Hizen Omi Daijo Tadahiro
Second Generation to the Hizento Legacy
The closing years of the Koto period saw the lands of Japan weary from over 200 years of constant warfare. As the power over the lands were systematically consolidated under the bold, swift, and brutal tactics of Oda Nobunaga, sword production had already entered a phase of quantity over quality to supply the masses of troops with serviceable, but expendable weapons. In 1590 or 1591 (written records differ between years), the major sword producing region Osafune village of Bizen province suffered severe flooding of the Yoshii River and a landslide that effectively erased most of the sword production there with only one or two forges left struggling to survive. At the turn of the 17th century, the political domination of Japan coalesced under Tokugawa Ieyasu, and a new era of peace and economic prosperity would began, and with it also began a new period of sword production; the “new sword” or “shinto” period of sword craft. Finally, a chance for sword-smithing families to catch their breath, and be supported with a focus on quality.
The dawn of the 17th century cast light on the smith who would be known as the “Father” of the Shinto period, Umetada Myoju. The 25 year old junior smith, Hashimoto Shinzaemon was sent to him by the Hizen province Daimyo, Nabeshima Naoshige, to study and would eventually head the most prosperous of the sword forges, the Tadayoshi School of Hizen. Through the foresight, investment, and organization of the ruling Nabeshima clan, the demand for Hizen swords led to an impressive body of highly skilled swordsmiths that produced an staggering number of high quality works. The Tadayoshi reputation for excellent sword quality propelled the demand for them, and for 10 successive generations, the Tadayoshi school scions produced swords until the Meiji era smothered sword craft at large.
The young Hashimoto Shinzaemon began his smithing education at the age of 13 with with Iyo no Jo Munetsugu in Nagase, a small village in the Saga plain of Hizen. Shinzaemon was left an orphan after his father had died of illness, and his grandfather died in battle. The Nabeshima clan was looking to establish a forge that would produce quality swords inside their domain. Shinzaemon was sent to Kyoto to study with Umetada Myoju for three years. He returned to Nagase, Saga, with his elevated skills and received his new name; Tadayoshi (忠吉). He concurrently received the title of “Tosa no kami”. The Tadayoshi school thus commenced with the Shodai, who would vary his creations between Soshu, Bizen, and Yamashiro inspirations, but eventually settling on and becoming highly regarded for works in the Rai and Enju school styles. In 1624, Tadayoshi again traveled to Kyoto and was bestowed with the title of “Musashi Daijo” and once more changed his name to “Tadahiro” by which he would sign his works for the rest of his life.
“The 1st Tadayoshi is regarded to as the most capable of all the sword smiths that came from Kyushu during the Shinto Period and he is counted amongst the top 5 of all the swordsmiths during the Shinto Period”
Yamanaka Newsletters, Albert Yamanaka
Passing the Hammer…
In 1614, Shodai Tadayoshi (aka: Tadahiro) fathered a son destined to become the second generation (Nidai) to carry the Tadahiro name and take up the mantle for the Tadayoshi School. His son was named Heisakuro, and began his smithing education at an early age. However, when his father died in 1632, Heisakuro was only 19 years old, and would be thrust into the position of head of a school. A position for which he was not likely seasoned or mature enough to handle. One should bear in mind the extreme pressure of responsibilities that the head of such a prestigious enterprise faced, so it’s most likely that the senior smiths under Shodai Tadayoshi stepped in as managers to the enterprise and mentors to guide Nidai Tadahiro into maturity. At the time these smiths would likely have been Kawachi Daijo Masahiro, Yoshinobu, and/or Dewa Daijo Yukihiro.
Heisakuro took his father’s name of Tadahiro upon his father’s death, and 9 years later, in 1641, was granted the title of Omi Daijo at the age of 28. He would lead the school for the next 52 years until he passed away on May 28th, 1693, at the age of 80 years old. During the 60 plus years of his working life, he and those smiths under him produced an astounding number of swords during that time. His works are ranked by Fujishiro as Jo-Jo Saku (very superior workmanship), just short of the pinnacle ranking of Saijo-Saku (supreme workmanship) that his father is rated.
Juyo Zufu Oshigata of Earliest Tadahiro example dated 1633, one year after his father’s death
The workstyle of the Tadayoshi school is overwhelmingly influenced by and exhibits the elements of the Yamashiro Rai lineage of makers from the Kamakura and Nambokucho eras. Their jigane is a extremely tight knit of ko-itame that is often referred to as nashijihada, or “pear skin” as it is dense and velvety in appearance, that glistens in the light. The Rai school is known for having areas of shingane appear in the blade as a result of their kawagane, or outer jacket, of steel being thinner than most other peer makers of their age. Thus with repeated polishing, the kawagane is worn away and shingane surfaces into view. This propensity of Rai works to exhibit patchy areas of jigane is euphemistically called “Raigane” or “Rai metal”. Tadayoshi school works having been made similarly, also exhibit the same thing on occasion with shingane surfacing as a result of polishing over time. It’s hypothesized that these schools implemented thinner kawagane as a measure of stretching the more expensive and labor intensive material for greater production. In light of this, Tadayoshi school swords with healthy, consistent jigane that do not exhibit any shingane surfacing, have naturally been better cared for, and better preserved, thus they are more appreciable and desirable.
This sword is a superb example of iconic Hizen Tadayoshi school work, and emblematic of Omi Daijo works at large. It is in magnificent health though out, with lustrous tightly woven ko-itame in the style the Tadayoshi school perfected. It has a balanced and confident sugata. The hamon, true to the inspirations of the Rai school, flashes brilliant white when illuminated with fine workings along the habuchi and impressively wide nioiguchi reaching into the yakiba. The balance between the width of the sword, the width of the ji, and also the yakiba, strikes a comforting balance of dimension sometimes described as “koroai”, or “harmonious”.
The boshi is also immediately recognizable as Hizen origin with komaru turning back smartly short and sharp across the koshinoji.
- Nagasa: 70.5 cm
- Motohaba: 3.125 cm
- Kasane: 6 mm
- Sakihaba: 2.1 cm
- Sakikasane: 5 mm
The condition and workmanship of this sword is nothing short of excellent. I would venture to say as close to flawless as one might be able to say for any sword that is handmade and over 300 years old. The polish is first-rate quality, and in fine condition.
The habaki is an older two-piece construction, foiled in a combination of silver and gold, with a sayagata pattern embossed on the gold.
It rests in an older shirasaya upon which is sayagaki by Kanzan Sato sensei which describes the maker, the length of the blade and Kanzan as the author.
肥前國近江大掾忠廣 Hizen no Kuni Omi Daijo Tadahiro Omi Daijo Tadahiro from Hizen
同作中之佳作也 Dōsaku-chū no kasaku nari Masterwork among the smith’s body of work
刃⻑貮尺参寸参歩有之 Hachō ni-shaku san-sun- san-bu kore ari Blade length ~ 70.6 cm
寒山誌 Kanzan shirusu Written by Kanzan
This sword has a very early NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon paper issued in 1984. This is close to the time of origin for this rank of paper and when this one was issued, the NBTHK was still creating the oshigata by hand for the certificate.
A sword such as this would be a proud and fine addition to any collection.