Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
piryohae3

What makes koto swords so desirable?

Recommended Posts

As best as I can do I tried to give the OP a side by side comp of a Koto sword vs a newer era sword. In this case, Shinshinto. As the example he posted is Yamato Hosho, that's always going to get my attention.

 

Below are the best picture comparisons that I have from my files. Both swords belong to me.

 

Sword 1: Yamato School; if you lean towards Tanobe Sensei and his teacher Kunzan, this is a Yamato Hosho sword (sayagaki says "masterwork"). If the NBTHK is more your thing they say Yamato Tegai Kanekiyo. I would welcome anyone to show me a Kanekiyo that looks like this sword, I have yet to find one anywhere even remotely close. In any case it's a Koto era Nanbokuchō work around 1300 or so featuring running masame hada.

 

Sword 2: Suifu Ju Katsumura Norikatsu (my favorite smith so there is that). This sword was made in 1867 and his later works are his finest masame hada examples. I believe this sword has only seen maybe 2 polishes as the hamachi notch looks brand new. 

 

post-4009-0-87159500-1575246606_thumb.jpg

post-4009-0-50363800-1575246621_thumb.jpg

post-4009-0-03077700-1575246633_thumb.jpg

 

 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would throw out something like what are peoples' most favorite swords. My triad I guess is:

1. Probably Fushimi Sadamune.

2. Cetainly Shintogo Kunimitsu TJ tanto.

3. Probably Heshikiri Hasebe.

 

Kirill R.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Half of it, at least with beginner or average collectors of nihonto or swords in general, seem to do with history, the other half the worksmanship of forgotten skills. There is allure in the fact that a lot of skills have been forgotten or recently rediscovered, such as true utsuri, etc. After viewing excellent vlades here in Japan and with a few great collectors in the states as well as shops, I can tend to agree with the allure of koto.

 

There is something about the use of ore from certain regions and styles that are now "extinct" or no longer profitable that gives us an old fashioned sense of pleasure. While there are very many beautiful shinto to present blades, koto is a bit more rare in the sense of being ubu, especially Heian to Nanbokucho, so having an intact weapon from that period gives you a sense of being in that era as close as possible by holding such artifacts. Also, the skill put into these blades seem like none other while certain modern smiths only beginning to recreate their works, or even faithful ones from 1600 to present. Think of Shibata Ka and some of the blades he emulated. It is about as close to seeing one of these ancient blades as they could have been when new as possible. For others, as stated, there are blades from other cultures that have that allure. Bulat steel, damascus are started to have their secrets unraveled, amd there is something joyous in that. Or even certain firearms. Handguns from militaries of the world wars in mint condition is as close as we can get, and are in themselves mechanical marvels of when things were mostly done by hand.

 

This is not to say modern smiths or any other era has no good ones. There are great blades and smiths from every era. But from one during decades to hundreds of years of warfare that has survived to this day, art blade or not, has some allure. And the forgotten craftsmanship, the mysteries of schools and smiths, etc. are things that put these in perspective. Kodachi, uchigatana, which when unneeded and most discarded or shortened can have an allure as well. Many blades were used up, modified, shortened. And many koshirae were only temporary, with tosugu being their remnants.

 

All in all, something about rarity of some schools, forgotten styles, history, and high quality full hands on craftsmanship is what put koto into the headlines. Also the hope of finding a forgotten blade by a legendary smith, lol.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In the TATARA, it is always just pure iron that is produced. There are no 'alloys' coming out of the furnace! The amount of impurities is very small and does not influence the properties or the looks of a blade to any reasonal extent. As Ken pointed out, it is indeed the forging technique as main factor to produce differences. If you imagine how complicated the construction of a blade can be, plus the care and precision the smith applied to the process, it is evident where the quality comes from.  

 

These guys choose to make their own tamahagane, the swords they produce are described as having a dark jigane, like old times.

http://www.users.on.net/~coxm/?page=Kimura

 

https://www.aoijapan.net/katana-higo-koku-ju-akamatsu-taro-kanehiro-saku/

 

Just thought it may be of interest to some

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Can you see the details of the jigane when looking behind glass at a museum? I wonder how easy or difficult it is to see hataraki, hada, etc. when you can only see the blade head on. I imagine I'd have to do some bobbing up and down to see the subtleties. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I always take my own light to a museum. Usually they let me use it. I also have a willing cane with a drop down seat. It allows you to sit in front of a blade and use your light to see better.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, piryohae3 said:

Can you see the details of the jigane when looking behind glass at a museum? I wonder how easy or difficult it is to see hataraki, hada, etc. when you can only see the blade head on. I imagine I'd have to do some bobbing up and down to see the subtleties. 

 

As my sword Sensei says in the video posted here recently of the Sanchomo (Yamatorige), someone bobbing up and down in front of a glass case might look funny to some, but it is the sign of an interested student. 

 

Barry, we were told to stop using a light in the Tokugawa Art Museum near Nagoya. Someone had complained about reflected light, and the museum board had then decided to make a blanket ban, for the duration of that exhibition anyway. Their lighting on the swords was already dire, so it really made hard work. In my memory of the day,  the brightest sword there was a Yosozaemon (no Jo) Sukesada, and I vowed that one day I would have a sword by him.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In "New Generation of Japanese Swordsmiths" Nagayama Kokan says that modern smiths "have been led into practicing too minute and complicated forging methods that have been passed down since Shinshinto times." Does anyone know what methods he's referring to? Not sure if he's referring to maru vs kobuse vs san mai, etc. or something else entirely. The current sword making process seems to be pretty universal to me (stack chips of steel into a block, use rice straw ash and clay, fold, etc.). Every video I've seen of modern tosho looks like they follow the same basic steps. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some nuggets: 

 

  1. Late muromachi, Seki methods spread and dominate during Shinto times, leading to loss of school-level variations. 
  2. Brief Momoyama effort to resurect the old methods, fades quickly. Some of it lives on in Hizen in a parallel universe. 
  3. Shinto peace times reinforce the non-utilitarian aspect of swords, craft is driven by fades and fashions which are disconnected from function. 
  4. Centralized Tamahagane production leads to loss of regional specificity in iron
  5. Reduction in demand for swords during Shinto times leads smashes the right tail of the distribution of geniuses which would have turned grand-masters. 
  6. Shinshinto Masahide revival starts from scratch after observations that swords are no longer functional. 
  7. Two generation, destruction test on Naotane swords reveal that the Masahide school wasn't successful in returning functionality.  
  8. Mozart Kyomaro manages to reproduce some of the beauty of old Koto but then dies young and full of debt.
  9. Sword ban strangulates the craft even further...

 

Amongst all these, I think the most underrated is probably 5. 

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll throw in something tangential to common prospectives just for the sake of it.

Nihonto is 80% hada; most of what forms hamon is just the hada that was heat treated. Yet shinto essentially all done in just one hada type and there is also sort of one dominant hamon type, we can call it gunome in nie. As a result, the difference between Kotetsu and Shinkai is miniscule compared to Samonji versus Norishige. If you like shinto, its fine, I probably do, but it does not have much if anything that goes beyond its typical "boundaries". Shinshinto can reach the level of early Nambokucho, but the average pieces tend to look forceful and glassy-plasticky. So when it comes to the best pieces, you can take shinshinto and it will be brighter and all elements tend to be very crisp and sharp, or you can go early koto and the same elements will be a bit tired, but they also be much more subtle. The early koto changes a lot depending on the angle of light/view, shinshinto tends to have certain optimal viewing angles where you can see most of the things the blade has to offer. There is this extra level of depth in good koto, and its also a very natural effect, it just what hada does, versus in shinshinto its often clear the smiths really spend a lot of effort trying to get this particular element.

So when it comes to my personal favorite swords I have 2 which are shinshinto, 2 koto, and maybe 1 shinto.

 

Kirill R.

  • Like 3
  • Thanks 2
  • Downvote 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In my humble opinion, the era is of little importance, the savoir-faire of the blacksmith is paramount. A sword of an Inoue Shinkai or a nidaiTadahiro is more desirable than the sword of an obscure swordsmith of the Kamakura period.

  • Like 1
  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been looking at HD pics of Ichimonji swords mostly from Yuhindo and Unique Japan and what I see is that there are few hataraki, if any in the hamon. From what I understand Ichimonji swords were made in nioi deki so would that mean the temperature is too low to form hataraki that are made of nie like kinsuji, sunagashi, inazuma, etc.?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, piryohae3 said:

I've been looking at HD pics of Ichimonji swords mostly from Yuhindo and Unique Japan and what I see is that there are few hataraki, if any in the hamon. From what I understand Ichimonji swords were made in nioi deki so would that mean the temperature is too low to form hataraki that are made of nie like kinsuji, sunagashi, inazuma, etc.?

It depends on which Ichimonji school and when it was made. I had a Yoshioka Ichimonji which I have used for lectures at our ToKen Society. It had everything: sunagashi, kinsuji, yo and tobiyaki. Even konie, which was specifically mentioned in the Juyo paper. 
Soshu could be very intense in its sunagashi and kinsuji hataraki, much more than Ichimonji. If you want a lot of hataraki in the hamon, I suggest Ko-Bizen, Hoki, good Fukuoka Ichimonji, Soshu, Soden (eg Chogi, Kencho). Other schools are more subtle and you need a well trained eye to see them and know what you are seeing: Awataguchi, Rai, ko-Aoe. But they are there (usually ko-ashi, small yo). 
 

In the images below, the photos illustrating yo, tobiyaki, choji/togari, gunome are from the same Yoshioka. The images with inazuma , sunagashi and uchinoke are from the same Moriie. 
 

6FCA4F40-727F-44DD-BB8F-A01656A56F40.jpeg

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

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

Guest
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.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...