BIZEN OSAFUNE KAGEMITSU
By Fred Weissberg
Bizen Kagemitsu was the son of Bizen Nagamitsu who was, in turn, the son of the founder of the Bizen Osafune School, Mitsutada. The works by these first three generations of smiths solidified the foundation of the Osafune School into one of the greatest schools of sword making of all time.
Bizen Kagemitsu is called Sahyohenjo in most accounts and his dated works show that he was born in the latter part of the 13th century. We have works from him dating from the Kagen era (1303) through the Kenmu era (1335). While his father and teacher, Nagamitsu, did not leave many tanto; Kagemitsu, on the other hand, has left us a great number of fine tanto that have survived through the years. He also made extraordinary tachi and katana.
There exists one tachi and one tanto that have been designated to be National Treasures (Kokuho), and twelve tachi and one tanto that have been classified as Important Cultural Properties (Juyo Bunkazai). Finally there are ten tachi, two katana, and eight tanto that are designated to be Important Art Objects (Juyo Bijitsuhin). This is a very impressive list, indeed.
Among the very few extant examples of tanto by Nagamitsu there are some that do exhibit gunome patterns very close to the kataochi (saw tooth) type. While this shows that Nagamitsu may have been the first smith to begin using a form of this kataochi gunome pattern of hamon, it was his son, Kagemitsu who made this type of temper the trademark of most of his tanto. His katana and tachi will generally also posses some kataochi gunome mixed in with patterns of choji, notare, etc.
Kagemitsu was an important link in the succession of great smiths from the Osafune School. We know he was the son of Nagamitsu, but he was also the older brother and teacher of Kagemasa. We know that there was a close relationship between these two smiths because of the fact that the works of Kagemasa closely resemble those of Kagemitsu especially in the slight bit of ashi that appears in the suguha of both smiths.
Another important contemporary of Kagemitsu was Chikakage. We know of the relationship between these two smiths for a number of reasons. First both were contemporary in time and both were students of Nagamitsu. Also during the later period of Kagemitsu's life, we find swords with an unusual signature, i.e. signed with the chisel cuts done in a reverse manner (saka-tagane). It is known that Chikakage cut this type of signature in works he substitute-signed for Kagemitsu. Such a situation would only occur where there was a close working relationship.
Kagemitsu also passed along his legacy to his son, Kanemitsu who became known as O Kanemitsu. Kanemitsu worked well into the Nanbokucho era. Kanemitsu went on to lead the Osafune School and influenced such well-known smiths as Tomomitsu, Yoshimitsu, Hidemitsu, Motomitsu, Masamitsu, and Shigemitsu.
Sugata:In Tachi, the sugata exhibits the features characteristic of the Kamakura era. Generally blades are shinogi-zukuri, iori mune with koshi-zori. There is a marked tapering approaching the point (funbari). There will be hira-niku and the kasane is made thick. The appearance of the blade will be one of grace and elegance. Tanto will also be in a shape typical of the Kamakura era. They will be hira-zukuri with a narrow mihaba. They will exhibit uchi-zori with an iori mune.
Jitetsu: The kitae is ko-itame mixed with small mokume, making a fine and beautiful grain. The ji-nie is also fine and the midare-utsuri or choji-utsuri will appear in a pronounced manner. Occasionally one with bo-utsuri will be found which is perhaps a forerunner of the bo-utsuri found in Bizen works of the Muromachi Era.
Hamon: The hamon will be nioi-based, as is the case with Bizen works. Kagemitsu's hamon will resemble that of his father, Nagamitsu, having a mixture of various kinds of choji mixed with occasional gunome. Occasionally a suguha hamon will be found. In Kagemitsu's hamon, however, the gunome will have flatter heads and will lean toward one side like the teeth of a saw blade. This is called kataochi gunome and it is a famous trademark of this smith, especially in his tanto.
Boshi:The boshi of Kagemitsu is also an important kantei point. In most cases (there are always exceptions), his tachi were known for what is called the "san-saku boshi". This boshi is called a san-saku boshi since three swordsmiths, Nagamitsu, Kagemitsu, and Sanenaga made it. The characteristics of this type of boshi are that it is fairly straight when crossing the yokote and then it slightly undulates in the mid point ending in a maru shape with kaeri. His tanto will have a more pointed boshi with a slight kaeri .
Horimono:Most of Kagemitsu's works will have intricately made carvings of a variety of subjects. Kenmakui Ryu, Suken, Dokko Tsuki Ken, Tsume Tsuki Ken, Bonji, are found. Bo-hi are seen with the tops of the hi being pointed in nature.
Nakago:Not many ubu blades tachi exist, but in general the nakago will be made with the tip in ha-agari-kurijiri. The yasurime will be kiri, katte-sagari, or sujikai. The shape of the nakago of the tanto will be typical of the Kamakura era without too much sori or in furisode shape. Rarely the mei will be given in two characters. Most will be a naga-mei.
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