Osafune Motoshige KatanaOsafune Motoshige

periodNanbokucho
designationNBTHK Tokubetsu Juyo Token Katana
ratingJo-jo saku, Sai-jo O-wazamono
nakagoo-suriage mumei (kiritsuke-mei)
kiritsuke-mei永正十八年六月十二日 – Eishō jūhachinen rokugatsu jūninichi
越前朝倉貞景末子 – Echizen Asakura Sadakage masshi
景春討取林元勝重代 – Kageharu uchitoru Hayashi Motokatsu jūdai
For the successive generations of Hayashi Motokatsu who, with this sword, killed the youngest son of Echizen Asakura Sadakage on the twelfth day of the sixth month of Eishō 18 (1521)
nagasa71.8 cm
sori2.0 cm
motohaba3.0 cm
sakihaba2.45 cm
kissaki4.65 cm
nakago nagasa22.8 cm
nakago sori0.2 cm
price -sold-

The juncture of the Kamakura and Nambokucho periods is one of the crucial times for the Japanese sword. There was a great amount of change in the air, as the tachi sugata began to lengthen and widen, and the kissaki elongated. Tanto also stretched into wakizashi, and the Soshu den spread out from Sagami province and down the roads into almost every forge in the land.

Because of the dramatic change in the style, it becomes difficult to determine generational information for smiths who may have one leg in one period, the the other in the next. Long lived smiths can be easily mistaken for two generations, or vice versa. Motoshige is one of these examples, and it is claimed that he worked as a swordsmith for over 50 years running.

The oldest Motoshige work is found in the late Kamakura period. There is a Juyo Token tanto bearing a date of 1316, and the youngest Juyo work has a date of 1365 and this fully supports the claims of a 50 year work span. Fujishiro says that he used the name Okura no Suke in his works but we don't see this on any remaining swords.

Osafune Motoshige Katana Ko Motoshige

Ko-Motoshige

There is some confusion over how many generations there are of Motoshige. In reading many reliable authors, we come to the impression that Ko-Motoshige is the first generation of Osafune Motoshige and this is not the case. After I wrote my Bizen book I mentioned Ko-Motoshige in context of a 1318 dated tanto I had by Motoshige and Tanobe sensei corrected me. He said that Ko-Motoshige is most likely an Aoe smith and has nothing to do with the Osafune line. This thinking is shown in a kantei item in the NBTHK Token Bijutsu fairly recently.

... it is believed today a smith called Ko-Motoshige who signs in large two characters has nothing to do with Osafune Motoshige. Please make a notice that this is to be the last time to have given ‘Atari’ to the votes for ‘Ko-Motoshige’ [when early Osafune Motoshige work is being considered -db] NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Authors such as Fujishiro and Nagayama have made this mistake as well, but the extended number of study pieces available in the current day have allowed us to separate out Ko-Motoshige from the Osafune line and it is just coincidence that these names overlap. So please be aware when reading these reference works that they are all now considered out of date and incorrect in how they utilize the Ko-Motoshige moniker (my own past writing included).

The fact that Ko-Motoshige does exist and was conflated with the earliest work of Osafune Motoshige is what gave energy to the theory that there were two Osafune generations at work. Once we remove Ko-Motoshige from the Osafune line, we are left with what seems to be a single smith with a long work span. He begins work a bit before Kanemitsu and works just as long.

Detail of Tokubetsu Juyo Osafune Motoshige Katana

All of these Nanbokucho period Bizen smiths saw a radical change in style between in the early Nanbokucho period as they began to make wide, magnificent blades with O-kissaki. That style change in past centuries was fuel for various theories about second-generation smiths. Out of that we got a Nidai Kanemitsu and a Nidai Motoshige and so forth. With more examples available to study in public it has become clear that this is most likely a style change that swept through many swordsmiths around the same time in a need to make these swords which were originally very large tachi. This coincided with the peak uniqueness of the Soshu tradition and its spillover into Yamashiro and Bizen traditions. Smiths like Kanemitsu and Motoshige were affected if not directly connected to the Soshu revolution.

Osafune Motoshige

Dr. Honma seems to have made the first efforts to try to sort out this Motoshige problem though he continued to back two Osafune generations as a theory contrary to Fujishiro. He continued to think of Osafune Motoshige as two generations however, as well as Ko-Motoshige being a third and unrelated smith. The most modern thinking however is that there is Ko-Motoshige, and Osafune Motoshige, two smiths only with no connection between them. The question of whether Motoshige should be split into two generations in Osafune is marked down as debatable, but without direct evidence for two generations other than a style change (found in many smiths) and a long work span (found in many smiths), the best thinking is that it is simply one long lived smith who made these Motoshige blades.

Late Morishige and early Motoshige in Kagemitsu style 1316 dates
Late Morishige and early Motoshige in Kagemitsu style 1316 dates

Different from this, there is a tanto with a nenki of SHOWA GONEN (1316) in which both the deki of the jiba and the mei style resemble those of KAGEMITSU, and this is considered to be the shodai [i.e. Shodai Osafune Motoshige -db]. Also, there are nenki of KAN'O (1350-1352) and ENBUN (1356-1361) in items that are thought to be by the nidai. As for the rare sighting of the SOSHU DEN in the jiba, these are by the nidai. Dr. Honma Junji, Nihonto Koza

This tanto has an early date for his work, and is dated Showa 5 nen. It shows his typical style and this is an important piece for the study of Motoshige’s work. Motoshige’s father Morishige has a tanto similar to this tanto, and at the top of the hamon there are long kaku-gunome (square gunome) and it is dated Showa 5. Also, Moriie who is supposed to be Morishige’s father (and Motoshige’s grandfather) has a tanto with a midare hamon similar to these with kaku-gunome mixed with kataochi-gunome and gunome. NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Due to the long work span of Motoshige, older work has sometimes been thought to be done by a Shodai Motoshige and these resemble the work of Bizen Kagemitsu in general. Later work is Soshu and Aoe influenced and these works have a more magnificent shape and have been thought to be a nidai. Fujishiro however supports the single smith theory and as of late Motoshige and Kanemitsu have both been considered to be a single generation affected by changes in the general style of the Nanbokucho period. The mei size changes that support the two smith theory are actually explained with the shrinking width of the shinogi line in Nanbokucho work that adopts Soshu styles. Since the mei did not shrink on tanto and wakizashi it is best explained as being related to sugata change rather than generational change of smiths.

Detail of Tokubetsu Juyo Osafune Motoshige Katana

Osafune Motoshige has blades dated from Showa 5 (1316) to Joji 2 (1363), and because 50 years is a long working lifetime, there are two opinions: one is that he was one person, and another opinion is that he was actually 2 smiths working over two generations, and we still do not have a clear conclusion. There are some examples however: the Yamashiro smith Rai Kunitoshi signed a blade stating that he was 75, and the Yamato smith Shikkake Norinaga signed stating that he was 69, and from these, Motoshige’s half century of work might not be unusual.

His hamon from the beginning to his last work were a continuous regular square gunome hamon, and there are not very big differences from early his work to his later work. Because of the different sizes of his signatures (large and small), there are opinions that his work was made by a shodai and nidai smith. However, around the Koei to Jowa eras, there was a transitional period, and the usual tachi shape changed to have a wide mihaba, a long kissaki shape, and the width of the shinogi ji changed from wide to narrow, and the size of the signature also changed along with the change in the shape. There are examples of this change in the work of other smiths from the same area: Kanemitsu, Chikakage, and Motoshige’s young brother Shigezane changed the size of their signatures, and from this, it would be a sound opinion to believe that Motoshige’s work represents that of a single smith.

There is a book “Kanchiin hon Mei Zukushi” which was written in the same era as Morishige and Motoshige’s active period (there were three generations of smiths: Moriie, Morishige, and Motoshige), and around Morishige’s time the book mentions “Goro Moriie” and Motoshige was described as “the son of Morishige”, and from these comments, Motoshige’s line of ancestry seems to be correct. NBTHK Token Bijutsu

Detail of Tokubetsu Juyo Osafune Motoshige Katana

Motoshige had a younger brother Shigezane, and his father was Morishige, the son of Hatakeda Moriie, one of the great middle Kamakura smiths. The Hatakeda and Osafune schools seem to have merged at the end of the Kamakura period and Morishige became a student of Nagamitsu. Since Nagamitsu's son is Kagemitsu, young Motoshige would have been in the same workshop as Kagemitsu when Kagemitsu was at his peak and likely studied under him given the similar styles they had at the end of the Kamakura period.

Osafune Motoshige Katana Soshu Style

Work Style and Sadamune San Saku

In the case of Motoshige, his work style is somewhat distinct from the other Osafune smiths, showing strong influence from Aoe and Soshu schools after his transition from Kagemitsu style. A small number of his works seem to be entirely in Soshu den without a trace of Bizen. These later period works were made larger in Nanbokucho style so almost all of them have been shortened and lost their signatures. Tanto are in the minority as well, and among these the greater portion are the elongated works of the Nanbokucho period that are over one shaku in length.

His exceptional features are: 1) strong ha-nie, prominent kinsuji and sunagashi hataraki, strongly influenced by the Soshu Den style; 2) suguha mixed with kaku-gunome and saka-ashi; 3) the entire hamon is a suguha style mixed with ko-gunome, ko-choji, square gunome, and there are saka-ashi which he made on and off throughout his career. But many of his signed works have continuous kaku-gunome hamon. NBTHK Token Bijutsu

The work style of Motoshige also tends to show jifu mixed with midare utsuri which means with the later work of Motoshige, it is possible to see a combination of features normally found in Ko-Bizen, Osafune Bizen, Soshu and Aoe all mixed together. The Soshu elements and the rare pure Soshu works are cited as evidence supporting the old stories that Motoshige was one of the Sadamune Santetsu — Three Disciples of Soshu Sadamune — along with Nobukuni and Tanshu Kunimitsu). Viewing the oshigata of one of these works like the Juyo Bunkazai one to the right, which even includes mitsu-mune, makes it very hard to deny his Soshu connection and this particular piece speaks strongly toward study under Soshu Sadamune.

In these Soshu style works his nie are quite prominent and sometimes we see works with clear chikei and this also shows some connection to the smiths of Soshu. He is known as well for powerful and perfect shapes in his blades, as well as an excellent balance between the hamon and mihaba in his work.

Unlike the other Osafune smiths inheriting the style of Kagemitsu, the and the flat-topped saka-gunome found in his hamon are connected like they are dashes made in an extended line. In comparison, those of Kanemitsu and Kagemitsu tend to be somewhat slanted and clustered closer together.

While the early NBTHK seemed to lean towards the “two smith” theory on Motoshige, Fujishiro usually sides with “one smith” theories and does in this case. As of late, NBTHK documents and articles also have settled on the single smith theory for Motoshige. Fujishiro rates Motoshige at Jo-jo saku for extremely superior quality of work. Motoshige is also legendary for the cutting prowess of his blades, and is one of only fourteen smiths to have achieved a rating of Sai-jo O-wazamono for supreme level of sharpness when assessed by the Edo period cutting testers. Yamanaka notes that the oldest blade with a cutting test on it that he encountered, is a Motoshige.

Detail of Tokubetsu Juyo Osafune Motoshige Katana

To date there are 134 blades signed or attributed to Motoshige which have passed Juyo, and 18 of these have gone on to pass Tokubetsu Juyo. There are another 8 Juyo Bijutsuhin, and 5 Juyo Bunkazai. His work is found as well in the Tokyo National Museum, and all of this testifies to his great skill and fame as a master swordsmith. As well in the Tokugawa Jikki there are noted Motoshige gifts to and from the Shogun to prominent daimyo, which indicates the appreciation for his work during the Edo period.

Tokubetsu Juyo Token Osafune Motoshige Katana

Tokubetsu Juyo Token Osafune Motoshige Katana

This is easily one of the best swords I have had the privilege to have on my website. In terms of shape, this blade exceeds in its perfection all other blades I have seen. There is quiet dignity in the hamon and it settles on a clearly Soshu derived jihada that is filled with chikei, and coated with ji nie that reflect back many colors to the eye. Furthermore the blade is in mint condition apart from the state of suriage, and the shape is masculine and powerful while remaining in perfect balance with the hamon and shortened length. Because the sugata seems well preserved it indicates that the blade was not considerably shortened, and it seems to be one of the earlier examples of the magnificent Nanbokucho sugata with o-kissaki. There is no weak point to this perfectly made and preserved blade, and if I were to choose one out of all the blades I have had on my site since its inception to wear and use, this would be the one.

This blade has a kiritsuke-mei which is a memorial inscription. In 1521 a bushi named Hayashi Motokatsu killed Asakura Kageharu in battle with this sword. Kageharu was one of the sons of Asakura Sadakage, the 9th head of the clan and daimyo of Echizen. He died in 1512, and Asakura Takakage was the head of the clan at the time (he was the 8th son of Sadakage).

The Hayashi clan were retainers of the Oda clan, who were opponents of the Asakura and of course the most famous of the Oda daimyo was Nobunaga who was responsible for the early steps of unifying Japan into one nation. The Hayashi operated out of Owari and the Asakura under Yoshikage, the nephew of Kageharu who was killed with this sword, would go on to be defeated by Oda Nobunaga by way of the earlier military exploits of his vassal Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1570 at the Battle of Anegawa and the clan subsequently was extinguished.

It is of course extremely rare to encounter a historical inscription like this, as so much history tends to be lost by the time blades get to us in the modern day. This blade was intended to go down in history as property of the Hayashi clan, and evidently after making this inscription on the blade it was retired and this helps explain the immaculate condition of this blade today. The historical importance as well of this inscription is that it indicates that even with good smiths available to make swords in Bizen during the Muromachi period, there was a desire to shorten and use Nanbokucho masterworks in battle. As well, in the words of one of my friends in Japan, “It's better than a cutting test, to know who the blade cut.”

Another interesting thing to note is that the nakago is kengyo-jiri. This associated with Soshu-den works of Masamune, Go Yoshihiro and Sadamune. This inscription helps us date when this was adopted into this blade, around 150 years after the time of Sadamune. Usually when we see this on Soshu-related blades it allows us to perceive the thinking at the time of shortening. I have seen this twice on Samonji blades in all of the Juyo and Tokuju works, and on those two blades, one was a suguba tanto with beautiful jihada that looked like Sadamune, and the other was a katana owned by the Date daimyo clan that had a very wide hamon in the monouchi and looked like Go Yoshihiro as a result. This blade with the ko-nie in the hamon and the vivid chikei throughout the blade, and only faint utsuri, is strongly Soshu styled and I think this kengyo-jiri reflects a belief during its use by Hayashi Motokatsu that it was work of Soshu Sadamune. Another possibility is that the connection to Soshu Sadamune by way of Motoshige being a student was honored by adopting the kengyo nakago jiri. It is though something important to note, when we see this kind of finishing, that it connects the blade somehow to Masamune, Sadamune or Go.

I acquired this sword in the summer of 2018 in Japan, and I was so in love with the blade that I forgot to check and arrange a sayagaki for it. I will get a sayagaki done for the new owner at my expense if it's desired.

Osafune Motoshige Katana Oshigata

Juyo Token Katana

Appointed on the 1st of June, 1970 (Session 19)

Katana, Mumei, Osafune Motoshige

Keijo

shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, ō-suriage, rather deep sori, noticeably elongated chū-kissaki

Kitae

dense itame with ji-nie and some utsuri

Hamon

ko-notare in nioi-deki with ko-nie that is mixed with a uniform gunome0midare, chōji, many ashi, and sunagashi

Boshi

shallow notare with a rather pointed kaeri

Horimono

on both sides a bōhi that runs with kaki-tōshi through the tang

Nakago

ō-suriage, kengyō-jiri, sujikai-yasurime, one mekugi-ana, the sashi-omote side bears on its upper half a two-line, and on its bottom half a one-line kiritsuke-mei

Setsumei

This katana is ō-suriage mumei but matches in terms of shape the tachi-sugata with a wide mihaba, an ō-kissaki, and a shallow sori that is typical for the Nanbokuchō period. Its ha is a ko-notare with ko-nie that is mixed with gunome, chōji, and a few sunagashi, and that overall follows the course of a suguha. The bōshi is notare-komi with a rather pointed kaeri and thus we have here an interpretation that is rather calm for Sōden-Bizen and that attributes to Motoshige.

Osafune Motoshige Katana TokujuOsafune Motoshige Katana Origami

Tokubetsu Juyo Token Katana

Appointed on the 24th of April, 2002 (Session 17)

Katana, Mumei, Osafune Motoshige

Keijo

shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, wide mihaba, no noticeable taper, rather narrow shinogi-ji in relation to the mihaba, thick kasane, relatively deep sori, noticeably elongated chū-kissaki

Kitae

overall rather standing-out itame that is mixed with mokume and that features ji-nie, much chikei, and a very faint utsuri

Hamon

suguha-chō to slightly undulating notare in nioi-deki with ko-nie and a bright and clear nioiguchi that is mixed with gunome, ko-gunome, angular gunome, chõji, many ashi, some saka-ashi, kinsuji, and sunagashi

Boshi

shallow notare with a rather pointed kaeri that turns back rather close to the tip

Horimono

on both sides a bōhi that runs with kaki-tōshi through the tang

Nakago

ō-suriage, kengyō-jiri, sujikai-yasurime, one mekugi-ana, mumei, the sashi-omote side bears on its upper half a two-line, and on its bottom half a one-line kiritsuke-mei

Setsumei

Motoshige was a smith who belonged to a different Bizen Osafune lineage than Kanemitsu (兼光) and Chōgi (長義). Extant dated works range from the end of the Kamakura period, i.e. the Shōwa era (正和, 1312-1317), to the mid-Nanbokuchō period, i.e. to the Jōji era (貞治, 1362-1368), and there is the theory that there were two generations Motoshige active over that period of time. The workmanship of Motoshige shows a kitae that is mixed with nagare-masame and/or jifu, a hamon that displays a prominent amount of angular gunome, whose elements slant, that features saka-ashi, , and other elements within the ha, and a bōshi with a pointed kaeri, what speaks on the one hand for an adaption of certain Aoe elements and on the other hand for features also seen at Shigezane (重真) and his group.

This blade has a wide mihaba, does not taper much, and has a prominently elongated chū-kissaki, and these are elements of the magnificent shapes from the heyday of the Nanbokuchō period. The kitae is a rather standing-out itame that is mixed with mokume and that features ji-nie, much chikei, and a very faint utsuri. The hamon is a suguha-chō to slightly undulating notare in nioi-deki with ko-nie that is mixed with gunome, ko-gunome, angular gunome which are partially elongated, chōji, and some saka-ashi whereas we recognize very well the characteristic features of Motoshige. Apart from that, the slightly undulating notare and the Aoe-like pointed bōshi with its kaeri turning back rather close to the tip truly reflects the above-mentioned workmanship whereupon we were in agreement with the attribution to this smith. The ha has many highlights like kinsuji and sunagashi, the nioiguchi is bright and clear, the shape is magnificent, and both ji and ha are perfectly healthy (kenzen), what makes this blade an outstanding masterwork among all works attributed to Motoshige.

Incidentally, the blade bears a kiritsuke-mei which records that in Eishō 18 (1521), Hayashi Motokatsu used it to kill Kageharu, who was the youngest son of [the daimyo] Asakura Sadakage from Echizen.