Cutting Edge Issue 2 - Page 47

KOSHIRAE: THE FURNITURE OF A JAPANESE SWORD T he appreciation of Japanese swords may take on a number of different aspects. It has always been the blade that is considered as the main area of study and appreciation, for reasonably obvious reasons. However, it is a difficult area of study for most nonJapanese and takes many years to fully understand, if indeed it is possible for a foreigner to fully understand this peculiarly Japanese cultural subject. More easily appreciated are the other parts that constitute the furniture of a fully mounted Japanese sword. The mounting or furniture covers everything except the blade and is known as the sword’s “koshirae”. The koshirae, although a single entity, is a collaboration between a number of artisans including, scabbard and handle makers, lacquerers, hilt binders and metal-artists. There are great efforts in Japan to preserve the art of koshirae design and manufacture, as like many such traditional things, there is a danger of it being lost in this modern age. Today, all this work is co-ordinated by the polisher of the blade, or sometimes the swordsmith himself. The purely visual art employed in koshirae, is easy for most to appreciate at a certain level, although some of the metal mounts may get into the highly aesthetic areas of metal texture and abstract designs. However, here we are looking at the various different types of mountings that may be encountered by the collector at arms fairs or auction houses. Japanese swords are initially defined by length, that is to say, katana or tachi (long swords) wakizashi (short swords) or tanto (daggers or knives). There are other names, but for the sake of simplicity, we will stay with these. Alternatively, they may also be defined by the type of koshirae in which they are mounted, e.g. “a handachi katana”. CUTTING EDGE | 45