Kaneuji is a smith of the Tegai school in Yamato and he was immensely skilled. He moved from Yamato to Kamakura (Soshu) and further honed his skills under Masamune, and came to emulate his style. After this, he moved to Shizu in Mino province and the school he left behind formed the basis for the Mino tradition. Because of his movements and style changes he is addressed by no less than four names which makes for some confusion.
- Kaneuji – 包氏
- Yamato Shizu – 大和志津
- Kaneuji – 兼氏
- Shizu – 志津
It is fairly common in the koto period that smiths would pack up and leave for other locations. There are various rationales for this that can be easily imagined.
For instance, the fortunes of the local warlords expanding or contracting may require the presence of more smiths to meet demand, or if demand falls the lack of business could cause some to pack up and leave.
Local resources over periods of centuries can be exhausted or their quality diminish. If you were unable to easily obtain what you needed to make a sword as well as your father did, you could decide to look for a better location to make swords. It’s possible this is the reason that the Ichimonji school drifted from place to place, and a possible reason why the Soshu school declined from the peak at the end of Nanbokucho on a gentle straight line.
Oda Nobunaga’s rise coincided with a great demand for swords, and not coincidentally we see a great rise in production in Mino near to his home base. After the wars of the Muromachi period had ended, these Mino smiths scattered into the castle towns and their techniques became part of the Shinto tradition.
Smiths from Yamato may have migrated when the power of local temples rose and fell. The Uda school is thought to be a group of smiths that left Yamato and migrated to Etchu, learning from Norishige in their new home. Hasebe Kunishige is said to be another Yamato smith who moved to Kamakura, learned the Soshu tradition, and then went on to Yamashiro province. Kinju and Kaneuji are two Yamato smiths who also made this trip, but ended up in Mino when they were done in Kamakura.
Of all of these smiths none was as talented before or after his move as Kaneuji. He is affectionately known as Shizu after his final place of residence.
He was a smith of the Tegai school and signed his name 包氏 with a similar Kane character as Kanenaga 包長 and other descendants of Tegai. When he left, he left behind trained students who maintained his name and techniques, and collectively these are known as Yamato Shizu in a backwards generated nickname. This causes extra confusion because this name ambiguously refers to his work as an individual, and the lineage he left behind. So some care is necessary in determining what is being said when this name is used. It’s possible that some of these Yamato Shizu classified works now are actually later works from Mino which are just more heavily styled with Yamato flavor. It is difficult to be absolutely sure.
This move of his is thought to coincide with the end of the Kamakura period, around 1326, so sometimes he is said to be a late Kamakura smith and sometimes an early Nanbokucho smith.
After his move he changed his name to 兼氏 which is still pronounced Kaneuji, and he blended together the teachings of Kanenaga and Masamune to create a hybrid style that became the Mino tradition. It can be a little bit hard to determine sometimes if a work of his is Yamato or Soshu style due to both being highly skilled work, so it depends on the balance of features seen.
The smiths he left under him in Mino maintained the use of the new Kane character 兼 he adopted and this use of Kane is something we see all the way to the end of Muromachi in Mino province. The smiths Kanesada 兼定 and Kanemoto 兼元, both famous Muromachi Mino smiths maintained this tradition.
There seems to have been at least one more generation of Kaneuji left behind in Yamato, and somewhere between one to three descendants in the Mino lineage. The name Kaneuji was still being used in the Shinshinto period, so it’s possible that it continued on until close to the present day. When generations fall in skill over time they can kind of go off the radar, and not be closely tracked in books and documents but they still faithfully hand the name down.
The Mino descendants seem to have moved to Naoe town away from Shizu, and so they are collectively referred to now as Naoe Shizu. Some of these are Kanetsugu and Kanetomo, but there is also a Kanetomo with a Yamato style signature who is classified as Yamato Shizu as well.
It may be possible there was some communication back to Tegai as some of these signed Yamato Shizu works of the 2nd generation Kaneuji, are strongly Soshu flavored. No perfectly authenticated signed work of his first signature remain today however. Very few signed works exist of any of them, making classification difficult.