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.  Chapter 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


30| Shin-Shin-To 1781-1867 (Bakumatsu Period Sword 新々刀)

0-timeline - size 24 BakumatsuThe red circle indicates the time we discuss in this section

The later part of the Edo period is called Bakumatsu.  See the circled area of the timeline above.  Swords made during this time are called Shin Shin-to.   They are also called Fukko-to (復古刀: revived sword).  Fukko-to copied the shape, Hamon, Boshi, and other features of the Ko-to and Shin-to swords.  The characteristics of Shin Shin-to (新々刀) and well-known swordsmiths are those below.

The Characteristics of Shin Shin-to

  • Katana, Wakizashi, and Tanto all tend to be similar to or copy of the Ko-to and Shin-to in shape.
  • Many swords often have Hi or detailed engravings.
  • One swordsmith would make more than one style swords like Soshu Den, Bizen Den, and Shin-to style together.
  • Often shows Katai-ha.

30 katai-ha


  • Weak (not tight) Nioi.
  • Yakidashi (2 to 3 inches above Machi) is often Suguha (straight line Hamon), even though the rest is irregular    Boshi is often irregular Midare.
  • Detailed engravings, but more realistic than the previous times.

Well known swordsmiths of Shin Shin-to

  • Settsu (Osaka area) ——————Gassan Sadayoshi (月山貞吉) Gassan Sadakazu (月山貞一) Gassan family is famous for detailed carvings.
  • Musashi no Kuni (Tokyo area) ————-Suishinshi Masahide (水心子正秀)  Minamoto Kiyomaro (源 清麿)  Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤)  Taikei Yoshitane (大慶義胤) is famous for his carvings.

30 Kiyomaro entire

Minamoto Kiyomaro(源清麿)    Once my family possession

  • Tosa (四国: Shikoku area) ———————————————— Sa Yukohide (左行秀)
  • Satsuma (鹿児島: Kagoshima) ———— Oku Moptohira (奥元平) Namino Hira (波平)

Meiji Ishin-To

Right before the Meiji Restoration, long swords (approx. 3 feet) with no curvature were made.  Sa Yukihide (from Tosa) forged this type of sword.  Saigo Takamori (西郷隆盛)、 Sakamoto Ryoma (坂本龍馬) owned this type of swords.  Both are famous historical characters during the Meiji Restoration, called Meiji Ishin (明治維新).  Both of them were a part of the Kin’no-to (勤皇党) group which supported the Emperor and renewed the political system.

28|Shin-to Sword — Main Seven Regions (part B 主要7刀匠地)

0-timeline - size 24 Shin-to
 The red circle indicates the subject of this chapter

64Map with number with 8

3Musashi ( 武蔵 ) in Edo ( 江戸 )

The Katana and Wakizashi made in the Musashi area have shallow Sori (curvature).  Often the width of the upper part of the body tends to be narrow.  Usually, the Hamon starts with a small irregular pattern, gradually becomes a bigger irregular pattern, then a few inches under the yokote line, it becomes a small irregular pattern again.  The Boshi is usually Komaru-boshi.  The Ji-hada is somewhat rough.   Masame-hada shows on Shinogi-ji.

Well-known swordsmiths in Musashi ———————————-Noda Hannkei (野田繁慶)                                                      Nagasone Okisato Nyudo Kotetsu (長曽根興里入道虎徹)

28 Kotetsu                            はんけい cropped

Nagasone Okisato Nyudo Kotetsu                                                Noda Hankei (野田繫慶)  (長曽根興里入道虎徹)                                             from Compton’s collection “Nippon-to”  Once owned by my father.                                                            

  1. Echizen ( 越前 ) and 5. Kaga (加賀 )

Many swordsmiths from Mino (美濃) area moved to Echizen and Kaga area (#4  & 5 on the map above).  Therefore, the swords made in this area are called Echizen- seki, and Kaga-seki.  Refer to 23|Sengoku Period (戦国) Sword for Mino Den.  The style of Echizen Yasutsugu (越前康継) is similar to the one of Mino Den.

Well-known swordsmith in Echizen ————————-Echizen Yasutsugu (越前康継 )

  1. Hizen (肥前)

Both Katana and Wakizashi in Hizen have a well-balanced shape. Hizen area tends to make swords with Chu-suguha-hotsure (a medium-width straight Hamon that looks like frayed fabric.) with fine Nie (沸).  The Boshi has a regular clean line with uniform width tempered line, as shown in the illustration below.  If you see a Shinto sword which has Chu-suguha Hamon and a Boshi that looks like the one below, it is often made by Hizen Tadayoshi (肥前忠吉).  Very fine Ji-hada (surface), sometimes called Nukame-hada.

29 Hizen Tadayoshi Boshi

Well-known swordsmith in Hizen ———————————— Hizen Tadayoshi ( 肥前忠吉)

  1. Satsuma (薩摩 )

The swords made in Satsuma have a solid look for both katana and wakizashiKissaki (the top pointed area) is a little stretched.  Yakidashi (a few inches above Machi ) shows a small irregular HamonHamon is O-midare with coarse Nie called Ara-nie.  The Ara-nie forms Togari-ba (pointed pattern, see the drawing below)One of the characteristics of this region is Satsuma-nie.  That is, the Ara-nie around hamon continues and blends into the Ji-hada area.  Therefore, the border between Ha-nie and Ji-nie is unclear.  Inside the Hamon sometimes shows a thick line shaped like lightning.  This line is called Satsuma-no-imozuru (sweet potato vine), less favorable than Inazume and Kinsiji.  This is the most prominent feature of the Satsuma sword.  Boshi has a narrow-tempered line with a small irregular patternThis is called Satsuma-boshi.  On the Ji-hada surface, Chikei (a long dark line like) appears.  This is called Satsuma-gane (薩摩金).

29 Satsuma Togari-ba

Well-known swordsmiths in Satsuma ——————  Izunokami Masafusa (伊豆守正房)                                                                                                 Ichinohira Yasuyo (一平安代)                                                                                       Mondonosho Masakiyo (主水正正清)


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, Samurai 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. 

                                       Tachi   >   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 Muromachi  period till today) 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 depending 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)———— The average length is usually  2 feet and 3 to 4 inches (68~71cm).  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 sword


1 | Timeline

Let’s look at the diagram below.  At the beginning of each chapter, a timeline like the one below will be shown.  It will be a good reference to see which time period the subject matter is being discussed.

0-timeline - size24 original 1

From the Jomon period to the Nara period, the short top line is the time we call the 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 archaeological study.  In the next chapter, we will discuss Joko-to.  The bottom timeline and short descriptions below are the timelines we see in Japan’s general history books.  The middle timeline is more specific for the sword study.  My discussion will follow the middle timeline.  The timeline diagram will appear at the beginning of each chapter for easy reference.  The swords I discuss in this book are grouped together based on the shape, style, and 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.  Tantos were 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 the shortest.  When you face the swordsmith’s inscribed name, if the blade comes on the right, that is Tachi.  When you face the swordsmith’s inscribed name, if the blade comes on the 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 (1597-1614).  Shin-to is the swords made between the Keicho Era (1596-1614) and the Tenmei Era (1781-1789).  Shin Shin-to is the swords made during Bakumatu time (幕末期 1781-1868).  Gendai-to is from the Meiji Restoration (明治1868) through today.  Even though the names of the eras or time changed overnight due to the political or dynastical changes through history, the changes in the sword style were always gradual.   

In general history, the Bakumatsu time is simply the last part of the Edo period.  However, for the sword classification, the Bakumatsu time is from around the Tenmei era (天明 1781) through the beginning of the Meiji 1868.