The Japanese Sword definition and it surrounding
Using “Kōjien” (Japanese language dictionary) i did a search about the etymology of a word still used in the present days : Katana, Token, Nihon-tō
First, Katana means “single-edged blade”. A single-edged blade with a short length.
The sword that appears in the “Heike Monogatari”(The Tale of the Heike) ,written during the Kamakura Era (1185–1333 ), is double-edged and is called “Tsurugi” or “Ken” and through the folk history (Kojiki) it becomes visible.
It seems that then came distinguished if used by the gods (Tsurugi), or by warriors (Ken).
The japanese sword has been early knowed abroad for it specific forging process and for it excellent quality.
The ancestor of the Sword (Tsurugi) is one of the three Sacred Treasures (Sanshu no Jingi) that the Emperor has inherited from the Gods in it Chronicles. This sword is called : “Ame no Murakumo no Tsurugi”.
In the painting of Shotoku Taishi, during the Nara Era (ad 710–784), the sword is always lowered at the waist.
It seems that also during the Heian Era (ad 794–1185), double-edged sword have been used.
As is possible to see in “Taira no Kiyomori”, a historical drama series broadcasted by NHK set during the Heian Era, the protagonist during his young age used exclusively the doble edge sword, then he used the “Tachi” (a style that slings the sword by a cord from the waist. The cutting edge of sword is downward) during his adult age. The filmmakers have made a perfect reference to the passing of the ages and its peculiarities.
The sword used in the Heian Era was a sword brought over from the nearby China and Korea. In fact, it seems that the production areas of Japanese iron and blacksmith traces of that period have not yet been discovered.
A step back in time, among the imperial treasures of Nara Era Emperor Shomu (聖武天皇) preserved in Shosoin Temple in Nara, we can find a lot of swords as “Tachi”style, Hira-zukuri, Chokutou Style, Kiriha-zukuri, that seems a transition period to the “Shinogi-zukuri”.
But i think that a lot of people admit that the sword that we can see in the present days, takes it shape from the early Heian Era and the Daido Period (806–810) through the hands of a famous swordsmith of “Hoki no Kuni”, Yasutsuna.
It is said that even in the Taihou Period (701–704) in “Yamato no kuni Uda” (Actual Nara Prefecture) lived an excellent craftsman called “Amakuni” that perhaps was the first swordsmith to engrave his name on his swords, but we don’t know trustworthy works attributed to him.
Through the ages, the evolution of the Japanese Sword is classified as the following periods :
- From Heian Era to late Muromachi Era / Keicho first year as Kotō-ki (古刀期)
- From the The early Edo Era to the Bunka-Bunsei period (before) as Shintō-ki (新刀期)
-In the 9th year of Meiji Era (AD 1876) ( When a decree banned the swords wearing ) as ShinShintō-ki (新新刀期)
-In the present days as Gendaitō ( 現代刀)
During the “ShinShintō” period, a swordsmith called Suishinshi Masahide proposed to all the swordsmiths of Japan to take a step back and return to the forging method of Kotō-ki period. In consequence of this event, according to the Bunkei (文献), the ages were a little mix, but unfortunately i think it's inevitable.
I feel strange that the Japanese Sword has been classified only as “Gendaitō” from the 9th year of Meiji Era (ad 1876), to the present days. I think it could have been born a new classification till the end of World War II ( 20th year of Showa Era )…as “Early modern period” (近世).
Nowadays many people learn mistakenly confusing the Shintō with the gendaitō period… since it is a technical jargon.
Also in the present days an hundreds of swordsmiths (some of which are considered human national treasure) are still making the Japanese Sword (Nihontō) following the ancient forging process.
How gratifying it is!