The specialist for treatment of sword cuts

Whilst translating recently a battlefield-related article, I came across the term kinsô’i (金創医) that referred to “physicians” who were specialized in the treatment of incised wounds in general and of arrow wounds and sword cuts in particular. The article did not go much into detail at this point as it was more of a general nature but that term awoke my interest and as hardly anything is available on the net on this topic, I started to do some research the result of which is this humble article.

Basically, the ancient and medieval Japanese medical system was very similar to he one in the West. That means, there were academic physicians and partly specialized and partly allround practitioners who were considered lower ranking. This lower ranking was either connected to the fact that these practitioners did not undergo that an extensive training as the physicians, or to certain religious and social stigmas associated with unclean things like blood and the like. As for Japan, the records on “physician affairs” go pretty far back, that is to say to the 8th century Taihô and Yôrô Codes. The former was merely an adaption of the governmental system of China’s Tang Dynasty whereas the latter already incorporated Japanese traditions and practical necessities of administration. Pretty much of these codes is known today as it had survived in original and transcribed forms and we find therein also a medical service statute, the ishitsu-ryô (医疾令). Depending on what you base your counting on, i.e. extant original fragments or later transcriptions of the code, the ishitsu-ryô consisted of either 19, 24, or 26 articles. It deals with the regulations regarding the training and appointment of physicians (e.g. regulations of how to become a physician, an acupuncturist, a massage therapist, a spirit-vanquisher by charms [charm healer] and so on), the duties of the court physicians (ten’yaku-ryô, 典薬寮) and the local physicians in the provinces, and the operation of medicinical-herb gardens.


Eye surgery as seen in the late Heian to early Kamakura period picture scroll Yamai no Sôshi (病草紙).

Well, most of the then know-how and the model for the aforementioned codes was imported from Chinese mainland and so it is no wonder that also medical science, i.e. the art of healing and of preventing diseases, came mostly from abroad. There were some indigenous physicians but it is assumed that they were rather healers and shamans and that there was no systematically accumulated and handed-down medical knowledgebase. Records of visits of mainland physicians date back to the 5th century AD but a more continuous and systematic exchange of medical knowledge only started with the missions to Tang China in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. The main carriers of this knowledge were Buddhist monks who played a major role in the entire “mainland exchange program.” Court physicians were given court titles, a requirement anyway to be be around in the imperial palace and to see and treat the emperor, and a kind of medical hierarchy started to develop. As far as medical knowledge is concerned, the latest trends, medicines, and treatments were constantly “updated” from Jin, Western Xia, Yuan and Ming Dynasty China. But we can see major changes from the Muromachi period onwards, on the one hand as the then established Ashikaga-bakufu was now introducing a medical service statute itself, i.e. for the ruling warrior class, and on the other hand that the entire approach of applying medicine and treating patients started to change. That means, in former times, physicians basically looked up the patients’ symptoms in their handed-down books and treated them or prescribed them medicine according to what was written in there. But now, physicians started more and more to rely on personal experiences and their own lifelong studies what in turn resulted in an increased body of medical publications, although often kept secret within a school or family.

Returning to our main topic, the kinsô’i specialists for incised wounds, we rightaway have to go back again to the Taihô and Yôrô Codes. In these codes, it was distinguished between internal medicine (tairyô, 体療), surgery (sôshu, 創腫), pediatrics (shôshô, 少小), obstetrics (jo’i, 女医), otorhinolaryngology (jimoku-kushi, 耳目口歯), acupuncture (hari, 鍼・針), massage (anma, 按摩), charm healing (jugon, 咒禁), and herb farming (yaku’en, 薬園). But it has to be pointed out that the then surgeons did not carry out surgeries like we understand that term today. It was more a removing of tumors and swellings (shu, 腫) – thus the name sôshu – and treating external wounds like cuts and also burns. Later on, that means during the Kamakura and Nanbokuchô periods, the terms tairyô and sôshu were replaced by the terms naika (内科) and geka (外科) respectively. With the aforementioned significant changes in medical system over the Muromachi period, more specialists emerged and although some distinctions between tumor, furuncle, or boils removers and those who treat incised wounds had been going round since the Nanbokuchô period, there were now “real specialists” like the haremono-ishi (腫物医師, tumor surgeon), the kizu-ishi (疵医師, general wound surgeon), and the kinsô’i (金創医) and no longer just “surgeons” who performed all surgeries. And it is in my opinion safe to assume that it was the increased warfare during the Sengoku era which demanded specialized cut wound surgeons. Well, incised wounds had always been mentioned separately, for example in the ishitsu-ryô where we read that court physicians are required to provide and have in stock medicine for incised wounds. But now, treating incised wounds became a special field with a body of teachings on its own, very likely born from surgeons who had direct and constant battlefield experience similar to the European barber surgeons who looked after soldiers during or after a battle.

An advancement in the successful treatment of incised wounds came with the exchange with European physicians like the Portuguese Luís de Almeida (1525-1597) towards the very end of the Muromachi period, for example due to the introduction of surgical suture. Well, Japanese records are pretty rare on this matter but just on the basis of thinking about the difficulties of treating larger open wounds and the existence of ancient Chinese records of sutures, I think it is logical to assume that wounds have had been sutured in Japan before the contact with European physicians. On the other hand, it seems as if a kind of “reinvention” of surgical sutures took place in the mid to late Edo period, “reinventure” because Western medicine was soon treated with suspicion or “neglected as a precaution” after the sakoku (鎖国, “locked country”) foreign relations policy enacted in the early Edo period. So it is also possible that even larger open wounds were mostly just treated with compression bandages and the like. For example, we know from Muromachi-eriod records that persons injured by sword cuts were treated with medicine taken internally, e.g. ginseng, Ligusticum wallichii, or peony roots, and that bleeding was stopped by sprinkling powdered resins with names like shôroku (松緑), furuse-ma (古瀬麻), or kirinketsu (麒麟血) onto wounds. And as a painkiller, ointments of rosewood or bulrush were directly applied on the wound. Also we read of urinating in a jingasa and applying the urin to the wound as a disinfectant.


Guidance for putting on bandages from an early 19th century publication.

Last I want to deal with the question who these kinsô’i were. In view of the fact that up to the Muromachi period many of the trained physicians were actually monks and because often priests of the Ji-shû (時衆) group accompanied the warriors onto the battlefield in the role of army chaplains (jinsô, 陣僧), battlefield physicians and thus kinsô’i are often equated with monks. Well, we do know that Ji-shû priests also acted as physicians but experts suggest to be careful in this respect. That is to say, also non-ordained persons who had specialized in treating incised wounds often shaved their heads when operating in or around a battlefield in order to avoid being shot and attacked. In other words, shaving your head identified you as a member of the clergy just like the red crosses or red crescent used by present-day protected persons in armed conflicts as international humanitarian law considers them as non-combatants (whether military or civilian) and thus they may not be attacked and not be taken as prisoners of war. Also because of the fact that kinsô’i were rather of low rank, we can assume that the majority of them did not come from academically trained and “qualified” physicians but were recruited from local and self-trained practitioners.

I hope this was an interesting brief excursion to the history of battlefield-related medical staff in general and to the kinsô’i in particular, a subject that is as indicated not that widely known in sword-related fields.


Masamune Book Update

It should be safe now to re-order or order your book respectively if you were waiting for things being fixed. Please note that you should only re-order if has sent you a notification mail that your order was cancelled (and refunded you). So if you never got any notification from, just wait a little it is likely that your order went through. Again, if there are any troubles (or if you receive a faulty copy), please don’t hesitate and get in touch with me via “” Thank you all for your patience and I hope that I don’t loose any readers due to this fiasco…

IMPORTANT: Masamune Book Update

Over the last couple of days, and customers of mine have informed me that there was some issue with the PDF file that serves both as basis for the print and for the eBook. In the meanwhile, some of you who already had placed an order on the book were refunded by as the order was cancelled. The problem with the PDF is now solved and I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience as you have to place a new order! This is the first time anything like that happened and I am very sorry for all the trouble!! Please get in touch with me via “” if you have any further questions.



MASAMUNE – His Work, his Fame and his Legacy

It’s done, my announced Masamune book is out now!

I quote from the blurb:

“It is often said that Masamune was the greatest Japanese swordsmith of all times but we have to define what we mean by “greatest.” From a mere technical point of view, it is next to impossible to say if there was one “greatest” swordsmith as the country brought forth so many great master smiths over the centuries. Each of these masters had a more or less personal approach in producing a perfect sword, and within these elite circles of smiths we are not only referring to technical perfection but also to aesthetical considerations. Or, in other words, these great master smiths not only strived to produce an impeccable sword but also to leave a work of art following the then aesthetical currents. This all, i.e. the technical and artistic aspect, is both very true for Masamune and, putting aside the claim to name a “greatest,” we can at least say for sure that Masamune is by far the most famous swordsmith of Japan. A lot has been written on Masamune and his swords, both inside and outside of Japan. The aim of this publication is to contribute to the understanding and appreciation of this great swordsmith in the West, that is to say by not only presenting his most famous works but also by providing, on the basis of an examination of all major written records on Masamune, a newly researched and detailed historic overview of his life and the circumstances in the establishment of a new forging tradition. This publication introduces more than 50 of his meibutsu (noted swords). “

Please note that there are two editions: The standard b/w paperback edition that is (shortly) available everywhere (e.g., and the hardcover color higher quality paper deluxe edition that is only available via I would highly recommend the latter edition as the pictures should turn out much better on the higher quality paper. Also I added many portraits of previous historic owners of the meibutsu to give the provenances “a face.” These also should do much better in color.

Paperback Edition 49.90 USD

Deluxe Edition 89.90 USD

eBook Edition 19.90 USD





1.7.2 Horimono (engravings)


Let us continue with the engravings that are usually found on a Japanese sword. As mentioned at the very beginning, I will skip historic background as much as possible and focus on what you see on blades and what is essential for kantei. As for horimono, an excellent and detailed overview in terms of terminology and religious significance had been written by Gabriel Lebec just last year and is available as PDF here. So if you want additional and background info on this subject, this is where you go. Important for kantei conclusions drawn on the basis of horimono is to know that engravings other than hi basically follow two approaches: The one is the belief that certain religious symbols provide good luck, offer protection from evil or harm, and/or underline what the sword wearer beliefs, and the other one is to personalize and decorate a blade. Well, it can be said hat virtually all horimono have some kind of religious background and that over time just the degree of detail and repertoire increased. In short, deities were in the beginning often justrepresented by their bonji (Sanskrit character) but were later on fully “carved out” in a picturesque manner. And the detail of such engravings can be truly amazing! And stylized religious symbols were later in time no longer interpreted in an abstract and abbreviated but in a full and more “realistic” manner. When it comes to Japanese depictions, we differentiate between three degrees of elaboration or abbreviation: 1. shin (真): “formal,” “full,” or “most elaborate;” 2. gyô (行): “semi-formal” or “intermediate degree of elaboration;” and 3. (草): “informal,” “free,” or “abbreviated.” For the definition of horimono (and other Japanese arts as well), these terms are used as prefixes, e.g. shin no …, gyô no …, and sô no …

An important aspect of horimono is the fact that hey do not necessarily had to be added at the time the blade was forged. That means, every later owner of a blade was able to decide to have it enlarged by whatever engraving (or groove). This was sometimes done to hide certain flaws, for example open fukure blisters in the shinogi-ji, or to “push” an unsigned blade into a certain direction. For example, a blade whose workmanship suggests Nanbokuchô Sôshû might have better chances to receive an attribution to the great Sadamune if enlarged with futasuji-hi as several blades of this master show this kind of grooves. Also important to know is that as far as swords are concerned, classicism had always been a choice. So a smith or client from whatever period, let’s say late Muromachi or mid-Edo could have made or ordered a blade that models on classical Kamakura masterworks, including their horimono, or if not modelled on a concrete example, made or ordered an elegant blade that got a classic touch by adding an ancient-looking engraving at its base. And with this, we arrive at the question of what was/is considered as classical? As a rule of thumb it can be said that classical horimono are those that had emerged before the end of the Kamakura period. Often quoted examples of what is thought to be the oldest horimono are a suken as relief in a hi on a blade of Bizen Tomonari (友成), the bonji for Fudô-Myôô on top of a suken on a blade of Ko-Hôki Ôhara Sanemori (大原真守), and the relief of a kurikara, a bonji and the a deity as relief (experts argue on what deity is depicted), or a crane that bites into a pine cone on blades by Bungo Yukuhira (行平) (see picture below). That means we are as early as in the late Heian or very beginning of the Kamakura period with these smiths. What is obvious at these earliest horimono is that they focus pretty much at just the base of the blade and that they are quite simple.

Tomonari             Sanemori                  Yukihira          matsukui

From left to right: Tomonari, Sanemori, Yukihira.

Before I introduce one by one the most common engravings, I want to address the question of which blades from which schools or smiths are likeliest to show horimono? And in this case I mean horimono in terms of more elaborate decorations and not just suken. Well, chronologically speaking, more elaborate horimono are very often seen at the Nobukuni (信国) school followed by the Hasebe (長谷部) school and the Bizen Osafune smiths from master Kagemitsu (景光) onwards. That means we basically start not before the mid to late Nanbokuchô period with elaborate engravings. The Bizen smiths in general are known for adding relative often horimono what applies to the Kozori group (小反) that emerged towards the end of the Nanbokuchô period as well as to the Ôei-Bizen, Eikyô-Bizen, and Sue-Bizen groups. The Sôshû smiths too are famous for their horimono and that concerns the master smiths after Masamune, i.e. Hiromitsu (広光) and Akihiro (秋広), as well as the entire Sue-Sôshû group. Another candidate whose blades show almost always any kind of horimono is Heianjo Nagayoshi (平安城長吉), or to be precise the later smith who was active around Eishô (永正, 1504-1521). When it comes to the end of the Muromachi period, we find – apart from the Sue-Bizen and Sue-Sôshû smiths – relative many elaborate horimono on works of the Yamato Kanabô (金房) and Shitahara (下原) school. And at the transitional time to the shintô era, we find many engravings on blades made in the vicinity of the supposed “founder” of the shintô, Umetada Myôju (埋忠明寿), e.g. at Horikawa Kunihiro (堀川国広) and Hizen Tadayoshi (肥前忠吉) and on blades of their immediate successors like Dewa no Daijô Kunimichi (出羽大掾国路) and his Mishina colleague Etchû no Kami Masatoshi (越中守正俊). Not to forget Echizen Yasutsugu (康継) and the Shimosaka (下坂) school where he came from. Somewhat later in shintô times, Kotetsu (虎徹) and Awataguchi Ikkanshi Tadatsuna (粟田口一竿子忠綱) are famous for adding elaborate horimono, stating that proudly on the tang via the phrase hori-dôsaku (彫同作) what means “horimono by the smith” in contrast to horimono engraved by a specialized horimono artist like it was often the case at the earliest Hizen smiths. And as for shinshintô times, first and foremost Hosokawa Masayoshi (細川正義) and Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤) must be named. But I would like to repeat that this “list” concerns schools and smiths that are known for adding elaborate horimono. That means, more simple and classical engravings are found throughout all periods and schools. Anyway, if a certain school or smith is famous for a certain horimono or certain horimono interpretation, I will point that out again in the corresponding chapters. Having that said, let me now introduce in alphabetical order the most common horimono. And not to make this blog post disproportionally long, I will add comparisons of individual horimono interpretations as PDFs.

bonji (梵字) – Sanskrit character(s). Might be used alone or in combination with other engravings, for example on top of a groove or suken or in between two grooves that have been “interrupted” for the purpose of adding a bonji. It is almost impossible to point out a certain school or smith that is very famous for adding bonji but I would say Nobukuni, Heianjô Nagayoshi, Hiromitsu, Akihiro, the Sue-Sôshû school, the Osafune school, the Ôei-Bizen school, the Sue-Bizen school, Umetada Myôju, the Horikawa school, Dewa no Daijô Kunimichi, Etchû no Kami Masatoshi, Hizen Tadayoshi, Echizen Yasutsugu, Higo no Daijô Sadakuni (肥後大掾貞国), Kotetsu, Suishinshi Masahide (水心子正秀), and Taikei Naotane.


Daikokuten (大黒天) – One of the Seven Lucky Gods associated with wealth and prosperity. Sometimes also just referred to as Daikoku. He is usually interpreted as relief and depicted standing on two bales of rice. Usually seen on blades of Horikawa Kunihiro, Dewa no Daijô Kunimichi, and Kotetsu. A Daikokuten horimono is sometimes also soon at Hiroyoshi (広賀) from Hôki. ComparisonDaikokuten.


dokko (独鈷) – A single-prong vajra hilt. Such a vajra hilt is a weapon which is used as a ritual object to symbolize both the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force). The dokko can be found as horimono itself or with one prong elongated to a ken sword, an interpretation which is referred to as dokko-ken (独鈷剣) or short dokken (独剣) (see bottom picture below). This kind of horimono is for example sometimes found at blades of the Sue-Sôshû school but is much lesser seen than its “famous” counterpart, the sankozuka-ken, i.e. the three-pronged vajra hilt. ComparisonDokko.



Fudô-Myôô (不動明王) – Guardian deity primarily revered in Vajrayana Buddhism or in Japan respectively in the Shingo, Tendai, Yen, and Nichiren sects. He is usually depicted in a fierce manner, holding a sankozuka-ken or kurikara, a sword with a dragon coiled around it in the one hand, and a kensaku (羂索) rope in the other hand. The flaming nimbus or halo behind the statue is known as the karura (迦楼羅) flame, after a mythical firebreathing birdlike creature, the Garuda (jap. Karura). His seat, the banjakuza (盤石座 , lit. “huge rock base”), is considered an appropriate iconographic symbol to demonstrate the steadfastness of Fudô-Myôô. A Fudô-Myôô engraving is also seen at quite many schools and throughout all times so it is hard to name any name here. ComparisonFudoMyoo.


hatahoko (幡鉾・旗鉾) – Lit. “banner spear.” Symbolic weapon used in esoteric Buddhism to decorate an altar place. The spear or lance is sometimes also referred to as Bishamon-ken (毘沙門剣, lit. “Sword of Bishamon”) or just hoko (鉾). A hatahoko engraving is pretty rare. The one shown below is found on a Hizen Tadayoshi blade and was added by the horimono-shi Munenaga (宗長) who had refined his craft under Umetada Myôju.


kensaku (羂索) – Rope of Fudô-Myôô and other guardian deities which symbolizes the keeping at distance of enemies of the Buddhist teachings and the catching of new believers.


kurikara (倶梨伽羅) – According to legend, the guardian deity Fudô-Myôô (不動明王) once had to fight a deity from another religion, the dragon king Kurikara, written with the same characters as stated above. He changed himself into a flaming sword but Kurikara did the same and the fighting went on without a winner. But then Fudô-Myôô transformed into the dragon Kurikara, wound himself around the opponent’s sword, and ate it from the top. Also referred to as kenmaki-ryû (剣巻龍, lit. “dragon winding around a sword”). There are quite many kurikara interpretations but basically we differentiate between three approaches that follow the shin-gyô-sô mentioned at the beginning, i.t. shin no kurikara (真の倶梨伽羅, “full” or “realistic kurikara”), gyô no kurikara (行の倶梨伽羅, “more or less abbreviated kurikara”), and sô no kurikara (草の倶梨伽羅, “abbreviated,” “stylized,” or “abstrac kurikara”). A shin no kurikara is often seen on blades of Nobukuni, Heianjô Nagayoshi, of the Sue-Bizen school, at Awataguchi Ikkanshi Tadatsuna, Hizen Tadayoshi, Echizen Yasutsugu, Higo no Daijô Sadakuni, Suishinshi Masamune, Hosokawa Masayoshi, Taikei Naotane, and at the shinshintô and gendai Gassan school. A gyô no kurikara can be found on Nobukuni and Heianjô Nagayoshi blades, at Kagemitsu, the Sue-Bizen and Sue-Sôshû schools, Echizen Yasutsugu, Kotetsu, Hizen Tadayoshi, Taikei Naotane, and Tairyûsai Sôkan (泰龍斎宗寛). And a stylized sô no kurikara is typical for the Hasebe school, Nobukuni, Heianjô Nagayoshi, the Kanabô school, the Sue-Sôshû and Sue-Bizen school, the smiths around Osafune Kanemitsu, Awataguchi Ikkanshi Tadatsuna, Echizen Yatsuugu, Hizen Tadayoshi, the shintô Hôjôji school, Ômi no Kami Tsuguhira (近江守継平), Harima no Daijô Shigetaka (播磨大掾重高), Yamashiro no Kami Kunikiyo (山城守国清), and Taikei Naotane. And please note that Heianjô Nagayoshi often combined a gyô no kurikara and a sô no kurikara or two differently stylized sô no kurikara distributed on the two sides of one blade. The same peculiarity is seen at the Kanabô school. But it has to be pointed out that sometimes it is hard to say if a kurikara is shin or already gyô or gyô tending to . A variant or certain characteristic interpretation of a kurikara is the so-called harami-ryû (孕龍, lit. “pregnant dragon”). Here, the body of the dragon is somewhat at distance from the sword and with a curve of the thigh which makes it look like as if the dragon is pregnant. Such a harami-ryū is often found on swords by Nagamitsu and his Osafune main line successors. ComparisonKurikara.


 shin no kurikara


gyô no kurikara


sô no kurikara



myôgô (名号) – Names of deities engraved onto sword blades, for example of Hachiman-Daibosatsu (八幡大菩薩) oder Marishiten (摩利支天). Known for engraving myôgô are for example Kagemitsu, Kanemitsu, the Sue-Bizen smiths, Heianjô Nagayoshi, Horikawa Kunihiro, Echizen Yasutsugu, and Yamato no Kami Yasusada (大和守安定).


rendai (蓮台) – The rendai is the lotus-shaped platform or lotus blossom seat beneath a Buddha image. A rendai was engraved to sword blades by itself or in combination with other horimono, for example a suken or bonji.


ryû (龍・竜) – Plain dragon that do not wind around a ken. A very common variant of the “plain” dragon is the horimono subject tamaôi-ryû (玉追い龍), the lit. “gem hunting dragon” (see picture below). According to Japanese mythology, the god of the sea in the shape of a dragon (ryûjin, 龍神) had two magical gems – the “ebb stone” kanju (干珠) and the “tide stone” manju (満珠) – with which he controlled the tide. Later he presented them to his son the demigod Hoori no mikoto (火遠理命). A legend says that later empress Jingû (神功天皇, 201-269) was in the possession of the two gems and as she was not able to control the tide, she crossed the sea, had her enemies drowned and conquered Korea. Historians assume that already back then elements of the Indian Cintāmaṇi (Jap. nyoi-ju, 如意珠) were adopted, a wish-fulfilling jewel equivalent to the philosopher´s stone in Western alchemy. A tamaôi-ryû is for example relative often seen on blades of Kurihara Nobuhide (栗原信秀) and of the shinshintô/gendaitô Gassan school. And dragons in general are typical for Nobukuni, Umetada Myôju, Horikawa Kunihiro, Hizen Tadayoshi, Awataguchi Ikkanshi Tadatsuna, Kotetsu, Taikei Naotane, Tairyûsai Sôken, as well as for the mentioned Kurihara Nobuhide and the shinshintô/gendaitô Gassan school. Another characteristic dragon horimono has to be mentioned, that is that of a jôge-ryû or nobori-kudari-ryû (上下龍) where two dragons are egraved on each side of the blade, one facing upwards ( or nobori), i.e. towards the tip, and the other one facing downwards (ge or kudari), i.e. towards the habaki. A nobori-kudari-ryû might be found on blades of Umetada Myôju, Horikawa Kunihiro, Hizen Tadayoshi, Echizen Yasutsugu, Kotetsu, Awataguchi Ikkanshi Tadatsuna, Nanki Shigekuni, and at the shinshintô/gendaitô Gassan school.



sankozuka (三鈷柄) – Trident vajra hilt. Such a vajra hilt is a weapon which is used as a ritual object to symbolize both the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force). The vajra is essentially a type of club with a ribbed spherical head. The ribs may meet in a ball-shaped top, or they may be separate and end in sharp points with which to stab. The sankozuka has now three ribs unlike the dokko which has one rib or prong. A ritual ken sword with such trident vajra hilt is referred to as sankozuka-ken (三鈷柄剣) accordingly. A sankozuka-ken horimono comes in many different interpretations. As a rule of thumb it can be said that at the Nobukuni smiths, the tip of the sakozuka-ken is quite deeply cut and the engraving is often combined with a bonji on top. At the Sue-Sôshû school, the tip of the ken is rather pointed whereas it is more roundish at the Sue-Bizen, Sue-Mihara, and Sue-Seki schools.


santai-butsu (三体仏) – Also referred to as sanzon (三尊). Buddha triumvirate with Buddha in the middle accompanied by two Boddhisattva. On paintings the triumvirate is usually depicted side by side but on a narrow sword blade the figures are engraved below of each other.


shiketsu (四橛) – A shiketsu is a utensil used in esoteric Buddhism. It is a kind of post, mostly of copper, which symbolically encloses the four sides of an elevated platform on which religious and/or ascetic practices are performed. The shiketsu is a rather rarely seen horimono and might be found on the opposite side of a kurikara, for example on Sue-Bizen blades.


suken (素剣) – Lit. “plain ken.” Simplified horimono of a ritualistic ken sword which just depicts the outlines of the blade. Suken can come alone but are often accompanied by other engravings like a sankozuka hilt, tsume claws (see tsume-ken), a rendai base, or a bonji. Also it can be interpreted as relief in a hitsu. A suken is one of the classical horimono and thus also found on pretty early kotô. As it was very common, it is again hard to name any particular school or smith who was “famous” for adding a suken. Noticeably wide suken with an obtuse-angled tip or two such wide suken arranged in takekurabe manner are for example seen on blades of Nanki Shigekuni (南紀重国) (see bottom two pictures below).



tsume () – Lit. “claw.” The claw-shaped protrusion often seen on suken. But a tsume can also come by itself or in combination with other horimono, e.g. gomabashi.


tsume-ken (爪剣) – A suken with a tsume claw at its base.



In conclusion I want to say that horimono-kantei is a field of reseach on its own and I have to admit, I haven’t been into engravings that much to elaborate on the subtle differences of the claws and scales of kurikara dragons of the depth of suken for example. But that is on my list of future studies to do and I will present results of research of course here on my blog.

Asking for Masamune tantô feedback

Still working on my Masamune book and I am “struggling” with a Masamune tantô that was published in Token Bijutsu 196 (May 1973). Therein, Honma Junji introduces the tantô in his series titled Kantô Hibi Shô (鑑刀日々抄), p. 31. The blade is signed “Masamune” and Honma says in the very brief description of the piece that the signature is unfortunately a so-called soko-mei (底銘), i.e. the tang lost some substance what weakens the mei more or less, but that it looks apart from that legit.

Now my question: Was this tantô described or discussed later again, and if so, where? Thank you!

 * Edit: “Problem” solved. Thank you.