Sōshū Hiromitsu (相州廣光)

Hiromitsu is called a son of Sadamune and a disciple of Masamune and the founder of the hitatsura hardening style.

Sōshū Hiromitsu (相州広光 – 相州廣光) was one of the eminent representatives of the Sagami smithing school in the early Nanbokuchō period. According to Fujishiro Yoshio, at birth he was given the name Kurōsaburō (九郎三郎). Hiromitsu might have had the official title of Sahyōe (no) Jō [“the guard of the left gate”], and, according to Takeya Ri’an (1589), he had the nickname Kurōjirō (九郎次郎). In books from the Muromachi period, he is called a son of Sadamune and a disciple of Masamune.

The Ōseki Shō (reprint, 1978) contains a reference on page 25 to old books in which the father and teacher of Hiromitsu is called Masamune. However, taking into account findings from modern research, the most convincing theory is that Hiromitsu was a representative of the direct line of Shintōgo Kunimitsu and a son of Shintōgo Kunihiro. In this way, his genealogical line is as follows:

Shintōgo Kunimitsu—Shintōgo Kunihiro—Hiromitsu

This point of view was also supported by Fujishiro Yoshio. In this case, we can completely understand the logic of how Hiromitsu’s smith name was formed from the last kanji of his father’s and his grandfather’s names. In addition, the fact that it was Hiromitsu who became the “head” of the Sagami School in the heyday of his creative activity can be considered a confirmation of Hiromitsu’s direct line of descent from Shintōgo Kunimitsu, the founder of the Sagami School. Note that neither Masamune nor Sadamune ever headed the Sagami School, although they were the most skilful and accomplished masters in the school, who are rightfully considered two of the founders of the Sōshū-Den (相州伝), and whose activity had a huge influence on everyone, including Yukimitsu. Hiromitsu, together with his younger brother Akihiro (秋広—秋廣), created the forging and, first and foremost, hardening style that is known as hitatsura (皆焼), and brought it to its logical end. This style is one of the most complex methods of applying smithing techniques, and after these two swordsmiths, no one else managed to completely reproduce it. Hiromitsu is considered the founder of the hitatsura style, although some elements of this method of handling metals can also be found in works by Sadamune.

Dated works by Hiromitsu have survived, covering the time span from the first year of the Kan’ō era (1350) to the Jōji era (1362–1368). Given the style of his works, the years of his activity, and evidence from numerous sources, we can confidently state that Hiromitsu studied directly under Masamune. It should be noted that apparently, the three disciples—Sadamune, Hiromitsu, and Akihiro—occupied a special position. Sadamune was an adopted son of Masamune, whereas Hiromitsu and Akihiro were representatives of the direct line of the school founder, Shintōgo Kunimitsu. In old chronicles, we can find evidence that Sadamune and Hiromitsu worked as masters of equal status. Due to the fact that some late works by Sadamune show elements of the hitatsura technique, there is even an opinion that the same master who started working under the name Hiromitsu then later changed his name to Sadamune. We must admit that this point of view was not widespread, but in many old sources, we often see a variant of the written name under which Sadamune started working, Hiromitsu (弘光), which used this variant in writing the first kanji. Despite Hiromitsu being a little younger, it is quite obvious that the two masters worked at about the same time. Their works had a mutual influence on each other, despite showing some fundamental differences. Swords by Sadamune, if we can say this, were “soft,” “warm,” and noble, whereas those by Hiromitsu were “hard” and “cold,” suitable for the hands of a real warrior.

Early works by Hiromitsu that have survived to our day are sunnobi tantō in the Sadamune style. They feature a slightly greater length and prominent, highrelief kitae and hamon with elements of hitatsura. His earliest works are signed with two kanji 廣光 (niji-mei) and are not dated. Note that the modern spelling of the first kanji used in the literature is 広, whereas on the tang, we find the obsolete variant of writing this kanji: 廣. At the same time, some old sources, such as the Shinkan Hiden Shō (新刊秘伝抄), state that Hiromitsu never signed with a niji-mei. This may suggest that the smith who signed as 廣光 was not an independent master, and the source considered him a smith who later changed his name and became known under this new name. It is believed that the master signed his later works by his “full” name using several kanji (naga-mei): 相模国住人廣光 (Sagami [no] Kuni-jūnin Hiromitsu).

In his signature, Hiromitsu always indicated the name of the province as Sagami. He never used the variant of Sōshū, instead of Sagami—unlike Akihiro, who signed as 相州住秋廣 (Sōshū-jū Akihiro). It is believed that the early works by Hiromitsu signed with niji-mei show higher quality, as compared to late ones that are signed with naga-mei. While agreeing with this, we should keep in mind that his early works are very similar, in terms of style, to the classic style of Sadamune, and that the master applied hitatsura only partially. Because Hiromitsu’s works with niji-mei are not dated, there are different approaches to determine the time of their manufacture. Some sources even date them at a later period of the master’s activity, believing that Hiromitsu forged them when he was already in his old age. However, it is undeniable that his works with niji-mei are made in the suguba style. Therefore, it is quite logical to assume that Hiromitsu had initially worked in the style of his teachers—Shintōgo, Masamune, and Sadamune—and that he developed his own style only later, which was reflected in the manner that he signed his works.

Therefore, another theory arose that identifies two generations of smiths named Hiromitsu: the first-generation smith placed his signature by niji-mei, and the second-generation smith added a signature by naga-mei. Most experts agree that this difference is due only to changes in his signature style and the beginning of his fully applying hitatsura. Thus, most probably, smiths of the first and second generations of the Hiromitsu line are the same master. Given that works of the first generation of smiths named Hiromitsu are not dated, old sources refer them to the period before 1350. The works of the second generation of smiths feature a clear chronological classification from 1350 until the last known work, dated 1369. However, this is not the only approach in determining the generations of smiths in the Hiromitsu line1. For instance, Uchida Soten (内田疎天, 1871–1952) classifies the generations of smiths named Hiromitsu as follows (the dates below refer to the mid periods of these smiths’ activity):

At the same time, the Kotō Meizukushi Taizen, in its characteristic manner, tells us that in the Gen’ō era (元応, 1319–1321), Hiromitsu was 25 years old, and that he was born in Kamakura. The ancestor and the 1st generation of Hiromitsu smiths was born in the 1st year of Einin (永仁, 1293) and died in the 4th year of Enbun (延文, 1359) in his 67th year. Regarding the 2nd generation-smith, it is stated that he was a son of Hiromitsu of the 1st generation. In the early Kenmu era (建武, 1334), he was in his 15th year, and he died in the 2nd year of Eitoki (永徳, 1382) in his 62nd year. Based on this data, we can conclude that the representative of the 2nd generation of Hiromitsu smiths was born in 1321. Note that according to this source, the representative of the 1st generation of Hiromitsu smiths was 6 years older than Sadamune.

<....> Considering Hiromitsu’s manner of signing his works, we note that a considerable number of signed and dated works by the master have survived to our day. Nevertheless, while analyzing the signatures on these swords, we can see that all known works by Hiromitsu are signed in the same manner, without any variations: either 廣光 (niji-mei, the so-called first generation) or 相模国住人廣光 (naga-mei, the so-called second generation). The manner of writing the kanji remained virtually unchanged during the early and late periods of his activity. The same applies to the dates of his works signed with naga-mei. Their dates were always applied the same manner: using the nen-gappi method (i.e., year—month—day); for example, 延文五年三月日 (Enbun, the fifth year, the third month, [on one] day). In addition, they have a feature that can be found in the manner that Hiromitsu wrote the 廣 kanji: a stroke above the horizontal line of the radical 广 (the “shed”) was always, without exception, drawn vertically by the master, in the form of a small-sized stroke.

Figure 1. Ōseki Shō (reprint, 1978), p. 25.

In the Ōseki Shō (reprint, 1978), on page 25, there is a reference to a sample of Hiromitsu’s signature. The author’s records relating to this tang can be translated as follows: “nakago-mune is angular; yasurime is sujikai; this is regarded as the proper mei for Hiromitsu; tip of the tang is angular or sometimes with some niku did no longer follow the tradition/style of Yukimitsu.” Judging by this oshigata, the tang of this sword is very similar to the Tokubetsu Jūyō Hiromitsu Wakizashi, (considering that the shape of lower mekugi-ana could have been changed later).

Over time, we can see some changes in the thickness and depth of strokes when the master worked with a chisel and a slight change in the way he wrote certain kanji. Nevertheless, their size remains invariable. We can identify dimensions that are specific for each kanji and are consistently reproduced in every signature. The following provides the dimensions of characters in several works by Hiromitsu and Sadamune. Unfortunately, no works signed by Sadamune have survived, but there are full-size oshigata in old books such as the Kōzan Oshigata, the Umetada Meikan, the Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō, the Kotō Meizukushi Taizen, and so on. It should be borne in mind that some old books provide sword oshigata with fake signatures. Nevertheless, the most of the oshigata presented therein have been made from genuine swords with authentic signatures; many of them, being lost over time, have not survived to our day.

Figure 2. Oshigata of Hiromitsu’s and Sadamune’s long swords. Tsuchiya Oshigata, Volume 1, p. 250, p. 245; Kokon Wakan Banhō Zensho, Volume 11 (2), p. 60/2; Honchō Kaji Kō, 1795, Volume “Boar,” p. 2/1; and Kotō Meizukushi Taizen, Volume 8, p. 23/2.

<.....> The totality of the available data, together with the above oshigata, allows us to conclude that the latter was made from a real sword with an authentic signature. It is on the basis of such data that we can, with a certain degree of probability, compare the signatures made by Sadamune and Hiromitsu. At the same time, we should bear in mind that signatures on short swords cannot be correctly compared with those on long swords. However, Hiromitsu’s signature on long swords can be rarely found, even in the form of oshigata or schematic drawings.

<.....> Hiromitsu’s activity and works are sufficiently well researched, as much as it is possible to study a master who lived 650 years ago. The name Hiromitsu is strongly associated with the glory and grandeur of the Sagami School; therefore, it is impossible to analyze its development without including works by this master. Because of their artistry and skill, Hiromitsu and Akihiro determined the course of the Sagami School for generations into the future. Their followers—the multiple generations of Hiromasa, Masahiro, and Tsunahiro—continued the tradition of the Sagami School for many years, up to the present day. The line of Tsunahiro existed until the 17th generation (the 24th one from Masamune), but the craftsmanship of the school’s smiths steadily declined over time. The Sagami School would never again reach its former greatness and glory, the heights it attained in the early Nanbokuchō period.

Works by Hiromitsu have the following features: 

Sugata: Generally, we can find ko-wakizashi with a length of about 34 cm, with a wide mihaba, scarce hira-niku, a thin kasane, a small sori (sakizori), and a mitsu-mune. The sugata is typical of the Nanbokuchō period, although there are some tantō made in the classic style: sunnobi-tantō, which, by the length of the nagasa, are classified as wakizashi. His tachi-sugata is long and slender, the shinogi is a little bit high, and the iori of the mune is steep. Short swords are in general finer than tachi, but there are also some magnificent tachi that are not inferior to those of Masamune.

Jittetsu: A well-expressed, large itame-hada of quite good quality and forging. This cannot be said about works by subsequent generations of the school. Dr. Honma Junji offers the following figurative comparison: “They differ like clouds and dirt.” In this case, the quality is poorer than that of classic masters, but their dense itame-hada recalls to us Sadamune. The steel is blackish.

Hamon: Ō-midare with large-sized nie, multiple kinsuji; inazuma, sunagashi are especially intense in the area of ha, separated by nie; very rich tobiyaki, which in fact forms hitatsura. Hiromitsu’s hitatsura extends to the line of the ha. There are tama-ba with a lot of nie. A little below the center of the ha, you can see the so-called origane-ba (折金刃)—a sole protuberance spreading to the cutting-edge line, consisting of nie. The hardening has a bluish-white hue and is, in terms of brilliance, similar to Masamune’s.

Bōshi: Asymmetric midare-komi with a long kaeri; the structure is either nie-kuzure or sometimes even ichi-mai. The rounded hardening elements of tama appear below the bōshi, in the area of the fukura. There are monji no kitae (文字の鍛); a few centimeters below the kissaki, you can see the effect of hirai no me (ひらいの目)—a slight widening of the ha.

Horimono: In almost all works by Hiromitsu, we can find horimono: ken, bonji. We can see many variants of hi: bō-hi, bō-hi with soebi, futasuji-hi, often accompanied by more complex engravings. The presence of horimono should be considered one of Hiromitsu’s distinguishing features.

Nakago: The tachi’s nakago has a roundish maru-mune, kiri-yasurime, and a katayama-jiri, whereas short swords have an angular (kaku) nakago-mune. He did not sign with “Sōshū-jū . . .” but with “Sagami (no) Kuni-jūnin Hiromitsu.” He also signed in niji-mei, and these signatures are somewhat smaller and executed with a finer chisel.

Figure 3. Hiromitsu's elements of activity layout. Kokon Meizukushi Taizen, vol. 5, p. 18/2.

(excerpt from Chapter 7, pp. 162-205, of the Japanese Swords: Sōshū-den Masterpieces )

Original content Copyright © 2019 Dmitry Pechalov