39|Part 2 of — 5 Heian Period Sword (792-1192)

39 Heian Time line

                                  The circle above indicates the time we discuss in this sect

This chapter is the continued part of 5 |Heian Period Swords.  Please read chapter 5 before reading this section.  More sword terminologies will be used in the coming chapters.  They were explained between chapters 1 to 33.  For unfamiliar sword terminology, please read chapter 1 to 33.

There are several active schools of swordsmith during the Heian period.  We use the word, Den for school.  They are Yamashiro Den (山城伝), Yamato Den (大和伝), Bizen Den ( 備前伝 ).  Also, the following areas are other groups during the middle Kamakura period:  Hoki-no-Kuni (伯耆の国), and Oo-U (奥羽).

 Yamashiro Den (山城伝 )

During the Heian period,  among Yamashiro Den swords, the most famous sword is Mikazuki Munechika (三日月宗近) by Sanjo Munechika (三条宗近).  Mikazuki means crescent.  Because the crescent shape uchinoke (collection of nie) pattern appears in the Hamon area, it was named Mikazuki Munechika.  It has a graceful shape, narrow-body, Koshi-zori, Funbari, and small kissaki.  It shows wood grain surface, suguha with nie mixed with small irregular, sometimes Nijyu-ha (double hamon: 二重刃) appears.  Sanjo Munechika lived at the Sanjo area in Kyoto.  His sword style was followed by his sons and grandsons, Sanjo Yoshiie (三条吉家), Gojo Kanenaga (五条兼永), Gojo Kuninaga (五条国永 ).  Gojo is the area in Kyoto.

6 photos Sanjo Munechika

Mikaduki Munechika(三日月宗近) Tokyo National Museum (東京国立博物館蔵)  “Token no mikata” by Yuichi Hiroi (“刀剣のみかた” 広井雄一)

Houki -no-Kuni (伯耆の国)

Houki-no-Kuni is today’s Tottori prefecture.  It is known for the place to produce good iron.  The sword name, Doujigiri Yasutsuna  (童子切安綱) by Houki-no-Yasutsuna (伯耆の安綱) is the most famous one.

The characteristics of Yasutsuna’s sword———-It has a graceful shape with small kissaki, narrow hamon (often suguha with ko-choji), coarse nie on hamon area, large wood grain mixed with masame on ji-hada Hamon area often shows Inazuma and kinsuji.  Boshi area is yakizume, kaen with small turn back.

6 Sano Hoki Yasutuna

伯耆の安綱 (Hoki no Yasutsuna) 佐野美術館図録 (Sano Musem Catalogue)

Bizen Den (備前伝 )

Bizen is Okayama prefecture today.  It is known for the place to produce good iron.  Since the Heian period until now, Bizen has been famous for the sword-making tradition.  The sword-making group in this area during the Heian period is called the Ko-bizen group.  The most famous swordsmith in Ko-bizen group is Bizen Tomonari (備前友成) and Bizen Masatsune (備前正恒) and Bizen Kanehira (備前包平)

The characteristics of Ko-bizen group———-a graceful narrow body, small kissaki, narrow tempered line with Ko-choji (small irregular) with Inazuma and Kin-sujiJi-hada is a small wood grain pattern.

6 Sano Kanehira

Bizen Kanehira (備前包平) Sano Museum Catalogue (佐野美術館図録)

I saw Ko-Bizen Sanetsune (真恒 ) at Mori Sensei’s house.  That was one of the Kantei-to of that day.  I received Douzen*ᴵ.  The book written by Honnami Koson was used as our textbook.  Each time I saw a sword at Mori Sensei’s house, I put down the date on the swordsmith’s name where the author describes.  It was Nov. 22, 1970.  It had a narrow body line, small kissaki (that is Ko-bizen Komaru), kamasu*2  (no fukura), and suguha and others.  Kamasu is the condition where the fukura (arc) is much lesser than usual.  Thinking back then, it is amazing we could see a famous sword like this one for our study materials.


Kantei-kai is the study meeting.  Usually, several swords were displayed covering the nakago part.  The attendees guess the name of the sword maker and hand in the answer sheet to the judge.  Below is the grade.

Atari—–If the answer is the right on the exact name, you get atari, that is the best answer.

Dozen *1—-The second one is dozen.  The subject sword was made by the family and (or) clan of the right Den.  It means almost the right answer.  Dozen is considered very good.  It indicates the student has a good knowledge of the particular group.

Kaido Yoshi—– This means the same line, but not within the family.

Jidai Yoshi—-Each Kanntei-kai has different grading systems.  Some have Jidai Yoshi, which means the time or period is correct.

Hazure—– Wrong answer.

After all the answer sheet is handed in and the answer sheet is graded and returned, the judge reveals the correct answer and explains why.

*1 Dozen:  Almost the same as the collect answer.                                                    *2 Kamasu:  The name of a fish.  It has a narrow and pointed head.



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

12 Red Middle Kamakura Timeline
The circle indicates the time we are discussing in this chapter 

There are large numbers of swordsmiths 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 in the Middle Kamakura period.  Bizen province had many ideal conditions to produce 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.  In general, the Bizen sword has a higher quality standard than other schools.

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

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

10 Nie & Nioi

Sugata (shape) — The length of the sword is about 33 inches ± a few inches. The width of the blade is slightly wide and it has a stout look.  The curvature of the blade is Koshizori (腰反)  means the highest curvature comes 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 the Nakago is rounded which has the shape of chestnut’s bottom.  This is called KurijiriSee 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 — The same tempered pattern continues to go up to the Boshi area.  You can see Choji midare (clove-like pattern) or Yakizume.

10 Boshi --- Bizen

Jitetu — Fine well forged, and soft look steel.  The surface of the steel has small wood grain pattern mixed with the large grain pattern.  Chikei (condensation of Nie) and cloud-like reflection appears.

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)

10, Ichimonji Photo

Ichimonji from Sano Museum Catalog (permission to use is granted)

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

7 Kamakura 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