Jon Bowhay

This article was originally published in The East magazine.
It is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

I would like to discuss and give my views on the Had˘ri and Sashikomi forms of complementing the Hamon in the Shiage process. Such an article as this is of value because many people seem to be much confused about what both styles are, their purpose and the merits of each.

The Sashikomi form of dealing with the Hamon involves following the physical shape of the main portion or, in Japanese, the Kuroiha (the "black" portion of the Hamon, simply the darkest part of the main tempered area) quite exactly. It is of a technical nature by and large that does not allow for the great diversity of Hamon such as the secondary Nie, Nioi, and in general the Hataraki, around and within the Hamon. Sashikomi is primarily of value in dealing with Hamon that have a very tight Nioiguchi. I must mention here that the period of construction of a blade may also play a strong role in the decision to do Sashikomi or to do a more modest Had˘ri.

The Had˘ri, as the name implies, means to take or follow the Hamon. But unlike Sashikomi there is no attempt to follow slavishly the superficial outline of the Hamon without taking into consideration the great diversity that usually exists in the Hamon. In dealing with the Hamon following the Had˘ri style, a T˘gishi must more carefully take into account Hada, its color and the texture of its forging. The Hamon with both its basic shape and the implications of secondary Hataraki in and around the Nioiguchi must be considered well.

When I mention the implication of secondary Hataraki in and around the Nioiguchi, I mean specifically in regard to how much of this should or should not be included within the Had˘ri. Please remember that the whitening and physical outline of the Had˘ri itself is done by the T˘gishi, and making a pleasing balance between Ji and Ha and Sugata, or shape of the blade, rests ultimately with him. It is therefore of utmost importance that he has an understanding of the artistic aesthetics of the particular blade he is polishing. This understanding depends on how well he has internalized all past experiences of polishing various swords, also the personal character of that T˘gishi, his personal and private aesthetics. Herein lies the reason for my own preference of the Had˘ri over the Sashikomi in most - but definitely not all - cases.

Artistically there are infinite possibilities in interpreting the Hamon in Had˘ri. Each T˘gishi will interpret the Hamon differently. There are most certainly boundaries of good taste involved here as in any art form, especially one with a long tradition. But still there is much opportunity for the T˘gishi when doing the Had˘ri to raise his work above mere technical skills and conventions.

Restoring the blade to its original form during the Shitaji is very important. Well honed techniques are necessary here. The Shitaji is however technical tactile skill. Shiage, on the other hand, combines technical skills and artistic sense if the final total polish is to be a success.

Physically the Had˘ri will outline the Hamon and go slightly above the Hamon proper to reveal or exclude secondary activity around the Hamon as aesthetics dictate. Because in the Had˘ri we have the freedom of choice we must be quite careful to choose a theme whether Gunome, Notare, Midare, or a combination of these if necessary. it is important even in mixing several shapes to maintain the basic theme. We must also decide how deep or shallow to go above the Hamon. There are many criteria for making these decisions, such as how dark the Jihada is. If the Hada has natural darkness it may be good to make the Had˘ri a bit more shallow and play down the whiteness a bit. With such a high Hamon to begin with, it may be best to keep the Jihada lighter in color in the previous Nugui step, or the whiteness and depth of the Ha may be overpowering.

In cases of a shallow Hamon or one with a shallow Nioiguchi and/or less secondary activity around the Hamon, the reverse may be right. That is, a slightly darker Hada may be desirable, if it has dark qualities to begin with. We can consider taking full advantage of whatever activity there is in and around the Hamon to deepen the Had˘ri. However, in taking advantage of the space activity around the Hamon or trying to deepen the effect of the Had˘ri on especially a rather low lying Hamon, a T˘gishi without adequate skills or aesthetic understanding will go too deep. This is quite common among even rather competent T˘gishi as is the converse of going too shallow and in effect "killing" the beauty of the Hamon's shape, brilliance and activity. Both cases are often seen, but I must caution that this question of how deep or shallow to take the Hamon, and how to bring out the highlights of the Jihada in relation to the Hamon, is one that even among T˘gishi there is not always agreement. It is a question of taste on a very fine order. When viewing polishes of mediocre or poor quality, such fine points are rather meaningless as such polishes effectively mask the intristic workmanship of the blade anyway.

My wish in writing this is to bring out one of the problems a T˘gishi faces in restoring a sword and give my own views as a T˘gishi as to why the Had˘ri in my estimation is generally superior. I can only present the above as my own preference. Others will doubtless have their own thoughts on this subject and this is what makes art. The quest, the search for art will, if conducted seriously and without self-serving motives, make art.

A narrow totalitarian viewpoint can only produce hacks, not artists, and will ultimately consign any artistic endeavor by such narrow people to the realm of provincial folkcrafts. It will never produce art or thinking that transcends national and ethnic boundaries. Taking this a step further, it may be well for Japanese society, which tries to class everything in it as "uniquely Japanese" and thus unfathomable to the non-Japanese, to consider that this very effectively will build a barrier to understanding between Japan and other countries. Thus real respect and understanding will always elude them. It only allows the proliferation of shallow, warped views and stereotypes.

I have lived most of my life between two cultures, and it seems to me that all too many people are satisfied with such views. They are self-serving and expedient. This is especially true for the government here in forming public opinion. But this falls under the heading of that vast genre of writing of Nihonjinron and not under the heading of art. Yet I think one can see the very subtle but dynamic relation between art and social views. That is how the width and breadth of a society or lack of it can be so very debilitating to art and much else as well.

On this note, I will cease these musings, because at this moment I have a very large Shinshint˘ sitting in the Katanakake, begging to be restored to it's original health and well-being.

Other articles on sword polishing by Jon Bowhay

The World of a Togishi

Hada and Nugui

Editor Note: Jon Bowhay is one of very, very few Westerners to ever have completed the full ten year apprenticeship in Japan to become a fully trained and licensed sword polisher (togishi).

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