The circle indicates the time we discuss in this section
There are many swordsmiths in the Bizen (備前) school during the early Kamakura period. However, their sword style is usually somewhat similar to that of the Yamashiro school. Therefore, they are called Ko-bizen (古備前), which means old Bizen.
The true Bizen school style emerged in the Middle Kamakura period. Bizen province had many advantages to produce great swords. The area produced high-quality iron and a large amount of firewood for fuel. Also, its location was conveniently situated from different places. Naturally, many swordsmiths came to the place and produced swords in quantities. Due to the competition among those swordsmiths, Bizen swords’ quality is generally higher than that of other schools. Thus, it is not easy to appraise Bizen swords since they had many subtle variations among the many swordsmiths.
Generally speaking, the following three features are the most distinctive characteristics of Bizen school.
- Nioi-base tempered line. Nioi-base tempered line is finer dots than Nie-base. Dots are so small that they look almost like a line. Technically, the tempering processes of these two are the same. See the illustration below.
- Ji-hada (surface of the body) looks soft.
- Reflection (Utsuri) appears on the surface.
Sugata (shape) —The length is about 33 inches ± a few inches. The blade is slightly wide and looks stout. The curvature of the blade is Koshizori (腰反), which means the deepest curvature comes at a lower part. The body has an average thickness. Small Kissaki.
Horimono(engraving) — Engravings are rare. The shape of the tip of Hi is all the way up to Ko-shinogi and fill up the whole area.
Nakago ——– Long and thin with curvature. The end of Nakago is rounded and looks like a shape of the bottom of a chestnut. This shape is called Kurijiri. See the illustration of the sword above.
Hamon (tempered area pattern)—— Nioi base. The tempered area is wide, and the width is even. Also, the size of Midare (irregular wavy tempered pattern) is uniform.
Boshi — The same tempered pattern continues to go up to the Boshi area, and it often shows Choj- midare (clove-shape waves pattern) or Yakizume.
Ji-hada — Fine and well forged. Steel looks soft. The small wood grain pattern and the large wood grain pattern are mixed together on the steel surface. Chikei (condensation of Nie) and Utsuri (cloud-like reflection) appear.
Bizen School Sword Smiths during Middle Kamakura Period
- Fukuoka Ichimonji (福岡一文字) group ———–Norimune (則宗) Sukemune (助宗 )
- Yoshioka Ichimonji (吉岡一文字) group ——-Sukeyoshi (助吉) Sukemitsu (助光)
- Sho-chu Ichimonji (正中一文字) group ————–Yoshiuji (吉氏) Yoshimori (吉守)
- Osafune (長船) group ————Mitsutada (光忠) Nagamitu (長光) Kagemitsu (景光)
- Hatakeda(畠田) group ————————————–Moriie (守家) Sanemori (真守)
- Ugai (鵜飼) group ————————————————– Unsho (雲生) Unji (雲次)
Fukuoka Ichimonji (一文字) from “Nippon-to Art Swords of Japan” The Walter A. Compton Collection