The Appearance of Masamune


by Kenji Mishina


It has been said since the Muromachi Period that Masamune was a son of Yukimitsu and a student of Shintogo Kunimitsu. There is no extant work of Masamune which is dated but there are old katana-ezu (drawing of nakago and hamon) of Masamune (eOsaka Cho-mei Masamunef with a date of the Kareki Era and eEdo Cho-mei Masamunef with a date of the Showa Era). Meanwhile there is an extant work of Yukimitsu with a date of the Gentoku Era and this puts into question the relationship between Yukimitsu and Masamune as father and son. Putting the two Cho-mei Masamune aside and considering his extant works, tachi of Masamune have the normal sugata of the late Kamakura Period as seen in Kanze Masamune and Jo Izumi no Kami Masamune. Also tanto have short ha-watari as seen in Hiyuga Masamune, Kuki Masamune and Fudo Masamune. A tanto nicknamed Daikoku Masamune has extended ha-watari and no sori, meanwhile Hocho Masamune has wide mi-haba and slight sori but short ha-watari. He never makes tachi with wide mi-haba and o-kissaki of the Nambokucho Period so-called o-dabira, therefore it seems to be an acceptable theory that his active age is the end of the Kamakura Period.


Kokuho : Katana (Kin-zogan-mei) gJO IZUMI (NO) KAMI SHOJI MASAMUNE SURIAGE (monogram) (Kotoku))h (Owned by the Tokyo National Museum)

Thus the theory, that Masamune was a student of Shintogo Kunimitsu who left works with dates of the Einin Era and the common hataraki of chikei and kinsuji of the two smiths, is also appropriate. In addition, there is an extant tanto with signature and hoso-sugu-ha that looks just like that of Shintogo Kunimitsu. This is so-called Daikoku Masamune. The ji and the ha, and the carving style of the bonji and su-ken of the tanto have a close resemblance to those of Shintogo Kunimitsu. I do not accept a description of an old oshigata book eUmetada Oshigataf, gThe Hamon of Daikoku Masamune is old sai-ha.h A habit of the yaki-dashi by Kunimitsu is faithfully followed by him in this tanto. I presume that the description was made according the old established theory that Masamune tempers gorgeous midare-ba but no sugu-ha. Incidentally, there is no doubt about the authenticity of the signature of Daikoku Masamune.



The style of workmanship that Masamune established came to be the basis of Soshu-den. Meanwhile, sugata with wide mi-haba was made according to the taste of bushi but was not the creation of Masamune. The forging method combining soft and hard materials and the expression of many beautiful chikei and kinsuji are the accomplishment of Masamune. Then he started tempering midare-ba based on notare in a large pattern which differed from midare-ba based on choji and gunome and tempered by the smiths of the former period, also nie is more emphasised that that of Yamashiro and Yamato swords. It seems that the combination of soft and hard materials was practised before Masamune and such examples are seen in the works of Ko-Bizen and Shoso-in swords too. Though, Masamune employed that forging method and tried to emphasise the conspicuous hataraki of nie intentionally. Hamon in nie-deki is tempered at higher temperature than that in nioi-deki and Masamune expresses the most exquisite sword forging technique in nie-deki.


As described above, Masamune appeared at the end of the Kamakura Period and became the founder of Soshu-den that was an unprecedented sword forging method. By the way, one of the leading sword experts Imamura Choga put forward a new theory that doubted the existence of Masamune in the Yomiuri on Meiji 29 (1896). The sword society of the Meiji Era was thrown into a commotion at this time. This dispute has had a considerable influence on the sword society for a long time and people came to be sceptical of the existence of Masamune since then. The scepticism was wiped out after the Ministry of Education designated several Masamune as Kokuho in the autumn of 1937. There are still some people who support Mr Imamurafs theory. They say, gThere is no extant work of Masamune with an authenticated signature. All of them are o-suriage katana or mumei tanto. Swords attributed to Masamune are the works of so-called Masamune Jutetsu (Ten students of Masamune) or Horikawa Kunihiro and Echizen Yasutsugu of the Keicho Era. No high-ranking bushi before the reign of Toyotomi Hideyoshi owned a Masamune. It is proved by a swordsmith directory eShikaru Beki Monof complied in the Muromachi Period, in which the name of Masamune is not listed. It is speculated that Hideyoshi invented Masamune and used as a means to grant honours and gave mumei swords with the attribution of Masamune to his retainers, it was then that Masamune finally came to be recognised as a great smithh.


I think that there is no need of serious talk about the theory of Mr. Imamura Choga with its supporters who mistake the jigane of Masamune for Kunihiro and Yasutsugu at all. The quality and the lustre of the jigane of Masamune cannot be mistaken for that of shinto smiths. There are copies of eHocho Masamunef by Kunihiro and eWakasa Masamunef by Yasutsugu. Both of them are good swords as shinto but it is quite easy to differentiate them from the originals by Masamune even if you were a beginner in sword study. Apart from eFudo Masamunef, eDaikoku Masamunef and eKyogokuf Masamunef (Imperial collection), there are some more Masamune with signature listed in old sword books like eOjaku Shof, eKoshin oshigataf and eKotoku Katana Ezuf. Incidentally, there are many mumei tanto by Yamato smiths with ubu (untouched)-nakago as well. It is quite natural that bushi who lived before Toyotomi Hideyoshi loved Masamune then Masamune and Sadamune are counted as swords recommended to Ashikaga shogun in addition to Amakuni, Shinsoku and Sanjo Munechika. The evaluation of Masamune at that time was f50 kanf and the figure is higher than that of Awataguchi Hisakuni, Osafune Mitsutada and Shintogo Kunimitsu but a little lower than that of Sanjo Munechika.


It is quite understandable that the name of Masamune is not found in eShikaru Beki Monof. This swordsmith directory, which lists swordsmiths of Bizen and Bitchu Provinces whose swords are recommended as gifts from the shogun to his generals, was complied by Utsunomiya Mikawa Nyudo by order of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. That is why the name of Masamune from Sagami Province is not seen in this directory.


The existence of Masamune can be proved by the books mentioned above. In addition, his name is found in a transcription of eKanchi In Bonf written in Oei 3 (1396) and eSagami Kaji Keizuf. An old swordsmith directory eNoami Mei Zukushiesays, gMasamune rarely signs his smith name on his tachi and katana since he is the best swordsmith in Japan.h eShakuso Oraih written by Ichijo Kaneyoshi lists famous smiths of each period starting with Amakuni and includes Goro Nyudo Masamune and Hikoshiro (Sadamune) stating gThese smiths have no equal to others in the sharpness of their swordsh.  A transcription of eKokon Mei Zukushif originally written in the Muromachi Period, was made in Keicho 16 (1611). eHiden Shof was written by a sword appraiser Takeya Yoshiyasu around the Tenbun Era (1532-1554). It is well known that both books are written in the same style and it has been confirmed by a document with the date of Tensho 19 (1591) that the main substance was quoted from eHidan Shof written by Utsunomiya Mikawa Nyudo The workmanship of Masamune is also described in eKokon Mei Zukushif.


After the intense study of the extant works of Masamune and old documents, it becomes very clear that Masamune really existed and it is fact that his swords had been highly appreciated in the Momoyama and the Edo Periods much more than the Muromachi Period. There had been a great demand for Masamune blades and many gMasamuneh were invented by those in power supplying mumei katana with origami (papers) as a result. We need to re-examine swords attributed to Masamune from now on and to sort out real Masamune from amongst them.


There is a term eMasamune Juttetsuf (Ten Students of Masamune) that was probably made after the Edo Period and it includes Go Yoshihiro, Norishige, Shizu Kaneuji, Samonji, Rai Kunitsugu, Osafune Kanemitsu, Osafune Chogi, Hasebe Kunishige, Kinju and Sekishu Naotsuna. Swordsmith directories of the Muromachi Period exclude Rai Kunitsugu and Sekishu Naotsuna or add Kongobei Moritaka to Masamunefs students. Anyway, extant works of all of these smiths have been confirmed but they are not equal to Masamune in skill. Also some of them are inappropriate to add to the students of Masamune considering their active ages and workmanship.