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A very interesting aikuchi


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Made using an early 17th century German Solingen blade, re-shaped and re-tempered in Japan in the Japanese style. The scabbard is encased in colourful Dutch leather (goudleer), while a golden mon (Japanese heraldic crest) embellishes the surface. This three-circle motif was associated with the powerful Matsura clan. They governed the island of Hirado, which provided a base for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) until 1641.

 

This blade may have been gifted to the Matsura family by Dutch traders seeking their good will. Indeed, the goudleer on the scabbard might be an indication that the VOC commissioned the whole weapon as a novelty presentation piece, combining Japanese and Dutch elements. Alternatively, a Solingen sword may have been independently acquired and adapted to suit Japanese taste, with the goudleer serving to emphasise its unusual nature.

 

Screenshot 2022-04-19 at 02.18.04.png

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I’m aware of Nanban steel used in tsuba, and to a lesser extent in swords. It’s always interesting to see “outside” steel being used to create Japanese style weapons. Solingen blades are tops for European type weaponry and the steel would have been mono steel, but better quality throughout than some tamahagane. 

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 This looks very like (or may even be) the one in the Royal Armoury Leeds. In the 17th century Western blades, Solingen, included were folded and forged steel,  not homogeneous! In fact it's only from the mid 19thC that this steel appears from the Bessemer process.

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I acquired this item from auction to add to the collection of the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds whilst I was a curator there. Its origins were the result of the Tokugawa Shoguns policy of closing the country. Initially they decided in 1634 to restrict the Portuguese and control the spread of the Catholic faith by isolating them on an artificial island, Deshima or Dejima, in Nagasaki harbour where they could be controlled but still trade. However the Shimabara rebellion persuaded the Shogunate to ban the Catholics all together in 1639. Whilst still wanting some trade with Europe, they moved the Dutch from their base on Hirado to Dejima. In gratitude for the hospitality shown by the Matsura clan of Hirado, the Dutch presented Matsura Hoin with a gift that included at least two pikeman's armours, swords and perhaps guns, although as far as I know they no longer exist. This aikuchi was made from a Solingen sword that formed part of this gift. The maker's name and the words 'Soligen fecit' and the date it was made are inscribed in the fuller. Matsura Hoin had the pikeman's armours made into a Japanese style namban armour,presumably at the same time as he had the Soligen sword made into an aikuchi. 

Ian Bottomley

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9 hours ago, IBot said:

I acquired this item from auction to add to the collection of the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds whilst I was a curator there. Its origins were the result of the Tokugawa Shoguns policy of closing the country. Initially they decided in 1634 to restrict the Portuguese and control the spread of the Catholic faith by isolating them on an artificial island, Deshima or Dejima, in Nagasaki harbour where they could be controlled but still trade. However the Shimabara rebellion persuaded the Shogunate to ban the Catholics all together in 1639. Whilst still wanting some trade with Europe, they moved the Dutch from their base on Hirado to Dejima. In gratitude for the hospitality shown by the Matsura clan of Hirado, the Dutch presented Matsura Hoin with a gift that included at least two pikeman's armours, swords and perhaps guns, although as far as I know they no longer exist. This aikuchi was made from a Solingen sword that formed part of this gift. The maker's name and the words 'Soligen fecit' and the date it was made are inscribed in the fuller. Matsura Hoin had the pikeman's armours made into a Japanese style namban armour,presumably at the same time as he had the Soligen sword made into an aikuchi. 

Ian Bottomley

Wow. Great info. What a history..Thanks a lot Ian! 

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Piers, The Hirado daimyo involved was if I have it correct, Shigenobu or Hoin, the latter a Buddhist name I assume. For a time the English were also on Hirado and record that Hoin gave Saris the armour he wore in Korea. I have an elaboratly lacquered board with the three disc kamon represented by chrysanthemum flowers but no circle. I am sure it once had a clock attached as there are nail / screw holes and hooks to hang the weights on towards the base. Maybe the Dutch included a clock in the gift. 

Ian Bottomley

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Ian, I’d like to see your board. Recently I read a fascinating work on those early days in Hirado, illustrating life in the Dutch and English compounds, (how the Matsura Daimyō enjoyed beef stew, etc.) Based on translated Dutch records it certainly brought that age alive for me.

 

A pleasant read if you have the chance.

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PS I am slightly annoyed as I have just got rid of a folding purse with a clasp in gold and silver in the shape of that Matsura Mon in a circle above. Right after I sold it, (13th of April) Okan posts the above blade! Grrrr…. :steamed:
 

How are we supposed to downsize with no regret?

 

PPS I saw and photographed the blade in question during a memorable and very informative trip to the Leeds Royal Armouries some years back.

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What first piqued my interest in the Matsura Mon was this uchidashi set of iron Gyoyo. They look from the line of rivet holes to have once been fukikaeshi on a kabuto, only subsequently repurposed into Gyoyo.
Did they hold some particular meaning for the person who refashioned them and gave them new life?

 

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