Episodes by Kokaji

Our smith Kokaji introduces several funny episodes. We hope you enjoy them.

1) Tempering crack at kissaki

When Kokaji was still an apprentice in his teacher's work shop.
One day the teacher tempered a spear that had a diamond section. Then the apprentice polished it with the rough stone to see the hamon. That was a fine suguha, and there was a sharp crescent line at the point.


The teacher took the blade to see the result and said "No good".
The apprentice asked him what was the reason of "No good"?
He pressed the tip to concrete floor, instead of an answer. Not hit, just pressed.
The tip was broken easily, and he said the apprentice "Look".
The shape of the removed piece was as sharp as a piece of ice.
It was so nice that the apprentice wanted to keep it.



2) Mizukage
One day, Kokaji visited a master polisher to receive a tanto blade that was made by himself and had been polished by the master. In the master's parlour, he came across a student of the master, who had finished apprenticeship and worked independently. Therefore there were three persons in the room, Kokaji, the master, and his student. They started studying the fresh polished blade together.
 
When the student studied the blade, he asked his teacher,
"This blade has Mizukage, was it re-hardened?"
The master answered,
"No, it was not re-hardened. The smith put the blade with 45 degrees into the water at hardening."
The student,
"I understand."
The smith intruded into their conversation,
"I am sorry, I didn't harden it such a way. I just put into parallel with water surface."
The teacher told his student,
"This is mizukage. He certainly put blade into with 45 degrees, even he doesn't remember."
The smith said,
"...Probably, ...I might unconsciously act so."
Then, all the persons in the room got happy.

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Be careful. Sometimes we face similar situations in Japan.
(=> Poetical terms, mizukage)

3) Step-hardening

Kokaji was shown an old Naginata by a customer. It was very old, may be from Kamakura period or Nambokucho period, but very healthy with its meat. It was a little shortened.
The owner was proud of the blade. But Kokaji found that the hamon was a step-hardening, above the monouchi was a re-hardened new hamon. The owner was disappointed with that.
Sometimes we find such work on old blades.


The original hamon disappears before the new hamon. Then the reproduced hamon starts with mizukage.

This blade was polished very well by the modern style. Of course the hadori (white pattern) was made as one continuing hamon pattern. So it was a little difficult to break the trick of step-hardening for beginners.
Anyhow, it is impossible to connect new hamon to the original hamon.


4) Grinding Iai master's blade
Kokaji had made a blade for an old Iai master who settled an exact order for the weight.
One day the old man brought the sword to kokaji's forge again and asked to grind the blade lighter because it became heavy for him.
Usually Kokaji doesn't accept such a terrible order, but finally he accepted.
He seemed it empty to educate such a respectable old man.
The blade was ground with the rough stone, and checked the weight by the old man swinging it.
The work repeated again and again until the old man agreed with the weight.
They didn't know how much steel had gone.
When the blade was re-polished, the hamon Kawazuko-choji before had changed to Komidare with small Tobiyaki.

The old man tried to sheathe the blade into the scabbard, but it couldn't run to the end.
The curvature became smaller, and it didn't fit to the old scabbard.



5) Very bad inlay work on the tang
At some Kantei game of sword club, Kokaji saw a very good tachi blade with an original length.
He was sure it was made in 12th century.
When the handle was taken off he was very surprised.
Because, the tang was originally unsigned and kept an original shape, but it had a gold inlay that was made recently.
It was two letters of the name of "Yoshikane" and the signature of professor "K.H".
It meant that the professor "K.H" attributed the blade to "Yoshikane" (in Kobizen school).
 
This gold inlay was a very big flaw even if it was beautiful. The originality of this tang was broken by the inlay work. Serious sword lovers never do such work because they respect blades.
The person who produced this inlay does not love swords, only plays with them.
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Generally a gold inlay of a smith's name has to be done at the same time of shortening the blade, being sorry the signature disappear.
Sometimes, old Hon'nami put their attributed name with gold inlay on the shortened tang.
An attributed name has to be done with lacquer.
A red lacquer is on the original unsigned tang. A gold lacquer is on the shortened tang (O-suriage).


6) An excellent re-polishing
Once ago around 1980, a collector had "Moritoshi" tachi of Ko-Aoe school.
It was very good blade and so was its polishing. The polishing was very old as 100 years or so.
The blade steel was full of clear jinie and a large layer pattern flowed with misty utsuri (shadow of hamon). The appearance of steel particles looked like sands through the water. The hamon was mild konie making a komidare pattern and the particles twisted on the hamon along the large wood grain. The blade moved us with its profoundly gentle, feeling.
But unfortunately the blade had deep rust on the cutting edge, midway along its length. The owner hesitated to re-polish it being afraid that the shape may be broken. In the end he brought it to Hon'nami to ask for a re-polish.
After some months, the blade had been completed. Kokaji and the owner were scared to look at it but the shape had not been broken. They couldn't even imagine how the Hon'nami ground out the rust and they believed he'd worked a miracle.
They were also surprised by the finish on blade surface because the whole feeling of the blade had been changed by his modern polishing style. The steel was filled with silver jinie making a very small wood grain. They could not find any large layer pattern nor utsuri. The hamon particles became bright and strong. The old, gentle blade had become a strong, shining one.
Anyhow, the new polishing was excellent, but they missed the original polishing style.
 

7) An interesting story of polishing styles
There was an old polisher who was very famous for his modern style polishing work.
A blade polished by him changed dramatically. It had a shining steel surface, visible layer patterns, mirror finished shinogi-ji and an attractive white hamon.
His thumb made a miracle.
It seemed like the blade had jumped two or three grades up the rankings.
He was always a leader in the fashions of sword polishing.
Even today, many polishers are afraid to re-polish one of his jobs, because its attractive appearance would certain diminish in any polishers hands.
His polishing system included many secret techniques and his modern style polishing was in high demand.

However the masterpieces hidden away in his own collection were all polished in the old classical style.
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We don't know if this story is true or not. But it illustrates the meaning of polishing style clearly.
HADORI polishing is good for business, SASHIKOMI is good for loving.


8) An O-suriage katana "Shizu"
Kokaji was shown a good katana blade by a friend of him. The friend asked him to answer the name of smith without putting off the handle.
They often play such Kantei game with close friends.
Kokaji answered "Kiyomaro".
The friend said "No".
Then the handle was put off. The tang was O-suriage, but it already had a paper attribute to "Shizu".
(Kiyomaro ; 19th century, Edo city)
(Shizu, Saburo Kaneuji ; 14th century, Mino province)
The friend was proud of the Shizu blade, and was going to have it re-polished to challenge higher rank paper.
He told kokaji to study the mild temper line that never seen in Shin-shinto.
Kokaji thought the blade had been much ground to confuse it so old, and the tang also reshaped to confuse with O-suriage.
They studied the blade carefully and discussed, but never got conclusion.
Some months later, the friend told kokaji that the blade was polished up by a famous polisher and submitted to shinsa.
The friend said,
"It is secret, but the polisher whispered me the blade is Kiyomaro".
Then, Kokaji never heard the result of the challenge for higher rank paper.
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Only polishers can see the real face of blade before make up.


9) Cast iron tsuba
Kokaji found an iron tsuba at an antique dealer. Its design was that he was looking for so far. But it looked like cast iron by studying it in his hand.
It was a casting copy of a good Owari tsuba. Cast iron tsuba is far cheaper than steel tsuba, even if the design is so good. The difference of their prices is ten times or more in the market. Cast iron tsuba is a toy and never could be a weapon.
He said to the dealer that he was sorry for that tsuba because of it was cast iron. The dealer didn't agree with him, because the dealer was sure it was steel. Then they studied it carefully but never agreed. There was no seam mark on the cut out surface. The seam mark caused by casting work had been removed by filing carefully.
The dealer said, "I believe this tsuba is steel, so please break it. If it can not break easily, please buy it."
Kokaji didn't want to break it in two pieces, so he settled it on vice and punched a small part of it. A small amount of metal was broken off easily. It never bent. Finally they got the solution. It was a very cast iron tsuba. It was so brittle.



10) Break army officer's blade
Now, I remember an episode of my teacher Naohiro the third. I heard that from his younger brother who was a polisher and worked together with the Naohiro.
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In the time WWII, the brothers were around 30 years old.
An army officer brought a blade within shirasaya to the Naohiro forge to ask producing army mount for it.

He was going to Manchuria, so he needed a new sword preparing for future combat.
The blade was a modern steel made with sambon-sugi hamon.
The hamon was not so wide, but it looked very hard like a mirror, and so was the steel.
Naohiro told the officer that the blade was not suitable for his army sword because it seems brittle.
The officer became angry with Naohiro's words, and told him forcefully if he could break the blade immediately.
The brother of Naohiro was very afraid what would happen if Naohiro couldn't break it.
Naohiro struck the back of the blade against the stone steps at the entrance of forge.
The blade was broken in two pieces.

Then the officer cooled down his anger, and got satisfied with the advice Naohiro had given.
The brother of Naohiro had almost lost his spirit, and then felt relieved.
Then, the officer ordered Naohiro another sword to bring to Manchuria.
Later, the brother asked Naohiro, why he created such a threatening situation by himself.
Naohiro answered with indifferent face that he was sure the blade would be broken.
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The brother told me that Naohiro the third was really amazing.


Self portrait of Naohiro the III


11) Crack in hamon disappeared
One day, Kokaji was shown a katana blade by his friend. That was Osafune Kiyomitsu with bright suguha hamon, and engravings of grooves and Sanskrit letters. It was a nice blade at first sight. But, it had a crack in hamon at the middle part of the blade. It would be still good blade, though the value was not high in market.

Some months later, another friend brought a Kiyomitsu katana again. It looked same to the cracked Kiyomitsu, but it was newly polished by brilliant modern style this time. Kokaji studied the blade and confused, if it would be the same blade to the Kiyomitsu he saw some months ago. The shape, hamon and engravings were the same, but he couldn't find the crack by any searching. Studying carefully, he found a strange appearance at the middle part of the blade. It was a little difficult to be found, because of the very white hadori. The bright hamon line disappeared at the middle part, and the bright hamon area also became dark around the part. It could be considered some effect of heat. Kokaji didn't know what happened on the crack, but he was sure it was the Kiyomitsu he knew.

A good quality blade had been castrated.


12) Sword for Kamikaze pilots
This is another episode of Naohiro the 3rd in his young working days. He named "Keiun Naotsugu" before his father Naohiro (the 2nd) retired.
"Keiun" means lucky cloud. So many air troopers liked his blades to put into their army sword as lucky charm. Usually pilots didn't carry their sword into cockpit. But in war time, they rode on with their sword together.
The sword for air troopers were special ordered, because lighter weight was necessary to carry into cockpit. Keiun Naotsugu made swords for them with his special work. The sword looked normal shinogi-zukuri style katana with grooves on shinogi-ji. But the dimension was almost hira-zukuri with yokote line. He reduced the weight of blade by creating such a shape. He accepted many orders from air troopers.
During WWII, many of "Lucky cloud" blades might sink in the Pacific Ocean together with their owner Kamikaze pilots.
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Once, retired 3rd Naohiro told me this story.


13) Overlooking a masterpiece
An old person brought a sword at a sword club. He was handed down the sword from his father, but he had small knowledge about sword. He became old, and he was thinking to release his father's sword. Then he wanted to know what the sword is.
The members studied the sword one after another. It was a long tachi blade of 75~80 cm long without signature. Kokaji appreciated it as masterpiece, but no one agreed with his opinion. They judged it as a weary blade in 15th century, and the smith was in the school like Uda or so.
Their opinion on the study was,
1, The shape is weary.
2, The steel is rough layer pattern.
3, The hamon is non-ordered pattern with uneven large particles.
4, The file work on the tang is not clean.
In conclusion, the work is not skilful. The blade quality is not very high, and so is the value.
Then, the old man brought back the sword.

Some months later, Kokaji went to a sword shop. He was shown a typical Ko-Bizen blade there.
1, The shape is koshi-sori with big Fumbari. The kissaki is small.
2, The steel is a large wood grain layer pattern with jifu-utsuri.
3, The hamon is natural ko-midare pattern with much nie (large particles).
4, The tang is kijimomo style with plane finish (sen-suki). But originally unsigned.
It was a masterpiece, and healthy as 800 years old blade. In a moment, he found that it was The blade at the sword club. He was told the story how the sword came to the shop. Then he knew that the father of that old man was a famous collector. He had handed down the best sword to his son.
Kokaji studied the blade again carefully. The condition of the sword never changed to that seen at the sword club, but the impression is very different. It was one of the best blade he had ever seen.
This time, no one doubts that it is a masterpiece of Ko-Bizen.

14) Experiment of sharpness "Chinese sword vs Japanese sword"
Once Kokaji made a custom sword for an old collector. It was a wakizashi, but very unique with broad width and big thickness. It was heavier than normal long sword. The collector told Kokaji an episode of his experiment about with Chinese sword and Japanese sword.

One day in WWII when the collector was young, he got an idea to test sharpness of Chinese sword and Japanese sword. He had a Chinese sword like this, Chinese sword1. Such swords were common in that time.
He settled the Chinese sword on the vise, clamped the tang tightly with cutting edge upward. Then he swung down with his Japanese sword against it. The Japanese sword cut into the edge of the Chinese sword. The edge of Japanese sword was harder than that of Chinese sword. He was proud in his mind of the superiority of Japanese sword.
Then, he changed the position of swords opposite, settled the Japanese sword on the vise, and swung down with Chinese sword against it. This time, Japanese sword broke off two pieces.


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