TO INTRODUCTION

 

TO SWORDS

 

TO TSUBA

   

TO GLOSSARY

   
 

 

     

Koshirae: Nihon T˘ken Gais˘
拵・日本刀剣外装
The Mountings of Japanese Swords


by
C.U. Guido Schiller
and
S. Alexander Takeuchi, Ph.D.
University of North Alabama


A. A Brief History of the Development of Koshirae 拵

The first swords made of steel, called Chokut˘ 直刀 (i.e., swords with straight blades), were imported into Japan from China during the Kofun 古墳 (i.e., tomb) period (3c ~ 5c), and had Chinese mountings. Those swords were imported in large quantities through the Yamato 大和period, and many of them were worn by the members of the Imperial Family and other high-ranking court officials during the 6th century through the early 7th century. Interestingly enough, however, there are Song period Chinese poems that mention about the superiority of Japanese swords ľ indicating that already back then the grass on the other side was always greener.

Although "Chokut˘ 直刀" simply means "straight sword(s)," this term is used exclusively for straight-bladed swords of the abovementioned periods, forged in either Hira-zukuri 平造りor Katakiri-ha 片切刃 fashions. Straight swords of other periods are simply described (if at all) as Muzori 無反り (i.e., without curvature).

The blade and Koshirae 拵 prototypes of the Japanese origin developed during the Nara period 奈良時代 (early 8c ~ 794 AD), although they were still called Kara-y˘-Tachi 唐様太刀, (i.e. Chinese style Tachi). A few existing swords of this type that have survived time tell us that there seemed to have been two sub-types: swords in black lacquered wooden mountings for actual combat, and those highly decorated with semiprecious stones and fancy lacquering. Back then Samegawa 鮫皮 (ray skin) was rarely used on the handles, but it only became common during the Heian period 平安時代 (794 ~ 1185 AD).

The earliest curved swords of the mid Heian period 平安時代 were Kant˘ 韓刀: simple iron swords of Korean design. The curved Tachi 太刀 of a more Japanese design toward the latter half of the Heian period 平安時代 clearly showed the adaptation of blade construction and mountings to the Japanese taste and usage. Among them were Kazari-Tachi 飾太刀 (decorative Tachi), very highly decorative Tachi worn by the highest ranking court nobles, and Hoso-Tachi 細太刀 (narrow Tachi), a less decorative (thus more affordable) substitute of Kazari-Tachi 飾太刀 still worn by high ranking court nobles. Because both of these Tachi太刀 were meant for a ceremonial use, they were luxuriously mounted and mostly came with non-functional ôbladesö made of iron bars that were not heat-treated or sharpened.

The curved swords of Shinogi-zukuri 鎬造 type (called Want˘ 湾刀) that we now recognize as the prototype of truly Japanese design were perfected in as late as the second half of the Heian period 平安時代 by the smiths such as Sanj˘ Munechika 三条宗近 of Ky˘t˘ 京都, Yasutsuna 安綱 of H˘ki 伯耆, and Tomonari 友成 of Bizen 備前. During the latter part of this period, Tachi 太刀 worn by Imperial guards became less garish to emphasize the function because of the series of wars from which the Samurai 侍 class emerged. Those Tachi with sharpened steel blades and slightly more utilitarian mounts that the earliest Samurai 侍 wore were called Eifu-Tachi 衛府太刀, and were still in use during the Edo period 江戸時代 (1603 ~ 1867) by the imperial guards and high ranking government officials.

One interesting characteristic of common Eifu-Tachi 衛府太刀 during the late Heian period 平安時代 is its unique ôtweezers-shapedö cutout in the steel handle. Because of that, they are also called the Kenukigata-Tachi 毛抜形太刀 (hair-tweezers-shape Tachi 太刀). While much speculation has been made regarding the functionality of such cutouts, it is obvious that they must have been very uncomfortable to hold and use because of the bear forged steel handles. Nonetheless, from the existing examples of Kenukigata-Tachi 毛抜形太刀with actual battle marks and historical paintings, it is believed that they were intended and actually used in the battlefields, rather than served ritualistic purposes or as presentation pieces donated to Shint˘ist 神道 shrines to celebrate happy occasions.

At the end of the Heian period 平安時代 and the following Kamakura period 鎌倉時代 (1185 ~ 1333 AD), the Hy˘go-Kusari-Tachi 兵庫鎖太刀 became very popular. It was named after its chain-hangers, and was usually covered with metal foil. Theses swords were mostly used as presentation pieces to Shint˘ist 神道 shrines and Buddhist temples. However, majority of the fighting swords were rather somber with much more utilitarian mountings in black lacquer or covered with leather, and they were called Kurourushi-Tachi 黒漆太刀 (black lacquered Tachi). Sometimes the lower part of the Saya 鞘 or scabbard had a cover made of fur to protect it from the elements during the battle. This type of saya was called Shiri-zaya 尻鞘 (butt Saya 鞘), and the early example of Shiri-zaya 尻鞘 can be seen on Kenukigata-Tachi 毛抜形太刀.

The fighting Tachi 太刀 of the early Samurai 侍 was Kuroshibi-Tachi 黒渋太刀, but these swords further transformed themselves into Kawazutsumi-Tachi 皮包太刀 (i.e., Tachi 太刀 with Saya 鞘 covered in black leather for protection) in the Nambokuch˘ period 南北朝時代 (1336 ~ 1392 AD). It was also during this period when the first Itomaki-no-Tachi 糸巻太刀 was used. They had Tsukamaki 柄巻 as well as Sayamaki 鞘巻, the wrapping at the upper part of the Saya 鞘 to prevent damage from rubbing against the armor. The Itomaki-Tachi 糸巻太刀 became the Tachi 太刀 of choice for combat for the following centuries.

Uchigatana 打刀 (lit. "strike-sword") already had its predecessors in the Heian period 平安時代, but it became standard for foot soldiers during the second half of the Muromachi period 室町時代 (1338 ~ 1573 AD). Unlike the Tachi 太刀, which had two Obitori 帯執 (hangers) on the Saya 鞘 to hang it from the waist belt edge down, the Uchigatana 打刀 was worn edge up through the sash. Although Tachi 太刀 was still produced throughout the Muromachi period 室町時代, but the Uchigatana 打刀 eventually became the most common long sword or Dait˘ 大刀 for many Samurai 侍 for ordinary occasions. The early Uchigatana 打刀 had very plain, simple mountings, whereas the later Handachi 半太刀 (half-Tachi) looked very much like Tachi 太刀 again, except for the Obitori 帯執 This style never really went out of fashion during the next centuries.

Since the early Muromachi period 室町時代, the manufacture of Tsuba 鍔 became a separate profession; until then, Tsuba 鍔 were forged by swordsmiths, armorsmiths or made by Kagamishi 鏡師, mirrorsmiths. (Note: Polished disks of metal were used as mirrors in Japan). Early Tsuba 鍔 had Sukashi 透し, cut-outs in negative silhouette, but from then on brass inlays and positive silhouette Sukashi 透し, especially from Owari 尾張 province, became more refined. The Sh˘ami 正阿彌 family became one of the main manufacturers of Tsuba 鍔, with many generations to follow. Up until Muromachi period 室町時代, many Kanagu 金具 (i.e., metal fittings) other than the Tsuba 鍔 used to have been made of Yamagane 山金 ("mountain metal," unrefined copper). During this time, however, they were often made of Shakud˘ 赤銅.

The Momoyama period 桃山時代 (1568 ~ 1598 AD) is well known for its flamboyant Koshirae 拵 design with light red lacquered Saya 鞘 and Kanagu 金具 in gold, called Momoyama Koshirae 桃山拵. Those flashy mountings, however, were counterbalanced by Tensh˘-Koshirae 天正拵 (in the era of Tensh˘ 天正, 1573 ~ 1586 AD) with black Saya 鞘 and Same 鮫, and a tapered Tsuka 柄 in so called hourglass shape with leather binding crossed over a Kashira 頭 made of plain horn. It was also during this period that Daish˘ 大小, or the combination of Katana 刀 and Wakizashi 脇差 became the standard for Samurai 侍.

During this time, part of the Tank˘ 鍔工 from Ky˘to 京都 moved to Akasaka 赤坂 in Edo 江戸, and produced many fine Sukashi-Tsuba 透し鍔. The My˘chin 明珍 family switched their trade from manufacturing armor to making Tsuba 鍔 Families such as Akao 赤尾, Haruta 春田 and Kinai 記内 dominated Echizen 越前 province Tsuba 鍔. From the second generation on, the Kinai 記内 family had a special relationship with Echizen Yasutsugu 越前康継, the Sh˘gun's 将軍 favorite smith. They not only carved the dragon-Horimono 彫物 for his swords, but also the Aoi-no-Gomon 葵の御紋, the family crest of the Tokugawa 徳川, on the tang of his swords. Both motifs are also very often found on their Tsuba 鍔.

In Higo 肥後 province the Kanagu-shi 金具師 were encouraged by the Hosokawa Daimy˘ 細川大名, and worked in iron, copper, brass and cloisonnÚ (Shipp˘ 七宝). Typical characteristics of Higo-Koshirae 肥後拵 include round Kashira 頭 and Kojiri 鐺; the Same 鮫 that is often black; and the Saya 鞘 in Samenuri 鮫塗, where the "valleys" in the Same 鮫 filled with lacquer, and the "mountains" smoothed and polished flush. Also, the Tsuka 柄 often had a leather wrapping. This type of Koshirae 拵 was later copied as Edo-Higo-Koshirae 江戸肥後拵, but mostly with simpler Saya 鞘 and natural colored Same 鮫.

After Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康 moved to Edo 江戸, many artists set up their workshop in the Sh˘gunĺs 将軍 capital. In the Edo period 江戸時代 (1603 ~ 1867 AD), the Got˘ 後藤 family, who had worked for the Ashikaga 足利, almost dominated the making of sword fittings, especially for formal Daish˘ 大小

As with many other things, wearing of swords was also formally regulated in the early Edo period 江戸時代 For example, in Genna 元和 9 (1624 AD), red Saya 鞘, swords over 2 Shaku 尺 9 Sun 寸 (87.87 cm) and square Tsuba 鍔 were prohibited. Commoners were not allowed to wear Katana swords at least legally. Another Sh˘gunateĺs 幕府 executive order issued in July of Sh˘ho 正保 2 (1645 AD) specified the maximum blade length of Katana 刀 to be 2 Shaku 8 Sun or 9 Sun (= 84.84cm - 87.87cm) and Wakizashi 脇差 to be 1 Shaku 8 Sun or 9 Sun (= 54.54cm - 57.57cm).

Samurai 侍 in the Sh˘gunĺs 将軍 castle of Edo 江戸城 wore the Banzashi-Daish˘ 番差大小 (or Toj˘zashi-Daish˘ 登城差大小) as specified by the strict military laws.

The military sepc. swords Same 鮫 had to be white, the Saya 鞘 black lacquered and with horn fittings. The Kojiri 鐺 of the Katana 刀 was flat, and that of the Wakizashi 脇差 rounded. The Kashira 頭 had to be horn, with the black Tsukamaki 柄巻 crossed over it (Kakemaki). The Fuchi 縁 and Midokoromono 三所物 ("things of the three places": Menuki 目貫, K˘gai 笄 and Kozuka 小柄) had to be Shakud˘-Nanako 赤銅七子 (fish-roe-pattern) with the only decoration being the family Mon 紋. The Tsuba 鍔 was polished Shakud˘ 赤銅 without any decoration. However, this was not always strictly enforced, and Kanagu 金具 with Shishi 獅子 (lion dogs), dragons or floral motifs seem to have been tolerated.

Inside the Edo castle 江戸城, most Samurai 侍 had to wear the Kamishimozashi 裃差 when on normal duty, with the Kataginu 肩衣 ôwing shouldersö and Hakama 袴 ôsplit skirt trousers,ö while Kuge 公家 (court nobles), Daimy˘ 大名 and other high ranking officials were clad in the Hitatare 直垂 court attire with Eboshi 烏帽子 hat, a Wakizashi 脇差 at their hip. The mounting was either an Aikuchi 合口 or Hamidashi 喰出し (a very small Tsuba 鍔) with Dashizame 出し鮫, or hilt covered in Same 鮫 without Tsukamaki 柄巻. This short sword often did not have a Mekugi 目釘 to fasten the hilt to the tang, which rendered it almost impractical. This was because the wearer wanted to show that, due to his high rank, he would not need to use it anyhow. Besides, it was a capital offense to draw a sword more than 3 Sun 寸 (9.09 cm) at court (without a special permission), as anybody who read or watched the play "Chűshingura 忠臣蔵", the story of the 47 R˘nin 浪人, would know.

As already mentioned, a Daish˘ 大小 (lit. "big-small") is the Katana 刀-Wakizashi 脇差 or Katana 刀-Tant˘ 短刀 pair that was one of the defining attributes of the Samurai 侍 class. Most Daish˘ 大小 were mounted en suite, but actually any combination of a short and a long sword is considered a Daish˘ 大小 especially for casual wearing of the swords when not on official duty. By the mid to late Edo period 江戸時代, there were increasingly more fashion-minded Samurai 侍 who only wore Wakizashi 脇差 in a very casual manner called Otoshi-zasi 落し差し by simply ôdroppingö the Wakizashi more vertically between the sash on the left hip instead of wearing the Wakizashi more horizontally at the abdomen.

During the second half of the Edo period 江戸後期, Koshirae-Kanagu 拵金具 or metal fittings for Koshirae also developed into a genre of art itself. Bronze, copper and brass as well as the alloy Shibuichi 四分一 were widely used for fittings on "regular" swords Those fittings made of such soft metals were called Kink˘-kanagu 金工金具 (i.e., fittings of gold / precious metal work). Pure silver mountings were quite rare, as were pure gold mountings, which were banned in 1830. Also during this time, Yokoya S˘min 横谷宗珉 left the Got˘ 後藤 school, which only worked with Shakud˘ 赤銅, and invented Katakiribori 片切彫, engravings with a triangular chisel. In Nara 奈良, the Nara-Sansaku 奈良三作 ("three makers from Nara 奈良") (Nara Toshinaga 奈良利寿, Sugiura J˘i 杉浦乗意, and Tsuchiya Yasuchika 土屋安親) became famous with sunken relief (Shishiaibori 肉合彫). Yagyű-Tsuba 柳生鍔 developed from Owari-Tsuba 尾張鍔, so called after the Yagyű 柳生 family, fencing instructors for the Sh˘gun 将軍. Typical Yagyű-Koshirae 柳生拵 has a ribbed Saya 鞘, and often had the Menuki 目貫 placed in Gyakute 逆手or in reversed positions.

At home Samurai 侍 rested their Daish˘ 大小 on a rack (Katana-Kake 刀掛), edge up, Katana 刀 on top and Tsuka 柄 to the left. High-ranking Samurai 侍 who lived in a house with their family were usually greeted at the entrance of the house by their wives, who carried the swords after pulling the sleeves of their Kimono 着物 over their hands in order to not touch the mountings with bare hands. Women of the Samurai 侍 class carried a Tant˘ 短刀 in their sash, which was not subject to any restrictions, and was often lavishly decorated.

The executive order issued on July 18, Sh˘h˘ 正保 2 (1645 AD) only prohibited the commoners wearing swords over 1.8 Shaku 尺 (54.54 cm). This enabled non-Samurai travelers on the T˘kaid˘ 東海道 road to arm themselves with a short sword against robbers that were encountered quite frequently in unpopulated areas, and also enabled the chief of police to arm the Komono 小者, non-Samurai 侍 police assistants in some extreme events

Rich merchants showed off their wealth by sporting expensive Tant˘ 短刀. Physicians also wore Tant˘ 短刀, but some merely wore decorative Tant˘ 短刀 made of solid wood.

The end of the Edo period 江戸時代 is called Bakumatsu 幕末 (1853 ~ 1868), and brought many changes to the Samurai 侍 class. Some men started wearing newly imported western clothes. Since at this time both the Imperial Army and the Sh˘gunĺs Army adopted Western style military uniform, the soldiers of both Armies started wearing so called Toppei-Koshirae 突兵拵 swords, also called Zubon ズボン (trousers)-Koshirae 拵, which had a softly rounded Kojiri 鐺 but no Tsukamaki 柄巻. In 1871 everyone was allowed to carry a sword. The laws prohibited Kirisute-gomen 切り捨て御免, which was the legal right of the Samurai 侍 to slay a commoner for a (real or imagined) insult of the extreme and unbearable nature. However, the Hait˘rei 廃刀令 edict, which took effect on January 1, 1877, limited the right of carrying swords to the official military and police personnel. Most swords concealed in a cane or walking stick (Shikomizue 仕込杖) are made shortly after this edict for those former Samurai侍 who still wanted to carry a sword, their long status symbol.

Military swords of the Meiji 明治 (1868 ~ 1912 AD) and Taish˘ 大正 (1912 ~ 1926 AD) period were fashioned after French and German military sabers, and they were called Kyű-Gunt˘ 旧軍刀. Only the Shin-Gunt˘ 新軍刀 ("new military swords") after 1933 saw a renaissance of Japanese design and a modified Tachi Koshirae 太刀拵 for military use because of the nationalism promoted by the government as wartime propaganda

B. Terminology

Koshirae 拵 derives from the verb "koshirareru 拵れる," which is seldom used nowadays. Usually "tsukuru 作る" is used instead; both mean "to make, create, manufacture" A more accurate term to refer to sword mountings is actually T˘s˘ 刀装, which literally means sword-furniture: T˘s˘gu 刀装具 are the parts of the mounting in general, and Kanagu 金具 stands for those made of metal. Gais˘ 外装 is the "outer" furniture, as opposed to T˘shin 刀身, the "body" of the sword.

Nihont˘ 日本刀 or the Japanese swords are classified by length and Koshirae 拵 type, and often the combination of both. Swords over 2 Shaku 尺 (1 Shaku 尺 = 30.3 cm, or about 1 foot) from tip to Munemachi 棟区 (notch where the tang starts) are Dait˘ 大刀, from 1 to 2 Shaku 尺 are Sh˘t˘ 小刀, and under 1 Shaku 尺 are Tant˘. The usual Dait˘ 大刀 are the Katana 刀 and Tachi 太刀; Sh˘t˘ 小刀 are mostly Wakizashi 脇差, and there are infinite variations of Tant˘ 短刀. The borderline cases are Kodachi 小太刀 (Tachi 太刀 shorter than 2 Shaku 尺), Katate-uchigatana 片手打刀 (Katana 刀 from a little longer or shorter than 2 Shaku 尺 intended for single-hand use), ďwakizashi 大脇差 (long Wakizashi 脇差 of almost 2 Shaku 尺), and Sunnobi-Tant˘ 寸延短刀 (Tant˘ 短刀 slightly longer than 1 Shaku 尺).

Before the Uchigatana 打刀 came into being, shorter swords mounted differently from Tachi 太刀 were called Chiisagatana 小さ刀 or Koshigatana 腰刀 (hip-sword). Chiisagatana 小さ刀, which literally means "short Katana 刀," are Tant˘ 短刀 or Sunnobi-Tant˘ 寸延短刀 mounted in a similar fashion as Katana 刀. Another term for Chiisagatana 小さ刀 is Tsubagatana 鍔刀 or "sword with Tsuba 鍔," as opposed to Aikuchi 合口 (ômeeting mouthö), which is usually Tant˘ 短刀 without Tsuba 鍔.

Although the meaning of Chiisagatana 小さ刀 changed over the course of history, this term was used from the Edo period 江戸時代 on to describe Tant˘ 短刀 that had a Tsuba 鍔 and usually Tsukamaki 柄巻 (hilt binding) as well. It is a common misconception that Chiisagatana 小さ刀 stands for a sword slightly shorter than a Katana 刀 (i.e., Wakizashi 脇差) but mounted in a Katana 刀 sized Koshirae 拵.

Jindachi 陣太刀 does not refer to any particular style of Tachi 太刀 mounting, but it simply means "battle camp sword" It is a term seldom used to mainly distinguish Tachi 太刀 that was meant for actual combat from ceremonial Kazaritachi 飾太刀.

During the Kamakura period 鎌倉時代 and Nambokuch˘ period 南北朝時代, Tachi 太刀 of extended length, the so called ďdachi 大太刀, were sometimes used in the battlefields. Those swords certainly had an intimidating effect on the enemy, but their usefulness is highly questionable since they were very awkward to handle. Also most were of low quality.

Nodachi 野太刀 originates in the Heian period 平安時代, where this term was used to describe a long sword used for fighting. Although Nodachi 野太刀 is often erroneously considered to refer to Tachi 太刀 of extended length (i.e., ďdachi 大太刀), it simply means ôfield swordsö to distinguish it from the Gij˘-Tachi 儀仗太刀 used by court nobles mostly for ceremonial purposes. In other words, length was not a determining factor in this case. Even what we now call Kenukigata-Tachi 毛抜形太刀 was called "Nodachi 野太刀" back then, and Gij˘-Tachi 儀仗太刀 is described as Kazari-Tachi 飾太刀 in current literature. Today's Tant˘ 短刀 was the Koshigatana 腰刀 ("hip sword") back then.

In the Nambokuch˘ period 南北朝時代 sword terminology changed again. Tachi 太刀 came to refer to shorter Kodachi 小太刀 for civilian use, and the ďdachi 大太刀 came to refer to swords for warfare with the edge length of four, 5 and even 6 Shaku 尺. These long swords were also called Seoi-Nodachi 背負野太刀 ("Nodachi 野太刀 carried on the back") or Nagadachi 長太刀 ("long Tachi 太刀)," which some scholars believe became the Nagamaki 長巻). These huge swords were sometimes mounted in disposable scabbards. Very few of these long blades have survived in their original length because many were later cut down to a more convenient length. Some exceptions are votive offerings in temples and shrines. One remarkable blade of 6 Shaku 尺, forged by Bungo Tomoyuki 豊後友行, is still in the collection of the ďyamazumi Shrine 大山津見神社 and has been designated a national treasure of Japan

With the advent of the Uchigatana 打刀 a kind of "standardization" took place, and long swords were simply named either Tachi 太刀 or Katana 刀, medium length swords Wakizashi 脇差 and daggers Tant˘ 短刀. When the term "Nodachi 野太刀" was used, it actually meant what is now referred to "ďdachi 大太刀," though as mentioned earlier the latter term was more widely used.

Women of the noble classes used to carry a Tant˘ 短刀 (in the Edo period 江戸時代 in a brocade bag) between their Obi 帯, or sash. This type of Tant˘ 短刀 for self-defense was called Kaiken 懐剣 or Mamorigatana 守り刀 (ôprotection swordö).

Sometimes we hear that certain swords are referred to as ôNinja-t˘ 忍者刀ö or ôShinobi-gatana 忍び刀ö Actually, there is no such thing as a special purpose Ninja 忍者 sword, although the movie industry wants to make us believe that. Neither Ninja 忍者 nor Onmitsu 隠密, the undercover intelligence agents of the Tokugawa Sh˘gunate 徳川幕府, had an ôissuedö short sword with a straight blade, square Tsuba 鍔 and black fittings.

Present day SWAT team members and military operatives use special weapons to suit their tasks, and so did the covert operatives of the Edo period 江戸時代 A shorter sword slung over the back might have proven useful for penetrating the security of a castle and combat in confined spaces, but different situations would have called for a different sword. Although "Ninja-t˘ 忍者刀" has a romantic ring to it, it only belongs to the realm of modern day myth and video games.

The two major forms of Japanese pole arms are the Yari 槍 (a double-edged spear with a straight blade) and the Naginata 薙刀 (spears with curved, single-edged blades). Naginata 薙刀 are believed to have been used since the Heian period 平安時代. Their size and shape reflects that of Tachi 太刀 of each period. In the Muromachi period 室町時代 generally they were rather short with a broad Monouchi 物打 (upper "striking" area) and strong Sakizori 先反り (deeper curvature towards the tip).

In times of war, the Naginata 薙刀 was also used in combat, and it was the favorite weapon of the S˘hei 僧兵, warrior-monks. In the Edo period 江戸時代 Naginata 薙刀 became a preferred weapon of women of the Samurai 侍 class. For instance the female guards of the ďoku 大奥, the "harem" of the Sh˘gun 将軍, were armed with Naginata 薙刀.

Nagamaki 長巻 is a term that, strictly speaking, only applies to a special style of mounting a Naginata 薙刀. It was in vogue from the middle of the Muromachi period 室町時代 until the Momoyama period 桃山時代. "Nagamaki 長巻" literally means "long wrap," and refers to the fact that the shaft is wrapped like a sword hilt. Another term used is "Nagadachi 長太刀" (long Tachi 太刀), and some argue that it is actually a mere variant of the Nodachi 野太刀 with a much longer hilt and shorter blade in comparison.

As mentioned Nagamaki 長巻 is supposed to be a style of mounting with wrapping. However, there are certain characteristics that would make a Naginata 薙刀 a Nagamaki 長巻 even without the wrapping: The shaft is rather short, about four feet long and comes with a Tsuba 鍔. The blade is usually longer than Naginata 薙刀, has less curvature, and is basically Sh˘bu-zukuri Katana 菖蒲造刀. Although the blade was constructed like a broad, heavy Katana 刀, the Mune 棟 is sometimes thinned along the spine to reduce the weight, thus giving the blade a more pronounced diamond shaped cross-section.

In the peaceful Edo period 江戸時代, many Naginata 薙刀 and Nagamaki 長巻 were modified to be worn as swords, which were then so-called Naginata-naoshi 薙刀直し and Nagamaki-naoshi 長巻直し respectively. The meaning of naoshi 直しin this context is "be altered, returned, mended, repaired," and is used for swords that were later altered to another shape. While most Naginata 薙刀 were made into Wakizashi 脇差, Nagamaki 長巻 were often long enough to be converted into a Katana 刀 Regardless, with many Sasuga 刺刀 (shortened tip section - the Hamon 刃紋 runs straight out at the Mune 棟 without a turn-back) blades, it is difficult to tell whether it was originally a Naginata 薙刀 or Nagamaki 長巻. Furthermore, some blades were intentionally forged to resemble a shortened Naginata 薙刀 or Nagamaki 長巻, which makes the classifications even more difficult at times.

A sword that is originally made to look like a Naginata-naoshi 薙刀直し blade may be called Naginata-naoshi-zukuri 薙刀直し造, but technically it is Kanmuri-otoshi 冠落 (maybe with the additional description of having Naginata-hi 薙刀樋) Another term to refer to such swords is Naginata-naoshi-fű 薙刀直し風, where "-fű 風" (in this context) means "look, appearance". Tsukuru 造る (the verb form of "-zukuri 造り") means "to build, construct," and is used for a blade that was planned that way (e.g., Hira-zuruki 平造, Shinogi-zukuri 鎬造, etc.).
C. Construction, techniques and materials.

Most edged weapons all over the world have a grip or handle, and are put in either a sheath or scabbard; the Japanese sword is no exception. The vast majority of Nihont˘ 日本刀 have a lacquered Saya 鞘. While exceptions exit such as the plain wood storage Shirasaya 白鞘 (or Yasumezaya 休め鞘), or metal, ivory, rayskin (Samenuri 鮫塗), brocade and leather on a wooden core, most common is the H˘noki 朴ノ木 wood Saya 鞘 with different types of lacquer finish, called Nurizaya 塗り鞘.

Although some craftsmen / artists did the entire Koshirae 拵 work all by themselves, often two and sometimes even more specialists in their respective fields were involved. Usually the Saya-shi 鞘師 carved the wooden core, and someone else did the lacquer work. In Japan there are actually two types of lacquerers: the Nurimono-shi 塗物師, who do the foundation work and solid colors, apply the coats of lacquer mostly with brushes, and the Maki-e-shi 蒔絵師, who do the finishing and decorative work with the Tsutsu 筒 (which is explained later).

C1. Koshirae-shitaji 拵下地 (wood work and assembly of the fittings).

C1a. Saya 鞘

H˘noki 朴ノ木 (magnolia hypoleuca and magnolia obovata) has been the wood of choice for the Tsuka 柄 and Saya 鞘 since the Heian period 平安時代 on. It is sap-free and dense, yet soft enough for carving. Also it does not easily shrink or otherwise change dimensions with age. When freshly cut, H˘noki 朴ノ木 is almost white with a green core. When dried, it turns creamy beige to olive - the longer the drying, the richer the color will be. Therefore, careful Saya-shi 鞘師 usually waits 10 years after cutting the tree before using the wood for carving.

A Saya 鞘 of a regular Koshirae 拵 goes through the following steps:

Kidori 木取り: The Saya 鞘 shape blank is cut roughly out of wood and then the blank is cut into two halves vertically.

Kaki-ire 掻き入れ: Inside of those two halves are chiseled out for the shape of the sword, and they are glued back together with rice paste (Norizuke 糊付け).

Ara-kezuri 荒削り: With the sword sheathed, the Fuchi 縁 is placed over the Nakago 茎 on the mouth of the Saya 鞘 (Sayaguchi 鞘口) to determine the shape and approximate thickness of the Saya 鞘; however, the finished Saya 鞘 will be slightly thicker than the diameter of the Fuchi 縁. The Sayaguchi 鞘口 is carved to its final shape and is used as a "template" for the remaining length.

Naka-kezuri 中削り: The edges of the Saya 鞘 surface are now planed, creating an octagonal surface not unlike the Shirasaya 白鞘.

Shiage-kezuri 仕上げ削り: A small plane is used to give the Saya 鞘 surface its final, rounded shape.

Saws, knifes and files are used to fit the Koiguchi-zuno 鯉口角, Kojiri 鐺 and Kurigata 栗形. If so desired, a Kaeritsuno 返り角 (retaining hook) is also added. If the sword will have a Kozuka 小柄 or K˘gai 笄 or both, pockets for them are chiseled out of the Saya 鞘, covered with a thin wood board, and finally planed flush with the rest of Saya 鞘. At the mouth of each pocket, a small stripe of horn (Uragawara 裏瓦) is inlet to reinforce the opening.

All horn parts are sized with the later Sayanuri 鞘塗 in mind - especially Koiguchi 鯉口 and Kojiri 鐺 have to be flush with the coats of lacquer on the finished Saya 鞘. Taking this wood-horn parts-lacquer interaction into account is most difficult when it comes to creating the slots for Kozuka 小柄 and K˘gai 笄. It takes even greater skill to make a Saya 鞘 for a Tachi 太刀 when preexisting fittings are to be used. The Saya-shi 鞘師 has to know exactly how thick the final coats of lacquer will be in order to achieve a perfect fit for the Kanagu 金具.

C1b. Tsuka 柄

The making of the Tsuka 柄 basically follows the same steps as the construction of the Saya 鞘. Proper shaping of the entire Tsuka 柄 is a very challenging task in order to obtain a look that goes along and ôflowsö with the lines of the Saya 鞘. This is called Tsuka-nari 柄形

There are four basic shapes of Tsuka 柄:
1. Haichimonjii 刃一文字, the most common, the edge-side almost straight, the spine-side slightly tapered, following the lines of the sword
2. Ryűgo 立鼓, hour glass shaped.
3. Imogata 芋形 ("potatoe shape"), both sides straight
4. Morozori 諸反り, closely following the shape of the Saya 鞘, mostly seen on Tachi 太刀 and Handachi 半太刀

Additionally a slightly reverse-curved Tsuka 柄 is sometimes seen on swords from Satsuma 薩摩 province. This type of handle shape is called Uchizori 内反り ("inside curvature").

The length of the Tsuka 柄 was (and still is) usually tailored to the individual swordsmen's specifications. As a rule of thumb, the length of the handle of a Katana 刀 is twice the width of one hand plus two fingers, the Wakizashi 脇差 1Ż hand widths, and the Tant˘ 短刀 one hand width. The average length of a Katana-Tsuka 刀柄 in the Edo period 江戸時代 used to be 8 Sun (24 cm).

The Nakago 茎 has to be inlet very precisely to avoid any looseness that could lead to the wood breaking when stress is applied on the Tsuka 柄 during use. The two halves of the Tsuka 柄 are not aligned at the center of the Nakago 茎, but slightly offset so that the edge of the Nakago 茎 faces solid wood but not the seam line to reduce the risk of breakage.

Special care must be given to the outer dimensions of the Tsuka 柄 and fitting of the Fuchi 縁 and Kashira 頭 to allow for the later application of Samegawa 鮫皮. There are three methods of applying the Same 鮫: panels (Tanzaku-kise 短冊着); a full wrap where the seam of the Same 鮫 is on the backside (Haraawase-kise 腹合せ着); and a full wrap where the edges of the Same 鮫 overlap (Maedare-kise 前垂れ着).

Once the wood core is properly shaped and Same 鮫 is properly applied, the Mekugi-ana 目釘穴 is opened by using an auger and a reamer. Then the Koshirae 拵 goes back to the Shirogane-shi 白金師 who already made the Habaki 鎺 (i.e., collar) and two temporary Seppa 切羽 (i.e., rectangular copper plates with cutouts for the Nakago 茎). He now will do the finishing work on the Seppa 切羽, adjusting their shape to ensure a pleasant transition between Tsuba 鍔 and Fuchi 縁, and Tsuba 鍔 and Koiguchi 鯉口. Often the rims of the Seppa 切羽 are patterned by filing, and they will then be gold plated.

C2. Koshirae-shiage 拵仕上げ (finishing work).

C2a. Sayanuri 鞘塗 (Saya 鞘 lacquering)

Most Saya 鞘 receive a lacquer finish Urushi 漆. Japanese lacquer is harvested from the lacquer tree (rhus vernicifera) in a fashion similar to harvesting rubber from the rubber tree. That is, a series of slanted cuts are made in the bark, and the viscous, milky white sap flows into a small container attached to the tree. An average of 200 grams can be harvested from a tree per year. The natural sap is then filtered for wood chips and other foreign matter, and this Ki-urushi 生漆 (i.e., raw lacquer) is packed airtight to prevent the sap from turning dark brown and hardening by the exposure to air before it leaves the Urushi-ya 漆屋 (i.e., lacquer-supply shop).

Japanese Urushi 漆 consists of 67.3% urushiol (urushic acid, C15H25O2), 5.5% gum, 2.1% nitrogen containing albuminoids, and 25.1% volatile acid and water. The absorption of oxygen by urushic acid in the Muro 室, drying cabinet, leads to the hardening: C15H25O2 + O = C15H25O3, oxyurushic acid. Actually "drying" is a wrong choice of a word, since not the evaporation of moisture hardens Urushi 漆. A chemical reaction takes place due to a laccase enzyme that reacts to urushiol in an environment of 68░ ~ 80░F (20░ ~ 27░C) and 65 ~ 80% RH, resulting in oxidative polymerization.

Urushi 漆 does not adhere well to metal, which also rusts easily in the humid, warm Muro 室. When lacquering armor, the workpiece is heated to 270 ~ 330░F (130░ ~ 170░C) for 30 ~ 60 minutes, thus causing heat polymerization not depending on the function of the laccase, and forming a much stronger bond, though this method does not work with wood for obvious reasons.

The lacquer tree is a species of sumac and its sap is more or less poisonous. Thus many people develop a rash when exposed to it, sometimes even when only entering a room where Urushi 漆 is processed. A typical lacquer rash occurs when the skin comes in direct contact with uncured Urushi 漆and urushiol reacts to the skin proteins. For this reason, contact with freshly lacquered items should be avoided for about three months.

Ki-urushi 生漆 is colored by adding pigments or oxides, after which it is filtered again. This is repeated until the artist is satisfied with the color achieved. It then is applied with brushes to the Saya 鞘 in a very thin coat (because thick coats do not cure completely) before going into the Muro 室 Depending on the weather and season, the lacquerer maintains the air condition in the Muro 室 for three days, until the lacquer is cured. The Saya 鞘 is then ground and polished, and another thin coat of Urushi 漆 is applied. This procedure is repeated until the coating has the desired thickness and luster.

Although the best Ki-urushi 生漆, called Kij˘mi 生上味, is produced in Japan, its very limited quantity being harvested there necessitates importation of lacquer from China. Chinese lacquer becomes more brittle with age, but due to the scarcity of Kij˘mi 生上味 it accounts for the majority of lacquer used in Japan, at least for foundation lacquering.

Even more scarce is Seshime 石漆: While Ki-urushi 生漆 is taken from the trunk of the tree, Seshime 石漆 comes from the branches. A single coat of Seshime 石漆 needs two weeks to dry, and becomes extremely hard with an enamel-like appearance. However, Seshime 石漆 is not used by itself, but mixed with Ki-urushi 生漆 because the high cost and extended curing time renders it impractical for exclusive usage. It was the favorite lacquer for Saya 鞘, but only wealthy customers could afford it.

Irizeshime 入石漆 (which, although implying otherwise, is not Seshime 石漆 at all but Ki-urushi 生漆 thinned with camphor) is used for Fuku-urushi 拭漆, "lacquer wiping." This transparent, light brown lacquer is wiped on and off with absorbent cotton, and is used for sealing the wood as well as for the two or three finishing coats.

As already mentioned, Urushi 漆 can be colored by adding certain agents such as vermilion for Shu-urushi 朱漆, red lacquer, or a solution made by boiling iron filings in vinegar for R˘-urushi 蠟漆. Kuro-r˘-iro 黒蠟色 ("black wax color") is the lustrous, jet-black lacquer we commonly see on many Saya 鞘. Though the lacquerer usually mixes colors himself, R˘iro 蠟色 is the only exception that can be bought ready made from the Urushi-ya 漆屋.

The wood core of the Saya 鞘 is first primed with Irizeshime 入石漆, and then covered by a mixture of Urushi 漆, chopped hemp and rice starch. Then a coat of Sabi 錆 is applied, 1.5 parts of Urushi 漆 and 2 parts burnt clay. Hempen cloth (Nuno 布) is glued on with Urushi 漆 to prevent the wood from cracking later on. Again a few coats of Sabi 錆 are used, followed by several coats of R˘-urushi 蠟漆. After each application the Saya 鞘 is dried in the Muro 室, and then very carefully polished with powdered charcoal and other abrasives since even the smallest unevenness would show on the final surface as if magnified. This Honji 本地, or priming procedure, is done by the Nurimono-shi 塗物師, and can consist of as many as 50 or 60 steps.

Now the Saya 鞘 may go to the Maki-e-shi 蒔絵師. In addition to solid colors and combinations thereof, a wide variety of Maki-e 蒔絵, sprinkled lacquer "pictures," are possible. The Tsutsu 筒, a hollow bamboo tube covered with gauze on one end, is tapped with a finger to dispense different kinds of powders onto the still wet coat of Urushi 漆. After drying, it follows polishing and coats of Irizeshime 入石漆.

Methods of decoration are Hira-maki-e 平蒔絵 and Taka-maki-e 高蒔絵, low and raised designs respectively. Hira-maki-e 平蒔絵 is a design raised only by the thickness of lacquer used, while R˘-urushi 蠟漆, camphor and lamp-black is boiled for a paste to model a relief that is then lacquered to produce Taka-maki-e 高蒔絵. What deserves special mention is Togidashi 研出, where basically Hira-maki-e 平蒔絵 is covered with R˘-urushi 蠟漆 and then polished to show the design flush with the surrounding lacquer. Besides the pictorial designs of those three procedures, small gold flakes or ground shells, among other materials, can be sprinkled with the Tsutsu 筒 to achieve effects like Nashiji 梨地, Aogai 青貝, Ishime 石目 and so forth, which are used alone or as a background.

The worst enemy of finished Urushi 漆 is direct sunlight, which turns the lacquer dull and might even make it flake off. R˘-iro 蠟色 of lower quality turns brownish opaque when exposed to light for an extended period of time.

C2b Tsukamaki 柄巻 (hilt binding)

The most common wrapping method is Tsumami-maki つまみ巻, where the Ito 糸 is "pinched" at the crossing, followed by Hineri-maki 捻り巻, where the Ito 糸 is folded over twice at a 90 degree angle at the crossing. Tachi 太刀 were usually done in Hira-maki 平巻, where the Ito 糸 is simply crossed over. Jabara-ito 蛇腹糸 is made of eight (or sometimes even more) individual strands of silk thread that are sewed together, and is considered a decorative wrap of the highest quality.

Though has not been historically substantiated, traditional Kabuki 歌舞伎 and Jidaigeki 時代劇 (period movies) show the rank of a Samurai 侍 by the color of the Tsukamaki 柄巻 in black, blue, dark brown, light brown, gray, and white in an ascending order. However, since this roughly approximates the percentages of Tsuka 柄 colors found on real swords, the idea might not be totally incorrect after all. One reason for this ôrankingö could be that lighter colors easily become dirty, thus were hardly used for any occasions other then rituals, but would still require costly new wrap if they are ever soiled or stained. On the other hand, darker colors are more forgiving, thus appropriate for regular use, saving the owner the expense of frequent new Tsukamaki 柄巻

C3. Kod˘gu 小道具 / Kanagu 金具 (metal fittings)

The materials most commonly used for sword fittings are iron (Testsu 鉄), Shakud˘ 赤銅, Shibuichi 四分一 and Sentoku 宣徳 Other than iron, they are all copper-based alloys which may contain precious metals.

Shakud˘ 赤銅 is an alloy of copper and gold, whereas Shibuichi 四分一 (ôone out of fourö) is an alloy of one part silver and three parts copper Sentoku 宣徳 is an alloy of copper, lead and zinc that is a variety of brass. Pure gold (Kin 金), pure silver (Gin 銀) and bronze (Seid˘ 青銅) were seldom used. Iron was the most used material for Tsuba 鍔, while Shakud˘ 赤銅 was the most used for Fuchi 縁, Kashira 頭, Menuki 目貫, Kozuka 小柄 and K˘gai 笄

In the old days fittings made of Shibuichi 四分一 were the most expensive, but nowadays collectors pay the highest price for Shakud˘ 赤銅. Although Shakud˘ 赤銅 fittings are generally priced higher than Tetsu 鉄, the highest individual prices are usually fetched by nicely patinated, relatively unpretentious iron Tsuba 鍔. Russet iron has the look of being "shibumi 渋み" (understated elegance), which is highly admired by sophisticated collectors.

These materials attain their beautiful patination through a special pickling bath, the result of which gives Shakud˘ 赤銅 a deep violet-black color, Shibuichi 四分一 shades of olive-brown to silvery-gray, Sentoku 宣徳 a yellowish color, and copper different tones of red. The most desirable color for copper is Suaka 素銅. Suaka 素銅 (or Akagane 赤金) is very refined copper that shows an orange-red hue when patinated. Yamagane 山金 ("mountain metal") is unrefined copper with many color variations. Although all those patination colors form only a thin layer on the surface, they are practically permanent as long as they are not subjected to scratching or extensive wear.

All of the above patinas can also be seen on both polished and textured surface like the one often encountered with Shakud˘ 赤銅 Nanako 七子, a fish-roe pattern, is where each single grain is created by a cup-head punch. High quality of artistic work shows a ground of regular rows, uniformity in size, shape and spacing. It is not difficult to imagine how many hours of work - besides a keen eyesight and a steady hand - this would take even on only a very small surface like a Kashira 頭.

C4. Mekugi 目釘 (pin to fasten the Tsuka 柄 to the blade)

The Mekugi 目釘 is mostly made of seasoned, smoked bamboo (Susudake すす竹) because of its elastic yet tough fibers. It is carved into a convex shaped, and mostly inserted from the side of the Tsuka 柄 that is covered by the palm of the right hand. Sometimes horn or metal was used instead of bamboo, but usually not on swords intended for actual usage. It is important to note, however, that the Mekugi 目釘 is not solely responsible for holding the handle to the blade: The friction on the bladeĺs tang caused by a perfectly inlet Tsuka 柄 is another very important factor, perhaps even more important than the Mekugi 目釘 itself

C5. Menuki 目貫 (hilt ornaments)

Menuki 目貫 were originally used to cover the Mekugi 目釘 and prevent it from slipping out Later on they became purely ornamental, and were placed about one hands width from the Fuchi 縁 on the Omote 表 (outward side) and the Kashira 頭 on the Ura 裏 (side facing the body) on Tachi 太刀. However, when the Uchigatana 打刀 was "invented," the placement did not change for traditional reasons, even though the sword was now worn edge up. This resulted in a reversed position of the Menuki 目貫 to what is seen on Tachi 太刀.

An additional benefit of the Menuki 目貫 placement of Tachi 太刀 was the better grip on the Tsuka 柄, since the Menuki 目貫 filled the gap in the palm of the hand. On Uchigatana 打刀, Gyaku-Menuki 逆目貫 (ôreversed Menuki 目貫ö), or Menuki目貫 placed in ergonomically correct position, so to speak, were almost exclusively found on Yagyű-Koshirae 柳生拵.

That Menuki 目貫 became more or less decorative elements of the Tsuka 柄 is more evident on Tant˘ 短刀 (and to a lesser degree on Wakizashi 脇差). On the short handle of a Tant˘ 短刀 they were almost opposite of each other, and sometimes omitted altogether.

C6. Tsuba 鍔

During combat a Tsuba 鍔 might protect the hands from being cut by the opponentĺs sword to a certain degree However, its main purpose is to prevent oneĺs own hand from slipping forward unto the blade. The average diameter of a Katana-Tsuba 刀鍔 therefore seldom exceeds about 7.5 cm (or 3 inches). The majority of Tsuba 鍔 are made of iron, but in the Edo period 江戸時代 Shakud˘ 赤銅 was often used as an alternative material, especially on high-end swords.

Sometimes it might be difficult to determine the front side (i.e. facing the Tsuka 柄) and the back side (i.e., facing the blade) of a Tsuba 鍔. If the Tsuba 鍔 has a Kozuka-hitsu 小柄櫃 or K˘gai-hitsu 笄櫃 (i.e., slots for Kozuka 小柄 and K˘gai 笄), the one for the Kozuka 小柄 should always be to the left, and the one for the K˘gai 笄 always to the right. The Mei 銘 (inscription) of the maker is usually on the front, but there are sometimes exceptions. In most cases the more decorated side is the front side. If it is an undecorated Tsuba 鍔, or a Sukashi-Tsuba 透し鍔, without any slots, the side showing more wear is probably to the left, thus to the body of the wearer.

D. Bibliography.

- "Das Buch der ostasiatischen Lackkunst" by Dr. Kurt Herberts
- "Edo no Tant˘-Koshirae 江戸の短刀拵" by Masanobu Ide 井出正信
- "Edo no T˘ken-Koshirae 江戸の刀剣拵" by Masanobu Ide 井出正信
- "Nihont˘ no Kansh˘ Kisochishiki 日本刀の鑑賞基礎知識" by Nobuo Ogasawara 小笠原信夫
- "Nihont˘ no Koshirae 日本刀の拵" by Nobuo Ogasawara 小笠原信夫
- "Nihont˘ Y˘go Jiten 日本刀用語辞典" by Kot˘ken Kajihara 梶原皇刀軒
- ôSakut˘ no Dent˘ Gih˘ 作刀の伝統技法ö by Takuo Suzuki 鈴木卓夫
- "Satsuma Koshirae 薩摩拵" by Ichir˘ Zusho 調所一郎
- "Swords of the Samurai" by Victor Harris and Nobuo Ogasawara
- "The Arts of the Japanese Sword" by B. W. Robinson
- "The Sword and SamÚ" by Henri L. Joly and Hogitaro Inada
- "T˘s˘ no Subete 刀装のすべて" by Kenichi Kokubo 小窪健一
- "T˘ken Bijutsu" No. 41 (English edition) by the NBTHK
- ôWas Ch˘nin class allowed to wear/carry swords in Edo period?ö by S. Alexander Takeuchi

 

 

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