During the Nara period, before the capital was transferred to Kyoto in Yamashiro province, the province of Yamato was the center of Japanese culture. According to legend, Yamato is said to have been the home of Amakuni (天国) and Amakura (天座), the earliest swordsmiths. After that, the Senjuin smiths Yukinobu (行信) and Shigenobu (重信) are believed to have worked in Yamato at the end of the Heian period. The earliest confirmed time of manufacture for a sword with a signature from this province, however, is the middle of the Kamakura period.
The development of the sword smith trade in Yamato was closely linked to the area’s proximity to the capital at Nara. Furthermore, a smith’s prosperity and protection depended on their relationship with the temples with which they were affiliated. From the end of the Heian period, temples in Yamato province acquired vast manors and many branch temples. Accordingly, they strove to arm themselves to guard their rights and property. The five major Yamato schools, the Senjuin (千手院), Tegai (手搔), Taima (当麻), Hosho (保昌), and Shikkake (尻懸) , were groups of swordsmiths who supplied the temples with arms. The Yamato tradition of sword making became known over a wide area through the nationwide organizations of these temples.
The Yamato tradition exercised great influence on the Shizu (志津), Akasaka Senjuin (赤坂千手院), Uda (宇多), Mihara (三原), Kanabo (金房) and other schools. In addition, direct exchange seems to have taken place between individual smiths from Yamato province and smiths throughout Kyushu in the early days of the Yamato tradition.
The Yamato Tegai (大和手搔) school got its name from the fact that its workshop was built in front of the gate Tengai-mon belonging to the Todaiji Temple in Nara. The first generation Kanenaga (包永) who worked around 1288-1293 is known to be the founder of the Yamato Tegai (大和手搔) school of sword making. The smiths of this school all used the same character. “Kane” (包) in their works. Some of the other smiths were Kanekiyo (包清), Kanetsugu(包次), Kanetoshi (包俊), and Kanemitsu (包光). One of the later smiths, Kaneuji (包氏), left the Tegai tradition to study the Sôshû tradition with Masamune (正宗). He later moved to Mino and founded the new sword making tradition of Mino. Around then he changed the character “Kane” in his mei from (包) to (兼),the one we are familiar with for all succeeding Mino smiths. Tegai Kaneuji (手搔包氏)was also known as Shizu(志津) . We call swords made by Kaneuji (包氏)while he was living in Nara, Yamato Shizu(大和志津) swords.
Of the smiths of this school, the first generation Kanenaga (包永)left a fair number of signed examples of his work. Most have been greatly shortened with the two characters of his name being found at the very bottom of the nakago. There are only two known examples of intact nakago surviving and, unfortunately, one of them has been re-tempered. The works of the first generation Kanenaga (包永)are known to be the best the school produced. The name, Kanenaga (包永), was used by succeeding generations of smiths.
The Yamato Tegai (大和手搔)school continued to produce swords from the Kamakura through the Nanbokuchô eras. At the end of the Nanbokuchô period, the school ceased to be active. However with the start of the Muromachi period, it once again became active and began to prosper. The revived school is called the Sue-Tegai (末手掻)school. We will discuss this later school in a bit.
More than any of the other four schools of the Yamato tradition, the Tegai(手搔)school swords most closely follow what we call the traditional Yamato characteristics. Below I have outlined the most important of those characteristics:
SUGATA: The shape of Tegai school works is what we have come to know as typical Yamato. They are shinogi-zukuri and irori mune. The shinogi is remarkably high with a shinogi-haba. There is a marked curvature with koshi-zori and occasionally some saki-zori. Tantô were not produced by the first two generations of Kanenaga smiths of the Tegai school. Almost all of the tantô produced by the third generation Kanenaga will be hira-zukuri; there are no unokubi tantô.
HAMON: The temper lines of the Tegai school tend to be chu-suguba with uchinoke and nijuba consisting of nie. Often, particularly in the works of the Shodai Kanenaga, a slight ko-notare and ko-gunomeaspect to the hamon will be found. One of the traits of his blades is that often there are significant differences in the shape of the hamon from one side to the other. All will have extremely bright niepresent in abundant quantities. Occasionally there is ara ji-nie present. Present in the hamon you will find hotsure, uchinoke, yubashira, inazuma, kinsuji, and other activities.
JITETSU: The kitae is most commonly a tight, yet beautiful ko-itame hada. Generally speaking, however, the hada will not be as tight or as beautiful as the Yamashiro school. Also those with a mixture of a hint of masame are common especially in the later generations. Kanenaga is generally known for the crisp and clear nature of his jigane that tends to be comparatively blackish. The pronounced display of nie grains in the ji is another characteristic of this school.
BÔSHI: Strong nie and yakizume are the most common traits found in this school’s bôshi. Some have kaeriand are completely hakkake. The kaeri when present is short. They are generally chu-kissaki.
NAKAGO: The nakago of tachi will be long while in tantô they appear to be a bit stubby. Most of the surviving works are o-suriage with the original nakago lost; the couple of surviving ubu examples have a kuirjiri tip, round mune, and the yasurime done in takanoha (hawk feathers).
MEI: Generally, and perhaps without exception, the signatures of the smiths of this school are two character (ni-ji mei). The first character of the name will be “Kane” (包).
The blade presented here for sale is a fine example of the Tegai school of the Yamato tradition. It was awarded Jûyô Tôken status on Jūyō Tōken at the 63rd Jūyō shinsa held on November 17, 2017. The translation of the setsumei is as follows:
Measurements: Nagasa 69.1 cm, sori 1.1 cm, motohaba 2.9 cm, sakihaba 1.9 cm, kissaki-nagasa 3.05 cm, nakago-nagasa 19.8 cm, only very little nakago-sori.
Shape: shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, normal mihaba, rather noticeable taper, wide shinogi-ji, high shinogi, shallow sori, chū-kissaki.
Kitae: densely forged itame that tends overall to nagare-masame and that features plenty of ji-nie and much chikei.
Hamon: nie-laden suguha-chō with a relatively wide, bright, and clear nioiguchi that tends overall to a gently undulating notare and that is mixed ko-ashi, hotsure, kuichigai-ba, nijūba, uchinoke, and fine kinsuji and sunagashi.
Bōshi: sugu with a ko-maru-kaeri.
Nakago: ō-suriage, kurijiri, kiri-yasurime, two mekugi-ana, mumei.
The Yamato smiths were closely linked to the local temples and shrines. It is said that the name of the Tegai School goes back to the fact that the school, whose name was also noted with the characters (輾害), was located on the outskirts of the western Tengai Gate (転害門) of Yamato’s Tōdaiji (東大寺). Its founder was Kanenaga (包永) who was active in the late Kamakura period, around Shōō (正応, 1288-1293), and the school prospered throughout the Nanbokuchō and until the Muromachi period.
This blade shows a dense itame that tends overall to nagare-masame that that features plenty of ji-nie and much chikei. The hamon is a nie-laden suguha with a relatively wide, bright, and clear nioiguchi that tends overall to a gently undulating notare and that is mixed ko-ashi, hotsure,kuichigai-ba, nijūba, uchinoke, and fine kinsuji and sunagashi. Thus we clearly recognize the characteristic features of the Tegai School. Particularly noteworthy are the clarity of the suguha and its abundance of hataraki along the habuchi.