Awataguchi Norikuni TachiAwataguchi Norikuni

periodEarly Kamakura (ca. 1230)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon Token Tachi
ratingJo-jo saku
mei則国 — Norikuni
nagasa62.4 cm
sori1.7 cm
motohaba2.91 cm
sakihaba1.75 cm
kissaki2.5 cm
nakago nagasa17.6 cm
nakago sorislight
price -sold-

Since a great number of smiths from the Awataguchi group served the Imperial court, it has a dynastic style in comparison with the general work style. The quality is high, they have elegance, the kitae is fine and beautiful, and they can be said to be number one among the Kyo-mono [Yamashiro tradition]. As for the hamon, suguba and ko-midare are the most common, all of them have ko-nie and are splendid pieces of work. Overall, the tachi sugata is slender and is graceful, but among them there are some which have a masculine beauty full of strength... Nihonto Koza

Kuniie is supposed to have been the founder of the [Awataguchi] school, but we have never seen any of his swords today. His six sons, Kunitomo, Hisakuni, Kuniyasu, Kunikiyo, Arikuni, and Kunitsuna are all master smiths. The oldest son Kunitomo has great master level students working after him: Norikuni, Kuniyoshi, Kunimitsu and Yoshimitsu, and these smiths made the school name more famous. NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Norikuni’s first name was Tōmanosuke and it is said that he was the son of Kunitomo and active around Katei (1235-1238). His son was Sahyōe no Jō Kuniyoshi and only very few signed tachi and tantō by him are extant. NBTHK Tokubetsu Juyo Zufu

Norikuni (along with Hisakuni) was one of the swordsmiths from the Awataguchi school that attended Emperor Gotoba and also is regarded to be one of the better of the early Awataguchi smiths. Yamanaka, Nihonto Newsletters

Awataguchi is one of the seven gates to Kyoto city in Yamashiro province. The school takes its name from this gate as no doubt they were located nearby. They served the Imperial Court which was resident in Kyoto, and the Awataguchi smiths have been hailed for centuries as some of the brightest lights in the world of Japanese swords. Their work represents the very top level of craftsmanship.

The roots of Awataguchi are a bit misty but it takes its place after Sanjo and Gojo schools of the end of the Heian period and begins somewhere around the middle to late 1100s, likely concurrent with Ayanokoji. Awataguchi seems to have been famous already in its time, as there is a 13th century book (i.e. from the 1200s, the time that Awataguchi was active) called the Ujijui-monogatari which mentions this school of smiths.

The founder is Kuniie, who belonged to the Fujiwara clan and had the family name Hayashi. He would have six sons, each of which would achieve great heights in the craft of sword making. They are Kunitomo, Hisakuni, Kuniyasu, Kunikiyo, Arikuni and Kunitsuna. Kunitomo represents the main line, having handed the school down to his son Norikuni, grandson Kuniyoshi, and great grandson the very famous Yoshimitsu. Rounding out the top Awataguchi smiths is Kunimitsu who is likely the younger brother of Kuniyoshi.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Awataguchi Norikuni Tachi

Famous among the Awataguchi School are the six brothers Kunitomo, Hisakuni, Kuniyasu, Kunikiyo, Arikuni, and Kunitsuna who were active in the early Kamakura period. All of them displayed an outstanding skill and were succeeded by equally great masters like Norikuni, Kuniyoshi, Kunimitsu, and Yoshimitsu. The Awataguchi workmanship is described in period publications as blueish steel and white ha and their outstanding works are appreciated since oldest times. NBTHK Juyo Zufu

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Awataguchi Norikuni Tachi

There are other Awataguchi smiths of great skill: working at the same time as Norikuni are Kunizane, Kunisuke, Tomosue, Kagekuni, Kunisue, Ienori, Kunihide and Kunihisa. At the same time as Kuniyoshi are Kuninobu and Masamitsu who are likely to be his brothers as he is said to be the oldest of six like his grandfather was. And following Yoshimitsu are Yoshimasa and Yoshikuni. Yamanaka goes on to mention several more peripheral Awataguchi students: Hisamoto, Masasue, Hisayoshi, Arimitsu, Arimoto and Arinaga.

Kunitomo, Kuniyasu and Hisakuni would serve Emperor Gotoba as three of the first twelve Go-ban Kaji (swordsmiths summoned to teach sword smithing to the Emperor). We can assume that these smiths were considered best in the land, and similarly honored were smiths of Fukuoka Ichimonji and Ko-Aoe. Hisakuni is considered to be one of the two principle organizers and captains of the first twelve and the administrator who arranged the next 24 swordsmith tutors. Among those 24, Kunitomo would again serve. The last group of six tutors after Gotoba was banished to the island of Oki included Awataguchi Kunitsuna and Awataguchi Norikuni. Kunitsuna would be summoned to Kamakura by the Hojo regent some time after this along with Ichimonji Sukezane and Saburo Kunimune. Together they would found the Soshu tradition.

Emperor Gotoba

The importance of Emperor Gotoba on sword history should not be understated. By gathering the greatest swordsmiths in Japan together, the seed was planted for the flowering of sword arts in the Kamakura period. Swords made in the Kamakura period are the very pinnacle of integrity as weapons and as art objects. Gotoba was someone who appreciated arts of all forms, and he enjoyed trying his hand at them. We would call such a person today a Renaissance Man. His historic role was to make the smiths develop and raise their skills, and by bringing them into one place he very likely fostered a technology interchange that caused Kamakura swords to leap forward and blaze new territory in style and construction.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Awataguchi Norikuni Tachi

Letting the radiance of his power and majesty shine forth unobscured, at the same time he amused himself with every variety of art and accomplishment. In all of these he was second to none, so that people wondered when and how he had gained such proficiency. And many who were experts at one or another of these arts were enabled by the ex-emperor’s interest to attain fame and fortune. It is said that the Buddha leads all men to salvation, even those guilty of the ten evils and five deadly sins. For his part, the ex-sovereign showed an interest in every accomplishment, even those which seemed of the most trivial and insignificant kind. So that all sorts of people who had any claim to knowledge of these matters were summoned to his presence, where, it appears, they could petition freely for his favor.

Among all these arts, his skill in Japanese poetry might be said to leave one at a loss for superlatives. People might think that to speak in this way is to make much out of nothing. But since a great many of the ex-sovereign’s compositions may be easily found in various collections, anyone can judge for himself. It may be imagined what must have been his skill in other arts and accomplishments. But as long as endure the texts of his poetic compositions as people have written them down and preserved them, even remote generations may see for themselves the extent of his poetic mastery. Minamoto Ienaga, private secretary

Kiku mon over Ichi
Kiku mon over Ichi

As written there, Gotoba’s appetite for arts and crafts knew few limits. He himself became an accomplished swordsmith through the teachings of the best swordsmiths in Japan from the early Kamakura period. The swords he made, he signed with the Imperial chrysanthemum and some of these also have an Ichi signature, though it is not cut like standard Ichimonji and goes at a 45 degree angle. For works attributed to him or signed by him, we don’t refer to these as Emperor Gotoba’s work, but we use either Gyo-saku or Kiku-gyo-saku from the style of signature (and it avoids directly addressing him by name, which is a courtesy to the former Emperor).

Presentation Swords

In the 1500s standards were laid out as to what smiths were acceptable for gifts to and from daimyo and shogun. From these lists it is possible to determine at the time which blades and makers were held to be the ultimate craftsmen. Markus Sesko documents several of these in one of his excellent books. The Sōgo-ōzō-shi Kyōroku 1 (1528) lists acceptable makers to be used as presentation items. Explicitly 23 makers are named, and include Hisakuni, Kuniyoshi, Arikuni, Yoshimitsu, Kunitsuna, Norikuni and Kunitomo of the Awataguchi school (comprising about 33% of the list). Also in the list are Kiku blades (those of Gotoba), Ko-Bizen Tomonari, Ko-Bizen Masatsune, Soshu Masamune, and Soshu Sadamune, among others.

Historical Forms

Awataguchi tachi come in two forms generally. One is a gentle sugata that comes from the earliest times and is similar to that made by Sanjo and Gojo schools. Later work has bōhi and ikubi kissaki and a wider blade. Beautifully forged jihada packed with sparkling ji nie is the hallmark of this school, as it is usually considered to be the very best of all swords and it looks like Awataguchi is a very high compliment to pay the kitae of any sword. The hamon is usually suguba with many small details including ko-choji and Kuniyoshi in particular is known for making nijuba. The nie activities and beautiful jigane of the Awataguchi school is the pathway from which we see the flowering of Soshu through the work of Shintogo Kunimitsu, Yukimitsu, Masamune and Sadamune. Nagayama in fact has Shintogo Kunimitsu as a son of Awataguchi Kunitsuna. This does make sense given that his work is extremely similar to Awataguchi and it fits name inheritance. Whether it is so or not, it is absolutely clear that Awataguchi is a major influence in the composition of the Soshu tradition.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Awataguchi Norikuni Tachi

In all cases, the border of the temper line will have very many workings and the Nie and the Nioi cluster together. Workings such as Kinsuji and Inazuma are seen in many areas along the Hamon. At the Habuchi and within the Hamon, the Nie is made very deep and clear. These Nie will be very small and the color will be brilliant and bright. This is the Awataguchi Nie.

The quality of the steel of the Awataguchi Smiths is the trademark ( the steel having been worked and also the fact that a quality iron was used to start with). The result is, it is very fine and in Ko-mokume Hada. The Nie of the Ji area will be very deep and those that cling together become Yubashiri and Chikei. At places, on certain smiths’ work there will be o-hada. Yamanaka, Nihonto Newsletters

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Awataguchi Norikuni Tachi

Known Awataguchi Works

Mumei (pink) vs. Zaimei (purple)
Mumei (pink) vs. Zaimei (purple)

All Awataguchi swords are rare. We have about 100 years of mainline production from this school until it tapers off after 1300. At all high levels (Juyo, Tokuju, Juyo Bijutsuhin, Juyo Bunkazai and Kokuho), there are 94 tanto and ken, 53 tachi and 52 katana (shortened and unsigned tachi). There are still a few blades lower than Juyo that should pass in the future, and of course there are always new discoveries. But, we are dealing with 199 items total that are known to be by this school. Out of this 199, only 129 are available to the market because the others are difficult or illegal to export (Jubi through Kokuho). So we are dealing with one of the greatest schools of Nihonto and we just don’t have many at all that were preserved. Collectors hold these blades in extremely high regard, making them difficult to obtain as they are rarely sold.

These 199 are broken down among the Awataguchi smiths to the right, with the Awataguchi school attribution being used 23 times. Some of the signatures that can’t be read then get shuttled into a school attribution. We can see by this that Kuniyoshi and Yoshimitsu works represent about half of what is known about the school.

Among the works made by the Awataguchi smiths were many famous named blades. An example of how this comes to pass is documented by Markus Sesko.

Once Hōjō Tokiyori (1227-1263), regent in the name of the Minamoto, invited excellent swordsmiths to Kamakura to have them work officially for the bakufu. One of them was Kunitsuna who came originally from Kyōto´s Awataguchi school. When Tokiyori was one day afflicted by a mysterious disease — a small demon appeared every night in his bed-chamber — he dreamed of an old man who said to him: “I am your sword of Kunitsuna. Someone touched me with dirty hands and now I can’t be drawn out of my scabbard because I am so rusty. When you want to get rid off this demon, you should quickly free me from rust.” Right at the next morning Tokiyori cleaned the blade and stored it at its rack, but as if by magic it fell down, slid out of its scabbard, and cut off a foot of the nearby brazier. This foot was made of silver and shaped like a demon. From that day on Tokiyori was never again pestered by the small demon and so he gave the blade the name “Onimaru” [Demonblade]. Markus Sesko, Legends and Stories Around the Japanese Sword

Work of the Awataguchi school today is quite rare, and what exists almost always passes to the higher ranks beginning with Juyo. Awataguchi is very well represented at the highest ranks of Tokubetsu Juyo, Juyo Bijutsuhin, Juyo Bunkazai and Kokuho. 27 of the 313 blades of the Kyoho Meibutsu Cho (catalog of famous swords written in the Edo period) are from Awataguchi. At current count there are 77 Juyo works of Awataguchi and 39 Tokubetsu Juyo, in which there are only 15 Tachi and 43 Mumei katana to describe the entire school. This is also a very high percentage of Tokubetsu Juyo which speaks highly to the school. I count a further 37 Kokuho which is also quite remarkable. In total though, the work of the entire school numbers less than the Juyo blades made by Kanemitsu himself, which is something to keep in mind about Awataguchi. It represents the very topmost line for quality and appreciation in Nihonto and at the same time remains rare.

Since Edo times, Soshu Goro Nyudo Masamune, Go Yoshihiro, and Yoshimitsu are the three master smiths who are called the Tenka sansaku (i.e. the three best swordsmiths in the world ), and among them Yoshimitsu was evaluated as the best smith, and his work was treated as the best. NBTHK Journal

Yoshimitsu of course is famous as one of the Nihon Sansaku (Three Great Smiths of Japan), along with Masamune and Go Yoshihiro. At the end of the Kamakura period, and just after Yoshimitsu put down his hammer, the Awataguchi school seems to have suddenly gone into a rapid decline and there are no works left from this school in the Nanbokucho period. This is a bit of a mystery, but after this period the Rai school assumes the dominant position in Yamashiro. It is possible that the schools were more strongly related than currently thought or that they merged. It’s hard to say, though the Rai school uses the Minamoto clan name and the Awataguchi school uses the Fujiwara clan name so this muddies thoughts further. Shinto swordsmiths like Awataguchi Omi no Kami Tadatsuna trace their lineage back to the Kamakura Awataguchi school so we can speculate that somehow smithing continued though it never again reached the glory that it had in the middle Kamakura period.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Awataguchi Norikuni Tachi
National Treasure Norikuni Tachi
National Treasure Norikuni Tachi

Awataguchi Norikuni

This [Kokuho] tachi, as the old sword books say, has a very refined jihada which is even and well forged, with the school’s characteristic thick fine ji-nie, and has an elegant, but at the same time, strong jihada. Look at the beautiful jihada, the hamon with a dense nioiguchi, the even fine ha-nie, and the bright and clear hamon... some places have kinsuji, and these hataraki create an interesting atmosphere with the gentle hamon and fascinate people. The preserved condition of this sword is very good, it is very dignified, and very rare with Norikuni’s signature. At the same time, it is a rare Awataguchi school tachi, and the school’s characteristic hada which the old sword books described as reflective is suitable. During the Edo period, this tachi was owned by the Inshu Ikeda family. Ishi Akira, NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Awataguchi Norikuni is the third generation head of the Awataguchi school. He has the name Tomanosuke (藤馬允) which is sometimes transliterated as Tomanojo. There are no signed works by Kuniie, so if we take Norikuni’s father Kunitomo as the de-facto school founder, Norikuni is the second generation head of the school. His work period is around 1220 to 1238 AD.

He handed the school to his son Sahyoenojo Kuniyoshi after him. The two remaining famous Awataguchi smiths are Kunimitsu and the peerless Yoshimitsu. Kunimitsu was the younger brother of Kuniyoshi. Yoshimitsu, is usually thought to be the son of Kuniyoshi but is initially trained by Norikuni.

Kunitomo had a son known as Norikuni who gave birth to great masters Kuniyoshi and Yoshimitsu. Sato Kanzan, NBTHK Token Bijutsu English

A recently found document from the 1300s lists all three as students of Norikuni with Kuniyoshi being the oldest. Yoshimitsu didn’t leave any dated work, but Kuniyoshi left some that have been recorded in oshigata: Kenji 4, Koan 3, 6 and 7 (1278, 1280, 1283, 1284) and Awataguchi Kunimitsu left one with a Koan 11 (1288) date. Yoshimitsu is a smith of this same time period and not later, so this seems to lend weight to them being fairly close in age. Kunimitsu seems to have had a son who inherited his name, and he has one dated work of Genko 2 (1323) and after this, the school fades away.

Kuniie, the founder, is said to have been active around the 1160-1180s. The six sons and students under Kuniie are all very prominent. Kunitomo had four students under him from which the famous Norikuni came and from amongst the students of Norikuni there was Yoshimitsu mentioned above. Yamanaka, Nihonto Newsletters

Given the greatness of his students, it is clear that Norikuni was a fantastic teacher. This is further confirmed by his summons by the Emperor Gotoba to further his study of sword smithing. Smiths who served Emperor Gotoba are known as Goban-kanji. Gotoba ruled from 1183 through to 1198 and then retired. When Japanese emperors retired, they placed their successor on the throne and then they exercised power from behind the scenes as a Cloistered Emperor. He continued his rule until 1221 in this manner.

In 1221, the Shogun at the time put Gotoba’s grandson on the throne, and Gotoba tried to take back power by staging a rebellion. The subsequent war is known as the Jokyu War and Gotoba’s forces lost and was banished to the Oki islands, where he returned to his hobby of sword forging. At this time Norikuni was summoned and took his place as one of the Goban kaji.

On the Island of Oki where the Emperor was banished, the smiths that served him at his exile were; Norikuni for January and February and Kunitsuna for May and June. Yamanaka, Nihonto Newsletters

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Awataguchi Norikuni Tachi

Norikuni’s signed work is very rarely found. For tachi, there are only five known to exist now. They are in order, the Kokuho tachi owned by the Kyoto National Museum, two Juyo Bunkazai owned by the Konda Hachimangu and the Atsuta Jingu, and a Tokubetsu Juyo tachi handed down by the Kitabatake clan and presented to them by Emperor Godaigo in the Kamakura period. The first three are illegal to export and the museums and shrines that own them will keep them forever. There is one more tachi that has been found recently, and it is the subject of this article. It should also be noted that the Konda Hachimangu tachi was also previously Kokuho before the 2nd World War.

Kokuho, Juyo Bunkazai, and Tokubetsu Juyo tachi by Norikuni
Kokuho, Juyo Bunkazai, and Tokubetsu Juyo tachi by Norikuni

In addition to the five tachi, Norikuni has one Juyo Bijutsuhin, one Juyo and one Tokubetsu Juyo signed tanto.

Tokubetsu Juyo tanto by Norikuni
Tokubetsu Juyo tanto by Norikuni

There are very few signed Norikuni blades. Among tachi there is one Kokuho (which belonged to the Inshu Ikeda family descendant and is owned by the Kyoto National Museum) and there are two Juyo Bunkazai swords (at the Aichi Atsuda shrine and the Osaka Homada Hachimangu. There is also one Tokubetsu Juyo Token. Among tanto there is one Juyo Bijutsu Hin and this tanto. These all have two kanji signatures, and they are made with either a fine tagane (chisel) or a thick tagane.

According to conventional opinion, the kuni kanji are similar to his son Kuniyoshi’s. His shapes are elegant which reflect the era, his jihada are tight ko-itame with very fine dense ji-nie and a delicate and strong jihada, which is the school’s unique jihada. The old sword book Ganki Gannen Token Mekiki Sho (1570 AD) praised the school’s jihada and has comments such as the jihada is masame very refined, there is a dark but reflective surface, and there is a very clear forging. The hamon are a narrow suguha mixed with ko-midare and ko-choji and they are somewhat different, but as the book mentions there are abundant nie, and compared with the later smiths Kuniyoshi and Yoshimitsu, more dense nie are characteristic.

Among his work, this tanto has a somewhat more emphasized midare hamon, the hamon is a little wider, and this is his newer style. Possibly this reflects comments in the Ganki Gannen Token Mekiki book that he also has notare hamon, and in another book, the Kaifunki which comments Norikuni has small notare hamon.Ishi Akira, NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Norikuni (left) and Kuniyoshi signatures
Norikuni (left) and Kuniyoshi signatures

The total number of signed works are 8. They rank extremely highly on average and are very rare as written above.

  • 1 Kokuho
  • 2 Juyo Bunkazai
  • 1 Juyo Bijutsuhin
  • 2 Tokubetsu Juyo
  • 1 Juyo
  • 1 Tokubetsu Hozon (which will upgrade to Juyo if not higher)

In addition to these are a small number of blades attributed to Norikuni that are unsigned. These are one Tokuju tanto, two Juyo tanto, one mumei Juyo katana, and one mumei Juyo tachi. I know of one more blade that has a shumei and Tokubetsu Hozon Norikuni which will easily pass Juyo, but the owner is not driven by papers and is content to keep it as it is. So, for this smith's work, we have a total of 15 blades.

The work style of these swords is generally based in suguba as is common in the Awataguchi school, but one of the tanto has a rather vibrant hamon composed of notare, gunome and midareba elements. This style is mentioned in old books that refer to a notare workmanship in his repertoire, and today only two of the eight signed blades show this workmanship.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Awataguchi Norikuni Tachi

As for Norikuni’s workmanship, tachi show a suguha-chō that is mixed with ko-midare whereas tantō usually rather show a calm pure suguha. However, there are also tantō known like this one where the suguha-chō tends towards an undulating notare and is mixed with ko-gunome an which makes it appear overall rather base on midare, meaning that we have here an important reference that makes us aware of the variety of the artist’s workmanships. NBTHK Tokubetsu Juyo Zufu

The rarity and importance of Norikuni cannot be understated. He is the fulcrum of the Awataguchi school, handing down its teachings and training from the founding generation to very great masters as well as manufacturing important masterworks himself. Fujishiro ranks him Jo-jo saku for highly superior craftsmanship, but Fujishiro had little to go on due to the rarity of the smith. Dr. Tokuno ranks him at 3,000 man yen, which is higher than smiths like Soshu Sadamune and Osafune Nagamitsu and many other Sai-jo saku smiths. His peers at 3,000 man yen are Hisakuni, Yoshimitsu, Ichimonji Norimune and Ichimonji Yoshifusa. There are only five smiths with higher rankings by Dr. Tokuno.

Tokubetsu Hozon Awataguchi Norikuni TachiAwataguchi Norikuni Tachi Origami

Tokubetsu Hozon Awataguchi Norikuni Tachi

This blade was a new discovery in Japan about two years ago. Given the extreme rarity of signed tachi and the fact that only one other is accessible to the marketplace, this sword has to be understood as something very special. I brought this blade to Tanobe sensei in December of 2018 for a sayagaki and knew he would be very surprised when I put it down. It is not every day that one gets to see a signed Awataguchi tachi, even when you are in the middle of sword Nirvana.

He responded immediately and positively to the signature and was surprised at the unusual work in the hamon of this tachi. This midare style is included in historical documents but this is the first surviving tachi that shows it. Other than this, there is only the one tanto left to represent this style. Tanobe sensei immediately said that the blade was far more active than the other known Norikuni tachi and as a result he would like to study it for an extended time. At the end of his study period he pronounced it a masterpiece, and highlighted the hamon as something special in his sayagaki. He said there was no question that the blade would pass Juyo with ease. There are, as can be seen, some condition issues on the ura where the core is poking through the steel.

This sword was made around 1230 AD and it is an early Kamakura blade (as Tanobe sensei says, from the middle of the first half of the Kamakura period). It was originally around 72-74 cm in length, and thanks to this, it got to preserve its signature after shortening. This was probably reduced to the current length in the Muromachi period to fit a katate-uchi koshirae or a short tachi koshirae for a general on horseback. Though it is on the short side now for a katana, it is immensely important both for representing one of Norikuni’s styles that would otherwise be lost, and for preserving the signature, of which we have only a handful of examples.

It’s important in this to try to separate the condition issues in the ji from the evaluation of the quality and importance of the work, which is top class. This is an 800 year old blade and was used, polished and shortened many times and the result is the open grain on the ura. Taken as a whole the blade is precious and rare and has no problem exceeding Juyo requirements. Tokubetsu Juyo will be more difficult but there is an outside chance because of the rarity of Norikuni’s swords.

Overall this blade is more dynamic than the other four signed tachi, which have a sedate layout. The style looks like a precursor to Soshu, and the hamon has thick notare and midare elements along with yubashiri that follows the hamon. Tanobe sensei believes that this was made in the style of Gojo and Sanjo, which are the earlier Heian period schools that predate Awataguchi. The yubashiri and nie do in fact show some connection to this Gojo Juyo Token I had previously, which was a Gojo sword but done in very old style that is very close to Sanjo Munechika.

The jihada of this sword has beautiful chikei throughout and again in this regard reminds me of Soshu swords.

Norikuni’s experimentation with yubashiri and the occasional appearance of nijuba in his swords (a parallel line of nie above the hamon) seems from this blade, to take its influence from older work of Gojo and Sanjo. His son Kuniyoshi specialized in nijuba and Awataguchi swords with this feature usually end up attributed to Kuniyoshi as a result.

This is an extremely unusual opportunity to own a signed Awataguchi tachi by one of the most valuable smiths of the school. With early Kamakura blades, we are lucky to get any with a signature remaining on them, let alone one of the master smiths of what is possibly the greatest school to have existed.

I offer this sword with a full money back guarantee of passing Juyo in September 2019. Regardless of that, this sword stands in a very small set of signed work by the Awataguchi school. There are only 17 signed tachi by the Awataguchi school that passed Juyo and Tokuju, with another 32 being Juyo Bijutsuhin, Juyo Bunkazai and Kokuho. From this it should be clear the rarity and importance of signed tachi in this school, as well as the rarity of Norikuni himself. I hope you will find this blade to be the treasure that it is, because chances like this are few and far between.

Awataguchi Norikuni Tachi Sayagaki


This tachi bears a sayagaki by Tanobe Michihiro, the retired former head researcher of the NBTHK. It is unusually long, spanning both sides of the shirasaya.

  1. 城刕粟田口藤馬允則国
    Joshu Awataguchi Tomanosuke Norikuni
  2. 磨上二字有銘本作ノ銘字ハ典型而雅味豊也
    Suriage niji yūmei
    Shortened, but bears a 2 character signature.
  3. 同工ハ藤林国友子デ左兵衛尉国吉ノ父ニ當タリ
    Dōkō wa Fujibayashi/Tōrin Kunitomo ko de Sahyōe no Jō Kuniyoshi no chichi ni atari.
    This smith was the son of Fujibayashi/Tōrin Kunitomo and the father of Sahyōe no Jō Kuniyoshi.
  4. 在銘作ノ現存ハ稀有也
    Zaimei-saku no genzon wa keu nari.
    Extant signed works are rare.
  5. 本作ノ銘字ハ典型而雅味豊也
    Honsaku no meiji wa tenkei shikamo gami-yutaka nari
    The signature of this blade is not only typical but also highly elegant.
  6. 同工ニハ静穏ナル直刃出来ガアル一方デ本作ノ如キ沸厚キ小乱調デ湯走ヤ二重刃ノ加ヘル動勢ニ富ム作風ノアルフトガ注目サレ三条・五条物ノ趣モ醸ス味ワイ深キ優品哉
    Dōkō ni wa sei’on naru suguha deki ga aru ippō de honsaku wa nie atsuki ko-midare-chō de yubashiri ya nijūba no kuwaeru dōsei ni tomu sakufū no arufuto ga chūmoku-sare Sanjō, Gojō-mono no omomuki mo kamosu ajiwai fukaki yūhin kana.
    Norikuni usually worked in a calm suguha. It has to be mentioned that occasionally his style was a nie-laden and dynamic ko-midare-chō with yubashiri and nijūba that tends towards Sanjō and Gojō works [of the Heian period], as in this blade, and of which it is a masterwork example.
  7. 刃長弐尺寸六分余有之
    Hachō 2 shaku sun 6 bu yo kore ari
    Blade length ~ 62.4 cm
  8. 時在戊戌極月探山識焉[花押」
    Jizai tsuchinoe-inu gokugetsu Tanzan kore o shirusu + kaō
    Written by Tanzan [pen name of Tanobe Michihiro] in December of the year of the dog of this era (2018) + kaō