by: Fred Weissberg 5/08

Shigekuni belonged to the Monju-ha of the Yamato Tegai School. He located to Fuchu in Suruga-no-kuni during the Keicho era (1596-1614) and served Tokugawa Ieyasu as one of his sword makers along with shodai Yasutsugu and other famous smiths. After Ieyasu passed away in the second year of Genna (1616), Shigekuni followed Ieyasu's tenth son, Yorinobu to Wakayama in Kishu, or Kii-no-kuni, where Yorinobu founded the Kishu Tokugawa family that became one of the three main Tokugawa families.

Shigekuni is acknowledged to have been one of the finest sword smiths of Shinto times. In terms of skill, Shigekuni vied for the top rank with Horikawa Kunihiro among all the Keicho Shinto smiths. His strength in producing bright and clear ji and ha was second to none among his contemporaries. He left many examples of his work. He was known for making long swords and unfortunately many have been shortened in later times. We are fortunate that Shodai Nanki Shigekuni left many examples with his personal history recorded within his signatures as to where he was living at different times in his swordmaking career. We find such examples as WASHU TEGAI no JU SHIGEKUNI SUNPU ni OITE KORE o TSUKURU. Signatures like this are very specific as to where he was living at the time he made a sword. By comparing the different styles of his chiseling with examples that are dated, we can pin down the more exact time of when he lived in the various locations.

Shodai Shigekuni has left quite a few examples of both katana and wakizashi type of swords. Of the wakizashi type of blades, he made them either in shinogi-zukuri or in hira-zukuri style. They were either slightly elongated, i.e. sunobi style; or else he made them very short in tanto form. His katana either of average width or slightly wider variety were all made to have a high ridgeline and a broad shinogi plane (Yamato School style). As noted, he tended to make longer than usual blades and many have been shortened. His kissaki is either medium sized so slightly extended; it never becomes the o-kissaki style that we see in some of his contemporaries such as Kunihiro or Yasutsugu. Some of his wakizashi of the hira-zukuri type have a strong sakizori.

Shigekuni's blade characteristics can be classified into two major types. His background is the Yamato School and he made many of his blades with classic Yamato characteristics. Since this was the foundation of his sword making training, we find most of his blades having these classic Yamato characteristics. These works are characterized with suguha hamon containing hotsure, ko-midare or gunome, and with a hakikake-embellished boshi that in most cases stops in yakitsume finish with no kaeri. Even the few examples where the boshi has a kaeri, the length of the kaeri is very short. Shigekuni's works done in the Yamato tradition when viewed at a quick glance have a striking resemblance to the works of Yamato Kanenaga and Shikkake Norinaga.

The other style favored by Shigekuni is the Soshu tradition. He produced copies of the great masterpieces made by Masamune, Sadamune, and Go Yoshihiro. These types of blades were coveted by the feudal lords of that time. Most of the works made in the Soshu style were produced during the earlier period of his career, whereas the Yamato style being his root dominated his entire career, surpassing the Soshu style works by far in the number of blades produced during his lifetime.

His works made in the Soshu style exhibit gunome mixed notare hamon or exuberant o-midare patterns containing ashi comprised of nie grains. The hamon consisting of thick nie covered dense nioi also contains sunagashi. The boshi varies from a hakikake style with kaeri to a nie-kuzure style to a type that is almost ichimai (fully tempered) as in the style of Go Yoshihiro.

Whether we are looking at one of Shigekuni's works that is made in Yamato style or Soshu style, it is an important characteristic common to all of his blades to have a clear and shiny ji and ha, where chikei and kinsuji are outstanding.

As for horimono, his wakizashi in shinogi-zukuri and katana only have plain carvings such as bo-hi,futatsuji-hi, koshi-hi, or suken. His wakizashi done in hira-zukuri style and tanto often have elaborate horimono such as kurikara and dragon Judging by the high quality of the carving on his blades together with the attestations on some of his nakago, it is safe to assume that the horimono on his blades was done by highly reputed carving specialists.

Sugata: Blades will have a standard mihaba, shallow sori, and a relatively large kissaki. A high shinogi and a wide shinogi are characteristic of his Yamato school style. His katana tend to be long and many have been shortened. In addition to shinogi-zukuri wakizashi, we find many hira-zukuri and katakiriha-zukuri shapes. We even find some u-no-zukuri forms from time to time. All of his wakizashi have a wide mihaba, relatively thick kasane, saki-zori, and a relatively long nagasa.

Jitetsu: A dense mokume-hada mixed with masame-hada is usual. Thick chikei and abundant ji-nie is usually present. Occasiionally coarse jihada can be found. His jigane and jihada are more similar in quality and appearance to old Koto blades than those of any other Shinto smith. The ji and ha will be clear and shiny.

Hamon: There are Yamato tradition hamon produced in the style of Shikkake Norinaga and swords in the Soshu tradition imitating Go-Yoshihiro. The former are chu-suguha hotsure in nie deki with many hataraki such as uchinoke, hakikake, and nijuba. The Soshu style blades are o-gunome midare, o-midare, notare-midare , etc. They have a wide hamon that is nie based, sunagashi, and kinsuji consisting of rough nie. Among the latter, there are also o-midare and hiro-suguha with gunome ashi.

Boshi: Yakizume or midare-komi with hakikake. Toward the top it will be ko-maru with a short kaeri.

Horimono: In addition to bo-hi and futatsuji-hi, there are suken, ryu, ken-maki-ryu, etc. These horimono are very skillfully carved. Many seem to be done bykeda Gonsuke Yoshiteru.

Nakago: The nakago-jiri is a narrow and gentle kurijiri. The yasurime are kiri or katte-sagari.

Mei: His signatures were as follows:








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