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Top 10 Swordsmiths In Japanese History


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Alright all you experts with decades of knowledge and sword handling experience . . . GO!

This is subjective AND objective, i.e.: "I like this over that because of the crab claws in the hamon" AND "I would call this sword an Important Work, but the experts in Japan agree that this sword is not worth Juyo Token ranking."

 

 

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IMO, It's so subjective and biased, I don't know how it could have any meaning. Your term "Top 10" needs a careful definition of what it means.

And of course, the 'bias' part is rooted mostly in money, status, and politics.

 

I would suggest modifying the question to something like "highest $$-value smiths based on actual sales over the last XX years". It's still pointless, but at least it might be measurable.

 

Pete

 

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Yes, this is a tough question.  Some will just say to start with Masamune and the Jutetsu and your list is full.  Others will focus on Gotoba and very early makers.  Yet others might pick a few of the best/most famous koto makers and then some of the very best who were founders and leading teachers of the shinto and shinshinto movements.  I would try to be in the latter camp.

 

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1 hour ago, saipan59 said:

IMO, It's so subjective and biased, I don't know how it could have any meaning.

 

Pete - To be fair, Gabe did mention personal opinions, so I don't think he's looking for objective measurement, just your thoughts, complete with your biases.

 

The "meaning" is in seeing which smiths different people rate highly and therefore what elements/features they value.  a.k.a., just-a-bit-of-fun! :thumbsup:

 

Cheers,

 

Jon

 

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2 hours ago, FZ1 said:

 

Pete - To be fair, Gabe did mention personal opinions, so I don't think he's looking for objective measurement, just your thoughts, complete with your biases.

The "meaning" is in seeing which smiths different people rate highly and therefore what elements/features they value.  a.k.a., just-a-bit-of-fun! :thumbsup:

 

 

OK, that's reasonable. Given that, and without any further definition of "Top 10", here's some (with plenty of my opinions included :-) ):

- Various Mishina-ke, such as the obvious Tanba Yoshimichi. Why? Because I like the flamboyant hamon style, and I used to own a couple from the Mishina group.

- Hirokiyo (an obscure Kashuu smith, aka GEN32). Why? Because I have one, and it's always been my fav older blade, even though it's in rough condition.

Perhaps my point here is that if I were still actively collecting, I would NOT care about what someone else thinks is a highly-rated smith. I WOULD highly value a specific blade with an interesting provenance (without regard to who made it), because I love the history aspect. If I could buy any blade I wanted, my choice would be one with a clear provenance to a famous historical figure (for example Sakamoto Ryoma). Smith rankings feels mostly irrelevant to me, other than the impact it has on resale value. Similar to folks that feel the need to "paper" their blades, even though they will learn little or nothing from the Kanteisho.

 

Pete

 

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Here are the top 10 smiths that I have personally handled. The first 5 are in the top five. The number in brackets is the number I specifically remember.

Norishige (5)

Go Yoshihiro (2)

Masamune (3)

Shintogo Kunihiro (1)

Awataguchi Kuniyoshi (2)

Awataguchi Hisakuni (1)

Hasebe Kunishige (3)

Bizen Osafune Nagamitsu (3)

Hosho Sadayoshi (1)

Shodai Hizen Masahiro (many)

I wanted to add an Ichimonji but could not take a smith out of the top 10...

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It is very very difficult. I have been trying to figure out and I must admit I am not even close to "top 10", as I feel I am not qualified to judge their merits... However I tried to do lists for smiths for whom I have found at least 20+ verified signed examples, but reducing that to top 10 of my liking was also impossible for me... I had to do two lists one for Bizen and one for all, and I only focused on pre-Muromachi smiths. Also I combined some "similarish" smith entries and of course left out some super famous ones as I don't have 20+ signed items for them.

 

All

 

Awataguchi Yoshimitsu (粟田口吉光)

Ayanokōji Sadatoshi (綾小路定利)

Rai KuniX smiths from middle Kamakura to Nanbokuchō (来XX)

Shintōgo Kunimitsu (新藤五国光)

Hasebe Kunishige (長谷部国重) Sōshū Hiromasa & Akihiro (広正 & 秋広)

Norishige (則重)

Ko-Aoe Masatsune (正恒)

Ko-Hoki Yasutsuna (安綱)

Samonji & Sa Yasuyoshi (左 & 安吉)

Bungo Yukihira (豊後行平)

 

Bizen

 

Ko-Bizen Masatsune (正恒)

Ko-Bizen Tomonari (友成)

Fukuoka Ichimonji Yoshifusa (吉房)

Kamakura Ichimonji Sukezane (助真)

Bizen Saburō Kunimune (備前三郎国宗)

Moriie (守家)

Nagamitsu (長光)

Kagemitsu (景光)

Kanemitsu (兼光)

Chōgi (長義)

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Well, I would want to do it like Barry - and blades which I have actually held in my hands and been able to study, and which have really impressed me. This is of course completely subjective, because of course my personal taste and preferences play a role. And as I said, it is about certain blades (signed, or with attribution), which have remained in my memory and which I would also like to name spontaneously, without thinking twice. 

 

Shintogo Kunimitsu

Rai Kunimitsu

Unji

Kamakura Sukezane

Shizu Kaneuji

Nanki Shigekuni

Dewa Daijo Kunimichi

Yasutsugu Nidai

Shume Kami Yasuyo

Kiyomaro

 

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1. Sadamune.

2. Shintogo Kunimitsu and any top Awataguchi.

3. Sa and school.

4. Norishige and school.

5. Rai Kuniyuki.

6. The best of Aoe.

7. The best of Yamato Senjuin.

8. Soshu Hiromitsu and Akihiro.

 

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7 hours ago, Jacques D. said:

Irrelevant, you can't compare two swordsmiths from different times and different schools.

 Jacques, so what are your personal favorites? Which pieces always make you pause and look, whether you own them or not? 

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4 hours ago, WillFalstaff said:

 Jacques, so what are your personal favorites? Which pieces always make you pause and look, whether you own them or not? 

 

I don't have favorites, I know how to recognize a sword with artistic qualities from one without, but I don't have the knowledge to say if Tadayoshi Shodai's work is better or not than Umetada Myoju's, who worked together. Can we say that Hankei is better or not than Norishige? Their style is comparable but they didn't use the same steel, nor the same techniques. 

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3 hours ago, b.hennick said:

Try to consider only blades that got have studied in hand. 

Barry, I think that narrows the path too much for most people and in fact most are likely to omit the smiths deemed best by experts (eg NBTHK, NTHK, NBSK, Fujishiro, Tokuno, polishers, Honami, etc), history (shogun, daimyo, lords, various historic books such as Kyoho Meibutsucho etc ) or the Japanese government.  I mean, how many of the members have handled a Masamune or Tomonari or Umetada Myoju or Kiyomaro etc? Then, how many have handled several of these to ensure that the opinion and view is consistent and indeed whoever they have chosen is consistently the best. 

 

"Best" is also such a subjective term and can encapsulate e.g. most functional (again, how do you define and prove), best looking (for some best looking is flashy and for others- quiet), most expensive, highly regarded by a specific sub-set (see some above), the ones with the highest number of highest attestation certificates (Juyo+TJ+JuBi+ JuBu+kokuho), the ones with the highest proportion of top attestations (eg most kokuho+jubi+jubu as proportion of juyo and above), etc etc. 

 

Perhaps we should have phrased this as 'favourite' rather than 'best', or one's 'own top 10' (I think this game was played here 5-6 years ago or so?).

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I think Michael is right and we have been here before some while ago (Think I might even have started the thread!!) However a little self indulgence doesn't hurt on occasion. So the following list is based more on what I like i.e. what I find the most aesthetically pleasing rather than a statement of quality relating to function durability etc.

1. Tanto by Soshu Yukimitsu

2. Awataguchi daito from early Kamakura

3. Ko-Bizen Tomonari

4. Chu-Aoe Daito

5. Rai Kunimitsu tanto

6.Taema

7. Osafune Nagamitsu

8. Inoue Shinkai

9. Shodai Tadayoshi

10. something I haven't seen yet but I will fall in love with when I do

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So this is more or less, the canon of the top 10 if memory serves: 

  • Masamune (2)
  • Go Yoshihiro (2) 
  • Ko-Hoki Yasutsuna (0)
  • Awataguchi Yoshimitsu (1)
  • Sanjo Munechika (0)
  • Ko-Ichimonji Norimune (0)
  • Ko-Ichimonji Yoshifusa (0)
  • Osafune Mitsutada (1)
  • Ko-Bizen Masatsune (0)
  • Ko-Bizen Tomonari (0)

 

In parenthesis, what I've had the chance handled. Sadly not a lot. Some of these smiths are incredibly elusive.

 

Now, personal preference, purely based on what I've been impressed with in the past, or which I am familiar with and that you can reasonably find: 

 

- great Aoe 

- great Taima

- Kencho 

- Hiromitsu 

- Anything awataguchi

- Sa Ichimon

- Kagemitsu

- Yamato Kanenaga/Norinaga 

- Nosada

 

Things that are appreciated, but just don't do it for me: 

- Run of the mill Ichimonji and 'Rai Kunimitsu'

- Kinju & co. Anything that gets close to Seki...Seki is the cursed place where the art went to die (exception: Nosada)

 

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Motivation for my preferences:

1. Jigane. All of my top choices have incredible jigane, rich in nie and chickei,

2. Shape (I know this should be first but it runs very close) the shape of early blades be they long swords or tanto can be exquisite 

3. Activity and interaction within the hamon inazuma, kinsuji, sunagashi etc.

4. The way all the above hang together and compliment each other making the whole far greater than the sum of the parts.

The choices are all based on pieces I have been lucky enough to see in hand.

Had I seen other great early Soshu work closer (Shintogo, Go or Masamune) the list may be different.

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Jacques
By your logic, there is no way to assign a list of the world's best musicians or artists. Because they all worked in different styles and mediums, and you cannot directly compare them, you cannot say for sure that Picasso, Bach, Mozart, Van Gough etc etc are in the top of their leagues?
I don't agree. Quality is quality and transcends styles, eras and similarities.

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16 hours ago, Brian said:

Jacques
By your logic, there is no way to assign a list of the world's best musicians or artists. Because they all worked in different styles and mediums, and you cannot directly compare them, you cannot say for sure that Picasso, Bach, Mozart, Van Gough etc etc are in the top of their leagues?
I don't agree. Quality is quality and transcends styles, eras and similarities.

 

 

Ah, you are also expert in music and painting, as i'm not i won't comment. I think however that comparing Bach with Mozart, Rachmaninov, Mussorgsky is not relevant. On the other hand I can say that Yehudi Menuhin was much better than André Rieux. 

 

ps I have great doubts about the comprehension skills of a climate skeptic.

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We can't debate the G.O.A.T, because everything changes with time in it's own time.  Everyone is made up with different DNA, thus have different opinions. 

This hypothesis has been proven over centuries an argumentized. A controlled group of people will all see, hear and smell something different.      

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4 hours ago, Nihontocollector752 said:

I don't think the question had anything to do with the comparison of 2 smiths against one another. The OP was simply asking for personal preferences on smiths and a list of ones top 10, again, personal preference. Why did this all lead to comparison? Read the OP @Jacques D. and stop trolling.

 

 

 

Lol, what's the title of that topic ?   Top 10 Swordsmiths In Japanese History 

Not who are your ten favorite swordsmiths. 

 

 

Worth reading   

 

https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-cognitive-bias-2794963

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4 hours ago, Nihontocollector752 said:

 Why did this all lead to comparison? 

 

 

 

Comparison is a good thing, if people are mature enough to keep the debate civil. If everyone agrees on a hypothesis, something is very wrong. Again, debate makes us better as long as it's civil. 

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This ENTIRE thread is a reflection of Japanese social and intellectual patterns.

In Japan social, ASSESSMENT of those things is as important as the things. That means that collectors have to follow socially accepted assessment. Becoming an expert involved learning what people THINK, oh,... and also being able to identify and assess the thing. Personal taste is always discounted in Japan. What YOU like is always less significant that what others judge to to be "good."

Discussing topics like the top 10 etc is all right. But for us as individuals, we should always aim at getting the BEST possible swords.

Practically, there are TWO approaches to collecting, 1) diversity OR 2) quality.

We can either try to acquire the RANGE (historical, geographic etc. all the generations, and "schools") that is out there. OR we can acquire pieces that are the best of their types. Few of us can get any of the smiths beings discussed in this thread. But from an economic point of view, getting the BEST of whatever it is we are interested in, is the way to go. Learn your own "top 10" and aim at it...

P

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