Friday, February 26, 2010

THE MYSTERY OF THE BLACK TACHI (Man! that sounds so cool)

Greetings all of you Nihonto Nabobs. I have a very interesting old tachi to show you. This sword came to Sabaku Samurai about 20 years ago from a group of swords brought back to the US by the proverbial old VET that we are all familiar with (thank God for these guys and their sticky fingers or my collection would be zilch). Actually this guy was not a WWII vet. He was stationed over in Japan in the late 50s early 60s and was somehow involved in the US military efforts to recover Japanese Antiquities. Needless to say he brought back home a LOT of cool stuff.

This tachi has some of the most eye popping ayasugi hada that I have ever seen. It is so garish that it almost looks like one of those Chinese knock-offs that swamp Ebay. The polish on the sword dates to before WWII sometime but is still Lookin Gooood with some minor abrasions here and there. The tachi mounts are particularly interesting because they are entirely black. The handle is wrapped in black leather. All of the metal fittings on the outside are shakudo but everything including the saya is covered in black lacquer.


The blade is 25 1/8 inches long and has an unusual inscription on the nakago (tang). It reads (in English) "Old signature...Naminohira Yasunobu.....2 shaku 7 sun 5 separated measures this". Obviously just by looking at the nakago you can see that the blade is osuriagi (greatly shortened). So I interpret this to mean that originally the blade was signed Naminohira Yasunobu and 2 shaku 7 sun in length. With 5 sun separated during the suriagi process that leaves 2 shaku 2 sun which coincidentally equals about 25 1/8 inches (yes that's right, Sabaku Samurai is not just a pretty face he can add and subtract too).


Now comes the MYSTERY part. Did whoever shortened the blade faithfully put the correct information on the nakago like it appears OR was the blade made this way from the start and the inscription put on to make it more convincing that it was an osuriagi old blade? Let's all run to our reference books together shall we. Hmmmm well looky here there was indeed a Naminohira Yasunobu who signed with the characters used on this sword who worked in the mid 1500s and was known for ayasugi hada, narrow suguha and a high shinogi just like this sword has. So far so good. But, lets take a look at when the sword was shortened. The crisp clean nature of the current nakago and inscription indicates that it was done in the mid to late 1800s. What was going on back then and who was around.

It was during that time that Emperor Meji abolished the Samurai class and the wearing of swords in public. Swordmaking as an art began to die and sword makers resorted to other crafts to make ends meet. Some resorted to making fake swords of famous makers to make a few extra bucks. One of the best and most infamous at doing this was Gassan Sadakazu. Because of his incredible skill level he could duplicate almost anybody's style and quality. It's funny that today so many swords with his name on them are fake. I guess payback's a mutha.

So why do I point a finger at Sadakazu? The blade is very high quality. The Gassan's were famous for ayasugi. The tachi mounts would have been made for the blade when it was shortened (or produced, if it were a fake) as well as the habaki. Of all things, it is the habaki that might be the smoking gun here. This style habaki is practically a Gassan signature. Of course there were other sword makers that used this style also but Sadakazu and his son Sadakatsu were known for using this style a lot, even making them themselves.

So what's the conclusion? I forgot to mention that this sword has NBTHK papers on the koshirae dated 1960 and the guy I got it from said he had papers on the blade also but they had MYSTERIOUSLY vanished. A tangled web of intrigue. Your guess is as good as mine (although I am much better looking). I have never seen a Naminohira ayasugi blade so I don't know what the style is like. I have seen many Gassan ayasugi blades and own a couple (check out home page) and this is WAY different. We may never know for sure (because I'm too frikkin cheap to send it to shinsa). Of course, I may be the only person in the world who remotely gives a crap.
I am suddenly GONE!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kotetsu or not answer...maybe sort of

Greetings all you wakizashi wielding wackos. Well, if you have read my previous blog you know all about the the intriguing saga of Sabaku Samurai's Kotetsu. In our last episode we were waiting with baited breath (yuck! maybe some Listerine?) for word from Japan giving expert opinion on the authenticity of the Kotetsu and whether or not it should be submitted for shinsa. Here is what we got. Our expert says the signature looks genuine to him but that the blade's tempering is not correct for Kotetsu. The hada and jigane are correct the signature is good but the temper is different enough that in his opinion it probably would not pass Hozon shinsa. Since the signature looks to be genuine it was suggested that I get the blade Xrayed to see if the nakago was welded on. Based on this opinion I have decided not to submit the blade for shinsa and save the money. The tale of Sabaku Kotetsu is closed.................for now.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Iz It IZ or Iz It AIN'T...........Kotetsu

Greetings out there all my Daito Dingbats. Sabaku Samurai has a tale of international intrigue to share with you. This is a story that began to unfold over 15 years ago when I acquired a rusty old sword that came from a garage sale. Most of the fittings were gone, no wrap on the handle and so oxidized that you could barely see that it had horimono. What it did have was a very interesting signature.

The name was Kotetsu. Yeah, yeah I know, I know. 11 out of 10 Kotetsu's are fake. I know that some of the best and most famous sword makers of all times had a hand in faking Kotetsu blades. I know that there were guys who made a living out of carving Kotetsu signatures. He is probably THE most faked swordmaker of all times. I know all this. But, this was DAMN good. I was not the only one to think so. I sent some pictures of the blade and signature to the NBTHK in Japan and got an excited letter saying the signature looked good and I should send the sword for evaluation. I did so quickly. You must remember that I sent the sword to them in pretty bad condition. I figured if they said it was authentic that I would get the best polisher in Japan to do the restoration. After nearly a year I got the sword back with a letter saying that the sword was very high quality but needed further study and they could not issue a certificate. Importantly, they did not say it was gimei. I put the sword away.
Jump forward 15 years. Last year I dug the sword out and gave it to the very talented master polisher Takeo Seki. What I got back took my breath away. Takeo absolutely performed a miracle. The polish was perfect and the sword showed fantastic work in the style of Kotetsu. The sword has the incredibly bright jigane he was known for and the signature secret rough hada also called gourd hada or Kotetsu's secret snowman about three inches in front of the hamachi. I was thrilled to see all of this.

Then I noticed something. The horimono was exceptional but was clearly not in Kotetsu's style. I was bummed. Then I noticed something else. The blade did not have "Hori do saku" on the tang. Kotetsu ALWAYS put "Hori do saku" on a sword that he did the horimono on. Suddenly it made sense. The horimono was put on later by someone else. This is called atobori. If you were gonna fake a Kotetsu you would probably not try to fake his horimono and if you did you would definitely put "Hori do saku" on the signature. So far this all fit perfectly. The nakago (tang) is exactly correct except it is slightly suriagi. The tip of the tang is cut off. There are several swords in the Kotetsu taikan (book on Kotetsu) exactly like this.

So what is the situation currently. Right now the sword is back in Japan being evaluated by "experts" prior to being sent to NBTHK shinsa. It has been there since September. I am still waiting for an opinion. If they think it is fake then I will not submit it for NBTHK evaluation and save myself at least $700. Obviously it must be pretty good or I would have heard something much sooner. I am not holding my breath because we all know that 11 out of 10 Kotetsu's are fake. I am including several photographs of the sword on this blog. Let me know what you think. I hope to hear something from Japan soon. If it papers I will be partying like a rock star on New Years eve in 1999! I must say that if it is judged gimei I will still be happy because it is one fantastic sword no matter who made it. Hit the comment button and give me your worthless opinion.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Greetings all my Ninja Nut Cases. Recently for some reason I have had a number of inquiries about the Ken sword featured in the "collection" section of I am not sure why the sudden interest because it has been there for several years but I have had several emails wanting to know if I still have it and could I send some more pictures etc. I even had one guy ask if he could include it in a book he is writing about Japanese Swords that is due out in the fall. My answers to the questions were yes, yes and HELL YES!

I gotta say that the book sounds REALLY cool. The authors name is Max Roach (you gotta luv that) and here is how he described the book to me: "I have written a book entitled Swords of Japan: History, Iconography, and Practice for Tuttle Publications. The book traces the various religious and sociological influences on sword metallurgy, Iconography, etc., from the Jomon Period through today. I have collaborated with several mukansa-level artisans including Gassan Sadatoshi, Kawachi Kunihira, and Abe Kazunori. In addition, I have also been working with top scholars in the field of Japanese Military History both here and in Japan. The book is an "academic coffee table book." Pure sword-porn, but "you can read it for the articles too." There are currently over 300 high-res images of sword making, polishing, swords by period, etc. But I only have been able to find one image of a Ken (from Ginza Choshuya). That is why I am writing. I was wondering if you would be willing to send me some high resolution images of your fantastic Ken for use in my book. Ken, of course, are used in Tendai, Shingon, and even Shinto ceremonies. So I discuss the blades and their importance at several places within the text."

WOW! Lotsa big pictures, "Pure sword-porn", coffee, what else do you need in life? I'm Way down with that! I'm gonna have a copy in every room in my house. The pictures I sent him are the ones accompanying this blog. Whatcha think? For details on this unusual Ken go to and click on the "collection" button. More on the book when it comes out. SEEeeEeeYAaaaaAAaaH!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

General Officer Katana

Greetings my fellow katana krackpots. First I must apologize again for a long delay in updating my web site. I have no good excuses other than just being outrageously lazy, which is something we all know I am strangely proud of. I will try to make up for it a little by throwing out a nice bit of eye candy for you.
Recently out of the woodwork I present this minty Gunto by WWII sword smith Kanetoki. What makes it particularly interesting is the perfect condition General Officers tassel that is original to the piece. There are gajillions of Guntos out there but very few General officers tassels. In fact the tassel is probably worth more than the sword, even a sword as nice as this one. Together they are spectacular! The blade was made circa 1940. Blade length is 26 5/8 inches or 67.5 cm. It features a muji hada and a very flashy and distinct sanbonsugi style temper outlined in strong and very bright nioi typical of well made Showatos. The signature says " Seki ju Kanetoki saku" which translates to "Kanetoki a resident of Seki city made this". The blade also has a Showa arsenal stamp above the signature.
Here is a little background info on this maker taken from John Scott Slough's wonderful book, An Oshigata Book of Modern Japanese Swordsmiths 1868-1945. If you ain't got it, get it. It seems that Kanetoki later signed his works by the name Kanemichi (which he is much better known as) and was a Rikugun Jumei Tosho rated at 2 Million Yen. He is also known for using Yasugi steel. Yasugi is an ancent steel making center locate in Shimane Japan. Yasugi steel has always been regarded as some of the best and steel is still being produced there today.
Kantetoke (Kanemichi) produced High Grade Showato and Superior Grade Gendaito. This sword is one of his Showatos. Overall quality is quite high and condition is excellent with the blade in essentially full polish and much of the gilding still present on the fittings. Just like a beautiful woman, fun to look at and a pleasure to hold.
More stuff soon!