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Shitaji Togi: A Guide to Foundation Polishing in Japanese Swords

Written By: Jolene Sim
Published On: January 25, 2024

Shitaji togi or foundation polishing is the first of two parts in Japanese sword polishing to bring out the features in the blade’s steel surface. With the other half of the process known as shiage togi, these complex stages are performed by a toshigi, a professional Japanese sword polisher. 

This article takes an in-depth look at foundation polishing, the tools required, and what to expect during the process. 

KEY TAKEAWAYS
Shitaji togi is the first half of the complex Japanese polishing process performed by a togishi.
Besides a designated work area, tools or items required include a bucket of water, fumaegi, wooden work block, and polishing stones of varying grit.
Depending on the togishi or their school, the tools, stones, and technique of polishing may differ. 

A Brief Overview of Shitaji Togi

In the first half in Japanese sword polishing, there are several principles the togishi has to keep in mind during the process:

  • Great control and precision – This is to prevent the blade being damaged by the larger and coarser polishing stones.
  • Awareness of blade and stone contact – Due to the curved blade, care is required to ensure the amount of blade that comes in contact with the stone. 
  • Blade’s ridgeline – Special attention is needed around the ridgeline as any mistake can ruin the sword’s appearance. 

Tools of the Trade

Polishing area and tools
The polishing area and tools required for a togishi – Credits: The Craft of the Japanese Sword

Like any craft, there are specific tools of the trade. Besides an area with a sloping floor and drain to allow the water to flow away from the work surface, the togishi will also require various items. 

  • Bucket of water – Water is a lubricant and must be constantly applied during polishing.
  • Fumaegi – A curved piece of wood with a hook end to clamp the polishing stone to the wood block to prevent it from moving. It also does not put too much pressure on the stones and allows them to be switched out easily.
  • Wooden work block – To hold and elevate the polishing stone.

Polishing Stones

Different polishing stones
Different polishing stones – Credits: Namikawa Heibei Co., Ltd.

Polishing stones start from the roughest to reshape the sword or remove any marks. Finer stones are progressively used to leave the sword with a slightly finer surface than the stone preceding it. 

Although natural stones were originally used, synthetic stones are very effective in the start of the process. 

Note that the following list is in the order of use and not exhaustive as togishi use many additional intermediate stones and tools based on their preferences and to suit their individual needs. 

Polishing StoneType
AratoSynthetic
KongotoSynthetic
BinsuiSynthetic
KaiseiSynthetic
Chu naguraSynthetic or natural
Koma naguraSynthetic or natural
SuitaNatural
Uchigumori ha toNatural
Uchigumori ji toNatural

The Working Position

Working position of togishi
Working position with right foot on a wooden block, right heel clamping on fumaegi – Credits: The Art of the Japanese Sword

The togishi has to be in the correct working position. Holding the back straight, the polisher sits on a low stool with the right heel pressing down on a fumaegi. The right knee is wedged into the right shoulder while the left foot is curled beneath the body. For safety reasons, the sharpened edge always faces away from the body. 

Hand positions during polishing
Hand positions during shitaji togi – Credits: The Craft of The Japanese Sword

The right hand holds the sword with a rag. Meanwhile, the left palm rests on the blade’s upper surface with the fingers on the lower surface. Although the fingers wrap around the blade, pressure is never directly exerted over the sharpened edge. 

Polishing then begins with the tang on the right. To polish the opposite side, the blade is flipped over so the tang is on the left. Only 4 to 5 inches (10.2 – 12.7 cm) of the blade is worked at a time as any wider would be difficult to control.

Working systematically, the togishi concentrates only on one surface at a time using consistent motion and pressure. This makes it easier as well as each surface is polished somewhat differently. Surfaces include:

  • Mune – Back or the sword or spine.
  • Shinogi-ji – The ridgeline to the back
  • Ji The edge to the ridgeline

Polishing the ji is more laborious as the goal is to bring out the texture of the steel and hamon

Stages of Shitaji Togi

The following stages are the major ones in shitaji togi. In practice, a togishi uses many intermediate stones or stones that have only a slight variation in coarseness. Note that techniques may differ depending on the togishi or their school. 

Arato

Arato 1
Moving the blade perpendicularly across the arato stone – Credits: The Craft of the Japanese Sword

The arato stone can be used for new swords or older swords that are very rusty or badly damaged. Made of coarse sandstone or carborundum stone, the blade is moved perpendicularly across the stone with water for lubrication. 

Arato
Comparable Grit180
FunctionRemoves file marks
Sharpens the edge
Smooths and straightens all lines of the edge, back, and ridge
ResultThis creates scratches on the blade’s surface without revealing any features.

Binsui

Binsui
Binsui: The slightly diagonal marks are finer – Credits: The Craft of the Japanese Sword

At this stage, the main concern is regarding the geometry and lines of the blade. Using the binsui, a coarse sandstone equivalent to 280 – 320 grit, a diagonal or lengthwise movement leaves shallower scratches compared to moving the blade perpendicularly. 

Binsui
Comparable Grit280 to 320
FunctionDistinguish new marks (finer) from the coarser ones (arato)
ResultOnce the arato marks are gone and only the binsui ones are visible, the togishi moves on to the next stone
No matter the stone, the point area is always polished perpendicularly to the length of the blade as its surface curves in two directions and tapers to a tip, making polishing with big stones difficult.

Kaisei

Kaisei
Kaisei: The blade is moved at an angle against the stone and its length – Credits: The Craft of the Japanese Sword

The kaisei stone is used to give the steel a darker and more reflective appearance. The blade is moved at a 25 degrees angle against the stone and 20 degrees angle to its length to distinguish the new marks from those of the binsui

By the end of this stage, the blade’s surfaces and lines will have a geometry that is not changed by the succeeding stones. 

Kaisei
Comparable Grit400 to 600
FunctionDistinguish new marks (finer) from the ones left from the binsui stone
ResultBesides the surface becoming smoother and finer, the outline of the hamon also becomes visible

Nagura

Nagura
Nagura: From this point on, the blade is moved across the stones along its length – Credits: The Craft of the Japanese Sword

There are two nagura stones: the coarser chu nagura and finer koma nagura, available in either natural or synthetic forms. For both, the blade is moved lengthwise across the stone with a slight rocking motion. 

Since lengthwise marks are shallower than diagonal ones, rocking helps to put more pressure on the blade. 

Chu naguraKoma nagura
Comparable Grit8001,200 to 1,500
FunctionTo remove diagonal kaisei marksTo refine chu nagura marks
ResultKaisei marks are gone and hamon is usually clearly visible

Uchigumori

Uchigumori
Uchigumori polishing pulled lengthwise – Credits: The Craft of the Japanese Sword

At this stage, only natural stones are used. The togishi must inspect the stones for defects that can scratch the blade. While the blade was pushed across the stone previously, in this stage, it is pulled.

There are two types: uchigumori ha to and uchigumori ji to. Much finer than nagura stones, their specific grit depends on the sword being polished based on their shape, tightness of their welds, and carbon content. 

For this reason, a togishi tends to have several grades of uchigumori. Choosing which one to use all depends on their experience and vision of the blade’s final appearance. The blade is moved lengthwise without the rocking motion to prevent scratches. 

Uchigumori ha toUchigumori ji to
Comparable Grit3,000 or more3,000 or more
FunctionUsed on all surfaces to remove marks left by the nagura stoneOnly used on the edge and sides to bring out the jihada above the hamon
ResultThe marks from the nagura stone are gone, hamon is now clearly visible, and the blade is ready for shiage togi

Summary

Polishing StoneGritMovementFunctionResult
Arato180Perpendicular to the bladeRemove file marks, sharpen edge, smooth and straighten all linesCreate scratches on surface without revealing any features
Binsui280 to 320Slight angleDistinguish new marks from preceding onesArato marks are gone
Kaisei400 to 60025 degrees against the stoneDistinguish new marks from preceding onesSmoother and finer surface, hamon outline is visible
Chu nagura800Lengthwise along the bladeRemove diagonal kaisei marksN/A
Koma nagura1,200 to 1,500Lengthwise along the bladeTo refine chunagura marksKaisei marks are gone, hamon clearly visible
Uchigumori ha to3,000 or moreLengthwise along the bladeRemove marks left by the nagura stoneN/A
Uchigumori ji to3,000 or moreLengthwise along the bladeBring out the jihadaNagura marks are gone, hamon clearly visible
Sources Cited
  1. Kapp L, Kapp H, Yoshihara Y. The craft of the Japanese sword. Kodansha International Ltd. 1987; pages 103 – 128.
  2. Kapp L, Kapp H, Yoshihara Y. The art of the Japanese sword. Tuttle Publishing. 2012; pages 209 – 225.
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