By Kobizen Kanehira
Heian period/12th century
Tokyo National Museum
This blade is an example of "antique Bizen" (J. Ko-Bizen), a term that refers both to the blade itself and to the method of sword production in Bizen (present-day southeastern Okayama Prefecture) from the Heian period (794-1185) to the beginning of the Kamakura period (1185-1333). The maker of this blade, Kanehira, is known as one of the "Three Hiras of Bizen," the other two being the swordsmiths Sukehira and Takahira. Although Kanehira produced many slender blades with intricate tempering patterns, this tachi blade is extraordinarily large, as is indicated by its name Ôkanehira ("Great Kanehira") mentioned in the Edo-period (1615-1868) sword manual Kyôhô Era Handbook of Famous Works (J. Kyôhô meibutsuchô). The piece is also unusual in that it bears the five-character signature Bizen (no) kuni Kanehira saku ("Made by Kanehira of Bizen"), whereas Kanehira normally engraved a two-character signature into his works.
This piece is an outstanding example of Kanehira's work and is regarded as a masterpiece of Japanese sword making. It was the prized sword of Ikeda Terumasa (1564-1613) and was passed down in the Ikeda family, which governed Okayama.