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Why only : "a day in the xx Month of the XX year" ??


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This is something which has made me curious and ponder over for quite a while now.

 

When looking at various mei on swords of various centuries, often the year is inscribed, the month, but not very often the exact date (day) a sword was finished. It is almost in every case : "A day in the xx month of the year so and so" or :"An auspicious day in the xx month of the year so and so"

 

What was the reason, if any, that the smith did not put the exact day of the month he finished the blade on the nakago ? Did he not remember when he made it ? Was it of no importance ? Did they not count the days but only the months ?

 

Any info welcome.

 

KM

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Hi!

 

I do not have the answer, but perhaps:

 

It was done like this since smiths first started dating swords, and they were indeed not exactly sure what day it was? Abit strange since I would imagine that year, month, week (?) and indeed day was important to be aware of even in old times Japan.

 

But is sure sounds kind of poetic and, i dont know, sort of ephemeral, a reminder that time on earth is limited for all of us.... but this is probably just how it seems in hindsight from our modern life perspective?

 

I kind of lean towards "this is how it has always been done so lets keep doing it this way".

 

But the question remains I guess, why not exact day to start with?

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Hi Km, back then (in the good old days), folk where not ruled by the clock or time, as we are. A case of getting up when the sun comes up, then having a few healthy beers throughout the working day :) , but then some trouble maker invented the clock, then shifts, then productivity/profit charts, then a device called a "clocking in machine :cry:" etc etc, rant over ;) . My point being, times where different.

 

I type this whilst looking at my watch.....

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Probably because a sword did not take a day to make, the smith did not regard a certain day as the manufacture day...but a period of time.

When was it finished? On the final quench? When it came back from polish? When the koshirae was finished?

I suspect the generalization was an acknowledgement that the sword was a process, and not just one day.

:dunno:

 

Brian

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Probably because a sword did not take a day to make, the smith did not regard a certain day as the manufacture day...but a period of time.

When was it finished? On the final quench? When it came back from polish? When the koshirae was finished?

I suspect the generalization was an acknowledgement that the sword was a process, and not just one day.

:dunno:

 

Brian

 

I tend to agree with Brian here. The moment the mei is carved is far from the moment the sword is actually finished. Polishing, making of fittings etc. are all processes that come after cutting of the mei if I'm correct. So stating a day or even a week when the sword was "made" would have probably been inaccurate and very hard to predict.

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Jean, I was going to address that. First of all, "February and August" is a bit of a poetic simplification. More accurately, the second and eighth months (nigatsu 二月 and hachigatsu 八月) of the year were considered to be auspicious / "lucky" months for smiths. 8 in particular is a lucky number in Japan, so you will see countless swords signed 八月, far more than could have been made only in that month. It should be understood however that these months were not "February and August" by the western calendar, but map closer to March and September (give or take a couple weeks). The Japanese calendar was shifted in 1876 to make the months correspond to the western calendar, so now 八月 is indeed August, but historically this was not the case.

 

Now, I've heard the line about the water temperature being the same, and the color of the moon in autumn, and other romantic imagery… I don't know how common such concepts actually were among historical smiths, it seems to me that it gets repeated a lot more because of its dramatic power than because it accurately reflects the historical attitude. (EDIT: to be clear, I am not saying that these ideas are modern inventions; I am only arguing that they are repeated in modern sources disproportionate to how widespread they were historically. Also, smiths certainly did look upon forging blades as a somewhat mystical and spiritual practice, no question; I am only talking about the water temp. & moon color quotes specifically.)

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Given that February is coming to the end of winter and August is the peak of summer, I don't believe the water temperature theory.

In February, the average temperature is between freezing and 11 degrees celsius. In August, it is between 23 and 32 degrees celsius.

 

Brian's theory makes much more sense to me.

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Wakimizu 湧き水, spring water, doesn't change temperature all that much throughout the year.

 

So surely that means that the February/August temperature is not so important?

 

Besides that, isn't it the case that quench water is heated to the right temperature anyway to prevent shocking the blade during yakire?

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So surely that means that the February/August temperature is not so important?

 

 

So it would seem....smiths make blades now all year long, well, not so much in summer...

 

Besides that, isn't it the case that quench water is heated to the right temperature anyway to prevent shocking the blade during yakire?

 

Never seen that done...I never stuck my hand in the trough though, not wanting to get it cut off... :lol:

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Kaji were working all year long. Often the blades encountered are dated of the second or eighth "moon" of the year. According to a quick survey made by Furuta Ryûji on 137 dated swords (day included) from Kamakura to Edo, the 12 "moon" of the year are mentionned. But starting Kanshô era (1460-1444), Yokota mentions Kakitsu era (1441-1444) in his book " Kaigen ni tomonau tôken-nenki ni tsuite no ikkômatsu", the dating of the second or eighth moon becomes more and more frequent and particulary among Bizen smiths since the Ôei era. In Edo period, dated blades are equally divided between the second and eighth moon. No explanation has been given to this phenomenum, but it seems that that the second "moon" representing Spring and the eighth moon Autumn can represent a favourable period for forging. So blades forged during the first 6 months of a year would be dated of the 2 month of the year and in the same way, blades forged during the second semester would be dated from the eighth month of the year. This practice could, to some extent, explain why some blades were backdated. (Some blades have nengo backdating an era upto 6 months).

Days are rarely mentioned but if mentioned, Furuta Ryûji in an article "Nenki ni kansuru ikkôsatsu" published in Tôken bijutsu n° 491, has established that such dates were corresponding to special events which could be the following:

 

- award of a title to the smith

- nenjú gyôji or more precisely Yumi-hajime

 

So the date inscribed could not match the date when the blade was finished.

 

Freely translated from "Histoire des inscriptions sur les sabres japonais anciens" by Franz Baldauff - 2003.

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Very interesting viewpoints all !!! :)

 

Thank you for posting that piece Jean !

 

So basically it boils down to :

 

When in general did Smith's sign swords and why.

 

Was there any set rule for dates or not.

 

What were the exact months Yaki-ire was performed.

 

When would a sword be considered "ready" by a Smith to sign it.

 

KM

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Hi Km, i would assume some smiths would only sign an order after receiving payment, unless it where a gift/presentation. Maybe that would explain a few of these "general" mei dates. Maybe that would also explain more mumei pieces (non payers), but lets not go there...

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