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Pronunciation of nakago date


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Friends, you might think me overly curious or even weird to even ask these questions. And we have all heard that curiosity killed the cat! But please bear with me. I have diligently searched for the answers myself, but not being Japanese and initially knowing zero about kanji, I have repeatedly come up against a brick wall.

Here are the kanji describing a blade which is purported to have been made on a lucky day in August, in the eighth year of the Enpo era. That's 1680. I know that these kanji are of an outdated kind, and I suppose modern young Japanese would probably struggle to read them or understand the meaning.  延 宝 八 年 八 月 吉 辰. Looking at the first two kanji, I have found that they individually mean "prolong" or "stretching", and "treasure", "wealth" or "valuables". Put together, they are seemingly called "nobe takara". The other kanji are easier.

What I would like to know, is: What will it sound like if a Japanese person who understands the kanji pronounces the date as it appears on the tang. In my own struggles, I have come up with: "nobe takara hachi nen hachi gatsu ji chen". My question is based on the assumption that every kanji has a pronunciation, and this string of eight kanji consists of eight words, each with a pronunciation in the proper context. Please, friends, how am I doing? Please don't laugh out loud. Or perhaps do! I probably deserve it?

Thank you. Johan  

 

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It's pronounced

 

Enpō hachinen hachigatsu kisshin.

 

Its kind of complicated to reduce to just a few sentences. Generally speaking, in Japanese most kanji have at least two kinds of pronunciations. There is the Japanese-style pronunciation that is used when the kanji is used by itself or in some context where it is a stand-alone word, and there is a pronunciation that resembles the original Chinese sound of the kanji which is used when the kanji forms part of a compound word (as in the case of 延宝). There is also a third style of pronounciation, which is used almost exclusively for names, but put these aside for now... Most Japanese will know how to pronounce a word from its context. 

 

延宝八年八月吉辰

Enpō hachinen hachigatsu kisshin

 

This is a four word phrase.

Enpō is a compound word that employs the chinese-ish style of pronunciation (en+pō).

Hachinen - dates are a hybrid of Japanese and Chinese pronunciations (already it is becoming complicated). Anyway, "hachi" is strictly Japanese. Nen comes from the chinese pronunciation. 

Hachigatsu - Another hybrid. As above, "hachi" is Japanese pronunciation. "Gatsu" comes from the chinese pronunciation. 

Kisshin is a compound word that uses the chinese-style pronunciation for each character. 

 

Just as an aside: all of these kanji are common, and still in everyday use in Japan. 

 

 

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Well... 吉辰 might throw quite a few Japanese people off, as this compound word isn't exactly an everyday word. But the individual kanji are learned sometime in elementary school. 

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7 hours ago, Janrudolph said:

What will it sound like if a Japanese person who understands the kanji pronounces the date as it appears on the tang.

 

In regards to the first two characters 延宝 , the spelling given by Nelson is Empō, which is the phonetic spelling, while Wikipedia uses Enpō, which is the same spelling that Steve uses above.  So in answer to your question as to what it would sound like, then I would go with Nelson. However, it should be properly spelled as Enpō.  For an explanation as to why this is, take a look at the link below.

N (kana)

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Steve, I greatly appreciate your kind answer, which was very enlightening to me, and also thanks to Thomas. I'm going to look at your link now, Thomas.

While we are on this point of a date inscription on a nakago, there are still two questions bugging me:

1) We call a signature MEI, but is there a proper/specific name we should use when we refer to the date inscription? I am assuming it can not be MEI also.

2) I have made peace with the fact that the chances of an unpapered katana being gimei, is very high indeed. But what about the date inscription? After I have assumed that a signature is gimei, how do I consider the validity of a date on that same katana? Why would the smith falsify the date on which the blade is completed? Your kind opinions please.

Thanks. Johan    

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Hi Johan,

date inscription is called NENGO or NENKI.

A faker would always try to inscribe a matching NENGO to the related smith. As the records were not always precise in early Japan, sometimes the (copied) smith and the date do not correspond. In such a case, it is easy to spot a fake/GIMEI. 

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Q. After I have assumed that a signature is gimei, how do I consider the validity of a date on that same katana?

Assume the whole inscription; date, name, any other extra bits, is the work of the forger, trying to increase the value of the sword. Ideally you focus on the sword itself. It's difficult to do, and I can't say that I follow this rule myself. But the ideal is to focus on the sword (shape, hamon, tip, steel, nakago) and then decide if the signature is accurate to the type of sword you are looking at.

 

Q. Why would the smith falsify the date on which the blade is completed? 

A smith won't falsify the date, but a forger would. Or, are you wondering about the possibility that a smith put the date on the sword, but left no name on it, and then some years later a forger added a fake name to the sword? I can't say its an impossibility, but I'd say the likelihood of this is so low that one really doesn't need to worry about it. 

 

There are cases where the sword is judged to be a good, authentic sword by a known swordsmith, however the name on the sword seems to be a forgery. Maybe the forger did a terrible job when he inscribed the name, or maybe the forger put a name that is too ambitious for the sword (like putting the name "Da Vinci" on a painting that is clearly from the 19th century). In these cases, the NBTHK will refrain from issuing authentication papers until the offending signature is removed. This is the source of some debate in the sword world, as many people  don't like the idea of having to remove a signature in order to get the sword authenticated. In the first place, the NBTHK could be mistaken in their judgment, so removing a signature could do irreperable harm to a one-of-a kind item. Also, some sword owners consider even the fake name to be part of the sword's history, and so they are reluctant to remove it. 

 

About your other thread where you were discussing the first appearance of Japanese swords in South Africa. I thought it was an interesting topic, but in the end it feels almost unknowable, unless we uncover a new diary or a ship's manifest from the 16th or 17th century. (Plus, I don't know enough about South Africa to make an intelligent guess.) 

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Jean (who hails from that mysterious deep valley) and Steve, thank you. I'm fortunate to have been given your thoughts on this topic. I've never stopped learning from you guys.

Well, the sad fact seems to be that my katana with the very attractive MEI and exciting NENGO seems not to be one of the high-end blades. Not only Brian but other forum guys also have assured me my "Nobuyoshi" is a genuine nihonto blade dating back a few centuries and I should not fret too much about the gimei assumption. They have pointed out to me that the "islands" that I see where the hada should have been is actually the core metal coming through. And that points to poor forging. But the suguha hamon looks nice and curves back beautifully at the kissaki. The neat double bohi is also a very pleasing feature.

In closing, I think this blade with its gimei and false dating is a better deal than a similar blade without any writing on it. In pursuing the life and times of this smith whose name appears on the tang, and getting to know a little better the intricacies of kanji and their meaning, I feel I have personally gotten to KNOW this man. Great fun and steep learning curve, all because this sword came my way! And to think that great collector and remarkable character, the late Gus Vollmer, had his hands on this blade in the 1990's, cleaning it up for someone to enjoy!

Johan      

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That's true, Barry. Thanks. In this respect I was just yesterday reading about a papered 600 year old katana by Shikkake Norinaga which was unsigned and undated. I could only assume the mounting was done later. Do you know of any such ancient katana which could be proved to still have its original koshirae in acceptable condition?  Perhaps this is more common than I presume? Just asking.

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On 7/27/2021 at 3:57 PM, Janrudolph said:

..... the "islands" that I see where the hada should have been is actually the core metal coming through. And that points to poor forging.....

Johan,

that is not necessarily so. Even a very good blade from a renowned smith could look that way if it lost too much material from polishing. That is not always caused by the number of polishes but could also be a result of a serious damage from combat that had to be removed.  

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Good notion, Jean. My feeling is that with every polish, a blade loses some weight. I cannot tell how many polishes this blade has gone through, but if there has been so many that the inner steel is coming through, the blade should be "light". But how light is "light"? The habaki fits very nicely, but it looks recent, and could have been fitted to suit the "light" blade. You're suggesting what could seem to some folks like a poorly forged blade could seem to others like a "tired" blade? It makes sense, to me at least. Johan 

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Most swords have core steel and then outer harder steel. Some schools like Hizen and Bungo has thinner outer steel and the core steel started to show sooner than others.
When core steel starts to show through, it is a sign of a tired blade. But not a poorly forged one.

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Brian & Jean C, thank you. Concerning my question in my post #12 above, about the effect many polishes have on blade weight & dimensions, I have though it better to move to the nihonto board. I would be glad to see you there.

Thanks. Johan. 

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On 7/29/2021 at 10:55 AM, Brian said:


When core steel starts to show through, it is a sign of a tired blade. But not a poorly forged one.

 

Not always, it can also be a lack of mastery on the part of the swordsmith. i would add this is not the only criterion to judge the state of fatigue of a sword, the size of the machis is also very important. 

This is obviously not valid for blades forged before the sengoku-jidai (except for machis)

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The size of the machis, especially the size of the ha-machi allows to see if a blade has been polished a little or a lot, the less the ha-machi is protruding the more the blade has been polished. That's why very often the sellers present the blade with the habaki. In general ha-machi koto are less prominent than shinto ones which are less prominent than shinshinto ones.  

 

This is an important criterion because the old blades (before the Sengoku jidai) and especially the Soshu blades do not have a shingane and neither do the tanto, whatever the period.

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That's important information, Jacques! The machis on my katana are still nicely full-size, which tells me my sword has probably not been exposed to multiple polishing. I'll soon be posting pics of the machis in my other thread under the Nihonto board, titled "On the subject of sugata".

Thank you. Johan

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