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"Late Kamakura" Blades:


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I'll preface this post by saying that I am not looking to buy any of these blades, I'm just trying to learn about the hobby and its marketing practices.

 

In my regular trawls of dealer sites, I notice that several Japanese sites have a number of NBTHK-papered mumei blades that they list as "Late Kamakura".  My question is, are they really Kamakura, or are the dealers listing them as such because earlier blades may command a premium?  The NBTHK don't put a date on their Hozon or TH attribution, so if the school that the blade is attributed to covered several periods (e.g. "Hoju"), is it standard practice for dealers to list with the earliest period?

 

Please note that I'm not accusing any dealers of doing anything wrong, I'm just wondering why there are so many mumei "Late Kamakura" blades, but hardly any "Mid" or "Early" Kamakura blades listed?

 

I've put several examples below.

 

Jon

 

 https://eirakudo.shop/token/tachikatana/detail/301105?ProductCategoryID=4&SubcategoryID=20&classby=Subcategory 

https://www.aoijapan.com/katana-mumei-osafune-yoshimitsu/

https://www.aoijapan.com/katananagamaki-naoshi-mumei-ko-naminohira/

https://nihontou.jp/choice03/toukenkobugu/katana/1269/00.html

https://nihontou.jp/choice03/toukenkobugu/katana/1119/00.html

https://nihontou.jp/choice03/toukenkobugu/katana/1084/00.html

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I think Kamakura is often used as marketing gimmick, and I believe for several of these items the transition from late Kamakura to Nanbokuchō is plausible. Giving very specific dates on shortened mumei items of old age is quite tricky. And I do think dealers often use all the tricks in the book to make them more marketable.

 

There are some Early to Mid Kamakura period blades being sold too but they are quite rare to encounter compared to late Kamakura stuff.

 

In your examples the first one that is attributed to Wake, kinda points towards the end of Kamakura period. I have three date signatures for Shigesuke 1326, 1328 & 1328. And Shigenori was active around the same time but I have no dated signatures by him.

 

The second one Yoshimitsu (義光) I would actually think as a Nanbokuchō smith. In Seskos Index it reads that he has dated work from 1322 to 1375, most likely spread through 2 generations first ending around 1356-1361. I have personally found dated signatures from 1337 to 1358. I think as Aoi is mentioning this work reminding Kagemitsu, which would possibly indicate an earlier work by Yoshimitsu.

 

I think Ko-Naminohira has very long time frame, there are even few late Heian / early Kamakura pieces, going until end of Nanbokuchō. I believe attribution wise the ko-prefix is dropped when we enter Ōei (this is just my personal opinion).

 

In my opinion dealers love to list Ko-Mihara items as late Kamakura, however I believe many of them are from Nanbokuchō period. I know that Masaie the founder of Mihara school was working at the end of Kamakura period into Nanbokuchō. However so far I have not yet found a Kamakura dated blade from Mihara school. Date ranges I have for Ko-Mihara items so far is 1353 to 1394. I know there are few signed tachi of Mihara school that are thought to be late Kamakura work. But I do believe that the majority of Ko-Mihara is Nanbokuchō period stuff. And just by looking at the shape of this particular item I might personally lean more towards that on this item too.

 

I personally like Hōju stuff a lot. Unfortunately they also span through long time period. Earliest work being from early Kamakura and continuing onto Muromachi. I cannot identify if this particular item is thought to be late Kamakura or Nanbokuchō item. As it is mumei and Tokubetsu Hozon it cannot really be later than that.

 

And lastly I think Tegai is also spanning through quite lot of time. I think the earliest work by Kanenaga is thought to be made around Middle of Kamakura but Tegai attribution can run all the way into early Muromachi (at least in my personal opinion). Late Muromachi Tegai work is identified with Sue-prefix. Also to be noted that shirasaya has attribution towards Tegai Kanekiyo (包清), I know there is one tanto dated 1329 by 1st gen Kanekiyo but when looking signed of attributed work other than that one item, it is pretty much towards late Nanbokuchō to early Muromachi for Tegai Kanekiyo. Of course NBTHK attributed this as den Tegai instead of Kanekiyo though. Beats me if it is Kamakura or Nanbokuchō work.

 

All of the above is just a personal opinion, I think this is interesting topic that will be fun to discuss.

 

 

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I am in no position to cast aspersions (and I mean absolutely no disrespect to the organization) and I am thinking like a novice looking for the easy way out to learn, but I do find it interesting that NBTHK can think highly enough of a blade to grade it Tokubetsu Hozon, but not be comfortable enough to give a date/period attribution?   

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There is two order magnitude difference between the commonality of late kamakura blades (i.e. post-Mongol): Tegai, Rai Kunitoshi etc. and early Kamakura blades (ko Bizen, Rai Kuniyuki etc.).

Late Kamakura does have a hard reset at 1330x when sugata changed.

 

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Dear Mark.

 

Quote

 I do find it interesting that NBTHK can think highly enough of a blade to grade it Tokubetsu Hozon, but not be comfortable enough to give a date/period attribution?   

 

I think the answer is almost implicit in your question.  Being able to tell that the quality of a blade is worth a certain rank does not always equate with being able to pin down the time of it's manufacture.  

 

All the best.

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Thanks Jussi - I was hoping you might chip-in with your knowledge of early blades, so your comments are much appreciated.  I think you're confirming my suspicions that the Late Kamakura attribution is indeed used quite "liberally".  I'm interested to hear other views as well.

 

@Rivkin - Kirill - Please can you explain the "Hard Reset" comment?  Or point me to a source that explains it?  I'm new to all this, so I don't (yet) know many of the basics. Thanks!

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3 hours ago, Geraint said:

 

I think the answer is almost implicit in your question.  Being able to tell that the quality of a blade is worth a certain rank does not always equate with being able to pin down the time of it's manufacture.  

 


Thank you… as I don’t want to muddy up Jon’s thread with NBTHK questions, I’ll leave it that your response has educated me that I need to reframe my understanding of the hozon and tok hozon grading criteria.  

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Late Kamakura blades do not have a reputation for being confused with other periods. There are some Rai or Yamato works that were quite well replicated or imitated in early Muromachi sugata included, but that's about it.

The danger zone is something like Soshu from 1360-1380s. There is like a stack of papers oscillating between "Shimada" and far more seldom "Uda" and Nobukuni, Etchu Tametsugu and first generation Soshu Masahiro.

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Jussi, great answer. When a school spans multiple period, they'll often market the place within the most valued period. We saw this with Tsuruta's latest Ko-Bizen, which was bucketed in Heian in the description while belonging to Kamakura. We all have a clear association with Nanbokucho and its characteristic shape, but it's important to remember that schools such as Yamato operated during the Nambokucho period and maintained the earlier shapes. Context is everything and each blade much be analysed without shortcuts. 

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That Hōju tanto is interesting to me but at the same time it might be bit overpriced as the dealer has had it for long time. I remember it appeared years ago with Hozon papers. They ran it through Tokubetsu Hozon in 2019, yet it is still for sale.

 

Sometimes NBTHK adds on extra information in the brackets after attribution.

 

For example here is my Naminohira tachi, which has approximate dating added. 時代室町前期 - Early Muromachi Period, I am not totally sure what qualifies as Early Muromachi by NBTHK standards but I do personally think it would be somewhere around Ōei to Eikyō c. 1394 - 1441.

15163paper-1.thumb.jpg.1faeadaa70bf7253fe6662b73a40a61f.jpg

 

You can often encounter Nanbokuchō Period / 時代南北朝 in brackets for example in Hokke (法華) school katana, here is an example http://www.shouzando.com/k-hokke210728.html

 

Here is a signed Hōju tachi with interesting info: https://toyuukai.com/2015/10/太刀宝寿/ In brackets there is 時代南北朝末期乃至応永 - Period - Late Nanbokuchō to Ōei.

 

This is a tachi by Mitsushige: https://www.kusanaginosya.com/SHOP/371.html NBTHK did not state which Mitsushige made it as it has Kuni Fumei (Unknown province) 国不明 but they state Late Kamakura Period for this 時代鎌倉末期 in sayagaki this has been appointed as work of Rai Mitsushige.

 

 

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