How to read swordsmith records

This article explains the layout and meaning of different fields of swordsmith records in Swordsmith Index. It had been noticed that many visitors who quote the records on external resources aren't completely sure how to interpret presented information.


Note: areas 1-5 present key information about the smith in Kanji for quick reference.


  1. Smith name in Kanji
  2. Sword period symbol (similar to Nihonto Meikan [1]). Circle corresponds to Koto, triangle - Shinto, square - Shin-Shinto, star - Gendaito.
  3. Kanji for Japanese era when the smith was active. Corresponds to 'Start Era' field in the general information table.
  4. Kanji for province.
  5. (optional) Kanji for smith's generation (初代 for 1st generation, 二代 - 2nd, 三代 - 3rd, etc)
  6. Smith's art name + (optional) generation
  7. (optional) you will see this note there is another record for the same smith which is considered to be primary one.
  8. General informational table (see field descriptions below).
  9. Ratings and sources (see below).
  10. (optional) Typical signatures. If this section is omitted, smith's name (area 1) in nijimei (2 character signature) may be the most typical example, especially for Koto smiths.
  11. (optional) Table of recorded works. This is a link to Sword Database.
  12. (optional) Free text notes on the smith's biography and style.

General information table

A word of caution. Study of Japanese swords is an ancient discipline surrounded by very specific ways of presenting facts, opinions and (sometimes) legends. As large portions of information in Nihonto Club databases ultimately come from old written sources (via various books, magazines and directories of our age), modern readers inexperienced in the matters of Nihonto should refer to the notes below in order to avoid confusion. It is important to understand what names, generations and time lines actually mean.


Uniqie smith ID (Hawley IDs [2] are currently in use). There are less than 500 unique art names in the world of Nihonto and it's not sufficient to use just the smith's name. This ID is an easy way to refer to certain smith without having to mention too many details.


Japanese province (see explanation in Wikipedia) where the smith lived and worked.

Other Residence

If the smith worked in more than one province, this field will list other provinces, towns and villages where he resided. Otherwise, it shows the name of the town or village (i.e. Province field would be Mino, and Other Residence would be Seki).

Era/Start Era/End Era

It is customary to say that such and such smith was active during certain era or nengō (see here). This is the way smiths were listed in the old smith directories. Sometimes it's been recorded that such and such smith was active between era X and era Y, hence we use Start/End era as a way to describe it.

What does it mean?

It depends. Generally it means that there were examples of the smith's works with this era inscribed on the tang, or there is some other evidence or historical accounts that the smith was active during this era. The further back it goes in time, the more spurious and imprecise these accounts will be.

Sometimes stated era defines the most representative (or median) period of the smith's work. In other cases, especially when the smith changed his name, the stated era shows the actual starting time period. Based on author's observations, for smiths who lived after 1600s the nengō is reasonably precise. For smiths after 1800s it's mostly exact.

Sometimes you will see in the sword literature:

  • 'according to the directories, this smith smith is listed for era A, but his style is typical for another period' (20-50-100 years earlier or later than the stated era). Or:
  • 'smith A is said to be the son of smith B, but the time span between their nengō is too large for this to be the case'

This is typical for the smiths which worked 1000 years ago. While it's obvious that the dates are wrong, we still list those smiths against the 'traditional' era, and mention the discrepancies in the free text notes.

It is not unusual to see a different nengō for the given smith is various sources, especially for older smiths.

Sometimes you'll see a very broad time period in this field, e.g. Koto or Shinto. This means there is no more detailed information about the smith, but there was some mention of him historical records.

Active period

This field attempts to address the limitations of 'start era/end era' way to show the smith's active period.

Please take note that some eras lasted for 2-3 years while some eras span over 30 years (e.g. Oei, 1394-1428). In Nihonto Club database we are able to define the exact observed years of smith's work, where available. Active period is constructed according to the following formula:

Start year = MIN ( Observed start year (if stated), first year of Start Era )
End year = MAX ( Last year of End Era (or Start Era, if not stated), Observed end year (if stated) )

As a result, Active Period essentially shows the most 'conservative' view at the date range for the smith's works based on available information. For modern smiths (e.g. after 1800s) Active Period may be 100% precise.

Generation (displayed elsewhere)

As it was a normal practice to pass smith's name through generations from father to son or another successor, this field displays the generation traditionally attached to the smith (i.e. first generation Hizen Masahiro, or Masahiro Shodai). It's an additional point of reference when mentioning a particular smith.

What does it mean?

It depends on availability of precise historical records.

In many cases it means exactly that there was a recorded succession line and the name was passed from one particular person to another and so on. We usually have enough information about smiths from Shinto period and later.

As for other cases, it's sometimes customary to say that 'there were X generations of the smith A', either based on historical accounts or on distinctive styles observed in the works bearing the same name and displaying some sort of similarity. As you may see, it's possible there wasn't necessarily any direct succession line. By employing the separation by generations we basically say that 'there were different smiths using the same name A over given time period, and based on secondary characteristics there were X of them'. It's not unusual to hypothesize that generations 1 and 2, or 2 and 3 of the same smith (name) were actually the same person who changed his style, either over years or after studying or joining a different school.

It's also quite normal to find different sources listing different number of generations for the same smith and assigning different generation numbers to seemingly the same person. Don't consider one source to be 'right' and another to be 'wrong'. These are just different interpretations (and in many cases, speculations) of the scarce historical information. Nihonto Club usually relies on one of the sources or a combination of them which provides the most coherent view at the succession line, but this practice is not consistent.

In other words, generations of important smiths are usually well known and it's an important point of reference. Don't pay too much attention to the generations of older or less known smiths.

Ratings and sources

Note: This section will be eventually reworked to improve the way information is presented.

Some swordsmith directories rate smiths' works in relation to their skill and historical significance. It is very important to understand each rating scale when comparing different smiths. See here and here for detailed explanations.

One more note to add. Hawley's rating is largely based on Toko Taikan, hence it assigns some virtual monetary value to a 'perfect' example of smith's work. However this only applies to smiths which were cross-listed in Toko Taikan and Hawley's. Ratings for any smiths which are only listed by Hawley appear to have 'special' values. I.e. all Gendai smiths would have rating of 8. Also, 10 appears to have a special meaning: any smith of pre-Gendai era without enough information would automatically get a rating of 10. Beware of these ratings: they don't necessarily mean that the smith's skill is inferior but rather that they can't be rated. Also please note that this observation is based on my experience of working with smith directories and it's not supported by any documentary evidence.

As for sources, you will occasionally see 'Other' as source with a list of encoded references in the end. See References page for explanation. These are generic references to smith's historical background and style. If you are looking for oshigata or examples of smith's works, refer to Recorded Works section (see below).

Typical signatures

This section contains a list of typical signatures as described by Nihonto sources, in Kanji and Romaji forms.

Is it exhaustive? If I can't find my signature, character-to-character, in this list, does it mean it's not the smith I'm looking for?

No and no. Small variations in signatures aren't always presented here. The most typical cases would be omissions/additions of JU (住) and SAKU (作), or signing with the name only (you'll see the name in large Kanji characters on the left hand side). Some larger but more rare variations may also not always present.

What if some smith doesn't have any typical signatures listed? Does it mean all his works were unsigned?

It means that either the smith signed with his name only (1-2-3 characters typically) - this type of signature would be normal for Koto smiths, or there may not be any information available.

What if some characters on my sword's tang differ from the ones in Swordsmith Index?

As you may know, Kanji characters may have different forms, some of them being more archaic than others. While I tried to keep the signatures in the form they appear on nakago, it's not always possible. You will need to consult somebody knowledgeable in Kanji to confirm whether your Kanji is equivalent to the character listed on NC.

Recorded Works

This section links Swordsmith Index with Sword Database. We may speculate whether particular sword was made by a particular smith based on the information presented above, but only direct comparison with other conformed works will add value to these speculations.

Remember the 'rule of triangle': if sword A and sword B appear to be made by the same person, judging by the signature and style, and the sword B was attributed to smith X, then the sword A can also quite likely be attributed to the smith X, but this attribution is no more accurate than the original attribution of B to X. Only a specialist would be able to confirm if this attribution is correct (and opinions of different experts may vary, for all the right reasons).

Sword Database publishes only the swords with attributions made by reputable experts. Most of the swords would either be papered by NBTHK/NHTK or have National Treasure (and below) designations. However in all these cases attributions are still subjective. Also, sometimes attributions are not detailed enough to assign the sword to a particular smith in Swordsmith Index (for instance, if multiple generations existed and it can't be determined with certainty which generation made the sword. In these cases I may have assigned the sword to the first generation).

Free text notes

This section contains Wikipedia-like article about the smith. There is typically some internal structure (see here).


If you find any inconsistencies in the smith record or additional information about the smith, please leave your comments by using 'Add new comment' link. Your help with making Swordsmith Index better is always appreciated. Please don't forget to add references to the sources of new information.