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What is the Meaning of Yokote on a Katana?

Written By: Abigail Cambal
Published On: July 8, 2024

A Japanese blade’s tip is often defined by a yokote line, which separates the point area from the body of the blade. It is often examined during blade measurement and sword appraisal, though not all Japanese blade structures feature a yokote.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
The yokote is the boundary line between the tip and the rest of the blade.
A yokote can be found on Japanese blades with a well-defined tip, particularly on the shinogi-zukuri.
The measurement at the blade tip and in the yokote area is observed during sword appraisal.
A swords blade showing the yokote and other blade features
A sword’s blade showing the yokote and other blade features – Credits: Nihonto
  • Yokote (横手) – The perpendicular line to the cutting edge, making a clear boundary between the point area and the body of the sword. It extends from the edge to the ridge (shinogi).
  • Yokote-ue (横手上) – The blade surface above the yokote line.
  • Yokote-shita (横手下) – The blade surface below the yokote line.
  • Kissaki – The general term for the point area of the blade. Technically, it is the fan-shaped area at the tip of the blade above the yokote.
  • Fukura – The cutting edge in the point area, from the yokote to the tip of the point. It can be straight or rounded.
  • Shinogi – The ridge line found on both sides of the blade, located between the cutting edge and the back surface. It runs from the yokote line to the butt end of the tang.
  • Ko-shinogi – A diagonal line separating the point area from the back of the blade. It is the continuation of the shinogi.
  • Mitsukado – The term literally means three corners. It is the spot where the yokote line meets the shinogi and ko-shinogi.

The Yokote and Various Sword Structures (Tsukurikomi)

A tachi with a shinogi zukuri blade featuring a yokote
A tachi with a shinogi-zukuri blade, featuring a yokote – Credits: Mandarin Mansion Antiques

Japanese blades have various blade structures, with some featuring a yokote and others lacking it. A yokote is commonly found on shinogi-zukuri blades, characterized by a ridge line (shinogi) running along its entire length and a well-defined tip. These shinogi-zukuri blades emerged after the Heian period and are the most prevalent blade construction in Japanese long swords.

A tanto with a hira zukuri blade without a yokote
A tanto with a hira-zukuri blade, without a yokote – Credits: Mandarin Mansion Antiques

However, many other types of blade constructions lack a yokote. These include the flat-sided hira-zukuri blades commonly seen on tanto and ko-wakizashi. The shobu-zukuri, resembling a Japanese iris (shobu) leaf, also lacks a yokote.

Measuring the Japanese Blade

Not all Japanese blades feature a yokote, though for those that do, it serves as a useful marker in blade measurement. In Japanese sword appraisal, experts examine the physical features of a blade to determine its maker or swordmaking school. Some swordmaking traditions can be recognized by their workmanship, such as the width at the yokote area, blade tip size, and other attributes.

1. Kissaki (Blade Tip) Size

Featuring various types and sizes of kissaki with a yokote
Featuring various types and sizes of kissaki with a yokote – Credits: Markus Sesko

A kissaki refers to the tip of a Japanese blade, particularly its fan-shaped portion. The size of a kissaki is measured by the vertical line extending from the yokote to the tip of the kissaki. It varies in sizes and shapes, which may be small, medium, large, or stubby. Generally, the design of a kissaki varies among different swordmaking schools and historical periods.

Example: The tachi blades produced by the Ayanokoji school are slender, with a small tip (ko-kissaki) but appear wide and stubby (ikubi-kissaki). Sometimes, a wide width is observed both at the yokote area and at the bottom of the blade.

2. Kasane (Thickness of the Back Surface)

Showing how kasane or thickness of the back surface is measured
Showing how kasane, or thickness of the back surface, is measured – Credits: Markus Sesko

Kasane refers to the thickness of the blade, specifically the thickness of the back surface, known as the mune. The thickness at the yokote is called sakikasane (tip thickness), while the thickness at the back notch (munemachi) near the tang is called moto-kasane.

3. Mihaba (Width of the Blade)

Illustrating how mihaba or the width of the blade is measured
Illustrating how mihaba, or the width of the blade, is measured – Credits: Markus Sesko

Mihaba refers to the width of a blade, measured from the cutting edge to the back edge. A blade’s mihaba can be described as narrow or wide. The width at the yokote is called sakihaba (top width), while the width at the notches (hamachi and munemachi) is called motohaba (bottom width).

Example: The tachi blades of the Awataguchi school in the mid-Kamakura period featured a stubby-shaped tip (ikubi-kissaki), with a wide mihaba in the yokote area.

Sources Cited
  1. Kapp, L., Kapp, H., & Yoshihara, Y. (2002). Modern Japanese Swords and Swordsmiths: From 1868 to the Present. Kodansha International.
  2. Kapp, L., Kapp, H., & Yoshihara, Y. (2012). The Craft of the Japanese Sword. Kodansha USA.
  3. Nagayama, K. (2017). The Connoisseur’s Book of Japanese Swords. Kodansha USA.
  4. Satō, K. (1983). 刀剣 (J. Earle, Trans.). Kodansha International.
  5. Sesko, M. (2014). Encyclopedia of Japanese Swords. Lulu.com.
  6. Sesko, M. (2015, February 14). KANTEI 1 – SUGATA #1. Markus Sesko. Retrieved April 2, 2024, from https://markussesko.com/2015/02/14/kantei-1-sugata-1/
  7. Sesko, M. (2015, February 19). KANTEI 1 – SUGATA #2. Markus Sesko. Retrieved April 2, 2024, from https://markussesko.com/2015/02/19/kantei-1-sugata-2/
  8. 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.
  9. Yoshihara, Y. (2012). The Art of the Japanese Sword. The Craft of Swordmaking and its Appreciation. Tuttle Publishing.
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