Shibata Ka KatanaShibata Ka

periodShowa: 1945
meiKoki nisen roku hyaku go nen go gatsu niju shichi nichi - Ka
2605th year of the Empire, May 27th [1945]
urameiUmi yukaba miduku kabane
Yama yukaba kusamusu kabane
Ohkimi no he ni koso shiname kaerimi wa seji.
nakagoubu, one mekugiana
nagasa66.4 cm

Swordsmiths should not take easy options by making the excuse that we are only making art swords and not weapons. [...] Shibata Ka of Akita prefecture researched jigane thoroughly and succeeded in forging a jigane that was mistaken for that of the Kamakura period and emulated by no other smiths of the Showa era. When we have a look at his extant works today, they remind us of the great resolution he had in sword forging. Amada Akitsugu, Ningen Kokuho (Living National Treasure Swordsmith)

[Ka] has had an interest in swordsmiths since childhood, and has grasped it by studying alone. His works are o-midare, o-itame, and he has made many blades which closely resemble those of Hankei. Fujishiro Yoshio, Nihon Token Jiten

Shibata Ka was born with the name Shibata Masataro, and comes from Nishimonai, Ugo-machi in Akita prefecture. He began his study of sword forging in an unusual way: he was self taught, and received some assistance in this first from Sato Shigenori and then later on by Miyaguchi Toshihiro.

Ka was what we would refer to as a renaissance man. He was born into wealth, was a martial artist and swordsman, schooled at university, was a sculptor and painter, and took elected office as well. Though he was a man of means, he also took up commission in the Army repairing swords on the front lines during the China campaign.

Fascinated with swords since his childhood, Ka became a diligent researcher and complimented his swordsmith training by establishing an excellent collection of swords that he used as a study library. In order to increase his knowledge he also took up the study of kantei under the famous polisher and sword scholar Honami Koson. This multifaceted approach of studying kantei, collecting and studying swords, and the pursuit of excellence in the skill of forging combined with his drive to duplicate masterpieces of the koto period to produce works that simply stood apart from the crowd. Even the great smiths of the era did not produce work that was anything like what came from the hammer of Shibata Ka: in his pursuit of the old koto swords, he was peerless.

The following story from Kokan Nagayama further illuminates the subject. Kokan Nagayama was a polishing student of Honami Koson and would go on to become a Ningen Kokuho himself (and currently the only Living National Treasure polisher). The anecdote follows:

Shibata Ka, who was also a famous sword collector and was learning kantei from Koson, made two tanto for him in commemoration of the 2,600th Imperial Year (1940). A flaw came out on one of the tanto during its groundwork so Koson gave it to me. I did the groundwork of the tanto at night and was able to eventually remove the flaw, and the blade showed beautiful workmanship after I had finished it.

No one attributes this tanto to gendaito whenever it is used for kantei at a sword meeting. Many people mistake it for a classic tanto of the Kamakura period such as a Shintogo Kunimitsu. Shibata diligently undertook unique research into sword forging and was one of the few swordsmiths who came to grips with the jigane of fine old swords. It might have been possible for him to carry out research that was different from other swordsmiths as his collection included many classic swords. Some people said that he altered old swords and put his signature on the tangs but this is not true. I can recognize his characteristic habits of forging in the jigane of his blades.

Shinsakuto of that time were generally very difficult to polish with the exception of those of Shibata Ka. Kokan Nagayama (Living Nationa Treasure Polisher)

Fujishiro's Nihon Toko Jiten is the sword bible that is indispensable to collectors all over the world. It was written by the great expert Fujishiro Yoshio in the Showa period, and has been updated several times since. No sword I list goes onto my site without first consulting what Fujishiro Yoshio has had to say about the smith, and it is rare that he chooses to list a contemporary smith to mention. A quick check shows only 11 that he considered worthy of mention: Watanabe Kanenaga, Miyaguchi Yasuhiro, Sakurai Masatsugu, Miyairi Akihira, Hikosaburo Akihide, Gassan Sadakatsu, Takahashi Sadatsugu, Gassan Sadamitsu (Nidai Gassan Sadaichi*), Kasama Shigetsugu, Horii Toshihide, and Shibata Ka.

As Miyairi Akihira, Takahashi Sadatsugu and Gassan Sadaichi would go on to become the first three of the six total Ningen Kokuho (Living National Treasure) swordsmiths, it is clear that Fujishiro chose to list only those swordsmiths that were in his opinion of considerable skill... an opinion that seems to have born out rather prophetically.

What is also interesting to note is that one of the examples that Fujishiro placed in his book carries the inscription: Tame Fujishiro Yoshio Kun Mane Soden Yuki... a custom work of the Soshu Den made to order for Mr. Fujishiro Yoshio, indicating that his appreciation for the work of Shibata Ka was more than scholarly but he was enthusiastic for the smith's work.

It should be very clear from the level of these commentators and the comments themselves that the advanced work of this swordsmith at the height of his learning is extraordinary in all senses of the word. I do wish to draw attention to the fact that Nagayama sensei stated above that that particular tanto was mistaken for the work of Shintogo Kunimitsu. Shintogo is the founder of the Soshu tradition and the teacher of Masamune. He is often considered to be the foremost maker of tanto to have lived, if second to anyone, only Yoshimitsu. For someone who has spent their career trying to emulate old works, in particular those of the Soshu tradition, there can be no higher praise than to have a tanto be judged as a Shintogo Kunimitsu.

Shibata Ka passed out of this world in March of 1953. He was a true original and a fascinating man; a unique player in the world of Nihonto. It's not clear how much longer he continued to forge swords past the US occupation of Japan. This could be one of the last works he left. I haven't seen dates later than this one.

Umi Yukaba

This tachi shown here has the Umi Yukaba song on the uramei side. The title means Going Out to Sea and it was the anthem of the Imperial Japanese Navy during WWII. It is a sad song with a mournful tune and was often sung on the decks of aircraft carriers when kamikaze pilots took off on their last missions. The lyrics come from a poem written in 749AD by Otomo no Yakamochi in the Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves), which represents the earliest recorded poetry in Japanese literature.

He usually just signed his work as Ka or Shibata Ka, so this is an interesting addition to the sword. It reads:

Umi yukabaIf I go away to sea,
Miduku kabaneI shall return a corpse awash;
Yama yukabaif duty calls me to the mountain,
Kusamusu kabanea verdant sward shall be my pall.
Ohkimi no henThus for the sake of the emperor,
Ni koso shinameI will not die
Kaerimi wa sejipeacefully at home.

Considering the date (May of 1945) with Japan facing inevitable defeat, this blade struck with the 2605th year of the empire and the Umi Yukaba embraces duty and destiny with a spirit of quiet dignity, loyalty and courage. Ka hammered out this blade as the Japanese army was forced to give ground inch by inch in its desperate and losing battle for Okinawa, and the major cities of Japan lie about him burned and ruined by allied bombing runs. I find that it resonates very strongly in this manner, especially given the patriotic service that Ka performed in government and as a soldier. Surely the end was near, and this blade was made with that knowledge full in mind.

In other regards, it appears to me to be a good copy of the hamon of Fukuoka Ichimonji, a choji midare that I have always felt captured the feeling of flames beautifully. In this regard, this sword does not dissapoint in emulating the Ichimonji smiths. The hamon is intricate and beautiful. Filled with ashi, yo, and gentle kinsuji and sunagashi, it is fully worthy of hours of study. Though there are a couple of kitae ware, the jigane is also remarkable and in keeping with his reputation. It is beautifully done in a smallish itame, exhibiting chikei throughout and a marked contrast in the layers of steel.

As the work of Shibata Ka is quite rare as well as exceptional, it is highly sought after by collectors (in particular) of gendai blades. I can, without any reservation at all, recommend this sword as a rare and fine example of the best work of this period to all sword collectors. It is difficult for Gendai blades to receive papers above the Hozon level at the NBTHK. In spite of this, I believe this sword with its quality and unusually detailed nakago would be a good candidate for these high papers.

In closing I guarantee papers for this blade with the NBTHK or NTHK/Yoshikawa branch or a 100% refund, and this guarantee has no termination date. I should be involved in the submission process though.

Shibata Ka Katana Ka Book

Contemporary Swordsmith Directory

The following is the translation from an entry of an old Japanese book on contemporary swordsmiths of the Showa period. You can click on it for the full page.

Shibata Ka (real name Masataro)
Nishimonai, Ogachi-gun, Akita Prefecture

Known as the shining star of the world of contemporary Japanese swordsmiths, Shibata Ka was born into the wealthy Shibata family in the town of Nishimonai in Ogachi County, Akita Prefecture in 1887. From childhood, Shibata indulged in sophisticated hobbies such as swordsmanship, martial arts, painting and the like, and after graduating from his hometown's junior high school, packed his bags and set off to Tokyo to study for several years before returning home, where he looked after his family's estate. It was there that interested parties gathered to recommend Shibata as a candidate representative in the prefectural assembly, and after being successfully elected, his earnest endeavors and achievements in local government earned him the respect and thanks of the citizens of the prefecture.

Through his participation in local government, Shibata was able to demonstrate he was more than just the son of a wealthy family. However, the adoration born from his unusual childhood interest in Japanese swords was at that time reaching a climax, prompting Shibata to establish his own sword forge within the family home, where he gathered swordsmith apprentices to carry out research while at the same time devoting his own skills to the art of sword-making. Shibata devised a unique forging method, which incorporated the merits of Yamatoden and Soden with passion, and succeeded in creating a sword of elaborate beauty. The sword was entered into the Imperial Art Academy Exhibition, where its selection as a prize-winning exhibit shot Shibata to further fame and glory.

Under the instruction of Kurihara Hikosaburo, Shibata endeavored to further increase his expertise, and trained a great number of students while tirelessly continuing his research into the forging of swords. In particular, Shibata's attempt to perfect his own first-class traditions was a truly commendable feat. Shibata was also fond of sculpture, and in this field too, he possessed outstanding skills.

Shibata went on to participate in an on-site military sabre repair unit organized by Kurihara, serving as second-in-command on the front lines of China, where his distinguished services were recognized by all.

Note: these photos are old and come from a day in the middle of my own self taught photography process. I will update these shortly with modern photos. I have been sitting on this sword for a long time, and only make it for sale reluctantly now.