The Development of the Japanese Samurai Sword.

The Age of the Straight-bladed Sword

Some vague evidence of the existence of a native kind of swordmanship can be found in the earliest surviving forms of Japanese literature. From a careful study of Japan's early literature it is reasonable to assume that both the iron sword and swordmanship played highly significant roles in the founding of the Japanese nation.

The development of Japanese combative swordsmanship as a component system of classical bujutsu (martial arts) created by and for professional warriors, the bushi, begins only with the invention and widespread use of the standard Japanese sword: a curved, single-cutting-edged long sword. This important fact is entirely dependant upon the sufficient advancement of metallurgical techniques, the latter becoming possible only because battlefield conditions had prevailed for centuries. Some minimal historical background will make this relationship clear. Archaeological excavations of Misasagi, the ancient imperial mausoleums, and the tumuli of regional chieftans, as well as chance finds made on Japanese soil, have made possible the recovery of the earliest kinds of swords known to have existed in Japan. It is reliably estimated that the oldest of these swords date from at least as early as the second century B.C. Other swords appear to be the products of later ages, some blades appearing as late as the eighth century A.D.

These swords are generally straight-bladed and feature both single and double cutting edges with curved point sections. They range from almost four feet to as little as about two feet in overall length. Various shapes of hilts - those dominantly kanto (ringed), warabide (fern-shoot-shaped), and kabutsuchi (knobbed) - indicate the lack of a Japanese standard sword. The Japanese refer to their ancient straight-bladed swords as tsurugi or as ken, the latter term being the Japanese pronunciation for the Chinese rendering of the same ideogram. These early swords worn by fighting men in Japan were carried slung from the waist by cords or some other suitable materials.

There is ample historical evidence to show that the smiths who made swords in Japan during the closing years of the sixth century included Chinese, Korean, and native Japanese artisans and that their products were largely functional ones. By the mid-seventh century many persons from different ethnic groups and in a wide range of social classes customarily wore swords and thus stimulated the production of such weapons. Quality blades began to make their appearance at this time. But following in the train of Buddhism and the general introduction of Chinese culture into Japan, the swords imported from Kure (Go), as the Japanese called the ancient kingdom of Wu, were at that time considered by the Japanese to be superior as ceremonial weapons. It is not until the time of sword blades attributed to Amakuni (? fl. c. 700) and bearing his signature engraved on their tangs that the reputation of Japanese weaponry begins to outstrip that of weapons made by its continental neighbors.

When the imperial government ordered the suspension of the military-conscript system and the implementation of the kondei-sei, a system of enlisting select young men from the families of the district chiefs, this procedure was tantamount to admitting that the earlier way of raising a national martial force had proved unsuitable. But the kondei-sei also failed, since its leaders had the tendency to convert their respective bodies of fighting men into private armies in support of selfish aims. The shoen system is a significant historical phenomenon in Japan, the outgrowth of the failure of earlierinstituted land reforms that had been enacted against state lands. The upshot of the development of the shoen insofar as Japan's martial ethos was concerned was that they became the locus and economic basis for a kind of professional fighting man for whom the bearing of arms was a monopolized privilege. The shoen thus indirectly fostered the rise of fighting men to positions of sociopolitical prestige and power and must be considered as one major source of the bushi: the classical warriors.

The Advent of the Curved Sword

Before such historical phenomena as the enforcement of the shoen system and the rise of the bushi class could take place, there had to be an important change in the Japanese sword. This development was so far-reaching that the new sword, when it became the monopoly of a professional class of fighting men, created an immensely wide technological gap between them and those who opposed their rise to prominence, with the result that their opponents were completely disadvantaged.

The straight-bladed sword gave way to one that featured curvature in a longer and stronger blade with a single cutting edge. This significant change began at least as early as the eigth century, for we have the Kogarasu-maru (Little Crow), a sword attributed to the master craftsman Amakuni (c. 702), as an example of the first curved swords. (The suffix "maru," meaning perfection or purity, is used to designate a sword.) In its curved form, the sword is known to the Japanese as Tachi. It evolved from its straight-bladed prototype (tsurugi) because many years of battlefield experience proved that the curved form of sword was better suited to the needs of the Japanese fighting man. The graceful beauty of the tachi enhanced its terrible combative effect, and it was eagerly accepted by the warriors as their principal weapon. Around the curved long sword the bushi built a mystique of fantastic dimensions, one that still influences Japanese culture today.

The tachi was ideally suited to the requirements of the horse-mounted combat that characterized battlefield situations from the late eigth century onward. Through use of a long curved blade the mounted warrior was able to focus efficiently the forces of his stroke as he cut, slashed, and thrust against an armored enemy - more so than it was possible for him to do when he used a straight-bladed sword. The curved blade was also less susceptible to damage and total breakage than was the straight-bladed variety. Although we have no accurate historical information about the mounted warrior's techniques with the tachi in battle during this period, we know that he carried it sheathed and slung it from a special suspension device, cutting edge downward, at his left hip. This feature facilitated the ground-to-sky draw that was so useful and necessary to the horse mounted warrior. The tachi was given its greatest impetus as an efficient primary weapon of combat through the great skill of Yasutsuna Saburo-dayu (749-811), a swordsmith working at Ohara in Hoki Province (present Tottori Prefecture). Ohara Sanemori, Yasutsuna's son, equaled his famous father in skill as a maker of curved blades. The products of their artistry are extant today, and these men are outstanding examples of smiths who worked during the period of transition from straight-bladed to curved swords. The most famous of Yasutsuna's blades, the Doji-giri (Monster Cutter), provides the modern viewer of this blade with a basis for gaining an appreciation of its grim effectiveness and of its unsurpassed beauty. This magnificent sword was allegedly made for Sakanoue Tamuramaro (758-811), the hero-generalissimo who was dispatched by the imperial court to subdue the emishi.

These and other important developments led to the founding of the Gokaden, the Five Traditions of Japanese swordmaking, which are today identified on the basis of the geographical areas in which they once operated: Yamato (present Nara area), Yamashiro (modern Kyoto area), Bizen (today's Okayama Prefecture), Soshu (alternately Sagami, the modern Kanagawa Prefecture), and Mino (alternately Seki, the modern Gifu Prefecture). The numerous smiths of these traditions represented respective areas. Their energies and sensibilities produced about eighty percent of all swords that are referred to as Koto, or old swords. This term is used to designate the age of their manufacture: the Koto period (c. 800 to 1596). All swords that were made before the Koto period are classified as belonging to the Jokoto period.

Though it is not standard practice to do so, if we accept Amakuni as a swordsmith working in Nara at his traditional date (fl. c. 720) and as one who made curved as well as straight-bladed swords, he becomes the forerunner of what would then be the earliest swordmaking tradition, the Yamato. However, it is Shigehiro (fl. c. 1210) and Yukinobu (fl. c. 1150) who are designated as being the actual cofounders of the Yamato tradition. These two smiths of the Senju-in style (fl. 1150-1300) were active during the time of the sovereign Gotoba (1180-1239; r. 1184-98) and possibly later. Some other famous smiths of the Yamato tradition forged blades in different styles, but almost all of the long swords of this tradition are today recognized by their slim, graceful lines featuring a pronounced curvature and a relatively thick cross section.

Swords fashioned by the Yamashiro smiths were the result of modifications made to crude but practical weapons that had been introduced by various craftsmen into the capital (Kyoto) area. Yamashiro blades became typically slim and gracefully curved, somewhat thinner in cross section than those of the Yamato tradition, although equally efficient in combat. Except for the position of Amakuni as the forerunner of the Yamato tradition, the Yamashiro tradition lays claim to being Japan's oldest line of swordmakers. The tradition was already established by the time of the sovereign Ichijo (980-1011 ; r. 986-1011). Kokaji Munechika (938-1014) is credited with founding the Yamashiro tradition. He worked in the Sanjo style (fl. 980-1400), and his most celebrated blade, the Kogitsune-maru (Little Fox), is extant. The Yamato and Yamashiro traditions continued separately until almost the end of the fourteenth century, at which time the swords forged by their respective smiths became almost indistinguishable.

Each of the Five Traditions had its own peculiarities, which resulted in special techniques and refinements in the forging and tempering of blades. Each of the Five Traditions played an important role in furthering the acceptance of the curved blade and in bringing about a high degree of combative efficiency in its use. By the eleventh century the Japanese sword had far outstripped any swords being made on the Asian mainland in terms of having achieved a balance between artistic accomplishment and combative function.

The Sword at its Peak of Excellence

It was during the Kamakura period (1185-1333) that Japanese swordsmiths achieved the highest level of technical excellence. Their outstanding expertise was made possible by the opportunities for swordmaking furnished by the war between two influential buke (martial families), the Minamoto and the Taira. This dramatic conflict called for the services of a substantial number of smiths who catered to the special needs of warriors whose continued presence on the battlefield made it possible to test and evaluate swords under the severest conditions. Minamoto Yoshitsune (1159-1189), the brilliant martial strategist and field general, obtained the masterpiece sword forged by Tomonari of Bizen (b. c. 952) and named it Kimi Banzai (Long Life for the Sovereign). Yoshitsune's preference for a Tomonari blade caused many warriors to seek blades made by this renowned smith. In the martial atmosphere that prevailed after the Minamoto gained victory over the Taira (1185), swordsmiths found it necessary to make even more refinements in their art, and thus outclassed the quality of earlier blades.

The majority of swords forged during the late twelfth century and the opening decades of the thirteenth were the products of appreciable imperial support for the art of swordmaking. In his role as a cloistered emperor Gotoba (1198-1221) insisted on personally supervising a constant study of metallurgical methods and urged that improvements be made in all weapons. Gotoba was an accomplished smith who, together with Hisakuni (1149-1216) of Yamashiro (Awataguchi style) and Norimune (1152-1214) of Bizen (Ichimonji style), produced what are considered by the experts to be the best examples of quality Japanese swords. Some of the swords produced by these three men are extant, but they do not bear Gotoba's name because the name of a cloistered emperor was considered to be of a divine nature and applicable only to documents of state. Substituted for his name on swords that are attributed to him, and inscribed on their tangs, is a twenty-four petal chrysanthemum. Such blades are referred to as Kiku-saku, or chrysanthemum-made, the word signifying "emperor," since the flower is an imperial emblem.

Gotoba's preoccupation with the manufacture of swords is often explained in terms of his desire to overthrow the Hojo bakufu, the quasi-martial government instituted by the Hojo clan early in the thirteenth century. Regardless of what his actual motives were, Gotoba called in the best smiths in Japan and task them with the restudy of all the forging methods of the past. Yearly rosters of swordsmiths named a different smith of outstanding skill for each assignment and required him to produce a new blade. Norimune was the first smith to have this great honor. The group of smiths as a whole received the honorary title of Goban Kaji (Gotoba's Smiths). Yet another major impetus to improvements in swordmaking emerged from the two Mongol invasions of Japan (1274 and 1281). As the nomadic hordes of Kublai Khan's warrior-horsemen poised to invade Japan, it was the smiths who resided at Kamakura, the seat of the de facto bakufu government, who rose to the occasion, making it possible for the blade, not the spur, to save the day. The bakufu was at this time in the hands of the Hojo regents under Zen advocate Hojo Tokimune (1251-1284; ruled 1268-1284). The martial atmoshere in Kamakura under the Hojo was somewhat less professional than the bakufu led by Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1199; ruled 1192-1199), but Kamakura continued to be the seat of illustrious smiths who functioned in traditions and styles that had developed under the aegis of the Minamoto martial hegemony. At Kamakura the Yamato, Yamashiro, and Bizen traditions tended to combine and to stimulate the development of what is called the Soshu (Sagami) tradition of swordmaking.

The most famous of Soshu smiths was Goro Nyudo Masamune (fl. c. 1326). For many Japanese, Masamune's name is synonymous with the highest level of individual perfection in the making of sword blades. After undertaking a tedious course of experimentation, Masamune accomplished the production of a blade that was literally unchippable. The fame of this discovery brought smiths from all parts of Japan to his doorstep. Masamune's success was well earned. It was based on the fact that he was able to temper blades at a much higher temperature than did any of his predecessors. The latter had been unable to do so because at high quench temperatures blades tended to crack or become warped. Masamune's experiments led him to discover special methods whereby forging with choicer materials made possible the process of nijuba, a combination method of annealing and tempering in which the blade is twice heated and twice quenched. His "ten brilliant disciples" (Masamune no Jutetsu) were famous as masters in their own right. Because of his superior workmanship, it is said that Masamune's great success led to his self-conceit. He rarely considered it necessary to inscribe his name on the tangs of his blades, arguing that anyone upon seeing a Masamune blade would unfailingly know that it was his superior brand of craftsmanship.

After Masamune's time the Japanese domestic scene fell into considerable political disorder. The civilian-directed Hojo regency, suffering from the poor quality of its leaders after the death of Tokimune (1284), fell victim to those warriors whose minds perhaps had long cherished the idea of destroying the power of the Hojo family and replacing it with that of their own. Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358) was the chief destroyer of the Kamakura-based Hojo regime. Two lines of the imperial family, embroiled in a bitter succession rivalry, further complicated the issue of establishing domestic stability. At this point two opposing emperors set up separate and antagonistic courts, each emperor having martial support that signaled the final challenge to rule on the part of any person or agency other than the imperial family. This period is known in Japanese history as the era of the Nambokucho (Northern and Southern dynasties), an era (1336-1392) in which martial-minded men were given ample opportunities to further their own interests by resorting to the force of arms. The character of battlefield combat in vogue at the time of the Mongol invasions changed during this era of dynamic separation. Increasing emphasis was given to infantry tactics. Realistic warriors fighting on foot came to the awakening that a lighter and shorter curved blade could be manipulated with greater speed and, if properly used, was capable of almost the same lethal penetration as that of the heavier swords when used against armor. The significance of this discovery is that the acceptance of a lighter-weight sword stimulated a more systematic study of swordsmanship along lines of finesse in technique. By the end of this period of court wars the long sword (tachi), which had been carried sheathed and slung, cutting edge downward, was superseded by a shorter weapon worn cutting edge uppermost, thrust through the sash. In its new form and wearing position the sword was called katana. Three contemporary smiths (fl. c. 1390) were Morimitsu, Yasumitsu, and Moromitsu of the Bizen tradition. They lived in the village of Osafune in Bizen Province and produced excellent blades of moderate width and thickness and possessed of graceful but pronounced curvature in their overall strength. The Bizen tradition (fl. 1230-1600) is responsible for over fifty percent of the Koto-period blades, and Osafune was the most prolific center of its activity. Bizen Province was ideally suited to the manufacture of swords. It was largely undisturbed by the great wars being staged in other parts of the country; had natural resources of iron, charcoal, and water; and was the center of trade routes and shipping lanes. It enjoyed imperial favor.

The Sword in the Era of Sengoku

It is with the general widespread use of the curved sword mounted and worn as a katana that classical Japanese swordsmanship for infantry applications really begins. But it is not until the fifteenth century, in the Sengoku (Warring Provinces) era, that we have positive evidence in reliable documentary form to prove that the bushi practiced swordsmanship in a systematic manner. In the various makimono (handscrolls) of the martial ryu (traditions), which make their first appearance at this time, we find specific details on the use of the katana in training and in combat.
KENJUTSU and IAI-JUTSU. Kenjutsu and iai-jutsu are related and mutually supporting martial disciplines. Which is the older of these two forms of swordsmanship is difficult to determine, but most evidence points to kenjutsu as the senior form. Kenjutsu deals with the art of swordsmanship as it is performed with a sword that has already been brought into an unsheathed position, the situation permitting that the draw be safely made in advance of a premeditated clash with an enemy or after his challenge. Iai-jutsu concerns the use of the sword that must instantly be drawn from a position of rest inside of its scabbard as one deals with an enemy. While kenjutsu is openly an aggressive art, iai-jutsu is not necessarily so. The characteristic of iai-jutsu that differentiates it from kenjutsu is that it requires the simultaneous act of drawing the blade and instantly striking the enemy with the action of the completed draw, even as the enemy is launching his attack. It means turning what appears to be certain death into an instant and even quicker lethal counterattack. This procedure makes iai-jutsu a counterattack-oriented art. Both classical kenjutsu and iai-jutsu are component systems of Japanese bujutsu and are genuinely combat-oriented disciplines.

The Sengoku era saw the need for many practical katana. Numerous smiths made it their chief purpose to forge as many blades as was possible in the shortest period of time, for business was plentiful. Their products were generally substandard in terms of metallurgical skill, artistic design, and combative function. Most of these men approached their labors as would a common factory worker. In general, Sengoku-era swords were known as kazu-uchi-mono (mass-produced things), a term that expresses contempt for the rough workmanship displayed by many smiths of this time. At Seki (modern Gifu Prefecture) the Mino tradition (fl. 1450-1600) was carried on by smiths who produced practical blades for warriors fighting in the ceaseless wars of the Sengoku era. This tradition was founded by Shizu Kaneuji (1284-1344), originally of Yamato, and Kinju (Kaneshige; 1232-1322) of Mino. Both of these smiths were among Masamune's Jutetsu (Ten Brilliant Disciples) at Soshu. Their blades were rather heavy and wide and somewhat coarse but were very functional in combat. Two other Mino smiths, Kanemoto (fl. c. 1440) and Kanesada (fl. c. 1467) joined in the forging of worthy blades with Sukesada Yosozaemon (fl. c. 1504) of Osafune. A second Kanemoto (fl. c. 1457) at Mino was very famous for the extreme sharpness of his sword blades. Aside from these smiths there were few worthy of the traditional values of their craft. The Sengo style of swordmaking (fl. 1360-1500) derived from the Mino tradition and was made infamous through the person of Muramasa Senzo (b. 1341) in Ise Province (modern Mie Prefecture). Muramasa's blades had an evil reputation for being "bloodthirsty" and causing death to victims and injury to their users. Muramasa was a man of violent disposition with an unbalanced mind verging on madness, and it was this personal twist of character that supposedly entered his blades. So notorious was Muramasa that he and his works are frequently excluded from lists of eminent smiths. Throughout the extent of his style of operation Muramasa's blades were popularly believed to impel the wearer to commit murder or suicide, and once a Muramasa blade had "tasted" blood the owner would starve to death unless he "fed" the sword more human blood.

During the time of the military dictator Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) a list stating the relative estimated merits of swordsmiths in terms of the average value of their blades was compiled. Hideyoshi used this list to select suitable presents for his friends and professional acquaintances among the warrior class. Masamune, Yoshimitsu Toshiro (fl. c. 1264) of the Yamashiro tradition (Awataguchi style), and Go Yoshihiro (1299-1325) of Etchu Province (modern Toyama Prefecture), who was one of Masamune's Jutetsu, stand at the head of the list as the Sansaku, the Three Master Smiths.

The Era of the New Sword

The Shinto, or New Sword, period (c. 1596-1781) brought with it a steady decline in the combative effectiveness of blades. The swords of this period were deemed "new" at the time of their making because forging techniques underwent radical changes. Whereas Gokaden smiths unfailingly used local ores processed by themselves, in the Shinto period most smiths used metal obtained from a central source located in the San'in district (modern Shimane Prefecture). The acceptance of European methods of iron and steel processing also brought vital influences to bear on the indigenous methods of production. By adopting the methods of European technology, swords could be mass-produced. Some unprincipled smiths combined bits of inexpensive scrap iron with quantities of ore from the central source and forged blades of vastly inferior quality. A Shinto-period blade can be distinguished from a Koto-period blade in different ways. Most Shinto blades have a slightly yellowish cast to their metal; Koto blades tend to exhibit a silvery-blue dullness. The curvature of Shinto blades differs from that of the Koto blades by being somewhat less pronounced. Shinto blades were forged at a time when Japan had entered a long age of peace. Thus it came about that careful attention was paid to the external beautification of sword blades, their fittings, and their furniture. Engraving on blades was no longer done by the smiths who forged them, since that work was now delegated to artisans who specialized in it.

Perhaps the most famous of the early Shinto-period smiths is Kotetsu Okisato (1599-1678) of Echizen (modern Fukui Prefecture). Kotetsu was originally a maker of battlefield helmets (kabuto), a profession in which he had gained considerable fame. The story of his conversion to the craft of swordmaking at the age of fifty years is legend. It was proposed that a helmet made by Kotetsu be tested by a sword forged by Kiyomitsu (fl. c. 1661), a famous smith of Kaga Province (modern Ishikawa Prefecture). The arrangement made, and with the daimyo of Echizen in attendance, Kiyomitsu bowed to Kotetsu's helmet as it rested securely atop a special wooden stand that had been made for the purpose, drew his sword, composed his mind, and assumed jodan no kamae (an overhead combative-engagement posture). Kotetsu sensed that the impending stroke would penetrate his helmet, and so, before Kiyomitsu could strike, cried out for him to halt. Kiyomitsu restrained himself but was visibly unnerved, the greater portion of his spiritual energy dissipated. Kotetsu apologized for the interruption and made a minor adjustment in the position of his helmet. Kiyomitsu's blow was only able to do superficial damage to the helmet. Kotetsu's masterpiece had withstood a formidable test, and he was lauded by the daimyo of Echizen as a great armorer. Kotetsu, however, grew ashamed of his ruse and subsequently offered his sincere apologies to Kiyomitsu, who graciously excused him. Stricken by remorse, Kotetsu abandoned the armorer's profession and took up the art of smithery. He founded the Nagasone style in Edo (fl. 1650-1700). Kotetsu's blades were of the highest quality, and their cutting power was nothing short of fantastic. Being an eccentric, Kotetsu rarely filled the orders from daimyo and warriors who anxiously sought his blades.

Yasutsugu of Echizen (fl. c. 1624) was an innovator-pioneer famed for his blades in which namban tetsu (southern barbarian, or foreign, iron) was used. He blended metal from Holland and Portugal with Japanese iron, inscribing this fact on the tangs of his swords. Yasutsugu worked in the Aoe Shimosaka style (fl. 1590-1860). The shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu was so pleased with a blade that Yasutsugu had forged that he permitted Yasutsugu to inscribe the Tokugawa formal crest (three hollyhock leaves within the perimeter of a circle) as a distinctive mark on the tangs of his blades. In addition, the shogun authorized Yasutsugu to use the ideogram for "yasu" in "Ieyasu" as a substitute for the original one in "Yasutsugu." Ieyasu especially dreaded Muramasa blades. After being twice wounded by such blades, he believed them to be unlucky for use within his family. On one occasion, at the battle of Sekigahara (1600), he asked to see the blade of warrior Nagatake, who had cut through the helmet of Toda Shigemasa. While examining that blade, Ieyasu accidently cut himself and concluded, as it proved to be, that it was a Muramasa blade. But the blade of Nagamitsu (fl. c. 1270) of the Bizen-Osafune tradition, called Azuki Nagamitsu, had an edge so keen that it was said to cut through an azuki (a small bean) when tossed into the air, and it became an heirloom of the Tokugawa family. In the Shinto period three smiths were granted authority to engrave a sixteen-petal chrysanthemum on the tangs of the blades they forged: Tamba no Kami Yoshimichi (fl. c. 1673) of Settsu Province (modern Hyogo Prefecture); Inoue Shinkai (fl. c. 1672), also of Settsu Province and known as the Masamune of Osaka; and the Bizen tradition smith Sukenaga (1795-1851), who worked at Osafune in the Yokoyama style (fl. 1580-1860). Satsuma smiths kept the art of swordmaking at a respectable level by forging methods that derived in part from Mino (Seki) tradition. Their style (fl. 1580-1860) boasted such first-ranked smiths as Mondo no Sho Masakiyo (1670-1730) and Ippei Yasuyo (1680-1728), who collaborated in 1721 to forge a blade for the eigth Tokugawa shogun, Yoshimune (ruled 1716-1745). Yoshimune granted them the right to inscribe the design of a single hollyhock leaf on the tangs of their blades. (The hollyhock was the Tokugawa crest.)

The Sword from the Eighteenth Century to the Gendaito

The art of swordmaking fell into a general decline in the early half of the eighteenth century. Thereafter, and especially with the arrival of the "Black Ships" of America's Commodore Matthew Perry, and up through the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1867, certain swordsmiths instituted a revival of their noble art. Some of these artisans began once again to make blades in the manner of the orthodox Gokaden traditions. Many smiths concentrated on making exact replicas of the most famous blades of the Koto period. Their products were not forgeries, since each blade was signed with the name of its new maker, who took his inspiration from the illustrious list of makers of Koto-period blades. But there were some smiths who made deliberate forgeries of Koto blades. Thousands of these bogus blades flooded the market, and many were sold to foreigners arriving in Japan after the break in the long period of national isolation that had been imposed by the Tokugawa rulers.

In the Shin Shinto, or New New Sword, period (c. 1781-1876) there were smiths who fused new vigor and higher ethical standards into their profession. Kawabe Masahide (1750-1825), of the Suishinshi style in Edo (fl. 1780-1860), operated what many of his contemporaries criticized as being a "factory," but Masahide, together with over one hundred other artisans, turned out quality blades. One of Masahide's pupils, Shoji Daikei Naotane (1779-1857), aided his teacher in making swords in the orthodox Gokaden traditions, concentrating on Bizen and Soshu models. Tamaki Kiyomaro (1813-1854) was known as the Masamune of Yotsuya because of the great skill that he developed in the district of Edo in which he worked. Kiyomaro's was the Yamakura style (fl. 1825-1860), and he is generally considered to have been the most brilliant artisan of his time.

The imperial edict that forbid the wearing of swords (1876) brought the Shin Shinto period to a close and, with it, the worst decline of interest in swords. What swords were made in the succeeding Gendaito (Modern Sword) period (1876 to present) were those designed for official presentations and ceremonial functions. Even the outbreaks of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), and the First World War (1914-1918) failed to revive the art, for the sword had been replaced on the battlefield by the superiority of firepower. The use of swords today remains largely in the hands of men who are exponents of classical swordsmanship.


Kokan Nagayama, The Connoisseur's Book of Japanese Swords.
Kodansha International Ltd., 1997.

Gordon Warner and Donn F. Draeger, Japanese Swordsmanship.
Random House, Inc., 2005.

E. Papinot, Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan.
Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1968.

Robert Cole, Apprasial Series - Seven Charts.
Sho-Shin, 1999.

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