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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Nodachi: Theoretical and perfect Reply to topic
 
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Richard von Stein




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Location: Wellington New Zealand
Posts: 2
PostPosted: Sun 23 Apr, 2006 7:34 pm    Post subject: Nodachi: Theoretical and perfect         Reply with quote

Hi forum: I'm involved in a writing project in which I've been stalled out on creating a fictional nodachi jpanese sword. A few years ago in a Paris museum, I saw on display a sword close to nodachi size with a jewelled handle, on loan from Japan. Using this as a starting point, I could use some educated help on constructing the " perfect nodachi' from an ancient era, perhaps between 1300 and 1500 AD. I'm impressed with the level of education and lack of bombastic name-calling displayed on this website, so if any of you with deep knowledge of these swords could help me build a mental image of such a sword, complete with artisan-produced designs, some inset jewels, the perfect blade, all of which are fictional but close to the truth, I'd much appreciate it. Will acknowledge your help in my book when it goes to print. Thanks>>>RVS
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 23 Apr, 2006 8:24 pm    Post subject: Re: Nodachi: Theoretical and perfect         Reply with quote

Richard von Stein wrote:
Hi forum: I'm involved in a writing project in which I've been stalled out on creating a fictional nodachi jpanese sword. A few years ago in a Paris museum, I saw on display a sword close to nodachi size with a jewelled handle, on loan from Japan. Using this as a starting point, I could use some educated help on constructing the " perfect nodachi' from an ancient era, perhaps between 1300 and 1500 AD. I'm impressed with the level of education and lack of bombastic name-calling displayed on this website, so if any of you with deep knowledge of these swords could help me build a mental image of such a sword, complete with artisan-produced designs, some inset jewels, the perfect blade, all of which are fictional but close to the truth, I'd much appreciate it. Will acknowledge your help in my book when it goes to print. Thanks>>>RVS


Richard,

I'm no expert on nodachis, but what exactly do you mean by "perfect"? I'm not trying to be flippant by asking you this question; the idea of a "perfect" sword of any type is really ambiguous and unclear. Though it's not exactly the same, to illustrate that the idea of perfect is problematic, which of the following European weapons would you consider to be the "perfect" long sword, keeping in mind that each weapon is specialized for a different purpose:

http://www.albion-swords.com/swords/albion/ne...xiiia3.htm

http://www.albion-swords.com/swords/albion/ne...le-xva.htm

http://www.albion-swords.com/swords/albion/ne...er-xva.htm

http://www.albion-swords.com/swords/albion/ne...cy-xvi.htm

http://www.albion-swords.com/swords/albion/ne...-xvii2.htm

http://www.albion-swords.com/swords/albion/ne...xviiia.htm

As you can see, "perfect" is very much a subjective thing.
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Wolfgang Armbruster




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Apr, 2006 2:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As Craig Peters already said, there's no perfect sword and Nodachis varied quite a bit in size. Some were only a bit longer than the average Tachi while others were as long as European renaissance two-handers. That's basically everything I know about Nodachis, but maybe this picture helps a bit Happy

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Einar Drønnesund




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Apr, 2006 4:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Welcome to the forums, Richard. Happy

I agree with the other guys. There is no such thing as a "perfect" example of any type of sword. Sure, some will be of better quality than others, but if you have two exellent quality katana, or longswords, or nodachi, they still may be very different, depending on what purpose they were made for. Like the longswords Craig listed, which are very good examples of this. They're all superb weapons in their own rights, but they all perform differently. The broadest ones will be better cutters than the narrowest ones, and the narrower, pointier ones are better thrusters. Some are quicker, but would lack the "oomph" that the heavier ones have. What is "perfect" when it comes to any sword, or weapon, will depend on the context in which it was used. And even knowing that, it will still be highly subjective from the point of view of the people who were supposed to be using them.

That said, I'm no Odachi expert either, but I'll try to give you a hand anyway. This page has a lot of pics and info on real, antique Odachi, and as you can see, there is great variation, both in length and shape. The biggest ones would not be combat weapons though. I dont know if its really what youre looking for, but it may serve as inspiration, anyway.

http://japantrip.tripod.com/nodachi/nodachi.html
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Richard von Stein




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Location: Wellington New Zealand
Posts: 2
PostPosted: Mon 24 Apr, 2006 2:33 pm    Post subject: Imperfect choice of Words         Reply with quote

Oops, You're all quite right... I was painting with too broad a brush. The renowned writer Alan Furst writes what he calls ' near history', which makes the past come alive by depicting close matches with reality. In his case, he's into Eastern Europe intrigue in WWII, and I really respect his style. As for me, I'm trying to derive an image of the sword you'd like to read about-but one that would have maximum reader appeal in a general audience ( but sticking closely to authenticity)- so I'm asking those of you who are interested/ informed to simply unleash your mind and build an image of a nodachi you might like to see described in a piece of historical fiction. Parameters we could mess with might include:
1) total length in inches or cm.
2) era of construction
3) artisan(s) involved.. actual historical swordcrafters
4) fuchi- whether dragons, clouds, tree scenes or other depictions
5) kashira design
6)menuki charms- go wild here
7)ken description
8)the habaki
9)shape of the tip- kissaki
10) anything else you can think of.especially mythology or actual history associated with a particular sword. Remember, I'm a complete amateur in this particula study.
A prototype I've found, for example, is the 'Bisho Osafune Norimitsu' fabricated in the Muromachi period (1447)
which is probably in the hands of a private collector now. Additionally, I'd like to verify that some of the nodachis had jewels set in their hilts, because this is what I distinctly remember viewing in a display on loan from Japan to Paris' Musee d'Invalides around the year 1998.No camera that day- damn! In those days, the interes wasn't there for me. But now... well, thanks for any help you can offer>>>>>RvS
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Gabriel Lebec
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PostPosted: Thu 27 Apr, 2006 12:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi there,

Ok, way too much to cover in depth. This post is going to be ludicrously long, sorry I went a little overboard.

A little education on the blade type itself might help. The site already linked to, http://japantrip.tripod.com/nodachi/nodachi.html , is a great primer. I've talked about nodachi at length on these forums before: http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t...ht=nodachi .

Quote:
1) total length in inches or cm.

Blade edge 40-50" would be reasonable. Anything longer and it almost certainly was never used, instead purely ceremonial to dedicate to shrines or prove the skill of the smith. Handle length would be long, maybe 13-18". Add an inch for the habaki and that's about 54-71" overall.
Quote:
2) era of construction

The Nambokucho era, 1333-1392 AD. The era in which nodachi came into (brief) prominence, and most of the quality nodachi were made (the vast majority of all nodachi, even from this era, were of low quality). The trend for this period was for swords to become bolder in character. You probably want to pick a date closer to the very beginning of the Nambokucho era, since many famous smiths in Japanese history worked earlier.
Quote:
3) artisan(s) involved.. actual historical swordcrafters

The most interesting question. As far as the gokaden are concerned (five principal schools), go with the Soshu smiths. Everything else (Yamato, Yamashiro, Bizen, Mino) became influenced by the Shoshu tradition at this time, and other traditions' finest work came either earlier or later. Extremely famous early Soshu masters include Masamune (whose career was ending at the Nambokucho era) and his adopted son Sadamune (who worked in the earliest times of the Nambokucho era and therefore occasionally made blades of that grander style I mentioned). Mid-Nambokucho Soshu masters include Hiromitsu and Akihiro. Tachi by Hiromitsu are extremely rare however. Some of the Masamune Juttetsu (ten famous students of Masamune) worked during then and are among the most renowned swordsmiths, so consider the works of Chogi and Kanemitsu (both Bizen smiths), or O-Sa. It is important to note that although many of the Masamune Juttetsu probably were never actually students of Masamune, while Sadamune and Hiromitsu both were (and yet are not included in the Juttetsu for some reason).

Sadamune is considered the greatest of these luminaries, but they are all spectacular. I don't know on what basis you'd want to choose a smith. Creating a fictional nodachi by any of them would be like a fiction wherein someone had a fictional painting by Da Vinci - it wouldn't ring very true to anyone familiar with the field. As a bit of historical fiction, however, with an audience that almost certainly doesn't know nearly enough about such details for them to sound hollow (and, judging from Highlander and Kill Bill, many audiences swallow up complete nonsense with gusto), any of them would do quite well.

However, if instead of an "ideal" sword you are going for a far more realistic depiction and wish to choose a slightly less famous genius, Hojoji Kunimitsu, who worked at about 1350 in Tajima province, was a noted master of nagamaki, so it is entirely believable that he would have made some nodachi. From the same book: "The jihada is mokume hada mized with wavy o-hada and with chikei. The workmanship is in the Soshu tradition mixed with Bizen tradition...." That would be thoroughly believable and in real life anyone would be extremely proud to own such an item. Sadamune of course would be a more glamorous if sensationalist choice.
Quote:
4) fuchi- whether dragons, clouds, tree scenes or other depictions
5) kashira design
6)menuki charms- go wild here

The themes for the metal fittings, including fuchi/kashira, kozuka, kogai, and menuki, as well as the tsuba (guard, probably the most desired collectible art form associated with Japanese sword mountings) are an interesting mix of taste and tradition. First off, for the original mountings of a Nambokucho-era sword to survive and stay paired with the blade all the way until modern times would be astounding. Far more commonly, one sees the blade in shirasaya or perhaps Edo-period mounts. But if you are writing historical fiction, then we'll want to look at period mounts.

Extremely fine, fancy mounts are 1. usually Edo-period or later and 2. usually not made for combat. There are some mounts from Kamakura and earlier periods which are gorgeous, but again these were aristocratic, not combative, and in the Nambokucho era especially most would have been practical. The tachi mounting styles included a simplified hyogo-gusari type mounting, but many nodachi had simpler mounts or even used wrapped paper for a scabbard. Itomaki-no-tachi mountings (with wrappings on the upper part of the scabbard to prevent chafing against armor) were used during this time, so that would be an interesting choice as a set of higher-quality mounts for an ideal nodachi - however, I've never seen a nodachi in itomaki-no-tachi mounts, so who knows. Old koto tachi mounts for a nodachi would have been mostly russet iron with a serious, rustic appearance. Note that *good* examples of reserved fittings are considered highly refined; the most famous maker of tsuba, for example, is Nobuie, who worked in the mid 1500's and whose work (see item#3 on this page) typifies the idea of natural, melancholy, rustic, duty-oriented samurai mounts - see wabi-sabi (sword mountings example). At this time, there might be no specific theme to the fittings, instead being typical tachi fittings with inome (boar's eye) piercings. The only "theme" for the koshirae might have been mon (family crest). Many mounts of this time would feature leather, black lacquer, etc.

I don't know what you mean by inset jewels. I have never seen gemstones of any kind on any Japanese sword mountings (that doesn't mean none ever existed, but it would be a remarkable exception) or any other traditional Japanese art. However, mother-of-pearl and enamel were used in flashier mounts, and in much later times some cloissoné was used. Also, the handle was wrapped in samé (rayskin) before being wrapped in the typical "diamond window' silk wrap - this can look like pearls underneath the cloth wrapping. There were many soft metals used in later mounts including gold, silver, shakudo (alloy of copper and gold that becomes rich purple-black), shibuichi (alloy of silver and copper that turns grey or brown or green), yamagane (deep red copper), etc.

Oh, and another thing - menuki are not charms. Originally made to cover the retaining peg, they became grip swellings and eventually more mediums of art than anything else.
Quote:
7)ken description

What are you asking for here? "Ken" is an old word for blade that usually applies to a short form of double-edged sword mounted in a sankozuka hilt, and used exclusively in Buddhist rituals.
Quote:
8)the habaki

See the notes about mounts above. Habaki really did not become very fancy until the Edo period. They might have been some copper with gold jacketing and texturing in earlier times, but many were just plain copper.
Quote:
9)shape of the tip- kissaki

O-kissaki. Virtually all nodachi have o-kissaki. As they probably should; anything else would be disproportionate. Besides which, it matches the grand character that nodachi usually embody.
Quote:
10) anything else you can think of.especially mythology or actual history associated with a particular sword. Remember, I'm a complete amateur in this particula study.

Most long swords were cut down later (mostly for practicality, but eventually even by Tokugawa law) and for nodachi to survive unaltered is extremely impressive. Most that did were the ones that were made for ceremonial use and kept in shrines. However, even when fine swords are cut down they still retain much value.

Also, nodachi made for temples were sometimes claimed to be swords of gods used to slay demons.


Last edited by Gabriel Lebec on Thu 27 Apr, 2006 3:58 am; edited 2 times in total
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Gabriel Lebec
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PostPosted: Thu 27 Apr, 2006 1:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm going to double-post because otherwise I think that monster of a post will mutate out of control and consume some innocent bystanders.

So after all that background, if you're still alive, I'll cut to the chase and give a description of a sword I think would serve you well, if the action takes place during the 14th century (and therefore nodachi are actually in use, albeit limitedly, and the mountings are original to the blade):

An extremely rare nodachi by the famous Sadamune of Sagami province, during the Kenmu reign (1334-1336) of the Nambokucho era (1333-1392). Sadamune, real name Hikoshiro Hiromitsu originally of Goshu province, became Masamune's greatest student and was adopted as his son (and allowed to use the "mune" character in his signature). The Soshu tradition of smithing, one of the five great traditions of koto ("old sword, roughly pre-17th c.) swordsmithing, was a beautiful one and the most influential during the Nambokucho period; as Sadamune was one of the earliest masters of this important tradition, he is one of the greatest smiths in Japanese history. A tachi of 47" nagasa (edge length), with a 15" tsuka (handle). It is unsigned (no authentic examples of signed Sadamune works exist). Shape: wide mihaba (profile measurement), shallow torii-sori (curvature centered at the middle of the blade), o-kissaki (large, long kissaki). Engraved with a suken and bonji (stylized ken sword and a sanskrit buddhist character) on the omote (front side, the side that faces out when worn). A grand shape. Ji (surface): a very fine and extremely beautiful compact itame hada (wood grain pattern) with ji-nie (scattered grains of visible nie crystals in the surface), chikei (strong dark thick lines of nie in the surface), yubashiri (clumps of bright nie in the surface). Hamon: in nie-deki (with a dividing line of nie, large visible white crystals) based on ko-notare (shallow waves) and gunome midare (irregular semicircle waves) with nie kuzure (bits of nie rising just above the hamon). The hamon is calm and modest compared to Masamune but is still quite stunning. The boshi (end of the hamon that curves back from the point at the tip) has kaen (appears like flames due to nie and hakkikake "brustroke" lines). The overall work appears fascinating, impressive, and masterful. The sword is mounted in appropriate yet very fine furniture for the time: russet iron tachi fittings and guard with gold gilded trim. Ivory colored samé (rayskin) underneath the silk handle wrapping, which is woven in the katate-maki style (with the center section spiral-wound, and the front and back with diamond-shaped windows). The menuki are gold and black depictions of the owner's mon and are placed opposite each other, on the spiral portion of the wrap. (If the owner has no mon then the menuki are shishi dogs, tigers, or dragons). The scabbard is wrapped in black lacquered leather, and the silk wrap of both the handle and the upper portion of the saya is black. The habaki is copper with a gold jacket and rain texture (diagonal file marks).

A picture of 14th Century tachi mounts can be seen here, from this website.

Some Sadamune images:

From http://www.fredmiranda.com/hosting/showphoto....amp;page=2 . Note that this blade is in kiriha-zukuri, meaning that instead of the ridge being near the back, the ridge is extremely closed to the edge, making it more like an edge bevel on a flat sword. This is unusual; most would be shinogi-zukuri. Oh, and obviously this is not a nodachi.

This page has a bunch of images and information on smiths of Masamune's circle, including another picture of the same blade above.


From this page.
The Terasawa Sadamune, perhaps his best work.

Do with it as you will. Happy Let me know if you were aiming at something completely different... like something a mere mortal samurai might have possibly possessed in that time, as opposed to some huge lord... in which case I will turn off my computer and never turn it back on. Just kidding! Or am I...? WinkBig Grin
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