Tachi (Long Sword), signed "Norikuni"

Norikuni13th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum

As a center of political authority, Kyoto from early on was home to numerous smithies for the production of swords (tōken). Among these, the smithies situated in the Awataguchi area of the early capital during the late Heian and Kamakura periods came to be known as the Awataguchi school smithies. Particularly famed were six brothers Hisakuni, Kunikiyo, Arikuni, and Kunitsuna, as well as Kunitomo and Kuniyasu, who were sword smiths serving the Retired Emperor Gotoba (1180–1239, r. 1180–1198) on a rotating basis. The forger of this sword Norikuni (n.d.) was the son of Kunitomo.
Originally this blade was longer, close to three shaku (over 90 cm), but it was shortened to its present length for better handling using a method known as suriage, whereby both sides of the lower end of the blade were filed down to extend the tang upwards, and then the tang cut shorter. The tang butt still bears a two-character inscription, “Norikuni,” incised with a relatively thick iron chisel. The slender sword has a point (kissaki) with small edge and gentle slopes, and the curve of the blade is centered slightly towards the tang end.
These characteristics lend the sword a tight, smart impression; even alterations in later centuries did nothing to disfigure the overall proportions. The long sword’s elegant form, with a dignity composed of beautifully curved lines, is characteristic of early Kamakura-period Kyoto swords. It exhibits trademark techniques of the Yamashiro smithies: a grain (jigane) with densely forged koitame (“fine wood grain”), a tempering pattern (hamon) incorporating small veins and flecks, and a narrow, straight temper line (hososuguha) that dips somewhat. Such achievements in bracing tempering (yakiire) and in incomparably precise grain pertain not only to Kyoto swords, but also typify Japanese swords in general. This one is a king among swords.

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