Bizen Osafune Kanemitsu
by Jim Kurrasch
Ô-Kanemitsu the son of Bizen Osafune Kagemitsu, and grandson of Nagamitsu, lived and worked from the end of the Kamakura to mid-Nambokuchô. As one of the 10 Students of Masamune , he is considered to have started the Sô-den Bizen (Bizen blades following the Sôshû style). This in and of itself is a major style change. There are probably no greater differences in nihontô then that between Kamakura Bizen, and Nambokuchô Sôshû. The Kamakura tachi was pure refined elegance. It was slender, graceful, and nioi deki. The Sôshû blades were wide nie deki and very hade (flashy). Bizen could almost be called feminine or Lady like, and Sôshû very macho.
Kanemitsu not only brought these two conflicting styles together, he also made outstanding blades. His blades are considered to have extreme sharpness. No maker of nihontô ever was considered to make sharper blades. His were the blades of choice for the War – Lords as they went to battle. Many of his blades became famous and were named blades. Such as ‘Kabutowari’ = helmet spliter, ‘Teppô Kiri’ = gun cutter, and ‘Ishikiri’ = stone cutter.
There is still a question whether there were one or two generations of Kanemitsu. There is even some talk of a third generation. There was a major style change seen in Kanemitsu’s blades. The early one (up to about 1343) were classical Bizen. They had a deep sori, medium kissaki, narrow mihaba, and midare utsuri. The later ones were long (around 90 cm. = 3 feet) wide, robust, with ô-kissaki, a shallow sori, and either midare or bô-utsuri. They are known as Enbun Kanemitsu.
There is a similar question about Bizen Osafune Motoshige. They both had a very long working period, and a major style change. The style change can be explained due to the changing times. Sôshû blades were seen and admired by the Samurai of Japan, and they wanted similar blades. The long working periods are harder to explain. But with the help of sons and students a master’s working time could be extended considerably (possibly even after death [:^) ). So the question of whether there were one or two Kanemitsus or Motoshiges may never be resolved, as both were possible.
One thing that Kanemitsu never changed much was the Bizen hada and hamon. The early blades are done in a tight mokume hada. The later style used a itame hada, sometimes flowing. They all have utsuri. The hamon is nioi deki kataochi gunome = saw tooth, suguba, gunome, or a notare – gunome. Sometimes one will see ashi and yô. The later blades may have fine nie in the ji as well as the ha. There will be kinsuji and inazuma. Some blades will have chikei. That is another sign that Kanemitsu was exceptional. Utsuri and chikei are almost mutually exclusionary. But Kanemitsu was at least occasionally able to have them both in a blade. His bôshi was normally midare with a short turn back. Sometimes hakikake is seen. Horimono suitable to the Sôshû tradition, such as bonji = sanskrit, ken = ceremonial sword, and ryû = dragon, bô-hi, or bô-hi with soe-hi are occasionally seen. The ryû is the type called haramiryû or the pregnant dragon.
He normally used a long signature, and niji mei are rare. His recognized dated works are from 1332 to 1374. There are questionable dated examples of 1324, and one in Kôzan Ôshigata dated 1326. Yasuri mei is katte-sagari = slanting down to the right. The nakago is kuri-jiri.
The blade that we were able to study was a ô-suriage katana with ô-kissaki, attributed to Sô-den Bizen Kanemitsu. It has been issued a Tokubetsu Kicho Token certificate by the NBTHK. And has a saya-gaki by the late Satô Kanzan. It is 71 cm. = 28 inches long = 2 shaku, 3 sun, 4 bu, shinogi – zukuri = ridged sides, torii zorii = even curvature, and has bô-hi with soe-hi = side by side large and small grooves. It is a mokume – itame hada = burled wood grain. Nioi deki with ko-nie, making a ko gunome – chôji – midare hamon. There is considerable kinsuji , and inazuma, and ashi. The nakago is ô-suriage with 3 mekugi – ana. Basically this is one of those blades that is top of the line, and would enhance any collection.