Jump to content

yari marks on walls


Recommended Posts

Read this in the uchiko thread (reason to leave these threads open is ongoing Q/A that have not been addressed!)


I've heard tales of stone lanterns and particular sections of a wall which have gouges and lines where Yari and Katana were supposedly sharpened by warriors prior to battle.


In Markus Sesko's book on Tameshigiri he talks about the edge preparation that samurai sometimes made on their blades.


Almost forgotten today, netaba-awase was a serious issue for the old samurai. Many of them prepared their blades before entering battle because realigning the cutting-edge meant not only a sharper blade but it also extended the time before it had to be completely resharpened.


Different blades of different traditions, the samurai prepared the edges in different ways by putting some abrasions in. Sujikai type For some cases, oiling the blade after, the oil would be held in the abrasions and would give some lubrication to certain kinds of cut.


What you are reporting on could be this edge preparation and fine tuning according to this above. I don't know how legitimate it was in terms of helping the blades cut, just that there was some interest in trying to maximize performance just before use.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I find it much more likely that they would "steel" the blade, over grind it into a rock wall. But a yari maybe..


If you look at the edge of a steel blade under a microscope, no matter how fine a blade it will look like a saw when you get close enough. With a row of teeth that can be bent either direction.


When honing a blade (non nihonto) the final step is/can be, running the blade down a circular piece of steel once on each side of the edge.


This alligns the teeth in a way that leaves the edge more durable to use. I think it probably compresses them so they stay aligned & sharp longer.


I see a very similar parallel between the little knives/tool you find in a saya, and the ones used to steel the blade in other cultures.


If i had to guess i would say that little blade / shiv is not a "camp tool" but possibly for or developed as an impromptu ha repair tool, used like a steel.


Just a guess,



Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have seen a few prints that have war camps with samurai sharpening their swords. Of course there may have been togishi as part of the warband, but, perhaps these were ashigaru that carried a stone as part of their kit to touch up their blades after or prior to engagement. Their swords would for the most part not be heirlooms, but, tools of the trade and any tradesman knows how to take rudimentary, at least, care of their tools. John

Link to comment
Share on other sites



as far as I know, the first goal of a TOGISHI is to sharpen a blade, and if I remember correctly to have read in a book, very early blades were sharp but had no 'artistic' polish in a way to show HADA and HAMON. In later times, the TOGI techniques were refined but mainly on high quality blades. ASHIGARU often carried sharp but simple blades without any artistic merits.


In Japanese culture the care and maintenance of cutting tools and blades is obvious. Still today, housewives are able to keep their knives sharp with traditional water-stones, and craftsmen did (and do) this of course, too.


So it is not too far-fetched to assume that a soldier could sharpen his blades by himself, but I cannot believe that this was done on a wall, especially as walls were not built in a way to produce a very even surface. The only exception in doing this was probably in case of a damage like a broken tip. I do not believe that sharpening a blade or a YARI was done prior to a fight on a regular basis.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I cannot imagine a soldier who relied on edged steel weaponry did not carry a whetstone in his pack or on his belt.

I've seen antique viking whetstones with a hole to attach a lanyard as a necklace or to a belt.

As a chap who carries a machete often to clear trails and who does a lot of camping, I think it is unthinkable to leave without a small stone or two to maintain my knife/machete edge.

It would be like carrying a gun with one bullet.

We're not talking a standard bench stone but something around 4" long, 1" wide and 1/2" thick is easy to use and weighs very little. It's used in hand and on top of the blade as opposed to clamped to something and the blade taken to the stone.


Does that discount the wall sharpening theory? Given that stones are brittle and people lose things, it's not impossible.

I've seen one of my crew 'sharpen' a machete on the flat concrete of a drainage ditch over here.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Since most Japanese walls in castles (if you discount the base) were made of wattle and daub and wood it is highly unlikely that any warrior ever tried to sharpen his yari or sword on a wall.





actually, most walls were covered with a coating of lime based render called shikui but your point is valid nonetheless; blades were not sharpened on walls....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good morning all,


Hi Henk Jan and Chris, thank you for your comments.


However, the walls that I was told about were the Musha Gaeshi 武者返し the type the lower areas of castles were constructed from.


The story I was told was that before an assault the canon fodder would often sharpen their edges against appropriate stones in the walls.


Appropriate I guess being something like Binsui, Kaise or Chu Nagura ? ;)


Somewhere on You tube there is a Japanese TV programme with a priest showing a grave marker of a warrior and then showing a yellow coloured stone with various pock marks where he says yari were sharpened and long channels at the corners where he says swords were sharpened.


I'm trying to find it.


Maybe whetted is a more appropriate term.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Koraku-en Garden in Okayama was created as an outer defence for the castle, but to the prying eyes of the authorities from Edo it looked like a simple beautiful garden.


Behind many of the features in the garden, however, were hidden military purposes.


One of these is a zigzag ornamental stone bridge across a shallow section of water, said to be of a stone ideal for sharpening swords. To my eye the surface looks pretty rough and bumpy, and I certainly would not contemplate sharpening any of my blades on it. There is no evidence it was ever used, but the concept, the intent, the contingency was allegedly there.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't find it even slightly improbable that lower class fighters, carrying lower class weaponry, would give it a bit of a quick sharpen before going into battle. It is unlikely that these low class weapons would have been given to professional polishers before battle.

Anyone who has been in the "veld" will know how you can give a quick edge to your cheap knife on any suitable stone. I find it completely probable.

Not for the better swords though. Yari were probabyl also sharpened this way, since they were utilitarian in nature. It is just a theory, but anyone who has been hunting or in the bush for a length of time will understand this.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Good evening all.,


Certainly a lively and respectful debate, my thanks to everyone who has thus far contributed, but if I might pause a moment and restate the original question:


What was the polishing really like in Sengoku and Edo periods?


Was a polisher really a sharpener?





Link to comment
Share on other sites

This may answer some questions. From kobuse blog. John

History of Sword Polishing And Polishing



(Before the completion of the Japanese sword)

A description of sword polishing is seen in a document called 'Engi-shiki' was written in 905 for the first time. Meanwhile, the oldest recognisable polishing on a Tanto (or dagger) was discovered from inside the body of a Buddha image made in 1274. The Tanto was polished with one of the finishing stones called Uchigumori and Migaki or a kind of burnishing was done on a part of the blade. In this case, Tsuya (or finger polishing with thin and tiny pieces of finishing stone called 'Narutaki') and Nugui ( or polishing powder) seem not to have been employed. But it is speculated that there was already a similar method to modern finishing work in that period.


(Completion of sword polishing)

It seems that the traditional sword polishing we can see today was completed by the mid 10th Century. In a history book called 'Kanchi-in Bon' which describes the history of the early 14th Century, sword polishers' name were seen for the first time.

In the book there are two polishers' name called 'Kunihiro' and 'Tamesada' who were chosen by the ex-Emperor Gotoba in order to polish the swords made by Goban-kaji who were designated the monthly smiths who worked for the ex-Emperor. Incidentally the ex-Emperor Gotoba had a profound knowledge of the Japanese sword and was an expert of sword appreciation. The description proves that the sword polishing which makes the sword appreciation, possible had been completed by then.

Since then the word 'Polishing' began to be used for sword polishing, thus it definitely had a different meaning from grinding or sharpening of edged tools. It is now thought that three stages of sword polishing already existed in the early Heian period of the mid 9th Century.


(Sword polishing and artistic value of the Japanese sword)

From the previous description we can speculate that they already had a recognition that the Japanese is not only an excellent weapon but also one of fine arts in the early 13th Century.

When we talk about the practical aspect of a sword, finishing work with extremely fine stone is not necessarily needed and the stage of a middle grain stone called Nagura would be ideal to make the sword work practically. Furthermore, polishing stages after the Nagura stone were developed in order to enhance the artistic value and expose mysterious beauty of the Japanese sword.

The unique finishing work using Uchigumori and Narutaki stones is the only way to bring out the patterns of the Jihada and the Hamon properly. In fact, we have no other option. In a sense, it might be said that the artistic value of the Japanese sword was established and has been appreciated highly because of this exceptional sword polishing.


(Appearance of the Hon-ami family and the Edo period)

It is said that the basis of the modern sword polishing was established by Hon-ami Kotoku of the Momoyama period of the late 16th Century. Since then, the Hon-ami family had been retained by the Tokugawa Shogun and worked for the Tokugawa family and fuedal lords for generations. Meanwhile the Hon-ami family had eleven branch families during the Edo period and had been the most authorised connoisseur of the Japanese sword and issued certificates. The old certificates of the Hon-ami family are highly praised by sword collectors even now.

Sashikomi polish had been practised by the Hon-ami family until a new Kanahada polished was developed in the early Meiji era.

Actually I am a sword polisher belong to the Hom-ami school as my teacher Nagayama Kokan learnt sword polishing from Hon-ami Koson who succeeded as head of one of the Hon-ami families.


(Downfall of the Tokugawa shogunate and the Meiji Restoration)

In 1867 the Tokugawa shogunate was replaced by the Royalist government and the government introduced Western style military and banned wearing Japanese swords in 1876. Many people believed that they didn't need the Japanese sword anymore and its mission as weapon had ceased. At that time one of the Hon-ami sword polishers, called Hon-ami Heijuro, tried to increase the artistic value of the Japanese sword by renovating finishing work which enhanced the beauty of the Japanese sword and enlightened many people.

The Japanese sword managed to survive the Meiji Restoration with the tremendous efforts of craftsmen like Hon-ami Heijuro and enthusiastic collectors. The new life of the Japanese sword just started after the end of the Samurai's period that had lasted 700 years.

The new sword polish is called Kanahada (Iron oxide) polish or Kesho (Cosmetic) polish. In this polish, inside the Hamon is whitened along the tempered line and the pattern of Jihada and the activities are exposed conspicuously after all. In the Samurai's period, the Japanese sword had been monopolised by Samurai but in this period the Japanese sword begun to be collected and appreciated not only by former Samurai but also by civilians.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My copy of the book just arrived and it's damn addicting reading. :)


When you read rest of the paragraph instead just the quote there is an explanation what netaba-awase is. And it's basically "steeling", honing or realigning the edge, whatever term you prefer to use. It's explained in the book that proper netaba-awase would be going through few different whetstones getting into very fine one and then using it to give the final honing, or optionally strop it wih leather or other mediums.


Like was said before I think warrior would have had their own stone for sharpening, something small like this (or even half the size of this one), so it's easy to carry with you.




As far as performance goes I can't comment much as I'm no swordsman and I haven't cut much. I've cut with various production swords (Japanese style & European) and I've honed and tuned some of their edges, and depending on the cutting medium it can make varying result. However this "fine tuning" does not last very long, partly due to the fact that my cutting mediums are quite abrasive. I haven't yet tried leather stropping but I've used very fine grit sandpaper, fine grit stone as the one in my pic and diamond hones. What I'm doing would be just fine honing the edge to give it tad more sharpness.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you John & Jussi for taking the time to answer, most thought provoking.


Although a work of fiction, The Twighlight Samurai - Tasogare Seibei evokes a period where many of the Samurai were in dire financial circumstances.


Markus wrote an excellent breakdown of sword prices and the stipend system:


http://www.nihontomessageboard.com/arti ... amurai.pdf


So, how did the lowest guys on the totem pole care for their blades?


Are we perhaps seeing a simple Mingei artifact which may have be given another name and attributed another usage today?


One for the Flea Markets perhaps............ ;)



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Of course during wartime or on the battlefield swords would have been sharpened by whatever came to hand.


During WWII many women and kids were put to polishing and sharpening duties of Gunto for the war effort.

http://books.google.nl/books?id=c7YeN0F ... me&f=false


Now whether or not that also happened during the Sengoku-Jidai I do not know. It might be that polishing stones were carried by samurai in the field but the higher ranking samurai might have had their own polishers on duty.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

This thread is quite old. Please consider starting a new thread rather than reviving this one, unless your post is really relevant and adds to the topic..

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...