Swords of Yamato
by Jim Kurrasch
from the March 1997 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
Yamato was probably the second kuni in Japan to produce swords, with the first being Hôki, ?? where Korean sword smiths entered Japan. This early Yamato work started in Nara, about Taiho (701 – 704). The most noted smith of this time was Amakuni – ??. He is credited with making the Kogarasumaru. But that is something that has not been proven. At the end of the Nara period much of the sword making moved to the new capital Kyôtô. Amakuni is credited with changing the shape of the sword from straight to curved. This makes him the Father of the modern Japanese Sword. Many of the blades today that are said to be by Amakuni are probably by Ko-Senjuin smiths instead.
Shape; Amakuni used a shallow torii sorii, with a ko-kissaki. The shinogi-ji is wide and high. Sometimes a nearly straight blade is found.
Hamon; The hamon is a nie-deki suguha hotsure – straight frayed. These nie are bright. There are nijuba in places.
Bôshi; The bôshi is yakizume, that becomes nie kuzure – fragmented, due to the large number of nie. The tip is hakikaki.
Tetsû; The tetsû is a well worked ko-mokume hada, with masame in some places, and O-hada in other places.
Nakago; Amakuni made his nakago long with niku. They end in kurijiri.
The next known group to work in Yamato was the Senjuin ???. They were founded by Yukinobu ??, about 1150, and named after the Senjuin Temple where they worked. This is one thing that Yamato Schools were known for, many of them were associated with the Temples, and produced blades for use by the warrior priests. This caused Yamato blades to be very conservative in style. One of the Senjuin smiths Shigehiro ?? served Emperor Gotoba, and later founded the Akasaka Senjuin School in Mino.
Ko-Senjuin worked from the Heian Jidae – period to late Kamakura Jidae. Chu Senjuin worked from late Kamakura and through the Nambôkuchô. And the Sue Senjuin worked from about Oei on.
Shape; The tachi have a elegant Heian Jidae shape, with torii sorii. The shinogi-ji is high and wide. There is a thick kasane. The Senjuin smiths also made ken, and hô-ken – katana length ken.
Hamon; The hamon is a narrow nie-deki suguha. There will be hotsure, and maybe ko-choji midare or ko-midare. The nie are bright, but rough. There will be uchinoke, kuichigai, and nijuba. Kinsuji and inazuma are also present.
Bôshi; The pattern is small above the yokote, and becomes larger slightly rough, and kuzure as it goes into the point. The pattern can be kaen, yakizume, nie kuzure, or ko-maru.
Tetsû; Well made ko-mokume, with masame is characteristic for Senjuin. This gives considerableji-nie, which form a yubashiri like effect. Chikei are also present.
Nakago; The Senjuin nakago is long and tapering, ending in kurijiri. The yasurimei are sensuki – paralel to the mune, sujigai, or higaki – cross hatched pattern.
The Chû-Senjuin smiths worked during the Kamakura period. They made swords similar to the Ko-Senjuin smiths, except they were stronger and less skilled. They also made shôbu-tsukuri, and takenoko tantô.
A Jûyô Bunkasai Tachi by Senjuin den.
The Tegai ?? School was started by Kanenaga around 1290. The name was given because it worked near the Tengai gate of the Todaiji Temple in Nara. These smiths probably had a association with this temple. There were a total of 9 generations of Kanenaga, as well as many other Tegai smiths, but only the Shodai had considerable skill. So the early Tegai smiths made similar swords to Kanenaga, but they were lesser in all respects.
Shape; The Tegai School made a firm early Kamakura shape. These had a thick kasane, high shinogi, and thin mune. They also used koshi-zorii.
Hamon; A bright nie-deki chu suguha with small ashi, and hotsure, was used by the Tegai School. Uchinoke, and nijuba are also present. Sometimes a hamon more Sô-den like will be seen. These start in chu suguha hotsure, and become larger patterned about midway up the blade. They also have inazuma, and kinsuji.
Bôshi; The bôshi are yakizume, Ichimonji, or kaen. If the hamon is midare that will enter the bôshi, and then becomes yakizume, Ichimonji, or kaen, with a shallow turn-back.
Tetsû; The tetsû does not have much masame, so this is contrary to most schools of the Yamato tradition. Instead it is a somewhat dead ko-mokume. Especially with the later Tegai smiths this characteristic makes one thing of anything but Yamato, if the blade is unsigned. The only clues maybe something like a Ichimonji turnback in the bôshi.
Nakago; Most tachi have been shortened, so if they are not o-suriage, the signature will be at the very tip of the nakago.
Shape; The shape became the stouter Muromachi shape. And most blades found today will have this.
Hamon; The hamon is still chu suguha nie-deki, but there will not be as many nie as in the earlier blades. Still hotsure, uchinoke, nijuba, and kuichigai are seen. There may also be a ko-midare or notare hamon.
Tetsû; The tetsû became a coarse mokume hada with masame.
A Jûyô Bunkasai Tachi by Tegai Kanenaga
The Hoshô School was founded by Kunimitsu. He may have used the name Sadamitsu. Since there are no known swords by him, his son Sadamune is credited with being the founder. There are a number of swords by Sadamune still available.
Shape: The shape will be from mid to late Kamakura with sallow sori and little niku. The shinogi is wide and the kasane is thick.
Hamon: The width of the hamon is narrow to chû suguha of nie deki.
Bôshi: The bôshi is either hakikaki or yakitsume. A major identifying feature is that the masame continues into the bôshi where it turns up towards the mune. Occasionally a short turnback is seen but yakitsune – no turnback is normal.
Tetsu: The hada of Hoshô is the only pure masame hada seen in the mainline Yamato tradition. So it is fairly easy to recognize. Later works are a bit rougher.
Nakago: Most of the tachi are ô-suriage mumei but the tantô are normally kurijiri – chestnut shape. Ni-ji mei is normal but occasionally naga mei – a long inscription is seen.
The Shikkake School was found by Norihiro. It was in the Shikkake area of Yamato. He was active about 1275. There are no known blades by him in existence. This leaves his son Norinaga considered to have founded the school.
Shape: The tachi is in the mid-Kamakura shape with a medium sori.
Hamon: The hamon is a bit thin for chû-suguha but midare. It is done in nie deki.
Bôshi: If a turnback is present it is short. Normally the bôshi is hakikake and yakitsune but ko-maru is seen.
Tetsu: The tetsû is ko-mokume with masame. There will be ji-nie and chikei in places. Shkkake hada is mokume hada with masame hada near the hamon.
Nakago: The nakago is long with niku and iriyamagata or kurijiri. The yasurimei is kiri or katte sagari.
A Jûyô Bunkasai Taema tantô
A Jûyô Beaks Tantô by Hoshô Sadamune
A Jûyô Bunkasai wakizashi by Shikkake Norinaga Naginata
A Jûyô Bunkasai wakizashi by Shikkake Norinaga Naginata