Masahide’s real name was Kawabe Gihachirô. He was born in the third year of Kan-en (1750) in Dewa Province on the outskirts of Akayu Onsen in the north of Honshu. He studied first under the tutelage of Shitahara Yoshihide. His early signatures were said to have been Iehide (宅英) or Hidekuni (英國). In the third year of An-ei (1774), he changed his name to Masahide (正秀). Later he moved to Edô (Tôkyo) and was employed by the Lord Akimoto, the head of the Tatebayashi Han.
Around this time, he began to use the name Kawabe Gihachirô Fujiwara Masahide (家臣川部義八郎藤原正秀) as his smith’s name and he took the title of Suishinshi. In later years he varied the characters to write Masahide (正日出) In the eighth year of Bunsei (1818), he changed his name to Amahide (天秀), and finally he used Suishin Rô Amahide (水心老翁天秀). He passed away seven years later on September 27, 1825. He was 76 years old.
After studying with Shitahara Yoshihide, he is said to have studied with Sôshû Tsunahiro and then Ishido Korekazu. In his early years, he carved his own horimono, but the majority of the horimono in his works were carved by the hand of Honjô Yoshitane. Also, during his later years, he struck a kokuin (stamped seal) on the nakago. This was something that was done as a precaution against counterfeits, and is something that Masahide originated. He also authored several books on swordsmiths and swordsmithing.
During the course of his career, he taught more than one hundred students which was an enormous contribution to the future of the Japanese sword. He is considered by many, to be the founder of the Shinshintô period of sword making. He is considered to be the most important figure in the sword world of that time in as much as he devoted his life to the revival of art of making quality Japanese swords. This is especially true in his later years when he focused on the advocated a return to the Heian and Kamakura period methods of sword forging. As a result of his efforts, Bizen and Sôshû traditions replaced the Shintô tokuden tradition as the mainstream, from the middle of the Shinshintô times.
About the same time as Masahide was at an early period in his career, a man named Kamada Gyomyô authored a book called “Shintô Bengi”, in which he proclaimed to the world that Tsuda Sukehiro and Inoue Shinkai were the two greatest swordsmiths of the Shintô period. With that publication, an era began in which the works of Sukehiro and Shinkai were widely imitated and reproduced. Masahide was a proponent of this and most of his early works were done in their style with a tôran-midare hamon consisting of thick nie and nioi modeled after these smiths. Afterward, Masahide began to create a notare midare hamon with nie kazure and hitatsura of the Sôshû tradition. After much study, Masahide, decided that these styles of tempering were not the best regarding the strength of the Japanese sword as he felt they were more prone to breakage when used in battle.
While he was tempering blades with the hamon of the Sôshû and the Sukehiro style of ô-midare, perhaps he saw examples of katana with a hamon of a wide yakiba which were broken, or perhaps it was due to his own experiences in making swords. In his arguments for practicality after that, Masahide repeated and repeated the fact that a nie deki hamon with a wide nie line broke easily. He wrote that one must not make a sword with a hamon having a wide yakiba (temper line). Even though he himself had, in the past, made them this way when it was unavoidable due to orders , he would not make them in the future. His existing works show that he kept true to his beliefs and this led him to begin his promotion of re-inventing the forging styles to re-create the blades of the Heian and Kamakura eras.
While it is agreed that the best blades made by Masahide were made in his earlier years when he was still in the throes of producing high quality blades in the style of Sukehiro and Shinkai, it is also agreed that the quality of his blades declined by comparison when he focused only on the Bizen blades of the early Kotô era. He did, however, stick to his beliefs and these beliefs were continued by many of his famous students. Two of his most famous students were Taikei Naotane and Hosokawa Masayoshi. Naotane produced the kataochi gunome in the Bizen Kagemitsu style even to the midare utsuri, and Masayoshi was successful in showing the exuberant work of the Ko-Osafune style of chôji midare with ashi. They then passed this knowledge along to their own sword making schools that they founded. One point we should keep in mind when we speak of the quality of the works of Masahide declining after he stopped producing the Shintô style swords of Sukehiro and Shinkai is that this declining period was in his later years as opposed to his robust younger years.
Since Masahide made swords in many styles, when we speak of the sword making characteristics of works of Suishinshi Masahide, we really should categorize them by sword tradition rather than individual forging characteristics.
YAMASHIRO TRADITION: His blades have an elegant sugata (shape) with funbari, in imitation of Kotô blades. The jihada is a beautiful ko-mokume hada. The hamon is chu-suguha hotsure consisting of nie, but there are few hataraki. The bôshi is ko-maru. Occasionally masame-hada in the Yamato tradition is seen.
BIZEN TRADITION Copies of various sugata from Kotô times as well as from the Yamashiro tradition. The hamon is in nioi deki and ko-chôji midare with long nioi ashi, with a tendency to slant, or in koshi-no-hirata midare with chôji midare in the Oei-Bizen style. Hard dark spots can be seen in side the hamon, and the nioi-guchi is neither bright or tight.
SÔSHÛ TRADITION: O-midare, notare midare with nie kuzure and hitatsura, or an o-gunome midare that Masahide himself referred to as Kamakura or Masamune traditions.
SHINTÔ TOKUDEN TRADITION: In imitation of Sukehiro and Shinkai, the jigane and the jihada are beautiful and the hamon consists of thick nioi and nie. But Masahide’s blades have little hira-niku, and neither the pattern of the toran-midare nor the size of each midare is uniform. Uneven, rough nie are seen in the habuchi and hard, dark spots appear in the yakigashira. The jigane is weak, and the jihada hardly visible; the ji-nie is not equal to that of Sukehiro in either quality or quantity.
TANTÔ: There are hira-zukuri ko-wakizashi in the Enbun, Jôji, or mid-Nanbokuchô style, or in gorgeous Sôshû tradition, otherwise tantô are of standard length, uchi-zori, with dense, beautiful jihada and chu-suguha hotsure in nie-deki and in the Yamashiro tradition, katakiriba-zukuri and osoraku-zukuri can occasionally be seen.
HORIMONO: The inscription, “Hori do saku” (horimono is carved by the smith himself) is seen at times, but most horimono on Masahide’s blades seems to have been engraved by one of Masahide’s students, Honjo Yoshitane. Suken, dokko, and ken-maki-ryu are skillfully carved. The scales of Yoshitane’s dragons resemble overlapping coins.
NAKAGO: The blades generally have a long nakago. The nakagojiri is steep ha agari kurijiri in the smith’s early years, and becomes gentle ha agari kurijiri later. The yasurime are sujikai with kesho yasuri. When Masahide copies Osaka Shintô works, the nakago is also done in the style of the Osaka Shintô smith. Masahide often used a hallmark design (kokuin) made of the two kanji characters ”Hi Ten” (日天).
MEI: SUISHINSHI MASAHIDE: 水心子正
AKIMOTO KESHIN KAWABE GIHACHIRÔ FUJIWARA MASAHIDE 秋元家臣川部義八郎藤原正秀
KAWABE GIHACHIRÔ FUJIWARA MASAHIDE SAKU KORE 川部義八郎藤原正秀作之
SUISHINSHI MASA HI DE 水心子正日出
MASAHIDE SAKU 正秀作
Nihonto.com is very pleased to present for sale this fine katana by Masahide. The signature reads Suishinshi Masahide (水心子正秀) on the obverse and Tenmei San Nen Hachi Gatsu Ishikawa Uji on the reverse. This translates to (made for) For Mr. Ishikawa on the August of the third year of Tenmei. (1783). This blade would have been made when Masahide was thirty-three years old and at the height of his career.
The details on this blade are as follows: Length is 26 .73 inches or 67.9 cm. The sori (curvature of the blade) is 0.48 inches or 1.2 cm. The width at the hamachi (base) of the blade is 1.15 inches or 2.9 cm and the width at the saki (tip) is 0.78 inches or 1.2 cm. The kasane (thickness ) of the blade is 0.24 inches or 0.63 cm. The sugata (shape) of the blade is of a regular width with a shallow sori (curvature) and with a slightly stretched kissaki (point). This blade is an excellent example of Masahide’s best efforts to create a copy of Oya Kunisada and his son Inoue Shinkai. It is the finest example of his work that I have yet to find.
The jigane is a very fine and beautiful ko-itame that is very nearly a mu-ji hada as one would expect of a blade from this time period and made by this smith. There is an abundance of ji-nie in and around the habuchi. The hamon (temper line) is made of nie deki with a rather deep nioi-kuchi done in a combination of suguha and gunome midare becoming notare in areas. When you observe the monouchi area (upper part of the hamon as it nears the point) you will note that it becomes a thicker nioiguchi and the habuchi takes on a softer appearance. This is a very nice example of Masahide’s Sôshû style of workmanship from his earlier years.
This blade is accompanied by a nice set of koshirae from the same period as the blade and possibly original to the blade. The saya is lacquered black. The tsuba is iron with an interesting design carved in open work. The menuki are shakudo and gold color depicting a turtle representing long life and a war fan representing strength and power. The fuchi is shakudo and is engraved with waves. The kashira is also shakudo with a bird and figure.
This blade comes in a shirasaya and has a copper habaki which is also probably original to the blade. It is in excellent polish with no flaws or defects of any kind. It is accompanied by NBTHK Tokubetsu Hozon certification papers attesting to the validity of the signature and the quality of the blade. Masahide is a Saijo Saku rated smith by Fujishiro. This is the highest designation of quality that Fujishiro sensei awarded.