In Japan, from the late 1600’s to the mid 1800’s, the samurai sword transitioned from being a tool for fighting battles into a symbol of the warrior class. The quality and amount of decoration on the sword furnishings (koshirae) became an indicator of ones social status and wealth. The level of craftsmanship demonstrated in many of these sword furnishings is second to none. The Japanese sword smiths developed a wide array of techniques for use in the decoration of these swords. The traditional technique of mokume gane (mokume = wood grain and gane = metal) was one such technique.
Denbei Shoami, a 17th century master metalsmith from the Akita prefecture is credited with inventing mokume and using it for the admornment of samurai swords. Using the mokume gane technique the smith would create laminated metal billets that were fused by heat and pressure. The billets composed of various metal combinations, were forged, carved and finished to produce uniquely patterned metal stock; this stock was then used to fabricate parts for the samurai sword. For example this late 18th Century piece by Takahashi Okitsugu is a hand guard for the sword called a tsuba, with its cherry blossoms floating on water pattern it is probably one of the finest traditional mokume gane pieces in existence.
Mokume gane as traditionally practiced, was a very difficult process to learn; this was partly due to the difficultly of successfully fusing the metals and partly due to the skill required to forge the laminated billet down to useable material without separating the layers.