Naoe Shizu Naginata NaoshiNaoe Shizu

meitoThe Imagawa Shizu
periodNanbokucho (ca. 1334-1360)
designationNBTHK Juyo Token Naginata Naoshi
nakagoo-suriage mumei
nagasa68.7 cm
sori2.0 cm
motohaba2.7 cm
nakago nagasa16.2 cm
nakago sorinone
price -sold-

Aside from Sadamune, I believe Shizu, Samonji, and this Go [Yoshihiro] should form the top three among the ten [of Masamune's disciples]. Dr. Honma Junji

Shizu Saburo Kaneuji is a grand master swordsmith working from the end of the Kamakura period into the beginning of the Nanbokucho period. He was highly influential, and is the founder of the Mino tradition - one of the five general koto styles of swordsmithing. His path through life lead him from his beginnings in Yamato as a Tegai smith most likely working under Kanenaga, to tutelage under Masamune in Kamakura around 1319. He finally settled in the Shizu area of Mino province at the beginning of the Nanbokucho period. The mastery of the Soshu and Yamato traditions merged in his teachings to become the Mino tradition.

Kaneuji started by signing his name with these characters: 包氏. The first character, for Kane, is commonly found in Yamato smiths and was handed down through the students he left behind when he moved to Kamakura. On his arrival to be taught by Masamune, he changed his signature to 兼氏 which was still read as Kaneuji. He has work signed like this that still is in Yamato tradition, showing that he may have come to produce in Kamakura and then learned from Masamune as a secondary effect of being fellow residents. After Kamakura, he moved to Shizu in Mino province, and he is now generally referred to with the nickname Shizu as a result of his final place of work.

Swords from his time period in Yamato are referred to as Yamato Shizu because of the nickname we use for him today. His work after his learning with Masamune are simply referred to as Shizu. This however makes for some points of confusion, because the students he left behind in Yamato are also collectively referred to as Yamato Shizu and there was also a nidai Kaneuji who left behind some excellent works in Yamato. Context is then necessary whenever examining a blade attributed to Yamato Shizu to determine if it is a school or individual attribution.

Detail of Juyo Naoe Shizu Naginata Naoshi

The students Shizu Kaneuji left behind in Mino when he died are called Naoe Shizu, as they moved and settled in Naoe which was a village in the northern part of Shizu. These Naoe Shizu smiths are known individually as Kanetsugu, Kanenobu, Kanetomo, and Kanetoshi and may also have been sons of his. Since they typically made Nanbokucho style sugata that have been cut down with signatures lost, they were particularly subject to losing their signatures. Today, there are no signed tachi left by the Naoe Shizu group. This leads to the frequent use of the school classification when attributing to them, but we know the work styles and the smiths by signed tanto and ko-wakizashi.

Kaneuji is famous today for being the student who's work was closest in style to Masamune, and we can confirm through dated works that were recorded in the Edo period that his dates align with the historical production of Masamune. Masamune of course is hailed as the greatest of the Soshu smiths and is usually considered the greatest smith of all time.

Detail of Juyo Naoe Shizu Naginata Naoshi

Of the Naoe Shizu smiths, there is a nidai Kaneuji, and a sandai Kaneuji. The smith Kanetsugu among the Naoe Shizu smiths is said to be the son of Kaneuji, and it is possible that he is also the nidai Kaneuji. The style of the Naoe Shizu smiths is generally similar to Shizu but a level lower in quality, and those at the topmost level of quality may be thought to be works of Kaneuji now, it is difficult to tell in some cases.

The school smiths have very few signed blades compared with Shizu Saburo Kaneuji. Today, there is no tachi known with this signature, and only wakizashi and tanto are seen with this signature. Kanetsugu has one Juyo Bijutsuhin tanto beside this one, and Kanenobu has two Juyo Token tanto. Generally, no later than the Nanbokucho time, Kaneuji hamon mostly have a large pattern, and sometimes ko-gunome styles are seen. With either style, one does not see a whitish jihada, and there are strong nie on the ji and ha.

Kanetsugu, Kanetomo, and Kanenobu's Naoe Shizu smiths hamon have smaller patterns and a somewhat whitish jihada when compared to Kaneuji's work, but Kanetsugu's work shows swords with both styles: a whitish jihada and with no whitish jihada. This wakizashi [by Naoe Shizu Kanetsugu] is a large size with somewhat large pattern gunome, and the jihada is not whitish. The ji and ha are clear, the glamorous boshi is a midare hamon and appears like a like a flame, and blade is full of spirit, and this is the O-Shizu style, and this is valuable information showing us that already in Kanno times (1350), this kind of shape has appeared. NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Detail of Juyo Naoe Shizu Naginata Naoshi

Today Shizu's swords rank from Juyo (of which he has 130, placing #6 overall in the list of makers) and Tokubetsu Juyo (of which he has 14). He also has works ranked Juyo Bijutsuhin and Juyo Bunkazai. He is of course regarded by Fujishiro as Sai-jo Saku, the rating of a grandmaster swordsmith.

The Naoe Shizu works that have been ranked at Juyo by the NBTHK number 157. Of these only 7 are signed, which illustrates one of the problems left to us in differentiating the Naoe Shizu smiths. On top of the Juyo there are another four Juyo Bijutsuhin, with two by Kanetomo, one by Kanetsugu, and one unsigned and attributed to the school.

Detail of Juyo Naoe Shizu Naginata Naoshi
Juyo Token Naoe Shizu Naginata Naoshi

The Imagawa Shizu

This blade was owned by a major figure in the sword world, Sano Ryuichi (佐野隆一) who founded the Sano Art Museum in Japan, and his name is on the paper. It passed Juyo in the 1960s in session 12, before Tokubetsu Juyo was introduced and Juyo Token was the highest ranking available from the NBTHK.

The Sano collection has National Treasures (Kokuho), Important Cultural Properties (Juyo Bunkazai) and Important Art Items (Juyo Bijutsuhin). It is one of the top museums for Japanese swords in the world. This sword was also part of the collection until some time recently.

This sword is a meito, that is a sword with a name, and is called the Imagawa Shizu. It takes its name from the Imagawa clan who owned the sword in the Edo period. They come all the way from the Ashikaga clan who were Shoguns during the Kamakura period, as one of the family members, Ashikaga Kuniuji moved to Imagawa in Mikawa province and changed his name to match the town.

The Imagawa controlled Mikawa, Suruga and Totomi provinces until the end of the Muromachi period and as such were a major clan. Oda Nobunaga broke the back of the clan at the battle of Okehazama in 1560 on his way to the unification of Japan (a process completed by his general Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and finalized by Tokugawa Ieyasu). By the end of the Edo period the clan's holdings were divided up among the Tokugawa and Takeda, and the Imagawa retained a role under the Tokugawa as Koke (High Family) and had the role of Master of Ceremonies. This reflected their historical importance and lineage back to the Ashikaga and placed them one rank below daimyo since they had been dispossessed of their lands.

The men who kōke position performed such roles as that of the courier carrying the shōgun's messages to the Imperial court in Kyoto, or one of a reception committee for hosting the Imperial Envoys at Edo. They also represented the shogun in certain functions held at Nikkō and other shrines or temples, and regulated courtly ceremonies and rites observed in the Edo Castle.

The office was instituted in 1608, when the Tokugawa shogunate selected certain ancient great dispossessed families to fill the hereditary office. Most of these families claimed descent from shugo (governors) of the Kamakura period to Sengoku period, among them the Takeda, the Imagawa, the Kyōgoku, the Rokkaku, the Ōtomo, and the Hatakeyama (a full list is given below). Some families were less prestigious, like the Yokose, the Yura, the Ōsawa, and the Kira. By the end of the shogunate in the mid-19th century, the occupancy of the office numbered 26. Some families had several branches among the kōke, like the Takeda who had two lateral branches with that title. Wikipedia

This name reflects the fact that the blade was considered during the Edo period to be work of Shizu Kaneuji, and looking at its very dynamic and vibrant hamon there is not much reason to contest this thinking. In fact the blade matches almost identically in the hamon with a Shizu that I submitted to and got Tokubetsu Juyo for in the last session, and I am comfortable with considering this to be Kaneuji's work.

During its ownership by the Sano museum, the blade was submitted to Juyo and passed as Naoe Shizu. Some of these old attributions are sometimes conservative. The Sano Museum later published the work and had the opinion that it was most likely work of Naoe Shizu Kanetsugu.

Shizu Torokusho
Shizu Torokusho

In 1988 the blade was brought to the Living National Treasure sword polisher Honami Nisshu for an attribution and sayagaki. Given that the blade was already Juyo Token, it seems that Honami Nisshu did not entirely agree with the attribution to Naoe Shizu but he instead stated it as the Imagawa Shizu and made in the Kenmu period (1334-1338) which are the first couple of years after the Kamakura period. This is before the Naoe Shizu smiths and gently underlines a contrasting attribution to Shizu Kaneuji.

Furthermore the blade had an old sword license (torokusho) that copies over an old attribution that says den Shizu (伝志津) and in fainter ink says Kaneuji (兼氏). This dates to Showa 27 (1953) and most daimyo blades were processed in 1952 with some done in 1953. Anyway it confirms that through most of its history it was considered to be Kaneuji's work.


The blade passed Juyo before Tanobe sensei's time, and the blade has a sayagaki by him as well which was done in 2010. I think that the sayagaki shows some respect to the fact it is Juyo as Naoe Shizu, and I think he also probably thought it likely to be work of Shizu Kaneuji. He expressed himself instead by saying that the blade was an outstanding work among all Naoe Shizu blades (i.e. top shelf construction and quality). In this way it's left to read between the lines about the 1960s period attribution to Naoe Shizu. He added some high praise words, chin-chin, cho-cho. He also that Kiyomaro adored blades like this one and it is true that the hamon shows the template that Kiyomaro pursued vigorously and lead to his own great fame. It is really significant that the name of this great maker is attached to this sayagaki.

This blade is in an old sashikomi polish that has not been touched I think since the Edo period. It has a few small scratches and a couple spots of rust, and has a nice rustic feeling. I will have the rust spots addressed, but I think this polish should be preserved in spite of the couple of problems with it.

Due to its age and polishing state there are some kitae ware that show in the blade unfortunately. In form it is a naginata-naoshi katana, and so was a polearm at one time. Most naginata-naoshi are formed by reshaping the head of the naginata, but a blade like this that preserves the turnback of the boshi is one that is unaltered on the top and so more precious than most as it preserves more of the original work and sugata. The nie are extremely bright and beautiful and the hamon is packed with all kinds of activity.

Detail of Juyo Naoe Shizu Naginata Naoshi

This sword is accompanied by fine quality Higo koshirae. Higo koshirae illustrate a following of the wabi sabi ethos that emerged in the early 16th century, and that of Hosokawa Tadaoki, a Daimyo of the Higo province. The elements provided the foundation of the tradition which can be seen in three famous koshirae belonging to Hosokawa Tadaoki, and were supposedly created at the direction of Tadaoki's tea-master, the venerated Sen no Riyku. The Higo aesthetic became quite popular throughout the Edo period and remains a highly appreciated and emulated form to this day.


The essence of Higo koshirae is clear in this accompanying koshirae. Its shorter overall length is proper to the style, as is the slightly shorter tsuka with a ryugo profile shape (resembling an hourglass silhouette). The shallow fuchi and kashira of rounded and/or beaded shapes, decorated in modest opposition from each other (in this case waves on the kashira vs. stone texture on the fuchi), are also attentive to the tradition. The kashira shows the distinctive shape resembling a boat hull with a deep single s-shaped line (called an ichinomiya) carved deeply into it. The samegawa (rayskin) on the tsuka is lacquered over in black and then masterfully wrapped with a light earthy brown doeskin suede ito wrapped in tsumami maki (pinched at the crossovers) style. The most noticeable of features is the saya presented with togidashi-zame, in which the entire length of the saya is completely covered with rayskin, with the nodes are polished down to create this spectacular pattern. It is then finished in a raw lacquer with a copper tone that brings a subtle harmony with the tsukamaki. The seam of the same on the saya is attentively dressed with a bead of silver along the entire saya at it's juncture on the bottom, the most inconspicuous place. Saya fittings include a shallow domed kojiri, kaerizuno (a small hook below the kurigata to secure the saya in the obi), and a beaded kuchigane, all in a satin luster silver. The iron tsuba, also in the Higo style of tsuba design, is pierced with the positive silhouette of Kiri (Paulownia), and held between two skillfully gold foiled seppa.

It is very unusual to be able to access a blade out of the Sano collection, let alone a meito and accompanied by interesting koshirae. The sword is featured in one of the Sano Museum books and I have copied the pages below with a translation. My own feeling is that the work looks more vigorous than those blades now attributed to Naoe Shizu and I am in agreement with the old Edo period attribution to Shizu Kaneuji, and Honami Nisshu's opinion. Also, I would not argue against Tanobe sensei either in that the blade could just represent the top level of Naoe Shizu work. All of these opinions illustrate that the blade is very excellent work that shows off the Soshu tradition's migration to Mino and the eventual establishment of the Mino tradition.

Sano Museum Collection

Item 51 - katana, mumei: Naoe-Shizu (Jūyō-Tōken), Nanbokuchō period Nagasa 68.8 cm, sori 2.0 cm, motohaba 2.63 cm, moto-kasane 0.36 cm at mune and 0.7 cm at shinogi

Unokubi-zukuri, iori-mune, deep sakizori. The kitae is a dense itame that tends to nagare along the habuchi and that features rough ji-nie and masame in the shinogi-ji. The hamon is a nie-laden connected gunome with a wide nioiguchi that is mixed with togariba, ara-nie, and with kinsuji all over. The bōshi is a pointed, jizō-like bōshi with a long running-back kaeri and the nakago is ō-suriage mumei.

Naoe-Shizu is an umbrella term for the sons and students of the ancestor of the Mino smiths, Shizu Saburō Kaneuji, who moved to Naoe which was located in the same province. Major masters of this group were Kanetomo and Kanetsugu. This blade shows a connected gunome that is mixed togariba, ara-nie, and sunagashi and due to the clarity of the ha, Kanetsugu comes to mind, although it is difficult to pin down individual names for this group. According to tradition, Shizu Saburō Kaneuji moved to Mino from Yamato province and was one of the Ten Students of Masamune. Accordingly, he worked in the traditional Yamato gunome that he enriched with vivid Sōshū elements. This wild and masculine style was very popular and inspired many smiths up to shinshintō times. Sano Bijutsukan, Showa 46 (1971)

Naoe Shizu Naginata Naoshi OshigataNaoe Shizu Naginata Naoshi Origami

Juyo Token Naginata Naoshi

Appointed on the 30th of July, 1964 (Session 12)

Naginata Naoshi, Mumei, Naoe Shizu


shōbu-zukuri, iori-mune, shallow sakizori


dense itame that is mixed with masame and that features plenty of ji-nie


ko-nie-laden gunome with a wide nioiguchi that is mixed with togariba, sunagashi, ashi, and many kinsuji


nie-laden midare-komi with a pointed kaeri and hakikake


ō-suriage, kirijiri, kiri-yasurime, two mekugi-ana, mumei


Naoe-Shizu is an umbrella term for the students of Kaneuji (兼氏) who moved from Shizu (志津) in Mino to Naoe (直江) which was located in the same province. Known smiths are for example Kaneuji (兼氏), Kanetsugu (兼次), and Kanetomo (兼友) and the group was active until the Muromachi period.

This blade is a naginata-naoshi and is ō-suriage mumei but it shows the the typical Naoe-Shizu workmanship and can therefore attributed to this group.

Naoe Shizu Naginata Naoshi Sayagaki


This sword has two sayagaki, the front is by Honami Nisshu, the Living National Treasure sword polisher and names the blade the Imagawa Shizu.

  1. 今川志津
  2. 今川家御傳来
    Imagawa-ke go-denrai
    Heirloom of the Imagawa family
  3. 重要刀剣指定
    Jūyō-tōken shitei
    Designated as Juyo Token
  4. 大磨上無銘也時代建武之頃
    Ō-suriage mumei nari, Jidai Kenmu no goro
    Shortened and unsigned, made around Kenmu (1334-1338)
  5. 長サ貮尺弐寸七分有之
    Nagasa 2 shaku 2 sun 7 bu kore ari
    Blade length 68.8 cm
  6. 昭和六拾歳辰如月記之本阿弥日洲「花押
    Showa rokujūsannenn tatsu kisaragi kore o shirusu
    Written by Hon’ami Nisshū in February of 1988, year of the dragon + kaō

The reverse bears an extensive inscription (sayagaki) by Tanobe Michihiro sensei. He is the retired former head researcher of the Nippon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK).

  1. 第拾弐回重要刀剣指定品
    Dai jūnikai jūyō-tōken shitei-hin
    Designated as jūyo-tōken at the 12th jūyō-shinsa
  2. 濃刕直江志津
    Nōshū Naoe Shizu
  3. 薙刀直無銘也同派極中ノ秀逸ノ作ナリ
    Naginata-naoshi mumei nari dōha kiwame-chū no shūitsu no saku nari
    Unsigned naginata naoshi, and outstanding among all works attributed to this school.
  4. テ地地刃共ニ出来傑レ候蓋シ新々刀期ノ山浦清麿ガ私淑シタルハ本作ノ如キ作域ナラン哉本刀ニハ古来今川志津ナル名號有之佐野美術館舊蔵品ノ一也
    Te jiba tomo ni deki sugure sōrō kedashi shinshintō-ki no Yamaura Kiyomaro ga shishuku wa honsaku no gotoki saku’iki naran kana hontō ni wa korai Imagawa-Shizu naru myōgō kore ari Sano Bijutsukan kyūzōhin no hitotsu nari.
    Both ji and ha are excellent and it was blades like that the shinshintõ smith Yamaura Kiyomaro adored so much. This blade has been handed down with the nickname Imagawa-Shizu and was once part of the collection of the Sano Museum.
  5. 珍々重々
    Chin-chin, chō-chō.
    Very rare, very precious.
  6. 刃長弐尺弐寸七分有之
    Hachō 2 shaku 2 sun 7 bu kore ari
    Blade length 68.8 cm
  7. 惟時庚寅年葉月
    Koretoki kanoe-toradoshi hazuki
    In August of the year of the tiger of this era (2010)
  8. 探山邊道識「花押」
    Tanzan Hendō shirusu + kaō
    Written by Tanzan Hendo.