5.29.23 fred@nihonto.com

Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤) was born in the seventh year of An’ei (安永 1778) in Dewa province (present-day Yamagata Prefecture) into a family of blacksmiths that produced agricultural tools. Naotane’s birth name was Shōji Minobei (荘司箕兵衛) and he called himself Taikei (大慶).  Sometime towards the end of the Kansei era (寛政, 1789–1801), he left his home town for Edo to study with the arguably most famous swordsmith at that time, Suishinshi Masahide (水心子正秀, 1750–1825).

Naotane learned fast as he had entered his teacher’s forge with existing skills from his upbringing as a blacksmith, and so he was able to become independent in Kansei 13 (1801) at the young age of 23. Naotane married the daughter of a charcoal wholesaler, how practical, and moved several times (one time he lost his house due to a fire that had ravaged the Kanda district).

In Bunka nine (文化, 1812), and through the agency of his former teacher Masahide, Naotane was employed by the Akimoto (秋元) family, who ruled until 1845, both the Yamagata fief in Dewa province, and then the Tatebayashi fief in Kōzuke province. During that time, Naotane worked from Edo, receiving the honorary titles of Chikuzen Daijō (筑前大掾) around Bunsei four or five (文政, 1821~1822), and that of Mino no Suke (美濃介) in Kaei one (嘉永, 1848), when he went to Kyōto to present the aristocratic Takatsukasa family (鷹司) with a tachi.

Naotane’s fame grew and his outstanding skill allowed him to produces blades in any style, although his main artistic focus were the Bizen and Sōshū traditions. Naotane not only trained almost as many students as his teacher Masahide, he travelled extensively all over Japan and instructed local smiths in many of his temporary working locations. Naotane married his daughter to his best student Jirō Tarō Naokatsu (次郎太郎直勝, 1805–1858), who had been sent to train with him by the Tatebayashi fief and who later took over the workshop as Naotane’s official successor. Naotane died in the fourth year of Ansei ( 安政, 1857) at the age of 79. He is buried at the Honnen-ji (本然寺) in the Asakusa district of Edo/Tōkyō. *

Portrait of Naotane he had commissioned with a certain Takada Enshū (高田円洲) at the age of 72. It had remained with the Shōji family until it was unfortunately destroyed in the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake.

Like his teacher, Masahide, Naotane was a proponent of the theory of fukko-tô, the movement to reintroduce the old Kotô methods of sword making over the existing modern practicality.  To that end, Naotane started making toran-midare and then began to make chôji-midare in the Bizen tradition.  He quickly moved on to making masame hada in the Yamato tradition,  gunome-midare mixed with togariba in the Mino tradition, o-midare in the Sôshû tradition, and chu-suguha in the Yamashiro tradition.  He because quite proficient in all of the five Kotô traditions but Bizen and Sôshû are considered to be his best.

For the purposes of this paper, I will just concentrate on the two best, the Bizen and Sôshû traditions because Bizen is considered to be his best tradition and Sôshû his second best and the tradition of today’s kantei blade.

Bizen Tradition:

 The hamon is in nioi deki and ko-chôji with a tendency to slant thus resembling the works of Nagamitsu and Kagemitsu.  Utsuri appears.  There are also kataochi gunome pieces resembling the works of Kanemitsu as well as copies of Yasumitsu and Morimitsu of the Muromachi Era.  However, Naotane’s nioi-guchi is not tight and hard,  dark spots can be seen in the yakigashira.  The jigane is also weaker than the old masters’.  He did not seem to attempt the o-chôji midare of the Ichimonji school as almost all of his works are reflective of the Osafune line of smiths.

Sôshû Tradition:

 He made imitations of late Kamakura blades and of the suriage sugata of the Nanbokuchô period.  The jihada is itame-hada mixed with o-hada and his unique uzumaki-hada (whirlpool-hada).  This uzumaki-hada is mokume, cartouche-like and existing in both the ji and will extend down into the hamon becoming kinsuji.

The nie kuzure, sunagashi, kinsuji, and inazuma are vigorous.  The nie are rough and the nioi guchi is not tight.  The inside of the hamon is misty and there are not a lot of nie.  The patterns of the hamon and the bôshi correspond to those of old Kotô blades, but the hamon is mixed with koshi-no-hiraita midare (hamon elements become wide at their base), and there are hard, dark spots in the yakigashira (top of the gunome).

General Characteristics:


 There are hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi in the Enbun-Joji (1356-1368) style, as well as tantô in the standard style similar to those of the Masamune school.  Tantô in the Rai Kunitoshi style (standard length uchi-zori) with chu-suguha or hoso-suguha are occasionally found.  The jihada is generally mixed with masame-hada.


Honjo Yoshitane is said to have engraved Naotane’s blades.  Various kinds of horimono can often be seen, including dragons, ken-maki-ryu, suken, dokko, bonji, and the names of Shinto gods and Buddhist deities.  Horimono embossed in the groove are also common.  The engraving is very elaborate and precise, and matches the blades well.


 A plump nakago, kurijiri, and sujikai yasuri with kesho yasuri.  The signature is skillfully and smoothly done, but the thickness of the characters varies during Naotane’s lifetime.  Tachi-mei are found.  A monogram and a hallmark (stylized rendering of the name of the place in which he actually made the blade) are often added to the signature.

Naotane’s students include Jiro Taro Naokatsu (次郎太郎直勝), Yamon Naokatsu (彌門直勝) and Katsuya Naohide (直秀)(Jiro Naokatsu’s sons).   Hosoda Naomitsu (直光), or Kaji Hei, the well-known forger, was also Naokatsu’s student.

Today’s kantei blade is a tachi by Naotane.  It is an exquisite example of his Sôshû school abilities and can truly be considered to be one of his masterpieces.

The blade has a length of 65.8 cm or 25.90inches.  It has a sori (curvature) of 1.1 cm or 0.43inches. The width at the hamachi (base) is 2.68cm or 1.05 inches and the width at the kissaki (point) is 1.83cm or 0.72inches.  The kasane (thickness of the blade) is 0.74 cm or 0.29inches.

The sugata (shape) of the blade reminds us of the shape of a suriage late Kamakura or early Nanbokuchô Go Yoshihiro with a relatively shallow sori (curvature) yet and overall graceful shape.  The jigane (grain) is itame-hada with areas of outstanding swirling mokume creating Uzumaki-hada in the ji and down into the hamon creating the classic kinsuji patterns for which Naotane is famous.  Within the jihada there is profuse inazuma and chikei activity created by the abundance of nie throughout.  The hamon is nie-deki forming gunome-midare with a deep nioi-guchi creating a very bright appearance.

The super active hamon continues into the bôshi ending in a ko-maru (small round turnback) with almost no kaeri.  The kinsuji is also very active in the bôshi.  The nakago is ubu (unshortened).  It is signed tachi-mei, Sôshi Chikuzen Daijo Taikei Fujiwara Naotane (Kao) (荘司筑前大掾大慶藤原直胤(花押))and it is dated Bunsei 11 Nen 8 Gatsu Hi (文政十一年八月日)(A day in August of 1828).  At the time this blade was made, Naotane was 50 years old and at the peak of his abilities.

*Note: The majority of first page and the photo at the beginning of this article were used with the permission of Mr. Markus Sesko.  I confess I did take the liberty of doing a small amount of editing, however.