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Mei - Japanese Sword Signatures

 

The mei, or inscription on Japanese swords usually found the nakago, and can be of several forms. The typical form is chiseled, or carved, by the maker. The smith may have somebody else do the signature for him. (Many early smiths were illiterate.) Knowing who did the signature is one of the difficulties faced by the collector. Other forms of mei include attributions, which may be done in lacquer, or inlayed metal, usually gold. Some swords were never signed, or the signature was lost due to shortening. (Swords are always shortened by removing metal from the nakago end, the end with the signature.)

Tachi-mei

Signatures are usually cut on the side of the Nakago facing away from the person. Tachi are worn with the edge down, slung on the left side of the body. (This is just the opposite of Katana, which is worn edge up on the left side of the body.)  Most blades were signed Tachi mei until the Muromachi Period.

Katana-mei

Since the Katana was worn with the edge up, the signature was made on the opposite side compared to the Tachi, again facing outward, as the sword is worn. Most swords after the Muromachi period were signed this way.
This Mei is read "Bungo ju Fujiwara Saneyuki"

Omote

This term refers to the front side of the blade, (the side of the blade that faces out as it is worn). Therefore, the omote is opposite for tachi and katana! see above.

The characters found on the omote would usually be the smiths name, place of residence and any titles.
This (omote) Katana-mei is read "Echizen no Kami Fujiwara Kunitsugu", and translates to: Lord of Echizen (honorary), Fujiwara Kunitsugu (the smiths name).

Ura

This term refers to the back side of the blade (the side of the blade facing the body, as it is worn). Therefore, the omote is opposite for tachi and katana! The characters on the ura side of a blade would usually be the date, or some other information.

This is the ura of the katana-mei sword above, and is read "Ni oite Kuma moto motte namban Tetsu"

Dai-mei

A student signs his masters blade with permission or a student makes a blade in the masters style and signs it with permission.

Daisaku-mei

In this case the masters signature is placed on a blade made by his student, in the masters style with permission of the master. The second generation Kunisada (later became Inoue Shinkai) was well known for making blades using the first generation Kunisada's signature. This is usually seen when the father, or master smith, is too old to make blades, but has not yet passed the title on to his son, or student.

Shu-mei

A red lacquer signature added from an appraiser to give an attribution.

Gi-mei

A false signature.

Ato-mei

Ato means after, or later. Mei means signature. It is an inscription, added later, without the smiths knowledge  or permission. Ato-mei can take many forms, many being in gold inlay or red lacquer, usually as an attribution by an expert sword appraiser. Without papers, these can be taken 'with a grain of salt'.

Gaku-mei

When a sword is shortened the signature can be removed with the surrounding steel and then added to the Nakago.

Orikaeshi-mei

When a sword is shortened by a smaller amount the signature and surrounding steel can be folder over the Nakago and onto the other side.

Niji-mei

A two character signature.

Kin-mei

Gold inlay on the nakago, usually placed there by an appraiser.