18| Nanboku-Cho Period Sword (南北朝太刀)

0-timeline - size 24 Nanboku-cho

                           The circle indicates the time we discuss in this section

During the Nanboku-Cho period, Samurai demanded a large, elaborate, and impressive yet practical sword.  The Soshu Den style sword in Nanboku-cho time was just that.  This type was the most popular style then.  The Nanboku-cho period was the height of the Soshu Den.  Many swordsmiths moved from other provinces to the Kamakura area and forged the Soshu Den style swords.   Other schools and regions outside the Kamakura area also made the Soshu Den style swords in their own places.

19 Nanboku-cho Sword style

Sugata (姿: Shape)———-The original length of swords was 3, 4, or 5 feet long, but shortened to approximately two and a half feet long at a later time.  A greatly shortened blade is called O-suriage

The Nanboku-cho style sword has a shallow Kyo-zori (also called Torii-zori).  Refer to Chapter 5 |Heian Period: Swords.  The highest curvature comes around the middle of the body.  A wide-body, high Shinogi, narrow Shinogi-Ji (Refer to Chapter 3 Names of Parts).  The thin Kasane (thickness of the body) is the distinctive feature for the Nanboku-cho style.  High Gyo-no-mune or Shin-no-mune, sometimes Maru-Mune (round back).

19 Nanboku-cho 3 kinds Mune

Hi (: groove) and Horimono (彫刻: engraving) ——– Often, a single Hi (Bo-hi), double Hi, Suken (dagger), Bonji (Sanscrit), and/or Dragon are engraved on the Shinogi-Ji area.  Refer to Chapter 3 Names of Parts.

9 Hi, Suken, Bonji

Hamon (: Tempered line) —- The lower part of the body shows a narrow-tempered line; gradually, the tempered line becomes wider and showy.  Course Nie.  O-midare (large irregular wavy Hamon), Notare-midare (wavy, irregular Hamon), Gunome-midare (a mix of repeated half-circular and irregular Hamon).  Inazuma, Kinsuji (refer to Chapter 14 Late Kamakura Period: Sword (鎌倉末太刀))  sometimes appears.

19 Hamon Notare 319 Mamon choji gunome19 Hitatsura Hamon Hiromitsu

                                  *From Sano Museum Catalogue ( Permission granted).

Ji-hada (地肌: Area between Shino-gi and tempered line) ———————-Wood-grain pattern (Itame 板目). Sometimes Tobiyaki (patchy tempered spots) appears on Ji-hada. For Ji-hada, refer to Chapter 3 Names of parts.

Kissaki (切っ先) and Boshi (Tempered line at Kissaki area) ———- O-kissaki (long and large Kissaki). Fukura kareru (less arc).  Midare-komi (body and boshi have a similar tempered pattern), with Kaeri-fukashi (hamon deeply turns back), sometimes Hitatsura (entirely tempered).  See the above illustration.

Sword-smiths during Nanboku-Cho Period Soshu Den (school)

  • From Soshu—————————————————Hiromitsu (広光)  Akihiro (秋広)  
  • From Yamashiro ———————————————Hasebe Kunishige (長谷部国重) 
  • From Bizen (called So-den Bizen)——-Chogi (長儀 )group  Kanemitsu (兼光 ) group 
  • From Chikuzen ———————————————————-Samoji (左文字 ) group

19 Chogi photo from Sano book

The distinctive characteristics of the Nanboku-Cho period sword on the photo above      

  • The engraving trace of Suken on the Nakago indicates this area was once a part of the main body.
  • Large and Long kissaki

9 | Middle Kamakura Period: Bizen Den (鎌倉中期備前伝)

0-timeline - size 24 Middle Kamakura
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 to come 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.

10 Nie & Nioi

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.

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.

8 Hi

Nakago ——– Long and thin with curvature. The end of Nakago is rounded and looks like a shape of the bottom of a chestnut (kuri).  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.

10 Boshi --- Bizen

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)

              9 Middle Kamakura Bizen Fukuoka ichimonji 

Fukuoka Ichimonji (一文字) from “Nippon-to Art Swords of Japan”                                     The Walter A. Compton Collection