As with many other similar fields much of what we believe about swords is based on opinion. Such opinion can be established on study and research or just on picking up on some previously held view point. If an opinion is repeated often enough it is converted in our minds to fact. Over many years I have carried numerous opinions in the firm belief that I knew about something rather than just had an opinion about it. This can cause a lot of misinformation to be accumulated over time and can create a great deal of confusion.
So every now and then it is worth challenging some of my long held views to see if they hold up in the light of later research.
In the hope to hear others ideas and points of view I have listed a number below:
1. I believe that in general Koto blades are superior to Shinto. This is because the raw material was made locally and had regional variations which enabled smiths to produce work which differentiated it from others and they learned how to use their local materials to enhance the quality and features of their work. In addition many of the Gokaden works that have survived were made for the higher levels of society enabling the smith to use superior materials and take longer in the manufacture.
2. As the production of steel centralised the regional differences were greatly reduced. To differentiate their work Shinto Smiths started to experiment with the production of more florid and showy hamon. This had little or at least nominal effect on performance. It was pure marketing. In addition because many were made in times of relative peace a much broader range of quality has survived in good condition whereas good quality Koto blades tend to be the top end of production.
There is a view, which I think carries some weight that Shinto Smiths were as skilled as koto smiths, the differences we see are a result of
a.) raw material used
b.) customer requirement
c.) useage during their working life.
3. Shin-Shinto smiths attempted to recapture some of the finer and more subtle features seen in works of the kamakura period. However their limitation as with shinto smiths was in the raw material available to them. Some of the characteristics which epitomise the Gokaden could only be produced as a result of the chemistry of their raw material and this was not available to shin-shinto smiths. Thus they struggled to reproduce activity within the ji such as utsuri , chickei and the like.
These are broad assertions and as said are opinion (not necesarilly original but I have picked them up over the years). There are exceptions throughout history and we can all quote examples of masterworks produced in each and every era. But as a general starting point this works as an explanation to variations in quality we seen in surviving swords.
I know that my views are heavily weighted towards koto swords, but I am glad to say I keep being challenged in this view by see some exceptional later work. I increasingly believe that the differences we see have less to do with individual skills but the raw material available and the demands of the market at any given time.
Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?