token (important sword) at the 35th NBTHK jūyō shinsa. Then finally in 2021 Tanobe sensei, widely regarded as today's greatest living Japanese sword expert, wrote:

"With the unaffected yubashiri, this masterwork reflects the exquisiteness of a nie-deki and therefore I am in agreement with the period attribution to Masamune. Very rare, very precious."

Therefore we have one of the few swords in existence that are confirmed to be by Masamune from four Hon'amis, the very strict jūyō shinsa and Tanobe sensei.

 

Sword attributes
(With plain English below)

Sugata: Shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, normal mihaba, thick kasane, chu-kissaki.
(Overall form: Ridged cross-section with peaked spine. Normal width blade, but thick. Medium sized tip.)

Nakago: O-suriage, mumei. Kirijiri, kiri-yasurime, four mekugi-ana (three plugged).
(Tang: Shortened and unsigned. Straight cut tang end, horizontal file marks. Four peg holes in tang, three plugged.)

Jigane: Itame with mokume that tends towards o-hada, with chikei and plenty of ji-nie.
(Steel: Regular wood grain with some burl grain that tends towards larger patterns. Dark lines in the steel. Many martensite crystals in the area above the temperline.)

Hamon: Gently undulating notare-cho with some ko-gunome with a wide nioiguchi in ko-nie-deki. Yubashiri, ashi, and kinsuji in laces.
(Temperline: Gently undulating form, with some small roundish elements. Appearing as a wide temperline in mostly small martensite crystals. It has patches of flickering crystals when moving in the light, crystals that form brushed sand like structures, and dark gleaming lines within the tempered zone.)

Boshi: Notare-komi with a brief ko-maru-kaeri
(Temperline in tip: Undulating with a short, round turnback at the spine.)

Horimono: bōhi that runs as kaki-nagashi into the nakago
(Carvings: One groove on either side in the upper blade facet, fading into the tang.)

 

Masamune boshi

 

1757-1840 Hon'ami appraisals

The Hon'ami family was a notable family of sword polishers and expert appraisers whose lineage can be traced back to the 14th century.  They worked for many Shōgun and were responsible for sword polishing, appreciation, and maintenance. This sword came with an appraisal by 14th-generation mainline Hon'ami Kōyū (1704-1760), written in Horeki 7, (1757).

Masamune origami

1757 origami by Hon'ami Kōyū

 

相模國正宗 
正真 貮尺貮寸七分表裏樋 但磨上無銘也 
代金子五百枚 
寳暦七年丑 八月三日 本阿花押

Sagami no Kuni Masamune 
Shōshin Nagasa ni-shaku ni-sun shichi-bu hyōri hi Tadashi suriage mumei nari 
Dai-kinsu gohyaku-mai 
Hōreki shichinen ushi Hachigatsu mikka - Hon’a + kaō

"Masamune from Sagami Province.
Authentic. Blade length ~ 68.8 cm. Grooves on both sides, suriage and mumei.
Value 500 gold coins Hōreki seven (1757) [year of the] ox,
Eighth month, third day.
Hon’a[mi Kōyū] + monogram"

 

Exponents of the Hon'ami family kept revisiting the sword over the years, adding notes on little tags, so-called sagefuda. These were all researched and translated by Tanobe sensei:

On the 18th day of the third month of Tenpō ten (1839), Mr. Hon’ami Heijūrō examined the blade. He noted:

帽子細御座候得共御差支相成候状相見不申候 
Bōshi hosoku gozasōraedomo o-sashitsukae ni ainari-sōrō jō shōken mosazu-sōrō 

“The bōshi is narrow, but not in a detrimental manner.”

Comment Tanobe: The bōshi is narrow, but not to a degree where it can be regarded as a major weakness and/or detract from the blade’s overall qualities.

 

正宗代金五百枚宝暦七年之 折紙引合申候処相違無之候
Masamune daikin gohyaku-mai Hōreki shichinen no origami hikiawase mōshisōrō-tokoro sōi kore naku sōrō 

“Masamune 500 gold pieces origami from Hōreki seven (1757) checked and it is a match.”

Comment Tanobe: The Masamune 500 gold pieces origami from Hōreki seven (1757) was checked against the Tomechō register of the main branch of the Hon’ami and matched.

 

On the 19th day of the second month of Tenpō eleven (1840), Hon'ami Kisōji of the Kaga branch examined the blade at his place. He noted:

折紙之通相違無御座候 
Origami no tōri sōi gozanaku-sōrō

“There are no objections to the origami.” 

Comment Tanobe: The issuer states that the attribution to Masamune in the origami is correct.


折紙之通相違無御座候 金七百枚代上可申候
Origami no tōri sōi gozanaku-sōrō Kin shichihyaku-mai daiage mōsubeku-sōrō

“There are no objections to the origami. The evaluation, however, shall be raised to 700 gold pieces.”

Comment Tanobe: Again, the issues states that the attribution to Masamune in the origami is correct, and suggests that it would be proper to raise the Hōreki seven (1757) evaluation of 500 gold pieces to 700 gold pieces.


 

1989, 35th jūyō shinsa

The blade passed the 35th jūyō shinsa held on April 14, 1989 as den Masamune.

Jūyō origamiMasamune setsumei

 

Oyama Masashi of Shizuoka Prefecture wrote the description. Translation by Markus Sesko:

"The three Shintōgo Kunimitsu students Yukimitsu, Masamune and Norishige perfected the style of the Sōshu tradition, which had been started by their master, by increasing chikei, kinsuji, and nie in general. It was Masamune who was particularly skilled in combining steels with different carbon content and in bringing out exquisite nie, and with this, he contributed largely to the sword being elevated to the ranks of a work of art.

This blade shows an itame that is mixed with mokume, that tends towards o-hada, and that features prominent chikei. The hamon appears calm at first glance, but the ha is brimful with ko-nie and displays plenty of kinsuji and therefore we recognize the hand of one of the great early Sōshu masters. Compared with the other such masters, the jigane is especially well forged and the ha shows such an abundance of hataraki that we are in agreement with Hon'ami Kōyū's (1704-1760) attribution to Masamune."

 

Shirasayas

The sword comes with two shirasaya (resting scabbards), an old one with a sayagaki (scabbard writing) by Hon'ami Nisshu, living national treasure sword polisher, who did its current polish. 

The other more recent shirasaya has a long sayagaki by Tanobe sensei, currently seen as the greatest living expert on Japanese swords. Whenever a piece like this turns up on the market, one of the first expert questions is often: What did Tanobe think of it?

Masamune tachi shirasaya

 

1989 Hon'ami Nisshu sayagaki:

相模國正宗 大德川家御傳水 重要刀釵指定 大磨上無銘 時代嘉曆之頃 寶曆七年丑光男代五百枚折紙付 長廿貳
尺貳寸六分有之 平成元歲已文月吉日記之 本阿弥日洲花押

Sagami no Kuni Masamune O-Tokugawa-ke go-denrai jūyō-tōken shitei O-suriage mumei Jidai Karyaky no goro Hörek
shichinen ushi Koyu dai gohyaku-mai origami tsuki Nagasa ni-shaku ni-sun roku-bu kore ari Heisei gannen mi fumizuki
kichijitsu kore o shirusu - Hon'ami Nisshu + kao.

Masamune from Sagami Province. Former heirloom of the mainline Tokugawa family. Classified as a jūyō-tōken. Blade
is o-suriage mumei. Dates around Karyaku (1326-1329). Comes with an origami issued by [Hon'ami] Koyu in Hōreki
seven (1757), year of the ox, in which he evaluates the blade with 500 gold pieces. Written by Hon'ami Nisshu on a
lucky day in July of Heisei one (1989), year of the snake + monogram.

 

2021 Tanobe sensei sayagaki

第三十五回重要刀剣 相模國正宗 大磨上無銘而寶暦七年發行本阿弥光男代金子五百枚折紙附帯セリ。 地沸地景織成温潤ナル板目肌合小湾調小互乃目交ジリノ刃文匂深豊富砂流金筋良不作為湯走ハルナド沸出来妙趣存分發揮サレ古極ハメハ妥當ナ ルワイ優品哉珍々重々 刃⻑弐尺二寸六分 于時令和辛丑暦弥生探山識花押

Dai sanjūgo-kai jūyō-tōken Sagami no Kuni Masamune Ō-suriage mumei. Shikaru ni Hōreki shichinen hakkō Hon'ami Kōyū no dai-kinsu goyhaku-mai origami ga futai seri. Ji-nie o atsuku shiki chikei o orinasu onjun- naru itame no hada-ai ni ko-notare-chō ko-gunome majiri no hamon o yaki nioi-fukashi de mabayui nie ga hōfu ni tsuki sunagshi, kinsuji yoku hataraki sara ni fusaku'i no yubashiri ga kuwaru nado nie-deki no myōshu ga zonbu ni hakki-sare ko-kiwame wa datō-naru ajiwai fukaku yūhin kana. Chinchin-chōchō. Hachō ni-shaku ni-sun roku bu Toki ni Reiwa kanoto-ushidoshi yayoi Tanzan shirusu + kaō.

Jūyō-tōken at 35th jūyō-shinsa Masamune from Sagami Province [This blade is] ō-suriage mumei, but comes with an origami issued by Hon’ami Kōyū (本阿弥光男, 1704-1760) in Hōreki seven (宝暦, 1757) that evaluates the blade with 500 gold pieces. The blades shows a “wet” looking itame that features plenty of ji-nie and much chikei and is hardened in a ko-notare-chō with a wide nioiguchi that is brimful with dazzlingly beautiful nie and that is mixed with ko-gunome and plenty of hataraki, like, e.g., kinsuji and sunagashi. With the unaffected yubashiri, this masterwork reflects the exquisiteness of a nie-deki and therefore I am in agreement with the period attribution to Masamune. Very rare, very precious. 

Blade length 68.4 cm Written by Tanzan [Tanobe Michihiro] in March of the year of the ox of the Reiwa era (2021) + monogram.

 

Itomaki-no-tachi koshirae

The sword comes with a perfectly fitting Tokugawa family itomaki-no-tachi koshirae of the highest quality. Like the blade, it comes from the Tokugawa mainline family but was associated with this blade in recent times.

Tokugawa itomaki no tachi koshirae

The mountings are of shakudō, showing the Tokugawa crests in gold over a fine nanako background. Such sets were made in-house for the Tokugawas by the Gotō family for their own use and for presentation to dignitaries or temples and are, therefore, never signed.

The wooden saya (scabbard) is covered with nashiji (gold-sprinkled lacquer) and mon (family crests) of the ruling Tokugawa clan.This kind of work is typical for the Gotō family, resident metalworkers for the ruling Tokugawa house.

Itomaki means "silk wrapped", referring to the grip wrap that continues over the first part of the scabbard. It is believed to have originally been to protect the scabbard from getting damaged by the armor. This style of mountings was the regulation pattern worn by senior samurai at official court gatherings.

 

Conclusion

A magnificent 700-year-old tachi blade from the Tokugawa mainline collection. It was attributed to Masamune by several generations of Hon'ami experts, spanning three centuries, and was awarded jūyō status by the N.B.T.H..K. and finally provided a sayagaki by Tanobe sensei reconfirming its importance. The blade is remarkably healthy for its age, still 8 mm thick at the base indicating it barely lost any steel from polishing.

The hamon shows the great skill of this master, producing a very wide nioiguchi, and within it a large amount of bright sprarkling nie. Masamune thus helped establish the Japanese sword as an art object, and inspired generations of smiths from his direct students to those still working today.

Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi
Juyo Masamune tachi

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