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Hamon of a Samurai Katana Blade - History
THE JAPANESE SWORD
IS IT REAL? - IS IT OLD?
A General Guide For The Non-Collector
NOTE: The following suggestions for determining whether a Japanese sword is old or new (WW II era or later) are only general guides. No single indicator alone will determine whether a sword blade is an antique or of recent vintage. The blade must be examined in its entirety and not judged solely on a single criteria. Do not undertake to dis-assemble a sword unless you know what you are doing. You may severely injure yourself and/or damage the sword. For definitions of terms, check the visual glossary page.
The first question to be answered - is it a real sword or a modern replica or an iaito (iai practice sword)? Many modern replicas and iaito have aluminum blades. When in doubt, check the blade with a magnet. Steel is magnetic - aluminum is not. If the blade is aluminum, the sword is not a "real" sword and certainly not an antique. However, just because the blade is steel does not mean it is a genuine Japanese sword as many modern replicas are made with steel blades. There are also numerous reproduction and fake Japanese swords on the market. Also many Chinese military swords are confused with Japanese swords. Be sure to read Reproductions and Fakes.
"Ninja swords" are a Hollywood fiction. There is no historical documentation that ninja used swords which were of a special design or differed from those used by other Japanese of the period. Any so called "ninja sword" is pure fantasy.
Is there visible grain (hada) in the steel of the blade? Most handmade Japanese swords will have a visible grain in the steel of the blade. This is due to the method of forging the blade using multiple folds,etc. Grain (hada) is sometimes difficult for beginners to recognize. There are old sword blades which have no visible grain (muji hada) however, the presence of grain does most certainly mean the blade is handmade. Grain does not determine age. Many of the better WW II era swords will show prominent grain (hada).
Does the blade show a true temper line (hamon)? Replica swords and many WW II era machine made swords have an etched temper line, not a true temper line (hamon) made by differential tempering of the blade. Examine the hamon with a magnifying glass. A real hamon will show tiny dots/specks (nioi and/or nie) along and between the border of the hamon and the rest of the blade. An etched temper line will be seen as a smooth cloud lacking any internal features.
If there are serial numbers stamped in the blade, it is a machine made blade - most likely a WW II NCO sword. These are all machine made and are not classified as "Nihonto". Check the military sword page for examples of WW II era swords.
Is the blade sharpened all the way to the base where it joins the hilt? Most WW II era blades are not sharpened all the down to the habaki (collar). Some older (Shinshinto) swords may likewise not be sharpened down to the habaki however, most WW II swords were not. If the blade is not sharp all the way to the habaki does not assure it is a WW II era blade, but is a good first indicator.
If the peg (mekugi) or screw holding the handle (tsuka) onto the blade can be removed and the handle safely removed (use care not to damage the handle or blade - the complete handle should slide off the end of the tang), examination of the tang (nakago) can tell much about the age of the blade. (NOTE: Some swords may have two mekugi - one near the guard and the other near the end of the hilt. Always check. Never use force to remove the handle.) Newer swords will have a grey, metallic tang perhaps with a little red rust. (Do not remove the rust). Older swords will have more rusted tangs, ranging from brown to smooth deep black rust for the oldest swords. On newer swords the file marks on the tang will be sharp and crisp. As the tang rusts and ages, these become progressively smoother and less distinct.
NEVER CLEAN THE TANG OF A JAPANESE SWORD OR TAMPER WITH IT IN ANY WAY. - it will reduce its value by at least 50 percent!! The type and color of the rust is used to help date and to authenticate the blade.
Is the tang (nakago) signed? Many people tend to believe that if a sword is signed, that it must be hand made. That is not true. During the WW II era, many machine made blades were signed simply as a way of giving more prestige to the sword even though it was machine made. The reverse is also not true - if a sword is not signed does not mean it is machine made. Many, many antique blades were left unsigned or have had their signatures (mei) lost over time. Whether a blade is signed or not has little to do with determining if it is handmade or the age of the blade.
If there is a tang stamp (see the military sword page for examples) on the nakago, up close to the blade collar (habaki), it is a WW II era sword - these are arsenal stamps. Arsenal stamps do not appear on pre-1930's blades.
There are stories that the small papers between the handle wrap (ito) and the rayskin (same') are prayer papers to protect the soldier in battle. This is pure fiction. These are simply paper spacers to aid in positioning the wrapping properly on the handle. DO NOT UNWRAP THE HANDLE! The process of tsuka-maki (handle wrapping) is quite complicated. You cannot re-wrap the hilt with the silk cord that was removed. It will have shrunk and is likely frayed and worn. Consult someone who is trained in tsuka-maki if you need to have a handle re-built.
Sword canes (Shikomi-zue) mostly have very low grade blades. Most sword canes were produced in the late 19th Century - early 20th Century. The blades are very straight and thin and often have significant flaws. The scabbards and hilts are usually designed to resemble bamboo or old wood sticks. Rarely is a high quality blade found in sword cane mounts however, some of the mounts can be interesting with hidden, spring loaded, pop out guards.
How the sword is mounted has nothing to do with its age or authenticity. Modern replicas may look like antique swords be it a tachi, katana, wakizashi or tanto. WW II military type swords are also being reproduced today. WW II era swords have been put into shirasaya or remounted in samurai type mounts by collectors. Vice versa, antique blades are occassionally found in WW II military mounts.
There are numerous varieties of items made in the 20th Century as tourist momentos that are commonly thought to be some special type of Japanese sword. These take that shape of various dragon figures, Japanese peasants, fish etc. - all carved and painted wood figures. The blades in these items are all "soft steel" and have etched temperlines (hamon). Many will have some type of engraving, usually floral, on the blade. These items are of no interest to Japanese sword collectors. Bone tanto and swords (see below) fall into this group.
Carved bone and carved ivory sword mountings almost always have untempered, soft steel blades. These were made as tourist items from the 1870's through the 1930's. These items are purchased for the quality of the carving only. The great majority of these swords are made of carved bone, not ivory. Ivory has a distinctive grain. If you cannot see this grain or do not know what to look for, assume it is carved bone, not ivory.
Swords with carved bone handles and scabbards are of no interest to Nihonto collectors other than perhaps as an example of how poorly made a blade can be. They are referred to as "hocho tetsu" (kitchen steel) - a most derogatory term in sword circles. Swords of this type were made in all sizes, from tanto to katana or tachi. Some of these bone swords will have very low grade metal mountings, commonly with the Tokugawa mon incised into or embossed on the mountings.
The above items are only a general guide. When ANY doubt exists as to the authenticity or age of a Japanese sword, seek advice from a reputable collector. There are numerous sword clubs in many cities. Contact one of them for assistance.
If you are lucky enough to be in the possession of an authentic Japanese sword,
whether it is of WW II vintage or an antique,
be sure to CARE FOR IT properly.
Why Write about Katana Parts and Elements?
Because it is such an iconic and well-made sword, it takes decades to master the craft. From the time of its inception to the modern-day, this item remains a symbol of the Japanese warrior spirit. The turbulent, war-ridden past of Japanese history brought forth and constantly improved this sword. Hard times create strong weapons.
I have seen loads of documentaries about Japanese sword-smiths, and it was impressive to discover how much time and energy they devote to their craft. I was shocked to learn that it takes months to produce a katana, from start to finish.
There is a considerable effort, skill, planning, and craftsmanship invested in every little detail of the sword, from blade tip to the pommel. Just imagine taking a real, authentic katana and striping it down bare, to its individual components, to study and understand every bit.
In fact, I want to take you on that journey right now. Let’s break down and explore the anatomy of a samurai sword. What are the essential katana parts and components? How were they made? What mysteries do they hold? What is their purpose?
Katana Hamon Line
It is easy to recognize the unique wavy patterns also called Hamon line on Japanese swords and those who are not fond of the weapon are asking why such a thing is visible on the swords and if these patterns are bleached, lacquered, or etched.
The patterns seen on the swords are the hamon which marks the portion of the steel that has been hardened so it can eventually be sharpened adequately.
When it comes to swordsmithing the hamon line – literally the blade pattern – this is a visual result on the blade due to the hardening method.
The sword’s hamon is the outline of the yakiba (the hardened area) where the ha (cutting edge) can be located. Blades that are created this way are called the differentially hardened swords and these have a harder cutting edge instead of the mune (spine).
The difference in the hardness results from the clay that is used on the blade even before the quenching or cooling process. Little or no clay will allow the edges to cool quicker, making the blade harder but more brittle while more levels of clay allow the hira and mune to cool much slower and it also lets the blade keep its resilience.
How to distinguish fake and real Hamon?
Before answering this question, you have to figure out what is the Hamon. Hamon is that wavy line on the cutting edge of a katana. Traditionally, this wavy effect is achieved by differential hardening. The differentiation that is seen is actually the result of a gradation resulting from the heating and quenching of the blade and its geometry. This is the process where the blade is quenched so that the edge is harder than the spine or body of the blade. The spine of the blade is coated with a clay mixture, then heated and quenched. The thick clay coating on the spine acts like an insulator and causes the coated portion of the blade to cool more slowly (the slower the cooling, the softer the steel).
It&rsquos actually very easy to tell them apart.
True natural hamon
The appearance of a real hamon is like an chemical etched hamon: it&rsquos white and cloudy. But a real hamon seems to &ldquoglow&rdquo under light and the blade needs to be at a certain angle to view it. Up close, you&rsquoll see tiny dots/specks along and between the harder martensitic steel at the blade&rsquos edge and the rest of the blade which is the softer pearlitic steel at the center and back of the sword.
Fake hamon 1: wire brushed Hamon
Wire brushed hamon is the most common type of fake hamon. You&rsquoll see them on cheap wall hangers, hand forged swords like our 1045, 1050, and 1060 Series, and even on Japanese made iaito. It is accomplished by using a wire brush wheel running over the surface of the metal. It is easily spotted as you can see the fine lines from brushing. Also look for a uniform pattern that repeats at intervals from use of stencil. This hamon is visible at any angle you look at it and does not need special lighting.
Fake hamon 2: Chemical Etched Hamon
Acid etched hamon can actually fool a beginner because it looks like a real hamon: it&rsquos white, cloudy, and there are no scratches from wire brushing. Various chemicals including mild acid, vinegar, ferric chloride can be used to create a chemical etched hamon over non-differentially hardened blade. After which the blade is polished with a fabric buff to make the etched hamon look smooth on the surface of the steel. This looks better than a wire brushed hamon, but this fades when you clean the blade with metal polish. This hamon is visible at any angle you look at it and does not need special lighting.
Episode 7: HAMON(刃紋) ＆ JIHADA(地肌)
Before you sharpen up the blade to form the Katana shape, the blade goes through the process called “TSUCHI-OKI(土置き Mud-Put) and YAKI-IRE (焼き入れ Burn-In).” They put clay on top of the Katana blade, temper it again at 800℃, and rapidly bring down the heat by putting it back in cold water. Depending on how you put clay on it, they could make many different Hamon shapes because each part of the blade is tempered differently in the pot. The Hamon will show much clearer after the polishing process.
2.Shape of Hamon
If you have already seen one or two Katana, you may have noticed that there are generally two types of Hamon straight Hamon, SUGU-HA (直刃), and wavy Hamon, MIDARE-BA (乱刃). In the Japanese sword terminology, there are many specific terms to describe those Hamon patterns. However, we would just like to touch on these two types today.
Sugu-Ha never goes out of style. They were a more common, sharper, and martially more sturdy type of Katana throughout history.
Although most Sugu-Ha blades look very similar, there are loads of sub-genres among them as well.
We will show you those in the future episode of this series.
Midare-Ba acquired its popularity in the peaceful periods during the Samurai times.
Since they were more aesthetically outstanding, people would often prefer to have the Midare-Ba Katana on display.
However, The Japanese swords with Midare-Ba Hamon were also made in the conflicted eras such as the Sengoku period. (The Warring States period)
Midare-Ba should also be divided into several types. Below shows the four popular Midare-Ba waves.
Now you have probably grasped the difference between each HAMON. However, the blade of the Katana still has a lot more to be seen. We would also like to introduce the basics of Katana’s skin patterns, JIGANE, NIE and NIOI.
1.What is Jigane (Kitae-Hada)?
Jigane, or Kitae-Hada is the shee r pattern of wrinkles seen on Katana that stream through the blade on the surface. They are made in Katana’s layering process of its forging, and they range from straight ones to wavy ones as well as Hamon.
2.Types of Jigane
The figure below shows the four famous instances of Jigane. Since the blacksmiths had smashed the blade so hard to layer the blade’s steel, they were named after this process as ‘Forged-Skin,’ which is Kitae-Hada in Japanese. These Jigane types are generally unique to specific sword artistries, yet were sometimes inherited to individuals who moved to other regions.
Wavy patterns that look like tidal waves.
Patterns that look like tree rings.
Straight designs that look like lumber.
Straight patterns that look like trees cut vertically.
2.NIE and NIOI
As you may know, having read the previous episode about TAMA-HAGANE, Katana were usually made out of carbon steel. You can see that there are small crystallized round dots on Katana’s surface.
If the dots are visible in naked eye, we call them NIE.
If not, we refer to those smaller dots as NIOI.
Nie-Deki(沸出来Boiled-Made) were made when the blade was tempered at higher temperatures as the chemical reaction of carbon and steel gets fast and rough in higher intensity of heat. On the other hand, Nioi-Deki(匂出来Subtle-Made) were made in the slower burning of carbon steel so that the dots would crystalize more densely. It can also help determine the historical backgrounds about the swordsmiths’ artistry, based on the portion of Nie and Nioi.
Can you now tell the difference of your Katana from the other ones? If you cannot clarify the difference, you are welcome to ask us too. We would be happy to help you make the most of your Katana collection experience, and we appreciate all your aspiration and love for Samurai culture. We will see you in the next episode.
The Tanto started as a straight dagger that used to be worn by Samurai along with their Tachi. At first it was an attack weapon, during the Nara period, but over time it evolved to become more ornamental.
At that time, Japan was in a period of rebellions and conspiracies that threatened the health of the Fujiwara family .
The solution was to create a new class of warriors who would dedicate their lives to protecting them, as well as other noble families. At the end of this period these men would become known as those who serve: Samurai.
Initially the Tanto blade was created to work along with Tachi sword and functioned as a weapon intended to be used indoors, where the long sword had no function. In these situations, thanks to its short-range strength, it became an ideal weapon.
The Tanto Blade
The Tanto, with its straight form, was designed to be used primarily as a stabbing weapon, but is also perfect for cutting or even as a survival weapon.
Thanks to its more robust structure and the fact that it concentrates all the force of the blows on its tip, it is also capable of penetrating even hard objects such as armor.
There is an enormous variety in designs of Japanese Tanto from modifications in the curvature to a double edge. For this reason, they have also acquired enormous value as pieces of admiration.
Today, however, the Tanto that predominates is the one that resembles to a miniature Ninjato.
The blade of a Tanto usually varies between 15 and 30cm, although there are cases of some Tantos that have exceeded this rule, such as the nanboku-cho, which had up to 40 cm.
The craftsmen experimented with a variety of possibilities and forms for the Tanto, but these would never know the action, because with the arrival of the new swords these weapons would acquire a more symbolic value.
Nowadays the Tanto are demanded as functional knives and, many times, they are acquired together with a Katana and a Wakizashi as a full Samurai sword set.
The Dark Age of Samurai Sword History
In 1876, the Samurai class was officially disbanded and all civilians were ordered to give up carrying swords after encounters with the West made Japan embark on a period of rapid modernization. However, not all the Samurai went quietly, leading to the Satsuma rebellion (of which the movie "The Last Samurai" is loosely inspired by) which was savagely put down.
This was a very dark time in Samurai sword history, as the remaining few sword smiths were literally put out of business. The wearing of the Samurai sword was banned in 1877, and it was in this period that some Samurai secretly carried a blade concealed in a walking cane - but the writing was on the wall.
The rapidly growing, modernized Japanese army was at first armed with western style cavalry swords, however as their nationalism grew, thousands upon thousands of Gunto were churned out to arm Japanese officers until the end of World War II.
This is a Samurai Katana Blade made of T10 Clay Tempered Steel with Choji Hamon and Rosewood Saya With Buffalo Horn & High Quality Copper Fittings
Sword Type: Katana
Steel Type: T10 Clay Tempered Steel
Blade Length: 72 Centimeters
Handle Length: 27 Centimeters
Blade Width: 3.2 Centimeters
Tang: Full Tang
Blood Groove: With Bohi (Blood Groove)
Tsuba (Handguard): High Quality Copper Tsuba
Fuchi (Hilt Collar): High Quality Copper Fuchi
Kashira (Pommel): High Quality Copper Kashira
Menuki (Handle Ornaments): High Quality Copper Menuki
Saya (Scabbard): Rosewood Saya With Buffalo Horn
Ito (Wrap): Authentic Brown Leather
Ray Skin (Samegawa): Black
Sword Bag: Silk
This is a full tang Katana that features a Bohi. It has a sharpened, fully functional blade that is great for Tameshigiri. It can withstand more abuse, and keep a sharper edge which makes it better for use.
The Full Tang and Strong Blade
This full tang Katana has its blade extending to almost the whole length of its Tsuka. It is something that makes the sword stronger and more resistant to the rigors of training. Full tang blades are also lighter, making them more comfortable for use in training.
The Katana is also lighter due to the presence of a Bohi. It is also referred to as the blood groove or fuller. This works by making the sword more lightweight and easier to wield. It generally alters the point of balance of the blade.
The Katana Steel
This sword has a blade made from T10 steel. It is sometimes referred to as High Speed Steel or Tool Steel since it’s an alloy made of Tungsten and Carbon Steel.
It has a high tenor of carbon unlike other carbon steel plus, it also has a fraction of silicon content. Being clay tempered, this sword is able to keep a sharp edge while its spine is softer. This is to make it bend with ease when using it for practice. It can be achieved by the classic clay coating tempering method.
Katana Polish, Wrap, and Fittings
This Katana is also Hadori polished, where the Hamon is further improved. It is done via polishing of the blade using a coarse abrasive. The sword features a Choji hamon which is one of the oldest patterns around. This specific pattern is what the Ichimonji school is most known for.
For this Katana sword’s Tsuka, it is nicely wrapped with authentic brown leather. This material is strong and durable to have a tight hold on the Tsuka. It also comes with a black Samegawa to prevent your hands from getting sweaty when using the sword.
For the fittings, these include the Tsuba, Fuchi, Kashira, and Menuki all of which are pieces made from high quality copper.
All these fittings have useful functions for the sword. The Tsuba balances the sword while the Fuchi covers the opening on the Tsuka. For its Menuki, it is important due to the design and concept of the blade. Lastly, the Kashira also works for balance and to stop the handle from slipping from your hand.
Additions, Adornments, and Size
This Katana comes with a rosewood Saya with buffalo horn. It is a term that refers to a Japanese sword’s scabbard . The use of rosewood is great, since this material is durable and resistant. This sword also comes with a silk sword bag for added protection to the Katana.
For its measurements, this Katana weighs 1.73 kilograms. Its Tsuka is 27 centimeters long while the blade is 72 centimeters long and 3.2 centimeters wide.
When was the Katana Most Popular?
The Katana sword is a classic Nihonto used by the Samurai of feudal Japan. It is a vital weapon and part of the Daisho combination: the Katana and Wakizashi.
It was a popular weapon from 1400 AD until the year 1876. This was when the Samurai was soon abolished as one social class.
History of Katana (Japanese Samurai Sword)
From the Joko (ancient times) era to the Appearance of Curved Swords
From the Joko (ancient times) era to the appearance of curved swords In the Kofun (tumulus) period, steel swords had already been made. For example, iron swords and Tachi were excavated from the Inariyama tumulus, Saitama Prefecture and the Tsukuriyama tumulus, Shimane Prefecture, which is a large square tumulus in Izumo representing the early Kofun period. The iron sword with a gold inscription excavated from Inariyama tumulus was made in 471 for commemorating the achievement working for Wakatakeru (Emperor Yuryaku) with 115 Chinese characters.
Although most swords of this period are corroded and damaged, Kanto Tachi with gold and bronze fittings excavated from Kawarake Valley in Yasugi City, Shimane Prefecture is miraculously in good preservation, and is famous as a rare case to pass the shine from the ancient days to the present with its golden Tsuka (handle) as well as the body of blade.
Most swords after the seventh to eighth century retain their original form well, 'Heishishorinken' and 'Shichiseiken' of Shitenno-ji Temple and 'Kingindensono karatachi' of Shoso-in (treasure house of Todai-ji Temple) are well-known (Straight swords before appearance of curved swords are called ‘Tachi’ not ‘Katana’). As Emperor Suiko composed, 'A colt from Hyuga Province is the best horse, and Masabi from Wu is the best Tachi,' swords from Wu (collective name of southeast area of China) was supposed to be the best during this period. However, the skill of Katanamiths was improving.
In Shoso-in, domestically produced straight swords called Karayo (Chinese style) Tachi are stored as well as imports from overseas called Kara (Chinese) Tachi. Moreover, there still exist straight swords with Hirazukuri (ridged style) and Seppazukuri (front ridge style) and domestically produced Ken including Warabiteno Katana. Although relics of swords from the early Heian period are scarce, and the transition of styles or how and when Japanese original curved swords were formed are not fully figured out academically, after the mid Heian period (around the 10th century), when the turmoil of Johei and Tengyo occurred, Warabiteno Katana (curved sword) which was easy to use when riding with its warped body of blade was used instead of conventional straight swords.
It seems that Warabiteno Katana that barbarians used while riding to the disputes with Tohoku where they suffered for a long time had an influence. Also in this period, swords with 'Shinogizukuri' (ridged style) whose cross section of the body of blade is rhombic started to be made instead of the Hirazukuri (no ridge style) or Seppazukuri (front ridge style). Shinogizukuri' is said to be stronger and easier to cut with than Hirazukuri and Seppazukuri.
Age of Tachi (long sword)
In the late Heian period, especially around the time of Early Nine-Years War and Late Three-Years War, Tachi was developed along with increasing power of samurai, and usually the ones after this period are called Katana. Schools of sword craftsmenship appeared in the border area between Izumo and Hoki, and Bizen Province where there was good iron sand, and Yamashiro Province and Yamato Province which were the center of politics and culture. In these days, the mainstream of Katana is Tachi considered for fighting on horseback. Representative Katana of this period are 'Doji giri (killing ogre)' sword by which MINAMOTO no Yorimitsu cut Shuten-doji (Drunk Ogre) on Oe Mountain (made by Yasutsuna in Hoki Province, National Treasure) 'Kogitsunemaru (small fox)' sword which has a legend that a fox helped with the forging (made by Munechika SANJO in Yamashiro Province, lost during the Second World War).
Although an ancient document mentions that Yasutsuna from the border area between Izumo and Hoki who made 'Doji-giri' sword lived in the early 9th century, as seen in his existing work, it is widely believed that he didn't live in those days, but rather in the mid Heian period at the end of 10th century. Other than Yasutsuna, SANJO Kokaji Munechika in Yamashiro (capital) and Tomonari KOBIZEN are regarded as the oldest sword craftsmen whose names are on existing work.
Although Katana in the early Kamakura era looked like the ones in the late Heian period, the military government system was established by the Kamakura Shogunate, and the world of swords blossomed. The Retired Emperor Gotoba established Gotoba-in smithery, where he summoned sword craftsmen each month and had them forge swords, also involved himself in Yakiba (cutting edge), and positively encouraged the making of swords. In this period, Awataguchi school in Yamashiro Province and Ichimonji school in Bizen Province were newly established. In the mid Kamakura period, as a result of emphasizing utility, the width of the blade became wider, which makes a difference in the width of blade at the base and at the top less, and swords have a rounded surface. Kissaki (tip) became wide and short, which was called Ikubi (boar's neck), and showed a simple and strong characteristic. As famous swordsmith in this period, there were Kuniyoshi and Yoshimitsu of the Awataguchi school in Yamashiro, Kuniyuki, Rai Kunitoshi and Niji Kunitoshi (only 'Kunitoshi' was inscribed instead of 'Rai Kunitoshi' as signature) of Rai school also in Yamashiro, Shintogo Kunimitsu in Sagami Province, Fukuoka Ichimonji school in Bizen, Mitsutada of Bizen Osafune school and Aoe school of Bicchu Province.
Swords made especially in Yamashiro, Yamato, Bizen, Mino, and Sagami are called 'Gokaden (Swords from the five provinces).' The creation of swords in these five provinces respectively have a unique feature in Jitetsu (steel), Kitae (forging) or Hamon (blade pattern), which are respectively called 'Yamashiro den (Swords from Yamashiro Province)' or 'Soshu den (Swords from Sagami Province).' In the late Kamakura period, the creation of swords bloomed further due to disorders such as two Genko (Mongol Invasions) and collapse of the political system.
Katana of this period were changing to become more dynamic than those from the mid Kamakura era. The blade width became wider, which makes the width less at the base and at the top, and they came to have longer Kissaki (tip). Tanto (short swords) or other Katana also came to have a longer point like the Tachi. It could be said that OKAZAKI Goro-nyudo Masamune, as an expert of Soshu den was the most brilliant swordsmith in this period. His style is prominent in the artwork on the blade surface, that is, Kinsuji (golden strip), Inazuma (thunderbolt) or Chikei (landscape). The style of Masamune tremendously influenced sword craftsmenship in various regions. There are swordsmiths called 'Masamune Jittetsu (Ten best disciples of Masamune).' Although most of them were stretches in the later days and had no actual relationship between master and disciple, this shows the influence of Masamune's Soshu den in various regions.
After the Muromachi Period
The early Muromachi period produced famous swordsmiths including Bizen Osafune Morimitsu and Bizen Osafune Yasumitsu, and Moromitsu, Iesuke, Tsuneie also from Bizen. Since most swords of theirs were made during the Oei period, they are generally called 'Oei Bizen' and are highly valued. Domestic demand for swords decreased since the era of peace started, but production for important exports to Ming dynasty in China also started.
When the war-torn era started by the turmoil of the Onin War, numbers of inferior swords made by mass production called 'Kazu-uchi mono' started to appear to respond to the massive demand, which intensified the deterioration in the quality of swords. The Sengoku period (period of warring states) gave rise to mass production of inferior Kazu-uchi mono (mass products), but on the other hand, the steel industry which produced the material made a rapid advance in Tatara (bellows) technology and with the arrival of guns by trading with Westerners.
Stable supply of high quality steel was realized, and elaborate works of Katana kaji of this period and 'Chumon-uchi (items made to order)' which warriors specially ordered to entrust his own fate to are mostly famous. In the Sengoku period, Magoroku Kanemoto and Izuminokami Kanesada as two major swordsmiths of Sue Koto (Late Old Sword), and Muramasa in Ise appeared. (As for the swords after the mid Muromachi era, Tachi which was carried on at the waist with the blade downward was replaced by Uchigatana which was put on at the waist with the blade upward. The outside of both Tachi and Uchigatana when wearing is supposed to be the front of the body of blade, on which signature of the sword craftsman is usually inscribed. Therefore, Tachi and Uchigatana are mostly distinguished by the position of the inscribed signature (Mei), but some sword craftsmen inscribed in the back.)
In the history of swords, creation of swords after the Keicho period are called 'Shinto (New Swords),' and were distinguished from 'Koto (Old Swords),' made before that. In this period, famous swordsmiths gathered in Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka to compete with each other.
During the Edo Period
In the Edo period, swordsmithery flourished in Edo, Osaka and other regions, and famous swordsmiths including Kotetsu NAGASONE, Kunihiro HORIKAWA, Shinkai INOUE, and Sukehiro TSUDA appeared. Although Katana kaji used to have an attribute as workmen of weapon manufacturing, some of them started to develop an artistic disposition. New demand for Katana was also generated since financially well-off merchants specially ordered luxurious Wakizashi (medium length swords). Especially in Osaka, Shinkai and Sukehiro appeared, who developed a magnificent style called Osaka Shinto (Osaka New Swords). However, conservative samurai avoided some of them because they thought those swords looked decadent with the picturesque and ornate Hamon (blade pattern). And since swordsmanship was practiced with bamboo swords, Katana came to have a shape with a shallow curve.
In the era of peace after the Genroku period, there was no demand for new swords, and few craftsmen made swords. On the other hand, however, riggings of a sword such as Tsuba (handguard), Kozuka (accessory knife), Menuki (hilt ornaments), Kogai (hair pick accessory) were developed in this period, and also in such field of sword ornament goldsmiths, lots of famous swordsmiths including Matashichi HAYASHI, Yasuchika TSUCHIYA, Toshinaga NARA, Somin YOKOTANI, Shozui HAMANO and Ichijo GOTO appeared.
In the late Edo era, when Japan became turbulent, Suishinshi Masahide and some others tried to restore the forging method of Koto (Old Swords) from the philosophy of revivalism, and practical Katana started to be made again. Creation of swords after this period is called 'Shin Shinto (New-New Swords).' Disciples of Masahide including SHOJI Taikei Naotane, MINAMOTO no Kiyomaro, Sa no Yukihide, Munetsugu KOYAMA appeared. However, when the creation of sword started to flourish again, the Meiji Restoration began, then Revenge was banned in 1873, and the decree banning the wearing of swords to prohibit people, except the police and military from wearing swords, was issued on March 28, 1876, so Katana rapidly declined.
From the Meiji Era to the Second World War
In 1873, Katana were exhibited at the Expo held in Vienna. This was to show Japanese technology and mentality to the international society. However, after the decree banning the wearing of swords, there were little demand for new swords, and most swordsmiths who were popular lost their job. Moreover, numbers of famous swords went abroad. Still, Japanese government appointed Gassan and Tadanori MIYAMOTO as Imperial Members of Art. They made an effort to preserve traditional techniques of creating swords. On the other hand, appreciation of the Drawn Sword Squad in the Seinan War influenced the Japanese Army and Navy to keep using katana as major weapons for officers, and it became standard to make Katana with military sword fittings of saber style, then the proof of Katana' effectiveness in close combats in the Russo-Japanese War as weapons in a modern war, and the increasing momentum of ultranationalism in the Showa era made the Army and Navy develop military sword fittings more suitable to store a Katana with the motif of Tachi fittings in the Kamakura era, instead of military sword fittings of the saber style (at the same time, however, numbers of swords that had been used in ancient and modern wars as military swords were lost on the battleground).
After the Manchurian Incident, the Armory and some researchers in institutes pursued the possibility as a soldier's gear in regard not only to the fittings, but also the body of blade. For example, various military swords including 'Shinbuto' that is strong in the bitter cold of Manchuria, and Katana of stainless steel the Navy used ('Taiseito') were studied. Various bodies of blades from the ones with partly changed materials or from production methods of Katana to industrial swords representing the shape of Katana were made as prototypes or in large quality. These special blades were called 'Showa swords,' 'New Murata sword' and 'New Katana,' and it is said that a lot of them outweighed conventional Katana (even famous swords) in quality as weapons.
From the original viewpoint of 'Katana as weapons to fight with,' each of the special blades became a perfect Katana using modern technology and had an essential practical utility, but most of them have no taste of beauty in appearance (some swords including semi-forged Showa Swords of Seki have both), so, today, they are not supposed to be included together with Katana, also from the standpoint of the production method. Recently, however, such military swords which were disregarded in the sword world became popular, and at the same time they are reevaluated as researchers and collectors found something new or an unfair and the myth was denied.
After the Second World War
After the surrender in the Second World War, the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers conducted a sword hunt regarding Katana as weapons, so numerous swords including Hotarumaru were destroyed (in Kumamoto prefecture, for example, swords were burned with petroleum and thrown into the sea). There was also a rumor that 'if you have a sword, the GHQ will come to search with a metal detector,' so some swords were hidden in the ground, which caused them to corrode and they were ruined, some were broken to make a short one which is shorter than the length of the those that were prized by collectors, and some people discarded swords on their own, and so on and so forth.
Although Katana themselves were endangered once, Japan made a great effort and possession with a registration system became possible. A Katana itself is required to be registered, and a sword without a registration needs to be notified to the Police and investigated. Although carrying a sword is subject to restriction by the Sword and Firearms Control Law, permission is not required to possess a sword and anybody can possess them (some municipalities prohibit sales to people 18 or younger in an ordinance). Today, Katana are not weapons, but tools for martial arts such as Iaido, and decent art objects same as paintings and pottery, and the production and possession are allowed only for such purposes. Furthermore, the number of swords to be made by a sword craft master per year is allocated, which prevents reduction in quality of the work by mass production of inferior swords.
Watch the video: 00207 Authentic JAPANESE SAMURAI SWORD WAKIZASHI with KOSHIRAE SET AWESOME HAMON (June 2022).