23| Sengoku Period History (戦国時代)

23 time line Sengoku Period

The circle indicate the time we are discussing in this section

Under political history, Sengoku Period (戦国時代),  is a part of Muromachi period.  But under sword history, we separate Muromachi period and Sengoku period (Warring States period).  Because the sword style changed and the environment of sword making changed a lot.

After Onin-no-Ran has started (21|Muromachi Period), the beautiful capital city, Kyoto was in a devastated condition.  The Shogun’s power only reached the very limited small area.  The rest of the counties were divided into 30 or so small independent countries.  The head of those independent countries was Shugo Daimyo (government officials, originally appointed and sent by the central government), and powerful local Samurai.  Each of those countries fought against each other to take over each other’s land.  At this time, vassals killed his superior and stole his domain, farmers revolted against their lords.  This is called “Gekoku-jo (lower class Samurai overthrow the superior)”.  This is the time of Sengoku period (Warring States period).  The head of the domain was called Sengoku Daimyo (warlord).  Sengoku period lasts about 100 years.  Little by little, after a long hard battles, stronger countries defeated less powerful countries and gained larger territory.  30 countries became 20 then 10 and so on.  Eventually, a few powerful big Sengoku Daimyo (warlord) were left.  Each of those tried to fight his way up to Kyoto and unite the country.  The first person who almost succeeded was Oda Nobunaga.  But he was killed by his own vassal, Akechi Mitsuhide, and Akechi was killed by his colleague, Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  After Hideyoshi defeated Akechi and a few more warlords, Toyotomi Hideyoshi almost completed to unite Japan.  But one more person was left.  That is Tokugawa Iyeyasu. Now, two big power clans were left.  One is Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the other is Tokugawa Ieyasu. Both knew that their opponents are smart and powerful Daimyo, any wrong move on your part would be a fatal mistake.  So they stayed co-existed amicably on the surface for a while, though Toyotomi Hideyoshi tried Tokugawa Ieyasu made his vassal but did not succeed.  For Tokugawa Iyeyasu, since he was younger, he knew that he could just wait until Hideyoshi’s naturally dies.  And that happened.  After Hideyoshi’s death, Tokugawa Ieyasu fought with the vassals who used to work under Hideyoshi and won at the war of Sekigahara  in 1600.  Then 1615 Tokugawa won against Hideyoshi’s son’s army.  After this time, Edo period started.  Edo period is called Edo period because Tokugawa Ieyasu lived in Edo, which is Tokyo now.

*Sengoku period is often depicted in TV’s and movies.  People who lived through the Sengoku period had a very hard time but it is the most interesting time for TV’s and movies.  Stories of Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu are the most favorite stories in Japan.  Especially Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s story is one of the most popular ones.  He was born in a poor farmer family who became the top of Japan.  This is one fascinating success story.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi drawn by Mitsunobu Kanou in 1601 owned by Kodaiji-Temple

22|Muromachi Period Sword

21 Muromachi period Timeline

The circle indicate the time we are discussing in this section

Long strife between North and South Dynasty ended.  Even though the government was corrupted at the latter part of the Muromachi Period, at least until the “Onin-no-Ran”, (refer 21 Muromachi period historyMuromachi period was a rather peaceful time.  Nanboku-Cho style long sword became useless and they were shortened.  This is called Suriage.  In general, the Muromachi period was a declining time for sword making.

Tachi and Katana

Until the end of the Nanboku-Cho period, the sword was suspended from the waist, cutting side faces down.  Swordsmiths inscribed their names facing out when it was worn.  That means when you see the inscription, the cutting side comes right.  This is called Tachi.  Around the Muromachi period, swords were worn inside the belt, the cutting side up, and the inscription of the name facing out when it is worn.  That means when you see the inscription, the cutting side comes left.  This is called the Katana.  Samurai usually wore one pair of swords together called Dai-Sho(大小), that means large and small.  A longer one is Katana and the shorter one is Wakizashi.  In general, Tachi is longer and Katana is shorter, Wakizashi is even shorter but longer than Tanto. The difference between Tachi and Katana comes from the way it was worn, not the length.

2b Tachi & Katana difference

O-Suriage ( shortened 磨上げ)

When the shortened (suriage) sword was appraised as a valuable one, Hon’ami family (Connoisseur family continued many generations) judged the make of the sword and wrote sword smith’s name on the front side of the hilt and signed the connoisseur’s name on the back of the hilt.  When the sword was shortened a lot, it is called O-Suriage.

 Shu-Mei (朱明 )———————————————————-name written in Vermilion Kinpun-Mei (金粉名 )———————————————-name lacquered in gold powder  Gin-Zougan (銀象嵌 )————————————————————-name inlaid in silver Kin-Zougan (金象嵌 )—————————————————————name inlaid in gold

Shape (Sugata 姿)———Usually approximately 2 feet 3 or 4 inches (71cm) long. The shape of the Muromachi period Katana is somewhat like Heian period Tachi style.  But Muromachi Katana is not as grand, not as graceful as Heian period sword.  They are Koshizori.  Koshizori shape means the highest curvature comes lower than the center of the blade.  Suitable length and shape for wearing inside the belt. The width and the thickness of the sword are well balanced with the length.  Small Kissaki.

Hirazukuri-Wakizashi———–Hirazukuri means a flat surface with no Shinogi and no Yokote line.  Usually One foot and 1 or 2inches long.  No curvature.  Hirazukuri-Wakizashi appeared During Muromachi time.


22 Muromachi sword shape

Hamon (tempered line 刃文) ———————- Nioi base. Tempered are is well balanced to the width of the blade.  Koshi-hiraita-midare mixed with Choji midare.

22Hamon (Koshi Hiraita midare)
from Sano Museum Catalogue (permission granted)


Boshi ————– Midare-komi, short turn back. Midare is irregular wave like hamon pattern.  Look at the illustration above.

Jitetsu (地鉄)  area between the tempered line and Shinogi)————Soft look, large wood grain pattern, Jiutsuri (faint smoke or cloud-like effect) shows.

Horimono (carvings 彫物) ———- Bo-hi (single groove), Soe hi (narrow groove), Futasuji hi (double narrow groove), Sanscrit, Tokko- tsuki –ken, Tsume-tuki-Ken, Names of God, Dragon.  Carvings became elaborate.

9 Hi, Suken, Bonji20 Tokko, tume Ken







Sword Smiths during Muromachi Period

Bizen Den ———-Osafune Morimitsu (長船盛光), Yasumitsu (康光), Moromitsu (師光)      Yamashiro Den———————————————–Yamashiro Nobukuni (山城信国)


22 Muromachi sword from Sano
From Sano Museum Catalogue (permission granted)Bizen Osafune Naomitu (備前長船尚光)
Ise Masashige (伊勢正重) Family owned.               Classified as Juyo Token(重要刀剣)


21|Muromachi Period History (室町時代)

18 Nanbokucho time line

The circle indicate the time we are discussing in this section

Ashikaga Takauji(足利尊氏) was one of the main people who ended Kamakura Bakufu and started Nanboku-Cho period – North and South dynasty -(refer to 18 Nanbokucho – history).

His grandson, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (often called Shogun Yoshimitsu) built a new beautiful Palace at Muromachi (室町) in Kyoto.  This palace became the center of the government called Muromachi Bakufu (室町幕府), therefore, we call this time was Muromachi period.  Ashikaga Yoshimitsu built the famous “Kinkakuji Temple” (golden pavilion)*.


In the Muromachi period, the emperor’s power became weak, shogun (将軍) held all the political power.  Little by little, several groups of samurai who were called Shugo Daimyou (守護大名), started to gain the political power and economic power by holding the important offices in the Muromachi Bakufu (government).  They also owned a large land.  Some of the names of  Shugo Daimyo were Hosokawa family and the Yamana family.

Ashikaga family made a great effort to make the Muromachi Bakufu a sound political power through the political maneuver.  Yet by the time Ashikaga Yoshimasa (8th Ashikaga Shogun) became the Shogun, the Bakufu was corrupted very badly.  Shogun Yoshimasa did not pay attention to his job as a politician.  Instead, he was chasing women (his mother had to scold him for that), spend a huge amount of money to build a Silver Pavilion called “Ginkakuji” and retreated himself in there.  Shogun Yoshimasa did not have an heir.  Therefore his brother, Yoshimi was decided to be the next Shogun.  But later, Yoshimasa’s wife Hino Tomiko (日野富子)* had a son, Yoshihisa (義尚).  Now, brother

Yoshimi (義視) allied with the Hosokawa family (細川) who was a high official in Muromachi Bakufu,  and Yoshihisa (the son) allied with the Yamana (山名) family who was an another high official in Muromachi Bakufu and several other smaller groups of Samurai allied with either side, started a big battle.  This is called Onin -no-Ran (応仁の乱) in 1467 and spread all over and continued for 11years.

As a result of this battle, beautiful Kyoto was burnt down to ashes, the authority of Muromachi Bakufu was reduced to the only small surrounding area.


Kinkakuji Temple (金閣寺) Golden Pavillion—————-Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利義満) built Kinkakuji in 1397.   Rinzai-Shu (臨済宗) school Buddhistic temple, it was originally built as his second house.  It is designated as the world heritage.  It was burnt down by the arsonist in 1950, rebuilt in 1955.  The novelist Mishima Yukio wrote the novel  “Kinkakuji” dealing with the Golden Pavillion and an arsonist.  The famous quote, “ The gold bird (Houou in Japanese, it is a Chinese phoenix) on the roof of the Kinkakuji temple is stationary but fly through the space of the time eternally”


Hino Tomiko (日野富子)——————The wife of Shogun Yoshimasa.  She took advantage of her political privileges to raise a large amount of money, then loan them to the high officials with high interest.  She also invested in the rice commodity market to raise the price of rice and sold with a high profit.  The corruption reached an uncontrollable level.