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Need Help With In Law's Sword


Lazarus
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Hello,

   I'm Steve and I am a retired naval officer and military history PhD candidate currently living in the Midwest. I recently became the caretaker of a nihonto that has been in the possession of my wife's family since her grandfather brought it back from Japan (after naval service there) in 1946. It has resided in various garages and closets for the last 70 years. I am looking to identify this piece as it seems to have some interesting characteristics. The sword is missing a number of components including the Kashira, menuki (if any were ever attached), the fuchi, and the habaki. It appears that the tsukamaki components have been removed and jammed back onto the tang of the sword in the reverse. The mekugi is also missing and the ana looks straight down to the metal of the tang, which appears red (rust) in color. The tsuka is very firmly attached to the tang, either by force of impact/jamming back on to the tang, or I am incorrect that the tsuka is on backwards and there is a second mekugi hidden under the rear area of the tsuka. Finally, there is a strange, wire wrapped around the blade that holds together what remains of the sword.

 

My preliminary internet and book-based research would seem to indicate that this is not a WW2 era manufactured sword. There are no serial numbers or marks of any kind on the exposed blade and top of tang. The sword appears sharpened back to the tsuba as well. The tsuba appears simple iron, with several rough sukashi. The tsuba does not resemble those of war-made Japanese samurai-like swords. The overall condition of this sword is, sadly, very poor. As can be seen from the photos it is badly rusted in many places. According to my wife's family it has been in this deplorable state since her grandfather returned with it in 1946. 

 

I am seeking to historically identify this sword as much as possible from physical observation. My working hypothesis is that this is an older sword (pre-Showa) that was turned in along with others in accordance with the Allied Command order that all Japanese weapons be turned in to Allied authorities. Perhaps the family that held the sword stripped the missing fittings in order that those components of the sword that had family significance would not fall into American (dishonorable) hands. Alternately, an American in possession of the sword may have stripped these pieces for their possible value/curious interest, and left the weapon (sans ornamentation) to be destroyed with others by the Allied Occupation Authority. The wire might have once held a US identification tag, or was used by the original owner to hold the sword together for turn-in to US authorities. Happy to entertain other suggestions.

 

I served two assignments in Japan-based ships in my naval career (Yokosuka and Sasebo), and have a deep appreciation for Japan and its culture. I would welcome any attempts to identify this sword, and any suggestions as to how it might be restored as much as possible to its original condition. Happy to take additional photographs as needed. My thanks!

 

Sincerely,

Steve, USN ret

 

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If you are safely able to remove the tsuka from the nakago (tang) without damaging either then do so and upload some shots of both sides of the full nakago sans tsuka. Hopefully there will be some markings under there that might help you identify the maker and date of the blade.

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Thanks all so far. The Tsuka appears to be firmly jammed onto the tang, and I have been hesitant to forcibly remove it for fear of damaging the tsuka components. I am located at Ohio University (Athens, OH), so perhaps closer to the south than to the midwest.

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Just me maybe, but that tsuka is a write off anyways, and was wrapped by a Westerner in all likelyhood. Even if not, it is not original and nothing to gain be keeping it. I think exposing the tang is more important that preserving the relic of a tsuka. It would need to go into a shirasaya either way. At this stage it doesn't even have a saya?

It will come out...

http://www.thesamuraiworkshop.com/_articles/koshirae-nuki/or http://japancutters.blogspot.com/2009/12/nakagonuki-beim-training-kommt-immer.html

At this stage the sword is doing no good in those fittings. Need to get it oiled and see what you have.

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Just me maybe, but that tsuka is a write off anyways, and was wrapped by a Westerner in all likelyhood. Even if not, it is not original and nothing to gain be keeping it. I think exposing the tang is more important that preserving the relic of a tsuka. It would need to go into a shirasaya either way. At this stage it doesn't even have a saya?

It will come out...

http://www.thesamuraiworkshop.com/_articles/koshirae-nuki/or http://japancutters.blogspot.com/2009/12/nakagonuki-beim-training-kommt-immer.html

At this stage the sword is doing no good in those fittings. Need to get it oiled and see what you have.

I agree the tsuka is in bad shape. If it was wrapped by a westerner, then that happened in 1945/46 since the sword has been in storage since my wife's grandfather returned with it in 1946. The tool you suggested may be of help. Thanks!

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Hi Steve,

Don't try to fix anything on the sword; anything you think up might do serious damage.  Leave it be until someone who knows Nihonto can look at it.  Mark in Toledo is a good choice.

Grey

Thanks Grey. You are a Tsuba guy; what do you think of the Tsuba on my sword? There are small, rough sukashi. I can take measurements and more detailed photos if necessary. Maybe a Tosho school item, or later reproduction of one?

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Here are some additonal pics of the ha and the Kissaki. The rust looks bad, I agree, but still appears to be only surface in nature. There is damage at two visible spots along the blade near the tip (as can be seen in the photos). Could be perhaps from real use at some point in the sword's history.

 

I did some further inspection of the damaged Tsuka. Don't have a picture of this here, but it definitely appears to have been removed at some point and then jammed hard in the opposite direction back onto the tang. The wood beneath the sami appears cracked.

 

The end of the tang, however, appears to protrude from the end of the tsuka (a tiny bit). My current paln is to use a small wood dowel and small rubber mallet to tap the end of the tang (lightly to be sure) to loosen the Tsuka enough for removal. Not sure how much more identification of the sword I can accomplish without being able to view the inscriptions, if any, on the tang.

 

Other suggestions of course welcome.

 

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Ouch,

Most things can be restored. But in many cases it would not make financial sense. This could be one. The damage is usually worse than it appears where rust is involved.

Get that tsuka off....beat it off with a wooden peg if you have to. Don't hold much hope for it being worth fixing though, sorry.

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Looks like a refugee from an archaeological dig. I'm not an expert but personally, I can't imagine this sword could ever be restored to collectable condition and there's a good chance it could end up being worthless to Nihonto collectors even if it could be, depending who made it and when.

 

I'm interested to see what's on the nakago too, but unless this is the long-lost Honjo Masamune  ;-)  it's only value is sentimental and it's status as a war relic. If you can't get the tsuka off without unwrapping the wire or causing more damage it might be better to just leave it as-is... the chance of the sword's value increasing by destroying the the tsuka are pretty much 0 and it's at least an interesting conversation piece for a WW2 collection in it's current state.

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The size/shape/small /rough sukashi would perhaps suggest that this is perhaps a koto sword, but of a low ranking, ordinary samurai rather than a general. The Tsuka has been jammed back onto the nakago in the reverse, cutting into the wood of the tsuka in the process, That appears to be what is making the process of removing the Tsuka so difficult. I'm not into the sword for monetary value, but as a piece of history. 

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The tsuba does not resemble those of war-made Japanese samurai-like swords. The overall condition of this sword is, sadly, very poor. As can be seen from the photos it is badly rusted in many places. According to my wife's family it has been in this deplorable state since her grandfather returned with it in 1946. 

This is the bit that intrigues me. I think if it was in this condition in 1946, it must have been in similar condition throughout the war. It isn't in military mounts, and so it is clearly not a WW2 sword, and not an heirloom that was retrofitted for WW2 mounts. 

 

I agree with some of the posters above who said the tsuka is a write-off. From what I can see in the photos, it has no aesthetic value, and no value as an historical artifact. (Don't fret over this. The tsuka is generally made of materials that degrade over time anyway, and it is completely normal for the tsuka to be replaced in part or in whole throughout the life of the sword). I think you will find the blade and the tsuba will be just as valuable without the tsuka - but if it will not come off without a good deal of force, leave it for now. As you probably know, a proper WW2 gunto tsuka would look like the photos at the sites below

 

http://plaza.rakuten.co.jp/eggrider/diary/200602200000/

http://tanosiiseikatu.hippy.jp/katananotuba/?p=932

 

The tsuba won't tell you anything about the sword or who owned it. They are accessories, as are the other parts of the sword furnishings, and it is quite normal for them to be fitted on different blades through the years. It would be entirely possible for a very old tsuba to get put on a very new blade, and vice-versa. Even the blade itself, unless it comes from a prestigious collection and is accompanied with meticulous documentation, will not likely tell you much about who owned it. So, its fun to imagine who might have owned it, but any speculation as to things like rank or status would be...just speculation. Edit: I should probably add that it is entirely possible that your sword was purchased by a merchant or someone who bought their way into society, so you couldn't even really say with much certainty that a samurai owned it. It could have passed in and out of samurai families. Unfortunately status was quite fluid at the fringes of society, so, again, nice to think about what family owned it and what their history is, but it would be hard to conclude definitively the status of the owner.

 

If you can get the tsuka off, and then take a photo of the entire sword so that we can see the shape, we might have some better idea. But be prepared for the possibility that the sword is of little historical value, as it could very easily be a mass-produced sword.

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As long as the tsuka has not been glued on with superglue you should be able to remove it.

Now with the state your sword is in it would be best to clamp the blade firmly in a bench clamp (with cloth around the blade)

Put a wooden stick lengthwise against the tsuba and hammer it  and the tsuka off.

That should do the trick and will not break or damage either the tsuba or tsuka.

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  • 1 month later...

Ok, so I finally spent some dedicated time and was able to remove the Tsuka from my in law's sword. Sorry, no Mei (or at least none I can see), but two meguki ana holes; so possibly shortened?. Sword mesaures 29.5 inches from kissaki to end of Nakago. Not any missing treasure, but a great display piece.

 

 

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