With the onset of the Onin War in Kyoto (1467-1477) and the breakdown of the Ashikaga Shogunate system, the Sengoku (戦国時代)period went into full swing. The Sengoku period(戦国時代), the period of the country at war, created a time of constant warfare between rival Daimyo lords thus greatly increasing the need for weapons. A side effect of this increased demand was that the quality and effort that went into producing the outstanding Bizen (備前)swords of the Ôei (応永)era was in danger of becoming lost.
Because of the solid groundwork in sword production that was laid in the Ôei Bizen (応永備前) period and before, Bizen (備前)smiths were able to produce large numbers of powerful swords for practical use. Also, since geographically Bizen Province (備前), thanks to the Yoshii River, had a ready supply of top quality sand iron, it was relatively easy to obtain the iron necessary for manufacturing swords in quantity.
While it is popularly believed that all of the swords made during this period of constant warfare were mass produced swords of low quality, that would be a mistake. Among the blades of the Sue-koto (末古刀)period, there are a large number of what are known as chumon-uchi blades. These were special ordered blades often having inscriptions of the person ordering the blade. Additionally, these carefully crafted blades are signed differently than are the mass produced blades (kazu-uchi mono). They are signed by the smith using the kanji,Bizen no Kuni Jû(備前國住)followed by his full given name and they are usually dated. Smiths like Kiyomitsu and some of the Sukesada smiths have left many outstanding blades. One of the most respected and outstanding of these smiths was Yosazaemonjô Sukesada (与三左衛門尉佐定).
Let’s look at the typical characteristics of the works of the Shodai Yosazaemonjô Sukesada and the Nidai:
SUGATA: Uchigatanawere the main swords produced in this period, followed by the hira-zukuri wakizashi, tantoof either hira-zukurior moroha-zukuri shape, and naginata. Uchigatanaduring this period generally have a length of 63-66 cm, deep saki-zori, wide mihaba, thick kasane, full hiraniku, relatively small kissaki, and stout sugata. The nakagois generally short, to allow for single-handed use.
However, we find many swords by Yosazaemonjô (与三左衛門尉) that were of 2 shaku 2 sunor even 2 shaku4 sunin length. His blades with have a stronger koshi-zori with a wide mihaba. Some of his works will have the kissakimade in the ikubi kissaki style reminding us of the Kamakura era.
Just before the start of the Shinto era, katanalonger ranging from 72 to 75 cm. At this time the saki–zoriis relatively shallow. The nakagobecame longer for two-hand use. Thus it seems that the rest of the smiths eventually caught up with Yosazaemonjô (与三左衛門尉).
During this period of the 1500’s sun-zumari tantô(shorter than 8.5 sun) and moroha-zukuritantôwere very popular. Other than the moroha-zukuri tantô, they were hira-zukuriwith a takenoko-zoriwith the width tapering from the machitowards the kissaki.
Sun-nobi tantôwill be found at times (like the kanteiblade) and they are about 9 sunin length. They will be in hira-zukuriwith no sori, the mihabawill be wide and there will be fukura. The kasaneis made thick in proportion to the length of the blade.
JIHADA: His kitaewill generally be an itamemixed with some fine ko-mokumecontaining some loose as well as straight-grained areas.Blades with a fine ko-mokumehadawith jinieis also found and the utsuriis neither clear nor distinct. There will be outstanding ji-nieand many chikeiin the ji.
HAMON: On the whole the width of the hamonwill not vary greatly throughout the length of the blade. Also, there will not be much difference in the sizes of the midare. The yakibais nioibased as one would expect with Bizen school blades. There will be koshi biraki midaremade very gently and this is one of the important traits of the Sodai Yosazaemonjô and his son, the Nidai. Occasionally hitatsurahamon will be found.
Each top of the midarehas a peculiar shape which is called “kane-no-hasami” (crab’s claw). O-midare, nie-kuzure, and hitatsuraare also seen. In the case of hiro-suguha, they are formed in o-notareand the edge of the hamonwill be yaki-kuzurebecoming ko-midare.
Regarding tantô, the width of the yakibais made wide and in nioi. The pattern will have the koshi biraki midarein a large pattern and for the size of the blade it is made very gently. Suguhablades are seen at times and the manner in which this is made will be exactly like that of the katanaor wakizashi.
With sun-nobi tantôthe hamonis either hoso-suguhaor the very gentle koshi biraki midare. The jitetsuwill be in a ko-mokume hadawith the grain of the steel standing out somewhat.
BÔSHI: When the bôshiis midare-komi, it is in proportion to and a continuation of the hamonfrom the lower part of the blade. The kaeriwill be made deep. In tantôthe kaerican be shorter. If thetantôis a moriha-zukuri, the kaeriwill continue all the way down the muneto the mune-machi. The pattern of the yakibais exactly the same as that of the cutting side of the blade.
NAKAGO: Short and relatively less tapered nakagoare found. Cho–mei(long signature) is standard in the case of custom -made works. Also included on the nakagoare dates, second names (given names), and sometimes the owner’s name.