found a few last night .
Traditionally the forging of a Japanese sword took place in near-religious conditions. The smithy would be purified by a Shinto priest and would
have a sacred rice-straw rope (shimenawa), with sacred paper (gohei) attached as symbols of purity, erected to surround the smithy. Under no
circumstances were women allowed to enter the smithy. The work of the smith could be seen as almost magical as his sword-making
techniques involved mastery over fire and metal. The smith himself (together with his assistants) would purify himself in mind and body
through abstaining from eating meat, through sexual abstinence and through prayer. For the actual forging of the blade he would wear court
robes or those of a Shinto priest. He may also continue to purify himself throughout the forging process by way of the customary Shinto
purification ritual of cold water ablutions. Japanese blades are thought to be imbued with a spirit that reflects the manner in which they have
been forged, and can also be regarded as the physical manifestation of one of the Shinto deities, the kami. 1787
Emperor Go-Toba, in full court robes, beats out the rudimentary form (sunobe) of a new sword blade in the humble surroundings of a forge
with cracked mud walls. This woodblock print of about 1840 is from the series ‘Hyakunin Isshu’ by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.
In 1221, the cloistered Emperor Go-Toba attempted to overthrow the new military government but was defeated and sent into exile on the
island of Oki. From this position he was able to concentrate on his great love of swords, their manufacture and history. From his exile he
summoned eminent swordsmiths, together with the necessary professional sword polishers, to visit him on Oki for a fixed period during the
year. He gave them the title Goban Kaji – ‘Smiths in attendance to the Emperor’. In return for the imperial patronage, the smiths taught the
emperor the many techniques of the established five schools (Gokaden) of sword manufacture, particularly those of Bizen and Yamashiro.
It is believed that Go-Toba was actually involved in at least the process of hardening the blades (yaki-ire) but the precise extent of his
involvement in any of the more arduous tasks of forging the blades is not known. It was regarded as a great honour to work with the emperor,
and blades produced by Go-Toba and his attendant smiths are not signed, but bear the 24-leaf imperial chrysanthemum crest on the hilt
With this previously unheard of patronage, the Japanese sword gained even more status as an art object during a period when its prime
function, in the bloody and violent state of the country at that time, was as a killing instrument.
The print depicts the swordsmith Sanjo Munechika, who lived during the Heian period (794–1185), forging the
blade ‘Ko-Kitsune’ (‘Little Fox’) for the Emperor Ichijo (r. 987–1011). Munechika is assisted by Inari, the Shinto deity regarded as the
guardian of smiths and metalworkers. Inari would often appear in the guise of a white fox, and an ethereal group of foxes (the earthly
messengers, or manifestations of Inari) are shown here in the background. Around Munechika hang Shinto symbols of purity: a sacred
rice-straw rope (shimenawa) with sacred paper (gohei) attached. Japanese blades were thought to be imbued with a spirit reflecting the
manner in which they were forged, and swordsmiths worked in near-religious conditions. Purified in mind and body, they invoked divine spirits
in their mastery over fire and metal.
awesome as always!
I would love to have a print of the picture in post #5.
Good stuff. Thanks for posting this. :doublethumbsup: