Yamato Ko-Tegai Kanenaga
Article by Ted Tenold
The Yamato tradition encompasses five main schools of swordsmiths; Hosho, Senjuin, Taema, Shikkake, and Tegai. These Yamato schools took root in the Heian and Kamakura eras with some continuing to work through the Muromachi period with migrations into Mino province. Their works inspired later top smiths such as Sendai Kunikane, Nanki Shigekuni, Echizen Yasutsugu, Satsuma Masayoshi, Gassan, and even gendai makers such as Kasama Shigetsugu.
Of these schools, the Tegai school clearly produced some of the most skillful works from the most talented smiths. The school is thought to have been located outside the Western gate of the Todaiji in Nara. The founder of the Tegai school and first generation to bear the name Kanenaga (包永) is thought to have worked in about Shoo era (1288) though other sources establish him as early as Joo (1222). Still yet another old record places him in Genko (1321). Given the sugata of his extant signed works of which none are dated, the Shoo era or perhaps a little earlier would seem reasonable. The Kanenaga name continued for 3 more generations, with the first generation producing the highest quality works. Many other high caliber smiths emerged from this school, including the eminent Shizu Saburo Kaneuji who went on to become one of Masamune’s students and later, co-founder of the Mino Den tradition with his contemporary Masamune student, Kinju (Kaneshige).
It is difficult to identify clear working times, makers, and styles in many Yamato Den makers due to a lack of extant signed and dated examples, and a general degradation of workmanship through later eras. However, Tegai school is one of the more clearly understood with an abundance of excellent signed works. Shodai Kanenaga works include a National Treasure sword, Juyo Bunkazai, Juyo Bijutsuhin, and many Juyo Token, which are testimony of his caliber and productivity. An article titled A Journey to the Gokaden, Part 1: The five schools of Yamato, written by Mr. Michihiro Tanobe (former director of research for the NBTHK) for a Japanese art periodical, describes works by the Shodai as resembling Kyo-mono (i.e. works from the Kyoto area such as Yamashiro or early Soshu makers) works. This was due to the similar nature of Kanenaga works in respect to jihada, and the size, consistency, and brightness of his nie. This particular sword follows this description clearly.
Fujishiro rates Shodai Kanenaga as Jojosaku, among some of the uppermost class of sword makers. He also wrote extensively about the Shodai noting details of his works that are present in this sword, including a specific type of yakiba called “Tamagaki ha”. Tamagaki refers to a stone wall, and is a hamon composed of suguba in ko-nie deki becoming kuzure in places, with areas of small gunome ashi iri sporadically located along the length of the yakiba. The nie are vividly bright, very consistent, and beautifully developed providing a wonderfully bright and enjoyable habuchi with sunagashi, and kuichigai blended within. The ji consists of long running itame becoming masame, and long strings of nie and long black chikei inserted. The jigane is very clear with a darkish coloration. The boshi is komaru with short kaeri and thin strings of nie forming hakkake sweeping back into the kissaki. While most boshi by the Shodai are yakitsume, komaru are not unheard of, and many yakitsume works may have originally been komaru, but have lost their kaeri through polishing over time. This sword exhibits excellent health in shape, yakiba, and jigane. One small hairline ware exists, but does not detract from the appearance or enjoyment. The entire sword is impressively made, elegantly presented, and fascinating to study.
One will immediately notice the twin pairs of hi (futatsuji-hi) that are present on this sword. This is a very unusual feature for either a Yamato Den sword, or a work by Kanenaga. The hi are cut with great skill and accuracy, and were the subject of some interest to me, as they are not a Yamato trait. Additionally, despite being osuriage this piece retains such good health of shape. Futatsuji-hi of this delicacy would likely be quite depleted on a 700+ year old sword. Again, another translated excerpt from Mr. Tanobe’s aforementioned article, revealed a credible answer. Referring to the oshigata shown below of a Juyo Bijutsuhin Tachi by Shodai Kanenaga that exhibits the exact style hi he writes;
Kanenaga’s works do rarely show horimono, if so, then a bohi is [cut]. So these futatsuji-hi are very rare, but there are documents extant which [prove] that the hi were [cut] by the Hon’ami family on order of the Sakai in the eight year of Kansei (1796).
Based on this information, it can be reasonably thought (but regrettably not proven absolutely) that this sword received the same treatment by the Hon’ami family, at the behest of someone special since the Hon’ami were sword appraisers, craftsman, and attendants to the highest echelons of society. Since the hi also travel completely though the nakago and retain the same width and health, we can reasonably presume the sword was shortened before, or possibly at the same time. The suriage also shows skillful attention to shape and finishing.
It has a brand new gold foiled habaki, and high quality shirasaya by Brian Tschernega. The attention to detail and quality in his work includes forming both the habaki and shirasaya tsuka to the hi in the blade. The polish was completed in August of this year.
This past October, the sword was submitted to the NTHK-NPO shinsa in Minneapolis and was directly attributed to Shodai Kanenaga, and rated at 76 points. The commentary on the shinsa submission paper notes the sword as “Den Shodai Kanenaga”. I find the inclusion of “Den” (meaning in the tradition of) in conjunction with a direct attribution to Shodai Kanenaga interesting, and estimate that perhaps it was the futatsuji-hi and boshi that compelled the addition of Den to the attribution. I feel this is suitably accurate and reasonable. “Den” indicates that while the sword clearly exhibits Shodai Kanenaga characteristics, it also has elements which are different from his conventional works in some regard.