8| Overview of the Kamakura Period Swords (1192-1333)

 

7 Kamakura period timeline
The circle indicates  the time we are discussing in this section

 

Introduction Of The 5 Main Sword School (Den)

There are five main sword schools (Den).   They are Yamashiro Den (山城), Bizen Den (備前), Soshu Den (相州), Yamato Den (大和) and Mino Den (美濃).  During the Heian period, Yamashiro Den was the main school.  Also, there was a school called Ko-Bizen (means old Bizen) that is a part of Bezen Den but we treat them separately.   Their style was a little different than Bizen Den we see later.  They were somewhat close to Yamashiro Den.  During the Heian period, Yamashiro Den was the most active sword school.  Swordsmiths lived around the Kyoto area, the capital city of Japan then.  In the early Kamakura period, Yamashiro Den continued their style similar to the one during the Heian period.  Bizen Den appeared in the middle Kamakura period.  Soshu Den appeared in the late Kamakura period in the Kamakura area.  Mino school appeared Muromachi period

 

Early Kamakura Period (鎌倉) (1192 – 1218)

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

Middle Kamakura Period (1219 – 1277)

In the 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, the Kamakura government (鎌倉幕府) had political and military power, yet the Emperor still existed in Kyoto(京都).  Emperor Gotoba raised an army and attacked the 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 the Mongolian invasion (that is called Genko (元寇) in 1274 and 1281), a longer Kissaki and a longer in length and wider sword started to appear.  Soshu Den swordsmiths forged this type of swords.

Engravings on Sword

Carvings have three meanings in Ko-To time.  One is to reduce the weight of the sword.  They are Hi, Bohi (single groove), Gomabashi (wide, narrow, short or long grooves).  The second is for religious purposes.  For that reason, swordsmiths often carve the Buddhistic figures.  The third is for decoration.  In shin-To time, carvings became mainly decoration purposes.

8 Hi, Suken, Bonji                    8 gomabashi            8 Hi

Suken                       Bonji (sanskrit)                 Gomabashi                     Hi

 

 

 

 

 

2 | Timeline

Let’s look at the diagram below.  At the beginning of each chapter, you will see the time line as below.  It will be a good reference for you to understand which time period I am discussing in the chapter.Original Timeline 0

The top short line, from Jomon period to Nara period, is the time we call Joko-To period in terms of the history of Japanese swords.  The term, “Japanese sword” we use today refers to the swords made after the Heian period (平安 794-1185).  Usually, Joko-To is in the category of the archaeological study.  In the next chapter, we will discuss Joko-To.  The bottom timeline and short descriptions underneath are the timeline we see in the general history books in Japan.  The middle timeline is more specific for the sword study.  My discussion will follow the middle line.

As I mentioned earlier.  The time line diagram will appear in the beginning of each chapter for an easy reference.  The swords I discuss in this website are grouped together based on the shape, style, and the trend of the time.

The difference between Tachi (太刀) ,  Katana (),  Wakizashi (脇差), Tanto (短刀)

Swords made before the Muromachi period (before 1392) are called Tachi (太刀).  Swords made after the Muromachi (室町) period are called Katana (刀) and Wakizashi (脇差).  Katana and Wakizashi were worn together. Tanto is a short dagger.  Tanto was made throughout time.  The difference between Tachi and Katana is how they were worn.  Tachi was suspended from one’s waist belt, the blade side facing down.  Katana and Wakizashi (called Daisho 大小 means large and small) were thrust between the belt and body two together, the blade side up.  Usually Tachi is longer than Katana, wakizashi is shorter than Katana.  Tanto is shortest. When you see the swordsmith’s inscribed name, if the blade comes on the right, that is Tachi.  When you see the swordsmith’s inscribed name, if the blade comes on left, that is Katana and Wakizashi.

Tachi   >  Katana  >  Wakizashi   >  Tanto

22 tachi & Katana

Ko-To (古刀)   Shin-To (新刀)   Shinshin-To (新々刀)   Gendai-To (現代刀)

Ko-To is the swords made between the Heian period (794-1192) and the beginning of the Keicho Era (1597-1615).  Shin-To is the swords made between around Keicho Era (1596-1615) and Tenmei Era (1781).  Shinshin-To is during Bakumatu time (幕末期 1789-1868).  Gendai-To is from the Meiji Restoration (明治1868) through today.  Keep in mind, even though the names of the eras or time changed overnight due to the political or dynastical changes through the history, the changes in the sword style were always gradual.

In general history, the Bakumatsu time is between 1853 and 1868, however, for the sword classification, the time starts from Tenmei (天明 1781) through 1868.

Ko-To (古刀)   Shin-To (新刀)   Shinshin-To (新々刀)   Gendai-To (現代刀)

Ko-To is the swords made from the Heian period(794-1192) to the beginning of the Keicho Era(1597-1615).  Shin-To is the swords made from around Keicho Era (1596-1615) to Tenmei Era(1781- 1789).  Shinshin-To is the swords made during Bakumatu time (幕末期 1789-1868).  Gendai-To is the sword made after the Meiji Restoration (明治1868) until now.  Keep in mind, even though the political history changed its name of the time by a particular emperor or Shogun became the top power in a precise day and year, sword style changed very gradually

*Strictly speaking, Bakumatsu time is from 1853 to 1869.  But for sword classification, Bakumatsu time starts from Tenmei (天明1781 ) Era.