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#1 Valric

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Posted 06 February 2019 - 12:38 AM

Title says it all. A fun thread in between the more serious ones. What school do you think is overrated for reasons which may or may not be justified?
 
I'll start: Rai school. 
 
Why? To me they were the Louis Vuitton of Kyoto. They put awataguchi out of business by skimming on materials to cut on production costs (leading to the infamous 'Rai Hada') and churning out the production of a luxury product at an industrial scale. Heck, they even had secret artisan codes embedded into their Mei for quality insurance. Rai isn't art, it was the astute, large scale copy of Art from Awataguchi, orchestrated on a large scale with production methods which were very advanced for the time. They made cheap, it looked good, it carried the brand. Let's not even talk about Niji Kunitoshi and his change of name to the more brandable Rai. It means 'to come' as in the newest thing in town
 
Kunitoshi himself produced more preserved blades to his name than the whole of Awataguchi. That's an astounding output. He must have been running a sweatshop in Kyoto. There is no experimentation in Rai which is not about cost reduction. Zero. Soshu experimented with radically new materials and forging technics. Bizen experimented with wild hamons. Rai just took the bling from the awataguchi style, made it worst, and cut down on production costs. 
 
Even today, the fact that Rai Hada is considered aesthetically okay is the ultimate Kamakura hustle. "oh that Shigane? that's called Rai Hada. It's something special and a kantei point for Rai school, you uneducated Jabroni. A true connoisseur appreciates Rai hada"
 
I hate Rai school. Change my mind or post your own unpopular opinion. 

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#2 Blazeaglory

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Posted 07 February 2019 - 03:17 AM

My choice isnt really a school per-say but an era..., Im  thinking, if I voice my choice, I fear that I will become hated more so than I already am...

 

But, Ill voice it anyways...My choice is GUNTO. There, I said it. This is only my opinion, so please dont take it too personally. I know this is a serious era for Nihonto and a delicate subject

 

To start, the basic design of the first Gunto seemed to resemble "Western" swords in style. And I don't think we can even consider Showato a true Nihonto? Shin Gunto at least were based on older Koto blades but the uniformity and mass produced look just doesn't appeal to me.

 

But still, for some reason, I dont know what the hype is surrounding these blades. Other than the WW2 aspect and the occasional good smith or rare koshirae, I cant find justification in spending the amount of $$$ that I see being spent.

 

Ok, I dont hate Gunto Nihonto (or Japanese swords) but I do not find them attractive. Once in a while, a nice high ranking koshirae grabs my attention but other than that, I have no interest. I also highly respect the history that goes along with Gunto, from the creation to the destruction and the subsequent "take home" stories"

 

Now, Koto family blades that are wrapped in Gunto mounts/koshiarae, I dont mind. I actually think those items are very interesting.

 

Also, please, I'm not trying to disrespect WW2 veterans or say anything negative about Gunto swords. They're just not my cup of tea. As far as actual "Schools" go, I haven't really thought of it. I like them all each in an individual way.


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#3 Ken-Hawaii

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Posted 07 February 2019 - 05:53 AM

Any school that stopped using tamahagane for the cheaper mantetsu.


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#4 paulb

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Posted 07 February 2019 - 10:07 AM

Chris

Let me jump to the defence of the Rai School. I will set the scene by confirming I am the greatest Yamashiro obsessive I know and love Awataguchi in particular. However some of the finest works I have had the chance to study are Rai blades and amongst those, perhaps the most common, I love Rai Kunimitsu. I saw a tanto by him in Japan which now sits on Nihonto.com and is absolutely stunning. I also spent a lot of time looking at the Rai Kunimitsu katana in Berlin which is possibly the finest Kunimitsu long sword I have ever seen. 

The subject of Rai hada is an interesting one. You appear to have reached the conclusion that this is core steel showing through. Do you believe the same to be true of the clear grainless patches (Sumetetsu) that appear on Aoe works? To be clear I am not a great fan of this feature in either schools works and the blades I truly like from both schools are notably lacking this feature. However I don't think it is core steel. Normally shingane has a course linear look to it and these patches don't. I think they are areas of harder steel within the jigane. Last I heard that debate is still ongoing and I don't think we can reach a definitive conclusion.

Regarding the Louis Vuitton comparison I think you certainly have the wrong school. What about Bizen Ichimonji? 

One of the benchmarks for me of a really good sword is the amount and quality of nie produced in the Jigane and hamon. This is why I like Awataguchi and early Soshu work. If you look at the majority of Bizen work there is a remarkable lack of nie. Is this because they lacked confidence to work at high temperatures in Yakiire? were they afraid their forging wasn't good enough? or did their material lack quality?

whatever the reason on some examples I have seen I have been faced with incredibly complex and flamboyant hamon totally devoid of nie. Compared to the quiet and subtle beauty achieved with ko-nie, kinsuji and inazuma in the Yamashiro based schools they appear to be missing a whole dimension and replacing it with bling.

Again I have seen some stunning Ichimonji blades which I would certainly have loved to add to my collection but in comparison to Yamashiro Awataguchi or Rai they would need to be very special


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#5 PNSSHOGUN

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Posted 07 February 2019 - 10:43 AM

Perhaps not an unpopular opinion but the excessive and complex Hamon patterns that ascend far into the Ji which are popular today among modern smiths and the Shinto period do absolutely nothing for me. My interest in Japanese Swords is chiefly in the evolution and perfection as a weapon of war first and foremost. I find great beauty in the attributes that facilitated the evolution of this concept compared to the "artistic" direction Japanese swords can take during all periods.


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#6 Shugyosha

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Posted 07 February 2019 - 11:06 AM

I'm very much with John in that I like swords that were primarily designed as weapons but which are incidentally (accidentally will do too) beautiful.

 

Some tasteful additions (well cut hi for example) can create a pleasing effect but on the sh!tlist are things like overdone horimono (too big, too many) and overly complex hamon or which are too wide and destroy the balance between hamon and hada. This extends to fittings too - if one of the Soten masters was making tsuba on my front lawn, I'd close the curtains and do the ironing.


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Best regards, John 

Please excuse my spelling mistakes, brevity and ignorance.


#7 Valric

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Posted 07 February 2019 - 01:13 PM

Some great replies. I'm with the Johns. I propose we name the worst offenders. Who started the trend towards these brittle, massive hamons that engulf the Ji? Any theories? Was it a gradual process during the Shinto epoch, or sudden stylistic rupture? I agree these things are very much distasteful. And in my opinion its even worst when paired with a 'precise, mechanically repeating pattern' such as Toramba or Sambonsugi hamon, and if we add a massive, carved-through horimono then we're at the peak of corruption. 

 

Paul, I'm not saying Rai works are not beautiful. In fact quite the opposite, however on the whole they are inferior to Awataguchi. It remains luxury stuff, but I'm prejudiced against it because it reeks of big volume production luxury goods with process optimization. I romanticize the Awataguchi smiths as the high-end artisans, true master of their craft, who were displaced by the cunning industrialist whose product out-competed its rival. In this sense Rai is the decadent continuation of Awataguchi. As for the 'Rai hada' being core steel, I know it's not settled but that's where I stand today. I'm of course opened to being shown evidence to the contrary. I don't know enough about Aoe to comment. 


Chris H. 


#8 Marius

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Posted 07 February 2019 - 01:24 PM

 

I hate Rai school. Change my mind or post your own unpopular opinion. 

 

 

 

Sources? Highly interesting and contrarian post. But it lacks sources.


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#9 vajo

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Posted 07 February 2019 - 02:14 PM

I have none. I like them all. Like a beer. Some tasts well, some are boring.  :laughing:


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#10 Valric

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Posted 07 February 2019 - 03:22 PM

Hi Marius, 

 

Sources are scattered and depends on the point being made. 

  • Japanese scholars cracked the code on the Rai mei, you'd need to look it up I can't recall the name. It's the same mei with encoded variations in stroke angles which indicate the Rai smith. Why do this? It was not for the clients. Why would the producer want to know? QA is pretty good guess.
  • Numbers of preserved Rai vs Awataguchi extrapolation based on Darcy's pass factor data leads us to conclude it was a big shop with big output
  • Overall below Awataguchi quality given the style. That's something you'll find in the big books, too. I believe also Yamanaka's newsletter. 
  • Shingane ('Rai Hada') showing through more often for the same state of 'polish' compared to awataguchi blade leads us to conclude it was a thinner sheet of the expensive steal covering the core.   
  • Branding. The dominant theory now is that Niji and Rai Kunitoshi are the same guy. The chosen name feels awfully like a remake of the 'Ichi' brand (the One) into something stylish for the time such as ('The Arrived One' ~ 'to come') when he managed to create a top quality product consistently. 
  • Rai putting awataguchi out of business. I checked the dates again and its unclear. If it happened, Niji saw that the Awatauguchi were going downhill while he perfected the style and then leaped in. Here are some very approximate dates from Sho-shin Awataguchi Peak: ~1200 (With Yoshimitsu, Shintogo, Norikuni...) Late awataguchi: Kunitsuna and students ~1249 Early Rai ('Niji') ~1278 Rai Peak: ~1300 and Awataguchi dead. 

Chris H. 


#11 Marius

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Posted 07 February 2019 - 04:28 PM

Chris,

 

Thanks for the information. It would be nice if Darcy could join the discussion. He will have forgotten more Rai blades than I have seen ;)


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#12 paulb

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Posted 07 February 2019 - 05:29 PM

Chris

This is opinion not, as far as I am aware fact but some of the Awataguchi smiths are supposed to have used single piece construction (much like Munechika and some early Ko-Bizen smiths) so you could polish them all the way through and never see core steel, there wasn't any. I have seen evidence of this on Awataguchi tanto for sure but also on long swords that are around 5mm thick and that have beautifully cut bo-hi. There is absolutely no evidence of core steel showing within the hi.

I dont believe Rai are as good as Awataguchi (but I am a bit biased) but I do think they compare favourably with a lot else that was around

Regarding them not being innovative look at some of Kunimitsu and Kunitsugu's work.

I also don't think I follow the complicity of Rai in to the Awataguchi demise. Schools have their time, fade and are then replaced. There are many reasons for this sometimes their market disappears or just wants something different and they fail to adapt.



#13 Valric

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Posted 07 February 2019 - 08:16 PM

Paul,

 

Awataguchi made one piece construction tantos that's clear, and this begets the question: why would Rai school use core steel in tanto? Aside from saving on raw materials, I don't see any good mechanical reason. For swords, some proportion of shingane to complement the hard steel is functional, but on tantos it rings to me as a purely cost-saving process. My theory is that as the iron sands which fueled Awataguchi and later Rai began to run out, it became more cost-effective to use a veneer of the material to cover the tanto, compared to a solid one piece construction. 

 

It's possible awataguchi gently faded away and Rai rose. But it's also quite clear that both school used closely related jewel steel. I think the construction methods of Rai suggest they were cost-conscious more than art-conscious, maybe because they had to adapt to increases in rarity and thus costs of the raw materials upon which their work depended. 


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#14 Rayhan

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Posted 07 February 2019 - 09:18 PM

Does the forging temperature have anything to do with the Nie effect, as jewelled steel present in Awataguchi and Soshu?

#15 paulb

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Posted 07 February 2019 - 11:22 PM

Rayhan,

My understanding (as both a non chemist and non engineer) is that nie is formed duting the Yakiire process. The higher you heat the blade and the longer you hold at heat the more and larger the nie crystals become. The faster you cool it when you quench it the more they are preserved. Common sense would suggest that the ease with which nie is formed will be dependent on the composition of the forged steel. I am guessing the higher the carbon content the greater the nie but I am sure it is more complex than that.

Chris

firstly I have always assumed Rai tanto were single piece, I have never seen one showing signs of core steel. If adding soft core steel was for technical improvement only it would wasted on tanto which were never intended for fighting in the same way a longer blade would be used.

I also agree that the introduction of a softer core had more to do with saving money than technical improvement. I have asked a number of practicing smiths about the benefit of the soft core and had a very mixed response but most tend to think it offers little benefit. The key to single piece is that it should be very well forged as the Awataguchi swords were.

Saving expensive material was a benefit to all schools and certainly by the end of the koto period and in to the shinto there is clear evidence of this. Hizen blades are notoriously thin skinned. At one point it was suggested that they did this deliberately to try and emulate the appearance of older Rai and Enju work. The cynic in me thinks they were just tight fisted and preserving their greatest asset i.e. their Jigane.


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#16 Bazza

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Posted 08 February 2019 - 01:36 AM

It might not have any bearing on the present discussion, but long ago I read "To this day no one knows how the Hizen smiths made their steel".  I have a rough idea who said it (Japanese togishi) and where it was published (English newsletter).

 

BaZZa.


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#17 Vermithrax16

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Posted 08 February 2019 - 02:36 AM

Great topic and discussion! I was checking in all day from work. Knowledge base here is amazing. And clean discussion too.

 

I generally like to study and appreciate most anything and especially if there is an associated story about the smith, the time period, or the providence of a sword.

 

BUT......the title said most unpopular opinions so here are a few of mine:

- Outside of Ichimonji, I just don't get any vibe or thrill out of Bizen blades. I have spent time on many but I almost never save a link or add one to my "review to buy" list etc. I understand this is a serious offense, but I thought we were still in the trust tree right? In the nest? (obscure reference)

- I have a mental MUTE/BLOCK on anything Kanesada. So many fakes, so many bad ones, and they come up all the time, day in, day out. Even if a good one, I just skip over every one at this point. 

- I think Shinto swords get the shaft most of the time in appreciation, but Shinto had many excellent schools (Mishina, Ishido, Hizen) that are fun to learn from and study. Also here is where the average mortal can get a good to high quality sword without having to sell a kidney or be rich as a starting point (last point is a thread starter all on it's own).


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#18 paulb

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Posted 08 February 2019 - 01:12 PM

I know what you mean about Kanesada and I would also add Kanemoto to the problem. Unfortunately early in my study I kept hearing that the two names were used by multiple smiths in a mass production setting in Seki. I think this was true and many of the swords you see signed this way are very formulaic in the way they look and for me at least lack that bit extra that takes them beyond functionality. Unfortunately this has let me ignore the early works of both Kanesada (Especially No-sada) and Kanemoto. Some of those I have looked at more recently and have to say they are fantastic. For me not in the same league as earlier Mino work such as Yamato Shizu but still well above the average.

 

I have a bit of a problem with Mishina school work. All the examples I have seen have what I would describe as a "clunky" (technical term) look. The undoubtedly look powerful and well made but the shape doesnt work for me. As always there are exceptions and I have seen some good pieces but they wouldnt be something Iwould aim for in a shinto collection. I much prefer the Osaka smiths such as Shinkai and Hizen School.


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#19 Rayhan

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Posted 08 February 2019 - 03:19 PM

Back to topic indeed, then i have to say Mino smiths that were using Sanbonsugi Hamon. I just don't like them!i feel that style of Hamon was the inspiration for all the tacky chinese stainless steel knockoffs, yuck!

#20 PNSSHOGUN

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Posted 08 February 2019 - 03:28 PM

The original Sanbonsugi by Nidai is very relaxed and beautiful to my eyes. After that it all gets a bit too aggressive.


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#21 Brian

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Posted 08 February 2019 - 03:50 PM

Back to topic indeed, then i have to say Mino smiths that were using Sanbonsugi Hamon. I just don't like them!i feel that style of Hamon was the inspiration for all the tacky chinese stainless steel knockoffs, yuck!

Glad you said it. I was hesitant to, but was going to :)

And for the inevitable reply by someone about how this thread is pointless because there are masterpieces in all these categories and we just haven't seen the top works, or don't understand X or Y....
This is not based on reality, and we are not saying these swords are junk. It is purely one's OWN opinion of what you like and what you don't.
It's just a bit of fun. Even the top collectors must have some opinions of great works that just don't "do it for them"?
 


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#22 Blazeaglory

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Posted 08 February 2019 - 04:13 PM

I hated Sanbonsugi before I knew what Mino or who Kanemoto was but after looking at it and its multiple layers, ghosting effects and, depending on angle and lighting, what look to be 3 different areas of Hadori/Hamon/Utsuri that appear/disappear. Not to mention the agility and grace from a low shinogi, lending to extreme sharpness. This isnt a plug for Kanemoto, just my POV...Im hooked on the top MIno and Seki smiths

 

Anyways, early Kanemoto non uniform Sanbonsugi is more appealing to me than the later years. The hamon in later gens becomes too sterile and mass produced looking. Whereas the first and second gen had some real "free spirited" hamons. I love 1st and 2nd gen Sanbonsugi but after that, I cant stand it. The early hamon reminds me of a snapping alligator jaw. But I wonder sometimes, did the collector hate Sanbonsugi prior to my posts? Or after LOL

 

Also, in regards to a wide Hamon...Ill put my 'possible' Shinto Hizen Wakizashi up against any Koto "war time blade" of similar length. The Kirikomi can attest to its prowess haha


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#23 Blazeaglory

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Posted 08 February 2019 - 04:22 PM

The original Sanbonsugi by Nidai is very relaxed and beautiful to my eyes. After that it all gets a bit too aggressiY

Yes. Even tracing the path to the ultimate uniform hamon is annoying. Its like you can see the pile-up happening.

 

I can totally see the inspiration for those Chinese blades, which makes it worse IMHO. Although I really dont consider 1st and 2nd gen Kanemoto/Magoroku with any others after. Only by family name and the school but the uniqueness and individuality was lost I think


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#24 Gakusee

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Posted 08 February 2019 - 05:01 PM

I would like to avoid tilting the argument towards differences in taste. Of course, personal predilections do however colour and inform one’s views.

So, I would go with the statement that (on average, excluding some exceptional blades) Yamato is often overrated as are Hizen blades.
The former were created as utilitarian blades and that is how they ought to be viewed. But so were others - with the difference that apart from serving the main purpose (cut) they were also beautiful (an added bonus - eg look at Soshu or Bizen). One often hears how Yamato blades are rare - it is for a reason. They were used, abused, destroyed and mostly not treasured. They were not treasured because probably aesthetically they were not great or one emperor (or another) or shoguns did not like them. But those lieges knew better than us what was good functionally and visually.
The latter - well, replicas of the past (Yamashiro) and also suffer from some of the Rai criticisms above.

In general, I would not have picked on the Rai school to find fault with. Interesting approach, Chris. I have mostly seen beautiful Rai work. Were they commercially minded? Absolutely. But they were shrewd and also had to deal with the diminishing resources they had.
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#25 Blazeaglory

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Posted 08 February 2019 - 09:43 PM

I wouldn't have chosen Rai school either but to each their own.

To clarify my earlier post in regards to Gunto...

I think ultimately what I dislike, or whatever, is the idea that Imperial Japan tried dressing up a piece of steel (for the most part), calling it Nihonto and imbuing it with this radicalized fantasy of Bushido...

Its like looking at a fake Abraham Lincoln photo circa the years immediately after his death... The idea of the photo (scam) was to trick a person/persons into paying for a photo, of a man, who supposedly was Lincoln. The crooks knowingly plagiarized Abraham Lincolns image to deceive people. They knew people were still longing for whatever hope or love the past had inspired.

To me the Gunto is more representative of Imperial Japans delusions than anything else. But thats not to say that I hate the sword or collector
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#26 Valric

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Posted 08 February 2019 - 11:04 PM

I chose Rai school because it's my most unpopular (and arguably prejudiced) opinion. Rai has produced extremely high quality work. In fact, the highest volume of preserved juyo and above swords attributable to a single smith, and its not because Rai was valued higher than Awataguchi, and thus preserved with more care. It was pure volume. These are facts. 

 

Now in my mind, Rai was 'mass producing' a luxury product and innovated on slicing production costs (QA systems in Mei, mass apprentice chaining work, etc). This is something I do not associate with art or innovation on the product itself (which brings value to the customer). 

 

In contrast, it's easy to pile on Mino and once we get into Shinto Seki Mino, it's game on and we can all form a dog pile and clobber these guys to oblivion. The unpopular opinion would be for someone to make a case on why Mino is underrated...


Chris H. 


#27 paulb

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Posted 09 February 2019 - 12:50 AM

Chris

A question

How do you think Rai commercialism compares to that of the Ichimonji schools?

In a similar vein to your experience with Rai I have seen stunning Ichimonji blades that look every bit the magnificent weapon. The shape is incredible, the hamon unbelievably complex with huge variation in depth But do any of these features make them superior swords to Rai or Yamato or Mino? 

Working at the same time and producing in far greater volume they developed and refined something in response to market demand. They produced something very eye catching, capitalised on the "First under Heaven" honour bestowed uoon them by Go-toba and creatd a huge amount of hype around the supposed technological superiority of their product. The fact their work is almost exclusively nioi based suggest they worked at lower temperatures when hardening the edge. Their jigane was softer Despite both of these factors they still convinced the buyers their work was better than others. If as stated in so many modern references the sign of a superior work is the amount of nie and nie based activity within both ji and hamon then they fall well short of the mark.

As said previously I am not the greatest Bizen fan but in terms of marketing their product, understanding, their market's tastes and capitalising on them they were miles ahead of others.


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#28 Katsujinken

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Posted 09 February 2019 - 01:49 AM

My comment does not pertain to a specific school, so I must beg your forgiveness in advance. That said...

I hate hitatsura. I think it’s tacky and garish, regardless of who made the blade.

:-)
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#29 Gakusee

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Posted 09 February 2019 - 02:31 AM

Ok, let me explain about Bizen as that is getting me:
- Bizen smiths could and did forge in nie- please refer to Ko-Bizen and Ko-Ichimonji, where nie is very, very clear
- Gotoba and others (post Ko Ichimonji) seem to have liked the finesse of nioi and konie, hence Fukuoka Ichimonji responded to market demand and their patron, the emperor
- the Ichimonji smiths therefore started to forge more in nioi, though nie is present as konie in the hamon, jigane (including small chikei) and sunagashi. Often Ichimonji descriptions in the Juyo zufu nado refer to konie ( please read through the Juyo description of my Ichimonji below as an example)
- to compensate for the “softer” jigane, which also helped relieve Hamon stresses (choji in the Hamon introduced some torsional tensions), the Ichimonji smiths hardened the jigane with utsuri. So, you see the intricacy and technical innovation - complex hamon to please visually (and scare oppponents per some texts) but softer jigane to compensate for hamon and then utsuri to harden the jigane.
- going beyond Ichimonji, we move to Osafune, where all of the smiths could and did render some konie and then we eventually reach the 4 generation, where Kenemitsu, Chogi Nagayoshi, Kencho Kanenaga, Chikakage all produced Soden Bizen with plenty of nie.

So, Bizen smiths were virtuosos as were the Soshu guys. Yamashiro elegance is something else but in technical innovation the Soshu and Bizen smiths ruled.

Extract:

“ The two major currents of Kamakura era Bizen were the Ichimonji and the Osafune Schools with the
former distributing until the Nanbokuchô era successfully into the Fukuoka, Yoshioka, Iwato and other
local branches which all gave rise to many outstanding smiths. The name of the school goes back to the
habit of some of its smiths signing their blades just with the character (monji) for “one” (ichi). However,
some Ichimonji smiths also signed with a name under the character Ichi, or just their name and without
the character Ichi. The Yoshioka-Ichimonji School took the place of the earlier Fukuoka-Ichimonji
School and prospered from the end of the Kamakura until the Nanbokuchô period. Representative
Yoshioka-Ichimonji smiths were for example Sukemitsu (助光), Sukeyoshi (助吉), Sukeshige (助茂),
and Sukeyoshi (助義), i.e. the smiths of this school shared the character for Suke (助). As for the
workmanship of the school, we hardly find the large dimensioned midare that was applied by the earlier
Fukuoka-Ichimonji School but usually a rather small dimensioned midare which shows a noticeable
amount of gunome.
This blade shows an overall dense itame that is mixed with mokume and that features ji-nie, a fine
chikei, and a midare-utsuri. The hamon is a chôji that is mixed with gunome, togariba, plenty of ashi
and yô, small tobiyaki, kinsuji, and sunagashi. The hardening is in nioi-deki with ko-nie and the nioiguchi
is bright and clear. Thus the jiba shows very well the characteristic features of the Yoshioka-Ichimonji
School and we therefore agree with the inscription. The blade is of a superb deki, having an excellently forged kitae and a yakiba with a clear and bright nioiguchi, and is in addition of an outstanding condition. “
  • paulb, eternal_newbie, Valric and 2 others like this
Michael S.

#30 Ken-Hawaii

Ken-Hawaii

    Juyo

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Posted 09 February 2019 - 05:51 AM

 

So, Bizen smiths were virtuosos as were the Soshu guys. Yamashiro elegance is something else but in technical innovation the Soshu and Bizen smiths ruled.

:thumbsup: :clap:

 

Interesting how our brains interpret details so differently. Nearly all of my collection is Bizen.


Ken Goldstein

 

Anyone can be tough for a season,

but it takes a special kind of human to rise to life's challenges for a lifetime.





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