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Osafune in Okayama : The land of Japanese sword – Part 2 –

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/20 Traditional Culture, Travel & View point , , , , , , ,

Bizen Osafune Japanese sword museum (1)

Bizen Osafune Japanese sword museum

About 30 minute walk from the Kagato station.
It’s an institution with a sword museum, a shop, a forge and a sword craft centre.
It cost me 500 yen (in November 2014) to enter the museum, but others were free.

There were no swordsmiths nor craftsmen except one when I visited in Saturday afternoon.
In the official website, during opening hours there seems to be two swordsmiths and three craftsmen :
“Shiro-gane-shi” (lit. silver master) to make “habaki”, “nu-shi” (lit. coating master) to coat a scabbard, and “toushin-choukoku” (lit. blade curving).
However, they might go for lunch, visit customers or somewhere, so they are not always there.
If you want to see them working, the best way is perhaps to ask the schedule in advance to the museum.

Actually, this post is a quick explanation of Japanese sword craftsmen rather than an introduction of the museum.
It’s going to be a two (or three) parts article.


Craft Centre

Osafune sword craft centre

Every following video is Bizen-style sword-making, filmed by MEXT (Ministry of education, culture, sports, science and technology – Japan).
It seems to be taken in this craft centre.
Japanese language only.



Osafune forge for sword

Osafune forge for sword

Probably swordsmiths forge a blade here.


[“Togi-shi” (lit. sharpening master)]

Working place for togi-shi

“Togi-shi” is the craftsman to sharpen a sword with grind stone.
A forged sword must be finished by “togi-shi”.
“Togi-shi” also handle the old swords to maintain them.
If there’s something wrong with sword (ex. rust), “togi-shi” will mend it.

A staff in the museum told me that the cost for sharpening would vary according to the skill of “togi-shi”.
Some “togi-shi” say five thousand yen, some say ten thousand and some say hundred thousand.
The price is not per blade but per “sun” (the old Japanese unit of length. Approx. 3 cm or 1.2 inch) of the blade.


[“Shiro-gane-shi” or “Habaki-shi”]

“Shiro-gane-shi” makes “habaki”, a piece of metal which covers the base of the blade so that the base becomes little bit wider.


- "Habaki" -

So, when the blade is placed in the scabbard, there will be a small gap between the blade and the scabbard.
“Habaki” prevents the blade coming off from the scabbard or touching inside of the scabbard.

Habaki and blade

Black line represents the blade.
Red line is "habaki".
Blue line shows a gap.
Without "habaki", the scabbard must perfectly fit the size of the blade.
Otherwise, the blade will slip off.
This means there will be almost no gaps, and without gaps the blade will rust more quickly.



[“Saya-shi” (lit. scabbard master)]

Working place for saya-shi

“Saya-shi” makes a scabbard for a sword.
There are two kinds of the Japanese sword scabbard.
The one is “shiro-saya” (lit. white scabbard), the other is “koshirae” (lit. made-up).
Using Japanese bigleaf magnolia wood which had been air-dried for more than 10 years.
The magnolia wood is not too hard, blocks magnetism, doesn’t contain oil and has no harshness, so the blade won’t rust easily.

“Shiro-saya” is a cover to protect the blade.
It’s not coated so that the blade can breathe.
Air coming in and out prevents the blade from tarnishing in a short time.
The sword is kept in this scabbard at home.

“Koshirae” is much more decorative, coated with Japanese lacquer.
The blade cannot breathe inside of this scabbard, so if you keep your sword in this, it will rust much more quickly than in “shiro-saya”.
This is the one to be used when you go out.
“Saya-shi” makes the base only.
Coating will be done by another craftsman called “nu-shi”.
The base for “koshirae” is thinner than “shiro-saya” because it will be thicker with Japanese lacquer.

Ukiyo-e by Kuniyoshi Utagawa

- Ukiyo-e by Kuniyoshi Utagawa (1852) -
Samurai wearing two swords with "kosirae" scabbards.

In the next post, I’m going to write about the rest of craftsmen and the museum.


Related posts:
#Osafune (1) (3)
#Katana : Japanese sword (1) (2)

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A Japanese living in Okayama. A proud "Otaku"! Loves animals, snacks, manga, games (PC, iPad, Nintendo DS, PSP), foreign TV dramas, traveling and football (soccer).

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