60|Part 2 of – – 26 Overview of Shin-To (新刀概要)

Chapter 60 is a Continued part of Chapter 26 |Over view of Shinto (新刀概要).   Please read Chapter 26 before reading this section.

0-timeline - size 24 edo Period

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

The difficulty of Shin-to Kantei

Regarding the swords during Ko-to time, one can tell the approximate period when they were made by looking at the style and the shape.  Several conditions indicate what period and which Gokaden (五ヶ伝) created the particular sword by looking at several points, like how the Hamon showed or how the Ji-gane appeared.  But with the swords in the Shin-to time, that does not work. 

Even though there are some differences among the Shin-to swords made in the early Edo period, which is around the Keicho (慶長: 1596 ~) era, the middle Edo period that is around the Kanbun (寛文: 1661 ~) era, and the late Edo period that is Genroku era (元禄: 1688 ~), the differences are not much. 

The same is true about the Gokaden (五ヶ伝) during the Shin-to time.  In the Ko-to time, Bizen swordsmiths forged swords with Bizen characteristics.  The blades Yamato swordsmiths made usually showed the Yamato Den characteristics.  But in the Shin-to time, a swordsmith of one particular Den sometimes forged the style of another Den’s featuresAs a result, it is hard to determine who forged a specific sword. 

For Shin-to, we study the characteristics of seven main locations.  The following chapters will go over them.

Picturesque Hamon

In and after the Genroku era (元禄1688 – 1704), some picturesque Hamon became a trendy style.  Some swordsmiths made picturesque Hamon on Wakizashi or short swords.  Since it became very popular, especially among foreigners, most of them were exported outside of Japan around the Meiji Restoration time. Very few are left in Japan today.

The swordsmiths those who made picturesque  Hamon 

Yamashiro area ——————————————-Iga-no-kami Kinmichi (伊賀守金道),                                                                                  Omi-no-kami Hisamichi (近江守久道)

Settsu (摂津) area ———————————Tanba-no-Kami Yoshimichi  (丹波守吉道)                                                                           Yamato-no-Kami Yoshimichi (大和守吉道)

Below are examples.  Fuji is the Mount fuji designKikusui is chrysanthemum in the water.

63 fuji sakura hamon

        Fuji                                      Kikusui

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)


26 |Over view of Shinto (新刀概要)

0-timeline - size 24 Shin-to
                           The circle indicates the subject discuss in this section 

The previous chapter 25 stated that the Edo period was from 1603 to 1868.  This is for political history.  As seen in the third timeline above, the Momoyama period overlaps the Edo period.  Some people think the Momoyama period was from 1573 to 1600.   In terms of general history, there are several opinions on how to divide these transitional periods.  For sword history, it is clear cut.  The swords made between approximate 1596 (慶長: Keicho era) and 1781 (天明: Tenmei era) are called Shin-to.  The swords made between the Tenmei era and the Meiji is called Shin-Shinto. 

After Toyotomi Hideyoshi almost completed to unite the country, people could enjoy a peaceful time.  This quiet time changed the geographic distribution of swordsmiths where they lived.  There were three major areas where the sword forging took place.  Those were Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo (Tokyo today) areas.  The rest of the swordsmiths gathered around near major Daimyos’ (大名: feudal lord ) castles.

Kyoto—- Umetada Myoju (梅忠明寿) group thrived, followed by the swordsmiths like Horikawa Kunihiro (堀川国広), Kunimichi (国路 ), Kunisada (国貞), and Kunisuke (国助).

OsakaOsaka was established as a commercial city and became the center of commerce.  They produced swords and distributed them to the other regions in the country.  Swordsmiths in Osaka : Tsuda Sukehiro (津田助広), Inoue Shinkai (井上真改).

Edo—-Many swordsmiths gathered in Edo (江戸: current Tokyo) where Shogun Tokugawa Iyeyasu livedThe well-known swordsmiths in Edo at that time :  Nagasone Kotetsu (長曽祢虎徹), Yasutsugu (康継), Noda Hannkei (野田繁慶).

By the time the grandson of Tokugawa Iyeyasu, Tokugawa Iyemitsu, became the shogun (寛永:Kan’ei era 1624 – 1643), swordsmiths spread out to other provinces than three areas mentioned above.  In each significant Daimyo’s territory, swordsmiths had their shops near the castle and fulfilled the demand for daimyo and subjects.  By the Genroku era (元禄: 1695), the swords-making declined, and people demanded more picturesque Hamon designs, such as Kikusui (菊水: flower design) and Fujimi (富士見: Mount Fuji).


63 fuji sakura hamon
 Fujimi                           Kikusui

Difference between Koto  and Shinto 

The next section describes the difference between Ko-to and Shin-to.   But keep in mind, there are always exceptions to this rule.

1.  The length of the Shinto Katana is usually about 2 feet and 3 inches ± a little.   Wakizashi is 1 foot and 6 inches ± a little.   Shallow curvature.  Wide width.  Thick body.   Gyo-no-Mune.  Chu-Gissaki with a slightly stretched look.13 Mune drawing

2.  Koto sword feels light.  Shinto feels heavy.

3.  For Shinto, Bo-hi ends a little below the Yokote line.  The Bottom of Hi rounded at above Machi.

27. Hisaki & marudome

4. In general, for Shin-to, carvings are less common. Except, some swordsmith are famous for its carving.  The design is refined and in detail.  Umetada Myoju (埋忠明寿) is famous for its carvings.

5.  For Shin-to, if it is mainly made with Nie, it is coarse Nie

6.  Around the Machi area, Hamon starts with a straight tempered line (the bottom part of the blade in the illustration below), then Midare, or different types of Hamon comes in the middle, and it finishes with Suguha (straight hamon) in the Boshi area (the top part). In general, this is the standard Hamon style of Shin-to, but there are always exceptions. 

27 Keshou Yasuri & suguha

7.  For Shin-to, the blade had the same kind of iron throughout Japan.  Not much variations of iron were used throughout Japan. Very hard, dark color, and glossy look.

8.  The Nakago has a properly balanced shape.  The bottom of Nakago narrows down gradually.  The type of Yasurime (file mark) is Kesho-yasuri.  Engraved inscriptions show the swordsmith’s name, the location, and the province, with the year it was made..

27 Keshou Yasuri & suguha

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.