After dealing with the sword basics, we are entering the main body of my series series and that is the description of the workmanship of the individual schools and smiths, and that with a focus on kantei. So with “focus” I mean I am not going too much into historic detail and omit for the most part biographical data unless it is necessary for the understanding of certain chapter. Before we start I have to explain a few things. Like I followed the traditional approach in looking at Japanese swords, I will also follow the traditional approach in describing them, and that is kotô-era gokaden, kotô-era other schools (wakimono/majiwarimono), shintô, and shinshintô. What I mentioned at the very beginning of this series applies here too, that is to say that all major publications are structured like that and it doesn’t make much sense if I reinvent the wheel and tackle the schools in a complete different way. Well, this “traditional” approach is actually not as old as you might think. It is assumed that it was introduced by Hon´ami Kôson (本阿弥光遜, 1879-1955) who was a key figure of the Meiji, Taishô, and early Shôwa era in terms of gathering and spreading knowledge of the Japanese sword and it was him who realized that certain things have to be changed to make studies easier, meeting so the requirements of a strongly growing crowd of collectors and enthusiasts which was thirsting to know more about the nihontô. Before he introduced the gokaden (五ヶ伝・五箇伝), lit. “The Five Traditions,” swords in general and kotô swords in particular were classified according to their production site, or more precise according to the province they were made in, e.g. blades made in Bizen were called Bizen-mono (備前物), and such made in Yamato were called Yamato-mono (大和物), sorted by so-called goki-shichidô (五畿七道) system of initially administrative units and later geographical entities. The goki-shichidô consisted of five provinces in the Kinai or capital region, plus seven  (道) or circuits, each of which contained provinces of its own. These seven circuits were the Hokurikudô, Nankaidô, Saikaidô, San’indô, San’yôdô, Tôkaidô, and the Tôsandô.

Well, this goki-shichidô system is unchangedly in use when it comes to the mere sorting of swordsmith schools but this alone and the classification via mono (物, lit. “thing” or rather “work”) and the province a sword was made in was inflexible and does not make clear any stylistic connections. That means, you can’t see at a glance that for example an Enju blade is, via the Yamashiro tradition, actually stylistically connected to the Kyôto-based Rai school when it is just listed as Kyûshû-mono. The introduction of the gokaden follows the observation that throughout kotô times there had been basically five major sword production sites, namely Yamato, Yamashiro, Bizen, Sagami (= Sôshû), and Mino, where own typical styles of sword forging emerged and developed. Swordsmiths from these production sites moved and spread their knowledge and so offsprings of the indigenous traditions spread all over the country. These offsprings developed own characterisic features but were scholastically connected to the original forging tradition. In other words, about 80% of all kotô schools and smiths can be attributed to one of the five major traditions which were the Yamashiro tradition (Yamashiro-den, 山城伝), the Yamato tradition (Yamato-den, 大和伝), the Bizen tradition (Bizen-den, 備前伝), the Sôshû tradition (Sôshû-den, 相州伝), and the Mino tradition (Mino-den, 美濃伝). The remaining forging traditions which emerged and developed separately or as offshoots from the gokaden or which are made up of a mix of two or more of the five major traditions are summarized as wakimono (脇物) or majiwari-mono (交わり物) respectively. The gokaden declined in importance with the progressing Muromachi period as the uncertain Sengoku era forced many swordsmiths to move to other, often very remote areas. At the same time, steel production was modernized and more and more swordsmiths were receiving now steel from the same source which meant a further approximation of the characteristic features of sword blades. This trend became even more obvious with the transition to the shintô era and so Kôson introduced a sixth tradition, the shintô-tokuden (新刀徳伝), about “special shintô sword tradition,” but I will just refer to swords made in that era as shintô as it is hard to nail down characteristic features for the shintô “tradition.” Well, Kôson followed the approach that a shintô blade can come with a fine jigane in combination with a wide and vivid hamon whereas in kotô times a fine jigane usually came along with a more narrow and unobtrusive, often suguha-based hamon, and a larger dimensioned jigane usually with a wider and more vivid hamon. Apart from that he felt that the new and picturesque hamon interpretations of the shintô era like tôran-midare, sudareba, kikusui and the like “justify” the introduction of a “special shintô tradition” of sword forging. However, the term shintô-tokuden is too general in my opinion as also the shintô era gave rise to several major currents (which were Ôsaka, Edo, Hizen, and Satsuma, and Kyôto if you want) and as a consequence, it never became as much established as the very practical approach with the gokaden.

In preparation for the upcoming chapters, I want to give a very basic overview of the fundamental characteristics of each forging tradition. In other words, if you spot them in the described combination on a blade, it is safe to focus on schools that worked in the associated tradition.

Yamashiro tradition: Rather dense and uniform itame or mokume in combination with a suguha or suguha-based hamon in ko-nie or nie-deki. Blades look elegant and dignified. Yamashiro lost (in sword terms) by the end of the Nanbokuchô period much its significance so rather do not expect a Muromachi-period uchigatana or katateuchi to be a Yamashiro work. Flourished from the end of the Heian to the early Nanbokuchô period.

Yamato tradition: High shinogi-ji and relative wide shinogi. Jigane often shows masame and the hamon is suguha or suguha-based in nie-deki which shows by trend more horizontal hataraki (i.e. hataraki that concentrate on and follow the habuchi). Blades look elegant but also strong and with a hint of ancient charme. Yamato too was superseded by the upcoming Sôshû and still thriving Bizen traditions in the Nanbokuchô period. So like mentioned above, rather do not expect a Muromachi-period uchigatana or katateuchi to be a Yamato work. Flourished from the end of the Heian to the end of the Kamakura period.

Bizen tradition: Jigane in itame or mokume with utsuri in combination with a chôji-midare or gunome-midare hamon in nioi-deki. Blades in Bizen tradition look flamboyant compared to blades forged in the Yamashiro or Yamato tradition. Had its heydays in the Kamakura and late Muromachi period.

Sôshû tradition: Larger structured itame in combination with a noticeably nie-laden midareba, notare, or hitatsura. Blades look “wild” and vivid and as the Sôshû tradition was not established before the very end of the Kamakura period, do not expect a blade in one of the (earlier) Kamakura-sugata to be a Sôshû work. Had its heydays in the Nanbokuchô, late Muromachi, and Momoyama period.

Mino tradition: Jigane shows more or less shirake, i.e. is whitish, and comes in combination with a hamon, mostly a midareba, that shows some concpicuously protruding togari elements, with the sanbonsugi so to speak as its purest Mino-hamon form. As the Mino tradition is the youngest of the gokaden and was not fully developed until the mid-Muromachi period, do not expect a blade in Kamakura or Nanbokuchô-sugata to be a Mino work. Mino blades look more “pragmatic” in general. Had its heyday in the late Muromachi period.

Shintô-tokuden: Fine, dense and “healthy” jigane in combination with a more “affected” or picturesque hamon. Bôshi often in suguha even if the rest of the hamon is in midareba. Blades have the “typical” katana shape, that means do not expect a long, elegant and classical tachi to be shintô, at least not in the first place.

So far the introduction to the upcoming main body of the series and I will be back soon with the first chapter which is on Yamashiro province.



A very brief history of the dissemination of sword knowledge (and my humble place therein)

For many centuries, writing about swords was strongly determined by someones social and educational background. That means one just did not sit down on his veranda and start to write about swords, at least not when he had a textbook or something like that in mind. As stated in the introductory chapter to my book Genealogies and Schools of Japanese Swordsmiths, it all started with subjective reports that circulated based on (a warriors) personal experience of the sharpness and durability of a blade, accompanied by stories about auspicious or unfortunate incidents or moments one had with a certain sword. This laid the foundations, back then very superstitious in character, for a first kind of sword “appraisal.” As the sword was soon elevated to the symbol of the Japanese warrior, it is only natural that texts were written on it quasi “right away,” but another important factor is that the Japanese sword already reached technical perfection in the early 13th century, i.e. in the early to mid-Kamakura period. That means we are facing here an interplay of the factors of a perfect weapon and an aesthetically pleasing object that created an environment which was ideal for the highest-ranking scholars and most influental persons of their time to pull out their brush and write a line or two on swords. At the beginning, the transmission of sword knowledge was linked to certain individuals and depended very much on where their literary estate went after their death. Later, the ruling class employed, on a hereditary basis as it was obligatory back then, sword experts and appraisers but what brought along a sphere of secrecy. That means it is of course only natural that a family tried to keep its knowledge secret and protect it from getting into the hands of outsiders and potential competitors.

Apart from the more and more systematization of sword knowledge, this situation prevailed rather unchangedly until the Edo period, or to be precise, until the mid-Edo period. That means, the first tentative sword publications were low in circulation numbers – of course also due to the fact that copies were basically handwritten – and not meant to be handed out to everyone. So when you were not somehow acquainted with one of the then experts or had other connections, e.g. being ordered to get involved with swords by your lord or master, there was no way to accumulate sword knowledge on a broad scale and on your own. Things changed a little with the Momoyama-era boom of book publishing using woodblock printing and experimenting with printing techniques that came from the Korean mainland and the Christian missionaries. With the peaceful Edo period, the upper bushi class had now time to devote themselves to the study of sword blades and many proved their knowledge in kantei contests. I said “upper” bushi class because collecting swords was from a financial point of view practically impossible for a lower ranking samurai. But with the transition to the 18th century, something like “sword as a hobby” had become rooted in both bushi and educated (and of course richer) bourgeoise. This demand in sword literature had the effect that some of the handed-down knowledge of the experts was made accessible to a greater but selected audience and the woodblock printing was now at a point where individuals could afford to open their own presses. But still, sword literature was very much traditional and the majority of all Edo-period publications consisted more or less of copying over and over again the same content that had been systematically compiled for the first time in the Momoyama period.

A major change took place with the social transformation of the Meiji Restoration. Quasi at one blow, the feudal aspect of the sword vanished. Well, the sword was still very much associated with the former warrior class and the subject was a highly traditional one but now, the sword was made available to the general public, for example through the first sword exhibitions. Up to that time, John Q. Public has not been able to see a Rai Kunitoshi, a Nagamitsu, or an Awataguchi Yoshimitsu, just to drop a few prominent names. This was also the time when the first sword clubs were founded and the first “civil and independent” sword experts emerged (although as a matter of course trained by the former warrior class-employed experts). This all, i.e. a better than ever overview of the entire sword world, entailed that now some of the old classics were questioned and had to be revised and as more of the family secrets were disclosed to the public, experts were now able to tackle the subject in an objective, systematic, and scientific approach. That in turn brought along on the one hand a certain “disillusionment” (for example some of the old attributions had to be revoked and traditional active periods of smiths had to be dated much later than thought), but on the other hand also very fruitful discussions among experts. At the same time, we are talking about the bakumatsu and subsequent Meiji era, Japan opened the ports of Nagasaki, Hakodate and Yokohama to foreign traders who soon arrived in great numbers. Swords and sword fittings and Japanese art in general were exported on a large scale and objects of all levels of quality reached Western collections, thus nihontô enthusiasm got ignited among connoisseurs abroad and the first tentative books on Japanese swords (and sword fittings) were published in Europe and the USA.

Big jump over several decades and wars to Workd War II. One of the side-effects of Japan loosing WWII was that thousands of Japanese swords were taken back home by US soldiers which formed the basis of many of the future non-Japanese collections. As all swords were considered as weapons by the occupying forces and thus in danger of being destroyed, something had to be done to preserve this unique national heirloom. Most of the then Japanese experts agreed that this “something” was best achieved by raising the Japanese sword to the status of art work, what many works of the great masters definitely are anyway. This brought along a re-evaluation of the Japanese sword, both in Japan and abroad, and the prospering decades after WWII brought another social change, namely insofar that everyone who had a halfway decent job was now able to take up the one or other hobby, and some chose collecting Japanese swords and/or sword fittings. Also travelling, both domestic and abroad, was now pretty much an option for the middle class and so sword enthusiasts and upcoming experts visited Japan to deepen their knowledge and to learn first-hand more about what they have. Soon the second wave of sword publications since the time Japan had opened its borders reached Western readers.

This phase lasted rather unchangedly until about the Japanese economic bubble collapsed in the early 1990s and the advent of the Internet somewhat later in the very same decade. Collectors all over the world were now facing an equalization and “investors” a certain disenchantment. What meant the wind out of the sails of many dealers who had been thriving over the last three or four decades meant a new momentum for collectors as now, i.e. with the Internet, the Japanese sword market was virtually open to everyone and without intermediaries. As the economy was still thriving in the West, it was bought to a fare-thee-well and that again gave fresh impetus to non-Japanese sword publications. Well, Japan had experienced a collapsing bubble but all standard works on sword and sword fittings had been written decades before. So except from the one or other now down-to-eath dealer and collector who was sitting on a pile of objects unsellable to the price he had puchased them just a few years ago, not much had happened in Japan from a scholastic point of view.

I was very much a child of that time, i.e. being part of, and growing with, a flourishing new Internet nihontô community. So I only briefly witnessed the last stages of so-to-speak “classical sword collecting” in the West. When I had bought my first sword in the mid-1990s at the age of 18, I made a decision that should later change my career path, and that was to study Japanese (starting only two years after my first sword purchase).  In the following ten years or so a feeling had grown in myself, but which had been there right at the beginning, that was a dissatisfaction with the available non-Japanese study material. Of course many excellent treatises and articles had been written by both Western collectors and experts but hardly any of them made it into easily accessible, all-embracing publications. For comparison, each time I went into a well sorted Japanese bookstore, there was almost always half of a shelf or so just about nihontô and related books. This alone was already pretty awesome but when visiting antiquarian or second hand, or better, specialized bookshops, it was like being in a researchers heaven. All you ever wanted to know and much more was just sitting there, waiting to be read (and translated). And now my studying of the Japanese language began to pay off. Sooner or later it became obvious to provide assistance with translating descriptions and papers and things like that, first only sporadically but pretty soon on a broad scale, what subsequently incorporated longer and longer texts and in the end even books.

Now a little more than a decade has passed since that time (and about two decades after I have started my Japanese studies), what brought along en route going into business for myself. Parallel to this, the internet has left behind infancy and things are getting serious and another significant change in society is happening right in front of our eyes. As far as the Japanese sword is concerned, the aforementioned process of equalization is abating. Almost every collector now knows how to buy, and almost every dealer now knows how to sell over the net. And whilst the wild worldwide buying and selling across all levels of quality is still going on and information is shared freely, this information is kind of spread in a shotgun approach and mostly linked to the objects sold. My initial aim was to make information available on a broad basis and in general, i.e. not linked to a certain object or artist. That meant quasi an “unbiased” provision to non-Japanese readers of what had been available in Japan for a long period of time. In other words, working on equality from the point of view of reference material. Looking back, I have accomplished a bit of that but looking forward, there is still so much out there that needs to be translated to get even close to something like the just mentioned equality of reference material. Apart from that I have also realized that all work done so far was only kind of a first phase because this “unbiased” approach in providing reference material in turn leaves the task of working on certain details like inconsistencies and contradictions that I did not recognize as such in the first place due to the sheer amount of information. And this is where nihontô 2.0 comes into play: We in general and as nihontô community in particular find ourselves for the very first time in the position to point out and work on things spot on, together, and virtually with no delay. This nihontô 2.0 thing is both exciting and a great opportunity we should not miss and it is what I my made the motto of my second working phase.

Well, there is no way back from the point we have reached now and I am convinced that “real” books will become obsolete in the future (although I like “real” books very much myself). Also translation programs are getting better and better so probably what I do will become obsolete in the near future too. But I think this will not happen right away so there is still work for me out there 😉 Now the Japanese sword is a highly traditional thing but that does not automatically mean that access to it has to remain totally traditional too. Not talking about handling and things like that, just access to information. So – and at this point big hint over the ocean – the faster we all accept and embrace the new technology (which is irreversible anyway) the better. And the faster we can get over this changeover, the faster we can focus again on the subject itself. So where is the journey going? As indicated, with the Meiji-era educational reform and the establishment of universities, a thorough systematic and scientific approach towards the Japanese sword had started and over the subsequent century, almost all references (both historic documents and publications as well as swords that serve as a reference for a smith or school) have been “unearthed” and I doubt that any more groundbreaking discoveries will be made in this respect. In other words, the golden age of new discoveries (the aforementioned century from about 1870 to 1970) that had lead to so many fruitful discussions and certain rewritings of sword history is probably over. That means, the questions we can’t answer today will probably remain unanswered. For example, it is rather unlikely that a blade pops up where Rai Kunitoshi states in the signature that the smith who signs with a niji-mei, i.e. Niji-Kunitoshi, is a different guy. Or a signed and sealed late Kamakura period documents that tells us who Masamune really was. Sure there will be some slight adjustments in the future but I guess that’s it.

As for my part, I will now go over to elaborate on individual aspects and on individual artists but after that is done I guess there has to be another encompassing phase, that means with the then undoubtedly very much superior digital possibilities, all that stuff that has been written by others and my humble self in the meanwhile has to be united into a large, cohesive whole that leaves as few questions as possible unanswered or no reference/source out. Imagine a 3D database that contains tons of blades and fittings with an interface that feels very much like looking at the real thing, combined with on the spot answers to your questions. Well, that’s all still up in the air. The next imminent phases in the dissemination of sword knowledge are surely exciting ones and this is all comming pretty fast compared to all the relative “slow” historic decades from the Kamakura to the Meiji era. Finally, I should like to say that I am both pround and happy to be a part of this thing, the “new age of nihontô knowledge,” and I hope that one day I am able to raise from a mere provider to a real scholar…


Now we arrive at the bôshi (帽子, sometimes also written with the characters [鋩子]), the continuation of the hamon in the kissaki which runs with a kaeri (返り), the so-called “turn back,” back or up to the mune. The very end of the kaeri, i.e. the point where the hardening reaches the mune, is called tome (留め) what just means “stop.” Please note that some refer with bôshi just to the continuation of the hamon and see the kaeri as a separate element. That means the hamon in the kissaki is the bôshi and the kaeri is the kaeri. But mostly the term bôshi is used to refer to the whole ensemble, i.e. hamon in the kissaki and kaeri and that is how I use this term too. Before we continue with the different bôshi interpretations we have to address the fact that the bôshi is considered as a very sensitive point in kantei. Reason for this is that hardening the kissaki in a proper way – that means in a way which leaves a uniform and controlled hamon and a clearly defined turn back on this rather small and bevelled area – requires some skill. Accordingly, the quality of the bôshi is a very good indicator for the overall quality of the blade because it is rather unlikely that the smith got that right but messed up the rest of the hamon, to put it bluntly. So judging the bôshi is usually the “last fine tuning” in your kantei, or in other words, it either confirms your conclusions drawn from the sugata (production time), jigane (steel), and hamon (school) and allows you to nail your judgement down to a certain smith within a school or at least reassures you to stay with the school you have found out with judging the hamon. Or it is so unique that you have to go one step back and adjust your school judgement by taking another look at the hamon. So far the theory but the topic bôshi comes with a big “but” and that is the polish of the kissaki. That means the same way it is difficult for the smith to harden this part it is difficult for the polisher to polish it, and that has two reason: One reason is the fact that the kissaki has bevelled surfaces, per se not that a big thing because also the ji is bevelled with the niku, but the other reason is the aesthetical concept of the nihontô requires a tip that contrasts with the other surfaces of the blade. Thus the polisher has to tackle the tip in a different way than he tackles the ji and shinogi-ji (you can find a detailed description of the process of kissaki polishing in The Craft of the Japanese Sword). From my own experience I can say that very often the polishing of the tip is kind of neglected, or rather way more emphasis is placed on the contrasting effect than on the visibility of the bôshi. That means in the worst case you just have some scratchy white surface which makes it very hard to see its actual hardening. Well, a good thing at the Japanese sword is that the hamon shows at quite an early stage in polishing so at least you will be able to see something in the kissaki, maybe at least the rough outline of its hardening. But that in turn only works if you have the time and the freedom to look at the blade in a way until you can make something out. At a kantei session you don’t have that time and freedom, i.e. you just can’t walk away with the blade and take it to a different light source where you look at the kissaki for let’s say two minutes.

Back to the bôshi, but a few more things have to be explained before I introduce the different bôshi forms. As seen later there is a special term for a fully or almost fully hardened kissaki but if the kissaki has just a conspicuously wide hardening, we speak of yaki ga fukai (焼きが深い), what means exactly that, i.e. “wide hardening.” Also important for a sophisticated kantei is to judge where the hamon in the kissaki starts to turn back towards the mune. If the kaeri begins rather early after the yokote, we speak of a sagari-kaeri (下がり返り), and if it starts noticeably late, i.e. more towards the very tip of the kissaki, we speak of an agari-kaeri (上がり返り). Please note that this feature can be deliberate, i.e. applied so by the smith, or, in the case of a late starting agari-kaeri, go back to the fact that the kissaki has lost some material. Apart from that, the kaeri can be noticeably pointed, a feature which is referred to as togari-kaeri (尖り返り) or togari-bôshi (尖り帽子). As bôshi interpretations with a pointed kaeri are kind of a small subcategory of their own, I will combine them in the following section under the umbrella term togari-bôshi. You see, it is getting complicated again but also the topic bôshi is actually not as hard to memorize as it seems at a glance. A good tip to start with is to check the interplay of hamon and bôshi. That means, is the bôshi a continuation of the hamon or does the outline of the hardening change with the yokote? If so, chances are high that you are facing a shintô work as in kotô times it was more common to let the hamon run out “naturally” into the kissaki. In shintô times and with the increasing art aspect of the sword, the ji was more seen as a canves where the smith “painted” his hamon, framed by the yokote and the ha-machi. When there was a backwards trend to kotô in the late Edo period, also the hamon continued by trend again into the bôshi. That’s just a rule of thumb, highly simplified, and a thing that has to be put in context with what you have learned so far from the blade. For example, if you think you have a classical kotô Ichimonji as it shows a flamboyant chôji hamon and even utsuri but then you see that the bôshi is suguha or notare-komi, you are probably facing an Ishidô work.


3.4 The different bôshi forms

Aoe-bōshi (青江帽子) – Special bōshi interpretation appearing with the Chū-Aoe school which is undulating, shows a tight nioiguchi, and whose smallish ko-maru-kaeri turns relative abruptly and rather pointed and runs back straight back to the mune.


hakikake-bōshi (掃掛け帽子) Bōshi whose main characteristic feature are hakikake. However, a bōshi with an even larger amount of hakikake is usually referred to as kaen (火炎).


ichimai-bōshi (一枚帽子) – A fully or almost fully tempered kissaki. In some cases part of the outline of the bōshi is still discernible somewhere in the kissaki area. That means, the kissaki is not completely hardened and a kaeri can be seen somewhere very close to the mitsukado (the point where yokote, shinogi, and ko-shinogi merge). The transitions between an ichimai-bôshi and a bôshi with a pronounced yaki ga fukai are fluid.


ichimonji-kaeri (一文字返り)Bōshi where the kaeri sets off in a straight manner towards the mune and does not run back along the back (or runs back only very little).


jizō-bōshi (地蔵帽子)Bōshi which appars more or less as midare-komi but with a sharply constricted kaeri area that makes it look like a profile of a statue of the Bodhisattva Jizō. A jizō-bōshi is particularly typical for Mino blades.


kaen (火焔・火炎) – Lit. “flame, blaze.” Very nie-laden bōshi with an abundance of hakikake which looks like flames. Sometimes also referred to as kaen-gashira (火焔頭・火炎頭, lit. “head in flames”).


ko-maru (小丸) – Small roundish kaeri.


midare-komi (乱れ込み) – Irregular, midare-based bōshi.


Mishina-bōshi (三品帽子) – Basically a variant of the sansaku-bōshi but with a kaeri that looks like a narrow jizō-style kaeri. This bōshi interpretation was often applied by smiths in the vicinity of the Mishina school, thus the name.


nie-kuzure (沸崩れ) – A heavily nie-laden bôshi that appears frayed so that it is hard to define the habuchi or outline, or in extreme nie-kuzure cases no outline can be made out at all. A nie-kuzure is often seen on Sôshû blades and at schools and smiths who worked in or were influenced by the Sôshû tradition, for example the Hasebe (長谷部) and Nobukuni (信国) schools, Shikkake Norinaga (尻懸則長), and the Sôden-Bizen, Horikawa, and Satsuma-shintô smiths, just to name a few. The transition between nie-kuzure, much hakikake, and kaen are fluid. A nie-kuzure bôshi might also tend to a nie-based ichimai-bôshi if the entire kissaki is thickly covered in nie.


notare-komi (湾れ込み) – A slightly undulating, notare-based bōshi.


ō-maru (大丸) – Large roundish kaeri.


sansaku-bōshi (三作帽子) – Lit. “bōshi of the Three Great (Osafune) Masters” which were Nagamitsu (長光), Kagemitsu (景光), and Sanenaga (真長) as they were known for applying this kind of bōshi. It is formed by a suguha that runs shortly straight and unchangedly over the yokote and follows then in a slightly undulating manner the fukura to turn back in a compact ko-maru-kaeri.


taki no otoshi (滝の落し・瀧の落し)Bōshi with a long and rather oblique kaeri which reminds of a waterfall (taki). This kind of bōshi is usually associated with Mihara blades.


taore-bōshi (倒れ帽子) – Lit. “falling bōshi.” Bōshi interpretation where the kaeri leans towards the ha. A typical feature of Sue-Seki blades (bottom picture left) or of Sa Yasuyoshi (安吉) (bottom picture right). Their bôshi looks like a jizô-bôshi with Jizô’s head leaning towards the ha but with the difference that Jizô’s head is by trend more pointed at the Sa smiths. Please note that a bōshi with a kaeri that approaches the cutting edge due to loss of material is also referred to as taore-bōshi. Thus one has to be careful using this term and specify if in a reference to an altered kissaki or to a characteristic feature of certain smiths.


tarumi-bōshi (弛み帽子) – Lit. “slackening, relaxing bōshi.” Sugu-bōshi that is actually straight or, if undulating, that does not run parallel the fukura. In exaggerated terms, the bōshi is “tired” and has to “relax” and goes thus the short way, which is straight, to the kaeri. For example, a sansaku and a Mishina-bōshi come under the category of a tarumi-bōshi.


togari-bôshi (尖り帽子) – As mentioned, a bôshi with a noticeably pointed kaeri. A form of the togari-bôshi is the rōsoku-bōshi (蝋燭帽子) which is basically a midare-komi bōshi with a quite pointed kaeri, mostly with plenty of nioi, which reminds of a candle wick (rōsoku no shin), thus sometimes also referred to as rōsoku no shin (蝋燭の芯) instead of rôsoku-bôshi. This bōshi interpretation is typical for Osafune Kanemitsu (兼光) and the Ōei-Bizen school (bottom picture left). And a noticeably pointed kaeri that tends to rôsoku which comes in combination with plenty of nie and a long and rather wide kaeri is typical for Chôgi (長義), thus also the term Chôgi-bôshi exists to refer to his peculiar togari-bôshi interpretation (bottom picture center). And a togari-bôshi is also a typical feature of the Sa (左) school where in their case, the rôsoku part is a hint wider at the base than at the Kanemitsu and Ôei-Bizen schools (bottom picture right).


tora no ago (虎の顎) – Lit. “tiger chin.” Term to refer to a bōshi interpretation seen on blades by Kotetsu (虎徹) and smiths in his scholastic vicinity where the hamon shows a double yakikomi right before the yokote and runs after the ridge more or less parallel along the fukura to a ko-maru-kaeri. The name goes back to the similarity of the yakikomi element to a tiger’s chin.


tora no o (虎の尾)Bōshi with a more or less long kaeri that runs parallel to the mune and ends abruptly and roundish. This kind of bōshi reminds of the tail (o) of a tiger (tora) and is usually associated with Ko-Mihara blades.


yakitsume (焼詰め) – Also pronounced as yakizume. A bōshi where the hamon runs out without kaeri. The yakizume itself can be sugu or midare-komi and accompanied by various hataraki.



Now we are through with the basics (and the terminology) and after a short break – want to post some other articles for reasons of variety – I will continue with the kantei points of all major (and not so major) schools and smiths. Also I have added a new menu with the title KANTEI SERIES to the top page which brings you to all the individual chapters so that you don’t have to scroll back and forth through my entire blog to find a certain post. Thank you so far for your attention and I am very happy about all the positive feedback I get in regards of this series! So stay tuned, there is a lot to come.


For the sake of completeness and not to have to revinvent the wheel so to speak, I want to quote the relevant sections from The Connoisseur’s Book of Japanese Swords along this chapter. And allow me for a better readability, if I may, to work these quotes into the sections below without strictly highlighting them as quotes. Thank you for the understanding.


3.3 The different hamon forms

chōji (丁子) – Lit. “clove(s).” Elements of a hamon which resemble cloves, with a round upper part (the tassel or fusa, 房) and a narrow constricted lower part. There are many different chōji interpretations. See also ko-chōji, ō-chōji, jūka-chōji, saka-chōji, and kawazu-no-ko chōji. Is the entire hamon composed of chōji elements, we also speak of a chōjiba (丁子刃), or when it consists mainly of a mix of chōji and midare elements chōji-midare (丁子乱れ) accordingly. The chôji, or to be precise the chôjiba, was the most prominent feature of the Bizen tradition (regardless of if by kotô or if by later shintô and shinshintô smiths who worked in this tradition) but chôji elements are seen at many other schools and smiths, for example also at the Yamashiro and Sôshû tradition.


chū-suguha (中直刃) – Medium width suguha.

Fujimi-Saigyō (富士見西行) – A picturesque hamon interpretation that alludes to the Heian poet Saigyō (西行, 1118-1190) looking at Mt. Fuji. Saigyō was famous for admiring nature in his works. A Fujimi-Saigyô feature is not that obvious and often overlooked. So you have to spot first a relative largely protruding, rather isolated element, and if it looks like Mt. Fuji see if, after a certain distance, a smaller double-protrusion occurs. Is that the case, you probably have a Fujimi-Saigyô feature which brings you right away to early shintô and the Mishina school and the Yoshimichi (吉道) smiths in particular. But it can also be seen at Ôsaka-shintô works like at Kawachi no Kami Kunisuke (河内守国助) for example.


fukuro-chōji (袋丁子) – Bag/pouch (fukuro) shape chōji. Typically seen at Fukuoka-Ichimonji or Katayama-Ichimonji works, at Osafune Mitsutada (光忠), but also at shintô-era Fukuoka-Ishidô smiths like Koretsugu (是次) and Moritsugu (守次).


gunome (互の目) – Lit. “reciprocal eyes/elements.” A series of waves that look like similarly-sized semicircles. Depending on its size, this hamon pattern is referred to as ō-gunome (大互の目, large gunome) or ko-gunome (小互の目, small gunome) but there are more variants of this hamon interpretation referred to by their shapes. Mix forms are described as gunome-chōji (互の目丁子), gunome mixed with chōji, and gunome-midare (互の目乱れ), gunome mixed with midare, for example.


hakoba (箱刃) – A hamon which consists basically just of box shaped elements. Angular elements are often seen at the Sengo (千子) (Muramasa [村正], Masashige [正重]), the Sue-Seki (Kanesada [兼定], Kanefusa [兼房], Ujifusa [氏房]), and the Shimada (島田) school and in shintô times for example at the Kashû smiths Kanewaka (兼若) and Takahira (高平), at Masanori (正則), and at the Mizuta (水田) school. And to a cetain extant some angular approach is also seen at Yamato no Kami Yasusada (大和守安定).


hako-midare (箱乱れ) Hamon interpretation mixed with of consisting of more or less regular box shaped elements.

hiro-suguha (広直刃) – Wide suguha. Usually this term is used in the case the suguha is a third or more in width in relation to the mihaba of the blade.

hitatsura (皆焼) – Lit. “all/everything hardened.” Gunome-midare, notare-midare, or other mix of undulating hamon elements with plentiful tobiyaki scattered throughout the blade, mostly also combined with muneyaki. This hamon interpretation goes back to Sōshū smiths of the Nanbokuchō period but was later applied by smiths all over the country.


hoso-suguha (細直刃) – Narrow suguha.


hyōtan-ba (瓢箪刃) – Lit. “gourd ha.” A hamon which reminds of a more or less regular arrangement of gourd halves. This interpretation is especially typical for Kotetsu (虎徹) and the smiths in his vicinity.


ito-suguha (糸直刃) – Lit. “thread suguha.” Very thin suguha.


jūka-chōji (重花丁子) – Lit. “overlapping flowers.” Gorgeous multiple, overlapping chōji.


juzu-ba (数珠刃) – A hamon of regular and uniform, roundish gunome which reminds of a Buddhist rosary (juzu, 数珠). This interpretation is especially typical for Kotetsu (虎徹) and the smiths in his vicinity.


kataochi-gunome (片落ち互の目) – A gunome with uniformly straight yakigashira but where each element slants towards the valley. As this hamon reminds of sawtooth pattern (nokogiri), the interpretation is also referred to as nokogiri-ba (鋸刃). It is said that the kataochi-gunome was introduced by Kagemitsu (景光) but hints of this hamon can already be seen on certain works of his predecessor Nagamitsu (長光).


kawazu-no-ko chōji (蛙子丁子) – Lit. “tadpole chōji.” A mush-room-shaped chōji with a long neck which reminds of tadpoles. This chōji interpretation is especially typical for Osafune Mitsutada (光忠), Hatakeda Moriie (守家), and Kamakura-Ichimonji Sukezane (助真).


kenbō-midare (兼房乱れ) – A kind of large-dimensioned chōji-midare that goes back to the smith Kanefusa (兼房). Kenbō is the Sino-japanese reading of the characters “Kanefusa.”


kikusui-ba (菊水刃) – Picturesque hamon interpretation with chrysanthemum-shaped elements above the habuchi which reminds of the kikusui subject, i.e. chrysanthemums floating down on a stream. A kikusui-ba is a actually variant of the sudareba so you are in the vicinity of the Mishina Yoshimichi (吉道) smiths when facing a kikusui-ba.


kobushigata-chōji (拳形丁子) – Lit. “first-shaped chōji.” A chōji-midare interpretation introduced by the second generation Kawachi no Kami Kunisuke (河内守国助) which reminds of clenched fists. But precursorsof this style of hamon can also be seen at Sue-Bizen Katsumitsu (勝光) and Sukesada (祐定) and at the Taira-Takada school.


ko-chōji (小丁子) – Small chōji.


ko-gunome (小互の目) – Small gunome.


ko-midare (小乱れ) – Small midare.

ko-notare (小湾れ) – Small notare.


koshi-no-hiraita (腰の開いた) – Term for hamon elements that widen towards their base. Usually seen on midare and gunome formations, thus also koshi-no-hiraita midare for example. Koshi-no-hiraita is typically seen at the Sue-Bizen school (Norimitsu [則光], Katsumitsu [勝光], Munemitsu [宗光], Sukesada [祐定], Kiyomitsu [清光], Harumitsu [春光]), the Uda (宇多) school, the Kanabô (金房) school, at Kashû Kiyomitsu (加州清光), Hôki Hiroyoshi (広賀), and the Takada (高田) school. In shintô times at Ishidô Tameyasu (石堂為康), Tatara Nagayuki (多々良長幸), and the Sukesada (祐定) smiths of that era, and in shinshintô times at Taikei Naotane (直胤), Koyama Munetsugu (宗次), Tsunatoshi (綱俊), and at Gassan Sadayoshi (貞吉) and Sadakazu (貞一).


midareba (乱れ刃) – Irregular hamon pattern which comes in many varieties.

midare-chōji (乱れ丁子)Midare mixed with chōji.

mimigata (耳形) – Ear-shaped hamon pattern mostly seen on swords by Osafune Chōgi (長義). Also referred to as mimigata no gunome (耳形互の目) or mimigata-ha (耳形の刃).


nokogiri-ba (鋸刃)kataochi-gunome (片落ち互の目)

notare (湾れ) – An undulating hamon pattern of gentle waves. We further differentiate between ō-notare (大湾れ, large notare) and ko-notare (小湾れ, small notare), depending on the amplitude of the waves. A hamon that is entirely composed of notare waves is also referred to as notare-ba (湾れ刃). Incidentally, a shallow notare with not that high waves is referred to as asai-notare (浅い湾れ). A notare is seen after the end of the Kamakura period, mainly on blades of Sôshû-province schools and their related schools. For the kotô era for example at: Sôshû Sadamune (相州貞宗), Nobukuni (信国), Rai Tomokuni (来倫国), the Kanemitsu (兼光) school (Kanemitsu II [二代兼光], Tomomitsu [倫光], Masamitsu [政光], Yoshikage [義景]), Ômiya Morikage (大宮盛景), the Kozori (小反) school, the Samonji (左文字) school, etc., and for the shintô era for example at: Yasutsugu (康継), Kotetsu (虎徹), Okimasa (興正), Yamato no Kami Yasusada (大和守安定), Yasutomo (安倫), Masatsune (政常), Teruhiro (輝広), Hizen Tadayoshi (肥前忠吉), Yasuyo (安代), etc.


ōbusa-chōji (大房丁子) – Lit. “large-tassel chōji.” As the name suggests, a chōji with noticeably large tassels which makes the elements sometims almost tend to gunome.


ō-gunome (大互の目) – Large gunome.

ō-midare (大乱れ) – Large dimensioned midare.

ō-notare (大湾れ) – Large notare. <Kotô> Heianjô Nagayoshi (平安城長吉), the Sue-Bizen school (Norimitsu [則光], Sukesada [祐定], Kiyomitsu [祐定]), Izumi no Kami Kanesada (和泉守兼定), Ujifusa (氏房), Muramasa (村正), Tsunahiro (綱広), Fuyuhiro (冬広), the Shimada (島田) school, the Uda (宇多) school, etc. <Shintô> Myôju (明寿), the Horikawa (堀川) school, Masatoshi (正俊), Shinkai (真改), Echizen no Kami Sukehiro (越前守助広), Ômi no Kami Sukenao (近江守助直), Shigekuni (重国), Yasutsugu (康継), Yasusada (安定), Sadakuni (貞国), Masatsune (政常), Nobutaka (信高), Daidô (大道), Teruhiro (輝広), the Tadayoshi (忠吉) school, etc.

saka-chōji (逆丁子) – Slanting chōji. <Kotô> The Katayama Ichimonji (片山一文字) school, the Chû-Aoe school (Tsugunao [次直], Tsuguyoshi [次吉], Moritsugu [守次]), etc. Niji Kunitoshi (二字国俊) also sometimes mixed this into his hamon. <Shintô> The Fukuoka Ishidô (福岡石堂) school, the Kishû Ishidô (紀州石堂) school, etc. <Shinshintô> Naotane (直胤), Tsunatoshi (綱俊), Munetsugu (宗次), Tomotaka (朝尊), Sadakazu (貞一), etc.


saka-gunome (逆互の目) – Slanting gunome.

saka-midare (逆乱れ) – Slanting midare.

sanbonsugi (三本杉) – Lit. “three cedars.” Hamon interpretation of groups of three pointed togari mostly seen on works of the Kanemoto school (兼元) of Mino. Also referred to s sanken-ba (三間刃, lit. “three-interval ha”).


sudareba (簾刃) – Lit. “bamboo blind ha.” A sudareba is based on suguha or a shallow notare. The pattern seen inside the hamon looks like a bamboo blind. This hamon interpretation was introduced by Tanba no Kami Yoshimichi (丹波守吉道) and applied by his successors and other smiths in his vicinity.


suguha (直刃) – Generic term for a straight hamon. Well, a suguha was applied by almost any school and smith, even from time to time by those who were usually working in chôji for example. But we can see more or less obvious differences of course. First of all, one has to check if the hardening bases on nioi or on nie, that can help a lot in differentiating a suguha. A nioi-based suguha is more associated with the Bizen and Mino tradition and a nie-based suguha more with the Yamashiro and Yamato tradition. Due to the fact that a suguha can be virtually found at the school and smith as indicated, it is hard to provide here a definite kantei “checklist.” Suguha is the most popular type of hamon, seen in blades from every province and every period. It was especially popular with smiths of the Yamashiro and Yamato traditions. Leading swordsmith: <Kotô> The Awataguchi (粟田口) school produces abundant nie, with a narrow hamon; hoso-suguha is relatively often seen in the tantô. Rai (来) school (Kunitoshi [国俊], Kunimitsu [国光], Kunitsugu [国次], Kunizane [国真]) blades exhibit chû-suguha mixed with ko-midare. In Yamato-province schools, vertical hataraki, such as hakikake, nijûba, and kuichigaiba, appear in the hamon. Bizen-province schools basically tempered in nioi-deki. Sôshû-province schools produced abundant nie at the end of the Kamakura period, while the Sue-Sôshû school was inclined toward nioi-deki. In addition, suguha is often seen in blades of the Mino-province schools, Muramasa (村正), the Shimada (島田) school, the Uda (宇多) school, the Momokawa (桃川) school, the Mihara (三原) school, and the Enjû (延寿) school. Less hataraki tends to be seen in the hamon of blades produced in later periods. <Shintô> Suguha tempered in nie-deki is seen in the work of the most famous swordsmiths (for instance, in tantô by Myôju [明寿] and work by the Horikawa [堀川] school, Kotetsu [虎徹], Yasutsugu [康継], etc.). Sukehiro [助広] produced abundant ko-nie. Shinkai (真改) created larger nie with a pattern that undulates slightly. The Tadayoshi (忠吉) school temperd in a chû-suguha that is uniform in width from top to bottom. Shigekuni (重国) tempered in nijûba in the monouchi area. In blades by Kunikane (国包), hakikake is seen along the habuchi. A suguha in nie-deki is often seen at the following schools and smiths: <Kotô> The Awataguchi (粟田口) school (Kuniyoshi [国吉], Yoshimitsu [吉光]), the Rai (来) school (Kunitoshi [国俊], Kunimitsu [国光], Mitsukane [光包], Kunizane [国真], Kuninaga [国長], Ryôkai [了戒]), the Tegai (手掻) school, the Hoshô (保昌) school, the Senju’in (千手院) school, the Taima (当麻) school, the Shikkake (尻懸) school, the Shintôgo (新藤五) school (Kunimitsu [国光], Kunihiro [国広]), Yukimitsu (行光), the Shimada (島田) school, the Ko-Aoe school (Yoshitsugu [吉次], Tsunetsugu [恒次], Suketsugu [助次]), the Ko-Mihara school,. the Ko-Niô (古二王) school, Kagenaga (景長), the Miike (三池) school, the Enjû (延寿) school (Kunimura [国村], Kunitoki [国時], Kuniyasu [国康], Kunisuke [国資]), the Naminohira (波平) school, etc. <Shintô> Myôju (波平), the Horikawa (堀川) school, Shinkai (真改), Sukehiro II (二代助広), Shigekuni (重国), Yasutsugu (康継), Ogasawara Nagamune (小笠原長旨), Kunikane (国包), Yamashiro no Kami Kunikiyo (山城守国清), the Tadayoshi (忠吉) school, Yasuyo (安代), Naminohira Yasuchika (波平安周), etc. <Shinshintô> Masahide (正秀), Naotane (直胤), Kiyondo (清人), Norikatsu (徳勝), Sadakazu (貞一), Aizu Kanesada (会津兼定), Sa Yukihide (左行秀), etc. A suguha in nioi-deki is often seen at the following schools and smiths: <Kotô> Osafune (長船) school (Nagamitsu II [二代長光], Kagemitsu [景光], Sanenaga [真長], Kagemasa [景政], Chikakage [近景]), the Ôei-Bizen (応永備前) school (Morimitsu [盛光], Yasumitsu [康光]), The Sue-Bizen school (Norimitsu [則光], Tadamitsu [忠光], Sukesada [祐定], Kiyomitsu [清光]), the Ukai (鵜飼) school, the Chû-Aoe school (Tsugunao [次直], Tsuguyoshi [次吉], Moritsugu [盛次]), the Sue-Tegai (末手掻) school, Zenjô Kaneyoshi (善定兼吉), the Sue-Seki school (Kanesada [兼定], Kaneyoshi [兼吉], Kanetsune [兼常]), the Sue-Mihara school, the Sue-Niô school, etc. Suguha with wide nioiguchi: <Kotô> Gô Yoshihiro (郷義弘), etc. Very rare in Kotô blades. <Shintô> Shinkai (真改), Sukehiro II (二代助広), Sukenao (助直), Tadatsuna II (二代忠綱), the Tadayoshi (忠吉) school. <Shinshintô> Yukihide (行秀), etc. Suguha with hazy (and subdued) nioiguchi: <Kotô> Bungo Yukihira (豊後行平), the Gassan school, the Hôju (宝寿) school, Sairen (西蓮), Jitsu’a (実阿), the Naminohira school, etc. Also found on blades of local swordsmiths.


suguha-hotsure (直刃ほつれ・直刃解れ) Suguha with a noticeable amount of hotsure which make is look like a frayed piece of cloth.


togari (尖り) – Prefix for any kind of pointed hamon element. For example a togari-gunome consists of gunome which are noticeably pointed. Togari is a common feature of Sue-Seki blades. A hamon that is entirely composed of togari elements is referred to as togari-ba.


tōranba (乱刃) – Lit. “ha in the form of large surging waves.” This hamon interpretation is said to go back to Echizen no Kami Sukehiro (越前守助広) and was later favored by certain Ōsaka-shintō smiths. It was then later revived by some shinshintō smiths. It is occasionally accompanied by tama which remind of spray.


uma-no-ha midare (馬の歯乱れ) – A hamon interpretation that consists of regular large gunome and/or midare elements which remind of horse teeth (uma-ha or uma no ha) and which is usually associated with the Sôshû tradition. In kotô times it is for example seen at the Masamune (正宗) school (Yukimitsu [行光], Masamune [正宗], Hiromitsu [広光], Akihiro [秋広]), Gô Yoshihiro (郷義弘), Norishige (則重), Shizu Kaneuji (志津兼氏), the Hasebe (長谷部) school, etc. In shintô times at Echizen Yasutsugu (越前康継), Hankei (繁慶), Okimasa (興正), Kunihiro (国広), Kunimichi (国路), the Mizuta (水田) school, Mondo no Shô Masakiyo (主水正正清), etc. And in shinshintô times at the Kiyomaro (清麿) school, Oku Motohira (元平), etc.


yahazu (矢筈) – Forked or dove-tail shaped midare elements that resemble arrow notches (yahazu). This interpretation is often seen on Mino swords. A special variant of just half dove-tail shaped elements is known as kata-yahazuba (片矢筈刃) or short kata-yahazu (see picture below bottom) and is a characteristic feature of Higashiyama Yoshihira (東山美平). A hamon which is mostly composed of yahazu elements is called yahazu-ba (矢筈刃). <Kotô> The Sue-Seki school (Kanesada [兼定], Kanetsune [兼常]), Muramasa (村正), Heianjô Nagayoshi (平安城長吉), Tsunahiro (綱広), etc. <Shintô> The Echizen Seki school, Kanewaka (兼若), Nobutaka (信高), Teruhiro (輝広), etc.



As a supplement to this chapter, and if you don’t  already have it, I would recommend my Kantei Reference Book (eBook here) which lists specific examples of about 400 hamon and 230 bôshi interpretations of numerous swordsmiths, so to speak as a “reverse reference book.”