Samurai Sword History
History of the Samurai Sword
The two oldest known makers of swords now in existence are Ama-Kuni and Shinsoku. The latter was the first maker to cut his name on the blade. A. D. 806 Heizie Ten O, the Mikado ordered Shinsoku to forge a sword for his son, the Imperial Prince. Rui Jin, the old raan of the sea, who lives in the Dragon Shrine under the ocean, assisted in the making of this sword. Though Shiusoku made nearly a hundred blades he put his name to only eight, which are now in the different Hachiman Shrines, and tliough highly valued by their owners, are little more than masses of rust and decay. It has always been the custom in Japan to present the temples of the God of War with celebrated blades.
Soto Yugo was the father of a long line of makers whose descendants yet live. The work of this family is called lybori. Soto himself was born in the fifteenth century.
Samurai Swords are of various lengths and styles and each has its distinctive name. The katana and thewakizashi were worn together until more modern days, when the wakizashi was replaced by the tanto. The length of the katana is about two feet and a fraction ; the wakizashi, a little over a foot ; the chisa-katana, from two to two and a half feet long and lighter than the ordinary blade, was worn with haga-hakama, or ceremonial dress, of which there were no less than eighteen varieties. The hakama was the badge of gentle birth, though on very special occasions, such as births, weddings, or deaths, tradesmen wore it. When the occasion demanded tiltra-ceremoniousness the kameshimo was assumed a wing-like, sleeveless jacket, usually of hempen cloth, stiffened so as to stand out beyond the shoulders. On the back and shoulders was stamped either the personal crest of the owner or that of his feudal lord. This dress was worn by officials until the introduction of European costume. Officials of the fourth and fifth rank wore with it the aikitchi, a dirk without a guard, which was also used by doctors and artists. The hunting sword called the nodatchi was of medium length.
A samurai in full dress fairly bristled with swords, for beside the tanto and Katano he frequently wore the metezashi stuck in his girdle behind, to be used with the right hand and if the owner were thrown so that he could not draw the others.
The sword, the most beautiful, most valuable, and the most dreaded weapon of Japan during the feudal times, was, according to the expression of the lyeyasu, "the living soul of the Samurai." To wear the sword was his greatest privilege. He was trusted with it even when a boy, and carried it with him on his way to school . The oldest Japanese sword, Tsurugi, or Ken, was carried crosswise over the back, and brandished with both hands. It was a straight, heavy weapon, with sharp edges on both sides, nearly a meter long, and from six to seven centimeters broad. As these were later made half the length and somewhat shortened, another weapon, the Katana or common sword of the Japanese, was devised, with an edge which is slightly curved toward the end.
The forging and polishing of samurai swords was a wearisome work, demanding much skill and practice. There were various methods of combining the hard steel with the soft, elastic iron. The tempering (Yakiba, from Yaki, to burn, and Ha, edge) of the edge is carefully done in the charcoal furnace, the softer backs (Mune) and the sides being surrounded up to a certain point with fire clay, so that only the edge remains outside. The cooling takes place in cold water. It is in this way that the steeled edge may be distinguished clearly from the back, by its colour and lustre. The backs of knives, axes and other weapons are united to the steel edge either by welding on one side, or by fitting the edge into a fluted groove of the back blade, and welding on both sides.
Toward the end of the 15th century the occupation of the artist was united to that of the smith. Then they commenced to pay great attention to the mounting of the blade. In this work Tsuka, the hilt, Tsuba, the guard on the hilt, and Saya, the sheath, are brought especially into consideration.
The wooden hilt of a Japanese sword is about 15 centimeters long, irt the cross section a long oval, covered with grained sharkskin or other decorations, and furnished further with the Me-nuki, two little metal ornaments, each one of which is fastened nearly in the middle of one side. At one end of the handle toward the blade is an oval copper or bronze plate, the Habaki or throat; on the other end is the Kashira, the head, or Tsuka-gashira, a metal cap. Lengthwise in the handle are two slots through which a strong silk cord, almost a centimeter broad, is threaded. This is wound around the whole handle in such a way that its two halves connect closely on the two sharply arched sides, but cross each other over the broad sides so that rhomboid meshes are formed, through which the decorations of the handle, including the Me-nuke, appear.
The sword-shell, or guard, Tsuba, is as old as the sword. It is an oval metal plate from one to two millimeters thick and about six centimeters in diameter, with an opening in the middle to admit the blade of the sword. A second opening at the side serves for the fitting in of a straight knife, the Ko-dzuka, whose blade has been made to lie in an outside furrow of the sheath, with a groove for the point. There is often a third perforation in the opposite side of the guard, through which the K6-gai, or " hairpin " was put.
Saya, the sword sheath, was usually made out of the wood of the H6-no-ki (Magnolia Jiypoleuca) protected and decorated by coats of lacquer varnish. The greatest luxury in the metal decoration of sword guards, hilts, and ends of the Ko-dzuka, was developed in the I5th century, the time of the Ashikaga Shdguns. This branch of art-industry "has given to Japan its thousands of skilled workmen and its scores of famous masters.