Bishû Osafune Norimitsu

by Jim Kurrasch
from the December 1996 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter

There were several Bizen Norimitsu. All were from Osafune, and their working periods ranged from about 1300, to 1600. There were also many kuwana uchi made to imitate the blades of Norimitsu. So when we are appraising a blade we must take many possibilities into account, prior to the completion of our judgment.

The first Bizen Norimitsu was a student of Nagamitsu, along with Kagemitsu. His work was skilled but fairly rare. He may have also signed Norimune. He worked around the Kagen period / 1303 to Genkô / 1321. The general style of his work was similar to that of Nagamitsu, but they will be lacking in comparison.

Hamon = gunome chôji similar to those of Nagamitsu.

His signatures were Norimitsu or Bizen Kuni Osafune jû Norimitsu. There is a dated example of “Kagen San-nen jûnigatsu Hi” = December 1306.

With the end of the Kamakura Jidae the quality of the nihontô started to lessen. This continued in the Nambokuchô Jidae, and even more so afterwards. But until the end of the Kotô period, Bizen Norimitsu blades were among the best made. This was at least partially due to their making many special order blades. All along Norimitsu were known for producing a very beautiful utsuri. Some call it a transparent utsuri, I feel it appears somewhat crystalline. There is a Jûyô Bunkasai Norimitsu dated Chôroku 1457 – 1460.

The second Bizen Norimitsu was called Gorozaemon. He was probably the best of the Bizen Norimitsu. There appears to be no direct relation to the first. He was a student of Sanenori, and worked in Ôei period. There is a dated blade stating he made it at age 72 during Bunmei 9 / 1478. It may be due to him that some feel Ôei Bizen went on long after Ôei. The third Norimitsu was named Saemon. He worked around Choroku / 1457. Hikobei worked around Bummei / 1469.

During Ôei the blades had a tendency to be functional, and reliable, with few fancy extras (when compared to earlier blades). From about 1430 to about 1470 there were a number of katana produced, that followed earlier styles. They maybe over 30 inches long. When one comes across one of these, it will be noted that they seem earlier, but are signed katana mei. One will try to attribute them to the first Norimitsu, but that is just not right. There will be additional problems if they are ô-suriage. But with further study, they can be figured out. It will help to spend some extra time studying a Norimitsu blade from around 1450, if possible.
These Norimitsu made similar blades, but the quality lessened somewhat with the generations.

The basic shape was short, and graceful. These have fumbari at the machi, and then narrow to the bôshi. These will also have a thick kasane, and a short kissaki. Some will be longer. Those will still have a thick kasane, but the kissaki will also be longer. And as mentioned, some will follow a earlier shape.

Horimono maybe bô-hi, bô-hi with soe-hi.

The hamon maybe notare with a variation in height. Those of the older style may have a suguha hamon, with many notches.
The bôshi will be midare-komi with a short kaeri.

The jitetsû is a fine mokume hada. There will be either a midare or bô-utsuri.

The nakago was made short and stubby, kuri-jiri with katte-sagari yasuri-mei. They have a long mei, and are frequently dated.

Kuwana uchi were blade made by smiths of Bizen who moved to the Ise, town of Kuwana during late Kotô. They signed Norimitsu, Sukemitsu, Sukesada, and Katsumitsu. These probably should be considered to be out right forgeries, even if they were legitimate heirs. Many of their characteristics were similar to those smith’s. But their ability was substantially less. The biggest clue is the blade are mostly muji, with some ô-hada. The lack of visible grain also does not allow activity, such as kinsuji, chikei, etc.