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O-suriage Wakizashi

By Richard Mantegani

NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Papers, 1993

Blade type Wakizashi cut down from tachi.
Classification Tokubetsu Hozon-to NBTHK, 1993. Sayagaki to Osafune Motoshige by Michihiro Tanobe dated August 1993.
Shape (sugata) Shinogi-zukuri, ihori-mune, chu-kissaki, tori-sori.
Period Late Kamakura to early Nambokucho [1325-1350].
Province Bizen.
Length 47.5cm
Width 2.6cm
Thickness 0.6cm at the mune machi.
Forging (jihada) Mokume with o-hada of running itame, ji-nie, chikei.
Tempering (hamon) Wide suguha based midare showing ear shaped elements, and some slanting patterns [saka-midare], in thick nioi with Ko-nie, ashi, saka-ashi, yo, nijuba, nie-kuzure, kinsuji, inazuma, yubashiri.
Point (boshi) Hakikake, nie-kuzure, kinsuji, somewhat pointed with slight kaeri.
Tang O-suriage mumei, one mekugi-ana, kiri tip, kiri yasurime.
Tang thickness 0.7cm
Signature Shojisha mei (owners name) inscribed; THIS IS THE FAVORITE POSSESSION OF YOSHIHISA.
Horimono Futasuji-hi, with remains of bonji on nakago omote.


With the emergence of the Soshu tradition in the late Kamakura period, Japanese sword making reached its highest level of development. Masamune, Sadamune, and their pupils brought this tradition into prominence and it was perhaps the most dominant for its time. Motoshige was a Bizen sword smith who came under the spell of the Soshu tradition. He had a long and productive life making swords from late the Kamakura era on into the Yoshino period, spanning some 50 to 60 years or more.

The earliest dated piece is from Showa 4 [1315] with the body of his work dating from Kemmu [1334] on. There is some controversy over the length of time he produced blades, with the idea presented that two men using the same name could have existed. There is a great change in style over the period where we find the best examples of his sword making, which are numerous to say the least. Early signed pieces have been referred to as works of the 'old Motoshige'. With the coming of Nambokucho and the influence of the Soshu tradition, we see the 'new [and perhaps greatly improved] Motoshige'. He seemed to have adapted well to the 'heavy duty' style of wide body, wide yakiba swords that those turbulent years demanded. Quite literally, he 'changed with the times'.

Throughout his life, Motoshige made blades of all types and shapes including nagamaki. From the pure and graceful Bizen sugata with quiet and narrow hamon, to the extended and powerful examples with vigorous yakiba found during the Nambokucho period, Motoshige seemed to try everything at least once. A sword made by Motoshige often combines forging techniques found in several of the great schools working at this time. The example presented here shows off Bizen, Bitchu, and Soshu workmanship all in one sword. The utsuri usually found in his pure Bizen work is lacking in this blade where Soshu style workmanship is more prominent. It is obvious these schools were in contact with each other with many ideas exchanged and tried. His work can strongly resemble Kagemitsu, Kanemitsu, Aoe Tsuguyoshi, and Tsugunao, or perhaps it is the other way around.

His relationship to Sadamune as one of his "Sansaku" (The Three Brilliant Pupils: MOTOSHIGE, NOBUKUNI, TANSU KUNIMITSU), would be wonderful to believe, but there does not seem to be much documented evidence to support this. Clearly at some point Motoshige became connected with or was influenced by the Soshu tradition. He likely spent some time studying and working with other sword smiths directly associated with the school as well. To successfully combine these different traditions as he did into one is proof positive of his exceptional skill.

He usually signed his blades Bishu Osafune Motoshige and often dated them. Motoshige is among a handful of Koto smiths (Kanemoto is another), to be given a cutting test ultimate rating of Saijo O'wazamono during the Shinto period. This is yet another honor that points to the quality of swords made during those remarkable times of late Kamakura and Nambokucho. Today many of Motoshige's surviving works are rated Juyo-To or higher.

Although greatly shortened from what was likely a full-length tachi or O'dachi, this sword as shown fully displays all the wonderful traits found in classic 'Soden Bizen' workmanship.

Sources: Fujishiro Koto AFU Translated by Harry Watson pp 244-45. Token Bijutsu English Edition #1. Foldout article and oshigata.