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#Katana #Shinken #Samurai #Swords #Nihonto

1841 Katana by Naotane Carving by Yoshitane

大慶直胤 Taikei Naotane: Bibliography

Naotane was the best student of the important smith Suishinshi Masahide, aka “father of the Shinshintō period.” I have written about Masahide many times before, so I suggest you check out some of those[1] topics[2] for more context. In short, around 1800 Masahide precipitated a massive nationwide movement to emulate refined kotō (“old swords,” pre-1600) with narrower hamon, which he decided were stronger than the then-popular shintō (“new swords”) with their wide & billowing but brittle hamon. He wrote books and taught numerous smiths, but above all his students, it is Naotane who rose to fame as one of the greatest masters of the time. The famous sword polisher Fujishiro ranked only three smiths from this era saijō-saku (“supreme make”): Masahide, Naotane, and Kiyomaro (see this topic).[3]

Entire books have been written about Naotane and it would take me hours to prepare a thorough and worthy summary, so you’ll have to forgive me if I choose instead to edit and condense the excellent entry in Markus Sesko’s e-Index:

Born as Shōji Minobei (荘司箕兵衛 or 庄司美濃兵衛) in Yamagata, Dewa province in 1778. He started as a plough-smith, and towards the end of Kansei (1789–1801) went to Edo (ed.—Tokyo) to study under Suishinshi Masahide. At that time he lived in the Akimoto residence; soon he was employed by the Akimoto family for which Masahide also worked. …He moved to Kanda… Izumihashi… and Okachimachi… but Naotane travelled a lot and mentioned some of the locations he visited via individual koku’in seals on his tangs.

His art name was Taikei (大慶). In 1821 he received the honorary title Chikuzen no Daijō and in 1848 he went to Kyōto where he presented a tachi to the noble Takatsukasa family (鷹司). This earned him the honorary title Mino no Suke. He married his daughter to his student Jirō Tarō Naokatsu (次郎太郎直勝). He died on the 27th day of the fifth month of 1857 at the age of 79.

Like his master Masahide, Naotane carried on the return to the old forging techniques, aka the fukkōtō movement. In his early years he tried at a tōran-midare (ed.—wide billowing wave hamon) but moved then to… (ed.—here Sesko lists various traits from all five classical schools of swordsmithing). He mastered all these styles perfectly, he was also one of the few shinshintō smiths who was able to produce a clear utsuri (ed.—a trait of classic Bizen works that is difficult to reproduce even today). (ed.—Sesko goes on to list numerous work styles and traits of Naotane’s varied workmanship).

…Many carvings were added by Honjō Yoshitane (本荘義胤), comprising designs like dragons, simplified ken swords, realistic ken swords, dragons wrapped around ken, siddham religious characters, the names of deities and the like. Carvings are also found inside of grooves; they are very accurate and elaborate and in perfect harmony with the entire blade.

The basic takeaway is that Naotane was able to master practically any and all styles, and his blades often featured beautiful horimono (carvings) by himself and by Yoshitane. A key point to his workmanship is the appearance of uzumaki hada (whirlpool grain) – a somewhat turbulent forging pattern.

On a side note, one of the best pieces in the Metropolitan Museum of NY’s collection is a daishō by Naotane.[4]

The sword
The katana I have linked to is a very nice 1841 example of Naotane’s work (when he was 63) with wonderful carvings by master engraver Yoshitane. It is original length, signed, dated, and without flaws.

Physical specs
Edge length 75.5 cm
Curve 1.5 cm
Width at base 3.12 cm
Width at yokote (point demarcator): 2.14 cm
Thickness at base: 0.73 cm
The blade is signed with the date and name sides reversed from most katana—in other words, tachi-style—though on the basis of the time period / smith / shape most collectors would call this a katana, not a tachi. This shows again how Naotane had an artistic bent and, like Masahide, admired old blades. The signature side ends with a decorative kao or personal insignia, a kind of mark that became popular among top-ranking smiths relatively late in Japanese sword history.

Ura (rear): Tsukuru Taikei Naotane · 造大慶直胤 +kao · Made by Taikei Naotane (personal insignia).

Omote (front): Tenpō jūninen jūichigatsu kisshōnichi 天保十二年十一月吉祥日 (Tenpō 12th year, 11th month, on an auspicious day).

The blade clearly shows some of the uzumaki hada (whirlpool grain) which Naotane is uniquely known for, with its swirling yet fine folding pattern thick with scattered ji-nie (martensitic specks). The hamon exhibits a complex gunome-midare verging on chōji, i.e. small irregular semicircles verging towards clove-shaped, which puts it in somewhat hybrid Bizen style. The quality is very good throughout, with rich activity and a consistent soft luminous appearance.

At 75.5 cm, the blade is significantly longer and grander than the standard 70 cm of the period. This is a clear throwback to the larger swords of the Kamakura period.

Engravings by Yoshitane
On the omote (front): a hatahoko (classical banner-spear). This is a very old and well-known, albeit less common, horimono theme. I forget its meaning offhand; I will return to edit it in a bit later if I can find a good explanation.

On the ura (rear): this I am completely unfamiliar with. It appears to be a noble archer astride an elk, next to a deer. I will have to do some research and see if I can identify the allusion. EDIT: K Morita of the NMB helped me out, it is a depiction of Takemikazuchi, a deity who appeared riding a white deer to protect the capital Heijō-kyō. He is a patron deity of martial arts.

It is rated Tokubetsu Hozon by the NBTHK, a very good ranking which qualifies it as both genuine and a work of significant artistic merit. Blades by Naotane have ranked even higher, but blades usually have to earn each higher paper one round at a time, and not all collectors spend the money to try and get the highest papers possible. So this should be taken as a base level.

Read more:

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