Kamisori no ejji - Stephanie Shivak

This collection depicts the artistry of various traditional Japanese swords.

Here we see the beauty of both the kodachi and tachi swords, as well as their respective scabbards, known as saya. This pair is known as a daisho, which is a matched pair crafted together to create a visually complementary set. Though these are contemporary recreations, traditional techniques were used to give the blades their distinctive wood grain texture or rippled texture. The scabbards are lacquer on wood and utilize a deep contrast to make the leaves seem as if they are floating on a dark pond.
The Japanese word for sword guard is tsuba. Prior to the Edo period, Japan was in turmoil, and tsuba were created more for practicality than beauty. This simple tsuba is reminiscent of those times. It is etched almost in relief, with a minimalistic scene. The white of the waterfall stands out against the grey of the landscape.
This katana blade is a brilliant example of the genius of Japanese swordsmiths. Though they were unaware of slag and how it affects a blade, they were able to manipulate it to turn weapons into artwork. Instead of the usual wood grain textures, we see what is known as the wave or toramba pattern. The undulating pattern of the darker slag against the tempered edge gives the blade the illusion of flowing water.
This tachi sword's description indicates that it is a prop for a form of Japanese theatre known as Kagura. The blade markings lead me to conclude that this is true. The shape and form of the blade are accurate - smooth and following a gentle curve - and would convince any average audience member. However, the steel shows a suguha , or striaght, slag pattern. It is a very old - or modeled after a very old - technique. As Kagura typically portray myths and history, this would make sense. The slag pooled together, creating a simple band of darker, impure metal along the center.
These tsuba are from the Edo period, when Japan was at peace and their weapons were made for beauty, not war. The top and bottom left utilize overlays to create contrast. Against the black base, the gilded elements seem to float on their own. The top and bottom center have repeating patterns that create a sense of movement. In the top right, the dragon seems almost alive, twisting on itself. The lines of the bottom right also give a sense of movement, but in a wriggling, writhing kind of way.
This tachi sword sports a choji-midare ripple pattern. Along with the slag that formed the ripples during tempering, lacquer was added afterward to accentuate the pattern. The waves are irregular, hinting at a more organic inspiration. The erratic movement contrasts with the smooth curves of the ha - the cutting edge - and the mune - the side opposite, sometimes called the spine.
Another Edo tsuba, we see a dragon in the clouds holding a pearl of wisdom. According to the description, the dragons could control the wind and tides with the aforementioned pearl of wisdom. The tusba takes advantage of negative space for not only utility - the holes could be used as knife or hair pick holders - but also to represent the dragon in flight.
This is another look at the tachi sword and scabbard from the first daisho. Here, the shape and lines of the pieces are the focus. Both edges of the blade follow the most graceful of curves, not rushing or sharply bending at any point. The saya follows the same lines. The wrapping on its hilt - or tsuka - contrasts the direction of these lines with horizontal diamonds in the negative space.
This tachi bears a komidareba pattern: very shallow and slightly irregular waves. The trough of this curve leans back toward the nakago, or tang, which is the unpolished bit that would be covered by the tsuka. It looks more like a shallow checkmark than the bowl of other tachi. Additionally, the curved edges do not maintain the same distance along the length of the sword, rather they taper, creating a more refined, elegant feel.
Here is a closer look at the tsuka wrappings the the negative-space diamonds. Inside the diamonds, we see organic, seed-like shapes that provide a bit of texture. Underneath the wrappings, there appears to be a an amulet of connected geometric circles. The tsuba is pre-Edo, with functionality being its main objective. The negative space is not part of the design, rather it is simply a series of holes for the blade and knives. The metal plates are, however, entirely decorative, and their designs are plated in gold.
Credits: All media
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