45|Part 2 of –11 Ikubi Kissaki (continued from Chapter 44)

This chapter is a detailed part of 11| Ikubi Kissaki (猪首切先) and continued from 44|Part 2 of —- 11|Ikubi Kissaki(猪首切先.  Please read Chapter 11 and Chapter 45 before reading this section.

0-timeline - size 24 Middle Kamakura

 The red circle above indicates the time we discuss in this section.

Bizen Saburo Kunimune (備前三郎国宗)

Another swordsmith that should be mentioned in this section is Bizen Saburo Kunimune (備前三郎国宗).  In the middle Kamakura period, the Hojo clan invited top swordsmiths to the Kamakura area.  Awataguchi Kunitsuna (粟田口国綱) from Yamashiro of Kyoto, Fukuoka Ichimonji Sukezane (福岡一文字助真) from Bizen area, Bizen Kunimune (備前国宗) from Bizen area moved to Kamakura with their circle of people.  Those three groups started the Soshu Den (相州伝).  Refer to13| Late Kamakura Period: Genko (鎌倉末元寇) .

  • Sugata (shape)  ——————— Ikubi-kissaki style.  Sometimes Chu-gissaki.  Thick body.  Koshi-zori. Narrow Shinogi width.                                                                                                
  • Horimono (Engravings)  —————- Often narrow Bo-hi (single groove)
  • Hamon (Tempered line) ————- O-choji Midare (irregular large clove shape) with Ashi.  Or Ko-choji Midare (irregular small clove shape) with AshiNioi base with Ji-nie (Nie in the Hada area).  Some Hamon is squarish with less Kubire (less narrow at the bottom of the clove).   Hajimi (刃染み rough surface) may show.  Often the Kunimune swords are as follows; the lower part shows Choji, the upper part shows less work without Ashi                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Kunimune Compton 1 Kunimune Compton 2Bizen Saburo Kunimune (備前三郎国宗)   Photo from “Nippon-to Art Sword of Japan, ” The Walter A. Compton Collection.   National Treasure

  • Boshi  ———————— Small irregular.  Yakizume or short turn back.
  • Ji-hada —————-Wood-grain pattern.  Fine Ji-hada with some Ji-nie (Nie inside Ji-hada).  Midare-utsuri (irregular shadow) shows.  A few Hajimi (rough surface).

12 (second part 2) 照国神社Above photo is a picture from the official site of Terukuni Shrine in Kyushu.     http://terukunijinja.pkit.com/page222400.html

This is the National Treasure, Kunimune, preserved at Terukuni Jinja Shrine in Kagoshima prefecture.  See the photos on the previous page.  This Kunimune sword was lost after WWII.  Dr. Compton, the board chairman of Miles Laboratories in Elkhart, Indiana, found it in Atlanta’s antique store.  I mentioned Dr. Compton in 32| Japanese swords after WWII  .  When he saw this sword, he realized this was not just an ordinary sword.  He bought it and inquired to the Nihon Bijutu Token Hozon Kyokai (The Japanese Sword Museum) in Tokyo.  It turned out to be the famous missing National Treasure, Kunimune, from Terukuni Jinja shrineHe returned the sword to the shrine without compensation in 1963. 

My father became a good friend of his around this time through Dr. Homma and Dr. Sato (both were leading sword experts).  Later, Dr. Compton asked Dr. Honma and my father to examine his swords he kept in his house (he had many swords) and swords at The Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  My father wrote about this trip and the swords he examined in those museums and published the book in 1965; the title was “Katana Angya (刀行脚).”  

For Dr. Compton and my father, those days must have been the best time of their lives.  Their businesses were doing well, and they were able to spend a lot of time on their interests and had fun.  It was the best time for me, too.  One time, while I was visiting Compton’s house, he showed me his swords in his basement for hours, almost all day.  His house was huge, and the basement he built as his study had a fire prevention system, and the lighting system was perfect to view swords and other art objects. 

Phoebe, his wife, said to him that he shouldn’t keep a young girl (college student then) in the basement all day.  He agreed and took me to his cornfield to pick some corn for dinner.  From a basement to a cornfield, not much improvement?  So, Phoebe decided to take me shopping and lunch in Chicago.  Good idea,  but it was too far.  Compton’s house was Elkhart, Indiana.  The distance between Elkhart and Chicago was about two and a half hours by car.  It was too far just for shopping and lunch.  To my surprise, the company’s employee flew us and landed on the rooftop of a department store, then did the shopping, had lunch, and flew back.

Miles Laboratories and a well-known large Japanese pharmaceutical company, had a business tie-up then.  Dr. Compton used to come to Japan quite often, officially, for business purposes.  But whenever he came to Japan, he spent days with sword people, including my father, and I usually followed him.  One of the female workers of this pharmaceutical company, her job description was to translate the sword book into English. 

My parents’ house was filled with Miles products.  Miles Laboratories had a big research institute in Elkhart, Indiana.  I visited there several times.  One day, I was sitting with Dr. Compton in his office, looking into a sword book with our heads together.  That day, a movie actor, John Forsythe, was visiting the research lab.  He was the host of a TV program Miles Laboratories was sponsoring.  All female employees were making a big fuss over him.  Then he came into Dr. Compton’s room to greet him, thinking the chairman must be sitting in his big chair at his desk looking like a chairman.  But he saw Dr. Compton looking into the sword book with his head against my head.  The appearance of Dr. Compton was just like any chairman of the board of a big company one can imagine, and I was a Japanese college student looking like a college student. John Forsythe showed a strange expression on his face that he did not know what to think.

 

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