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By lyuesword | 10 May 2022 | 0 Comments

UTSURI: “SHADOW OF THE HAMON”

Japanese swordsmithing is a labor intensive process of forging traditional Japanese bladed weapons often used by the samurai such as the katana (samurai’s sword), tantō (short blade), wakizashi (sideiinserted sword in between the length of a katana and tantō), ōdachi (a type of Japanese long sword), nodachi ( large sword), tachi (a type of sword that preceded the katana), and other such weapons.

Forging a katana sword takes many years of learning and practice and is truly an art. The steel used in creating a katana is called tamahagane or “jewel steel,” produced from ironsand (sand with heavy concentrations of iron). The smelting process of transforming ironsand to kera (steel bloom from ironsand) is both tedious and rigorous. Forging the blade can take weeks and is considered sacred, accompanied by Shinto religious rituals and traditional processes. It involves several other master craftsmen with their own specialties in swordmaking such as the smith, the smith’s apprentice, a polisher, a specialist for the edge, and a horimonoshi or engraver.
Traditional Japanese blades were forged according to different blade thickness, amounts of grind, varying profiles, and a dyeing technique known as utsuri or “shadow of the hamon.”  When a blade is placed under good lighting, a distinct shadow appears above the hamon or blade pattern resembling a swerving line running down the center of the sword. There are several type of patterns of utsuri that result from the hardening of steel which should have dense particles and deep color between the hamon and utsuri.

Utsuri is the natural appearance that occurs between the sensitive steel and tempering that can result in the proper hardening of steel. Bizen steel, often used for making Japanese swords, is known to be quite soft and prone to bend. Swords made from Bizen steel bene-fit from the use of the utsuri technique. This additional treatment in the steel produces hard (yet not too hard) parts of steel along the hamon as well as providing torsional rigidity and the beautiful visual magical effect on the steel’s appearance. The utsuri method produces a softer area in the blade’s surface which improves the flexibility of the swords, making them more difficult to break when used.

In modern day Japan, Shimpei Kawachi’s father spent 40 years mastering the utsuri technique. Half a lifetime spent learning the method that would have been gone, faded into history, had it not been for the younger Kawachi’s determination to keep the art form alive. Shimpei Kawachi himself represents the 16th generation of a famous Japanese sword arti-san family, and it is his family’s continuing mission to keep utsuri alive through regular organized exhibitions.

 
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