22| Sengoku Period History (戦国時代歴史)

22 Sengoku period Time Line red

The red circle above indicate the time we discuss in this section

The above timeline shows two red circles.  In political history, the Sengoku period (戦国時代) is a part of the Muromachi (室町) period, which is the second circle.   However, in the sword history, we separate the Muromachi period and the Sengoku period (Warring States period), which is shown on the first circle.  In sword history, we divide the time this way because, in those two periods, the sword style changed, and the environment of sword making also changed.

After the Onin-no-Ran (応仁の乱) had started (discussed in 20|Muromachi Period History (室町時代歴史) ), the beautiful capital city, Kyoto (京都 ) was in a devastating condition.  The Shogun’s (将軍) power reached only to the very limited small area.  The rest of the country was divided into 30 or so small independent states.  The heads of those independent states were called Shugo Daimyo (守護大名).  They were initially government officials who had been appointed and sent there by the central government.  Also, powerful local Samurais often became the head of those states.  They fought against each other to take over the other’s land.  During the Sengoku period, vassals would kill his master and stole his domain, or farmers would revolt against their lords.  A state like this is called “Gekoku-jo (lower class Samurai overthrow the superior).” 

This is the time of the Warring States called the Sengoku period.  The head of a state was called Sengoku Daimyo (戦国大名: war-lord).  The Sengoku period lasts about 100 years.  Little by little, powerful states defeated less powerful ones after long hard battles and gained more territory.  Thirty or so small countries became 20, then ten and so on.  Eventually, a few dominant Sengoku Daimyo (war-lord) were left.  Each Daimyo of those states tried to fight his way up to Kyoto and be the country’s top.  The first one who almost succeeded was Oda Nobunaga (織田信長).  However, he was killed by his vassal, Akechi Mitsuhide (明智光秀), but shortly after, Akechi was killed by his colleague, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉)   

After Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeated Akechi Mitsuhide and his troop and a few more significant war-lords, he almost completed uniting Japan.  Yet, Hideyoshi had one more rival to deal with to complete his job.  That was Tokugawa Iyeyasu (徳川家康).  Now, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu were the last contenders for the top position.  Both knew that their opponents were smart and able.  Any wrong move on either part would be a fatal mistake.  So, they decided to keep an amicable co-existing relationship on the surface for a while.  Though Toyotomi Hideyoshi tried to make Tokugawa Ieyasu his vassal, Tokugawa Ieyasu somehow maneuvered to avoid that.  In the mind of Tokugawa Iyeyasu, since he was younger than Toyotomi Hideyoshi, he knew that he could just wait until Hideyoshi‘s natural death.  And that happened eventually.  

 After Hideyoshi’s death, Tokugawa Ieyasu fought Hideyoshi’s vassals and won at the Battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原の戦い) in 1600.  Then, in 1615, at the battle of the Osaka Natsu-no-Jin (Osaka Summer Campaign: 大阪夏の陣), Tokugawa won against Hideyoshi’s son, Hideyori’s army.  After this, the Toyotomi clan ceased to exist entirely, then the Edo (江戸) period started.  The period is called the Edo period because Tokugawa Ieyasu lived in Edo, current Tokyo (東京).

 *The Sengoku period is often depicted in TV dramas and movies.  People who lived through the Sengoku period had a tough time, but it was the most exciting time for TV shows and movies.  The life of Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and, Tokugawa Ieyasu is the most favorite story in Japan.  Especially the story of Toyotomi Hideyoshi is one of the most popular ones.  His background was a poor farmer, but he eventually became the top ruler of Japan.  That is one fascinating success story.

23 Toyotomi_hideyoshi

Portrait of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉) by Kano Mitsunobu, owned by Kodai-Ji Temple      From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repositon.

21| Muromachi Period Sword (室町時代刀)

0-timeline - size 24 Muromach

       The red circle above indicate the time we discuss in this section

The Muromachi period was a relatively peaceful and prosperous time until a little before “Onin-no-Ran,” which happened at the end of the Muromachi PeriodRefer to Chapter 20|Muromachi Period History (室町時代歴史) .  The Nanboku-cho style long sword became useless; thus, they were shortened.  The shortened blade is called Suriage.  In general, the Muromachi period was the declining time for sword making.

Tachi and Katana

Until the end of the Nanboku-cho period or the beginning of the Muromachi period, Samurais suspended swords from one’s waist, the blade side down.  When a sword was worn this way, the swordsmith inscribed his name to the side that faces outward, which means that the blade comes on your right when you see the inscription.  In this case, the sword is called Tachi.

Yet, around the Muromachi period, a sword was worn between one’s belt, with the blade side up.  The swordsmiths inscribed his name to face outward when it was worn. Therefore, when you see the inscription, the cutting edge comes on your left.  Then it is classified as Katana. 

Around the beginning of the Muromachi period, Samurai started to wear a pair of swords called Dai-sho (大小), meaning large and small.  The long one is Katana, and the short one is Wakizashi.  In general, Tachi is longer than Katana.  Katana is longer than Wakizashi, and Wakizashi is longer than Tanto.  Here is the order of the length. 

                                       Tach   >   Katana   >   Wakizashi   >  Tanto

The difference between Tachi and Katana comes from the way it was worn, not the length.   22 tachi & Katana

O-suriage ( 大磨上: Katana shortened by great length) 

How much the sword should be shortened depends on the sword’s original length and how much the owner wants it shortened.  O-suriage is a kind of sword that is shortened by a great length.  Once a blade is shortened that much, the inscription of the maker’s name is cut off.  When Hon’ami family (本阿弥家, a sword connoisseur family who have appraised Japanese swords for generations since the mid-Edo period till almost recent days) appraised such a Suriage sword, they wrote the make of the sword and the swordsmith’s name on the front side of the hilt, and the connoisseur’s name with his Kaou (similar to signature) on the back.  There are several ranks of writings.  Which level it should be done is depends on the quality of the sword and how an owner wants it.  Below are the classes (lower to highest).

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

Sugata (姿: Shape)——— length is usually approximately 2 feet and 3 to 4 inches (71cm).  The shape of the Muromachi period Katana is somewhat similar to the Heian period Tachi style.  However, Muromachi Katana is not as grand or graceful as the Heian period sword.  The curvature is usually the Koshizori shape.  Koshizori means the highest curvature comes at the lower part of the blade.  The length and shape are suitable for wearing between the body and the belt. The width and the thickness are well balanced with the size of the sword.  Small Kissaki.

22 Muromachi sword shape

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

Hamon (刃文: tempered line) ———————- Nioi base. Tempered area 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 (Tempered line at Kissaki area) ————– Midare-komi, short turn back.  See the above illustration.  Midare is an irregular wave-like pattern.
  • Ji-hada (地肌: An area between the tempered line and Shinogi————Soft look, large wood grain pattern, Ji-utsuri (faint smoke or cloud-like effect) shows.
  • Horimono (彫物Engravings) ———- Bo-hi (single groove), Soe-hi (Hi accompanied with a thin groove), Futasuji- hi (double narrow groove), Sanskrit, Tokko-tsuki ken, Tsume-tsuki Ken, name of God, and dragon.  Carvings became elaborate.

8 Hi, Suken, Bonji                  21 Tsume-tuki-ken tokko with caption

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)

img057 21Masashige     21 Muromachi sword from Sano

Ise Masashige (伊勢正重),                     Bizen Osafune Naomitsu (備前長船尚光)         Juyo Token(重要刀剣)                           Sano Museum Catalogue (permission granted)    once my family possesion


20|Muromachi Period History (室町時代歴史)    

0-timeline - size 24 Muromach
                   The red circle iabove ndicate the time we discuss in this section

The Muromachi period began after Ashikaga Takauji  (足利尊氏) and several other prominent leaders ended the Nanboku-cho period.  (discussed in 17|Nanboku-cho Period History (1333-1393).

The grandson of Ashikaga Takauji, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利義満:often called Shogun Yoshimitsu), built a new beautiful palace at Muromachi (室町) area in Kyoto.  The palace became the center of the government called the Muromachi Bakufu (室町幕府: Muromachi Government).   This is the beginning of the Muromachi period.  Ashikaga Yoshimitsu built the famous “Kinkaku-ji Temple* (Golden Pavilion)” in Kyoto as his second house.

Kinkaku-ji Temple* (金閣寺: Golden Pavillion) ————-Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利義満) built Kinkaku-Ji Temple in 1397.   Later, it became Rinzai-shu (臨済宗) school Buddhist temple, but it was initially created as the second house for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and a state guesthouse.  Today, it is designated as a world heritage site.  This temple was burnt down by an arsonist in 1950 but was rebuilt in 1955.  The novelist Mishima Yukio wrote the novel “Kinkaku-ji” related to the Golden Pavillion and the arsonist.  The famous quote in the book is, “The Ho-oh (A mythic golden bird, a Chinese version phoenix) on the roof of the Kinkaku-ji Temple is stationary, but it flies through the time eternally.”

In the Muromachi period, the emperor’s power became declined.  The Shogun (将軍) held all the political power.  Little by little, several groups of samurai who were officially appointed as a Shugo Daimyo (守護大名: high-ranking officials) started to gain political and economic power by holding the critical positions in the Muromachi Bakufu.  They also owned a large land.  A couple of powerful Shugo Daimyo were the Hosokawa (細川) family and the Yamana (山名) family.

The Ashikaga family made a great effort to make the Muromachi Bakufu sound and robust through politics.  The beginning of the Muromachi period was peaceful and prosperous.  Yet by the time Ashikaga Yoshimasa (足利義政) became the 8th Shogun, the Muromachi Bakufu became corrupted very severely.  Shogun Yoshimasa did not pay much attention to his job, governing the country as a shogun.  Instead, he was chasing women (his mother had to scold him for that), spent a large amount of money on building the Silver Pavilion called “Ginkaku-ji Temple (銀閣寺), and retreated himself there.  Shogun Yoshimasa did not have an heir.  Therefore, his brother, Yoshimi (義視), was named as the next Shogun.

However, later, Yoshimasa’s wife Hino Tomiko (日野富子)* had a son, Yoshihisa (義尚).  Now, brother Yoshimi (義視) allied with a family of a high-ranking official, the Hosokawa’s (細川) while the son, Yoshihisa, tied with another powerful family, the Yamana’s (山名), and several other smaller groups of Samurais allied with either side and the war broke out.  This war is called Onin-no-Ran (応仁の乱) in 1467.  It spread out all over the country and continued for 11years.

Hino Tomiko (日野富子)*——————The wife of Shogun Yoshimasa.  She took advantage of her political privileges to make a large amount of money by investing in the rice commodity market to control rice prices and sold with a high profit.  Then she loans the money to the high ranking officials with high interest.  The corruption reached an uncontrollable level.

As a result of Onin-no-Ran, beautiful Kyoto was burnt down to ashes.  The authority of the Muromachi Bakufu only reached the vicinity of the small surrounding area of KyotoOnin-no-Ran caused the next period called the Sengoku period (戦国時代), that is the Warring States period.  During the Sengoku period, Japan was divided into 30 or so small independent countries and fought each other until Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Iyeyasu united Japan as one country.  See the above timeline.

57 Kinkakuji trip 2019

 The photo was taken in May 2019, a family trip to Kyoto