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Examining Kissaki: The Blade Tip of a Japanese Sword

Written By: Abigail Cambal
Published On: January 4, 2024

NO AI USED This Article has been written and edited by our team with no help of the AI

The kissaki, the point of the blade, usually varied depending on the period in which the sword was produced. However, like other parts of the Japanese sword, a kissaki was sometimes reshaped in later periods and is carefully examined in sword appraisal to determine if its shape has been altered.

The kissaki refers to the fan-shaped area on the blade’s tip. The curvature of the tip’s cutting edge is called fukura, which can be described as rounded or relatively straight.
In sword appraisal, the size and shape of a kissaki can help identify the blade’s production time.
The kissaki also features a boshi (the hamon or pattern of the hardened edge on the point) that varies in shapes and patterns. The boshi can also be linked to individual swordsmiths and schools, making it crucial in sword appraisal.

Anatomy and Features of a Kissaki

Japanese Blade bounded by yokote and ko shinogi
A Japanese blade featuring the point, bounded by the yokote and ko-shinogi – Credits: Mandarin Mansion Antiques

The kissaki is the fan-shaped area at the tip of the blade, located above the yokote and the ko-shinogi. The yokote is the line perpendicular to the cutting edge, separating the point area from the body of the blade. On the other hand, the ko-shinogi is the diagonal line that divides the point area from the back of the blade.

Fukura (Curvature of the Point)

Tanto with Fukura
A tanto blade with a pronounced fukura – Credits: Markus Sesko
Fukura in Katana and Tanto Blades
Tips of katana and tanto blades featuring scarce fukura – Credits: Markus Sesko

The fukura refers to the curvature or bulbousness of kissaki’s cutting-edge, which may curve to a greater or lesser degree. The fukura can be described as scarce or relatively straight (fukura kareru, ふくら枯れる) and full or rounded (fukura tsuku, ふくら付く). Additionally, the length of the fukura affects the kissaki’s size, measured as a vertical line from the tip of the point to the yokote.

Many kissaki have been reshaped in later periods, so a full fukura does not always imply a roundish kissaki, nor does a scarce fukura indicate a very straight kissaki. Sometimes, a scarce fukura is a characteristic of certain swordsmiths who worked in a pointy-tip style. Also, some types of kissaki, particularly a kamasu-kissaki, virtually have no fukura.

Boshi (Hamon on the Point Area)

Boshi on a katana
Tip of a katana blade featuring a hakikake-type boshi with a brush-stroke-like effect – Credits: Mandarin Mansion Antiques

The hamon refers to the pattern of the hardened edge, giving the blade its superior cutting ability. The boshi, on the other hand, refers to the hamon on the kissaki. The boshi comes in various types, shapes, and patterns, often linked to certain swordsmiths and swordmaking traditions, making it crucial in sword appraisal.

One way to determine if a kissaki has been reshaped is by comparing the width of the hamon around the boshi and the yokote areas. Most of the time, a narrower hamon at the head of the boshi than the yokote suggests a reshaped kissaki.

Examining the Kissaki in Sword Appraisal

Kissaki in a Japanese sword
Kissaki in Japanese swords – Credits: Markus Sesko

The kissaki is one of the factors examined in Japanese sword appraisal, where a blade can be attributed to the swordsmith or swordmaking school based on its characteristics. Japanese swords varied in shape (sugata) in various periods, and a kissaki can help identify the blade’s production time.

In a step-by-step examination, the kissaki is examined after considering the blade length (nagasa), curvature (sori), width (mihaba), and tapering. The kissaki may be medium-sized, large, stubby, or slightly elongated. Its size and shape serve as crucial indicators that either confirm the assumptions drawn from the blade’s length, curvature, and tapering—or dismiss them if they no longer align.

For instance, a small kissaki (ko-kissaki) suggests an earlier origin for the blade. On the other hand, a large kissaki (o-kissaki) likely originated from the Nanbokucho period and Shinshinto era. The fukura, which refers to the curvature of the tip’s cutting edge, is examined as well, though it is important to note that many kissaki have undergone reshaping.

Still, the assumptions drawn from the examination of the kissaki can be either confirmed or dismissed based on the blade’s characteristic features, such as the steel (jigane) and hardening (hamon), which are examined in the next steps. The jigane can help determine the area of production or the school, while both the hamon and the boshi help identify the school or the swordsmith of the blade.

Sources Cited
  1. Kapp, L., Kapp, H., & Yoshihara, Y. (2002). Modern Japanese Swords and Swordsmiths: From 1868 to the Present. Kodansha International.
  2. Nagayama, K. (2017). The Connoisseur’s Book of Japanese Swords. Kodansha USA.
  3. Roach, C. M. (2010). Japanese Swords: Cultural Icons of a Nation. Tuttle Publishing.
  4. Satō, K. (1983). 刀剣 (J. Earle, Trans.). Kodansha International.
  5. Sesko, M. (2015, February 14). KANTEI 1 – SUGATA #1. Markus Sesko. Retrieved December 7, 2023, from https://markussesko.com/2015/02/14/kantei-1-sugata-1/
  6. Sesko, M. (2015, February 19). KANTEI 1 – SUGATA #2. Markus Sesko. Retrieved December 7, 2023, from https://markussesko.com/2015/02/19/kantei-1-sugata-2/
  7. Tsuchiko, T. (2002). 日本刀21世紀への挑戦: The New Generation of Japanese Swordsmiths 英文版 (K. Mishina, Trans.). Kodansha International.
  8. Yoshihara, Y. (2012). The Art of the Japanese Sword. The Craft of Swordmaking and its Appreciation. Tuttle Publishing.
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