Monday, April 25, 2005

Osafune Kiyomitsu made my sword

So I finally got around to investigating the origin of my sword.

I bought a katana many years ago when I was living in Tokyo. I'd been studying at Sugino Yoshio's dojo for about a year when I approached some of the senior students about finding me a reasonably-priced antique katana that would be good enough for a humble barbarian wanna-be like myself.

One fellow had a friend who was a collector and was planning to get some of his high-end blades polished, so he was looking to sell some of his crappy blades to raise the money to do that (katana-polishing is very expensive). The fellow looked over his selection and brought one to me.

At the time I knew almost nothing about swords. And my Japanese was never terrific, so communication was always a problem. But the sword was beautiful, if obviously flawed in a couple of respects (two chips, one right at the tip, and some minor corrosion), and I bought it, having faith in the people who were teaching me how to use it. There was a signature on the tang, which I was interested in, but I understood that it was considered probably a forgery.

Note that that doesn't mean the blade is worthless; it means that the guy who made the blade figured he could get more money for it by passing it off as the work of a superior smith. It's still a properly-made and antique weapon, it's just not made by who it says it was made by.

Okay, enough preamble. My copy of The Samurai Sword arrived the other day and I just spent the last couple of hours inspecting the blade and figuring out what it says and what the rest of the weapon's qualities can tell me.

I've owned it for nine years now, and I'm just getting around to verifying what people told me. Nine years after I spent several thousand dollars just taking their word for it.

Anyway, the tang inscription says "Bizen Osafune Kiyomitsu" which is a reasonably well-known smith from the mid-1500's. The blade is of size and shape and style consistent with smiths of that time, and although the hamon (the temper line) is quite a bit smoother than the one verified Kiyomitsu blade I found online, it is very similar in terms of form (ridgeline, general shape, grain of steel and tang) and I think it's reasonable to say it's from a smith who knew Kiyomitsu's work pretty well. I'm pretty sure it's not a mid-Tokugawa sword, as I once thought, as the grain is very pronounced, which apparently is rare in the later swords, so I think I've got a Muromachi or an early Tokugawa sword.

That's what I'm going to believe, anyway. And I thought it was cool and that I would tell you lot. So I did.