Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi KatanaMutsu no Kami Tadayoshi

periodKanbun Shinto (ca. 1680)
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon
nakagoubu zaimei
meiHizen no Kuni Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi
nagasa74.85 cm
sori1.9 cm
motohaba3.0 cm
sakihaba1.95 cm
kissaki3.32 cm
nakago nagasa19.6 cm
price -sold-

The Hizen school is well known, and well regarded as one of the top schools of the Shinto period. It was founded by Hashimoto Shinzaemon who was of the samurai class, in the far south of Japan, on the island of Kyushu. He signed swords under the name Tadayoshi, taking the Tada from his teacher Umetada Myoju. The Hizen school was sponsored by the Nabeshima daimyo and starting with Shodai Tadayoshi made custom works that were presented to daimyo and took on a high reputation throughout Japan for high quality work. Shodai Tadayoshi was granted the title Musashi no Daijo. Musashi is the province for the Tokugawa capital Edo, and this can be seen as a way of saying his fame had reached the top circles of the capital. He changed his name from Tadayoshi to Tadahiro when this happened.

Before he died, he trained many master smiths and his own son, who took over the school at the age of 19. The second generation Tadayoshi took his father's final name Tadahiro, and later on was granted the title of Omi no Daijo, and we usually refer to him using this title as a nickname (Omi Daijo).

The 2nd generation Tadayoshi, Omi Daijo is the most prolific of all Shinto smiths, for various reasons. The first is that he inherited a well regarded and fully functional school at a very young age. So he had the good fortune of having master smiths around him to further his education and make works for the school. He went on to live a long and productive life, making swords all the way up to 80 years old. Due to the high quality of the works and his long lifespan, we see many of these today. Of all Shinto smiths with Juyo Token works to their name, Omi Daijo ranks first with 134 total. He is also sixth on the list of individual smiths by Juyo count.

It can be said that he forged the finest jihada amongst the first three generations [of the Hizen school]. Tanobe Michihiro, NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi Katana

Omi Daijo had a son by the name of Shinzaburo in 1637. He was raised into the Hizen school and learned to make swords under the teaching of his father and Hizen Masahiro. He would go on to sign swords using his grandfather's initial mei of Tadayoshi.

Through his career he made some swords under his father's name, and these are particularly skillful and usually as good as the best Omi Daijo blades or better. There are also some he signed jointly signed with his teachers, and then his own work signed as an individual which begin to appear around 1660 which corresponds to the time he was granted the title of Mutsu no Daijo. In 1662 his title was upgraded to Mutsu no Kami. As a result we often refer to him either as Sandai Tadayoshi or else as Mutsu no Kami as a nickname. Mutsu province is in the far north of Japan and the implication here is that this title was in recognition of a country-wide regard for his skill.

The works of the 1st TADAYOSHI and those of the 3rd MUTSU no KAMI are most sought after. Albert Yamanaka, Nihonto Newsletters

Fujishiro ranks Mutsu no Kami as Jo-jo saku, which is the same ranking as his father Omi Daijo, and both are one level below the first generation who has Sai-jo saku ranking. However, in practice the works of Mutsu no Kami are on a par with the best works of the Shodai and his Juyo and Tokubetsu Juyo rankings illustrate this. There are 54 blades of his that have passed Juyo, 9 of which went on to pass Tokubetsu Juyo which is a very high ratio of about 17%... especially for a Shinto smith. When we compare this to his father, only 2 of Omi Daijo's work have passed Tokuju (which is still remarkable for a Shinto smith) out of the 136 that passed Juyo. So it shows relatively the skill level is a lot higher with Mutsu no Kami. When we look at Shodai Tadayoshi we see that 101 blades have passed Juyo and 7 of those have passed Tokubetsu Juyo, so that is about 7% and shows that the third generation has the most Tokubetsu Juyo while having the least Juyo of the three smiths. This means his work is both rare, and on average, higher quality than either of the master smiths that came before him when we examine them as a body of work.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi Katana

All of the Hizen smiths are well known for having great cutting ability. Wazamono rankings are records established by Edo period cutting masters who were given the right to experiment and test sword sharpness on the bodies of executed criminals. They often recorded the performance of a blade on the nakago and kept records of the smiths with the best performing works. Since this was real use and a sword could be broken or damaged, Koto treasure swords were not frequently tested.

However, there are generally twelve smiths who are placed in the top category of cutting ability: Sai-jo O-wazamono. Half of these are Koto smiths, and half are Shinto smiths. Of the Shinto smiths, as we could probably guess Kotetsu and his student Okimasa hold two spots, and the other four are the first generation Sukehiro, Sendai Kunikane, Shodai Tadayoshi and Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi. So with this smith we see a rare combination of a very high quality ranking and top level cutting ability.

Hizen swords were expensive. This school brought a lot of revenue to the Nabeshima's domain, who were particularly smart in the management of the local economy.

Another example: in the fifth year of Genna (元和, 1619) Tamiya Heibei Shigemasa (田宮平兵衛重正), the founder of the Tamiya school of swordsmanship (Tamiya-ryū, 田宮流), ordered a blade by Hizen Tadayoshi (肥前忠吉) who charged the very high amount of 100 kan, so 100.000 copper coins. Thereupon Heibei resigned his post with the Ikeda family (池田) and had to change his employer two to three times. He ended up finally with the wealthy Owari-Tokugawa family. It took him fully four years to raise the sum for his blade! Markus Sesko, Legends and Stories about the Japanese Sword

Markus cites by reference that the equivalent of a night in a five star hotel would cost about 200 coins and a liter of sake about 20. So these coins are almost equivalent today to dollars, and it can be seen from this that Hizen works have held their value pretty well.

Detail of Tokubetsu Hozon Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi Katana

Some of the Sandai’s blades were made better than those by Tadayoshi 1st, and he produced some astounding works. Of all the Tadayoshi, some would say that he was the most skilled and Hawley rates him at the highest level of all. Roger Robertshaw, The School of Hizen Tadayoshi

Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi died young at the age of 50 in 1686, and his own father continued on making swords past Mutsu no Kami's death. For this reason as well as the fact that his own output went into supporting his father, Mutsu no Kami's individually made swords are particularly rare. They are even more so in contrast with the long and productive career of his father.

Of his work, his suguba is considered to be finest quality possible and that he was one of the top masters of this style. Just over half of Mutsu no Kami's Juyo work is in suguba. They represent the archetype of the Hizen blade, which takes its form from the work style of Rai Kunimitsu. Hizen katana are signed on the tachi side, which makes them unusual and it is possibly this relationship to koto Rai which inspired this. Even though they were signed as tachi, they were used as katana so we continue to call them katana. Early Hizen blades also frequently carry a lower mekugiana to be mounted with two pegs in the nakago, or have a second mekugiana drilled for mounting into tachi as well as katana mounts. This may also show some implication about why the Tadayoshi line signed in tachi mei, if their blades were frequently used for formal dress with tachi koshirae.

On the whole, [his works] will greatly resemble those of the 1st Tadayoshi, and in some instances, there are those made well which will surpass the works of the 1st Tadayoshi. Albert Yamanaka, Nihonto Newsletters

Mutsu no Kami also worked in midareba and these works are quite exciting and flamboyant. This style is probably taught to him by Masahiro who worked in it frequently, though we see these among the work of Omi Daijo as well. While suguba is the archetype, the midareba blades are quite exciting and frequently more popular with collectors

Tokubetsu Hozon Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi KatanaMutsu no Kami Tadayoshi Katana OrigamiMutsu no Kami Tadayoshi Katana L MenukiMutsu no Kami Tadayoshi Katana R Menuki

Tokubetsu Hozon Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi Katana

Mutsu no Kami made two classes of katana, one is about a standard size Shinto katana around 70 cm long, and a bit less frequently a long size katana that are around 75 cm. This is the second category: a brilliant long blade by this smith. The papers are from Heisei 29 (March, 2017). So it has not been around the block at all and I acquired it shortly after it papered.

It is in an excellent state of polish without any uchiko damage (thank god) and shows off all the highlights of this smith's skill perfectly. The tight forging he is known for is present here and the jihada is filled with small chikei which were generally quite difficult for Shinto smiths to pull off. The hamon is bright and vibrant midareba and is the style inherited through Masahiro. Due to the length of the blade and the rarity of this maker, it makes for a very precious item and a great example to own in a collection that desires a single high class Shinto example.

At the time the Toranba style of Sukehiro was quite popular and I think this in general was the Hizen smiths response to that. This blade has a mirror hamon and there are four tama, one each floating above the boshi and one each in the bottom quarter of the blade.

About 15% of the blades by the first three Hizen smiths that passed Juyo carry these extra mekugiana. Some were an extra hole placed below the katana mekugiana for tachi mounting it seems, and a lower hole was often placed in order to run an extra mekugi for extra security of the blade. This one carries both, and this is sometimes seen. It can be hard now to determine if the extra hole was for mounting a different katana koshirae later on, but as these seem quite common with Hizen blades I think it is fair to assume that this was being done for a reason rather than random remounting later on its lifetime. The tachi mekugiana on this sword was plugged a long time ago.

This sword, according to Tanobe sensei, is signed with a style referred to as hachimutsumei which refers to the shape of the first character in Mutsu. This signing habit he picked up toward the end of his career so we can date this blade to the last part of his production.

This blade is accompanied by high quality Higo mounts. A couple of things to note on the Tadayoshi koshirae, the tsuka has the menuki positioned opposite to what we normally see. These are set to be placed in the palms when the sword is held in the hands. some ryuha prefer it this way, such as Jigen-ryu and Yagyu. It is something that we see on Higo koshirae such as this. The warikogai with the inome (boars eye) is also emblematic of Higo style. The tsukamaki has been lacquered in the Edo period, and there is a small amount of age related damage here that can be left as is just fine, or repaired with a bit of work, as this kind of tsukamaki can't really be done anymore. It seems to be a linen wrap that has been lacquered. Under the ito instead of samegawa are iron plates with gold zogan which compliment the tiger menuki perfectly.

I guarantee Tokubetsu Hozon papers for this koshirae. In particular the menuki need to be looked at as they seem to be quite exceptionally good, and to my (admittedly not expert tosogu) eye, look like earlier Yokoya school.

Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi Katana Koshirae LeftMutsu no Kami Tadayoshi Katana Koshirae RightMutsu no Kami Tadayoshi Katana TsukaMutsu no Kami Tadayoshi Katana Kojiri
Torokusho (License)
Torokusho (License)

This blade was licensed on Showa 26, which is the first year of the sword licensing regime, and it was performed in Tokyo. As such it has a very low license number. These are turned in when the sword is exported from Japan, but I kept a color copy of this one. Licensing began with daimyo collections in order to set precedent and to demonstrate it was not a procedure to round up and confiscate swords. So this 1952 license is usually a sign that the blade was held by some daimyo family, but it's difficult now to determine which without deep research.

Overall this is a pretty exciting piece and by one of the top Shinto makers, with excellent koshirae and being very long, it is a really good item to add as a Shinto example to a collection of any level.

Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi Katana Sayagaki


This sword bears an extensive inscription (sayagaki) by Tanobe Michihiro sensei who cites it as masterwork. He is the retired former head researcher of the Nippon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK).

  1. 肥前國陸奥守忠吉
    Hizen no Kuni Mutsu no Kami Tadayoshi
  2. 生茎九字銘アリテ陸ノ字形ハチムツ銘也
    Ubu-nakago kuji-mei arite Mutsu no jikei “Hachimutsu-mei“ nari.
    It has an ubu-nakago with a nine characters signature. The interpretation of the character for Mu in Mutsu identifies the signature as a so-called Hachimutsu-mei.
  3. 同工ハ直刃ヲ最モ得意 トシ他ニ乱刃モ上手ナリテ後者ニハ稍小模様ノ足長丁子ト本作ノ如 キ稍大模様ノ団子風ノ丁子ヲ焼ク手ガ見ラル
    Dōkō wa suguha o mottomo tokui to shi hoka ni midareba mo jōzu narite kōsha ni wa yaya ko-moyō no ashinaga-chōji to honsaku no gotoki yaya ō-moyō no dango-fū no chōji o yakute ga mirare
    The strongest point of this smith was a suguha but he also worked very skillfully in midareba. In the case of a midareba, the ha is either interpreted as a rather small dimensioned ashinaga-chōji or like here as a rather large dimensioned dango-style chōji.
  4. 本刀ハ小糠肌ノ鍛ヘト動勢ニ富ム乱刃ガ見事デ地刃共ニ明ルク 冴ヘ同工ノ真面目ヲ存分ニ示ス優品也
    Hontō wa konuka-hada no kitae to dōsei ni tomu midareba ga migoto de jiba tomo ni akaruku sae dōkō no shinmenmoku o zonbun ni shimesu yūhin nari.
    This blade shows a kitae in konuka-hada and a magnificent, very vivid midareba. The jiba is bright and clear and thus we have here a masterwork that fully reflects the true character of this smith.
  5. 長貮尺四寸七分
    Nagasa 2 shaku 4 sun 7 bu
    Blade length ~ 74.8 cm
  6. 時在平成丙申極月
    Jizai Heisei hinoe-saru gokugetsu
    in December of the year of the monkey of the Heisei era (2016)
  7. 探山邉道識
    Tanzan Hendō shirusu + kaō
    Written by Tanzan Hendō