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Bruce Pennington

Cat-scratch Habaki

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I just noticed that the rain pattern on this cat-scratch habaki is falling left to right, on both sides. With the sword in-hand, looking down at the habaki, the rain on the left side is falling down, but on the right side, it's falling up. Wonder why they would have designed it that way?

 

Also, I vaguely remember this is called something like a rain-pattern, as opposed to the "cat-scratch" name? Anyone know?

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Hey Bruce, I call it rain pattern, and never noticed they DO fall in the same direction both sides. Some even look like they have hail stones! This one is silver foiled. 

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Gorgeous, Neil! I think the pattern pre-dates WWII, so wonder if any of the Nihonto guys have some history or insights on this pattern.

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 This is on a WW2 Smith, (Morita) Kaneshige, no date no stamps however. Maybe an up market optional extra. Interesting to find our more. Dave R usually has some ideas. 

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It is my understanding that the friction between the habaki and the saya mouth should take place on the ha side and mune side of the habaki. The cat scratches may be there to keep ugly rub marks from appearing on the sides of the habaki as it occasionally touches the mouth or maybe they are purely decorative?

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 This is on a WW2 Smith, (Morita) Kaneshige, no date no stamps however. Maybe an up market optional extra. Interesting to find our more. Dave R usually has some ideas. 

 

 I had a bit of a laugh at the last bit!   It is an old pattern, and as I understand it cat scratch usually describes a Habaki with a few deep scratches, whereas rain is a much more controlled pattern. You get all sorts of variations in between. I would suggest, tentatively, that the more elaborate the habaki, the more likely that it was a nihonto, old or new production. 

 

 It's also a little extra "gloss" on your sword for not a lot of work.

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Dave, knew you would come to the party! My rain pattern is indeed on a papered nihonto. And similar tool work to your middle example. 

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Thanks Dave! I have never seen the first one you show, which definitely looks like the big-cat scratches we see on Snoopy's WWI airplane when he's fighting the big cat next door!

 

Each of your examples fit the left-to-right pattern, as well (blade tip down). After seeing 4 examples of the rain-pattern, I now can see the "cloud" and the streams of rain falling from the cloud. There has to be a reason. Artistically, if I were making them, I'd want the patterns to look the same, while in hand, rather than flipped. So maybe the reason is mechanical, like John and Tom are suggesting.

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Hi All,

 

Three of mine.

 

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1 - Shinshinto Tanto

2 - Foiled Gunto mounted shinshinto Katana

3 - Shinto wakizashi

 

 

Regards

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Thanks Mark! Your second 2 fit the pattern, but that first one is opposite direction from the group, though, even it carries the same direction as it wraps around.

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Brian,

Do you think moving this thread to the "Tosogu" forum would get some input from the fittings experts?

 

 I wondered why it had moved!

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Right handed craftsman?

I think, that could be the reason.

 

I made a DIY tanto with habaki before I started collecting. Here you can see the file marks on the habaki and the yasurime on the nakago. I'm left handed and I'm simply not able to file in the common direction, so I did it my way...

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 At one of the Northern To-Ken meetings there was some discussion about fine detail punched work on plain soft metal tosugo, particularly the Nanako pattern. It seems it's usualy done by the wife of the craftsman, while sat in the house at the "kitchen table". There is a solid tradition of domestic production of small parts for crafts and industry in Japan..... Literaly Mom and Pop businesses.

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 Sadly I am a bit poor at taking pics, especialy when it comes to fine detail, but these are the habaki on blades I own, that I think worth sharing. I admit to having a liking for two piece habaki and taking it as a clue to a previous owners opinion of a blade.

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I've attached a couple of excerpts from The craft of the Japanese sword by Leon Kapp.

 

I don't agree with some of what I've quoted, but I think this might be where some of the conventional wisdom on this originates.

 

I think that from a practical standpoint, it's purely decorative.

 

From a materials perspective, I would expect that roughening the surface of the metal would increase the coefficient of friction between it and the wood. This would likely require surface roughening (as with sandblasting) rather then the application of a pattern, and then polishing the surface; which might actually reduce the overall friction by reducing the contact area. This would of course only be relevant where the habaki and the saya are actually in contact.

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What is sometimes called 'rain pattern' is named NEKO-GAKI (cat scratch) in Japanese. Usually it is skillfully made but its purpose is indeed to prevent the blade from rattling in the SAYA and coming lose. In fact, the HABAKI provides a three-dimensional fit in the KOIGUCHI, and when the wood (on the sides where the HABAKI makes contact) is 'used up' after a while, it will be replaced by a SAYASHI with two small shims of wood which he will glue in.

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