by Jim Kurrasch
from the November 1996 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter

This article is to celebrate a magnificent sword that was on display at the Sword Museum in Yoyogi in September 1996. It is signed Tomonari saku ???, and attributed to sometime during the Heian Period. It made Jûyô Bukasai on December the 5th 1952. This tachi is san shaku ichi bun shichi sun. That is 96 centimeters or 37 ¾ inches long. And every bit of it is beautiful. It’s utsuri just leaps out at the viewer, and the lighting set up at the Sword Museum is done so well that the viewing may actually be better than if it was held in ones hands.

Tomonari was to follow Sanemori first known sword smith to work in Bizen. But since there are no known works of Sanemori, Tomonari become the first to represent that era and kuni, and he is probably the most famous of the Ko-Bizen smiths. Actually his works are probably the classic example of Ko-Bizen. There appears to have been several of Tomonari working from about 980 to about 1240 AD (there is a example dated 1237). There are a number of Tomonari blades that became famous, or were owned by famous persons.
Tomonari made blades following the Yamashiro tradition. They are shinogi zukuri, ihori-mune with very deep koshi-zori, and strong fumbari. There is ko-kissaki, and little niku. The basic shape of the blade is very graceful. There is one tantô by Tomonari in the Itsukushima Jinja near Hiroshima.

Often there are bô-hi carved and they will go up into the kissaki (kakinagashi), and down into the nakago (kakinagashi or kakudome).

The hamon is ko-chôji-midare. There will be considerable ko-nie. Both the nie and nioi cluster, and become ashi, yô, sunagashi, kinsuji, and inazuma. Sometimes there are hamon of suguha chôji in nioi deki. Occasionally ni-juba are seen. Actually virtually all types of activity are seen in the hamon of Tomonari blades.

The ko-nie deki blades have either a midarekomi with slight kaeri, or they are yakizume. The nioi deki blades (probably made later) have a ko-maru bôshi.

The hada is well worked ko-mokume, with occasional ô-hada, or it is hadatachi ko-itame. Ji-nie sometimes forming chikei (or many chikei) and a midare jifu utsuri are present. Hi ji-gane maybe slightly darker than that of some of his contemporaries. Also his utsuri is not very clear, and hence may not be visible.

The nakago are long and tapered ending in kuri-jiri. Occasionally kijimomo (pheasant thigh) are seen. They will be signed ‘Tomonari’, ‘Tomonari saku’, ‘Bizen no Kuni Tomonari’ or ‘Bizen no Kuni Tomonari tsukuru’. Yasuri-mei are katte sagari. Occasionally they are dated. The iron of the nakago is of high quality, and thus ages very well, imparting a extra dignity to the blade.