Munetsugu’s given name was Koyama Sobei and he was born in 1802 in Shirakawa province in Oshu Prefecture. He was also known as Issensai or Seiryôsai. He was the younger brother of Koyama Munehira and Koyama Munetoshi. He was a member of the Katô Tsunahide Mon and he also studied sword making under Tsunahide’s younger brother Chounsai Tsunatoshi. Later Munetsugu went to Edo and worked as a retained swordsmith of Lord Matsudaira of the Kuwana family.
In the second year of Koka (1845) he received the title of Bizen no Suke. It is believed that he was given this title because of his expertise in producing swords in the Bizen tradition. True to the Bizen tradition, most of his blades display a chôji-gunome midare hamon done in nioi deki. There are also some works that are made in suguha to emulate the Ko-Aoe style of workmanship. He produced many fine blades from around 1830 up until the beginning of Meiji.
Having worked in both Owari province and Kuwana, he frequently traveled back and forth eventually settling down in the Yotsuya Samon-cho area of Edo. It appears that Munetsugu collaborated with the Yamada family of professional sword testers, especially Yamada Yoshitoshi and Yamada Asauemon Yoshimasa, the head of the family. As the clan smith of the Kuwana clan, the Han samurai often subjected his blades to cutting tests. For that reason, there are many of his blades surviving with cutting tests.
Many of these tests seem to have taken place at Senju where there was a famous execution ground or Denma-cho prison. Most of these tests seem to have taken place in the Tenpo era when Munetsugu was at his peak in his thirties. The blade presented here for sale has one such cutting test stating that it took place at the prison grounds.
Munetsugu died in 1872 at the age of 70 and is rated at least as highly as the other important smiths of the Shinshinto era such as Masahide, Naotane, Unjusai Korekazu, and Chounsai Tsunatoshi, especially in the area of Bizen den works.
The blade presented here is signed by the smith on the omote Koyama Munetsugu Saku (固山宗次) (made by Koyama Munetsugu). It is also dated on the ura as follows, Tenpô Jyunen Sho-gatsu Hi (天保十年正月日) (made on New Years of the tenth year of Tenpô (1839). This is a very rare date as most blades are dated either February or August. Thus, Munetsugu would have been 37 years old when he made this blade. Blades made by Munetsugu during the Tenpô era (1830-1845) are considered to be his some of his best work.
The reverse (ura) of the blade also contains a cutting test. It reads, Oite Senju Yamada Gosaburo Taitai Dotanbarai (shoulder cut on an earthen mound cut by Yamada Gosaburo). It is unusual to find a cutting test that states it was a “TaiTai” (cut through the shoulders). This cut is rated as the second most difficult cut following the “Ryo kuruma” (cut through the hip bones).
This blade is very unusual and rare in that it is made in shobu-zukuri style where the shinogi runs almost the entire length of the blade without a yokote to delineate where the kissaki begins. This presents a rather sharp looking blade and this shape gets its name because of its resemblance to an iris leaf (shôbu). The nagasa is 63.6 cm or 25.04 inches. The width at the moto-haba is 3.03 cm or 1.19 inches. The kasane is 0.75 cm or 0.30 inches. The sori is a graceful torii-zori measuring 1.8 cm or 0.71 inches.
The jitetsu is excellent being an ko-itame hada with ji-nie attached. His jitetsu is bright and clear. While he is most famous for his large regular chôji in the Bizen Ichimonji style, he occasionally made hamon in other styles. This blade is an excellent example of that. The hamon of this blade is ko-nie deki with deep nioi-kuchi and peaked gunome with some areas of chôji mixed in and continuing to the end of kissaki. The bôshi is ko-maru and slightly hakikake with a short kaeri (turn-back). The blade is in wonderful polish with only a couple of very small surface scratches that are barely noticeable.
This sword comes with a very nice set of koshirae from the late Edo period and are contemporary with the blade. Please see the photos of the koshirae below. It also comes in shirasaya and with early Tokubetsu Hozon papers issued by the NBTHK in 1984. Old Tokubetsu Hozon papers like these are highly sought after. It is in excellent polish and there are no flaws of any kind. This is an excellent blade in excellent polish and condition and we highly recommend it.
If you are interested in owning a blade by a top class smith with a certified cutting test, don’t let this one slip away as it is an excellent value. We highly recommend this sword and koshirae.