48|Part 2 of — 14|Late Kamakura Period Sword : Early Soshu Den (鎌倉末刀)

This chapter is a detailed part of chapter 14| Late Kamakura Period Sword.  Please read chapter 14 before reading this section.

0-timeline - size 24 Late Kamakura

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

14 Ikubi kissaki Damadge

In Chapter 14| Late Kamakura Period: Sword (鎌倉末太刀), the Ikubi-kissakui sword was explained.  The above illustration shows a flaw that was caused when the damaged area was repaired.  To compensate for this flaw, swordsmiths started a new sword style in the late Kamakura period.  They forged swords with a longer Kissaki and stopped the tip of Hi at a lower point than the Yokote line.   This way, if the Yokote line was lowered when it was repaired, the tip of Hi would stay lower than the Yokote-line.

15 Masamune (Sano)   15 Masamune hamon (Sano)

The above photo is a sword by Goro Nyudo Masamune (五郎入道正宗 ).  Please look at the size and shape of the Kissaki.  This is different from previous Ikubi-kissaki, or Ko-gissaki.  This is a typical late Kamakura period Kissaki style.  This is O-suriage (largely shortened). 

Under Kamakura Bakufu, many swordsmiths moved to KamakuraThey were Toroku Sakon Kunituna (藤六左近国綱) of Yamashiro Awataguchi group (山城粟田口),  Fukuoka Ichimonji Sukezane (福岡一文字助真), and Kunimune (国宗) from the Bizen area.  They were the origin of Soshu Den (相州伝)Eventually, Tosaburo Yukimitsu (藤三郎行光) and his famous son,  Masamune (正宗), appearedIn the drawing above, Kinsuji and Inazuma are shown inside the Hamon.  The shinning lines inside the Hamon are Inazuma and Kinsuji.  Inazuma and Kinsuji are a collection of Nie.  Masamune is famous for Inazuma and Kinsuji.  Masamune lived in Kamakura; his Hamon looks like ocean waves when it is viewed sideways.

50 part 2 of 15 吉岡.photo 50 part 2 of 15 吉岡

The above picture is a sword by a swordsmith of Yoshioka Ichimonji group (吉岡一文字).  The Kissaki is also like the one of Masamune’s.  It is longer than the previous Ikubi-kissaki or Ko-gissaki.  This is Chu-gissaki.  The Kissaki like this is one of the crucial points to determine what period the sword was made.  The Hamon has Choji, Gunome, Togariba (pointed-tip), and very tight Nie.

50 part 2 of 15 運生 photo 50 part 2 of 15 運生 

The above photo is a sword by Ukai Unsho (鵜飼雲生) of Bizen Den.  This sword is also from the late Kamakura period.  But it has Ko-gissaki.  This sword does not have the late Kamakura period Chu-gissaki style.  Narrow Hoso-suguha is somewhat like an earlier time than the late Kamakura period.  This sword indicates that the sword does not always have the style of that period.  To Kantei*, first, look at the style and shape then give yourself some idea of the period of the time it was made.  But in this case, Kissaki does not indicate the late Kamakura periodThe next thing is to look at the different characteristics of the sword one by one like Hamon, Nie or Nioi, Jihada, etc.,  and determine what period, which Den, which province and then come up with the name. This process is called Kantei.

*Kantei —  to determine the swordsmith’s name by analyzing the  sword characteristic without seeing the Mei (inscribed swordsmith name). Mei may be gone if it was shortened.

All the photos above are from Sano Museum Catalogue.  Permission to use is granted.

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