Bizen Osafune Chōgi (備州長船住長義)


Chōgi was last smith listed among Masamune no Jittetsu and was co-founder of the Sōden-Bizen style together with Osafune Kanemitsu.

Bizen Osafune Nagayoshi (備州長船住長義), herein after referred to as Chōgi in accordance with the common practice of the Chinese reading of his name, at birth was given the name Tōzaemon (藤左衛門). He was the second son of Osafune Mitsunaga (長船光長) and early period of his activity period is regard to Ōchō (應長, 1311-1312) era. The Kotō Meizukushi Taizen tells us that Chōgi was born in the 1st year of the Shōō era (正應, 1288) and died in the 82nd year of his life in the 3rd year of the Ōan era (應安, 1370); he arrived at Kamakura and become Masamune’s disciple in the 2nd year of the Kenmu era (建武, 1335). This information is contradictory and does not match the details in other sources. In particular, it is worth paying attention to the dates of the life of Chōgi’s father (MItsunaga) indicated here as 1304-1347, as well as a very large interval (about 50 years) between Mitsunaga and Sanemitsu, which were stated in the genealogical line as father and son. It is impossible, sure and one of the two life periods in this book was specified incorrect. Therefore, this information must be compared with data from other sources.

Figure 1. Kotō Meizukushi Taizen, Volume 3, pp. 13/2, 14/1.

Unfortunately, none of the old sources provides complete life dates for the entire genealogy line, as the Kotō Meizukushi Taizen does. For example, Honchō Kaji Kō specifies that Chōgi period of artistic activity started in the times of rein the Emperor Kōgon (光嚴, 1313-1364), i.e. 1331-1333 and spanned the eras Kenmu (建武, 1334-1336); Engen (延元, 1336-1340) and Ōan (應安, 1368-1375). The Kokon Meizukushi Taizen, in turn, provides a complete genealogical line, but provides poor additional information about the swordsmiths included in it. However, for our study, it is sufficient that this manuscript indicates the middle of the period of activity of Chōgi and Nagashige (Chōgi’s elder brother) as the Kan ́ō era (観應, 1350-1352). One can note that Kan ́ō era specified for the Chōgi’s activity period is substantially early than period indicated in modern books (it is Jōji era [貞治, 1362-1368], usually). 

According to Albert Yamanaka’s point of view, Chōgi was active around the Kenmu era (建武, 1334-1338) and he notes: 

"Chōgi along with Kanemitsu is one of the two great smith of Bizen province during the early of Yoshino Period and both of these smiths having studied under Masamune in Kamakura are counted the Masamune Jittetsu. Many of Chōgi’s works are dated around the Shōchū (正中, 1324-1326) to about the Ōan (応安, 1368-1375). Chōgi was the first swordsmith in the Bizen province to break away from the tradition that was started in the late Heian Period by the Ko-Bizen swordsmiths and his works are made in a combination of Bizen Tradition and Sōshū Tradition quite akin to those previous to his time." [Nihontō Newsletter. Albert Yamanaka, NCJSC, San Francisco, 1994–2004, Volume 1, p.309]

Therefore, it can be assumed that in the Kotō Meizukushi Taizen the dates of Mitsunage's life are indicated erroneously. Most likely, his date of birth should be read as some year of the Bun ́ei era (文永, 1264-1275) and not as the 2nd year of the Kagen (嘉元, 1304). Thus, if we correct the information regarding the dates of the Mitsunage’s life in the following form: Mitsunage was born in 1270, died in 1347 in his 77th year; then the genealogy line will take a logically consistent form. 

As an indirect confirmation of this version, one can use the information, that could be found in the Honchō Kaji Kō [Volume 4, p. 20/1]. It tells us that Mitsunage’s creative activity period began during the rein of Emperor Hanazono (花園, 1297-1348), which spanned the years from 1308 through 1318. In addition, it is easy to see that in the Kokon Meizukushi Taizen, the creative activity period of Tamemune (Nagashige’s son or successor) is designated as the Genkō era (元享, 1321-1324), which is much earlier than Nagashige’s period. The corrected Chōgi’s genealogy line could look like this:

  • Sanenaga (真長), 1252-1316 (65), activity period: Kōan (弘安, 1278-1288), Shōō (正応, 1288-1293);
  • Mitsunaga (光長), 1270-1347 (77), activity period: Shōan (正安, 1299-1302), Bunpō (文保, 1317-1319); 
  • Nagashige (長重), activity period Genkō (元享, 1321-1324), Kan ́ō (観応, 1350-1352);
  • Chōgi (長義), 1288-1370 (82), activity period Shōchū (正中, 1324-1326), Ōan (応安, 1368-1375); 
  • Nidai Chōgi (長義), activity period Ōan (応安, 1368-1375), Kōō (康應, 1389-1390).


Figure 2. Kokon Meizukushi Taizen, Volume 1, pp. 15/1, 15/2.

According to general accepted point of view Chōgi and Kanemitsu were the first swordsmiths who stepped aside from the classical Bizen-den style of sword’s making, which existed almost unchanged from the time of Ko-Bizen that started in the Heian period. Kanemitsu with his life dates 1278-1360 was an older in respect of Chōgi. In the 2nd year of the Gen’ō era (元應, 1320), Kanemitsu became, according to the Kotō Meizukushi Taizen, Masamune’s disciple. Chōgi was ten years younger and, according to the same book, he became Masamune’s disciple in the 2nd year of the Kenmu era (建武, 1335), i.e. much more later that Kanemitsu. Nevertheless, there are a large number of extant swords, both signed and dated by Kanemitsu. We can see that there is no one work made by master in Sōshū-den style before the Enbun era (延文, 1356-1361). Chōgi’s dated works and the sword-in-question attributed to Nagashige (elder brother of Chōgi), made in Sōshū-den style, are concern to the Kenmu are (建武, 1334-1338). Base on this fact some expert saying that it was Chōgi who was pioneer in foundation of Sōden-Bizen School. The mutual influence and interpenetration of two very strong schools—Bizen Osafune and Sōshū—led to the emergence of the so-called Sōden-Bizen (相伝備前).

Figure 3. Honchō Kaji Kō, Volume 4 (Rabbit), pp. 20/1, 20/2.

When we study Chōgi and his smithing skills, one of the most interesting questions is whether he taught directly with Masamune or merely included Sōshū-den forging methods in his practice. Presumably, Chōgi began his training with Masamune around 1335—in other words, at Masamune’s last years. We should also add that at that time, he was probably one of the most skilled master of the Bizen Osafune School. Of course, many extenuating circumstances call into question the theory that professes Masamune to be Chōgi’s direct teacher. The main issue is that Chōgi did not change his forging style completely in favor of the Sōshū-den technique but only included certain elements from this school in it. The influence of the Sagami smithing technique altered his style but not as drastically as with the late Shizu Kaneuji and Samonji. Simply put, Chōgi did not start making swords in the pure Sagami style but remained generally faithful to his old school.

According to traditionally accepted point of view, the dewa steel used by Osafune swordsmiths for forging was relatively soft to provide sufficiently good result for made nie-deki works. In this circumstances it was very difficult to create a controlled temper structure based on the nie. Chōgi was forced doing 12-20 orikaeshi in the forging process. After receiving good quality itame, he cut up the steel band for 9-10 cm pieces and after oroshi was repeating the process again. Thus, he adopted the raw materials and tanren used in Osafune so that Sōshū techniques could be applied. Chōgi was the most skilful and successful swordsmith combined together pure Bizen techniques of working with «soft metal» with Sōshū unique technology of working with «hard metal».

In order to understand the history of the emergence of Sōden-Bizen style, it is necessary to take notice of the following facts, which experts do not always pay attention to. First of all, Chōgi and Kanemitsu were not the only masters of the Bizen Osafune School who were studding Sōshū techniques, either directly from Masamune, or from someone of Sagami School’s main line representatives, Sadamune, for example. In the genealogies one could found in the old manuscripts, at least two more masters can be noted: Nagashige and Tamemune, who in terms of their creative activity and dates of life had the opportunity to learn directly from Masamune.

In most of the old manuscripts, Nagashige is specified as the elder brother of Chōgi. There is no anything special could be said about Tamemune, since his work has not survived to our times. This Information about his activity period can only be used as confirmation of the year of birth of Nagashige and Chōgi. The book Kokon Meizukushi Taizen (古今銘尽大全), published in 1687 and based on the records of the Takeya clan of appraisers, contains indications of activity periods of most swordsmiths. It seems that these periods are indicated on the basis of the clan experts' own information about the works of each particular swordmaster. That is, the activity period indicated in this book suggests that Takeya had seen either a sword itself, or a credible records of the existence of a sword with an appropriate date. Thus, there is no contradiction in the fact that the activity period of Nagashige is indicated as Kōei (康永, 1342-1345), and his follower Tamemune's period is designated as Genkō (元享, 1321-1324). It’s just that Takeya had information about swords with such dates and it so happened that Nagashige’s earlier work did not even reach the times in which Takeya collected his book.

The list of all survived dated works made by Sanenaga's line looks like followed:

Sanenaga: the 10th month 1300, the 3rd month 1304, the 10th month 1305, the 11th month 1307, the 2nd month 1309, the 2nd month 1310, the 2nd month 1313.

Mitsunaga: the 8th month 1338.

Nagashige: the 1334 (the Wood Dog, Kinoe Inu), the 8th month 1335, the 10 month 1342.

Chōgi: the 3rd month 1355, the 5th month 1360, the 3rd month 1362, the 2nd month, the 7th month 1365, the 10th month 1367, the 12th month 1368, th 9th month 1369, the 12th month 1371, the 6th and the 12th month 1372, the 8th month 1373, the 10th month 1374, the 9th month 1379, the 12th month 1379. (oshigata; 10th month 1356)

Nidai Chōgi: 1378

Figure 4. Nihonto Bizen Den Taikan by Okazaki, 1975, p. 398.

In addition, there are two more swords: first one has a cut of signature after first kanji «naga», it dated the 1337 year and attributed to Nagamori; second one is signed by Chōgi and dated the 1350 year (according to Dr. Honma Junji information).

There is a very interesting tantō oshigata published in Nihonto Bizen Den Taikan by Okazaki, 1975 (Figure 4). This tantō is dated «the 10th month of the 11th year of the Shōhei era (正平, 1356)». We can consider it as another one indirect confirmation of the fact that Chōgi artistic activity have to determined early than it generally accepted in the modern nihonto books.

Figure 5. Tanto (Jūyō Bunkazai 542), long considered the earliest dated work by Chōgi: signed "Bishū Osafune-jū Chōgi"; dated "on a day in the 5th month 1360".

When analyzing the preserved dated works of Sanenaga’s part of the Osafune School genealogical line, we can see that all smiths indicated here with a very long time interval between the year of the supposed beginning of independent creative activity (at the age about 25, for example) and the year when first known work was dated. This is especially clearly seen in the following examples: Sanenaga - 23 years; Mitsunaga - 35 years; Nagashige - 20 years and Chōgi - 37 years. Most likely the reasons could be found in the functioning particularities of the so-called Bizen Osafune «factory». There is ample evidence that the Bizen School's younger generations worked for a long time as apprentices of the senior masters and was doing the so-called daisaku (代作) swords. [daisaku - a sword made by a disciple, which borne the name of his master, made with the master's permission and under the master's guidance] In addition, there is no doubt that ordinary fashion also played its definitive role.

Due to the expanded development of the Sōshū School throughout Japan, and the growing popularity of works made in Sōshū-den style, the swords forged in «old» Bizen tradition, except of such grand masters as Mitsutada and Nagamitsu, were more and more used for their intended purpose, and not as objects of art. In the cases of Chōgi and Nagashige, the situation has changed only due to arising his Sōshū-den influenced works. The problem of incorrect attribution of unsigned works certainly exists, but in the case of Nagashige, for example, the reason that so few of his swords have survived is likely to be explained by the proposal that he was involved as a apprentice for a very long time and was drawn into the process of mass production of medium-quality swords. For these reasons, there was not much time left for his own creativity at a high level.

Figure 6. Kinoe Inu Nagashige. Osafune Choshi (長船町史) by Kajima 1988, Tōken-hen Zuroku (刀剣編図録), pp. 176,177.

Regarding Nagashige, a very important sword has been preserved: "Kinoe Inu Nagashige", which is considered one of the masterpieces made not only by this master, but also from all swords forged in the Sōden-Bizen style. This sword with nagasa - 26.1 cm; motohaba - 2.6 cm, bear the signature: Bishū Osafune-jū Nagashige (備州長船住長重), and dated: kinoe-inu (􏰤􏰥甲戌).

It was described by Albert Yamanaka (Albert Yamanaka’s Nihontō Newsletter, Volume 3, pp. 217–218, San Francisco 1994–2004). Albert Yamanaka wrote:

"Commonly Nagashige is regarded to as the elder brother of the famous Chōgi, student of Masamune. Though this blade was made during the Yoshino Period, it is made in the shape and the style of the late Kamakura Period and probably is one of the better blades by this swordsmith in existence… if not the best, since relatively few works by this smith remains today. 

From the description, one can see that this blade is not in the true Bizen Traditions, but has some of the Sōshū Tradition incorporated… the fact that Chōgi is regarded as one of the Masamune Jitetsu and the fact that this Nagashige’s work is made in Sōden-Bizen style suggested that it was not only Chōgi and Kanemitsu that went to study in Kamakura but that there were others that studied there too, or it may be that the Masamune influence was left much more strongly in other areas than the only amongst the Jitetsu.

….This blade has long been famous as having been the sword which Hon’ami Kōtoku carried and it indeed is a blade worthy of this famous sword connoisseur-polish-appraiser-all around sword man and whose ability in that field has not been equal since. 

The mounting for the sword is in aikuchi style of black lacquer. It has a kozuka by Goto Tokujo and a gold menuki attributed to same. It supposedly dated from the early Edo Period and Kōtoku hade it made for his own use…

The blade is owned by Hon’ami Nisshū, one of the current Hon’ami who is engaged in the same Hon’ami tradition of apprising and polishing."

The existence of this sword certainly confirms the fact that Nagashige was studding from one of the great masters of the Sagami School mainline: Masamune or Sadamune. Considering the fact that Bizen Motoshige (元重) is among the three best students of Sadamune, it can be assumed that it was Sadamune who very often engaged in the training of masters from the Osafune School in new swordsmithing techniques of the Sagami School.

As for Chōgi, the possibility of his training with Masamune cannot be disproved by the fact that there are preserved dated works no earlier than 1350. There are a lot of reasons why earlier works were not survived to our times. The surprise just causes the lack of separation in the attribution of the works of the Chōgi for the first and second generation. From the point of view of the data provided by old manuscripts, for belonging to the second generation of the master, one must carefully consider works dated after 1370. Perhaps this works were made by a swordsmith belonging to the second generation of Chōgi.

It is necessary to note the following distinguishing characteristics of Chōgi’s works:

Sugata: Tachi have the typical shape of the Nanbokuchō period: koshozori is fairly shallow, a wide mihaba, thick kasane, and a large kissaki, fukura is flat, rather than rounded. His tantō are more plentiful than tachi and are wide with fairly saki sori, and the kissaki is thin, the length can be extended more than 1 shaku. 

Jitetsu: The well forged tight and strong ō-itame hade with a mixture of masame and mokume. There are plenty of ji-nie, chikei and yubashiri. Utsuri is much less defined than in the main line Osafune smiths.

Hamon: is ō-midare with a mixture of notate and gonome, a waives are lager compared of Kanemitsu. Yakiba is wide and worked in nioi in combination of nie. Chōji-midare with the wide valley midare mixed in or groups of two or three midare in one forming a shape like an ear lobe (mimi gata midare); this is a distinctive characteristic of Chōgi. The steel’s grains within hamon are standing out quite distinctly. There are certain examples that have a lot of nie within the hamon, the nie are split causing sunagashi and this is turn into inazuma and kinsuji. This type of hamon not previously seen in the works of Bizen smiths, resembles the early works of Akihiro and Hiromitsu, and quite deviates of Kanemitsu’s works.

Bōshi: Midare-komi in a large pattern with a hint of togari, and a deep kaeri running along the mune are the most common. There are also those that are nie kuzure and hakikake.

Horimono: Bō-hi and soe-bi can be found on the most long swords, futasuji-hi on occasion. Horimono on tantō is very rare.

Nakago: The nakago is not taper towards the nakago-jiri, the tip is made in kurijiri. Yasurime is a kiri or sujikaiTantō nakago are made short and stubby in tanagobara shape.

Mei: When the nakago is mostly ubu, the mei will be long and a date is also common.

Figure 7. Chōgi's elements of activity layout. Kokon Meizukushi Taizen, vol. 5, p. 28/2.


Original content Copyright © 2019 Dmitry Pechalov

A supplementary information about Nagashide's works can be fund in Darcy Brockbank's article.