A BRIEF STUDY OF BIZEN BLADES OF THE MUROMACHI ERA
THE OEI BIZEN SCHOOL
At the beginning of the Muromachi period around the Oei era (1394) most of the different schools in the Bizen province were virtually absorbed by the Osafune School. The Osafune School had long been the main school in Bizen province. The various schools gradually lost any distinctive characteristic features they may have had, and began to display the characteristic features of Bizen workmanship of this period. Oei-Bizen is the general term for the Osafune smiths who worked in the Oei era (1394-1428). The most famous smiths of this period were Yasumitsu, Morimitsu, and Moromitsu. They were collectively known as the Oei no san mitsu (three mitsu of the Oei era).
The characteristics of the Oei Bizen School are as follows:
SUGATA: There are tachi, katana, and wakizashi of both shinogi- zukuri and hira-zukuri form. Tanto of less than 30 cm are rare. These smiths tried to copy the tachi shape of the Kamakura era but these blades are different in that they have a shallow saki-sori rather than a sweeping koshi- zori. Generally the nagasa of tachi will be about 70 cm and wakizashi will be about 50 cm. This is the period that marked the beginning of the production of katana and wakizashi. Wakizashi generally have narrow mihaba, small kissaki, and saki-zori.
JIHADA: The jigane is soft and the jihada is mokume-hada mixed with o-hada. Clear bo-utsuri appears. Even when the hamon is midareba, the utsuri tends to be bo-utsuri. On occasion, midare-utsuri can be found also.
HAMON: It will be nioi-deki and tends to be koshi-no-hiraita midare mixed with choji midare. The thick nioi line is very soft. Also one finds suguha mixed with ko-midare or straight suguha.
HORIMONO: Bo-hi with soe-bi or tsure-bi are quite common. The top of the hi is located just above the yokote. The bottom of the hi is finished around the machi . Horimono is often found on wakizashi with the design on both sides being the same. Ken-maki-ryu or the names of gods and deities are engraved on the omote and ken with dokko, tsume or bonji on the ura. Bo-hi with Soe-bi or tsure-bi whose bottoms are maru-dome are usually engraved above the horimono.
NAKAGO: Shorter and less tapered nakago with kurijiri are found. Cho-mei (long signature) including the date is common. We find katana-mei becoming common since this marks the beginning of the increase of the production of katana.
THE EIKYO-BIZEN SCHOOL
Generally speaking, smiths who came later in the Muromachi period were said to belong to the Sue Bizen School. These smiths worked throughout the later part of the Muromachi period and into the Sengoku Jidai (1490-1600). There were smiths, however, who were active between the years of 1429 and 1465 that cannot readily be classed into either the Oei-Bizen or Sue-Bizen schools. Since their work shows qualities slightly different from either of these schools, they are referred to as the Eikyo-Bizen smiths.
Together with Sukemitsu and Toshimitsu; Norimitsu stands out as one of the top smiths of this school during the Eikyo and Bunan periods.
The general characteristics of Eikyo-Bizen blades are as follows:
SUGATA: The nagasa is fairly short, the blade is slender, and the kasane is relatively thick. The blade is compact and can be used with one hand. This is where the uchigatana made its first appearance.
JIHADA: The mokume hada is dense in comparison with the Oei- Bizen blades. Midare utsuri or bo-utsuri is found.
HAMON: Wide koshi-no-hirata midare mixed with choji midare is found. A uniform pattern is not regularly repeated, unlike Sue-Bizen. Ha-hada is visible and there are few hataraki .
HORIMONO: Bo-hi, futatsuji-hi, bonji, and elaborate ken-maki are all found. They were skillful carvers.
MEI: Most mei will have "Bishu" rather than "Bizen". Also "Osafune" and the name of the smith will complete the mei.
THE SUE-BIZEN SCHOOL
In the later Muromachi period and into the Sengoku Jidai, there were relatively few good smiths working in Bizen province. The Sue-Bizen smiths produced numerous kazu-uchi mono pieces (mass produced blades). Nevertheless, high quality swords were also produced, the workmanship of which is clearly distinct from that of the Oei-Bizen smiths. Leading smiths were Katsumitsu, Munemitsu, Tadamitsu, Yoshimitsu, Sukesada, Yukimitsu, and Harumitsu. Some of these names were used by several generations of smiths with Sukesada being the most common. Often, on better, custom ordered blades made by these smiths, a smith's given name such as Uemon no Jo was used in his signature.
The general characteristics of the Sue-Bizen smiths are as follows:
SUGATA: Uchigatana were the main swords produced in this period, followed by the hira-zukuri wakizashi, tanto of either hira-zukuri or moroha-zukuri shape, and naginata. Uchigatana generally have a length of 63-66 cm, deep saki-zori, wide mihaba, thick kasane, full hiraniku, relatively small kissaki, and stout sugata. The nakago is short, to allow for single-handed use. Just before the start of the Shinto era, swords became longer ranging from 72 to 75 cm. At this time the saki-zori is relatively shallow. The nakago became longer for two-handed use.
JIHADA: Fine ko-mokume hada with jinie is found and the utsuri is neither clear or distinct.
HAMON: Usually we find a wide hamon of nioi deki but sometimes they were inclined toward nie deki. One of the most common hamon is koshi-no-hirata midare which is based on a wavy pattern and which is consistent in its width from bottom to top. Each top of the midare has a peculiar shape which is called "kane-no-hasami" which means "crab claw". O-midare, nie-kuzure, and hitatsura are also seen. Nioi-kuzure is seen on most Sue-Bizen swords. In the case of a moro ha-zukuri tanto which is midareba, the kaeri is in proportion to the hamon or becomes suguha and extends right down to the bottom.
BOSHI: Ko-maru sagari (descending) when the hamon is suguba. When the boshi is midare-ba, it is in proportion to the hamon, but the patterns on each side are different. The kaeri does not form a proper pattern, and it looks like hitatsura in the monouchi area extending down from the ko-shinogi about 6-9cm.
NAKAGO: Short and relatively less tapered nakago are found. Cho- mei (long signature) is standard in the case of custom - made works. Also included on the nakago are dates, second names (given names), and sometimes the owner's name.
I would like to acknowledge many thanks to Nakayama Koken from whose work most of this data was compiled.
| GALLERY | RELATED ITEMS | UPCOMING SWORD EVENTS | ITEMS FOR SALE | ITEMS WANTED | OTHER LINKS | ABOUT ME |
Questions or feedback? Email me!