12|Ikubi Kissaki (猪首切先)

12 time line

After the live experience of the war of Jokyu-no-ran, people started to move toward sturdier, grander, wider swords.  The swords made around this time is called Ikubi Kissaki (猪首切先).  Ikubi means wild boar.  Ikubi Kissaki style sword has a style of stout look like a wild boar.  This is the era of the height of sword making.  Many top swords smiths created wonderful swords during this time.  It is said that there is no mediocre sword among Ikubi Kissai.

12 Ikubi Kissaki sword style

SUGATA(shape) —— Originally 3 feet or longer, therefore it is often shortened at the later time.  Wide width, thick Kasane (thick body) with Hamaguri-ha (蛤刃).  Hamaguri-ha means the thickness is shaped like a clam The width at the top and at the bottom is not much difference. Shinogi (鎬)is high, and shinogi width is narrow.  Illustration of Cross section  below.

12 蛤刃と鎬

KISSAKI  —— Ikubi kissaki. Ikubi means wild boar neck.  Wild boar looks like no neck, stout look shape.  Short Kissakii but wide at the yokote line.  The illustration below is exaggerated a little to show the idea.12 Ikubi Kissak drawing

Hamon (刃文) —— Kawazuko-choji(tadpole head shape). O- choji(clove like shape) and Ko-choji mixed.  Irregular waviness mixed with choji and straight, this is called suguha-choji.

12 Hamon Kawazuko-choji                     O-choji                          Ko-choji                  Suguha-choji     (tadpole head)                   (large clove)                (small clove)      (straight and clove)


Boshi(鋩子) ——— Yakizume as below.  Nagamitu(長光), Kagemitu( 景光), Sanenaga(真長) created Boshi called Sansaku Boshi(三作鋩子). Illustration below.

Yakizume                                                                      Sansaku-Boshi   12 Sansaku Boshi(三作

12 Yakizume


Ikubi Kissaki Sword Smiths

Fukuoka Ichimonji Group (福岡一文字) ———  Fukuoka Ichimonji Norimune (則宗)Kamakura Ichimonji Group(鎌倉一文字) ———- Kamakura Ichimonji Sukezane (助真)Soshu Bizen Kunimune Group(相州備前国宗)—- Soshu Bizen Kunimune (国宗)Bizen Osafune Group(長船)——————Bizen Osafune Mitutada(長船光忠) Nagamitsu(長光)   Ugai Group—————————————————– Ugai Unji (鵜飼雲次)


Sano Museum Catalogue (permitted)                                                                                   Osafune Nagamitsu(長船長光 )



Osafune Mitsutada(長船光忠)                          Osafune Mitsutada(長船光忠)                        *was family sword


11|Jokyu-no-ran  (1221 承久の乱)

11 time line --- Jokyu-no-ran

After MinamotonoYoritomo (源頼朝) died, his son, Yoriie(頼家)became second Shogun.  But his mother, Hojo Masako(北条政子)--Yoritomo’s wife--thought her son was too incompetent.She was afraid that the Kamakura Bakufu (Kamakura government) may be taken over by other force.  To prevent this to happen, she started the council system consisting of 13 people including herself, her father Hojo Tokimasa(北条時政) and her brother Hojo Yoshitoki(北条義時).  Soon the second Shogun Yoriie’s wife’s family became powerful.  During Heian and Kamakura period, wife’s family were considered very important.  In order to suppress them,  Hojo Masako and her father Tokimasa plotted against second Shogun Yoriie and killed him.  After Yoriie’s death,  Masako’s  younger son Sanetomo(実朝) became next Shogun. Now, Hojo- Tokimasa’s  young wife wanted her son-in-law to be a next Shogun.  Hojo-Tokimasa attempted to kill Sanetomo, bud failed.  Hojo Masako confined Tokimasa.  Although third Shogun Sanetomo was Hojo Masako’son,  she was very  disappointed in him.  He was also very incompetent.  The third Shogun Sanetomo was killed by Kugyo who was the son of second Shogun.  Now Hojo Yoshitoki took control over the Kamakura Bakufu and brought a figurehead from Fujiwara family ( aristocratic family in Kyoto). After all those turmoil, Hojo family took control over the Kamakura Bakufu(government).

Meanwhile, in Kyoto, the Emperor Gotoba had been planning to attack the Kamakura Bakufu.  He had built up the military power.  When Sanetomo was killed, he saw the chance to attack, the Emperor Gotoba ordered local feudal lords to attack Kamakura Bakufu but very few followed the Emperor.  Instead Hojo family captured the Emperor Gotoba and he was exiled to Oki island. This is called Jokyo-no-Ran, at 1221.

The Emperor Gotoba was the one who really encouraged sword making and treated sword smiths highly.  After the Jokyu-no-ran, the power of Royal family decreased and the Kamakura Bakufu became powerful and stable regime.  Hojo Masako was called “Ama (nun) Shogun”. After her husband, Minamoto-no-Yoritomo died until the end of Jokyu-no-ran, it was the period when the Kamakura Bakufu was still unstable.  Hojo Masako was the one who carried the Kamakura Bakufu to the stable regime.  She was one of the mean, tough, sharp politician.

Kamakura people (I am one of them) really like Hojo Masako .  Minamoto-no-Yoritomo and Hojo-Masako are both buried in Kamakura City.  Minamoto-no-Yoritomo is at Shirahata Shrine, Hojo Masako is at Jufukuji temple.  Shirahata shrine for Minamoto-no-Yoritomo is a very humble shrine, it is just a tombstone, no building surrounding it.  Whereas Jufukuji for Hojo Masako is a very elaborate temple.  Kamakura was a land of the Hojo family, is still now.

Kamakura is about one hour from Tokyo by a train.  Both Jufukuji temple and Shirahata shrine are walking distance from the Kamakura station.




10 | Middle Kamakura Period — Bizen School

There are large numbers sword smiths in Bizen (備前) school during the Heian period but their sword style is generally similar to Yamashiro school, called Ko-Bisen (古備前). The real Bizen school style started from Middle Kamakura period.  Bizen province had many ideal conditions to produces swords.  It produced good quality steel and a large amount of fuel around the area and also the transportation was convenient.  Naturally, large numbers of swordsmiths gathered in this area and produced swords in quantities.  Because of that, to connoisseur Bizen sword is difficult.  Bizen sword has a higher standard.

Generally speaking, next three characters are the most distinctive features of Bizen school.

  • Nioi base temper line (Nie is sand like small dots on tempered line, Nioi is finer dots than Nie, so small, it looks as if a line)  Technically speaking, those two are the same.  See illustration below.
  • Jigane (sword steel) looks soft.
  • Reflection appears on the surface.

10 Nie & Nioi

Sugata (shape) — Length of the sword is about 33 inches ± a few inches. The width of the blade is slightly wide and it has stout look.  The curvature of the blade is Koshizori (腰反)  means highest curvature comes lower part.  The body has average thickness.  Small kissaki.

10 Middle Kamakura ---備前刀姿


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.

9 Hi --- groove

Nakago — Long and thin with curvature. The end of the Nakago is rounded which has the shape of chestnut’s bottom.  This is called Kurijiri. Look at 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 tempered line ) is uniform.

Boshi — Same tempered pattern continue to go up to Boshi area.  You can see Choji midare (clove-like pattern) or Yakizume.

10 Boshi --- Bizen

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) Junkei Nagamitu (順慶長光) Kagemitsu (景光)Hatakeda hatakeda(畠田) group —————-Moriie (守家)  Sanemori  (真守)                Ugai (鵜飼) group —————————————-   Unsho (雲生) Unji (雲次)



9| Middle Kamakura Period —Yamashiro School

Yamashiro school swords have the characteristic as below.

Sugata(shape)—–Generally the width of the blade is narrow, especially around yokote line.  The bottom of the blade has funbari(A line shape).  Thick Kasane. The type of the curvature is usually kyo-zori (highest curvature comes around the center).  Small Kissaki with fukura (rounded).  Shinogi is high with gyo-no-me or sin-no-me.

9 鎌倉中期刀姿

Horimono(Engraving)—–The tip of a Hi (樋,groove) is the exact proper shape.  Sometimes you may see Bonj (Sanscrit) and suken (sword illustration).

9 Hi, Suken, Bonji


Nakago(中心)—–Long and thin with curvature

Hamon(刃文)—– Mostly suguha (straight line), double straight line, straight line with the irregular line.  Sometimes thin gold line like lightning shape faintly appears.  The temper line is Nie Base.

picture for 8佐野美術館図録1 豊後国行平(Bungo-no-kuni-Yukihira  Sano Museum Catalogue)*


Boshi(鋩子)—–   Small round and large round.

9 Fukura


Jitetu(地鉄)—–     Well forged fine surface.  Small burl pattern.  Lots of Jinie(地沸) on the surface.

Names of the swordsmiths during the middle Kamakura period

Awataguchi group —– Awataguchi kunituna (粟田口国綱)

Ayanokouji group —–Ayanokouji sadatoshi (綾小路定利)

Rai group —————-Rai kuniyuki (来国行) Rai Nijikunitoshi (来ニ字国俊)

Other provinces who made Yamashiro style at this time

Sagami-no-kuni-Yamanouchi-Kunituna (相模国山内国綱)

Bungo-no-kuni-Yukihira (豊後国行平)

Higo-no-Enjyu (肥後の延寿)

img009佐野美術館図録1 来国俊2 (Sano Museum Catalogue  Rai-kunitoshi)*

*許可済み(received permission)











8|Kamakura Period Swords

Introduction Of The 5 Main Sword School (Den)

There are five main sword school (Den)s.  They are Yamashiro Den (山城), Bizen Den (備前), Soshu Den (相州), Yamato Den (大和) and Mino Den (美濃).  During Heian period, Yamashiro Den was the main school.  There was Ko-Bizen, but their style was a little different than Bizen Den we see later.  They were somewhat close to Yamashiro Den.  During Heian period, Yamashiro Den was the most active sword school.  Swordsmiths lived around in Kyoto area, the capital city.  Early Kamakura period, Yamashiro Den continued their style similar to the one during the Heian period.  Bizen Den apperared in middle Kamakura period.  Soshu Den appeared in late Kamakura period in Kamakura area.  Mino school appeared Muromachi period.

Early Kamakura Period (鎌倉) (1192 – 1218)

We divide Kamakura period into 3 stages. early Kamakura, middle Kamakura, late Kamakura period.  Early Kamakura period, sword style is almost same as the one during the Heian period, the previous time.   Yamashiro Den was the active sword school in an early part of the Kamakura period.


Middle Kamakura Period (1219 – 1277)

In middle Kamakura period, we have three different styles to talk about. Yamashiro Den style, Bizen Den style, and Ikubi kissaki style (猪首切先) sword.  Ikubi Kissaki is a new style.  We say there are no mediocre swords among the Ikubi-Kissaki (猪首切先) swords.  As I described in the previous section, Kamakura government (鎌倉幕府) had political and military power, yet the Emperor was still in Kyoto(京都).  The Emperor Gotoba raised an army and attacked Kamakura government in order to regain the political power back. This war(1221) is called Jyokyu-no-Ran (承久の乱). The live experience from this war changed the shape of the sword to sturdier looking shape, that is what we call Ikubi-kissaki style.

Late Kamakura Period (after Mongolian Invasion— (1274 and 1281)

In this section, adding to the Yamashiro Den and Bizen Den, Soshu Den started to appear.  After Mongolian invasion (that is called Genkou(元寇) in 1274 and 1281), longer Kissaki and longer swords started to appear.







7| Kamakura Period History (1192 – 1334)

7 Kamakura time lineThe circle indicate the time we are discussing in this section

Kamakura period was the golden age of the sword making. Many valuable swords now exist were made during Kamakura period.  The war between Genii clan and Hei-ke clan in late Heian period demanded more swords and more sword smiths.

After the Gen-pei(源平) war, the results of many precious live experiences led to improve in sword making techniques.  Also, the Emperor Gotoba encouraged sword making and treated sword smiths very highly.  As a result, they created large numbers of the valuable swords during Kamakura period.

The style of the swords during this period varies considerably, we usually divide into three stages; early Kamakura period, middle Kamakura period, late Kamakura period.

The Kamakura period was called Kamakura period because the center of the political power that is Kamakura Bakufu (鎌倉幕府) was established at Kamakura area by Minamoto-no-Yoritomo (源頼朝).  He was a head of the Genji clan.

At the end of the Heian period, Genji (源氏) attacked Hei-ke (also called Hei-shi (平氏), but failed.  As a result, a direct line of Genji, Minamoto-no-Yoritomo (源頼朝) was sent to Izu Island (considered far away then).  There, he met Hojo Masako (北条政子) who was a daughter of a small local official, Hojo family.  Eventually, Minamoto-no-Yoritomo overthrew Hei-ke clan with the help of his wife Masako and her father, Hojo Tokimasa.

At the end of the Heian period, Hei-shi clan was the top of the society.  It was said, “if you are not a part of Hei-shi family, you are not a human being”.  A society like that created too many enemies.  Yoritomo raised an army, attacked Hei-shi clan, and won the war, that end Heian period.  The power of the Kamakura government(鎌倉幕府) spread all over Japan.

Yet the imperial court and aristocrats still existed in KyotoKamakura Bakufu had military, police and political power.  The imperial court was the department of public administration.  Thus, those two big rivals controlled the country in the different field and kept the balance between them.




6 |Heian Period Swords

This is the time, the shape of the swords changed to curved shape.  Until this time, swords were straight.

The study of swords is the swords made from Heian period on.  Elegant and graceful taste of Fujiwara culture reflects on the swords made during the Heian period.  Their preference of their life style reflected vividly on the swords.  A group of the sword smiths in Kyoto area was called Yamashiro school.  Their style of the swords had a graceful shape.  During the Heian period, Yamashiro Den (school) represents the Heian period sword style.

6a Heian period sword style


General Heian period sword style

Shape———-Lengths of the swords are approximately 30 inches ± a couple of inches.  Elegant and graceful shape.  The width of the blade is narrow.  Small Kissaki(小切先), Kyo-zori (京反り) and deep curvature.  Kyo-zori means the highest curvature comes around the halfway of the blade.  A-line shaped style that is called——funbari (踏ん張り).  Deep curvature.

6b A line bottom

Hamon(刃文)———-Hamon means tempered line.  The Heian period tempered area is narrow,  and usually, suguha (直刃), means straight hamon.  Nie (沸) base.  Nie is a tiny granule like a particle on the border of the tempered line.  Sand like particles is not so visible. 6 Straigh tempered line(Suguha)

Jitetu (地鉄) ———- fine wood grained tone. Refer Jitetu, 4 |Names of Parts

Nakago (中心)———- Nakago is a hilt area.  Sword makers inscribe his names here.  The shape of the Nakago during the Heian period is often Kijimomo shape(雉腿), that means pheasant thigh shape.

6 Kijimomo-nakago

Hi and engrave ———- Hi (樋) means an engraved straight line.  Hi and engraved design is rare in Heian period.  It became more common later time.

Kissaki (切先)———– Ko-kissaki (small kissaki). Boshi (Hamon around kissaki) is usually with komaru (小丸) means small round with a little return.6c Boshi Hamon

Names of the Heian period sword smiths

  • Yamashiro school——–  Sanjo Munechika(三条宗近) Sanjo Yoshiie(三条吉家)    Gojo Kanenaga(五条兼長) Gojo Kuninaga (五条国永)
  • Yamato school ——–Senju-in (千手院)
  • Bizen school ———– Bizen Tomonari(備前友成) Bizen Masatsune(備前正恒) Bizen Kanehira (備前包平)
  • Hoki (伯耆) ———–Yasutsuna (安綱) Sanemori (真守)
  • Buzen (豊前) ——— Cho-en (長円) Sinsoku (神息)
  • Satsuma (薩摩) ——-Naminohira (波平)

5 | Heian period (平安時代) 794 – 1192

Heian period (平安時代)   794 – 1192

Heian period(平安時代)started when the Emperor Kanmu(桓武天皇) moved the capital city to Heian-kyo(平安京) at 794, that is Kyoto(京都) today.

5 time line diagram

The circle indicate the time we are discussing in this section.

During Heian period, the Emperors ruled the country, yet early part of the Heian period, the political power shifted to Fujiwara family.  Fujiwara family managed their daughters to marry the Emperors.  By doing so, real political power shifted to the Emperor’s wife’s family.  They were called “Sekkan-ke” (摂関家), that means a guardian, a representative of the Emperor.  During Heian period, their life style was elegant, refined, and they had a graceful culture.  This is called Fujiwara culture.  Many essays and novels were written by females during this time.  Most famous one is “Genji Tales (源氏物語)” by Murasaki Shikibu(紫式部).  The Imperial court held ceremonies quite often, followed by elaborate and extravagant banquets.  Imperial social life became important.  Women had participated actively in those occasions.  Many high officials had several huge homes.  Those homes were inherited by daughters.  Mating procedures were different then.  First, a young woman and a man exchanges poems carried by their servants. Eventually, a young woman allows him to visit her for a short time from some distance.  Little by little, longer stay and closer.  When they decided to marry, a groom moves into the wife’s house.  Children were raised by wife’s family.  Those days (and next Kamakura period also), wife’s side of the family were considered important.  The middle part of the Heian period, the Emperors regained their power over the imperial court, because their mothers were not from the Fujiwara family.

Origin or Samurai

Upper class people’s life was graceful and elegant, but Imperial court did not have strong political power to control the county.  There were many thieves, constant fire and combats everywhere.  It was unsafe and disorderly.  Imperial court. noble man, and temples needed to protect themselves and maintain the public peace.  Those hired hand (forces) were the origin of Bushi or Samurai.  Samurai spread their power by uniting among themselves and putting down uprisings, grew bigger and powerful.  Two large Samurai  groups were Heishi (or Heike) and Genji.  Little by little they gained power in the Imperial court.  After several power struggle, Heishi started to control the Imperial court. Heishi also managed their daughters to marry to the Emperor.  The latter part of the Heian period, the political power shifted to Heike family.  They became tyrannical and arrogant.  That created too many enemies against Heike.  The Genji joined with the Fujiwara started a war against Heike and chased Heike to the place called Dan-no-Ura(壇ノ浦) at 1185 and defeated them.  This is called Genpei-Gassen (源平合戦).  The Heike’s loss was the end of the Heian period.

This is the time, the shape of the swords changed to a curved shape. Until this time, swords were straight.  The study of swords start from the Heian period on.  During this time, the elegant and graceful taste of Fujiwara culture reflects on the swords.  Their preference of their lifestyle appeared clearly on the swords.  The group of sword smiths in Kyoto area created a certain sword style that were called Yamashiro Den (School).  Their shape of the swords shows graceful line.  Yamashiro Den represents the Heian period swords.

3 | Joko-to(上古刀)

Jomon (縄文)period     9000 B.C.

Jomon period goes back to 9000 B.C.  This is the time of Paleolithic and Neolithic times. The characteristic of the time was the rope design (Jomon 縄文) on their earthenware.  We found a stone sword made during this time.  They are one piece stone swords, about 27 to 31 inches (70 to 80cm) long, not the Neolithic type scrapers.  They were made for the ceremonial purpose2a Timeline diagram

Yayoi (弥生) period        300B.C —300A.D (approximately)

Around 300B.C. Yayoi culture replaced Jomon culture.  Yayoi characteristics show on their earthen wares.  They are rounder, smoother, simpler design, and the techniques were greatly improved.  They were named Yayoi culture because of the location they were found was Yayoi-cho area near Tokyo University.  They found bronze items such as a bronze sword (銅剣), bronze pike(銅矛), bronze mirror(銅鏡), bronze musical instrument(銅鐸).  Those were imported from China and Korea but Japanese started to make their own later part of Yayoi period.  Iron wares were seldom excavated but they have evidence of usage of Iron wares.

3b time line with circle


According to the Chinese history book,”Gishi wajinden” (魏志倭人伝), around 300 A.D., there was a country called Yamataikoku (邪馬台国) that controlled about 30 small countries in Japan.  The head of the country was a female called Himiko (卑弥呼) who served God (shamanism).  She sent a messenger to China at 239 A.D. and received a title as a head of Japan(親魏倭王), a bronze mirror, and a long sword(5feet long).  Today, we still don’t know exactly where Yamataikoku was located.  This Chinese history book “Gishi wajinden” (魏志倭人伝) explains how to reach to Yamataikoku, but if we follow the book’s directions exactly,  we end up in the middle of the ocean, south of Kyushu (九州).  We are still debating where Yamataikoku was located.

Yamato (大和) period        300 A.D. — 593 A.D

At the end of the Yayoi period, there were many small countries called Go-zoku (豪族).  Around 400 A.D. most powerful Go-zoku united the country and called it Yamato-chotei (大和朝廷).   This is the imperial court, the Emperor’s ancestor.  They had the power to build an enormous size tomb, called Kofun (古墳).  Inside of the famous kofun, Ougonzuka kofun (黄金塚古墳) in Osaka, we found swords.  Its hilt was made in Japan and blade was made in Chine.  On the surface of the hilt, they depicted a design of a house.  Also, we found items like armor, mirror, iron tools, jewelry.  Those are called Haniwa (埴輪).  Outside of Kofun, they placed Haniwa.   Those Haniwa are smiling people, animals, houses, and soldiers wearing swords.  Also, they placed tube shape haniwa (埴輪) outside of Kofun as a retaining wall.   Judging from the writings on the back of mirrors and swords, they were using Kanji (Japanese characters) by 5, 6th century.

3c time line with circle


Asuka (飛鳥) period         593 —710

After a long power struggle, Shotoku Taishi(聖徳太子) became a regent in 593.  He established the political system and set up the first Japanese constitution(憲法17条).  Shoutoku Taishi protected and encouraged Buddhism and built Horyuji temple(法隆寺).  He had been on 10,000 yen bill for a long time.  During Asuka time, we see Kantou Tachi (環頭太刀).  The shape of the hilt is a ring shape.   Kan (環) means ring and tou (頭) means head.  Also, on the ring shape hilt, we see some inscriptions.  Such as the name of the emperor, location and numbers were written.  The number indicates a number of years a particular emperor was enthroned.  Those were all straight shape swords

3d time line with circle

Nara (奈良) period        710 —794

In 710, The capital city was moved to Nara, called Heijokyo (平城京).  The shape of Joko-to was straight, usually 25 inches (60 –70 cm) long.  They were suspended from the waist belt.  Some swords came from China and others were made in Japan.  Many swords were found from Kofun and Shoso-in(正倉院) during Nara period.  Shoso-in is a storage place where articles of Shoumu Emperor were placed.  Among other items, 55 swords were found from here.  Those swords were called Warabite tachi.  Warabi is a name of a Japanese vegetable, its stem grows circle at the top.  They were called Warabite- Tachi, because of the hilt shows warabi shape.

3e time line with circle