Showing posts with label swords. Show all posts
Showing posts with label swords. Show all posts

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Tameshigiri Testing a New Samurai Sword


Tameshigiri is the art of testing a new sword. In the good old days this would often be done using the body of an executed criminal, but sometimes on a live criminal.

When this no longer became practical a substitute was discovered that mimicked the properties of human bodies. Wet goza, the reed mats that cover tatami flooring, when wrapped around bamboo, was close to a human limb.

Nowadays Tameshigiri is a kind of an exhibition martial art, but the goza is not wet and is not wrapped around bamboo.

There are a variety of different cuts and arrangements in Tamegishiri. One of the more difficult is called Tsubamegaeshi. A vertical roll of goza is first cut with a 45 degree downward cut from left to right. then followed by an upward 45 degree cut from right to left below the first cut. Then before the cut piece can fall it is cut in half horizontally from left to right, and a final cut on the remaining standing piece of roll is cut horizontally from right to left. All in the blink of an eye. see Photo 3

This video and these photos were taken at a demonstration of Tamegishiri at the Okuizumo Tatara and Sword Museum and the sword master is Mr. Yoshihara.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Okuizumo Tatara Sword Museum


In the remote Chugoku Mountains of Shimane is a museum featuring many Japanese swords, apparently quite a popular topic for many visitors to Japan, yet few, if any, swords were actually made in this area.

However, this is one of the most important areas for the main ingredient in a sword, iron. Japan had little in the way of iron ore deposits, and for centuries most iron was imported.

However, once the technique of smelting iron sand was introduced,  domestic iron and steel production flourished, and the Okuizumo area became a major exporter to other areas of Japan.

The museum showcases the history of the tatara forges that produced this iron. Perhaps the most intriguing is that the result of a tatara forge includes a small quantity of something called tamahagane, which is one of several types of metal that are vital to producing an authentic Japanese sword. Modern science and technology have been unable to find another way to make tamahagane.

Some days have demonstrations of working a small piece of iron in a modern forge, and members of the public are given the chance to try their hand. Also occasionally there are demonstrations of tamegishiri, sword testing, which I will show in the next post in this series.

Though having no interest in samurai swords I still found the museum intriguing, and, being so remote, is never crowded.

The previous post in this series on Okuizumo was on the sculpture of Yamata no Orochi in front of the museum. The ancient iron industry was so important to the area that there are numerous other tourist sites about it. Nearby is the Itohara Memorial Museum which I would recommend.

A few kilometers from the museum is a modern factory building that contains the only working tatara forge in Japan. It is the only source of tamahagane in Japan, so all, true Japanese swords made nowadays must buy from here. It is thought to be the inspiration for Irontown, a setting in the anime Princess Mononoke.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Yamata no Orochi


Yamata no Orochi is a mythical serpent with 8 heads that appears in the Izumo cycle of ancient Japanese myths set in the time before the descent of imperial lineage.

In the myth, Susano defeats the serpent and marries a local princess who was to be sacrificed to the serpent, and so and begins the rise of Izumo culture that predates and later contributed to Yamato culture.

All these photos are of a modern sculpture depicting Orochi outside the Okuizumo Tatara Sword Museum, in Yokota, Shimane. Orochi appears everywhere throughout Izumo, on draincovers and giving its name to many products, including the tourist train I took to get here.

Yokota is on the River Hi which runs through Okuizumo and it is generally held that the 8-headed serpent refers to the 8 tributaries of the river that is at times violent and dangerous. Some commentators suggest that Orochi represents a tribe that fought the Izumo, but so much evidence suggests it was the river. Near here is the shrine for Kushinada, the princess saved from the serpent, and downstream are shrines to her parents. Nearby also is one of the sites said to be where Susano "descended", and spots downstream said to be Orochi's nests are found in narrow gorges where the river would have been particularly dangerous.

The idea of sacrificing humans to a river is fairly widespread around the world as well as here in Japan. I found a riverbank monument to a local lord who was praised by locals when he switched from burying live humans in the river bank to burying clay figures, and stories of human sacrifice to protect new bridges and castle walls are fairly common.

The museum here is on the ancient method of making iron and swords, and Okuizumo was a major centre. In the Orochi myth Susano discovers a sword in the tail of the dead serpent and this went on to be one of the Three Imperial Regalia.

Tatara, a kind of forge used to make iron from iron sand, the method used in Japan, was said to be introduced from mainland Asia, and once again the myths suggest that it was Susano who brought the technology over from Korea. A shrine south of here near Izumo Taisha attest to this.

later I will post on the fascinating history of iron and swordmaking on display in the museum, but in the meantime you may enjoy a wild and dramatic display of Orochi in videos of our local kagura.

The previous post in this series exploring Okuizumo was the Yokota Folk Museum.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Itohara Memorial Museum

Itohara Memorial Museum

Itohara Memorial Museum.

The Itohara were a family of high-ranking samurai in the service of the Matsue Domain during the Edo Period. Their base was in the mountains of Okuizumo where they were one of several samurai families that controlled the production, and export, of iron.

Itohara Memorial Museum.

The museum at their property near Yokota display many of their artworks, everyday objects, and especially tea ceremony paraphernalia, armor, swords etc as befitting a high-ranking samurai family, but is mostly concerned with the historical production of iron.

Exhibit at the museum.

Japan had very little iron-ore, but some areas, like here in Okuizumo, were rich in iron-sand, and a special type of forge technology was used to process the sand into iron and steel called a tatara forge.

Itohara Memorial Museum.

Part of the output of a tatara forge is a kind of iron called tamahagane in Japanese. This is a vital ingredient in a true Japanese sword and cannot be produced by modern methods, so one single tatra forge is still in operation here in Okuizumo that produces all the tamahagane for swordsmiths.


There is a lot of material on display about historical tatara and such, and quite a lot of samurai possessions and artworks, kimonos etc, however very little info is in English.


The Itohara estate is a few miles from Izumo-Yokota Station on the JR Kisuki Line. Other related posts about Okuizumo can be found by clicking this link.

Itohara Memorial Museum.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sword Dance Extraordinaire

I am a huge fan of kagura, and have seen hundreds and hundreds of dances over the years, most, but not all, Iwami kagura from my local area. While it is still fascinating seeing the variations of dances that different groups perform, it is nowadays rare to see a dance that I had not see before.

So it was with great anticipation I saw something at a performance by a kagura group from down near Masuda. There are basically two types of dance, masked-theatrical which was in earlier times performed by the villagers as entertainment in between the shinji, ceremonial dances, usually performed by the priests. There is a lot of crossover between the two, one being the use of torimono, objects carried by the dancers. Swords are often used as torimono.

I had never seen this kind before, 2 groups of 6 blades, crossed over and held together with material so they could be held. These are real blades, maybe not razor sharp, but still dangerous. At first the solitary dancer performed with these blades in his hand. later a shorter, double pointed blade was held between his teeth while he danced.

The finale to the dance was completely unexpected as the dancer started doing somersaults on the floor while holding all the blades. The roots of the dance is obviously with the shamanic, trance dances that are ultimately the origin of modern Iwami Kagura.