TameshigiriPicture of Samurai

Tameshigiri Inscriptions

Tameshigiri today, as part of Nihontō-related martial arts, usually refers to practice cuts made with a sword using a moist bundle of bamboo stems to simulate a human body. In Old Japan real bodies were used. On occasion living victims were used, but more often the subject would be the corpse of an executed criminal. The results of such cutting tests are occasionally found struck on the nakago of the swords which were tested, so to understand mei some knowledge of the terminology used is necessary, together with some awareness of the procedures and practices which were employed. There were several systems of tameshigiri used at various times and in various places, each with it's own set of terminology. The system presented here is that used by the Yamada family who were sword testers to the Tokugawa Shogunate. Be aware that, as with all inscriptions on Nihontō, many have been faked and/or exaggerated.

Much of the information presented here about tameshigiri has been adapted from the book 'Sword and Samé' by Henri L. Joly & Inada Hogitaro (1913)

Tameshigiri terms used by the Yamada Family in the Kansei reign period (1789 - 1800). Ancient equivalent terms are in lower case

Within the following list, the cuts which were made on the corpse are listed in order of decreasing difficulty

Sword Cuts Diagram   1. RYO KURUMA Ryo Kuruma

  2.TAI TAI Tai Tai   Suritsuke Suritsuke

  3. KARIGANE Karigane   Wakige Wakige

  4. CHIWARI Chiwari   Ichinodō Ichi no Dō

  5. KESA Kesa   Ōkesa Ōkesa

  6. TACHIWARI Tachiwari   Kami Tachiwari Kami Tachiwari

  7. WAKIGE Wakige   Ni no Dō Ni no Dō

  8. KURUMASAKI Kurumasaki   Ai no Kuruma Ai no Kuruma

  9. SURITSUKE Suritsuke   San no Dō San no Dō

10. SHIMOTATEWARI Shimotatewari

11. SAN NO DŌ San no Dō   Kurumasaki Kurumasaki

12. NI NO DŌ Ni no Dō   Hachimaime Hachimaime

Picture of Sand Dodan 13. ICHI NO DŌ Ichi no Dō   Hondō Hondō

14. KOKESA Kokesa

15. TABIGATA Tabigata

16. SODESURI Sodesuri

X = Hiza Tachi Hiza Tachi

Y = Hiji Tachi Hiji Tachi

Conduct of Tameshigiri

".......Corpses which are used for tests are supplied by the Machibugyō on the demand of Okoshi no mono Bugyō. On the day of the test two dodan are built, the examiner's seat (kenshiba) is one single thin mat, the ground between the kenshiba and tameshiba is sanded, and on it stand Yamada Asayemon and his followers (tedai, deshi).

"At a fixed time, when an execution (Shioki) is completed, the officials return to their offices, while corpses are lying on the Tameshiba with their heads. Honami the sword expert and his pupils come then, and also the Tachiai Okachi Metsuke (consultant Metsuke)".

"The Okoshimono Bugyō comes later and is received by the Metsuke at the entrance to the Sensakusho (searching office). When everything is ready an announcement to that effect is made by a gaoler. All people assemble at the Kenshiba with the Okoshimono Bugyō and his assistant, together with Ondōgu bako (swords in boxes). The Okachi Metsuke is seated on the side of the Tameshiba, together with the prison watchman (Ishide Tatewaki in those days), Okobito Metsuke, Uchiyaku, Yamada Asayemon and his assistants dressed in Noshime Asakamishimo (black kimono with a band of check or stripe at the edge of the sleeves and waist), the others all in Asakamishimo. The entrance is guarded by Machikata Toshiyori Dōshin, Rōya Uchiyaku Dōshin, and the public kept out. The main gate is also guarded by two Rōya Dōshin."

"The corpse is then adjusted on the dodan by two kinin directed by Yamada Asayemon, one man hands the blade (ha awase) to Asayemon, who lifts it to his forehead and fits it into the Kiri tsuka, then he takes off the upper part (Kataginu) of his Kamishimo and his Kimono, faces the dodan and places the back (mune) of the sword on the corpse, holding the tsuka in the right hand, with the left he touches the ground and salutes the examiner. Then he stands up, grasps the sword with both hands thrown back over his head (the blade almost vertically downwards), and when all his muscles are taut he cuts the corpse with an exclamation (yah!). Hinin take off the corpse, Okoshimono Bugyō and other officials approach and examine the dodan, then return to their seats. Subsequently, Asayemon reports in writing about the condition of the blade."

"With yari, Asayemon adjusts the handle. In the sand of the tameshiba a small place is depressed to keep a head steady, and a hinin steadies the head with a spade, Asayemon partly undresses, and tries the yari on the temple, then reports later.............." (extract from 'Sword and Same')

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