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piryohae3

What is meant by "true" utsuri?

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I don't remember where exactly but In another thread someone said that modern smiths have yet to rediscover "true" utsuri. Does anyone know what this means?

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Just like the fallacy that Wootz steel has never been recreated, I think the "secrets" of utsuri are alive and well and being performed by modern smiths.
People like a good mystery.

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I think that Brian is correct. For a long time, swordsmiths seem to have had issues recreating Midare Utsuri and were only able to reproduce Accidentally faint Bo Utsuri (at least that’s what I’ve read), but now, they seem to have rediscovered it.

 

Also, there are “fake” Utsuri created by polishers. It was discussed in a thread before and Nakahara discusses it in his Facts and Fundamentals.

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There are so many different types of utsuri (midare, choji, jifu, bo, shirake, etc ) also rendered in either nioi, ko-nie or nie , that it is difficult to generalise. Some modern smiths do achieve some sort of utsuri but one needs to be much more specific than saying “utsuri”. 

 

May I recommend browsing Darcy’s excellent website for examples of utsuri (I suggest go through his KoBizen for jifu, through Ichimonji and Hatakeda for choji, through Rai for nie utsuri, and look at his Oei for shirake) and also read Markus Sesko’s excellent blog entry on the topic plus the commentary below the MS blog entry. 

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I guess one of the factors that caused people to question whether modern smiths could reproduce real utsuri was whether one believes it is a result of forging and hardening technique alone or whether the composition of the steel played a part. Many references discuss different characteristics within jigane being a result of differences in regional manufacture of tamahagane. I know this has been questioned more recently, not least on this board, however it was often referred to and might explain why utsuri produced by different schools varied so much. If this was the case then the purist might argue that modern smiths, lacking the raw material available to past masters were able to something that approximated original utsuri but wasn't actually the same. If utsuri is purely a result of technique and not influenced by the chemical composition of the steel then there is no reason modern smiths couldn't create it.

 

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What is "true" utsuri? What isn't? The question in this thread could be interpreted in different ways, I believe James is probably referring to hadaka-yaki, but I'll touch on a few different things that come to mind.

 

1) Yes, there are swords on the market (particularly coming from Japanese auction sites) that have fake utsuri.

 

It’s a chemical technique applied to the blade in the polishing process, which is designed to resemble utsuri on certain angles. However, the examples I’ve seen have been rather crude and obvious, and can easily be detected through pictures. I’d also like to make clear that this technique is not being applied by traditionally trained togishi, I’ve only ever seen it on blades that were defiled by hobby-polishers/self-taught hacks.

 

If you want more info on how to spot fake utsuri, please read the following link:

https://www.facebook.com/toukentogishi/posts/2401556073244615

If you don’t do facebook, it was also posted on NMB:

https://www.militaria.co.za/nmb/topic/28800-warning-about-fake-utsuri/?tab=comments#comment-291807

 

2) There is another type of fake utsuri that appears in Nihonto, though you wouldn’t really refer to it as fake, as it’s very much a naturally occurring effect, not an artificial effect applied in the polish. It’s called tsukare-utsuri.

 

Tsukare-utsuri literally translates as ‘tired utsuri’ and it occurs when shingane (core steel) is exposed. More often than not it can be found in lower-quality work of the Muromachi period (known as kazu-uchimono) which is known to have especially thin kawagane (skin steel).

 

Tsukare-utsuri forms a loose/hazy utsuri-like effect in the steel that…

-        sometimes appears only around the border of where kawagane becomes shingane.

-        sometimes it completely fills that area of shingane.

-        or sometimes appears in patches within that area of shingane.

 

In any case, it doesn’t look very appealing, it's definitely not a desirable trait in a sword, and you should be able to recognise it as something other than "true" utsuri.

 

3) Then there is the question around hadaka-yaki (heat treatment without clay) which is most likely what the question in this thread is about.

 

During my training I was lucky enough to have quite a few conversations regarding utsuri with other craftsmen, and I get the impression that some of them believe that the utsuri produced when hadaka-yaki is performed on a blade is not really considered “true” utsuri.

 

I recall one such conversation with several togishi at NBTHK kantei-kai. There was an exceptional Naotane which had very strong utsuri, and I was keen to understand why it was so much stronger than utsuri I’d seen in his work before. It was explained to me that “yes, this utsuri appears strong, but… this is only hadaka-yaki, and Naotane rarely used this technique”… implying that hadaka-yaki was a lesser way of achieving utsuri.

 

I’ve heard similar remarks from tosho who work at producing utsuri when using tsuchi-oke (applying clay for heat treatment). Apparently, producing a clearly visible utsuri on a consistent basis is more easily achieved when using hadaka-yaki, but that type of utsuri can often appear wild and unrefined. So it's viewed by some as a greater achievement to produce prominent utsuri using tsuchi-oke. It’s a fascinating topic that deserves further study and debate, but I won’t wade into those depths today. I will say however that from recent efforts I've seen, it seems modern tosho are continuing to advance their abilities and re-discover the "secrets" of utsuri using both methods.

 

Lastly, I’ll add a little article I posted a while ago, it’s a beginner’s guide to utsuri that should give you a little more info and some instruction on how to view it properly:

https://www.facebook.com/toukentogishi/posts/1109394242460811?__cft__[0]=AZX5euUw0LcK-KtWaluQagI_Mp3mJ_MjHaxXY3D8nwx2FUANlNbxuChojfhd7LXkGKTJPIQa53xCp92Q9iuUGaQhj2gI1DAz03C4pGBNqEbXGglfyD-a1360xzhwIr8ZhQmn_ljmPPS351Mu31OHJynoJNKq8gQFGloA9qcDyRHbbp6-yAOqH73jfStPElKolfI&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R

 

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Interesting, I would think that getting utsuri with hadaka yaki would be considered a higher achievement due to its uncontrolled nature vs using clay. The implication that hadaka yaki is somehow inferior sounds elitist to me imo. 

 

Isn't it theorized that Ichimonji swords have a flamboyant hamon by way of hadaka yaki and utsuri is commonly seen?By that togishi's interpretation, Ichimonji swords are inferior and their utsuri is somehow "not as real." I don't buy it. A beautiful utsuri is beautiful utsuri, clay or not.

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Andrew rarely has the time to post, but when you do Andrew...wow. Thanks for those insights which come from pretty much the "inner circle."
Lots to read up there and a very interesting topic. Thanks for sharing, and whenever you have time, we would love to hear polishing stories or any insights you have. I trust the Aussies are keeping you busy, or is most of your work coming from over the seas? (to digress)

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What a great post and thank you very much for it! May I make only one request: would it be possible to copy the text of the FB beginner guide post over here, for the Luddites among us who avoid FB? 
Again, thank you, Andrew

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8 hours ago, piryohae3 said:

Interesting, I would think that getting utsuri with hadaka yaki would be considered a higher achievement due to its uncontrolled nature vs using clay. The implication that hadaka yaki is somehow inferior sounds elitist to me imo. 

 

Isn't it theorized that Ichimonji swords have a flamboyant hamon by way of hadaka yaki and utsuri is commonly seen?By that togishi's interpretation, Ichimonji swords are inferior and their utsuri is somehow "not as real." I don't buy it. A beautiful utsuri is beautiful utsuri, clay or not.

 

Hi James, yes there are many examples of hadaka-yaki being executed to an extreme degree of skill in the Ichimonji school. However, the craftsmen I mentioned were referring to more recent attempts at hadaka-yaki (shinshinto – gendaito). I thought this was inferred by your original question “modern smiths have yet to rediscover "true" utsuri” but reading my post back I don’t think I was clear in this point.

 

These two different heat treatment methods can produce very different results with utsuri, and while I don’t necessarily agree with the view that one method is better than the other, I do understand that some craftsmen may prefer one method over the other.

 

From my own perspective, I’d say that just like every other feature of Nihonto, not all utsuri is created equal. Being able to judge the quality of the activities in the steel is a large part of judging the quality of a Japanese sword. To me this has less to do with the methods used to create the sword, and more to do with the degree of skill and experience that went into these methods.

 

But I’ll add that these views were shared with me by senior craftsmen who I respect, some of whom have dedicated their lives to reproducing Bizen style swords, so I wouldn’t dare assume I know more than them on the subject.

 

What is for sure in this field of study is… the more we learn, the more we realise we have more to learn!

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Very interesting thread here which I need to reread to absorb better.

The other day I was half listening to a sword smith chatting to some NBTHK members about Utsuri. (I know he has been involved in recreating it.)

One comment struck me. I don’t know how much truth there is in this, so don’t shoot the messenger, but he said that in his experience modern utsuri does not lend itself to photography, that it does not show up in the same way as utsuri does on blades from way back when.

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Dunno whether modern smiths have rediscovered "true utsuri", perhaps Yoshiharu rediscovered "fake utsuri"?  Whatever, this example is possibly interesting in that its midare form wouldn't seem to correspond to the blade's muji hada, also it's nearly as vivid as the (admittedly none-too-bright) suguha hamon.  Okay, just another stray comment from the bargain basement, I'll be quiet now.  ;)

 

Utsuri4a.jpg

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