Not your usual hataraki

This will be a brief post. Background: I came across a blade with interesting activities above the hamon.

We all know that by the shintō era, swordsmiths became increasingly concerned with the appearance of the hamon. In a nutshell, we see a shift from the aesthetics that result from form follows function towards seeing the surface of a blade as a canvas that can be adorned with a hamon at will. Accordingly, we see hamon that deliberately try to evoke pictures of plunging or surging waves, cloud banks, a mountain range, etc., and then with the shinshintō era truly picturesque hardening patterns, e.g., kikusui (chrysanthemum floating on water) and Fuji-mi Saigyō (poet Saigyō looking at Mt. Fuji) emerged.

The sword in question is a work by the second generation Tango no Kami Kanemichi (丹後守兼道) from the Mishina (三品) School. Kanemichi, real name Mishina Kiheiji (三品喜平次), was the son and heir of the first generation Tango no Kami Kanemichi (丹後守兼道 , 1603–1672). His father was the second son of the Kyōto-based master Tanba no Kami Yoshimichi (丹波守吉道) and had relocated to Ōsaka during the Kan’ei era (寛永, 1624–1644).

We are dealing with a wakizashi with a nice Genroku-shintō-sugata (deeper curve than seen with the preceding Kanbun-shintō-sugata) that displays a calm and gently undulating notare in ko-nie-deki. Striking, and that is the point of this post, are the five prominent tobiyaki in the upper section of the blade. Smaller tobiyaki over notare billows can represent spray, or a single larger one the sun or the moon, but five such big ones? And they are clearly no mistake as they appear on the ura side as well (also five).

So, what are they? As we are dealing with five circular tobiyaki, one might think of the gosei (五星). Gosei are the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, which were regarded as major planets and which are visible to the naked eye. These planets are the basis for the conceptual scheme of the Five Phases or Five Elements (gogyō, 五行), i.e., fire, water, wood, metal, and earth/soil and are thus very important for astronomy, the calendar, the horoscope, and much more.

More likely, however, the tobiyaki represent the upper part of the asterism of the Big Dipper. There was a blade with very similar features for sale at the Samurai Museum Shop (link), although here, we have seven tobiyaki and thus all the starts of the Big Dipper represented. Interestingly, this blade is also the work of a Mishina School smith, Echizen no Kami Minamoto Rai Nobuyoshi (越前守源来信吉). The website also elaborates a bit on the religious meaning of the Big Dipper and you can find more and very detailed information on Mark Schumacher’s outstanding website here.

It is likely that the owner of the sword was involved in some of these beliefs, but I am too busy right now to speculate about how exactly swords can be linked to Big Dipper worship, apart from the fact that Myōken (妙見), the Buddhist deification of the North Star and/or the Big Dipper, is often depicted with holding a sword over his head (see picture below). My aim with this very brief post was to make readers aware of that when seeing a shintō or later blade with an unusual hamon and/or hataraki, one should assume that it was not done at random.

8 thoughts on “Not your usual hataraki

  1. Hi Markus,

    Very interesting!

    Seven stars are very common on Chinese sword, also representing the Big Dipper. Sometimes in combination with six stars representing what we call the Sagittarius constellation.

    Here’s a short article I did about the feature on Chinese arms:



  2. I have a boy’s katana by Naomichi, in the same school, with Tokugawa-mon fittings. The blade has a very distinctive hamon with a hump/hill surrounded by two cresting waves, with a round tobayaki between each crest and the ‘hill’. This is repeated several times on each side, though (not surprise) one side is better. See

    • Hi Randell, nice blade and mounting with the spiraling samegawa. The wave crests and tobiyaki are indeed an interesting decorative feature of this blade. Thank you for sharing.

      • Thanks Markus. Do you know the name/description for this hamon? IIRC I ran across it once but can’t find it again; I think it had to do with clouds and mountains, not waves cresting (which I would have assumed), but it was Many Years ago.

  3. Quite an unusualpiece. I would think it would have been ordered by a customer. I’ve not seen any like that before. I have a shodai Hizen Masahiro wakizashi which has a 5mm dia spot ahead of the mitsu kado on each side. Half of the spot is in the koshinogi and half in the boshi. I have never seen this before and it is obviously deliberate. Perhaps a Sun and Moon representation?

  4. Hi Markus, I just realized i could attach a couple images if I replied to your post. I commented earlier and said I had a Sun? and Moon? on my Masahiro.Here are a couple pics of what I have, they are not so easy to photograph.Keep up the good work.  Regards,   Tom Cleary

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