So, who is this smith Sue-Sa 末左?
Fujishiro has an entry for Sue Sa and says that it is an Oei period Sa school smith. The Samonji school starts with O-Sa and several of his students and their students and so on reused the single Sa 左 in their signatures. So sometimes we need to check these blades and try to determine from where in the school they came from.
This entry in Fujishiro is referring to one of these later period Sa smiths, one from Oei about which he has little additional information to provide.
When the NBTHK makes an attribution to Sue-Sa, they are not attributing a sword to this smith so it’s important not to get this attribution confused with Fujishiro’s use. There are two ways in which it has been used over time and these come from the Sue character 末 which means end, or as I usually put it, late. So when we hear it in the context of Sue-Bizen, it means End-of-Bizen literally or Late Bizen, basically the terminal point of the tradition in this case.
Direct Student Sense
So the first sense is that it means the greater Sa school but not including Samonji himself. The Sa school though is pretty big, and if a blade were attributed to Sue-Sa and also passed Juyo it would be fair to expect it to be from one of the Nanbokucho period Sa school smiths. Without Juyo you’d need to look closer, but there are other attributions such as Hirado Sa or Oishi Sa or Nagato Sa that are available to disambiguate a Sa school attribution.
Samonji of course is famous as one of the top Masamune Juttetsu and a grand master artisan who brought the Soshu tradition to the South of Japan. He has many famous sword and Tokubetsu Juyo level works and is held up as one of the best tanto makers to ever have lived.
He has a Sai-jo saku ranking from Fujishiro, and he has
five seven excellent students listed there. These are:
- Sa Yasuyoshi (Jo-jo saku, Wazamono)
- Sa Yukihiro (Jo saku)*
- Sa Kunihiro (Jo-jo saku, Ryo-wazamono)
- Sa Sadayuki (Jo-jo saku, Ryo-wazamono)
- Sa Yoshisada (Jo-jo saku)
- Sa Yoshihiro (Jo-jo saku)
- Sa Hiroyoshi (missing in Fujishiro)
Note, I missed Yukihiro and Hiroyoshi the first time around. His ranking is only Jo-saku compared to the others, but he also is the only one with a Kokuho among the group. Fujishiro stated that he “is said to be one of the students of Samonji” which means that Fujishiro never saw his work and couldn’t rank it himself. His skill is then definitely at the level of the other direct students of Sa.
Fujishiro missed one of the sons or students of Samonji, Hiroyoshi, and he has signed and dated Juyo work from 1346, firmly placing him in time as one of the older students of Sa. The fact that he is unranked should not impugn his skill but states only that Fujishiro did not know about him.
So, the second sense of a Sue-Sa attribution means one of these seven smiths specifically, but as all are identical skill levels and very similar work styles, it is thus impossible to assign directly to one of them for the blade in question. So, any answer would be equivalent to the others and thus Sue-Sa is used.
Students and their sons sense
The NBTHK has used variations on this longer list, adding or dropping some depending on the year and author, to describe Sue-Sa. Italic entries are not in the list of direct students above from Fujishiro.
- Hiroyoshi (not in Fujishiro, son of Samonji)
- Sadayoshi (not in Fujishiro, son of Yasuyoshi)
- Hiroyuki (son of Yukihiro, Jo-saku)
- Hiroyasu (son of Kunihiro, Jo-saku, Ryo-wazamono)
This list curiously lacks Sa Sadayuki though the entries directly related to Sadayuki do confirm he is one of the Samonji sons. He also has signed work that exists (maybe just one now) and old oshigata saying he worked in 1346. So he is definitely to be included in the students of Samonji but he can be easy to overlook due to the rarity of his work.
I think due to the overlapping names, similar styles, and rarity of some of their signed work, it is easy to miss one of the names as I did it, the NBTHK did it and Fujishiro did it in different ways.
Entire school sense
This is easy to understand as it implies any Sa-school smith except Samonji himself when you say Sue-Sa.
When dealing with a Hozon or Tokubetsu Hozon paper it has been difficult then to know which sense was in use, similar to Yamato Shizu having overlapping meaning between Kaneuji and the school he founded. At Juyo usually in the commentary then disambiguating information has been given to illustrate the meaning implied by Sue-Sa.
More recently though the NBTHK has taken to disambiguating the Hozon and Tokubetsu Hozon papers, as I have seen this more often (this is from a sword coming to my site soon):
In this case the right hand column reads “One katana, Mumei, Den (Sue-Sa, O-Sa Ichimon)”.
This kind of note makes it explicit that this Sue-Sa attribution means a direct student of O-Sa.
So this is good for everyone as it is narrowing the focus of the Sue-Sa attribution in this case to the direct students of Samonji, or the six smiths above in the first sense. So lacking the longer form commentary available in a Juyo paper, this lets someone rest assured as to the time period the blade comes from and to whom the NBTHK was placing the attribution when they made it.
The less implicit reading to make, the better. But without this notation following the Sue-Sa, it would have to be interpreted in the greater sense, including students of the students at minimum, if not the entire school if one was to be conservative.
So I think the default reading should be to the list of sons/students and their sons/students. The ultra conservative reading should refuse to rule out the tail end of the school but is not likely to be correct, especially when it comes to Juyo blades as mumei Muromachi work will not qualify for Juyo.
Then if the NBTHK qualifies it, as they seem to have started to do, this will remove all ambiguity and judgment calls from this otherwise slightly confusing attribution.