The founder of the Chikuzen Sa School (筑前左系) is known as O-Sa. (大 左) Although he signed his blades with just the name, Sa (左), his full name was Saemon Saburo Yasuyoshi (左衛門三郞安吉). O-Sa (大 左) has long been considered to be one of the ten famous students of Masamune (正宗). Judging from the dates of the few dated pieces left by O-Sa (大 左) that were made around the Ryaku-ô Era (1338), he was one of the last students of Masamune (正宗).
O-Sa (大 左) is considered to have been the son of Jitsua (実阿) from Chikuzen Province (筑前) in Kyushu. His father’s works were typical of the type produced in Kyushu during the Kamakura Era, i.e. of a rustic and unrefined type of craftsmanship that was passed down from Ryôsai (良西) through Sairen (西蓮). The early works of O-Sa (大 左) show some of those characteristics but he soon adopted Soshu traits and developed his own distinctive shape and style.
Few dated examples of O-Sa(大 左) remain today. There are three tanto which are dated Kenmu 5 (1338), Ryaku-ô 2 (1339) and Ryaku-ô 3 (1340). Of these the first two showed definite traits of the old Kyushu workmanship and are thought to be his earliest surviving examples. The last one showed definite Soshu workmanship. The existence of a National Treasure tanto by his son, Sa Yukihiro (左行弘), which was made in almost the exact same style as his father helps to answer some of the questions regarding the changing styles of O-Sa. Since this tantô is dated Kanno Gan Nen (1350), it shows that sometime between 1340 and 1350 O-Sa (大 左) mastered his famous “O-Sa” style of workmanship.
In addition to his son, Yukihiro (行弘), other famous students of the Chikuzen Sa School were, Yasuyoshi (安吉), Yoshisada (吉貞), Yoshihiro (吉弘), Kunihiro (国弘), Hiroyasu (弘安), and Sadayoshi (定吉). The Hirado Sa and Oishi Sa should be considered minor branches of the Sa School.
The following blade characteristics should be considered typical of both O-Sa (大 左) and his son, Sa Yukihiro (左行弘). There are only a very few differences which will be noted.
SUGATA: There is only one surviving example of a long sword by O-Sa. It is a Kokuho tachi named Kousetsu Samonji. Tokugawa Ieyasu wore this tachi. Many tantô of O-Sa survive today. Only a few examples of Sa Yukihiro exist. Most tantô are short appearing more in the style of the Kamakura Era than the Nanbokuchô Era. This is probably since O-Sa worked around the end of the Kamakura Era and the very beginning of the Nanbokuchô Era. Most are about 7 sun (21 cm) with the longest around 8 sun (31 cm). Unlike Kamakura sugata, however, his had slight sori and a thinner kasane. Generally, the fukura was straight with no roundness. They were almost always mitsu–mune, but an occasional iori–mune example can be found. The tanto of Sa Yukihide differed in that they tended to have slight uchizori.
JITETSU: The jitetsu of O-Sa will be a beautiful ko–itame with some small areas of mokume. The steel will have a bluish tinge that will contrast with the bright white yakiba. On some blades, you will find a nenrin–hada (hada shaped like the annual rings of as tree). Shirake–utsuri and nie–utsuri can be found.
HAMON: You will find notare mixed with gunome. One of the famous characteristics of O-Sa was that his hamon starts in a yakikomi style and widens as it goes up. This means that the hamon started slightly below the machi in a form called koshiba. The hamon will be nie based with thick nie over nioi. The nie–guchi will be bright and clear. There will be ashi that tend to be oblique, as well as many hataraki (kinsuji, chikei, inazuma, etc.). Sa Yukihiro’s hamon will differ slightly in that his will slant in a reverse direction in the monouchi area
BÔSHI: His bôshi is referred to as “Sa bôshi”. They will be almost pointed in a thrusting manner with a long kaeri extending down the mune. There will be a bright and crisp nioi–guchi on the kaeri.
HORIMONO: Bo-hi, soe-hi, and futasuji–hi can be found.
NAKAGO: The tip of his nakago will be ha-agari-kurijiri in shape. The file marks will be o-sujikai.
MEI: O-Sa signed Sa (左) on the omote and Chikushu (no) Jyu (筑前住) on the ura. Sa Yukihiro signed Chikushu (no) Jyu Yukihiro (筑前住行弘) on the obverse and the nengo would go on the reverse.
Sa Yasuyoshi (安吉)
Of the many students of O-Sa (大 左), the one considered to have been the most outstanding is Yasuyoshi (安吉) who is thought to be the son of O-Sa
(大 左). After his studies with O-Sa (大 左), it is said that he moved to Nagato (長門) Province (Chôshû) and started the Nagato Sa (長門左) school. There is an outstanding Jûyô Bunkazai tanto by Yasuyoshi (安吉) that is dated 1357 that clearly shows his working period as being contemporary with O-Sa (大 左). In fact, Yasuyoshi (安吉) left us a good many extant works, mostly tanto.
SUGATA: Tachi are extremely rare and the sugata of the ones that are attributed to Yasuyoshi (安吉) is almost the same as those of O-Sa (大 左). It is unknown to me if any zaimei tachi remain, however.
Many tanto of Yasuyoshi survive today. Most tanto are in the style of the Nanbokucho Era. They are extended in length with saki zori, a wide mihaba and a thick kasane.
JITETSU: His jitetsu will be very well worked almost to the point of being overworked. In fact, some texts refer to his jitetsu as having a feeling of being kneaded. His ko-itame and ko-mokume will be very tight and shirake utsuri will often be found. Those blades with a hamon worked in nioi will have o-hada and jifu utsuri and those worked in nie will have the ji tightly knit with ko-mokume hada.
HAMON: As previously noted, he made his hamon in two distinct styles. He occasionally made them with a nie-based structure like O-Sa (大 左). More often he made them with a nioi based structure covered with ko-nie. His most common form was ko-notare and midare with a gunome tone.
BÔSHI: His bôshi is similar to the “Sa bôshi”. They will be pointed in the same thrusting manner but the kaeri will not be extending as far down the mune as the boshi of O-Sa.
HORIMONO: Bo-hi, soe-hi, bonji, ken, and gomaboshi, can be found.
NAKAGO: The tip of his nakago will be shallow ha-agari–kurijiri in shape. There are also those that are kurijiri. The file marks will be o-sujikai or kiri.
MEI: A niji mei of Yasuyoshi (安吉) is most common. There are also some that are written Sa Yasuyoshi (左安吉) or Sa Yasuyoshi Saku (左安吉作). All of them are in gyôshotai (semi-grass writing), and the characters are larger than those of O-Sa (大 左). The tagane will be thick.
Sa Kunihiro (國弘)
Sa Kunihiro (左國弘) is listed as the son of Yasuyoshi (安 吉) in the keizu (lineage charts) of the Hidanshô (秘談抄). In the Kôsei (校正) keizu he is shown as the son of Sa Sadayuki (定行). One text puts him as the son of Sa Yoshihiro (吉弘). No matter which theory one subscribes to, the fact that he also left dated works including a tanto dated 1357, it is clear that he was a contemporary of Yasuyoshi and a direct student of O-Sa. His works are considerably more rare than those of Yasuyoshi (安 吉).
SUGATA: Signed tachi are extremely rare and the sugata of the ones that are attributed to Kunihiro (國弘) is almost the same as those of O-Sa. That is, they are typical of the Nanbokucho era. The mihaba is wide and there is little difference in the width from the hamachi to the kissaki. The kissaki is somewhat elongated.
Some tanto and wakizashi of Kunihiro (國弘) survive today. Most tanto are in the style of the Nanbokucho Era. They are extended in length with saki zori, a wide mihaba and a thick kasane. The mune tends to be mitsu-mune.
JITETSU: Those with itame hada with a hint of nagare (spiral variation) and are zanguri (coarse pear skin-like hada) are the most common. There will be ji-nie and chikei in places.
HAMON: The hamon will almost always be nie based and generally done in a large gunome-notare that will almost reach the shinogi in areas (on his tachi). This is an important kantei point for Kunihiro (國弘). Within the habuchi, ashi and yo will be found. It will be deeply covered in nioi and nie. Within the hamon there will be sunagashi and kinsuji.
BÔSHI: The irregular pattern of the hamon will continue into the bôshi. His bôshi is similar to the “Sa bôshi” in that it will generally come to a point that will turn back sharply into a longish kaeri.
HORIMONO: Bo-hi will be seen on many of his works.
NAKAGO: The nakago on his tanto will be somewhat funagata (boat shaped). The tip will be ha-agari kurijiri in shape. The yasurimei will be sujikai with the occasional one being kiri.
MEI: A nagamei is most common. Generally his mei will read Kunihiro Saku (國弘作). Occasionally we will find Chikushû Jû Kunihiro Saku (筑前住 國弘作). Most of the time the kanji character, “Kuni” (國), will be written noticeably larger than the other kanji characters.
A JUYO TOKEN SWORD BY SA KUNIHIRO
The following is a translation of the Juyo Token papers for this fine sword.
Designated Juyo Token at the 47th shinsa held on the 11th of October 2001.
Katana: Unsigned, Sa Kunihiro (左国弘)
Dimensions: length: 68.7 centimeters; curvature: 1.7 centimeters; width at the base: 2.85 centimeters; width at the point: 1.95; kissaki Length: 4.25 centimeters. Nakago length: 18.75; nakago curvature: slight.
The construction is shinogi-zukuri with an iori-mune. The blade is wide, and there is not a conspicuous difference between the width at the base and the width at the point. In comparison to the width, the shinogi-ji is narrow. The thickness is average. The curvature is shallow, and the blade has an o-kissaki. The kitae is itame that is flowing here and there. The hada is prominent and covered in ji-nie. The jigane contains minute chikei. The entire hamon is tempered high on the blade, and it is o-gunome mixed with gunome, ko-notare and a hint of togari-ba. The tempering is large patterned and irregular midare, and around the monouchi and the middle of the blade, the hamon extends as far as the shinogi. The habuchi contains ashi and yo, and is deeply covered in nioi and well covered in nie. There is repeated kinsuji activity and streaks of sunagashi. The bôshi on the omote side is midare-komi and sugu on the ura side. Both sides have a slightly pointed tip becoming a ko-maru with brushing, and the kaeri is long. The nakago is o-suriage, the tip is extremely shallow kurijiri, and the yasurime are kiri. There are three mekugi-ana, and the blade is unsigned.
Description: O-Sa (大左) cast off the traditional Kyushu style of workmanship that had been seen up to his time, and established an elegant style of workmanship with a bright and extremely vivid ji-ha. The works by the students in his school, which includes Yasuyoshi (安吉), Yukihiro (行弘), Yoshisada (吉貞), Kunihiro (国弘), Hiroyuki (弘行), Hiroyasu (弘安), and Sadayoshi (貞吉), show that they succeeded very well to their teacher’s style of workmanship.
Kunihiro (国弘) is said to be the son of either Yoshihiro (吉弘), or, there is another explanation that he is the son of Sadayuki (貞行). Although there are few, extant famous works by this smith, there are a small number of tanto that are dated the 12th year of Shohei (1357), which in general allows us to understand the period of his activities. As for Kunihiro’s (国弘) style of workmanship, there are two types of hamon in which he either tempered a rather large patterned midare-ba that is essentially notare, or he tempered a suguha style hamon with a mixing in of gunome. From long ago, the Honami family, in appraising the works of the members of the Sa School, had a tendency of attributing works with the most vigorous midare-ba to Kunihiro (国弘).
As for this sword, although it is o-suriage, mumei, the shape is wide with an o-kissaki, there is not a conspicuous difference between the width at the base and the point, and the curvature is shallow, which is clearly the type of shape seen that is characteristic of the Nambokucho period. The kitae is itame with a prominent hada pattern that is flowing here and there. It is covered in ji-nie and contains minute chikei. The hamon is o-gunome with a mixing in of gunome, ko-notare and a hint of togari-ba. The habuchi contains ashi and yo with thick nioi and plentiful nie. There is repeated kinsuji activity and streaks of sunagashi. The bôshi has a pointed feeling with a long kaeri, which are all the features in the workmanship of this blade. The previously described style of workmanship is a clear manifestation of the characteristics of the Sa School, and within this school, because of the hamon that is entirely tempered high up on the blade and the large patterned midare-ba, this most clearly imitates the style of Kunihiro (国弘). The yakihaba is wide, and the hamon is a large midare-ba that extends as far up as the shinogi in places. Add to this the large patterned shape, and this blade gives us a powerful impression. The workmanship is superb with abundant variations in the vigorous activity such as the kinsuji and sunagashi in the interior of the ha.