By Satô Hiromichi
There is booming interest among sword collectors towards gendaito in recent years. Gendaito made in the Mino area represent a large number of gendai we have seen in the west. This article provides a list of some of the best Mino gendai smiths. It's intended to be used as one of the tools for gendai collectors to distinguish the better-made blades from the run-of-the-mill ones. This Mino gendai list is by no means to be complete. It only covers smiths active before and during WWII. Since these works are more commonly seen by the western collectors than those made by smiths became active after the war.
It is the author's belief that the shinshinto smith, Kaneyoshi, 兼吉, played an important role in the establishment and education of gendaito in the Mino area. He was born in Seki city in February 1837, a decendant of the koto Mino Zenjou 善定 school. He had learned sword making from his father and uncle, both named Kaneyoshi. Meiji 40, 1907, he founded the Token Tanrensho 刀剣鍜錬所 in Seki. Many gendai smiths were students of his Tanrensho. His work style consists of ko-itame and masame hada and the famous Zenjou suguha. He also did hamon in gunome and o-midare with nie. Zenjou Kaneyoshi signed his names as Seki Kaneyoshi, Seki ju nin Kaneyoshi saku, Noshu Seki ju Zenjou Kaneyoshi saku, Seki Zenjou Kaneyoshi saku and Zenjou Fujiwara Kaneyoshi saku. He died in November Taisho 3, 1914, at age 78.
Watanabe Kanenaga, 渡辺兼永, Noshu Seki ju Watanabe Kanenaga saku, Mino Seki ju Watanabe Kanenaga kore saku, student of Zenjou Kaneyoshi, Established the Watanabe Kanenaga Nihonto forging institute 日本刀鍜錬塾 in Showa 12. Received the title of "the head master of Japanese sword smiths" 日本刀匠総帥 in April Showa 15. His style of work is mainly Mino sanbunsugi, gunome choji midare and suguha. Had 18 students. He was an important teacher in the Seki area during the War. He was born on 1 January Meiji 5 and died in October Showa 21 at age 74.
Kanekuni, 兼国, Noshu Seki ju Kanekuni saku, student of Zenjou Kaneyoshi, succeeded Kaneyoshi to be the second president of the Token Tanrensho in Seki, He was born in December Meiji 6 and died on 14 July Showa 14.
Kanenaga, 兼永, Noshu ju Nara Tairo Fujiwara Kanenaga, inventor of the "Sutenresu to" and a skillful engraver, He was born in April Meiji 20 and died in August Showa 18.
Kaneaki, 兼明, Noshu ju Kuriyama Kaneaki saku, Army smith, student of Watanabe Kanenaga, He was born in December Meiji 21 and died in August Showa 41.
Kanefusa, 兼房, Fujiwara Kanefusa saku, Fujiwara Kanefusa, He's the 23rd generation of the first Kanefusa in Muromachi jidai. Worked in the style of "Kanefusa midare" (兼房乱れ), a family tradition. He was born in February Meiji 23.
Kaneshige, 兼重, Noshu ju nin Morida Kaneshige saku, Army smith, student of Mizuda Kunishige, used an early mei of Kanemasa, changed to Kaneshige in Showa 11, He was born in November Meiji 33.
Kanemichi, 兼道, Noshu Seki ju Kanemichi saku kore, Noshu Seki ju Koshima Kanemichi saku kore, Army smith, student of Zenjou Kaneyoshi, Koshima Katsumasa and Watanabe Kanenaga, early mei was Kanetoki, He was born in July Meiji 35 and had many students.
Akikane, 昭兼, Akikane, Noshu Shizu Akikane, Minamoto Munefusa, Noshu Shizu ju nin Minamoto Mitsukane saku, student of Kanefusa and Kurihara Akihide, He was born in Meiji 35.
Kanenobu, 兼延, Noshu ju Tanba Kanenobu, Army smith, second son of Kanenobu, 兼信, He started to learn sword making from his father at age 12. He's also an excellent engraver. His works are ko-itame with strong ji-nie, wide suguha and ko-notare with ko-nie. He was born in April Meiji 36 and appointed as Important Culture property of Gifu (岐阜県重要無形文化財) in November Showa 48.
Kanenori, 兼則, Noshu Seki ju Kanenori saku kore, Kanenori, Army smith, brother of Kanemichi, He was born in Meiji 40.
Kanehide, 兼秀, Noshu ju Kanehide, Noshu Seki ju Kanehide saku, Noshu ju Kanehide kore saku, Noshu Seki ju Kanehide kore saku, Army smith, He started as a student of the 12th generation Kawashima Masahide in Showa 3. Went to Seki to study under Watanabe Kanenaga in Showa 12. Left Kanenaga's institute in December Showa 15 and joined the Seki Token Corporation 関鍜冶株式会社 in February Showa 16. He re-opened his forging business in the spring of Showa 29. He was born in August Taisho 2 in Nagano.
Masafusa, 正房, Masafusa, Army smith, student of Kanefusa, Joined the Seki Token Company in Showa 17. He was born in Taisho 5.
Kaneyoshi, 兼吉, Kaneyoshi saku, Navy smith, younger brother of Kanehide, He was born in Taisho 10 and died in Showa 41.
Takao, 孝雄, Fujiwara Takao, Fujiwara Takao saku, son and student of Kanefusa, He was born in Taisho 11.
Kanemasa, 兼正, Kanemasa, student of Morida Kaneshige, brother of Yoshida Masaaki, He was born in February Taisho 12.
Kanemoto, 兼元, Kanemoto, 27th generation Kanemoto, Navy smith, student of Watanabe Kanenaga, He was born in January Taisho 13.
Kanetoki, 兼時, Seki ju Kanetoki saku kore, Noshu Seki ju Kanetoki saku kore, Seki ju Fujiwara Kanetoki, Navy smith, son of Kanemichi, student of Watanabe Kanenaga's forging institute, He was born in September Taisho 14.
Kanenari, 兼成, Kanenari saku, Seki ju Kanenari saku, Noshu Seki ju Kanenari saku, Navy smith, decendent of Shinshinto Goto Kanenari, student of Watanabe Kanenaga's forging institute, He was born in March Taisho 15.
Akihira, 昭平, Noshu ju Akihira, student of Kanenobu, He was born in Showa 2. This is not Yukihira 行平.
Kanetaka, 兼高, Kanetaka, Mino Kuni Seki ju Kanetaka saku kore, student of Watanabe Kanenaga's forging institute, He was born in September Showa 3 and started to make swords in Showa 17 at age 14.
The names listed above are among the most skilled Mino gendai smiths. There are four of them being rated as 2 million Yen in Tokotaikan 刀工大鑑. They are Watanabe Kanenaga, Kanemichi, Kanenobu and Kanehide. Two of the remaining 16 smiths were rated 1.5 million Yen and they are Kanekuni and Kanenaga. The rest of the smiths, 14 of them, were all rated as 1 million Yen in Tokotaikan.
Two million Yen is also the highest rating given to the very best Yasukuni jinja 靖国神社 smiths by Tokunou Kazuo 得能一男. There were only two of them, Yasutake 靖武 and Yasumitsu 靖光. None of the Minatogawa jinja 湊川神社 smiths received ratings as high as this.
Reference books are useful in providing general guide lines of sword collecting. But, there are more exceptions than absolute rules in this interest. The final judgment of a blade is the combination of these two factors.
Due to the generosity of fellow collectors, the author was able to study two outstanding gendaito. The following is the description of these two blades respectively.
Yagyû-to in Yagyû Jingu (Nara) 1657
Sugata: Shinoji-zukuri, 27 7/16" nagasa, koshizori with uchi-zori, funbari, narrow shinogi-ji and high shinoji, iore-mune.
Boshi: Sugu, ko-maru, tiger-tail kaeri.Hamon: Medium sanbonsuji of nioi ending in a short yakidashi. Shallow ashi from the valleys and some reverse ashi from the togari.
Ji-hada: Tight itame with distinct masame centrally, strong ji-nie.Nakago: Ubu, one mekugi-ana, signed katana mei, omote: Mino Kuni Seki ju nin Watanabe Kanenaga saku, age 65, 美濃国関住人渡辺兼永作 六十五歳, ura: Showa11 May, lucky day, ordered by Miyagi, 昭和十一年五月吉日 宮城氏応需作之.
Sugata: Shinoji-zukuri, 26" nagasa, koshi-zori, 0.7" sori, thick & slightly high shinoji, 1 1/4" at hamachi and 7/8" at yokote, niku presents.
Boshi: Sugu with ko-maru in nioi, little turn-back, a hint of san-saku
Hamon:Nioi based midare choji with long ashi and saka-ashi throughout. Uniform sized ko-nie inside ashi shows complete control of the smith. And a 1" long kinsugi in monouchi on ura side.
Ji-hada: Very tight itame mixed with mokume and strong frosty ji-nie is showing. The hada in shinoji-ji is also visible as tight itame mixed with mokume. It doesn't have masame in shinoji-ji.
Nakago: 8.5" ubu, two mekugi-ana, signed tachi-mie, omote: Noshu ju Kanehide saku 濃州住兼秀作, ura: Showa 20 February lucky day 昭和二十年二月吉日. There are one small Seki stamp on the ura, one small Seki stamp on the nakago mune and a star stamp on the omote. Mei was very well cut with Mino style hawk-feather yasurimei.
This blade is particularly interesting because its two types of stamps. The general belief is that the star stamp on nakago means a true Nihonto and the Seki stamp means non-traditionally made. The Seki stamp on this blade is 5/64 square inch, much smaller than a regular Seki stamp. This might be the Seki Token Corporation's trademark or accepting stamp.