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So if a sword exhibits,

Hada

Hamon

Habuchi

Hataraki

Is it a true nihonto, regardless of the type of steel used, or forging method employed? 

Folding and water quenching appear to be the only common denominator. 

I am sure over the centuries, other raw materials than tamahagane have been used. 

For example, if a 1942 Koa Isshin, or a 1943 Emura exhibits the 4H's above, it's a true nihonto? 

 

 

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You stirring the pot, Neil?!?! Ha!

 

My feelings on this are the same as my feelings on the "Race" question on forms - IT'S HUMAN RACE!!! There ARE NO other races on this planet! In the same vein, Nihon-to are Japanese Swords - so if a sword was made by a Japanese man - it's NIHONTO.

 

All nihonto, in this context, should then be evaluated for all the same criteria that make them beautiful. Either they have it or they don't.

 

Like I said on another thread, this is an ageless battle between traditionalists and "modernists" (for lack of a better term). Traditionalists want things to stay the same, regardless of whether they SHOULD stay the same or not. I'll admit, there are some things that shouldn't change (just ask any conservative); but to create a caste-system for sword blades seems to miss the whole point of enjoying the art of a blade. Either it's purdy or it ain't. Why would it matter where the patch of dirt was located when the steel was mined? Either it's beautiful or it ain't.

 

But nobody asked me when they started this battle.

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Bruce, I totally disagree with you. I will however go along with Niels hypothosis.   Where the lines really blur is,  Showa and Seki stamped swords, that display the features Neil has described.  I have seen some swords that, untill the Tsuka is removed, for all intents and purposes, I would class as tradionally made, but have the stamps.  This is an anomolly  that really need clarification from the respective Sword Societies .    As most collectors know,  the NTHK has papered swords with Seki stamps.   Did they display Niels 4 Hs?

Bruce, I don't understand what you mean by,  Modernist V traditionist?

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David, I think Bruce is using the word traditionalist to describe a person who describes an art sword made in the accepted traditional method. And a modernist who uses the literal meaning of Nihonto....Japanese-sword, regardless of its manufacturing process. 

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Neil,

I think this subject has been debated to death but keeps coming back.

A True Japanese sword is not defined by your4H's. According to the original legal definition a sword can only be regarded as Nihon-To if made using traditional methods and material i.e. Tamahagane (at least in part, some shinto smiths did combine it with foreign steel). However once a sword is made it is impossible to tell if it is made using tamahagane or not. Also a sword made using different steel can still to some extent exhibit hada and hamon (a function of forging rather than material).

 

Re; Recognition of showa swords I think in a previous post I said that yes absolutely there should be a papering system for them, defining authenticity and quality but it should be a different one to that used for pre Showa work.

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Paul, by lumping all "Showa Period" swords together, you're not taking into consideration that, Gendaito, are apart from all other Showa Period swords.  Plus, Gendaito, do paper.   Also, until the Tatara re-opened in the 30s,  Most surviving swordsmiths made their own steel  e.g.  Yoshichika,  Sadakatsu and I'm lead to believe, Shigetsugu.   Yet they are true Nihonto.

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Yes David you are absolutely right and Gendaito fall in to the legal definition. The problem comes with any blades using the 9+ other methods and combinations of materials used in making showa period blades.

Re: smiths making their own steel they have been doing that throughout the koto period and as long as they made it using the right raw material, santetsu and in the traditional way it is still tamahagane. Centralised production of Tamahagane came in to effect under Hideyoshi but prior to that most Tamahagane was produced locally.

I admit this is not my area of interest but as said the debate keeps cropping up. The real problem comes where there is uncertainty and such questions as "can swords with a showa stamp be Gendaito" occur. I have seen Showa blades with the 4 characteristics defined by Neil and with a showa stamp but they were not (or at least not classed as) true Nihon-To. 

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Paul, I think what I was indicating was exactly what you said. Once a nihonto is made, it is impossible to determine what material it was made from. Only the evidence that it WAS made in the traditional way. So the 4H's are evidence of a nihonto. 

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Even if I agree 100% with Paul's definition, I'd like to stress that this definition classifying them as "Nihonto" is purely artificial and was only created to bypass the American post war laws and preserve those traditionnal "art" blades versus purely "military" blades and for us, Westerners, since both are legal, I see no objection at calling them all "Nihonto", since, factually, they were made in Japan and are the modern, war-period, continuation of the Japanese sword history. Leaving them out sounds as stupid to me as calling Kazuuchimono "not Nihonto".

 

Certainly, in both cases, quality varies, but Kazuuchimono and Showato of every sort were made with the same spirit and purpose in mind.

 

The Nihonto classification is nothing but a convenient common term to simplify  conversation and nothing else in my mind; Thinking otherwise is, to me at least,is  trying to organize things in an elitist way.

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The Japanese sword has become a "pure" object and concept for many, as mad as it sounds there are plenty of collectors who refuse to associate Japanese swords as being weapons designed with the explicit purpose of killing other people. Viewing Japanese swords as pure art objects before 1945 is delusional.

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I do, but I like both and the function is more important for me than the form.

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The motivation for kicking off this thread, was not to be argumentative, but to once and for all settle, at least in my mind, the definition of nihonto, which seems means different things to different people. 

As you may deduce, I love my Showa/Gendai period swords.

It started a few weeks ago when my teacher (of swords) was trying to educate me on the features of Bizen, Soshu, etc on some very old blades, all with Tokobetsu Hozon papers. 

After studying the hada, habuchi, and hataraki on the nihonto he had pulled out of his collection, I said "hang on a minute", I have swords made in the 1940's that have these features. 

Hence my question, if it is impossible to determine what material a blade was made from, and they exhibit the 4H's, and they were made in Japan, then are they not nihonto? 

Some may argue that WW2 swords made from tamahagane have star stamps. But Yasukuni Minatogawa, Sadakatsu to name a few do not.

I have heard about true accepted nihonto, that in one case was made from 200 year old nails, and another from smashed up old iron tea pots. 

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Think the reality is people will choose whichever definition suits them best. I have heard many people arguing that their gun to were every bit as good as koto blades, I would argue very strongly they aren't. But the fact is it is largely subjective and based on what you like and enjoy

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Neil,

Ok, I see the focus of your question. It was more narrow than I thought. I took it too broadly, and my feelings on the broader question would be better off in another thread, else your question goes unanswered.

 

David, I'll start a thread to discuss my meaning.

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Well, as I said earlier, the definition of Nihonto is strictly the one Paul gave us.

 

I remember once a discussion with Paul about those smiths who incorporated Nanban Tetsu or in the case of your example, old nails. First, this oroshigane was made both with only part foreign metal. As for nails, since they are made of steel, and since the resources were probably limited to sand iron, then those nails probably came from the excess matter made from Tamahagane, only the less noble parts, which, in the end, is mixing tamahagane with... tamahagane.

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Not only does the sword have to be made of tamahagane to be considered Traditional; that tamahahagane had to be produced in a tatara. There's another thing that can't be known after forging, unless there's a stamp or other confession. The tatara is an ancient and inefficient method of steel production that ultimately results in impurities that manifest themselves in patterns that we consider beautiful. If those patterns can be produced with other steels, aren't they still artful? Do those activities make for a better sword? Seems to me, that's the more important question in the mind of the man carrying the sword into battle. 

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I think part of the confusion or differing of opinion in this really relates to the weapon vs art debate.

There is absolutely no question that the first function of any blade, koto, shinto or Gendaito is that it should cut. If it fails in this primary requirement then it is not a good sword. End of discussion.

However as can be seen in many examples from all periods, in some cases in creating a form to meet that function some smiths go far beyond the basic utilitarian requirement and produce something that is visually stunning. It combines shape, jigane and hamon in a way that far exceeds functionality and thus becomes an art sword.

It is also true that such pieces while the original intent was to carry them as a weapon, very early in their history they were recognised as something far more important and valuable and cherished as art. Hence some of the better koto blades have survived 7-800 years in such good condition.

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Personal opinion:

 

Tamahagane requirement applies to post-1935 or so swords, i.e. military patterns and post WWII production.

For anything earlier, the historical-artistic value is assumed.

You can get a registration for a European 19th century smallsword.

You can get a registration for a 19th century Japanese sword where on nakago its written that its made from a Russian anchor. 

Or something made in 1914 from a steel of such and such Japanese company to commemorate something company-related.

The boundary between "can get registered" vs. "illegal to own" is thus somewhat vague when we start dealing with swords made in 1920-1930s. You do see plenty of diplomatic smallswords sold with broken off blades, and then you see identical models with blades fully intact.

 

On the artistic side, once you get to using steel which has very high thermal conductivity (extremely homogeneous and low grain size), including that between folding layers - the ability to form complex patterns in both ji and ha is impacted significantly. Its going to be a good sword, artistic it will never be.

 

Kirill R.

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I think Neil hit the nail on the head with ".....The motivation for kicking off this thread, was not to be argumentative, but to once and for all settle, at least in my mind, the definition of nihonto, which seems means different things to different people. "  Particularly...which seems means different things to different people. "

 

We all have varying levels of knowledge, expertise, appreciation and above all, there are many differing opinions. 

 

As David mentioned, it would certainly help if some clarification from recognised sword societies in Japan could be provided with as much detail as possible.  Just thought, if that did actually happen, I wonder if the 'revelation' would have any affect the current prices + or - of any particular sword type???

 

But the upside for me and I imagine a whole lot of newbiis is that everyone provides so much interesting/new information and the discussion is a learning experience in itself.

 

Thanks Neil.

 

Rob

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.....I have heard about true accepted nihonto, that in one case was made from 200 year old nails, and another from smashed up old iron tea pots. 

Not smashed up tea pots, but old cast iron water kettles (TETSUBIN) and similar. These were originally made using traditionally produced TAMAHAGANE, and they are a good means to introduce carbon into the OROSHIGANE. 

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....The tatara is an ancient and inefficient method of steel production that ultimately results in impurities that manifest themselves in patterns that we consider beautiful.....

Austus,

 

The TATARA process yields a relatively pure steel with differing contents of carbon in different parts of the big KERA (Steel block)  It is not homogeneous, but contains only very small amounts of impurities and no alloying elements.

 

The patterns of the JIGANE are achieved by the forging process alone and have nothing to do with 'impurities'. 

 

What you call 'inefficient method' has to be seen in the light of the respective era. There was no 'better' method available in pre-industrial times, and this is the same wordwide. Steel production today is of course much more efficient (TATARA about 35%, modern blast furnaces up to 95%), but the resulting steel is not nearly as pure as TAMAHAGANE in respect to alloying metal content. This modern steel would not be usable for the traditional YAKIIRE quenching in water.and thus not look like a NIHONTO as we know it. 

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Jean C is correct, but it must be noted that from iron sand in the tatara, to the finished sword, the metal never melts. The tamahagane is pure with respect to metal alloys, but is impure with respect to slag, gas bubbles, oxides etc, and is a metal sponge. On hammering, these impurities find their way to the surface. When folded, the surface impurities and the way the tamahagane has been layered, gives rise to an individually beautiful hada. 

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What you call 'inefficient method' has to be seen in the light of the respective era. There was no 'better' method available in pre-industrial times, and this is the same wordwide. Steel production today is of course much more efficient (TATARA about 35%, modern blast furnaces up to 95%), but the resulting steel is not nearly as pure as TAMAHAGANE in respect to alloying metal content. This modern steel would not be usable for the traditional YAKIIRE quenching in water.and thus not look like a NIHONTO as we know it. 

 

Absolutely NO.

 

Kirill R.

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Dear Kirill.

 

Forgive me, I am unable to work out whether you are agreeing with Jean or contradicting him.

 

All the best.

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.....When folded, the surface impurities and the way the tamahagane has been layered, gives rise to an individually beautiful hada. 

Neil,

 

what we see as HADA are the weldings seams of the steel, not remains of slag. But you are correct if you meant KIZU like FUKURE. These are pockets in the steel billet which can contain slag (mostly iron oxide) or carbon.     

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Perhaps the reason that this discussion keeps coming up is that the previous answers didn't work. 

The word Nihonto means "Japanese sword." But it seems that one type of Japanese sword is trying to exclude all others, and commandeer a term that is in itself, completely inclusive. 

One answer would be to use categories. Subsets of the total, which could be much more honest; and is something we are already doing. We have Koto, Shinto, Gendaito, etc., already. We know what they mean. We need to further enlarge the list of categories, and define them, using whatever qualities that can be agreed upon. 

Think of a pie chart. Nihonto is the pie. The different categories are the slices. They could be cut to reflect known percentages, but then be different colors to reflect certain attributes. A Showa slice could then contain Gendaito and semi-traditional, and maybe even the 9 other types of manufacture. Maybe they could be arranged in a historical position, oldest to newest.  Etc.

Another possible answer would be to get the Traditional guys to come up with a better name for their category. All we need is some agreement . Good Luck!

 

With that in mind; I answer the OP with an enthusiastic Yes. 

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All good arguments and opinions but Im kinda on the fence with this one. I feel like Nihonto is only fully traditionally made blades with tamahagane but then I think it really doesnt matter what us westerners think as it really comes down to what the Japanese think/decide.

 

Greg

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