The following is a summary infomation presented on Bizen-den in the four following references: 1) Hawley's Japanese Swordsmiths, 2) Nagayama's Token Kantei Dokuhan, 3) Albert Yamanaka's Newsletter, and 4) Nihonto Koza.

Hawley's Japanese Swordsmiths

Shape: Tachi, tanto and katana in the koto period, all shapes in later periods. sakizori and koshizori
Hada: Mokume and itame with the appearance of moitsure our uroi.
Hamon: Choji, sakachoji, small choji, gunome-midare (sic, I believe this was a typographical error is should have read choji-midare)
Boshi: Ko-midare, ko-maru

Nagayama - Token Kantei Dokuhan

According to Nagayama Bizen-den begins at the end of the Heian Period with the Ko-Bizen School and carried on by the Ichimonji School. Mid-Kamakura period we see the rise of the Osafune School. Nagayama divides discussion of Bizen into two main areas; 1) by main school and change over time, 2) by leading swordsmiths. This discussion will only attempt to summarize the main schools and change over time.

Late Heain Period - Early Kamakura:

Ko-Bizen has choji-midare in nioi-deki. See influence on Yamato-den with hamon based on suguha mixed with ko-midare and ko-choji in nie deki. The hamon then evolves into one based on midare, hada is mokume, chu-mokume or ko-mokume. Jifu utsuri is often seen. Finally choji-midare in nioi completed by the Fukuoka Ichimonji School.

Middle and Late Kamakura Period:

Jigane is soft and well forged, mainly mokume with some o-hada patterns, midare-utsuri or choji-utsuri, some ji-fu-utsuri. Other items remain the same for the most part from the previous period. Boshi is midare-komi, ko-midare and ko-maru.

Nambokucho Period:

The shape now reflects the grander style of the period, longer swords with longer kissaki. Workmanship begins to reflect the So-den, or soshu style. Jigane is some, has utsuri and o-mokume hada combined with dark jigane that looks like "swimming catfish" (don't even ask me what that means). There is also ko-mokume hada which stands out and also has utsuri. Hamon, if wide, loses its utsuri. Hamon changes and we begin to see notare-midare and saka-midare forms. Boshi is usually midare komi, in proportion to the hamon but kaeri seems to getting longer.

Early Muromachi Period:

Shape now reduced in size from previous period, return to style of Kamakura period. Sori inclined to sakizori (which is different from the koshizori of earlier times). Hamon is koshihiraita midare with choji-midare. Utsuri is now straight. Also see some midare and suguha.

Late Muromachi Period:

Hada loses it appearance of wetness/oiliness. Utsuri is now rarely seen and if seen is no longer distinct. Koshihiraita midare with special variety known as crab-claw choji. Considerable nie in the hamon. Nie kuzure is seen. Scattered nioi.

Albert Yamanaka's Nihonto Newsletter

In beginning a review of Yamanaka's comments with respect to Bizen-den it might best to state that Mr. Yamanaka did not write specifically about he characteristics of the tradition in his newsletters. Instead, he followed a format whereby he describes a number of smiths who perhaps best represent the given periods in time who happened to work in Bizen-province. These smiths as a collective body serve to establish the tradition. In the March 1970 issue of the Newsletter, Yamanaka also says that this tradition finds it roots in the late Heian period with the foundation of the Ko-Bizen School by Sanenori, followed by Tomonari and Sukenari. However, these smiths actually worked in the Yamashiro tradition which is described indirectly in the text as evolving into a distinctly new tradition. The first smith that Yamanaka presents with a completely Bizen-den style is Norimune. Rather than confuse you with details of mixed styles or leave you to try to sort of which style other smiths adhered to, Norimune is presented, perhaps incorrectly, as representative of the emerging Bizen tradition. Mr. Yamanaka then spends 7 more issues of the newsletter to describe the changes in Bizen-den. For the sake of brevity it is omitted.

Those interested in reading the details of the development of this tradition are welcome to read my copy of the newsletter before, during or after the next meeting. If there is sufficient interest in obtaining extracts or copies of the newsletter we can arrange a mass reproduction effort at cost. Additionally, we have two differenct indexes for the Yamanaka newsletter. Dick Stein has one which was compiled by R.B. Holcomb which lists smith names cross-indexed to the issues of the newsletters they appear in. I have prepared an index which is a summarized version of the table of contents for each issue. My index is useful if you are looking up a general topic rather than a specific swordsmith.


Shape: Early Kamakura style tachi and Mid Kamakura style tachi. Koshizori with much hiraniku. The shinogi is high. The other characterisitics are "just right." Ikubi kissaki and some ko-dachi are made.
Horimono: is seen - bo-hi and futasuji-hi
Hamon: Narrow yakiba, worked in nioi, ko-midare or suguha choji-midare but these are rare. Most works are wide nioi with o-choji-midare, juka midare, o-fusa choji midare. Long ashi, kinsuji and inazuma. Nie combined with nioi.
Boshi: Midare-komi ending in yakizume or slight kaeri. Also kochoji midare ending in komaru.
Hada: Soft appearance, ko-mokume with o-hada mixed in. Choji utsuri. Works with tight grain will have jifu utsuri and there will be chikei
Nakago: long, narrow tip, kurijiri. There are some kijimomo. File marks are kiri or suji chigai. Usually signed with two characters or simply "Ichi" Majority of works are now o-suriage.

Nihonto Koza (Afu Translation)

In Volume IX, Koto Part 3, about half the book is dedicated to Bizen-den. The section on Bizen-den begins with a general outline. Then each of the major schools is then described in detail. I have arbitrarily selected two early Bizen for comparison.

General Description:

Shape: Traditionally thought of as koshizori, but actual koshizori is rare and fumbari is strong. The author contends that swords only appear koshi because the mihaba at the moto is wide. Tachi and ko-dachi or tanto prevail. From 1504 forward we see the wakizashi
Hada: Considerable discussion is made without ever mentioning that it is mokume hada. Instead different schools are compared with various adjectives. Utsuri is discussed and it is obviously present.
Hamon: Shape and other features various according to school, in general choji is most common, and unless very old, nioi deki prevails.
Boshi: Again some discussion is made without actually mentioning that the boshi is midare-komi.
Nakago: Long and slender, with niku, however as time progressed the tang became shorter and thicker.


Shape: Tachi most common, some ko-dachi, no tanto. Tachi are koshizori, sori is high, mihaba is wide, funbari is strong. Measurements are long. There are also tachi which sori is high, mihaba is narrow and the ko-kissaki is "just right."
Hada: Sometime almost muji or without a grain appearance. Otherwise hada is tight, ji-nie, and bit of utsuri but not as good as Ichimonji.
Hamon: Ko-nie deki for the oldest pieces, irregular ko-midare or a mixture of ko-midare and ko-choji are most common.
Boshi: Ko-maru, midare-komi, thick ko-nie with shallow kaeri, rarely you will see yakizumi or one with keep kaeri.
Nakago: Long with niku in the hira, have some sori, just right proportions, and some kijimomo.

Fukuoka Ichimonji

Shape: Same as Ko-bizen but also see some naginata.
Hada: Mokume mixed with itame, well forged with ji-nie, most have choji utsuri.
Hamon: Majority are conspicuous juka-choji, o-fusa-choji, there is a lot of nioi ashi with hamon reaching all the way to the shinogi. With later periods we begin to see mostly nioi-deki.
Boshi: Various types including ko-maru, o-maru, midare-komi, generally, kaeri is shallow, sometimes see a deep kaeri or a yakizume.
Nakago: Same as Ko-Bizen, also signed with a single character, "Ichi."

Materials compiled by Tony Thomas
May 29, 1997

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