Jon Bowhay

This article was originally published in The East magazine.
It is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

Most Nihont˘ enthusiasts are aware of how important the Hada is to the Japanese sword. It is one of the major points of aesthetic appreciation and a key factor in determining the time, place and school of production. It is also the key to the technical quality of any sword. It is the key not only because well forged, even Hada is obviously desirable and shows that the smith had a thorough knowledge and control over his skills, but also it affects the tempering process. What is not often mentioned is that poorly worked and forged steel will not produce or take a good Hamon. This extends to the color, brightness - the Nie and Nioi - and how they form within and around the Hamon, and even the shape of the Hamon itself. Whether the Hada is Itame, Mokume, Masame or some combination dictates what kind of Hamon both in shape and intristic characteristics can be successfully done. The various qualities found in the steel and imparted to it during the forging process are important in this, but the physical forging grain of the steel is at least as important.

As a T˘gishi, I could not presume to comment on the forging process in detail as it is another area of expertise entirely. But as a T˘gishi, I must be able to deal with the outcome of that forging technique: the Jihada.

Specifically the work on the Hada begins in the Shitaji stage and is carried on into the Shiage. The Hato and Jito stones are used in this case. The stones are of the same kind known as Uchigomori stones. The Hato is usually to deal with the Ha and the Jito, the harder of the two is used to bring out the Jihada. It is used to make the Hada more prominent, or less so, in the case of loosely or coarsely forged Hada. By judicious use of the Jito we can to some extend give the forging a more even appearance. When well done by a T˘gishi with a true understanding of his work, the forging will have a more mellow, well balanced appearance. I hasten to add however, that no T˘gishi can change the basic appearance of the forging or make a poor quality blade better intrinsically. We can only work with the basic quality of the Hada to enhance its positive points in a pleasing way.

With the completion of the Jito, the Shitaji is also completed. We then move into the Shiage work which requires a totally different body position and frame of mind. I continue to work on the Hada in the Tsuya process, using stones I have chosen, split and ground by hand to about 1 millimeter thickness. These I glue with lacquer to paper made from the persimmon tree. There are two different kinds of stone used in the Tsuya process. One is the Hazuya stone used in the Hato and Had˘ri process. The Jizuya is of a yellow brown cast and, as the name implies, is the stone used to deal with the Jihada. This stone helps capture the beauty of the steel by bringing up the highlights of the Jinie. This will give the steel the Nettori or moist, sticky appearance that is so prized in fine blades, and bring out the natural color of the steel. The degree to which all this can be achieved depends on the T˘gishi's skills and the actual amount of Jinie there is to begin with.

It's absolutely necessary to choose the proper stones for each sword. As stones are natural things there are infinite qualities to be found in a single type of stone. This is true of the steel and forging of each blade, and each T˘gishi has a different touch from any other. So we see that the choice of stone is quite dependent upon a number of complex variables. Being able to choose stones of the right sort is one of the important skills a really first class T˘gishi must master.

When the Jizuya process of the Tsuya is completed, it is time for the Nugui. The word simply means "to wipe" and does not really give one any idea of its great importance. It caps all the hard work leading up to giving full expression to the Jihada. The actual substance known as Nugui is made of flakes of highly decomposed steel that is a by-product of the swordsmiths' forging process. This is ground with mortar and pestle for several weeks. It is then mixed with Ch˘jiyű [clove oil] and worked into the Jihada. Though this finely ground and strained through Japanese paper, the polisher must be careful not to get Nuguibiki (Nugui scratches) on the Hada. This would be a disaster and require redoing much of the work already completed. To guard against this takes a very sure touch. In this process, as in the rest of the work as well, one must never hurry, must be deliberate, have courage and put absolutely everything else out of his mind. I have found if someone, no matter how great his skill, lets his mind dwell on one thing or another, his work will come to grief. This may sound easy, but it is the nature of a person to worry about daily things and it is no slight thing to block these things out.

In relationship to the previous work done in the Shitaji with the Hato and Jito, the Nugui process is physically less demanding, but emotionally and aesthetically every bit as demanding. Should the Hada take on too dark or too light an appearance, there is no real way to balance it later. Either situation probably denotes some error in judgement when doing one of the previous steps mentioned. Of course the Jihada of any blade has its own qualities, and some are difficult in the extreme to work with and make them look attractive, but something can always be done to make the Jihada acceptable to some extent. A T˘gishi must, while working on a blade in the earlier steps, be able to anticipate such problems.

When deciding how dark or light to make the Hada, not only the natural highlights and color of the Hada must be taken into consideration but also the height and shape of the Hamon and the basic fineness and coarseness of the Hada forging as well. In the case of a high Hamon where there is more Ha than Ji, I may consider less darkness in the Ji desirable. In any case, the Ji will appear to be darker than it is due to the contrasting whiteness of the Ha. The T˘gishi must not allow the Ha to overpower the total affect of the polish. Conversely in the case of rather low lying Hamon, the T˘gishi may wish to give a very slightly darker cast to the Hada. This is especially true of blades with a rather Shiraketa Hada. This is Hada with a milky, cloudy color. These blades are always a problem, but still can be made quite attractive if the problem is anticipated early and steps taken to minimize it.

When the Nugui is complete it is time to move on to the burnishing of the Shinogiji, the Had˘ri, and finally the placing of the Yokote and Narume which will complete the polish and is not in the scope of this article. At this point I must minimize the ravages of time and get back to work on the blade that awaits my undivided attention.

Other articles on sword polishing by Jon Bowhay

The World of a Togishi

Hadori and Sashikomi

Editor Note: Jon Bowhay is one of very, very few Westerners to ever have completed the full ten year apprenticeship in Japan to become a fully trained and licensed sword polisher (togishi).

Home | Search | History | Care | Pic Glossary | Glossary | Military I | Military II | Repros | Terms I | Terms II | Dirks |
Gendai | Jumei Tosho | Origami | Flaws | Polearms | Tsuba | Logos | Real? | Clubs | Books | Events | Listservs | Kanji | Sageo
Nakirishi Mei | Measure | NBTHK | FAQ | Sinclaire | Articles | Sword Sites | Japan Sites | Martial Arts | World Swords
Yoshichika | Kanefusa | Kanezane | Teruhide | Koa Isshin | Nagamitsu | Emura | Tanto | Yoshimichi | Yasunori | Shigetsugu