22| Sengoku Period History (戦国時代歴史)

22 Sengoku period Time Line red

The circle indicate the time we are discussing in this section

The above timeline shows two red circles.  In political history, the Sengoku period (戦国時代) is a part of the Muromachi (室町) period, which is the second circle.   However, in the sword history, we separate the Muromachi period and the Sengoku period (Warring States period), which is the first circle.  In sword history, we divide the time this way because, in those two periods, the sword style changed, and the environment of sword making also changed.

After the Onin-no-Ran (応仁の乱) had started (discussed in 20|Muromachi Period History (室町時代歴史) ), the beautiful capital city, Kyoto (京都 ) was in a devastating condition.  The Shogun’s (将軍) power reached only to the very limited small area.  The rest of the country was divided into 30 or so small independent states.  The heads of those independent states were called Shugo Daimyo (守護大名).  They were initially government officials who had been appointed and sent there by the central government.  Also, powerful local Samurais often became the head of those states.  They fought against each other to take over the other’s land.  During the Sengoku period, vassals would kill his master and stole his domain, or farmers would revolt against their lords.  A state like this is called “Gekoku-jo (lower class samurai overthrow the superior).” 

This is the time of the Warring States called the Sengoku period.  The head of a state was called Sengoku Daimyo (戦国大名: warlord).  The Sengoku period lasts about 100 years.  Little by little, powerful states defeated less powerful ones after long hard battles and gained more territory.  Thirty or so small countries became 20, then ten and so on.  Eventually, a few dominant Sengoku Daimyo (warlord) were left.  Each Daimyo of those states tried to fight his way up to Kyoto and be the country’s top.  The first one who almost succeeded was Oda Nobunaga (織田信長).  However, he was killed by his vassal, Akechi Mitsuhide (明智光秀), but shortly after, Akechi was killed by his colleague, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉)   

After Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeated Akechi Mitsuhide and his troop and a few more significant warlords, he almost completed uniting Japan.  Yet, Hideyoshi had one more rival to deal with to complete his job.  That was Tokugawa Iyeyasu (徳川家康).  Now, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu were the last contenders for the top position.  Both knew that their opponents were smart and able.  Any wrong move on either part would be a fatal mistake.  So, they decided to keep an amicable co-existing relationship on the surface for a while.  Though Toyotomi Hideyoshi tried to make Tokugawa Ieyasu his vassal, Tokugawa Ieyasu somehow maneuvered to avoid that.  In the mind of Tokugawa Iyeyasu, since he was younger than Toyotomi Hideyoshi, he knew that he could just wait until Hideyoshi‘s natural death.  And that happened eventually.  

 After Hideyoshi’s death, Tokugawa Ieyasu fought Hideyoshi’s vassals and won at the Battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原の戦い) in 1600.  Then, in 1615, at the battle of the Osaka Natsu-no-Jin (大阪夏の陣), Tokugawa won against Hideyoshi’s son, Hideyori’s army.  After this, the Toyotomi clan ceased to exist entirely, then the Edo (江戸) period started.  The period is called the Edo period because Tokugawa Ieyasu lived in Edo, current Tokyo (東京).

 *The Sengoku period is often depicted in TV dramas and movies.  People who lived through the Sengoku period had a tough time, but it was the most exciting time for TV shows and movies.  The life of Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and, Tokugawa Ieyasu is the most favorite story in Japan.  Especially the story of Toyotomi Hideyoshi is one of the most popular ones.  His background was a poor farmer, but he eventually became the top ruler of Japan.  That is one fascinating success story.

23 Toyotomi_hideyoshi

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, Samurais demanded a large, elaborate, and impressive yet practical sword.  The Soshu Den style sword in Nanbochi-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 significantly shortened blade is called O-suriage

The Nanboku-cho style sword has a shallow Kyo-zori (also called Torii-zori).  Refer to 5 |Heian Period: Swords.  The highest curvature comes around the middle of the body: a wide-body, high Shinogi, narrow Shinogi-Ji.  Refer to 3 |Names of Parts.   The thin Kasane (thickness of the body) is a 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), Dragon are engraved on the Shinogi-Ji area.  Refer to 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 14| Late Kamakura Period: Sword (鎌倉末太刀)) also 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) Refer to Chapter 3 Names of parts———————-Woodgrain pattern (Itame 板目). Sometimes Tobiyaki (patchy tempered spots) appears on Ji-hada.

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 kissak

17| Nanboku-cho Period History (南北朝歴史 1333-1392)

0-timeline - size 24 Nanboku-cho

            The circle indicates the time we are discussing in this section.

After Jokyu-no-Ran (10|Jokyu-no-Ran ), the power of the Imperial Court declined significantly.  The successor, the Hojo clan with a dominant power during the Kamakura period, also began to have financial difficulty and started to lose control over the regional warlords.  One of the reasons was the cost incurred by the Mongol invasion.  The Kamakura Bakufu (government) could not reward well to those warlords who worked hard during the war.  As a result, they were very dissatisfied with the Bakufu.  Seeing this as a chance, Emperor Go-Daigo attempted to attack the Kamakura Bakufu two times but failed both times.  He was exiled to Oki island.  Meantime, Ashikaga Takauji (足利尊氏) and several groups of anti-Kamakura samurais gathered arm forces and succeeded in destroying the Kamakura Bakufu (1333).  This war ends the Kamakura period.

Emperor Go-daigo, who had been exiled to Oki island, returned to Kyoto and attempted political reforms.  This reform was called Kenmu-no-Chuko (or Kenmu-no-Shinsei, 建武の中興).  His reform, however, failed to satisfy most of the ruling class.  Taking advantage of this situation, Ashikaga Takauji attacked the Imperial Court in Kyoto, deposed Emperor Go-daigo, and placed a member from the other Imperial family branch on the throne. 

Emperor Go-daigo, however, insisted upon his legitimacy, moved to Yoshino in the South of Kyoto, and established another Imperial court.  Thus began the Northern and the Southern Dynasties.  With much strife between these rival courts and their problems within each court,  more Samurai groups began moving to the Northern Dynasty.  About 60 years later, the Southern Dynasty was compelled to accept the Northern Dynasty’s proposal.  Consequently, the Northern Dynasty became the legitimate imperial court.  These 60 years are called Nanboku-cho or Yoshino-cho period. 

During the Nanboku-cho period, Samurais demanded larger and showy yet practical swords.  Soshu Den was the height of its prominence.  However, the Soshu group was not the only group that made all the swords.  Other schools and provinces of the different areas also made Soshu Den style swords.

Late Kamakura Period Swordsmiths (Early Soshu-Den time)

 Tosaburo Yukimitsu (藤三郎行光)  

Goro Nyudo Masamune (五郎入道正宗)     

Hikoshiro Sadamune (彦四郎貞宗)

18 Masamune photo    18 Masamune hamon (Sano)                  Masamune from Sano Museum Catalog (permission granted)

Nanboku-cho Period Swordsmiths  (Middle Soshu-Den time)

Hiromitu (広光)   

Akihiro (秋広)

18 Hiromitu photo 20 Hitatsura Hiromitsu Hitatura )

Hiromitsu from Sano Museum Catalog (permission granted)

Muromachi Period Swordsmiths (Late Soshu-Den time)

Hiromasa (広正)     Masahiro (正広)


15| The Revival of Yamato Den(大和伝復活)


0-timeline - size 24 Late Kamakura

        The circle indicates the time we discuss in this section

It is said that the first sword-making started from Yamato province (present Nara prefecture) during the Nara period (710 to 794).  In the early sword making days, their forging techniques were primitive.  At that time, a large number of swordsmiths lived in Yamato, yet as time passes, the sword making declined in the area.

At the end of the Kamakura period, several powerful Buddhist temples in the Yamato area had power struggles against each other.  Temples had a strong political and military power to control a large territory called Shoen (荘園) with their large number of worrier monks called Sohei (僧兵).  The most powerful group was called Nanto Sohei (南都僧兵)*.  The groups of sohei demanded more swords to arm themselves.  The high demand for swords from Sohei revitalized the Yamato Den (school) and increased the number of swordsmiths in the Yamato area.   As a result, Yamato Den became active again.  The Yamato Den style is somewhat similar to that of Yamashiro Den.    

*Nanto Sohei (南都僧兵)———Since around the 11th century, Buddhist temples had become powerful under the protection from the JoKos (retired emperors).  Those temples had a large number of Sohei (low-level monks who also acted as soldiers). When power struggles started between the temples, Sohei fought as their soldiers on the battlefields. Nanto Sohei were such soldiers at Kofuku-Ji Temple (興福寺).  Several large temples such as Todai-Ji (東大寺) Temple controlled the Yamato area.

Sugata (姿: Shape) —————- Graceful Yamashiro style since Yamato Den at this time was greatly influenced by Yamashiro Den.   Shinogi is high.  Mune is thin.   Some types of Yamato Den have shallow sori (curvature).

16 Yamato sword cross section

Hamon (刃文Tempered line) ——————–Narrow tempered line.  Mainly Nie (沸).  Chu-suguha-hotsure (中直刃ほつれ: a medium straight line with a frayed pattern), Ko-choji-midare (小丁子: a mixture of small clove-like pattern and irregular wavy lines), Ko-midare (小乱: fine irregular wavy lines), Ko-gunome-komidare (小五の目小乱: small continuous half-circles mixed with wavy lines). 

The main characteristic of the Yamato Den style sword is Masame (straight grain).   Their tempered line often shows Nijyu-ha (double straight lines), Hakikake (tracing of a broom mark), Uchinoke (a crescent-shape line), or combinations of them.   See the illustration below.16 Hamon Yamato

Boshi (鋩子: Tempered line at Kissaki area)———-On the Boshi area, a straight grain pattern appears.  Yakizume or Kaen. (Refer Chapter 12 Middle Kamakura period: Tanto).  O-maru, Ko-maru, Nie-kuzure.  (Refer 14| Late Kamakura Period: Sword (鎌倉末太刀).  See the illustration below.

15 Kaen Ykizume

15 Omaru Komaru Niekuzure

Jihada or Jitetsu (the area between shinogi and hamon )——Mostly Masame hada (straight grain pattern 柾目肌). Fine ji-nie, Chikei, and Yubashiri shows (refer 15 Late Kamakura Period).

16 Masame Hada

Nakago (Hilt)——————Often shows the finishing file pattern as shown below.  This is called Higaki Yasuri (檜垣).

16 Higaki Yasuri

Names of the Yamato School Sword-smiths

Taema(当麻) Group————–Taema Kuniyuki(当麻国行) Taema Tomokiyo(当麻友清) Shikkake (尻懸) Group———————————————–Shikkake Norinaga (尻懸則長) Tegai (手掻) group —————–Tegai Kanenaga (手掻包永) Tegai Kanekiyo(手掻包清) Hoshou (保昌) group——–Hosho Sadayoshi ( 保昌貞吉) Hosho Sadamune (保昌貞宗)

16 Shaya Ensou

Yamato Senjuin Shaya Enso (大和千手院沙弥円宗) was once family sword

4 | Heian Period: History (平安時代) 794 – 1192

Heian period (平安時代)   794 – 1192

Heian period(平安時代 ) is from the time when the Emperor Kanmu(桓武天皇) moved the capital city to Heian-Kyo(平安京) at 794, that is Kyoto(京都) today.

39 Heian Time line

The circle indicates the time we discuss in this section.

During the Heian period, the Emperors ruled the country, yet early part of the Heian period, the political power shifted to the Fujiwara family, a very wealthy aristocrat family.  Fujiwara family managed their daughters to marry Emperors.  By doing so, real political power shifted to the family of the Emperor’s wife.  They were called “Sekkan-Ke” (摂関家) which means a guardian or a representative of the Emperor.  During the Heian period, aristocrats’ lifestyle was elegant, refined, and they had a graceful culture.  This is called Fujiwara culture.  Many essays and novels were written by females during this time.  The most famous one is “Tales of Genji (源氏物語)” by Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部).  The Imperial court held ceremonies quite often, followed by the elaborate and extravagant banquets.  Imperial social life became important for getting ahead in their political careers.  Women had participated actively in those occasions.  Many high officials had several huge houses.  Sometimes those houses were inherited by daughters.  The courting procedures were different then.  The aristocrats of the Heian period, they were polygamous society.   In the beginning, a man sends a poem called Waka to a lady whom he set his eyes on, carried by his servant, hoping she will write him a poem back.  Once he was accepted, at first, a lady allows him to visit her for a short time from some distance away.  Little by little, closer and longer stay.  After they are married, a groom visits the wife’s house a few days at a time or longer, unless she is the legal first wife.   A legal first wife lives with her husband in his house.  Their children were raised by the wife’s family.  In those days and up until the next Kamakura period also, the wife’s side of the family (wife’s background) was considered important.  By the middle part of the Heian period, the Emperors regained their power over the imperial court, since their mothers were not from the Fujiwara family

5 a Genji photo5 b Genji photo

Those two are scenes from the “Tales of Genji”.   I found those pictures in Kyoto sometime ago.

Origin of Samurai

Upper-class people during the Heian Period, their lifestyle may be graceful and elegant, but the Imperial court did not have strong political power to control the country.  There were many thieves, constant fires and combats everywhere.  It was unsafe and disorderly.  The imperial court, nobleman, and temples needed to protect themselves and maintain the public peace.  Those hired hand (forces) were the origin of Bushi (武士) or Samurai (侍).  Samurai spread their power by uniting among themselves and putting down uprisings, grew bigger and powerful.  Two large Samurai groups were Heishi (or Heike) and Genji.  Little by little they gained power in the Imperial court.  After many power struggles, Heishi (平氏) started to control the Imperial court.  Heishi also managed their daughters to marry the Emperors.  In the latter part of the Heian period, the political power shifted to the Heike family.  They became tyrannical and arrogant.  That behavior created too many enemies against Heike.  The Genji ( 源氏 ) joined with the Fujiwara family started a war against Heike and chased Heike to the place called Dan-no-Ura (壇ノ浦) at 1185 and defeated Heike.  This is called Genpei-Gassen (源平合戦).  The Heike’s loss was the end of the Heian period.


The Heian Period is the time, the shape of the swords changed to the curved shape. Until this time, swords were straight.  The study of swords starts from the Heian period.  During this time, the elegant and graceful taste of Fujiwara culture reflected on the swords.  Their elegant lifestyle reflected clearly on the swords.  The group of wordsmiths in the Kyoto area created a certain sword style that was called Yamashiro Den(Yamashiro School).  Their shape of the swords shows a graceful line.  The most well-known sword during this time is Sanjo-Munechika (三条宗近), a national treasure.  Yamashiro Den represents the Heian period swords