Two Japanese officers swords with handmade blades

Officers of the Imperial Japanese armed forces felt themselves, and often actually were, descendants of the Samurai, the warrior elite of ancient Japan. To these Samurai their weapons were of the utmost importance. The quality of the smith, the family history behind the sword all added to the value. Even in the second world war these officers chose to either have a family heirloom mounted in the military “standard” mounting (which had to be custom made to fit the old blade!) or buy a modern blade made by a craftsman sword smith in the traditional way.

Not all officers had this possibility and certainly not the lower ranks. Most men received a machine made blade, tempered in oil and not the handmade ones with many layers and tempered in water, the traditional way. Traditional swords are made from tamahagane, iron ore won from sand and relatively rare!

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Here are two specimen of WW2 period mountings for traditional handmade blades. The top one is a naval mounting of an unnamed antique blade and the second is an custom made army mounting (end of the war period) for a 1942 blade made by a high quality sword smith (gendai)

Imperial Japanese Navy Kai Gunto with antique blade

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These navy fittings have been custom made for an ancient family heirloom (katana) from the Keicho period (1596-1615). All individual parts are numbered with the same number (602). Officers that had such family heirlooms and the money often chose to use the heirloom as their officers sword. As these swords, unlike the period machine made ones have all different forms and sizes. Therefore the fittings had to be custom made for the specific blade.

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In the Keicho period it was popular to copy the styles of the Nambokucho period (14th century).

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The blade is o suriage which means the original tang (with inscription of the smith) was lost over time. Often blades were shortened to change the length or the form of the blade to fit either fashion or the owner of that moment.

All in all it is a very good example of a historic blade mounted for a Japanese naval officer in the WW2 period.

Imperial Japanese Army Shin Gunto with “modern” gendai blade

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The blade is signed by the Mino sword smith (gendai) Kaneyoshi“ (兼吉), civilian name „Matsubara Shōzō“ (松原松蔵), born 1921, he worked as rikugun-jumei-tōshō and died August 18th 1966 Kaneyoshi.

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To become Rikugun Jumei Tosho, a swordsmith had to pass tests and examination of his blades. Once accepted as an Army Certified Swordsmith (Rikugun Jumei Tosho), the smith was given a regular allocation of tamehagane with which to make sword blades.

The blade is dated juli 1942 but the mounting is of the type that was used from 1944. That also makes clear why there is a second hole in the blade. It was remounted in 1944 in a very luxury way. The sheath is lightweight laquered wood. The sword fittings are special as well. The habaki is silvered ant the tsuba (handguard) has been pierced to lighten the weight. It has been fitted to be used by a Samurai in fighting. On the top a mon (heraldic  sign used by the noble families) has been added.

 

 

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