The Face of the Japanese Sword

Japanese sword Kissaki image

The sharp edge of the Japanese sword is called “kissaki”. It is also called “boshi”, but boshi can refer to the kissaki itself or the hamon at the kissaki. Kissaki is used more often to avoid this confusion, so here we will go with “kissaki”.

When buying and selling Japanese swords, any gashes will surely count against the sword in its evaluation, but whether the gashes are in the body of the sword or at the kissaki makes a huge difference. A common analogy is that the kissaki is the face of the sword, so it is better to have wounds on your body than on your face. In fact, since the past swords with no forge have been called “no head” and deemed valueless. Swordsmiths took extra care in making the kissaki.

Japanese sword tip, kissaki

The kissaki is that important in evaluating and authentication Japanese swords, and from a practical viewpoint its sharpness and ability to cut are vitally important. The importance of the kissaki can be seen in the names given to all the different parts in an area of a mere few centimeters.

The line between the tip of the kissaki and the corner of the ridge is called “matsuba-kado”; the point where the matsuba-kado and the ridge corner is called “koshinogi”; The line where the koshinogi and the ridge lines merge toward the blade is called “yokote-suji”; the point where the yokote-suji and the blade is called “ha no mitsukado” (blade-triangle); and the curved line joining the kissaki and the blade-triangle is called “fukura”. The fan shaped area made by the matsuba-kado, koshinogi, yokote-suji and fukura is the most important part of the sword in practical use, and reveals the characteristics of the school of swordsmanship or the swordsmith the most.

Illustration of Japanese sword Kissaki parts

To describe the fukura, people use words like “kareru” (withered) or “tsuku” (attached). A fukura that has a nice round cruved line sticking out is called “fukura-tsuku”, and a fukura that does not have much curve and is closer to a straight line is called “fukura-kareru”. One with no curve at all is called “kamasu-kissaki”. Kamasu-kissaki were made in the beginning of the Heian period, albeit for a short period of time.

The shape of the kissaki is divided into “o-kissaki”, “chu-kissaki”, and “ko-kissaki” (large, medium, and small).

The large kissaki is seen often in swords made during the North-South Dynasty Period (1336-1392) and Keicho and Genna eras (1596-1624) during the Edo period which copied the NS Dynasty swords. The mid kissaki is the most standard pattern. It has great balance with the top area of the sword only slightly narrower than the lower area. It is seen throughout different eras, in all regions of Japan, and in all schools of swordsmanship. The small kissaki were made a lot during the late Heian to early Kamakura periods, and these can also be seen in the new Kanbun swords of the Edo period.

The hamon on the kissaki is called “boshi”, and the boshi also shows the skill and characteristics of the swordsmith and is viewed heavily during authentication. These basically can be divided into straight blades and rough blades, and in general older swords have more rough blades and the new swords have more straight blades. Some of them have trendy styles and names, like the “jizo-boshi” which looks like a jizo looking sideways, or the “tiger’s tail” which looks like a tiger’s tail.

Example of unique Boshi(Japanese sword kissaki hamon) - Jizo Boshi, Tora-no-O Kaeri boshi, Taki-otoshi boshi

The Japanese sword has many parts which are important in authenticating it and dating it, but the kissaki is an especially important part of the sword.

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