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Bizen Osafune Hikobei (Shodai) Tadamitsu

Circa: Late 15th, Early 16th Century

By Richard Mantegani

NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Papers, 1993

BLADE TYPE Sue-Koto wakizashi.
CLASSIFICATION Tokubetsu Hozon-To (NBTHK 1993).
SHAPE (sugata) Shinogi-zukuri, ihori-mune, chu-kissaki, and tori-sori curvature.
PERIOD Sengoku (Muromachi), late 15th/early 16th century.
LENGTH 1 shaku, 3 sun, 8 bu.
WIDTH 2.8 cm.
FORGING (jihada) Mokume/itame tightly knit with some o-hada, ji-nie, chikei, and bo-utsuri.
TEMPERING (hamon) Suguha, with spaced ko-hako [boxed shape] gunome in nioi with ko-nie, ashi, ko-ashi, and yo.
POINT (boshi) Sugu-midare kome, komaru.
TANG (nakago) Ubu, but with machi-otoshi that has slightly increased its length. kuri-jiri tip, kiri yasurime, two mekugi-ana. There is a possibility that the tip has been trimmed and re-cut to compensate for moving the machi up.
SIGNATURE BIZEN [NO] KUNI HIKOBEI [NO] JO SAKU (Made by Hikobei, resident of Bizen province).

TAME SHIRA KUNI SHINBEI [NO] JO MUNESADA SAKU KORE. (For [the reason/purpose of] Shira Kuni Shinbeijo Munesada, made this [this was made].)

CARVINGS (horimono) none.

REMARKS: The Tadamitsu line of Bizen sword smiths can be numbered among the best of their kind who worked during the late Koto period. In a time which saw Japan plunged into civil war and sword making conducted using methods of mass-production, Tadamitsu and his successors along with smiths like Katsumitsu, Kiyomitsu, and Sukemitsu, kept their standards for quality high within the Bizen tradition. In spite of the high demand for swords due to the constant fighting, custom order blades were still produced; many with well made horimono added. Finely worked mokume with o-hada bo-utsuri and hiro-suguha yakiba with ashi are signatures of the Tadamitsu line. Gunome/midare and choji hamon based in suguha are occasionally seen on their works as well. Deeply made boshi sometimes in 0'maru is another distinctive feature and considered a classic Tadamitsu trademark.

Tadamitsu was thought to be the son of Gorozaemon [no] Jo Norimitsu. He and his contemporaries were active during the Bunmei period [1469], when the need for swords had increased due to the Onin War. His blades were sturdy, graceful in shape and form, and of a [shortened] length that made them easier to handle with just one hand as the changing styles of fighting would soon dictate. He was known for his finely worked and evenly made mokume jitetsu, which has been judged over time to be the best of all the Sue-koto Bizen smiths. Tadamitsu made mostly katana and wakizashi but some tanto do exist including a few in moroha zukuri. A number of blades bear his personal trade name of Hikobei and were custom made for the Daimyo class, or higher ranked Samurai. The fine horimono of bo-hi, futasuji-hi, dragon with ken, and bonji, were usually reserved for this kind of sword. Of Tadamitsu's surviving works, yakiba patterns of hiro-suguha and choji-gunome midare are the most common. They will have much ko nie that form workings of ashi and yo throughout. The first Tadamitsu was succeeded by the nidai. He was active from around the Chokyo era [1487], to the early 16th century. His work will closely resemble the shodai's.

The sword presented here falls solidly into the category of a custom ordered blade. It bears a very personal and rare signature with references to the original owner or customer's name and title Shira Kuni Shinbeijo Munesada. The use of the "kuni" kanji to denote Hikobei's [Tadamitsu's] residence location is a more formal way of signing and points to this as well. Although other examples do exist for reference, it is very unusual to find a signature where the sword smith drops his last name and only uses his art name [first/zokumei] Hikobeijo. Here the method of signing seems less formal and more personal. It is noteworthy that this particular blade is not dated, where many custom made swords are. Perhaps the man who ordered the blade was a personal friend of Tadamitsu and requested this from him. The hamon pattern which features a wide suguha and 0'maru boshi is typical of Tadamitsu's style of workmanship, but the hako-gunome that is so skillfully added at matched intervals on both sides of the blade is not. These are once again unique features that were likely created especially for the blade's very first owner. It could be that this sword was originally made as a kind of sho-to, so as to properly compliment or match the design elements found in the daito it would accompany. Clearly this interesting wakizashi is of a quality that separates it from the greater number of swords being made during the Sengoku period. When an opportunity to compare is presented, the great skill of Tadamitsu can be fully appreciated. Currently, the blade is mounted in a Daimyo quality koshirae. The saya is banded or ribbed brown lacquer capped with a thin silver kojiri. The kurigata, fuchi-kashira, menuki, and positive silhouette sukashi tsuba are likely Goto school works. They are en-suite and have a design of shakudo nanako with kiri-mon in gold nunome. The saya has a slot/pocket containing a shakudo nanako early Goto school kozuka with five gold kiri-mon applied to the surface of the panel. None of the fittings are signed. With its beige colored tsuka-ito added, the koshirae has a very formal and elegant look to it. It is truly the type of mounting made for a sword worn by a prominent samurai.