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Ura Nihon no Toko

By Yoshikawa Kentaro

The north region of Japan that extends from Oshu to Ishike is referred to as Ura Japan. The Hokurikudo and Sanindo trade routes are in this area. This is the territory that faces the Sea of Japan and stretches from the southwest of Honshu to northern Honshu. The weather in Ura Japan differs from the rest of the nation. The winters are harsher and last longer. This unique condition created a demanding criteria for sword production. Sword smiths had to develope techniques to produce blades that would perform well in low temperatures. It is said that an excellent sword must possess three requirements. The blade should be "non-breakable, non-bendable and cut well". During WWII, the Japanese army experienced the severely cold environment of Northern Manchuria. Some of the swords used in the encounter were broken. The vast majority of these broken swords were mass-produced Showa-to or poorly forged blades with a deep hamon {A deep hamon in one that is wide and leaves little or none of the ji untempered}

An important identifying feature among the Ura Japan smiths is their hada. The jigane has a tendency to be somewhat rough or "hadatatsu". This type of jigane is also often called "hadamono". One of the most representative makers of hadamono jigane was Youtou Muramasa. This kitae is the preferred approach to produce a blade for use in a frigid environment. Swords that have hadamono jigane offer superior flexibility and strength in comparison with blades that have a finely forged ji-gane. Hadamono blades often excel in terms of sharpness as well. All of the blades below are hadamono. Even though they share the common trait of hadamono jigane, each one also displays the unique elements that are common to the schools they represent.

{It is important to note that there are many blades that have finely forged ji-gane that are known to be excellent cutters. One has to keep in mind that Ura smiths are the focus here. For example, Hizen-to have very compact jigane but cut very well. To the contrary, according to issue # @@@ of the NBTHK's magazine Token Bijutsu, Naotane made hadamono blades that have been proven to be unsatisfactory cutters. There are many contributing factors to cutting ability.}

{The Hokurikudo road includes the provinces of Wakasa, Echizen, Kaga, Noto, Etchu, Echigo and Sado. The Sanindo road passes through Tanba, Tango, Tajima, Inaba, Hoki, Izumo, Iwami and Oki.}

1) Tanto, mei "Gassan Saku"

Nagasa: 24.24 cm

Sugata: Hira-zukuri and uchi-zori with an iori mune.

Kitae: Ayasugi hada that is hadamono and has typical gassan hadaware.

Hamon: Shugu-ha mixed with ko-notare that is hakikake and has a soft nioi-guchi.

Boshi: Ko-maru ending in a shallow kaeri that has a hakikake feel.

Nakago: Ubu with kiri yasurime and signed on the omote.

{The nioi guchi is the border of the tempered area that contains the concentration of nie and nioi. This creates the outline we recognize as the hamon. A soft nioi guchi is one that appears "misty". A tight nioi-guchi is one that appears defined and controlled. When a nioi-guchi is referred to as bright, this means it reflects light strongly and it will appear to be a vibrant shade of white.}

It has been recorded in old sword books that the origin of the Gassan School began in the Heian and Kamakura periods. The originator of the Gassan tradition came from the Mokusa Kaji of Oshu. The earliest works that exist today are Nanbokucho. However, the preponderance of these that are seen today originate from the Muromachi period.

This work dates to the early 15th century. The majority of Gassan works have only the ni-ji mei of "Gassan". The example at hand also has the additional kanji of "saku". The hamon that is typical of the Gassan tradition is suguha produced at a low temperature. The reason for this is that it prevents a blade from being brittle and therefore breaking in combat. Low temperature yaki-iri was best suited for the production of suguha on strong ayasugi and masame hada. This approach yields suguha-based ko-midare with a soft nioi-guchi that follows the ji-gane grain pattern.

2) Katana, mei "Gassan Mitsunaga saku"

Nagasa: 60.90 cm

Sori: 1.9 cm

Sugata: Shinoji-zukuri with a high shinoji exhibiting koshi–zori and saki-zori.

Kitae: Ayasugi hada that has typical Gassan hadaware and is a bit shirake.

Hamon: Nioi-deki suguha based ko-midare that follows the jigane pattern. There is ko-nie mixed in the soft nioi-guchi.

Boshi: Ko-maru ending in a shallow kaeri that has a hakikake feel.

Nakago: Slightly machi-okuri with kiri yasurime and signed on the omote with narrow chisel strokes.

Gassan Mitsunaga lived in the Izuha area and was active circa Eisho (1504-1520). This was the most prolific period for the Gassan School. Gassan kaji such as Gunshou, Masanobu, Hisatoshi and Chikanori were all from Izuha and produced swords in this period. They all used water from the Gassan mountain for their sword production.

3) Wakazashi, mei "Momogawa Nagayoshi saku"

Nagasa: 32cm

Sugata: Hira-zukuri and uchi-zori with a mitsu mune. It exhibits a wide mihaba.

Kitae: Clear ayasugi with hadaware. It has a whirlpool feel and there is running hada.

Hamon: Suguha based ko-midare following the jigane pattern. It is hakikake and hotsure. There is ko-nie mixed in and the nioi-guchi is bright.

Boshi: Hakikake with a short kaeri.

Horimono: Kurikara grass horimono on the omote and a gomabashi on the ura.

Nakago: Ubu with kattesagari yasurime. The signature is located in the center of the omote.

The second generation Nagayoshi made this wakazashi. He was active in the Oei period (1394-1428). Echigo Momokawa Nagayoshi, Yamamura Masanobu and Hata Nagayoshi were all famous names from this area. The originator of the Momokawa School was the first generation Nagayoshi. His lineage can be traced to the Soshu tradition. Hata Nagayoshi was said to have been a student of Kanro Toshinaga. Toshinaga had been a pupil of Soshu Sadamune in the Nanbokucho period and later worked in Echigo. The Momokawa School is more likened to the Gassan tradition as opposed to showing a strong Soshu influence. Their jigane is similar to ayasugi-hada. Much like the Momokawa Nagayoshi smiths, the Yamamura School has this characteristic as well. Thus, the Gassan tradition shows a strong influence in both these schools.

{Although Toshinaga was a Soshu den smith, his work incorporated a strong Yamato influence of both the Taima and Senjuin schools.}

4) Tanto, mei "Etchigo (no) kuni ju Hata Nagayoshi"

Dated: March 1356. This is a work that was recorded in the Mitsuyama Oshigata.

Nagasa: 23.7cm

Sugata: Hira-zukuri with uchi-zori and a mitsu-mune. It exhibits a fukura that has a flat feeling and has a takenoko-zori shape.

Kitae: Ayasugi hada mixed with whirlpool hada and there is ji-nie. The jigane is similar to the matsukawa hada of Soshu Norishige.

Hamon: Begins with a hoso-yakidashi and becomes o-midare. Hitatsura is present in the middle of the blade. There is nie in the habuchi and sunagashi is mixed with strong hakikake.

Boshi: Kaen.

Nakago: Ubu with kattesagari yasurime. The mei is on the omote and the date is on the ura.

Hata Nagayoshi was a student of Kanro Toshinaga but he originally came from Bizen. This work shows a contrast from his peers Momokawa Nagayoshi and Gassan. It gives the impression of a Soshu den Norishige tanto.

5) Tanto, mei "Yoshitsune"

Nagasa: 14.39cm

Sugata: Hira-zukuri and uchi-zori with an iroi-mune. This blade is heavy, thick and has a yori-doshi sugata.

Kitae: Ko-itame with running masame.

Hamon: Notare that contains ko-nie, strong sunagashi and has a sudare-ba feel. This changes into hitatsura at the middle of the hamon and continues through the mono-uchi.

Boshi: Contains nie and is hakikake.

Nakago: Ubu with kattesagari yasurime. The signature is on the omote.

Yoshitsune worked in the Tenbun era (1532-1555) and was from Sado. Existing works by him are few and Sado was an area in which there were not many swordsmiths. Therefore, this blade has great empirical importance. It is also noteworthy that the jigane of this blade differs from ayasugi. The strong sunagashi in the ha reflects the style of the Northern countries. It is reminiscent of the powerful ocean waves on the Sea of Japan in the winter season.

6) Tanto, mei "Norishige"

Nagasa: 24.54 cm

Sugata: Hira-zukuri with a mitsu mune.

Kitae: Whirlpool itame that is matsukawa hada and has thick ji-nie and strong chikei.

Hamon: Nie-deki notare with o-midare. There is strong sunagashi and the nioi-guchi is wide.

Boshi: Hakikake in style with a kaeri.

Nakago: Ubu, although slightly machi-okuri, and furisode-gata in shape. The yasurime are katte sagari and the signature is on the omote.

7) Tanto, mei "Norishige"

Like # 4, this is also work that was recorded in the Mitsuyama Oshigata.

Nagasa: 23.63 cm

Sugata: Hira-zukuri shape with a mitsu-mune. The fukura is flat and the blade exhibits a takenoko sugata.

Kitae: Similar to #6.

Hamon: Similar to #6. The ji-ha is made regularly.

Boshi: Similar to #6.

Horimono: Suken on the omote and a gomabashi on the ura.

Nakago: The kanji are small.

Norishige and Go Yoshihiro were both famous natives of Etchu. There are no signed works in existence by Go Yoshihiro. However there are more than one dozen o-suriage Meibutsu by Yoshihiro. These are all zogan-mei (gold inlaid) or shu-mei (red lacquer). The style of Go is well-forged itame with thick ji-nie. The hamon is o-notare with choji mixed in. There are ashi and deep nioi with thick nie. The boshi have a hakikake tip and are ichimai. These are the common features of the Meibutsu Go. Obviously, this is a very different style than the works of Dewa and Echigo of Ura Nihon.

Unlike Go, there are zaimei works that survive by Norishige. Most of these are tanto, tachi are few in number.

Norishige is famous for his matsukawa, or "pine tree bark" hada. The matsukawa hada was a direct result of Norishige's forging methods. In comparison to the Ayasugi-hada of the Gassan School, the forging pattern of Norishige's matsukawa hada is tighter and there is a great deal of chikei showing the strenghth of the jigane. This type of chikei rich jigane is very tough and flexible. Norishige's method of mixing hard and soft metals together results in this kitae style. His hamon are mostly notare that are packed with nie. The strong and active nie in the hamon creates the felling that the yaki-ba stands up. There is powerful sunagashi that follows the wild organic outlines of the Matsukawa-hada.

The first of these Norishige has a furisode-gata nakago. This is a reflection of the trend in sword koshaire at that time. A curvature in the middle of the tsuka was thought to be ideal, hence the nakago shape. This is similar in style to the Nara period tosu knife collection preserved at the Shoso-in.

Like Go Yoshihiro, Norishige was believed to be one of the ten students of Masamune. He was originally a pupil of Soshu Yukimitsu and later studied under Masamune. Norishige's general characteristics are quality nie with a strong Yamato influence.

8) Tanto, mei "Uda Kunimitsu"

Nagasa: 27.88 cm

Sori: 0.61cm

Sugata: Hira-zukuri with a mitsu mune. It has a wide mihaba and the fukura is flat. There is saki-zori with a touch of koshi-zori.

Kitae: Running whirlpool hada with quality ji-nie. There is masame near the mune.

Hamon: Nie-deki notare mixed with gunome. The nioi-guchi is thick and there is sunagashi and hakikake mixed in.

Boshi: Shallow hakikake midare komi ending in togari with a kaeri.

Nakago: Ubu with kattesagari yasurime. The signature is in the center of the omote.

Ko Nyudo Kunimitsu was from Yamato. In the late Kamakura period, he moved to Etchu and became the founder of the Uda School. Uda blades made before Oei (1394-1428) are considered "Ko- Uda". This Kunimitsu was made prior to Oei and is representative of Ko-Uda. The shape differs from that of Norishige but the ji-ha of this blade is comparable to good Soshu den and reminds us of Norishige.

9) Tanto, mei "Uda Kunihisa"

Nagasa: 29.99 cm

Sori: 0.30 cm

Sugata: Hira-zukuri, iori mune with a wide mihaba and saki-zori.

Kitae: Ko-itame mixed with nagare masame. There is well-forged ji-nie and a felling of shirake.

Hamon: Ko-gonome with midare that becomes o-deki in the fukura. There is ko-nie in the habuchi and the nioi-guchi is tight.

Boshi: Notare-komi with a long kaeri.

Horimono: Suken on the omote and a gomabashi on the ura.

Nakago: Ubu with kiri yasurime. The signature is cut with large kanji on the center of the omote.

The Uda Kunihisa group began around Oei (1394-1428) and continued for several generations. These smiths were considered the best of the Uda School. This example dates to the Bunmei (1469-1487) period. The main kantei point of blades from the Hokurikudo area, also called "Hoku-mono", is the presence of rough hada-mono style jigane. This characteristic is often seen in Uda work. In addition to the kitae, it is important to note that the kuri-jiri nakago of Uda bears a resemblance to the Sue-Bizen school. The Uda smiths were especially prosperous in Muromachi times and they often used the kanji of "Kuni" in their signatures.

10) Tanto, mei "Kashu ju Sanekage"

Dated: 1367

Nagasa: 28.48cm

Sugata: Hirazukuri with a mitsu mune. The blade is heavy. It has a wide mihaba but the kasane is thin. It is mu-sori but there is a slight felling of saki-zori.

Kitae: Itame with running whirlpool hada. The blade has profuse ji nie that is comprised of ko-nie. There is also chikei and jifu. It is a beautifully clear jigane.

Hamon: Notare mixed with shallow valley gonome. Hataraki such as sunagashi and kinsugi are present.

Boshi: Midare komi with hakikake at the tip and there is a deep kaeri.

Nakago: Ubu with sugikai yasurime. The signature is on the omote and the date is on the Ura.

Although Sanekage was a pupil of Etchu Norishige, his works shows a difference from that of Norishige.

Sanekage was influenced strongly by the Kaga School. The "stable" ji-ha of this work is illustrative of Sanekage and quite a contrast to his teacher’s powerful and extreme approach.

The Fujishima group of Kaga was the most productive school of Ura Japan. The Tomoshige branch of this group can be traced to the Rai tradition. The origin of the Iyetsugu branch begins with Sanekage and the Nobunaga group originated from the Yamato Taima School. Together, they comprised a mighty and fruitful sword-producing realm. The Shoguns of the Hokurikudo area were entangled in ferocious warfare that set the stage for the Sengoku jidai in the Muromachi period. The Kaga Fujishima School was the main weapon armamentarium for these troops. Many Sue-koto blades that exist today are of the “kazu uchi mono” variety. Bizen, Mino and Hoku-mono produced the majority of these.

11) Tachi, mei "Fujishima"

(Juyo Bijutsuin, Important Art Object)

Nagasa: 66.5 cm

Sori: 1.9 cm

Sugata: Shinoji-zukuri with an iori-mune and a ko-kissaki. Pronounced fumbari can be seen in the habaki moto. Both koshi-zori and saki-zori are present.

Kitae: Mokume entwined with running masame. There is well-formed ji-nie and midare-utsuri that has a shirake appearance.

Hamon: Ko-nie deki ko-notare mixed with gonome midare. The gunome are executed in a pointed or "togari" manner.

Boshi: Deeply tempered in the ichimai style and has strong hakikake.

Horimono: Bo hi on both sides of the blade that taper to an ending point halfway down the nakago.

Nakago: Ubu with kiri yasurime. The signature is on the omote.

Tomoshige was the founding father of the Kaga Fujishima School. He was a pupil of Rai Kunitoshi. His relationship with Kunitoshi has been validated. Tomoshige was from Echizen Fujishima and his work dates to around the Kenmu period (1334-1338). The majority of Tomoshige works that exist date from Oei or later. His lineage and influence extends through the Shinto period. There have been a large number of smiths that used the mei of Tomoshige.

The sugata of this tachi is elegant and this combined with the utsuri makes it appear similar to Bizen den.

It bears a strong resemblance to the work of Hidemitsu of the Bizen Ko-zori tradition. However, the togari gunome is a mannerism of Kaga Fujishima. This blade’s overall feeling of antiquity makes it an excellent representative work of Ko-Tomoshige of the late Nanbokucho period.

12) Tanto, signed "Nobunaga"

Nagasa: 26.66 cm

Sugata: Kanmuri-otshi-zukuri. It has a thick kasane with an iori mune. The blade is heavy and there is a hint of uchi-zori.

Kitae: Well-forged soft ko-itame mixed with masame. Shirake can be seen in the ji and the shinogi-ji contains clear masame.

Hamon: Ko-nie deki hoso suguha with a tight nioi-guchi. Hotsure can be seen in the habuchi as well as the presence of nie-kuzure in the deeply tempered fukura.

Boshi: Hakikake and is yakitsume in style.

Nakago: Ubu with kiri yasurime. The signature consists of large kanji and is on the omote.

Nobunaga came from the Taima branch of the Yamato School. He moved to Kaga around Oei. Therefore, his style also called "Sako Taima" or "Kaga Taima". This particular Nobunaga appears to have been made about Eisho (1504-1521). This is a good quality work that shows a strong Yamato influence and displays an overall feeling of antiquity.

13) Katana, mei "Yukimitsu"

Dated: February 9th, 1470

Nagasa: 65.15 cm

Sori: 2.12 cm

Sugata: Shinoji-zukuri with an iori mune. The work exhibits strong tori-zori and conspicuous saki-zori.

Kitae: Well forged coarse hada. Ko-itame mixed with masame.

Hamon: Notare and ko-gonome that becomes hitatsura at the middle of the blade and continues upward. There is nie in the habuchi and it contains sunagashi and powerful hakikake.

Boshi: Jizu-ba with hakikake at the tip and there is strong muneyaki.

Horimono: Kaku-dome bo-hi on both the omote and the ura.

Nakago: Ubu with kattesagari yasurime. The signature is on the omote and the date is on the Ura.

There were several generations of smiths that used the same mei as Kashu {Kaga} Yukimitsu. The first Yukimitsu was said to have been the son of Tomoshige and a pupil of Sanekage. All of the Yukimitsu smiths exhibit strong Soshu characteristics in their work. The original Hoku–mono smiths were influenced by Yamato-den. However, after Norishige, Go and Kanro Toshinaga studied under the famous Soshu masters, the Soshu style spread into the Hoku-mono. Therefore, their work has both Yamato and Soshu traits. The Yukimitsu smiths from the Bunmei (1469-1487) period also made older style tanto. They exhibit a well-forged ji-ha and nioi deki suguba in the fukura that looks much like the Rai School.

This Kashu katana and the Tomoshige tachi both have an iriyama-gata nakago jiri. The Fujishima smiths were found of this style of nakagojiri and used it often. Therefore, it is also called "Kashu nakago". Of all the Kaga smiths, the Yukimitsu and Kiyomitsu groups used it the most. Their tradition continued into the Shinto period in which blades with masame tatsu and excellent hoso-suguha were made.

Unintentionally, the preceding 12 swords were mostly tanto. Therefore, the explanation of katana is insufficient and will be expanded upon here. The daito sugata of Ura Japan was different in comparison to other schools. They did not make many excessively long blades. Most swords were made with regular nagasa and sugata. Upon visual inspection, Ura Japan swords give the impression of strong sori. This is not the result of a measurable excessive curvature. Instead, this feeling is created by the ratio of sori vs nagasa. For example, the Yukimitsu from above is rather short with a nagasa of 65.13 cm. Although the sori measurement is typical for the period at 2.12 cm, to the naked eye it appears to approach 3cm. This is the unique characteristic of swords from Ura Japan

Echizen no Kuni

The Fujishima School and the Echizen Rai School later called Chiyozuru, were dominant groups in Echizen. The Fujishima smiths came from Echizen Fujishima and therefore this geographic location became the name for the group. They were prosperous in both Echizen and Kaga. Most of the Fujishima smiths moved to Kaga in the Muromachi period. The majority of swords that remain today were made in that aggressive time.

The Origin of the Chiyozuru School began with Kuniyasu. He learned under the guidance of Rai Kuniyasu. Chiyozuru was actually Kuniyasu's nickname. Therefore this group came to be known as Chiyozuru. The most renowned smiths of the Chiyozuru School were the two generations of Kuniyasu, Morihiro, Morishige, Ieyasu, Iemasa and Ieyoshi. The number of works this group left behind is small. This is especially true in comparison to Fujishima. Their work style was akin to Fujishima without substantial Yamashiro influence. Their traits are Hoku-mono jigane and midare hamon with togari that appear much like Mino. Only in their suguha can one see a Yamashiro influence.

This group signed their work with individual names or just the three kanji mei of Chiyozuru. The bulk of works bearing both an individual name and the inscription of Chiyozuru are known to be forgeries that were made years later.

1) Wakizashi, mei "Ieyoshi Saku"

Nagasa: 35.41 cm

Sori: 0.4cm

Sugata: Hira-zukuri that exhibits both koshi-zori and saki-zori with an iori-mune.

Kitae: Running itame and masame combined. It is a coarse forging style that has a shirake appearance.

Hamon: Nioi-deki hoso suguha with ko-nie and the nioi-guchi is tight.

Boshi: Kaen in style with a long kaeri.

Nakago: Ubu with kattesagari yasurime. The signature is on the omote as noted above.

Ieyoshi learned sword making from Ieyasu. Ieyasu was the son Kuniyasu, the founder of the group. There were three generations of Iyeyasu and they all used the same signature. The example at hand dates to the Tenbun (1532-1555) period. Blades by Ieyoshi exist in larger numbers compared to the other Chiyozuru smiths. This wakazashi's hamon exhibits some Yamashiro influence. However, the overall impression is that of Yamato den. It is a typical work of the Hokurikudo area.

Kuniyuki was also a Chiyozuru smith and he was contemporary to founder Kuniyasu. Kuniyuki moved to Akasaka of Mino near the end of the Oan (1368–1375) period. The blades he produced in Echizen have a powerful Soshu Norishige style. The following is an example of his. It’s similar to the preceding one. However, the sugata is different than typical Nanbokucho work and the ji-ha is reminiscent of Norishige.

2) Wakizashi, mei "Etchu ju Kuniyuki"

Dated: October of 1365

This work was recorded in the Mitsuyama Oshigata.

Nagasa: 33.02 cm

Sori: 0.4cm

Sugata: Hira-zukuri with a mitsu mune. The blade is heavy but the mihaba is thin. The sugata exhibits saki sori with a flat fukura that is similar to a sunobi tanto sugata.

Kitae: O-mokume mixed with running masame and ayasugi. There is ji-nie and the hada is clear.

Hamon: Nie-deki notare entwined with gunome. It is brushed with hotsure and strong streaks of sunagashi.

Boshi: Midare komi ending in hakikake with a shallow kaeri.

Horimono: Sankozuka ken and a bonji are engraved on the omote and an additional bonji appears on the ura.

Nakago: Kattesagari yasurime and is slightly machi-okuri. The signature is on the omote and the date is in the ura.

The Nanbokucho eras of Enbun (1356-1361) through Joji (1362-1368) were when the long nagasa o-tachi was in vogue. This blade is heavy. It has wide mihaba but a thin kasane. This style of sunobi tanto was fashion at that time. It expresses fully the main features of Soshu den at its peak and is an outstanding representative piece by Kuniyuki.

Kinju, a monk at the Seisen-ji in Tsuruga, was also a forefather of Echizen sword making like Kuniyuki. He is a famous smith and was one of Masamune's ten students. He moved to Mino around Ryakuo (1338-1342) and began the Seki tradition.

{Kinju is considered a Mino smith. Therefore, he is only mentioned briefly here.}

Wakasa no Kuni

Fuyuhiro was the son of Soshu Hirotsugu. He moved to Kohama during Kansho (1460-1466) and became the founder of the Wakasa Fuyuhiro School. Later generations from this line moved to Izumo and Aki in Shinto times and continued to prosper up until the Bakumatsu period. In the Oei era (1394-1428), Munenaga came to Wakasa. He was contemporary to Fuyuhiro but he learned sword making form the Nakajima Rai School. The line of smiths that followed Munenaga used the kanji “Mune” in most of their names. Unlike the Soshu influenced Fuyuhiro, the Munenaga group had strong Yamashiro characteristics in their work. The products they produced were considered top quality of Hoku-mono. The Muneshige below is an example from the Munenaga line. Although it is a representational example, it differs from the expected Yamashiro influence.

3) Katana, mei "Wakashu ju Muneshige"

Dated: August, 1564

Nagasa: 67.57 cm

Sori: 2.3 cm

Sugata: Shinogi-zukuri with an iori-mune. It has a wide mihaba and a thick kasane. The sturdy sugata exhibits strong koshi sori.

Kitae: Coarse hadatatsu mokume with tight running masame.

Hamon: Togariba mixed with gonome choji-midare. There is an abundance of nie in the habuchi and the nioi-guchi is tight. Ko-ashi and yo are plentiful.

Boshi: Long, shallow midare komi. The tip is hakikake and there is a kaeri.

Horimono: Bo-hi with a soe-hi is on both sides. The nakago is ubu with kiri yasurime.

Nakago: Ubu with kiri yasurime. The signature is on the omote and the year is on the ura.

Muneshige made this sword in Harishu. The first impression of this work was that it looked like a Sue Bizen with strong saki-zori. However, the sugata characteristic of strong sori in comparison to the nagasa is absolutely Hoku-mono.

Muneshiges's contemporary, Fuyuhiro, made a midare hamon that was similar to Bizen. He also worked in Bizen, Bitchu and Izumo. Practical Hoku-mono works were widely used at the close of the Sengoku period. They were highly regarded for their excellent performance on the battlefield.

4) Katana, mei "Bizen Fuyuhiro Saku"

(Yushu Saku)

{This blade is dated but the nengo is not clear enough to read.}

Nagasa: 70.90 cm

Sori: 1.6 cm

Sugata: Shinogi-zukuri with an iori-mune. The mihaba is wide and the kasane is thick. There is sori at the koshi but the overall impression is saki-zori.

Kitae: Clear hadatachi mokume mixed with running itame. The ji-nie is refined and the jigane is clear.

Hamon: Gonome midare. The habuchi is full of ko-nie and there is also ara-nie.

Boshi: Suguha with nijuba and hakikake.

Horimono: Bo-hi with soe hi on both sides that extend through the nakago. It is slightly machi-okuri and the yasuri are kattesagari.

Nakago: Slightly machi-okuri with kattesagari yasurime. The signature is on the omote and the year is on the ura.

This katana was made by the second generation Fuyuhiro around the Tenbun period (1532-1555). In Comparison to the midare hamon of the previous Muneshige, this one has clearer nie in the habuchi. Another noteworthy difference is that Muneshige liked to make the Bizen shape nakago and Fuyuhiro preferred the Soshu style tanagobara.

5) Katana, mei "Wakashu ju Fuyuhiro saku Hachiman Dai Bosatsu"

Dated: February,1580

(Sai Yushu Saku)

Nagasa: 80cm

Sori: 2.4cm

Sugata: Shinogi-zukuri with an iori-mune. The mihaba is wide and the kasane is thick. There is little taper in its length. The blade is wide in the monouchi. The magnificent sugata exhibits strong saki-zori and the kissaki is elongated.

Kitae: Mokume with running itame. The ji-hada is clear and the ji-nie is refined.

Hamon: Notare with large pattern gonome. The nioi deki habuchi is tight and there is ko-nie mixed in. Active ko-ashi and yo are present.

Boshi: Deeply tempered midare ending in brushed kaen

Horimono: Maru-dome bo-hi with soe-hi on both sides.

Nakago: Ubu with sujikai yasurime. The signature is on the omote.

This katana was made by the third generation Fuyuhiro. It is an outstanding piece that is full of the spirit of Nanbokucho Soden Bizen. Extant works by the first generation are scarce. The majority of the Fuyuhiro that are seen today are by the third generation. The Fuyuhiro work style incorporates Soshu traits with Hoku-mono ji-gane. An additional identifying characteristic of their workmanship is the unique o-notare hamon. There was also a good smith named Tsuguhiro. He was a student of the first Fuyuhiro and made good blades with tight suguha that look like Aoe school work.

Tanba no Kuni

The Kunisada group and the Yukitsugu group were the two primary schools in Tanba. Kunisada was a student of Awataguchi Kuninobu. Yukitsugu also had Yamashiro roots. He was from the Masamitsu group in Awataguchi. There are few works by Kunisada still extant today. Two of his tachi are Juyo Bijutsuin. It’s said that Kunisada was the son of Awataguchi Kuniyoshi and lived in Ayabe of Tanba. He was active around Bunei to Koan (1264-1288). Unfortunately, swords by other smiths from this group are not known to exist.

6) Tachi, mei "Kunisada"

Nagasa: 76.92 cm

Sori: 2.8 cm

Sugata: Shinogi-zukuri with a mitsu-mune. The kasane is thick, the mihaba is wide and it has full hira-niku. The respectful and fearsome tachi sugata features high sori and an ikubi kissaki.

Kitae: Nashiji with clear and bright utsuri.

Hamon: Choji-midare with ko-nie in the bright and clear habuchi. The hataraki includes plentiful nioi ko- ashi and yo.

Boshi: Shallow midare-komi boshi ending in yakizume.

Horimono: Bo-hi with soe hi on both sides.

Nakago: Suriage with sujikai yasurime. The signature is positioned in the center of the omote.

This work is very healthy and has abundant hataraki in the bright ji-ha. It reminds us of the flamboyant hamon of Ayanokoji Sadatoshi of the Awataguchi group. This is an outstanding work among the few existing pieces by Kunisada.

Tango no Kuni

A student of Yamashiro Rai Kunitoshi’s moved to Hatake and used the mei of “Rai Kunitoshi”. His works were also known as Tanba Rai but no swords by him exist today. There were not many smiths in this area until much later. At the end of the Muromachi period, around Tensho (1573-1592), Hosokawa built his castle at Tanabe and the Mino Daido smiths worked there.

7) Katana, mei "Tanshu Tanabe ju Daido Saku"

Dated: October 1585

Nagasa: 62.72 cm

Sori: 1.2cm

Sugata: Shinogi-zukuri with a high, wide shinoji and an iori-mune. The mihaba is wide in the monouchi and it exhibits saki-zori.

Kitae: Ko-itame mixed with running masame. The hada contains ji-nie and is clear and coarse.

Hamon: Shallow notare with togari-gonome. The habuchi is covered in nie and brushed with sunagashi. Overall, is has a soft nioi-guchi and exhibits ni-ju ba.

Boshi: Sugu-based shallow midare with a nie brushed tip.

Nakago: Ubu with takanoha yasurime. The signature is on the omote and the year is on the ura as noted above.

Daido Naofusa made this blade. He was employed by the Hosokawa family. This work is atypical compared to conventional Mino workmanship from this period. The ji-gane of this blade is the hada-kitae of cold weather areas. The blade has weak a yakiba. This was intentionally done to enhance its performance as a weapon. It is the representative work of Daido Naofusa and its antique style reminds us of Shizu.

Tajima no Kuni

Kunimitsu was a Tajima smith. He was also one of Soshu Sadamune's three pupils. The only renowned smiths in this area were the first two generations of Kunimitsu. These two were also known as the Hojoji School. There are only a few Kunimitsu blades in existence today and very few of those are signed. The shodai was known for making nagamaki. Katana with the nagamaki-naoshi sugata attributed to "den Hojoji" are about the closest one can get to the work of shodai Hojoji Kunimitsu. Two common features of his existing nagamaki-naoshi are especially important to note. The first point is that they don’t have many Soshu characteristics. The second is that their flamboyant choji hamon is close to Bizen den. However, the kitae of these "den Hojoji" is a different story. Their ji-gane is o-itame with clear hada tachi that is comparably different than Bizen ji-gane. The bo-utsuri and strong nagare masame in the shinogi-ji are also different than Bizen's choji hamon. The shape of "den Hojoji" hamon is like a tea flower. Therefore, it is called "Sa no Hana Midare".

There are zaimei works by the second generation Kunimitsu in existence. The majority of these are tanto and ko-wakazashi. The deki is Yamashiro in style with clear suguha and ko-midare hamons. This smith was also skilled at making different shapes of blades. For example, He made kanmuri-otoshi and shobu-zukuri that were similar to Kyoto Nobukuni from the same period. (Oei 1394-1428)

8) Nagamaki-naoshi o-suriage mumei den Hojoji

(Juyo Bijutsuin)

Nagasa: 66.36 cm

Sori: 2.12 cm

Sugata: Nagamaki-naoshi.

Kitae: Clear o-itame with refined tight ji-nie. The ji bears bo-utsuri and there is strong masame in shinogi-ji.

Hamon: Ko-choji midare hamon with abundant ko-nie in the habuchi. Hataraki such as ko-ashi and kinsuji can be seen.

Boshi: Midare-komi, brushed with a yakizume tip.

Nakago: Suriage mumei with o-sujikai yasurime.

This is an outstanding work among the den Hojoji pieces. There is profuse hataraki in the peaks of the choji hamon accompanied by ko-ashi. This is the tea flower shaped choji that is known as "Hojoji no Sa no Hana Midare" as mentioned before.

Inaba no kuni

The Kagenaga group was an offshoot of the Yamashiro Awataguchi School. This group was also known as the Inaba Ko-kaji. Later, in the Muromachi period, the Kanesaki branch of Seki smiths also moved to Inaba and continued into the Shinshinto period.

The founder of the Kagenaga group was a student of Awataguchi Yoshimasa. It is said that he moved to Inaba around the end of Kamakura and changed his name to Kagenaga. There are few blades left behind by him. The existing Kanenaga works are from the later Nanbokucho through the early Muromachi period. The situation with this group is similar to the Kunimitsu School described above. There are not many examples left and most of them are tanto and ko-wakizashi with obvious characteristics of Rai Kunitoshi tanto.

9) Tanto, mei "Inashu ju Kagenaga"

Nagasa: 26.15 cm

Sugata: Excellent uchi-zori hira-zukuri sugata with an iori-mune.

Kitae: Ko-itame mixed with running masame that has a faint whiteness.

Hamon: Nioi based hoso-suguha with abundant ko-nie in the habuchi. There is not much hataraki in the hamon but hotsure and ni-ju ba can be seen here and there

Boshi: Suguha, ko-maru ending with a brushed tip and kaeri.

Nakago: Ubu but slightly machi-okuri with kattesagari yasurime. The mei is inscribed in a unique style on the omote.

The first impression of this tanto was that of a top quality Rai Kunitoshi style work. However, the ji-ha is weaker than Rai and has less hataraki. This is a work from the late Nanbokucho period. The later Oei era products of this school share the same ji characteristics as this blade.

Hoki no kuni

It was during the Muromachi period that the name Tenkagoken "Five Swords Under Heaven" was used to describe the five most famous swords in the history of Japan. Yasutsuna made the Dojigiri, one of the Tenkagoken. He was the forefather of the Ohara smiths. They were prosperous in the Heian era. This was the first period of Nihonto history.

According to old sword books, Yasutsuna was an early smith from the Daido era (806-810 AD). Daido was part of the early Heian period. This was the time that straight bladed swords were being used in Japan. The more commonly accepted theory believes that Yasutsuna was a smith about two hundred years after Daido working in the mid to late Heian. Zaimei works by Yasutsuna are still in existence.

Hoki was a place in which good quality sand iron was readily available. The area has long been known as a center of advanced iron-manufacturing techniques. This helped the Ko-Hoki Kaji to be prosperous. However, existing zaimei Hoki works are few in numbers. Those that remain extant today are Yasutsuna, Sanemori, Yasuie and Aritsuna.

10) Tachi, mei "Yasutsuna"

Nagasa: 69.08 cm

Sori: 2.12 cm

Sugata: Suriage shinoji-zukuri with an iori-mune and a ko-kissaki. The shinogi is high and the mihaba is normal. Overall, the tachi sugata has a feeling of antiquity.

Kitae: Itame with running hada in places. There is tight, thick ji-nie and abundant chikei.

Hamon: Shallow notare ko-midare hamon with profuse nie. Hataraki such as sunagashi and kinsugi are visible in the hamon.

Boshi: Nie kuzure boshi ending with a brushed tip.

Nakago: Suriage with kiri yasurime. The signature is an elegantly executed ni-ji me situated on the omote near the end of the nakago.

This work fully expresses the characteristics of the Ko-Hoki-mono. In comparison to the very healthy Juyo Bungasai Yasutsuna tachi, this blade has been polished more. However, the antiquity of its style is clear.

Smiths from the Ohara Kaji moved to Bizen and other places in the Kamakura period. Therefore, the sword production in this area declined. This situation changed during the Sengoku jidai. The two families of the Hiroyoshi group became active. These were the Sainoo and Keda groups. They remained prosperous up until Shinshinto times.

11) Tanto, mei "Hoki no Kuni ju Hakushu Hiroyoshi Saku"

Dated: February 1509

Nagasa: 28.18 cm

Sori: 0.45cm

Sugata: Kanmuri-otoshi-zukuri with an iori-mune. The heavy blade is thick at the habbaki moto. Koshi-zori is combined with clear saki-zori.

Kitae: Tight ko-itame mixed with masame. There is masame in shinogi-ji.

Hamon: Suguha that becomes a deep and wide gonome at the mid-blade and continues upward in gunome. It is a tight nioi deki hamon with ko-nie in the habuchi.

Boshi: Deep tobiyaki style with a long kaeri.

Horimono: There is a naginata hi and parallel small hi with suken in between on both sides.

Nakago: Ubu with kattesagari yasurime. The long signature is on the omote and year is on the ura.

Sainoo Hiroyoshi established this branch around Bunmei (1469-1487). This work was made by the second generation. Hiroyoshi works bear a strong Soshu influence. The presence of the signature and the date make this work a valuable piece of empirical data.

12) Tanto, mei "Hoki no Kuni Tsuhara Junin Keda Gorosaemon Hiroyoshi"

Dated: January 1533

Nagasa: 27.88cm

Sugata: Hira-zukuri with strong uchi-zori. The blade has a very thick kasane and is noticeably heavy.

Kitae: Ko-itame mixed with running masame. There is exemplary ji-nie on the clear beautiful ji-hada.

Hamon: Suguha and ko-notare with kuichigai-ba mixed in. The nioi-guchi is tight and bright. Ko-nie is plentiful in the habuchi.

Boshi: Suguha with a ko-maru tip and a long kaeri with slight mune yaki.

Horimono: Koshi-hi on the omote and a gomabashi on the ura.

Nakago: Ubu with kattesagari yasurime. The long signature is on omote and the year is on the ura. Hiroyoshi recorded his age on the nakago mune. He made this blade when he was 61 years old.

This work is by the second generation Hiroyoshi of the Keda family. He was a student of Soshu Tsunahiro and a representative smith of the Hiroyoshi group. There are quite a few works by this group in existence today. They all show a strong Soshu influence.

This tanto has a stable and steady suguha hamon. In comparison to this group’s normal trait of running and coarse ji-gane, the hada of this tanto is refined and beautiful. The heavy and thick sugata is also atypical. This sugata is more what one would expect from Bizen Katsumitsu from around the Taiei (1521-1528) and Tenbun (1532-1555) periods. In the same manner as the previous example, the presence of the signature and the date with the additional precious record of Hiroyoshi’s age, make this work a valuable piece of empirical data.

Izumo no kuni

The Yoshii branch of the Bizen School moved to Izumo in the early part of the Muromachi period and started the Tadasada group. The ko-gonome hamon of the Tadasada works are similar to that of the Yoshii Bizen. However, the ji-gane is rougher than Yoshii and more typical of Ura Japan workmanship.

13) Tanto, mei "Tadasada"

Nagasa: 21.65 cm

Sugata: Hira-zukuri, uchi-zori with a flat fukura exhibiting an antique felling.

Kitae: Clear mokume with shiraki utsuri.

Hamon: Ko-gonome midare hamon is nioi deki and tight.

Boshi: Jizo with a long kaeri.

Nakago: Ubu with sujikai yasurime. The signature is on the omote.

There were several generations of the Tadasada line. Their works date from Oei through the late Muromachi period. Their forte was the Sue Bizen gonome choji style of hamon. The ko-gonome hamon of this tanto differs somewhat because of there is also ko-nie in the habuchi. In addition to the sugata, the well-formed hamon also contributes to the antique feeling.

Iwami no kuni

The distinguished smith is the area was Naotsuna. He is known as one of Masamune’s ten students. There are a few blades by Naotsuna that confirm the direct relationship to Masamune. However, oshigata of Naotsuna's work exhibits scant Soshu characteristics.

There are not many blades by the Naotsuna in existence today. The majority of that are extant now are works of the second and third generation Naotsuna. Some of these later smiths used the four kanji mei of "Izuha Naotsuna". They lived in Izuha and this is also where their iron was extracted.

In addition to the Naotsuna line, there were others from this group. They used the kanji of "Sada" in their names such as Sadayuki and Sadasue. They were concurrent with the second generation Naotsuna. The preponderance of existing works today are by Yoshisue and Moriyoshi. These are smiths that worked in Nagahama, a major port of Sanyin.

14) Tanto, mei "Izuha Naotsuna Saku"

Nagasa: 28.79 cm

Sori: 0.6cm

Sugata: Hira-zukuri with a mitsu-mune. The blade is heavy although it has a thin kasane. It has a flat fukura and a strong saki-zori sugata.

Kitae: Itame mixed with masame. The well-forged tight hada contains bountiful ji-nie and shiraki utsuri is evident throughout the ji.

Hamon: Gonome midare with conspicuous nie in the tight habuchi.

Boshi: Midare-komi, jizo in style with a brushed tip.

Horimono: Bo-hi extending through nakago on both sides.

Nakago: Ubu with kattesagari yasurime and the signature is on the omote as noted above.

The second generation Naotsuna made this tanto around Eiwa (1375-1379 AD). It has a mixed style of both Bizen den and Mino den. Although it lacks mature and refined characteristics, it is a good tanto with overflowing rustic style.

15) Wakizashi, mei "Sekishu Nagahama ju Yoshisue"

Nagasa: 36.97cm

Sori: 0.6 cm.

Sugata: Hira-zukuri with a mitsu-mune. The mihaba is wide and the saki-zori sugata is strong.

Kitae: Hada-tatsu ko-itame mixed with masame.

Hamon: Suguba with hataraki such as hotsure, kuichigai and running sunagashi. There is abundant ko-nie in the habuchi.

Boshi: Togari.

Horimono: Dragon in a frame with double hi on the omote and a dragon ken with a bo-hi on the ura.

Nakago: Ubu with kattesagari yasurime and the signature is on the omote.

The horimono on this wakazashi is quite complicated and detailed. His workmanship is similar to the Yamato Den and the delicate horimono has lead nihonto scholars to believe that he may have had exchanges with the Nio group.


Limited by the number of pages, all the smiths from these areas could not be thoroughly reviewed. Only the major characteristics were mentioned. Therefore, this work should not be viewed as a comprehensive review. This final section is meant to reiterate all the important points.

The swords of Ura Japan are mostly perceived as country works or “waki-mono”. In comparison to other centers of sword production there are not as many works in existence today from Ura Japan. In addition to the natural climate and environmental issues that limited the development in Ura Japan, there were several reasons for the small number of existing blades and the intermittent lack of high regard for their work.

Since ancient times, the Sanyin area was known to produce pure good quality sand iron. Therefore Sanyin’s development of iron manufacturing lead the whole nation and the appearance of the famous smith Hoki Yasutsuna was due to this excellent raw material. However, because of the limitations created by the harsh climate, the prosperity of Ko Hoki Kaji only lasted a short while.

In late Kamakura, there appeared Go Yoshihiro and Norishige. These two famous smiths represent the sword smiths of the Hokurikudo region. This area had very few famous smiths from the Heian and Kamakura periods. Indeed, these could be counted with 5 fingers. The Fujishima Kaji became the center Hoku arsenal in the Sengoku period. They mass-produced many practical swords. Compared to the rest of Muromachi period Japan, there were not as many famous Ura smiths. Therefore, the Ura Nihon Kaji has often been seen as lower quality work.

In Ura Nihon, the workmanship of the Hokurikudo smiths shows a strong Yamato influence. However, the Sanindo smiths exhibit Yamashiro style mixed with some Bizen traits. The characteristics of the ji-gane are the key study points. Hada-mono style ayasugi is the main characteristic of Hokurikudo. While a kitae of itame mixed with running masame is the conspicuous clue to Sanindo works. Hada-mono jigane is the common feature of both Hokurikudo and Sanindo. In other words, a coarse hada pattern that "stands up" is an important kantei clue to Ura Nihon. Overall, a soft yakiba and weapon-first kitae is the essence of the Ura Nihon kaji.


Token to Rekishi, Nihon Token Hozon Kai, NTHK, Yoshikawa Kentaro and others, #573, Jan.1990, P.4-12

Token to Rekishi, Nihon Token Hozon Kai, NTHK, Yoshikawa Kentaro and others, #574, March 1990, P.1-13