EXAMINING A JAPANESE SWORD
Examining all of the critical but subtle details in a Japanese sword is a demanding task that requires good l i g h t i ng and a properly polished sword in good condition at the outset. There are three major aspects to consider when viewing a sword: its shape, the surface of the steel, and the pattern on the hardened cutting edge.
The sword is held upright at arms length so that its overall shape can be easily perceived. Details to notice are the length, the degree of tapering from the base of the blade to the point, the degree of curvature, and the shape and size of the point. The thickness of the blade, along with its weight and balance, should also be noted.
SWORD CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Japanese swords require regular maintenance to remain in good condition. It can take a professional polisher a significant amount of time to polish a new sword or restore an old one, and the resulting finish on the sword must be carefully preserved. Many customs or rules have been developed in Japan to take are of these swords. These rules should be carefully observed to preserve a sword in good condition. A Japanese sword is stored in a specially designed cloth bag. When first picking up a sword, it is customary to bow to the sword before removing it from the bag. The cloth ribbon securing the mouth of the bag is untied, and the sword and scabbard are removed from the bag. The hilt is then gripped securely with the fingers of one hand, while the thumb of the same hand pushes the scabbard to separate it from the hilt gently and securely. Using this technique ensures that the sword comes out of the scabbard slowly, rather than in a sudden movement that could damage the scabbard or injure the person holding the sword.
If the scabbard is very tight, use both hands and both thumbs to ease the sword slowly out of the scabbard, with the thumbs a c t i n g as a brake. Once the blade can move freely, remove it completely from the cabbard. To minimize damage to the highly polished surface, the sword should be drawn f r om the scabbard slowly, with the cutting edge turned upward toward the ceiling. The blade should slide only along its back surface as it is pulled o u t . If the blade were removed with the cutting edge down, it would cut through the scabbard; sliding it out on its side would eventually produce visible scratches along the polished surface. Once the sword is out of the scabbard, the blade is usually removed from the hilt so that all of its features, including the tang, may be examined. The tang is secured in the wooden hilt by a bamboo rivet called a “Mekugi.” A hammer-like tool called a “Mekuginuki” is used to loosen this rivet and push it out of the hilt from one side. Since the bamboo rivet is tapered, its smaller end is pushed flush with the surface of the hilt; the rivet is then removed from the other side.