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WW2 Sword Story


tokashikibob
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Ryuuichi Yokoyama

When I was told I was off for the South, I bought a military sword.

I was surprised how expensive it was. I hung it from my belt in a leather scabbard, but it dragged

along the ground because I’m so short. I had to have the sword cut down, but when I went to a

shop outside the Azabu regimental base, they were going to cut off the tang, which bore the

swordmaker’s name. I shouted, “Hey! Please leave that on. I paid a lot of money for that sword!

The smith just snorted, “Showa swords don’t have names of importance,” and cut right through. So much for my great weapon!

 

I had that sword hanging on the wall of a gymnasium in a school on Taiwan where we

stopped off for a month or so on our way to the South.

A member of my unit a kendo master from Kyushu, told me

“Yokoyama, you have to take care of your blade.”

The sword was in a white wooden sheath, and wrapped in a leather scabbard.

It looked great from the outside. But after he said that, I tried to look at it.

I couldn’t even draw it out. I pulled and pulled. Finally it jerked it free.

The sheath went flying and the blade was rust-red. Everybody around broke into hysterics.

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For me, what is particularly interesting is that for the sword to be shortened, the saya would have had to be shortened. Maybe this is why he had a wooden saya with leather cover? Did it originally have the original metal military saya? It would have been difficult to shorten a metal scabbard. So maybe swords that were shortened had the saya replaced with a wooden one and then covered in leather? Easy to fabricate a wooden saya and cover it. Is this the reason for so many leather covered wooden saya?

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No reason for the saya to be shortened, plenty of wakizashi length swords in regular size steel saya.

John, kinda defeats the object of shortening the sword because it "was dragging on the ground" ;-)

I am talking about this particular case, and all cases where it was shortened because it was too long. Leaving the saya original length kinda defeats the purpose.

 

Bazza, wasn't saying this was the reason for every wooden sheath. Just that when they were shortened, this may be the cause of leather covered wooden saya with blades shorter than regular, and machi-okuri.

 

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I have seen both Wakizashi and Tantos in their original Shirasaya that have been covered with leather or some other material and mounts added. I have a Tanto in a leather covered Shirasaya and a Wakizashi in a Shirasaya covered with a green material similar to the material on a Tanker helmet. So if this sword was in its Shirasaya then it would have been no problem to shorten it.

MikeR

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Maybe this is why he had a wooden saya with leather cover? Did it originally have the original metal military saya? It would have been difficult to shorten a metal scabbard. So maybe swords that were shortened had the saya replaced with a wooden one and then covered in leather? Easy to fabricate a wooden saya and cover it. Is this the reason for so many leather covered wooden saya?

The post says he had it in a white saya with leather scabbard but was dragging on the ground. I always thought the wood saya with leather cover was a cheaper option than the metal saya.

 

Other note, this is why the "23.5 inch" rule for a katana always confused me. I have been seeing several gunto with what would be considered wakizashi blades mounted/used as katana. Pretty sure if a 5 foot tall Japanese man held a 24" blade tip down by their side they'd be digging a hole with the kissaki.

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Interesting points, Brian. I think it's pertinent that the nakago was removed to shorten the sword. Obviously, that means that however much of the blade became the new nakago, it makes perfect sense that a corresponding length be cut from the top of the saya, with a (probably?) fairly easy incorporation of a new throat.

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Logan,
He doesn't state it was in wooden sheath before he had it shortened. It was a military sword...put into a leather combat cover. Dragged on the ground, so he had it shortened.
(Later) when he was deployed it hung on the wall and was in a wooden saya. Could be either I guess.

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The post says he had it in a white saya with leather scabbard but was dragging on the ground. I always thought the wood saya with leather cover was a cheaper option than the metal saya.

 

Other note, this is why the "23.5 inch" rule for a katana always confused me. I have been seeing several gunto with what would be considered wakizashi blades mounted/used as katana. Pretty sure if a 5 foot tall Japanese man held a 24" blade tip down by their side they'd be digging a hole with the kissaki.

 

 Officially they start a bit shorter than that, and unofficially they can be much shorter. The late war buying programme for civilian swords was accepting the longer wakizashi.

 

 Below an extract from another thread on this site.

post-2218-0-24571000-1568461329_thumb.jpg

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Wow Dave, I don't even remember that post! So much lost to time and memory. I'm glad you dug it out again

 

 When I decided that I wanted a gunto, I sat at my computer and searched every damn site I could find for information, before I bought my first example.....

 

 I am in no way an expert, but I am a well informed tyro.

post-2218-0-27773000-1568499253_thumb.jpg

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I feel that it's like any military protocol. You just go around it, haha. Just like sidearms of the day, you used what worked forbyou, if you're purchasing it.

 

There's been plenty of wakizashi found with original koshirae and surely some placed in those mounts during/before the war. One I found appeared to have a slightly laquered saya, just as a protector. Surely as the war went on, everything started going last ditch.

 

I've had three wakizashi remounted for the war. One was in Type 98, custom made, but with an elongated saya (blade was 22 inches nagasa), to make it look daito length. The other two was in original koshirae, but one was a very poor kazuuchimono, and the leather cover either poor quality or pressed paper. My last blade, an early Ko-Uda, may have been shortened before service or maybe during the Bakumatsu, as the mounts tend to lead to that. The blade, though getting tired, is very nice. The tosugu are iron, and the fuchi/kashira are welded. So I believe it to be the former. Just an old warrior someone wanted to bring to war from the family or bought from a shop, without pretty and expensive fittings. Fit for a soldier.

 

I remember a Koa Isshin being sold on Heritage Auctions that had been shortened to wakizashi length, with some discussing was done post war, but this sheds new light as to theories. It was in shirasaya, and could have been done by a post-war practitioner, when many gendaito were used, but I wouldn't see the point of shortening a katana length blade to a wakizashi if the goal was for iaido or tameshigiri.

 

Its probably general knowledge, I do believe older blades would have been shortened too to fit the owner's necessities. The tachi I had appeared to have had that. Plenty of swords were broken in the field, least on the continent, and repaired. I'm sure some were "customized" and placed into mounts as could be afforded.

 

My thinking on shirasaya, tanto wouldn't have necessarily been used as much as a katana would in say, China, on those occasions, and thinking in the aspect that the sword is the soul of a warrior, didn't need it to be placed in koshirae, and to keep it protected until either he returned from the deployment, or death. So to keep it safe in a koshirae and keep his soul, was a win win. Or, as some katana and wakizashi we find with leather covering for a full shirasaya, maybe with a tsuba added as can be found, was the same train of thought. Maybe could not afford, or waiting for mounts to be remade. Or if that officer/soldier was not a swordsman by hobby, just wanted something to keep it safe in, but carry as per regulations. Surely most, even non-practioners, knew that a shirasaya isn't the best to use for combat!

 

We know some officers had multiple swords, and I can almost guarantee that some of those said to have been captured in theatre actually were. Either say in a living quarters, or they decided to bring it to battle, even without the mounts. I think there are some that believe that the Japanese were to the book on everything during the war. But they were full grown adults, many very educated and had that westernized mindset or just being human, so nothing really is 100% to the T, haha.

 

We have seen the recently discovered order for shorter wakizashi during the war years to be donated, and we all understand the reasoning and shortage, but we know that wakizashi, ko/o-, had been used since near the dawning of then-modern Japan. There's been quite a few wakizashi found in kyu-gunto, and high quality early Type 98 and Kai-Gunto fittings.

 

This post is very interesting! Thank you Bob!

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Bruce,

 

That may have been it! Although, I do recall one in shirasaya, I believe. It did have the stamp, but the nakago had a more unrefined cut (still sharply done, but see an indent at the end from appeared to be a first attempt. Maybe I'm thinking it wrong, however.

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 There are quite a few Showa era "Wakizashi" around, and I doubt they were made as part of a Diasho. I use the inverted commas because the modern definition by length is just that, a post 1945 definition used by the occupation forces. 

 

 Perhaps a better term would be Shoto, or even Kodachi as they were not thrust through an Obi, but hung from the belt with a haikan on the saya.

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 When I decided that I wanted a gunto, I sat at my computer and searched every damn site I could find for information, before I bought my first example.....

 

 I am in no way an expert, but I am a well informed tyro.

Dave

I like to see the photos in your "WW2 Japanese Army Canvas sword bag for Gunto"folder if you don't mind.Thanks! :)

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Dave

I like to see the photos in your "WW2 Japanese Army Canvas sword bag for Gunto"folder if you don't mind.Thanks! :)

 

 I make no claims on the authenticity of this item, I do not own it or the photo's. Shared for educational purposes only....

 

  I thought it worth saving the pic's though.

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post-2218-0-94292300-1568551933_thumb.jpg

post-2218-0-55554800-1568551955_thumb.jpg

post-2218-0-88549700-1568551970_thumb.jpg

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