The Katana Through The Ages - Part 3

Discussion in 'Articles' started by SifuPhil, Dec 16, 2012.

  1. SifuPhil

    SifuPhil Lucky Cat Is Lucky

    In Higo province the tosogushi were encouraged by the Hosokawa Daimyo and worked in iron, copper, brass and cloisonne. The characteristics of Higo koshirae are the rounded kashira and kojiri; the same' is often black, and the saya in samenuri - the "valleys" in the same' filled with lacquer, and the "mountains" polished flush. Tsuka had often a leather wrapping. This kind of koshirae was later copied as "Edo-Higo-Koshirae", but mostly with simpler saya and natural colored same'.

    Higo koshirae-1.jpg
    Higo koshirae

    After Tokugawa Ieyasu moved to Edo, many artists set up their workshop there. In the Edo period the Goto family, which already had worked for the Ashikaga, almost dominated sword fittings, especially for the daisho. This combination of katana and wakizashi became the standard for samurai during the Momoyama period.

    As with many other things, wearing of swords was regulated. For example, in Genna 9 (1624 AD), red saya, swords over 2 shaku and square tsuba were prohibited. Commoners weren't allowed to wear swords at all.

    Samurai at the castle in Edo wore the Banzashi daisho, "duty attire". Same' had to be white, the saya black lacquered and with horn fittings. The kojiri of the katana was flat, and that of the wakizashi rounded. The kashira had to be horn, with the black tsukamaki crossed over it (kakemaki). The fuchi and midokoromono ("things of the three places": menuki, kogai and kozuka) had to be shakudo-nanako (fish-roe pattern) with the only decoration being the family mon (crest). The tsuba was polished shakudo without any decoration. However, this was not always strictly enforced, and kanagu with shishi (lion dogs), dragons or floral motifs were tolerated.

    Samurai had to wear the Kamishimozashi when on official duty, with the Kataginu wing shoulders and Hakama split skirt trousers, while Kuge (court nobles), Daimyo and other high ranking officials were clad in the Hitatare court attire with Eboshi (hat), with a wakizashi at their hip. This was either an aikuchi ("meeting mouth", i.e. without tsuba) or hamidashi (a very small tsuba) in dashizame, or hilt covered in same' without tsukamaki. This short sword didn't have a mekugi to fasten the hilt to the tang, which rendered it impractical, because the wearer wanted to show that - due to his high rank - he didn't have to use it anyhow. Besides, it was a serious offense to draw a sword at court, as anybody who read or watched "Chushingura", “The 47 Ronin”, would know.

    Bronze, copper and brass were widely used with "regular" swords, as well as the alloy shibuichi ("one quarter", 75% copper and 25% silver) Those soft metals were called kinko (gold/precious metal work) as opposed to iron mountings. Pure silver mountings are quite rare, as are pure gold mountings, which were banned in 1830.

    Yagyu tsuba developed from Owari tsuba, so called after the Yagyu family, fencing instructors for the Shogun. Typical Yagyu koshirae has a ribbed saya, and the menuki are at reversed positions of regular menuki placement.

    At home samurai put their daisho on a double-rack, edge up, katana on top, tsuka to the left. Actually they were greeted at the entrance of the house by their wives, who carried the swords after pulling the sleeves of their kimono over their hands in order to not touch the swords with their bare skin. They then put a tanto into their sash, which was not subject to any restrictions, and was often lavishly decorated.

    Although commoners weren't allowed to carry any swords, some of them, especially rich merchants, showed off their wealth by sporting expensive tanto, walking a very thin line between status symbol and severe punishment. Physicians wore tanto made of solid wood, and firefighters sometimes had a tanto with a saw instead of a blade.


    On July 18, Shoho 2 (1645 AD), the ban of wearing swords was reduced to swords over 1.8 shaku, if one obtained a permit. This enabled travelers on the Tokaido road to arm themselves against robbers which were encountered quite frequently in unpopulated areas, and also enabled the chief of police of Edo to arm the Okappiki, the non-samurai police.

    End of 18th Century – 1868: End of Edo Period

    The end of the Edo period is called Bakumatsu, and brought many changes to the samurai class. Some already tried western clothes, and wore Toppei koshirae swords, also called zubon (“trousers”) koshirae, which had no tsukamaki and a softly rounded kojiri. In 1871 everybody was allowed to carry a sword or to wear their hair Chonmage (samurai topknot). Kirisute-gomen was prohibited, which was the unpunished slaying of a non-samurai for a (real or imagined) insult. But the Haitorei edict, which took effect on January 1, 1877, limited the right of carrying swords to the military and police. Most swords concealed in a cane or walking stick were made shortly after this edict.

    The traders became more and more powerful. The samurai wanted once again to become warlords. Lots of corruption infiltrated the government. Furthermore Japan had really poor contacts with its neighbor. The power of the Shogun consequently decreased. The Japanese were so afraid both of a possible civil war and of external pressures (Russian, European and American) that the trade of katanas rapidly rose again. Some smiths tried to copy earlier swords. Other attempted to create new styles. But their blades had not the qualities of the great katanas. In 1867-68 the government finally fell and the power of Emperor Meiji was restored.

    1868 – Present: Meiji Period and Present Day

    The first act of Meiji was to open Japan towards the western countries in order to develop trade and to profit from the western technologies. Social progress was rapid and the samurai class was rapidly abolished. In 1876 to carry a sword was forbidden and the katana industry disappeared. During World War II a great number of swords were manufactured for the army but they cannot be called katanas because of their inferior quality and the process of their creation. They were manufactured from simple barre de metal.

    Swords of the Meiji (1868 ~ 1912 AD) and Taisho (1912 ~ 1926 AD) period were fashioned after French and German military sabers, and only the gunto (military swords) after 1933 saw a renaissance of Japanese design.

    After the war the government of the United States wanted to destroy all weapons in Japan but the katanas as works of art were saved. Nowadays only a very few smiths have the official title of “living national treasure” and forge blades whose quality approached that of the earlier blades.

    Aaron, Ivor Godley, Sherratt and 2 others like this.
  3. MadoreGojuRyu

    MadoreGojuRyu Master

    love this
    SifuPhil likes this.
  4. Ivor Godley

    Ivor Godley grasshopper

    brilliant! got thoroughly engrossed.
    SifuPhil likes this.
  5. Ieuan Walker

    Ieuan Walker Grasshoppa

    Thanks for that!
    SifuPhil likes this.

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