Nagamitsu is one of the most famous names in the history of Japanese swords. There have been various swordsmiths named Nagamitsu who worked from the mid 1200's through the 1940's. The most famous of them worked in Bizen, although swordsmiths by this name are recorded as having worked in Satsuma, Yamato, Yamashiro and other locations. Ichihara Ichiryushi Nagamitsu worked during the Showa Era in the 1930's and 1940's.
It has been established that Nagamitsu was a participant in the first Army Shinsakuto Exhibition held in 1944, in which he entered under the name of Ichihara Nagamitsu. Nagamitsu resided in Okayama and is mentioned in the Tosho Zensho by Shimizu which lists him as a Rikugun Jumei Tosho (Army approved swordsmith) and as a member of the Rikugun Gunto Gijutsu Tenrankai(3). He was awarded the Kaicho-sho prize at a sword competition held by Riku-gun Gunto Sho-rei Kai before the war.(6)
Some Nagamitsu blades will have a small, faint "saka" stamp on the nakago or nakago-mune. This indicates a blade made for the Osaka Rikugun Zoheisho (Osaka Army Arsenal). Several smiths including Ichihara Nagamitsu, Gassan Sadakatsu, Kawano Sadashige and Kosaka Masayoshi made blades for the Osaka Rikugun Zoheisho (7).
On May 20, 1984, a Nagamitsu blade was awarded Shinteisho origami by the NTHK(4). Nagamitsu blades have also received Hozon origami from the NBTHK in Japan (3). This attests to the high regard that these blades are currently getting in Japan and the fact that they are judged to be true gendaito.
Swordsman Saruta Mitsuhiro, head of the Musashi Dojo Ryuseika of Osaka, used a blade made by Ishiryushi Nagamitsu to perform kabutowari (helmet cutting). The blade successfully cut several centimeters into the iron plate helmut without sustaining significant damage, thus demonstrating the excellent quality and resilience of Nagamitsu's swords.(5)
It has been thought that Ichihara Nagamitsu and Chounsai Emura were the same swordsmith or at least that their work was related in some way. It has been speculated that perhaps Nagamitsu also worked at the Okayama Prison; however, I have not seen nor heard of documentary evidence to this effect. It is now known, thanks to new evidence developed by Chris Bowen, that they are totally different and unrelated swordsmiths, but this debate has been a tale of confusion.
Ichihara Ichiryushi Nagamitsu often carved mei using an unusual style of Kanji for the "naga" character. "Naga" is usually written with three horizontal strokes to the right of the top vertical stroke. On many Ichihara Nagamitsu blades the "naga" Kanji is written with only two horizontal strokes. It is my belief that this is a "trademark" of Ichihara Nagamitsu and an important kantei point in distinquishing his blades from those of other swordsmiths who signed Nagamitsu during this period. However, there are several Nagamitsu blades known signed with a standard "naga" Kanji which may be a variant and from the same forge as the others (see oshigata "T" and "V"). Much has yet to be learned about the blades of from the forge of Nagamitsu.
Given the number of variations of signatures (mei) found on Nagamitsu blades, combined with the quantity of blades known, it seems unlikely that they are all the work of one lone swordsmith. It is likely that Nagamitsu had a number of students and assistants who also produced blades at his forge and who signed sword blades on his behalf. Therefore each blade must be judged on its own merits and not simply on its signature.
There were several other swordsmiths working during the Showa era using the name Nagamitsu. They signed Noshu (Seki, Mino) Nagamitsu, Kawazaki Nagamitsu, Kuruma ju Nagamitsu, Takayama Uhei Nagamitsu and Endo Nagamitsu. They are of no known relation to Ichihara Nagamitsu. There are also several "fantasy" Nagamitsu signatures on Showa era blades. These fantasy signatures are in imitation of the Koto period Nagamitsu and are of no importance as they are considered "gimei" (false signatures).
Below are examples of the known signatures (mei) of Ichihara Nagamitsu. I have shown only the mei rather than the entire oshigata to save bandwidth and download time. The mei are not to the scale of the nakago, they have been enlarged or reduced for readability. The translation of the oshigata are indexed below by letter codes.
- A. Ichihara Nagamitsu (kakihan)
- B. Ichihara Ichiryushi Nagamitsu saku
- C. Ichiryushi
- D. Bizen (no) Kuni (no) ju Ichihara Ichiryushi Nagamitsu saku
- E. Ichihara Ichiryushi Nagamitsu saku
- F. Ichihara Nagamitsu
- G. Nagamitsu
- H. Nagamitsu
- I. Ichiryushi saku (note different carving of characters from "C")
- J. Nagamitsu saku
- L. Bizen (no) Kuni (no) ju Ichiryushi Nagamitsu saku
- M. Bizen (no) Kuni (no) Oite Karasu Jyuka Ichihara Ichiryushi Nagamitsu saku
- N. Bizen (no) ju Ichiryushi Nagamitsu saku
- O. Bizen (no) Kuni ..Karasu.. Ichihara Ichiryushi saku
Made in Bizen Province near Karasu Castle by Ichihara Ichiryushi
Dated December 1943 - (Nagamitsu blades are rarely dated)
- P. Nagamitsu (slightly different strokes from "J" -maybe normal variation?)
- Q. Nagamitsu (another form different from "E" or "P")
- R. Ichiryushi Nagamitsu saku (different rendering of characters from others.)
- S. Ichihara Ichiryushi Nagamitsu saku (different carving from "B")
- T. Nagamitsu (three stroke 'naga')
- U. Ichiryushi saku (different from I or C)
- V. Bizen Kuni ju nin Ichihara Nagamitsu saku
(This is a three stroke "naga" and the "hara" Kanji is carved differently.)
Nagamitsu worked in the Bizen tradition. The blades which he made are
quite elegant in proportion and shape. The hamon is generally in suguha, choji-midare or gunome-midare. There is much "activity" in the hamon. Hada is ko-itame. It is not uncommon to find a serial number and a small stamp on the nakago-mune of Nagamitsu blades. Oshigata
courtesy of Aoi-Arts, Tokyo.
Nagamitsu blades are found mounted in both standard shingunto mounts and in late 1944 type (so-called Marine mounts) mounts. Some Nagamitsu blades have recently been mounted in shirasaya or buke' koshirae by current collectors. Those in late 1944 mounts have saya which are generally quite dark brown with a slight bark finish to the saya lacquer as opposed to the light brown, metal saya commonly found on late '44 style gunto. The tsuka of the late '44 style is usually rough lacquered fiber ito over burlap. Many tsuka have two mekugi-ana (one or both may be screws). [caution - I have seen folks nearly destroy a tsuka trying to remove the blade not realizing there were two mekugi or screws.]
The following articles are available: (1) JSSUS Newsletter, August 1982 and (2) JSSUS Newsletter, Sept 1985.
[NOTE: These two articles were written in the 1980's prior to new information and consider Emura and Nagamitsu to be the same swordsmith. This is now known to be incorrect.]
Thanks to all who have contributed to the knowledge of Nagamitsu. Special thanks to Philip Wilsey (1,2), Chris Bowen(3), Richard Fuller, Ron Gregory, Malcolm Cox, Gordon Bailey, Dic Marxen, Mike Carman, Jinsoo Kim, Mike Axelrod (4), Chris Lau (5), Aoi Arts- Tokyo (6) and John Slough (7).
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