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Thread: The "Bowhay articles" on polishing

  1. #1

    The "Bowhay articles" on polishing

    I met Jon L. Bowhay for the first time shortly after he became an independent polisher, through the introduction of Fred Lohman. During one of his visits to Japan Fred asked me to do some interpreting for him in his negotiations with a Japanese supplier. Usually Jon Bowhay translated for him on such occasions, but was unavailable at that time. Fred later on told Jon about me and gave him my phone number. A few days later Jon called, we met, and have been in constant contact ever since.

    Jon spent almost his entire life in Japan, where he studied art, oriental history and sociology at Sophia University, T˘ky˘. After getting interested in Japanese art swords, he spent about seven years looking for an accomplished polishing teacher, nearly giving up as he was turned down time and again due to his age and being a foreigner - in those days it was inconceivable for a foreigner to even think about doing something traditionally Japanese like that.
    Finally he was accepted as a student by a polisher in the Honami tradition, and completed a full ten years apprenticeship from 1979 to 1989. Due to his dedication and talent, Jon not only became a master polisher, but also is an expert appraiser, and has the contacts to get any work concerning Nihont˘ done, from Saya lacquering to Tsukamaki or custom fittings - whatever you can imagine, being it the restoration of an antique sword or a completely "new", traditional Koshirae. He also submits swords to NBTHK and NTHK Shinsa for papering.

    Jon became a very dear friend of mine over the years, which might slightly impair my sense of objectiveness, but my high opinion about him is usually shared by those who handled his work. True craftsmanship doesn't come cheap, neither Jon's polishing nor the other traditional Japanese crafts I mentioned, but - speaking from own experience - you'll get more than every Cent (or Yen) worth you'll going to spend. And by contacting Jon, one can do a "one-stop-shopping" for all Nihont˘-needs without any language problems, talking to someone who really cares and can give highly educated advise on your projects. Jon can be contacted as follows:

    Jon L. Bowhay
    1-15-7 Shimoshakujii
    Nerima-Ku, T˘ky˘, Japan 177-0042
    Tel/Fax: 0081-3-3904-1982

    In the summer of 2000 Jon and I edited and updated three articles on polishing by him for SFI (they later were added to other websites as well). These are "The World of the Togishi", followed by "Hada and Nugui" and "Had˘ri and Sashikomi"; the first one was published originally in "The East" magazine, the second and third one in the JSS/US Newsletter. I hope they will be both educating and entertaining for those interested in this craft/art, IMO giving a rare insiders view into certain aspects of Togi, the art of polishing.

  2. #2

    The World of the Togishi

    As most people interested in Japanese history know, the Nihont˘ (Japanese sword) was wielded by the Mononofu, Tsuwamono, or as they have come to be known, the Samurai. The Nihont˘ is definitely a weapon, in fact the finest cutting weapon ever developed by man. But it is much more than a weapon because its physical construction elevates it to an art form.

    The Nihont˘ is without exception the highest art form in steel in the world. That may sound biased, but I am convinced that is true after studying it for 10 years, during six of which I have worked as a Togishi (polisher and restorer of Japanese swords). The Nihont˘, almost from the very beginning of its history, was certainly designed as both a weapon and an art form. If this were not the case, and if it had been designed as a weapon alone, swords of inferior quality and shape would have been adequate. Looking at the examples that we have today, one comes to realize that the makers intended to produce something of great beauty, something that would appeal to the aesthetic sense of man.

    The Nihont˘ has a very dynamic construction - soft Jihada (skin) steel and hard edge. The Jihada has a definite grain in it. The Jihada's grain is produced by the process of folding and drawing out the metal, which actually makes the finished product a laminated blade. It has a variety of different patterns. Sometimes there is a definite wood or burl grain.

    The Ha (edge) of the blade is tempered into a highly visible pattern that is called Hamon. The Hamon is produced by covering the blade with clay and then removing the clay from along the edge until it is the correct thickness and shape to produce the Hamon desired. The sword is then heated and quenched. Because the edge has a thinner layer of clay, it cools more quickly than the rest of the blade. As it cools it crystallizes, producing marstintite and pearlite steel, the substances that make the Hamon.

    The Hamon is part of the overall beauty of the sword. Its styles are unlimited. And actually, it has very little to do with the cutting ability of the blade.

    The more than thousand year old Nihont˘ preserved in the Sh˘s˘in Imperial Repository of T˘daiji temple in Nara exhibit Suguha, straight temper patterns, of an extreme brilliance, and a Jihada of a fine, deep, serene nature. Technically, Suguha is more difficult to produce than a wavy pattern.

    The Togishi's job is to restore a blade to its original shape and bring out the highlights of the Ha and Jihada. Accordingly, he must have a good knowledge of Japanese art, literature and history so that he can accurately judge the school, period, and general style of the blade, and thereby do the best possible job of polishing.

    A Togishi must sit in a position that is actually quite painful until he becomes accustomed to it, usually one year after he has begun his apprenticeship.

    His tools are quite simple in appearance, though difficult to master. Some of his most important tools are his polishing stones, which are quite expensive, quality stones being difficult to obtain at any price. He must possess each type of stone in varying degrees of hardness and softness, and coarseness and fineness because each stone and each sword is different, and he must match stone to sword. If the proper match is not made, the stone will be ineffective regardless of the ability of the Togishi. Therefore, Togishi are constantly searching for stones and their stock grows until it finally crowds them out of their house.

    The Togishi must polish a blade in such a way that its art is revealed harmoniously and in accord with its school and period. Some blades require that the Jihada be brought out a great deal, others call for suppressing the Jihada to some degree. The Ha must be given similar attention. And the two must look right together.

    Each blade requires a different style of polishing. But in general polishing can be categorized into Shitaji, or lower polish, and Shiage, or final polish.

    Shitaji usually takes a minimum of 10 to 12 hours per day for four to six days, and requires many stones of varying degrees of coarseness. The stones correspond to the different steps in Shitaji. In order they are:
    (1) Bisui (from Bizen) - This stone is used to take off heavy rust and return the blade to its original shape. It is very coarse and if poorly used can destroy a sword almost immediately.
    (2) Kaisei - It refines the shape and takes off the marks of the Bisui. It was not used until recently.
    (3) Chűnagura - A relatively hard stone of fine grain, it is used to take off the marks of the Kaisei.
    (3) Komanagura - It is the same stone as Chűnagura, only it is finer since it is taken from the center of the deposit. It refines the Chűnagura marks.
    (4) Hato - This stone is very hard. It is used to bring out the Hamon. It takes great skill and muscular endurance to pull the blade across the stone as both surfaces are hard. It takes several hours just to complete the Ha.
    (5) Jito - The hardest stone, it is used to bring out the Jihada. If improperly used it will scratch the blade and ruin days of work. It requires the finest skill of all.

    Shiage, or final polish, entails burnishing with a variety of tiny thin stones and a steel stylus. It takes about three days. The technique of Shiage varies from school to school. Some of these techniques have been developed after years of painstaking experimentation and therefore are not surrendered to others freely.

    In general, Shiage consists of the following steps:
    (1) Tsuya - The Jihada is finished with a Jizuya stone that has been broken into fine pieces. It is important that the Jizuya is chosen to match the Jihada formation. Next, the Ha is polished with a Hazuya, which is very thin and rectangular or square.
    (2) Nugui - Nugui, or wiping, makes the Jihada stand out evenly and makes the sword rust resistant. In Nugui, a mixture of sword oil and finely ground Kanahada, an ash-like by-product of sword making, is rubbed onto the blade. During Nugui the sword takes on a darker color, sometimes a bluish tint, the degree of which depends on the sword.
    (3) Had˘ri - In the Had˘ri an oval Hazuya is used to make the top of the Hamon white in what may appear at first glance as a string of mountains, which is in particular a characteristic of the Honami school of polishing. Today, about 80% of Togishi prefer the Had˘ri style, and 90% of the swords submitted for the annual sword polishing contest held at the Nippon Bijutsu T˘ken Hozon Ky˘kai (NBTHK) have been polished in the Had˘ri style.
    (4) Shitamigaki - In the Shitamigaki a polishing rod, or Migakib˘, is used to burnish the area between the Shinogi, the ridge running along the side of the blade, and the Mune, the blade's back, until a mirror-like finish is obtained. The Shitamigaki is the lower, preliminary polish with the Migakib˘.
    (5) Uemigaki - The Uemigaki is the final polish with the Migakib˘.
    (6) Sugikiri - Sugikiri is the process of defining the Yokote, the line at a 90 degree angle to the Shinogi at the tip of the blade.
    (7) Narume - This is the process of imparting a whitish color to the B˘shi, the section of the blade forward of the Yokote.

    During the Muromachi (1338 ~ 1573) and especially the Sengoku (Warring States) periods (1470 ~ 1570), swords were not polished like they are today. There was no time. The nicks and battle scars were removed, and the blade was returned to its original shape. Except for those of the great Daimy˘ or those specifically kept as art objects, most Nihont˘ only received a Shiratogi, or white polish. I think that they often stopped with the Komanagura. With the advent of peace in the Edo period (1603 ~ 1867), more swords began to receive a highly artistic polish as there was time and money for such work.

    But the high level of technology today (particularly in the Shiage) evolved during the Meiji era (1868 ~ 1912). During the Meiji era a law was passed that prohibited people from wearing swords, but allowed them to own them as works of art (Hat˘rei edict). That was a drastic change from the Edo period, when the common people were more or less not allowed to own swords. Thus, on account of the new law, the number of people who owned swords increased and in consequence interest in swords grew, leading to an overall improvement in polishing techniques.

    Another, and more important, reason for the improvement in sword polishing technology during the Meiji era was the invention of the electric light bulb, which enabled the Togishi to work at all hours of the day and allowed him to more clearly see the details of the Jihada and Ha. In particular, it accelerated the development of the Had˘ri style because the Hamon is much more visible under an electric light than it is under candlelight.

    Sword polishing is very demanding physically and emotionally. A Togishi usually has little time for anything outside of his work. It takes years of his best efforts to reach the point at which he can produce a fine, flawless polish; it is impossible to fake a quality polish. A Togishi's deficiencies are apparent to himself as well as to his fellow Togishi. But the satisfaction of doing a good job and preserving the art form for future generations to enjoy is very great.

    Nihont˘ collectors and study groups are increasing all the time as the Nihont˘ gradually takes its place among the world's great art forms. Unfortunately, many Nihont˘, especially in collections outside of Japan, are not receiving proper care. This author hopes that collectors everywhere will join groups, who will gladly instruct them in the proper care and handling of the Nihont˘. The Nihont˘ is very durable, but without proper care is vulnerable to irreparable damage in a short time, making it unavailable for future generations.
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  3. #3

    Hada and Nugui

    Most Nihont˘ enthusiasts are aware of how important the Hada is to the Japanese sword. It is one of the major points of aesthetic appreciation and a key factor in determining the time, place and school of production. It is also the key to the technical quality of any sword.

    It is the key not only because well forged, even Hada is obviously desirable and shows that the smith had a thorough knowledge and control over his skills, but also it affects the tempering process. What is not often mentioned is that poorly worked and forged steel will not produce or take a good Hamon. This extends to the color, brightness - the Nie and Nioi - and how they form within and around the Hamon, and even the shape of the Hamon itself. Whether the Hada is Itame, Mokume, Masame or some combination dictates what kind of Hamon both in shape and intristic characteristics can be successfully done. The various qualities found in the steel and imparted to it during the forging process are important in this, but the physical forging grain of the steel is at least as important.

    As a Togishi, I could not presume to comment on the forging process in detail as it is another area of expertise entirely. But as a Togishi, I must be able to deal with the outcome of that forging technique: the Jihada.

    Specifically the work on the Hada begins in the Shitaji stage and is carried on into the Shiage. The Hato and Jito stones are used in this case. The stones are of the same kind known as Uchigomori stones. The Hato is usually to deal with the Ha and the Jito, the harder of the two, is used to bring out the Jihada. It is used to make the Hada more prominent, or less so, in the case of loosely or coarsely forged Hada. By judicious use of the Jito we can to some extend give the forging a more even appearance. When well done by a Togishi with a true understanding of his work, the forging will have a more mellow, well balanced appearance. I hasten to add however, that no Togishi can change the basic appearance of the forging or make a poor quality blade better intrinsically. We can only work with the basic quality of the Hada to enhance its positive points in a pleasing way.

    With the completion of the Jito, the Shitaji is also completed. We then move into the Shiage work which requires a totally different body position and frame of mind. I continue to work on the Hada in the Tsuya process, using stones I have chosen, split and ground by hand to about 1 millimeter thickness. These I glue with lacquer to paper made from the persimmon tree. There are two different kinds of stones used in the Tsuya process. One is the Hazuya stone used in the Hato and Had˘ri process. The Jizuya is of a yellow brown cast and, as the name implies, is the stone used to deal with the Jihada. This stone helps capture the beauty of the steel by bringing up the highlights of the Jinie. This will give the steel the Nettori or moist, sticky appearance that is so prized in fine blades, and bring out the natural color of the steel. The degree to which all this can be achieved depends on the Togishi's skills and the actual amount of Jinie there is to begin with.

    It's absolutely necessary to choose the proper stones for each sword. As stones are natural things there are infinite qualities to be found in a single type of stone. This is true of the steel and forging of each blade, and each Togishi has a different touch from any other. So we see that the choice of stone is quite dependent upon a number of complex variables. Being able to choose stones of the right sort is one of the important skills a really first class Togishi must master.

    When the Jizuya process of the Tsuya is completed, it is time for the Nugui. The word simply means "to wipe" and does not really give one any idea of its great importance. It caps all the hard work leading up to giving full expression to the Jihada. The actual substance known as Nugui is made of flakes of highly decomposed steel that is a by-product of the swordsmiths' forging process. This is ground with mortar and pestle for several weeks. It is then mixed with Ch˘jiyű (clove oil) and worked into the Jihada. Though this finely ground and strained through Japanese paper, the polisher must be careful not to get Nuguibiki (Nugui scratches) on the Hada. This would be a disaster and require redoing much of the work already completed. To guard against this takes a very sure touch. In this process, as in the rest of the work as well, one must never hurry, must be deliberate, have courage and put absolutely everything else out of his mind. I have found if someone, no matter how great his skill, lets his mind dwell on one thing or another, his work will come to grief. This may sound easy, but it is the nature of a person to worry about daily things and it is no slight thing to block these things out.

    In relationship to the previous work done in the Shitaji with the Hato and Jito, the Nugui process is physically less, but emotionally and aesthetically every bit as demanding. Should the Hada take on too dark or too light an appearance, there is no real way to balance it later. Either situation probably denotes some error in judgement when doing one of the previous steps mentioned. Of course the Jihada of any blade has its own qualities, and some are difficult in the extreme to work with and make them look attractive, but something can always be done to make the Jihada acceptable to some extent. A Togishi must, while working on a blade in the earlier steps, be able to anticipate such problems.

    When deciding how dark or light to make the Hada, not only the natural highlights and color of the Hada must be taken into consideration but also the height and shape of the Hamon and the basic fineness and coarseness of the Hada forging as well. In the case of a high Hamon where there is more Ha than Ji, I may consider less darkness in the Ji desirable. In any case, the Ji will appear to be darker than it is due to the contrasting whiteness of the Ha. The Togishi must not allow the Ha to overpower the total affect of the polish. Conversely in the case of rather low lying Hamon, the Togishi may wish to give a very slightly darker cast to the Hada. This is especially true of blades with a rather Shiraketa-hada. This is Hada with a milky, cloudy color. These blades are always a problem, but still can be made quite attractive if the problem is anticipated early and steps taken to minimize it.

    When the Nugui is complete it is time to move on to the burnishing of the Shinogiji, the Had˘ri, and finally the placing of the Yokote and Narume which will complete the polish and is not in the scope of this article.

    At this point I must minimize the ravages of time and get back to work on the blade that awaits my undivided attention.
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  4. #4

    Had˘ri and Sashikomi

    I would like to discuss and give my views on the Had˘ri and Sashikomi forms of complementing the Hamon in the Shiage process. Such an article as this is of value because many people seem to be much confused about what both styles are, their purpose and the merits of each.

    The Sashikomi form of dealing with the Hamon involves following the physical shape of the main portion or, in Japanese, the Kuroiha (the "black" portion of the Hamon, simply the darkest part of the main tempered area) quite exactly. It is of a technical nature by and large that does not allow for the great diversity of Hamon such as the secondary Nie, Nioi, and in general the Hataraki, around and within the Hamon. Sashikomi is primarily of value in dealing with Hamon that have a very tight Nioiguchi. I must mention here that the period of construction of a blade may also play a strong role in the decision to do Sashikomi or to do a more modest Had˘ri.

    The Had˘ri, as the name implies, means to take or follow the Hamon. But unlike Sashikomi there is no attempt to follow slavishly the superficial outline of the Hamon without taking into consideration the great diversity that usually exists in the Hamon. In dealing with the Hamon following the Had˘ri style, a Togishi must more carefully take into account Hada, its color and the texture of its forging. The Hamon with both its basic shape and the implications of secondary Hataraki in and around the Nioiguchi must be considered well.

    When I mention the implication of secondary Hataraki in and around the Nioiguchi, I mean specifically in regard to how much of this should or should not be included within the Had˘ri. Please remember that the whitening and physical outline of the Had˘ri itself is done by the Togishi, and making a pleasing balance between Ji and Ha and Sugata, or shape of the blade, rests ultimately with him. It is therefore of utmost importance that he has an understanding of the artistic aesthetics of the particular blade he is polishing. This understanding depends on how well he has internalized all past experiences of polishing various swords, also the personal character of that Togishi, his personal and private aesthetics. Herein lies the reason for my own preference of the Had˘ri over the Sashikomi in most - but definitely not all - cases.

    Artistically there are infinite possibilities in interpreting the Hamon in Had˘ri. Each Togishi will interpret the Hamon differently. There are most certainly boundaries of good taste involved here as in any art form, especially one with a long tradition. But still there is much opportunity for the Togishi when doing the Had˘ri to raise his work above mere technical skills and conventions.

    Restoring the blade to its original form during the Shitaji is very important. Well honed techniques are necessary here. The Shitaji is however technical tactile skill. Shiage, on the other hand, combines technical skills and artistic sense if the final total polish is to be a success.

    Physically the Had˘ri will outline the Hamon and go slightly above the Hamon proper to reveal or exclude secondary activity around the Hamon as aesthetics dictate. Because in the Had˘ri we have the freedom of choice we must be quite careful to choose a theme whether Gunome, Notare, Midare, or a combination of these if necessary. it is important even in mixing several shapes to maintain the basic theme. We must also decide how deep or shallow to go above the Hamon. There are many criteria for making these decisions, such as how dark the Jihada is. If the Hada has natural darkness it may be good to make the Had˘ri a bit more shallow and play down the whiteness a bit. With such a high Hamon to begin with, it may be best to keep the Jihada lighter in color in the previous Nugui step, or the whiteness and depth of the Ha may be overpowering.

    In cases of a shallow Hamon or one with a shallow Nioiguchi and/or less secondary activity around the Hamon, the reverse may be right. That is, a slightly darker Hada may be desirable, if it has dark qualities to begin with.

    We can consider taking full advantage of whatever activity there is in and around the Hamon to deepen the Had˘ri. However, in taking advantage of the space activity around the Hamon or trying to deepen the effect of the Had˘ri on especially a rather low lying Hamon, a Togishi without adequate skills or aesthetic understanding will go too deep. This is quite common among even rather competent Togishi as is the converse of going too shallow and in effect "killing" the beauty of the Hamon's shape, brilliance and activity. Both cases are often seen, but I must caution that this question of how deep or shallow to take the Hamon, and how to bring out the highlights of the Jihada in relation to the Hamon, is one that even among Togishi there is not always agreement. It is a question of taste on a very fine order.

    When viewing polishes of mediocre or poor quality, such fine points are rather meaningless as such polishes effectively mask the intristic workmanship of the blade anyway.

    My wish in writing this is to bring out one of the problems a Togishi faces in restoring a sword and give my own views as a Togishi as to why the Had˘ri in my estimation is generally superior. I can only present the above as my own preference. Others will doubtless have their own thoughts on this subject and this is what makes art. The quest, the search for art will, if conducted seriously and without self-serving motives, make art.

    A narrow totalitarian viewpoint can only produce hacks, not artists, and will ultimately consign any artistic endeavor by such narrow people to the realm of provincial folkcrafts. It will never produce art or thinking that transcends national and ethnic boundaries. Taking this a step further, it may be well for Japanese society, which tries to class everything in it as "uniquely Japanese" and thus unfathomable to the non-Japanese, to consider that this very effectively will build a barrier to understanding between Japan and other countries. Thus real respect and understanding will always elude them. It only allows the proliferation of shallow, warped views and stereotypes.

    I have lived most of my life between two cultures, and it seems to me that all too many people are satisfied with such views. They are self-serving and expedient. This is especially true for the government in Japan in forming public opinion. But this falls under the heading of that vast genre of writing of Nihonjinron and not under the heading of art. Yet I think one can see the very subtle but dynamic relation between art and social views. That is how the width and breadth of a society or lack of it can be so very debilitating to art and much else as well.

    On this note, I will cease these musings, because at this moment I have a very large Shinshint˘ sitting in the Katanakake, begging to be restored to its original health and well-being.
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