55 |Part 2 of —–21 Muromachi Period Sword (室町時代刀)

Chapter 55 is the detailed part of chapter 21|Muromachi Period Sword.  Please read Chapter 21 before reading this section.

57 Muromach-timeline size 22

                              The circle above indicates the time we discuss in this section

After the Muromachi period, swords changed to Katana(刀) from Tachi (太刀), as described in chapter 21 Muromachi Period Sword.  Refer to 21| Muromachi Period Sword (室町時代刀)  .  By the end of the Nanboku-cho period, the swords’ length became shorter to approximately 2 feet ± a few inches.  The 3-to-5 feet long swords seen in the Nanboku-cho period were no longer created.  The reason was that, during the Nanboku-cho period, warriors fought mostly riding horses, but after the Muromachi time, infantry fighting became more common.

Oei Bizen (応永備前)                                                                                                             The pronunciation of Oei is“O as Oh” and “ei as A of ABC.”   The Muromachi period was the declining time in sword making.  The swords made during the early Muromachi period in the Bizen area were called Oei BizenOsafune Morimitsu (長船盛光), Osafune Yasumitsu (長船康光), Osafune Moromitsu (長船師光) were the main Oei Bizen swordsmiths.  Soshu Hiromasa (相州広正)、Yamashiro Nobukuni (山城信國)  were also similar to the Oei Bizen style.  Please refer to 21| Muromachi Period Sword (室町時代刀) for Muromachi sword shape, Hamon, Boshi, and Ji-hada.

57 Moromitsu photo (必要分 57 Moromitus Oshigata

Bishu Osafune Moromitsu (備州長船師光)   from Sano Museum Catalogue ((permission granted)

The above Osafune Moromitsu sword is 2 feet 5 inches long with medium Kissaki.  The Hamon has a small wave-like pattern with continuous Gunome (a lined half-circles).  The Boshi area shows irregular waviness with a slightly pointed tip.  Very faint Bo-utsuri (soft shadow shaped like a strip of wood) shows on Ji-hadaBo-utsuri is a distinctive characteristic among all of the Oei Bizen.

Before the Muromachi period, there had been many swordsmith groups in the Bizen area, but by the Muromachi time began, Osafune (長船) was the only remaining active group.

Osafune (長船) is the name of a region, but it became the last name of the swordsmiths during the Muromachi time.  Two other well-known swordsmiths among the Oei Bizen were Osafune Morimitsu (盛光) and Osafune Yasumitsu (康光).  The Hamon by Morimitsu and Yasumitsu shows more work than that of the sword in the photo above.  21| Muromachi Period Sword (室町時代刀) shows the Hamon by Morimitsu and Yasumitsu, also describes typical characteristics of the swords in the Muromachi period.

Hirazukuri Ko-Wakizashi Tanto

58 Hirazukuri Ko-Wakizashi Tanto

Hirazukuri Ko-Wakizashi Tanto Shape

Hirazukuri Ko-wakizashi Tanto was the trendy style during the early Muromachi time. Swordsmiths in different areas created the Tantos like the one above.  But majorities of this types were made by Oei Bizen swordsmiths.

The characteristic of the Hirazukuri ko-wakizashi Tanto ——— Usually 1 foot and 1 or 2 inches long.  No Yokote line, no Shinogi, and no Sori (no curvature, straight back). Average thickness.  Narrow width.  Gyo-no-mune (refer 12| The Middle Kamakura Period Tanto

13 Mune drawing

Hirazukuri Ko-wakizashi Tanto often shows many engravings.  Hi with Soe-hi (parallel double line, wide and narrow side by side ), Tokko-tsuki-ken, Tsume-tsuki-ken, Bonji, etc.

9 Hi, Suken, Bonji20 Tokko, tume Ken  58 tsumetukiken and Hi

*drawings from “Nihonto no Okite to Tokucho” by Honami Koson


54|Part 2 of — 20|Muromachi Period History (室町時代歴史)

This is a detailed part of the 20 | Muromachi Period History.  Please read chapter 20 before reading this section.

0-timeline - size 24 Nuromach & Sengoku

                        The red circleabove indicate the time we discuss in this chapter

Until the Muromachi (室町) period, the political history and the sword history are parallel in our study.  The above timelines show:  the middle line is for the sword history, and the bottom line is for the political history.  

The styles of swords were distinctively different between those in the Muromachi period and the Sengoku period (戦国時代).  Therefore, for sword study, the Muromachi period and the Sengoku period have to be separated.   Japanese history textbooks define that the Muromachi period is from 1393 (the end of Nanboku-cho) until 1573 when Oda Nobunaga (織田信長) removed Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki (足利義昭) from Kyoto (the fall of the Muromachi Bakufu).   In those textbooks, the Sengoku period was described as a part of the Muromachi period.  However, we need to divide the Muromachi period and the Sengoku period for the sword study’s purpose.

 Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利義満)

The best time during the Muromachi period was when Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利義満, Grandson of Ashikaga Takauji) was in power.  He moved the Bakufu to Muromachi (室町) in Kyoto; therefore, it is called the Muromachi period.  By the time most of the South Dynasty Samurai went under the North Dynasty, the South Dynasty accepted the Shogun Yoshimitsu’s offer to end the fight against the North Dynasty.  This acceptance established the power of the Ashikaga family in the Muromachi Bakufu

Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu created a tremendous amount of profit from trades with China (Ming).  He built a famous beautiful resort villa in Kyoko, the Golden Pavillion (Kinkaku-Ji Temple 金閣寺*).  It is said that he created the Golden Pavillion to display his power and wealth.  The beautiful culture called the Kitayama Bunka (Kitayama culture 北山文化) was created around this time.

*Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-Ji Tempe金閣寺)  —– The official name is Rokuon-ji Temple (鹿苑寺).  Saionji Kintsune (西園寺公経) built it first as his resort house in the Kamakura period.  Shogun Yoshimitsu acquired it in 1397, and he rebuilt it as his villa.  He also used it as an official guesthouse. 

After Shogun Yoshimitsu’s death, the villa was converted to Rokuon-ji Temple.  It is a part of Rinzaishu Sokoku-ji Temple, which is the head temple of a denomination of the Zen sect, Rinzaishu Sokoku-ji group(臨済宗相国寺派).  Kinkaku-ji is a reliquary hall containing relics of Buddha.  Kinkaku-ji Temple represents the glorious Kitayama Bunka (Kitayama culture).  In 1994, it was registered as a World Cultural Heritage Site. https://www.shokoku-ji.jp/kinkakuji/

57 Kinkakuji trip 2019                                                               My photo  May 2019,

Ashikaga Yoshimasa (足利義政)

After Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利義満) died, the Muromachi Bakufu became less financially prosperous, and the military power decreased.  As a result, Daimyos (feudal lords) gained more control.  A few generations after Shogun Yoshimitsu, Ashikaga Yohimasa became the 8th Shogun).  His wife was the famous Hino Tomiko (refer  Hino tomiko Chapter 20|Muromachi Period History (室町時代歴史)

It is said that Shogun Yoshimasa was not interested in his job as a Shogun, but he was much more interested in art and culture.  He created the foundation of today’s Japanese art and culture, such as the Japanese garden, Shoin-zukuri (書院造)* interior design, tea ceremony, flower arrangements, painting, and other art forms.  His cultural attribute is called Higashiyama Bunka (Higashiyama culture (東山文化).  

As described in 20|Muromachi Period History (室町時代歴史) , Shogun Yoshimasa did not have a child.  His brother Yoshimi (義視) was supposed to be the next Shogun.  But his wife, Hino Tomiko, gave birth to a son, Yoshihisa (義尚).  Hino Tomiko asked Yamana Sozen (山名宗全; powerful family) to back up her son.  At the same time, brother, Yoshimi, tied up with Hosokawa Katsumoto (another powerful family 細川勝元).  The problem was that Shogun Yoshimasa was paying too much attention to all his cultural hobbies, and did not pay attention to the problem he created by not being clear who should be the next Shogun.  He did not yield the Shogunate to either one. 

In 1467, on top of the successor problem, because of other conflicts of interests of other powerful Daimyos, a civil war, “Onin-no-Run (応仁の乱 )” broke out.  All Daimyos were divided and sided either the Hosokawa group or the Yamana group.   Eventually, the war spread to the rest of Japan and lasted over ten years.  Finally, in 1477, after both Hosokawa Katsumono and Yamana Sozen died, Shogun Yoshimasa decided to transfer the Shogunate to his son Yoshihisa.  Because of this war, Kyoto was devastated.  The power of the Muromachi Bakufu declined significantly. 

While all this was happening, and people were suffering, Yoshimasa was still spending money to build the Ginkaku-ji Temple (The Silver Pavillion: 銀閣寺).  He died without seeing the completion of the Ginkaku-ji Temple.  The Onin-no-Run would lead to the next Sengoku period, the 100-year-long Warring States Period).

*Shoin-zukuri (書院造)———- A traditional Japanese residential interior style with Tatami mats, a nook, and a Shoji screen, sliding door.  This style is the base of the interior of the Japanese house today.

Shoin Zukuri style Japanese room

57 Shoin zukuri

Public Domain   GFDL,cc-by-sa-2.5,2.0,1.0 file: Takagike CC BY-SA 3.0view terms      File: Takagike Kashihara JPN 001.jpg

My japanese room                                                                      My Japanese room

53| Part 2 of — 19 Nanboku-cho Period Tanto (南北朝短刀)

This chapter is a continued part of chapter 19.  Please read 19 |Nanboku-Cho Period Tanto(南北朝短刀), before reading this section.

0-timeline - size 24 Nanboku-cho

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

20 Enbun Jyoji Kowakizashi Tanto

The drawing above is a typical shape of the Nanboku-cho time Tanto.  This drawing was in chapter 19.  This drawing exaggerates the form of the Enbun Joji Kowakizashi tanto.  At the end of Chapter 19 | Nanboku-Cho Tanto(南北朝短刀), there is a list of swordsmiths’ names in the period.  Hiromitsu (広光) and Akihiro (秋広) represent the most common characteristics of Nanboku-cho Tanto.

56 cropped Hiromitu photo 20 Hitatsura

Hiromitsu From Sano Museum Catalogue (permission to use granted granted)

Enbun Joji Ko-wakizashi Tanto is also called Sun-nobi Tanto (>10 inches) because the length is longer than standard size (approx. 10 inches) TantoThe top part of the Tanto bends outward slightly. This type of shape is called Sakizori.

Characteristics of Hiromitu (広光) and Akihiro (秋広)

  • Shape———————— Usually, one foot and one to two inches long (Sun-nobi).   Wide width.  The blade is thin.  Sakizori.
  • Hamon ———————-Wide Hamon and narrow Hamon are mixed.  Hamon around Yakidashi (right above Machi) area is narrow, but it gets wider gradually as it goes up.  Hamon around the Fukura area is the showiest.  Mainly Nie.  Sunagashi, Kinsuji, Gunome, Umanoha-midare (horse teeth shape Hamon), or Hitatsura appear (above drawing).
  • Boshi———–Irregular, unevenly tempered.  Hamon covers almost entire Boshi. Deep turn back.
  • Jihada ———————————————————Wood-grained pattern
  • Nakago —————–Tanago-bara shape.  Refer to 19 Nanboku-cho Period Tanto.

Nobukuni (Below is my sword)

Shodai Nobukuni (the first generation Nobukuni) was a student of Sadamune.  He was one of the Sadamune San Tetsu (貞宗三哲, Sadamune’s top three students).  Nobukuni’s characteristics were similar to those of Hiromitsu’s and Akihiro’s described above.  Nobukuni also created Sun-nobi tanto.  The sword below has a Hoso-suguha, Ko-mokume (small burl pattern), Ko-maru Boshi (small round).

56 Nobukuni 1 Nobukuni4

56 Nobukuni 2

This is the certification of my sword.  Shodai Nobukuni (初代信國).   Juyo Token (重要刀剣)


number Juyo 3220,    Certification Juyo-Token

Wakizashi:  Nobukuni (信国),  31.4cm length,  0.3cm curvature, HirazukuriMitsumune (three-sided Mune),  Sun-nobi, Ji-hada is wood grain and Ji-nie (nie on the surface between Shinogi and Hamon),  Hamon is Chu-suguha (medium straight),  Front carving shows Bonji (Sanscrit), Sanko-ken, back engraving is Bonji and Hoko (pike).   Original Nakago.  The examination by the Nihon Bijutu Token Hozon Kyokai.  It is certified as Juyo Token.  The Chairman Moritatu HosokawaShowa 45 June 1 (1970 June 1)

52| Part 2 of — 18 Nanboku-Cho Period Swords (南北朝太刀)

This chapter is a continued part of 18| Nanboku-Cho Period Sword.  Please read Chapter 18 before reading this section.

    0-timeline - size 24 Nanboku-cho                     
                       The red circle above indicates the time we discuss in this section

The drawing below is the illustration from 18| Nanboku-Cho Period Sword (南北朝太刀.  Please compare this drawing to the photo on the right.  It shows the similarity of the shape.  Keep in mind this illustration is the shape of a once very long that was shortened at a later time.   During the Nanboku-cho time, swordsmiths created 3, 4, or even 5 feet long blades, but later, they shortened them to approximately 2 to 2.5 feet or so.

19 Nanboku-cho Sword style      55 Sa photo                                         ” Sa” from Sano Museum Catalogue “Reborn” (Permission granted)     Sa” is pronounced the first sound of “sabotage.”

55 Chogi

55 Chogi drawing

Chogi* from Sano Museum Catalogue (Permission granted)

Chogi* is pronounced: Chocho-san’s “cho” and giggle “gi.”  Chogi‘s sword style is categorized as one of the Soden Bizen.  See, 18| Nanboku-Cho Period Sword (南北朝太刀).  Chogi (長義) was a swordsmith from Bizen Den school who created swords with Soshu Den’s characteristicsTherefore, in short, called Soden Bizen (Bizen swordsmith forged Soshu Den).

 Chogi characteristics

  • Shape ———– Originally very long. It was shortened to approximately 2 to 2.5 feet.  
  • Hamon ——–Wide showy tempered line.  Mostly Nioi, but Nie shows also.  Sunagashi (砂流し brush stroke-like pattern) appears.  Notare (wavy) mixed with Gunome.  Sometimes Chogi created the double Gunome-style Hamon (connected one pair of half-circles). This shape resembles a pair of earlobes.  Therefore, it is called Chogi’s Mimigatamidare (irregular Hamon mixed with the earlobe-like pattern).                                                                                                                  
  • Boshi ——————————— Irregular Midare and sharp turn back
  • Ji-hada —————————————— Itame (a wood grain pattern)

55 Aoe55 Aoe ilustlation                   Aoe from Sano Museum Catalogue (Permission granted)

Aoe (青江) is pronounced “A” like apple, “o” like original, and “e” like egg.  Aoe was a swordsmith from Bittchu (備中) province, which is next to Bizen.  Therefore, the characteristics of Ko-aoe (old Aoe) and Ko-bizen (old Bizen) are similar.

55 Bizen Bittchu map

Characteristic of Aoe (青江)

From the middle Kamakura period to the Nanboku-cho period was the height of the Aoe group. One of the characteristics of the Aoe sword is its Aoe-zori shape.  That is to curve a lot at the lower part. 

During the Nanboku-cho time, because the Soshu Den was the trendy style, even Bizen swordsmiths did Nie even though their main characteristic was Nioi.   However, the Bittchu group stayed with Nioi. 

The tempered area tends to be wide.  Sakasa-choji, which means inverted or backward style Choji (see the illustration above), is the Aoe’s most notable characteristic.  Also, Boshi often has pointed Hamon.  It is often said that if you see Sakasa-choji, the sword has a good chance of being from either the Aoe group or Katayama Ichimonji group.  Sumitetu (澄鉄:  black core metal shows through) is also Aoe’s characteristic.