A brief outline of the changes in workmanship of the later Bizen tradition

I want to continue my last entry with some thoughts on the workmanship of the later Bizen tradition. But first some supplements to the genealogy. „Our“ survivor, i.e. Tôshirô Sukesada, was the successor of Shichirô´emon Sukesada (七郎右衛門祐定) who also beared the first name „Tôshirô“ in early years. This Shichirô´emon Sukesada in turn was the fourth son of the 2nd generation Genbei Sukesada (源兵衛祐定) but was later adopted by his own older brother, the Tenshô-era (天正, 1573-1592) Shichirō´emon Sukesada (七郎右衛門祐定) who worked for Kobayakawa Hideaki. It was this adoption by which Tôshirô´s father changed his name from „Tôshirô“ to „Shichirô´emon“. Incidentally, Genbei Sukesada was after the 1st generation Yosôzaemon (与三左衛門祐定) and the 1st generation Hikobei Sukesada (彦兵衛祐定) the most talented Sukesada smiths of the late Muromachi period.

The first Bizen Sukesada mentioned in the genealogy belonged to the Kozori group whereas the term „Kozori“ itself was and is not exactly defined. It is, grossly simplified, applied more or less to late Nanbokuchô-era Osafune smiths whose affiliation is unknown. The Kozori smiths adopted about the style of the dominating Osafune main line, which was then represented by master Kanemitsu (兼光), but gave it a trend towards the so-called „koshi-no-hiraita gunome-midare“, i.e. a gunome-midare whose bases (koshi, 腰) are noticeably wider (hiraita, 開いた) as the tips (yakigashira, 焼頭). This trend can be seen for example at Kozori Moromitsu (師光, picture 1).


Picture 1: tachi of Kozori Moromitsu dated Eiwa two (永和, 1376)

When the turmoils of the Nanbokuchô era were over, the bushi with their new base in Kyôto again started to focus on the more elegant sword interpretations of the Kamakura period. That means slender and elegant blades came into fashion and this trend was grasped by the young Ôei-Bizen school (応永備前), named after the Ôei era (応永, 1394-1428) it emerged. The Ôei-Bizen smiths oriented themselves towards the glorious Ichimonji style or the style of the Osafune school at its height. But the trend to wider koshi started by the Kozori smiths just before was adopted and refined. We also see a trend towards , that means nioi formations within the ha detached from the habuchi. This feature can be seen on a blade of Ôei-Bizen Morimitsu (盛光, picture 2) for example.


Picture 2: tachi of Ôei-Bizen Morimitsu dated Ôei twelve (1405)

With the Eikyô era (永享, 1429-1441), the individual gunome-midare elements get gradually smaller and more narrow and the valleys go more down towards the ha. As the change in style is quite noticeable, the term „Eikyô-Bizen“ was introduced. Eikyô-Bizen marks about an intermediate step from Ôei-Bizen to Sue-Bizen. Picture 3 shows a blade of Iesuke (家助) dated Eikyô nine (1437). The continuous trend to is apparent.


Picture 3: tachi of Osafune Iesuke dated Eikyô nine (1437)

The Osafune smiths of the early 16th century kept all these stylistic elements but started to combine the koshi-no-hiraita gunome-midare to characteristic groups of two or three. Representative for that trend were apart from Sukesada also Katsumitsu (勝光), Munemitsu (宗光) and Harumitsu (治光, picture 4).


Picture 4: gassaku-katana of Katsumitsu and Munemitsu dated Bunmei 19 (1487)

Towards the end of the Muromachi period, the trend of a more complex gunome was still forwarded what resulted in the case of the Sukesada line in the so-called „kani no tsume“ (蟹の爪), the famous „crab claws“, where individual koshi-no-hiraita gunome-midare elements open towards the top and end in chôji-yakigashira which remind as the name suggests of crab claws (see picture 6).


Picture 5: katana of Gorôzaemon Kiyomitsu (五郎左衛門清光) dated Tenbun 24 (1555)


Picture 6: Schematic representation of a Sue-Bizen-hamon with kani-no-tsume. We can easily see how the isolated of the Ôei-Bizen smiths become again dividing elements on nioi basis (i.e. ashi) and give so a further complexity to the koshi-no-hiraita gunome-midare.

With the mass-production of the Sengoku era and the accompanying changes in steel and blade production the jigane of the Sue-Bizen smiths looses its original „oily“ appearance what was so typical for earlier Bizen blades. Utsuri is rare too and appears mostly in a faint manner. The hamon shows more and more nie and numerous Sue-Bizen smiths also started to temper in hitatsura. The styistic changes of the shintô era go back to those Bizen smiths who had moved long before the flood of the Yoshii River to Ishidô in Ômi province. With the urbanization of the Edo period, the Ishidô school split up to quite successful branches like the Ôsaka-Ishidô, Edo-Ishidô and Fukuoka-Ishidô lines. They oriented towards the famous Ichimonji style with which the Bizen tradition became famous. But some few outstanding Ishidô masters like Tatara Nagayuki (多々良長幸) did also continue the koshi-no-hiraita gunome-midare of the Sue-Bizen and Sukesada smiths. The Ishidô masters also understood to reproduce utsuri but the most noticable changes in the shintô-Bizen style are – apart from the steel – a yakidashi, a sugu-bôshi in the case of a midareba and a rather „stiff“ looking hamon with lesser hataraki within the ha. As mentioned, this was a rather brief outline of the changes in later Bizen style from the Muromachi to the early Edo period and more details on the Ishidô school can be found in my book „Nihon-shintô-shi“ which will be finished soon.

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