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Kubikiri Korner


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I recently posted photos of a kubikiri (head cutter tanto) that I own, looking for information on it as well as sharing a very unusual piece.  The thread can be found here:

http://www.militaria.co.za/nmb/topic/23063-now-for-something-different-ninja-sword/

 

While listing this sword on ebay, another ebayer sent me photos of his kubikiri and agreed that it was ok for me to share them here.  If any of the rest of you have a kubikiri, we would love to see photos of it, so please share.  Cheers, Bob

 

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Rob,

 

The Age of Battles is long gone and I simply wonder if this is not an Ikebana Master's very nicely mounted flower cutting tool.  I haven't bothered to read the mei, but I'm guessing somewhere in the Edo period, which makes a purposed Kubikiri tanto really unlikely????

 

BaZZa

(who still owes you a PM)

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Well, we are fixed in our opinions, aren't we gentlemen!  Choosing to ignore the amazing mounts on both of these pieces to take the position they are for gardening?  At the very least, these are weak theories for these two blades since the data don't support them.  Such mounts would be ruined in short order working in either the garden or with coal.  Why would mine have a slot for a kodzuka or kogai (there was an umabari in it actually)?  As to the mei, I think that the one above is Tanba no kami kanemichi, but not sure about the tanba.  We will wait until another one emerges to be posted here and see if that changes your minds at all.  That is my hope for the sake of illuminating this conundrum.  As with nearly all discussions on this board, I am here for fun and have no stake in it, really!

 

Although the Japanese sword index (thanks Rich for maintaining that and bringing it in to the discussion), when you search for kunikiri (literally head cutter) starts out with the head cutter use that I'm sure is correct, it then strays into other "theories".  I have no doubt that when a concave blade is mounted with a simple wooden handle, it's likely use is as a gardening tool or some other use that involves hacking like a machete, but I am convinced that neither of the two before you was made for that purpose and both were mounted to be carried far outside of the garden......

 

http://japaneseswordindex.com/unji.htm

Cheers, Bob

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Always have wondered at their purpose.

If nata, why not just a nata? A fraction of the cost compared to the silk, lacquer and rayskin clad, horimono adorned blade above.

Bonsai pruning with something that size? As likely to remove your fingers as you are to make a clean bonsai cut. Shears have been around a long time and much better suited.

An exclusive head cutter? Just how many heads does one collect in ones Samurai career?

A Daimyo nata might be the case but their quality never seems to scream Daimyo, although it is a gardening tool so perhaps best not to commission Natsuo to make the fittings.

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Thanks for the open minded response Lee.  It was raised that the actual head cutting was done by a samurai retainer.  I imagine there can be quite a few bodies after a battle and souvenirs to collect....  Simple maneuver.  Step one, grab hold of topknot and extend head.  Step two, remove head.  Step three, put in period tupperware container.  

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Well, we are fixed in our opinions, aren't we gentlemen!  Choosing to ignore the amazing mounts on both of these pieces to take the position they are for gardening?  At the very least, these are weak theories for these two blades since the data don't support them.  Such mounts would be ruined in short order working in either the garden or with coal.  Why would mine have a slot for a kodzuka or kogai (there was an umabari in it actually)?  As to the mei, I think that the one above is Tanba no kami kanemichi, but not sure about the tanba.  We will wait until another one emerges to be posted here and see if that changes your minds at all.  That is my hope for the sake of illuminating this conundrum.  As with nearly all discussions on this board, I am here for fun and have no stake in it, really!

 

Although the Japanese sword index (thanks Rich for maintaining that and bringing it in to the discussion), when you search for kunikiri (literally head cutter) starts out with the head cutter use that I'm sure is correct, it then strays into other "theories".  I have no doubt that when a concave blade is mounted with a simple wooden handle, it's likely use is as a gardening tool or some other use that involves hacking like a machete, but I am convinced that neither of the two before you was made for that purpose and both were mounted to be carried far outside of the garden......

 

http://japaneseswordindex.com/unji.htm

Cheers, Bob

 

 

 

Could easily be as stated charcoal or other ceremonial swords. We see swords that are absolutely glorious that obviously were not intended for battle, like most of the shrine swords. I can see a ceremonial preparation sword being made very well and with good fittings. 

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Scalping was as common as beheading a fallen combatant. It was much easier to carry 30 scalps than heads. Samurai were notorious for collecting heads/scalps to prove their success in battle. This shape would surely be easier to use than another blade type.

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the construction of the blade would have to reversed for this blade to work at all by a right handed person to scalp

 

the placement of the shinogi would prevent a good enough angle of the blade to cut efficiently in its current formation, if the blade construction was reversed or the user was left handed it would be efficient. IMHO

 

my experience is animal based only guys hhahaha not scalped a human yet.

I have been slaughtering all our meat since a kid. 

 

personally I think this nata is for gardens, and the owner is just wearing rose coloured glasses and had made up his mind before asking for advice.

 

short thick hatchet to cut through the neck??? cant see it being quick or clean, but rather messy and slow.

for example I have trouble removing a sheeps head with the correct butchering knives, but a human head with a nata. I think your arm would be tired after all that hacking 

 

regards H

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".....the owner is just wearing rose coloured glasses and had made up his mind before asking for advice."

 

Ouch!  So much for healthy discourse....

 

"We see swords that are absolutely glorious that obviously were not intended for battle..., like most of the shrine swords."   True, but they were not intended for cutting down trees either, but rather ceremonial purposes which would not be expected to damage their mounts.

 

I have made all the points that I will.  Maybe I'm still looking through rose colored glasses, and I admit that I do not know with any certainty whether such blades were intended for removing heads.  I have not denied the existence of the nata - it seems obvious that they have crude wooden handles and are made and used for gardening.  

 

I can say however that I sincerely doubt that these finely mounted kubikiri (I didn't make up this name!) were made to either work in the garden or to chop up coal.  

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".....the owner is just wearing rose coloured glasses and had made up his mind before asking for advice."

 

Ouch!  So much for healthy discourse....

 

"We see swords that are absolutely glorious that obviously were not intended for battle..., like most of the shrine swords."   True, but they were not intended for cutting down trees either, but rather ceremonial purposes which would not be expected to damage their mounts.

 

I have made all the points that I will.  Maybe I'm still looking through rose colored glasses, and I admit that I do not know with any certainty whether such blades were intended for removing heads.  I have not denied the existence of the nata - it seems obvious that they have crude wooden handles and are made and used for gardening.  

 

I can say however that I sincerely doubt that these finely mounted kubikiri (I didn't make up this name!) were made to either work in the garden or to chop up coal.  

 

 

 

Big difference between pruning a bonsai and chopping down a tree. I think you're assuming that all garden or menial tasks are crude by necessity and that simply isn't the case.

 

It's very possible they were used for head removal. It's possible they were used for scalping. Samurai were pretty obsessed with the whole head taking thing, it wouldn't surprise me if some samurai had a special blade made just for it.

 

Truth is we just simply don't know.

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It's very possible they were used for head removal. It's possible they were used for scalping. Samurai were pretty obsessed with the whole head taking thing, it wouldn't surprise me if some samurai had a special blade made just for it.

 

Truth is we just simply don't know.

Yeah that is where I was heading with my opinion. I read somewhere once (can't remember source) that collecting heads by quantity became a big trend and that fallen soldiers of little worth were scalped instead of decapitated. I could see some "dedicated" samurai hunters having a blade like this on their person during battle. But hey?! looks like a garden tool too.. It could have possibly developed from the nata or vice versa.. like the ninja Kama etc.

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We see lots of modern smiths making swords that are not intended to be used, and even way back when things like yari and naginata were not being used, they were being made by smiths just for tradition or because they can. So I don't think it is unreasonable for a smith to make a sword in the style of the kubikiri just for the heck of it. Maybe to see if he could.
Not saying that's what they are...they could also have been general purpose "choppers" since the style works well as a type of machete. But we just don't know.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, pity we can't solve the mystery.

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Let me put it this way: in almost 40 years of living on and off in Japan, I never came across any blade that was described as a kubikiri. I don’t know of any Japanese source or depiction of such a thing; the only book it is mentioned in is Stone’s “Glossary” (and although he did a marvelous job writing it, there are quite a few known errors and misconception in it). Can anyone point to any other reliable source, preferably a Japanese one?

 

Oh, and the Japanese never practiced scalping – taking of headknots / mage, yes, but no scalps.

 

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Nata had no role in bonsai growing or pruning but they did play an important part in the tea ceremony. Important guests would be shown the way through the garden to the tea house by a servant who cleared a path for them through the vegetation using a nata. The fact that there was no vegetation obstructing the path was irrelevant, the purpose was to demonstrate respect and regard for the guest. When seen in this context it is not surprising that it would be a properly mounted. 

Ian Bottomley

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In my private collection I have a nice nata brought home by my grandfather, beside other swords, who travelled Japan in 1912. It has a finely carved ivory koshirae in fishscale design and original Kozuka and blade. The whole thing around 1900, I guess.

The fine but flimsy grip speaks against any use in beheading, even though my grandfather bought it as "Kopfmesser"(beheading knife). Goosebumps pay off! Easier to sell than gardening equipment!

 

No hardening visible, nice kanji on the blade.

 

Best, Martin

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Yes, Robert, I have just read your post with the green saya knife. It is definitely the same koshirae maker. Very interesting!

 

From what I can see on my knife, the "scales" are not skin of any kind but very finely carved thin pieces of ivory resembling fishscales. The green patina on your saya was probably added later, as the tsuka is regular ivory.

 

Cheers, Martin

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Rich, do you have photos of the one in good mounts?  It would be great to get a collection of photos of kubikiri here.  Cheers, bob

 

Sorry, but my pics of late have been from earlier digicam.  At the moment, I have no digicam, so can't post new pics of stuff.

 

Rich

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  • 5 months later...

Hello:

 How did I miss this fight? The notion of a "kubikiri" as described and illustrated here is a contradiction of what makes Japanese edged weapons, those meant to be swung in an arc or drawn through a medium, and so are highly efficient. That quality, more important than any other feature of the traditional Nihonto, is the equi-angular property of its cutting edge's geometry which maximizes its cutting prowess. The detailed analysis of that quality is found in Sam C. Saunders, "Shape and Cutting Efficiency: The Unique Nihonto Curvature," JSS/US Newsletter, Vol. 33, No. 7 (Dec., 2001). pp. 20-30.

 The kubikiri illustrated by Bob would be grossly inefficient for cutting, but maybe just the ticket for multiple chopping, as with a tree branch, the cutting of which requires no pulling through of the blade against the medium. Why such a device would be preferred in place of a tanto or wakizashi that might be carried anyway by someone intent on removing a head beats me. To extrapolate to tameshigiri I believe most if not all cuts for recording are draw through cuts and not chops, though the issue above would not fall if a couple were chops.

 Arnold F.

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