Sunday, September 25, 2016


GREETINGS FROM THE NIHONTO NETHERWORLD.  Gather round and turn down the lights, Just in time for Halloween we have an amazing and spooky true tale to tell. When I was a dashing young Naval Aviator we would start an unbelievable story like this by saying "this is as no-shi##er".  Well my friends this is a no-shi##er.

If any of you read our blog a few years ago  "Secret of the Golden Tachi, May 18 2010" (click here to check it out)  about the mystery surrounding an elegant Efu tachi with royal crests and an intriguing presentation box you know we were seeking help trying to find the provenance behind this beautiful sword.  The mystery has finally been solved and in a most ASTOUNDING way!  The story involves Princes, Generals and maybe.......... a ghost or two.  It is straight out of the Twilight Zone. Rod Serling said it best, "There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge". 
It all began over twenty years ago when Sabaku Samurai acquired the sword and box from the McKissick museum in South Carolina.  The McKissick is an art museum associated with the University of South Carolina.  The sword had resided in the university president's office for as long as anyone could remember, it's origin and story long lost and forgotten.  A new president gave it to the McKissick for safe keeping and several years later the McKissick de-assessed it through auction which is museum speak for getting rid of something to make a little money.  After the Sabaku Samurai won the sword at the auction he did some research at the university trying to find out where the sword had come from, how it ended up in the president's office and what the story behind the box was. The box was particularly tantalizing.  It was a standard wooden Japanese presentation sword box, a bit battered but with a lot of Japanese writing on the outside and inside of the lid.  When translated the outside read that the sword was a congratulatory gift and mentioned Chief of the General Staff.  The inside of the box said that the sword was made by Iyeyoshi and described the sword as a 500 year old Efu style tachi sword used for formal court dress occasions.  After a cursory search of university archives and interviewing several long time faculty members about the sword's history the Sabaku Samurai came up empty handed.  Nobody knew anything about it's origins.  It had simply been in the president's office for as long as anyone could remember.
  A bit about the sword itself. The blade is suriagi, that is to say it has been shortened several inches probably 300 years or so ago. It still has a 27 inch cutting edge and the two character signature of the maker Ieyoshi.
Ieyoshi was a respected sword smith who worked in Echizen province during the late 1400s,  The signature and age of the blade were later verified and certificated by the NTHK.
The rare Efu style tachi mounts are beautiful and done in gold lacquer and gold washed shakudo fittings.  The button style menuki are covered in Kiri go-san a symbol of the Imperial Guard and the Japanese Ministry of Justice.
  Condition overall is excellent and the blade is in 95% polish. Several subsequent attempts to research the sword's origins all ended with no results.

For the next twenty years the sword  resided in the Sabaku Samurai collection, the box a constant reminder of the intriguing question of provenance.  Finally, the Sabaku Samurai could stand it no longer.  Consumed by curiosity, he made an appeal for help on the blog.  He also contacted a friend who was a history professor at the University of South Carolina (GO GAMECOCKS!) and asked if he had any graduate students that were good at research.  There were several, and a $1000 cash reward was offered for any documented history on the sword. Nearly a year went by with no answers.  Finally the Sabaku Samurai received a communication from his professor friend saying to abandon all hope.  The Grad students had combed the University records going back 50 years and found no clues.

THIS is where things start getting weird. A few of you out there know that in his other life the Sabaku Samurai is a Captain with a major US airline.  One week to the day after receiving the bad news from the professor, Captain Sabaku  was on an overnight layover in Sacramento California.  It had been the kind of day every airline pilot dreads, full of passenger issues, mechanical issues and weather issues.  His last flight of the day arrived in Sacramento 4 hours late and he had not gotten to his overnight hotel till 5:00 am.  Exhausted but still wired by a very stressful day, he decided to relax by cruising through Ebay for Japanese swords.  Normally when he does this he types into the Ebay search engine the words "japanese swords" or "samurai swords" or "WWII swords" or some variation.  This time for some unknown reason that he cannot explain to this day, he did something different, he just typed in the words "old sword".  When you do this you come up with many thousands of listings that have the words "old sword" in their title. If you've ever been on Ebay you are familiar with their format.  The listings are stacked with a small thumbnail picture on the left followed by the listing title to its right.

So, there he was, leaning back on the bed with a 60 cycle hum going on in his head, laptop in his lap, scrolling through the countless items, barely looking at the screen when something caught his eye.  Most of the thumbnail pictures are in color. A listing with a black and white thumbnail had suddenly appeared and scrolled up the screen and off before he could see what it was.  Again, for some enigmatic reason he can't explain, he paused and scrolled it back down.  Someone was selling a glossy 8" x 10" black and white photo of a dapper looking old gentleman in a tweed suit sitting on the edge of a big roll top desk.  Out in front of him he is holding a Japanese sword. 
The title of the listing was "Major General Frank Parker with old sword". I must point out here that the only reason this listing came up is because the words "old sword" were used in the search engine, something the Sabaku Samurai had NEVER DONE BEFORE. 

There was something compelling about the picture, almost beckoning.  Captain Sabaku clicked on the listing to open it up.  Looking at an expanded view of the picture he could see the General was holding an Efu style tachi sword.  These swords are rare but there are a number of them out there so no alarms went off at this point.  There was also a scan of the back of the photograph.  Written by hand and typed by old fashion typewriter there was a one line paragraph that read "Major General Parker with 350-year-old Japanese Sword presented by Prince Kanin, Chief of Staff of the Japanese Army and Uncle of the present Emperor of Japan".
Suddenly, the words "Chief of Staff" got his attention.  The box top of his sword mentioned "Chief of Staff".  Could it be.......Nahhh, THAT would be IMPOSSIBLE!  He laughed at the foolish thought, but just out of curiosity decided to Google General Parker to find out who he was. (Bio of General Parker)  Turns out he was a prominent and important American General in the early 20th century who was born in .....SOUTH CAROLINA... and received a Doctorate of Law degree from .......the UNIVERSITY of SOUTH CAROLINA!  The Sabaku Samurai was wide awake now.  The realization that the dapper old gentleman in the picture might actually be holding his sword hit him like a ton of bricks!  Then he noticed that the photograph had only been listed 15 minutes ago.  If he had gotten on Ebay any sooner he would not have seen it.  If he had gotten on Ebay much later it would have been lost in the thousands of other listings.  It was only by virture of the fact that through a series of odd occurances that day he was up at 5:00 AM looking at Ebay at all!  Another strange coincidence was that the listing was from Memphis TN where the Sabaku Samurai was born. The starting bid on the photo was $7.50.  Knowing he HAD to have this picture he put a huge bid on it but the auction end date was a nail biting 7 days away.

Sabaku's professor friend was contacted with news of the discovery.  General Parker's Bio showed he died in 1947.  The professor speculated the sword may have been donated by his estate sometime after that and said he'd put his students on it. Within 24 hours they had a hit. A copy of a letter was found dated 1948 from the University's Caroliniana Library to General Parker's widow thanking her for donating the "saber" and several other items.

A week later Sabaku Samurai won the auction for the photo for $7.50.  Nobody else had bid.  When it arrived the photo turned out to be a high quality, fine grain, professional, press release type of picture.  Under a magnifying glass the details exactly match Sabaku's tachi, leaving no room for doubt.
The seller of the photo was contacted and asked where it came from.   He said his best recollection was that it had come from a news paper dead file from one of the news papers in the Chicago area.  The photo was dated Oct 11, 1936.  This was the year General Parker retired from the Army and moved to Chicago where he served as the Executive Director of the Illinois War Council through WWII. So this all fits nicely.  A number code on the back of the photo indicated the picture had been used as part of a newspaper article.  We at Sabaku have not yet found a copy of this article but it is only a matter of time.  It is hoped that the article will fill in the few remaining details around the gift such as how the General and the Prince knew each other.(Bio of Prince Kanin)

A few points of interest. The picture would have been worthless without the information on the back and the Sabaku Samurai is the only man alive today who could have associated the photo with the sword.  Early in his career the Prince was head of the Imperial Guard.  This probably explains the Kiri go-san on the button menuki.  Both the General and Prince spent a considerable time in France which is likely where they became acquainted.  The Prince would probably have been tried for war crimes after WWII for his support of hostilities and the use of biological and chemical weapons if he had not died in 1945.  Peeking around the General's knee in the picture may be the box.

I have taken a picture of the sword and box in similar positions.
The sword stand is a different one.  My House Elf photo bombed the picture.

 Clearly Providence did not want the story of this sword lost to the ages. Defying all logic and incalculable  odds, it delivered, in the wee hours of the morning, a period between light and dark, all the answers Sabaku Samurai had been seeking for over 20 years wrapped up neatly in a single photograph.  It's as though, across 70 years of time and space, and through the veil of death, the General is holding out the sword and whispering "Here it is, this is what you've been searching for, take it"............

You've just traveled through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead - your next stop,....... the Twilight Zone!

This is a true story.

This sword will be displayed on Sabaku Samurai's table at the Tampa sword show Feb. 2017.  Stop by and check it out............if you dare.

Monday, August 22, 2016


Greetings once again from the Nihonto Netherworld.  Here's a quick report on the Japanese sword show last week in San Francisco.  The show got off to a slow start as the dealers could not get access to the show room to set up until late Friday afternoon. Once setup was complete and the show open to the public things went along nicely.  Most of the usual suspects turned up and all the tables were occupied.  As always there was a dazzling array of treasures for sale ranging from rusty WWII showatos to eye watering Juyo blades a thousand years old and going for several hundred thousand dollars.  Most of the money changing hands was between the dealers which is par for the course.  Saturday saw a pretty good attendance by the general public and there were demonstrations in sword etiquette and displays of important sword fittings.  Here are a few pictures of the show floor and Sabaku Samurai's table.
Bottom line, had a great time, drank too much (so what else is new), sold a few things, told tall tales with some OLD sword buddies and got out of the Phoenix heat for a few days.  Am I going back next year?  YOU BETCHA!  Be sure to check out our website

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Greetings again from the nihonto netherworld.  Sabaku Samurai as we all know is a glutton for all things Gassan, particularly all things Gassan Sadakatsu (and all things bourbon and chocolate etc. etc. etc.) (we're just gluttons).  For the uninitiated, Gassan Sadakatsu was the sword maker to the Japanese Imperial household in the Early part of the twentieth century.  He made swords for the Emperor, the Emperor's family, high ranking military Officers and dignitaries.  One of his swords is on display in the Tower of London (where the crown jewels are kept) and is part of the Royal collection of Queen Elizabeth.  I've heard rumors that there is also one of his swords on display at Windsor Castle that was made for King George V.  He is regarded by many to be THE top Japanese sword smith of the twentieth century.  Recently we treated you to a couple of world class examples of his work but at Sabaku Samurai the hits just keep coming.  Here is yet another.  This one is a little gem housed in it's original presentation box,  it's original shirasaya and sword bag, original gold foil habaki (probably made by Sadakatsu) and it looks like it's original polish.  The hakogaki (writing on the box lid)  was done by Sadakatsu himself and says the blade was made in May of 1925 and made in the style of Masamune (the greatest Japanese sword smith of all times).  ~Sadakatsu was amazingly talented and versatile.  Most sword makers labor their entire career to perfect one or maybe two styles or schools of workmanship.  Sadakatsu was a master of the Bizen, Yamato, Yamashiro and Soshu traditions of sword making as well as his family's secret ayasugi style.  This puppy is done in exquisite Soshu style with itame hada forged so tight as to be almost muji.  The nagasa (length of the cutting edge) is just 6 1/2 inches ( I use inches because I'm American and not smart enough to figure out that metric crap).  The icing on the cake is that the N.B.T.H.K awarded this blade a Tokubetsu Kicho certificate which is one step below the coveted Juyo rating. Sadakatsu is clearly destined to be the first 20th century sword smith to go Juyo and this little guy might be a contender.  I'll have another brilliantly erudite post on another fascinating Japanese sword along with eye watering pictures in a few days so check back. (check out our website )

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Greetings from the Nihonto Netherworld.  Sabaku Samurai brings you yet another tanto treat.  Just back from our favorite polisher Inu Iki Sensei is a diminutive bit of eye candy.  This is a woman's wedding tanto, presented to the bride in traditional Japanese marriage ceremonies for symbolic (and possibly actual) protection from her new in-laws (my wife was given an AR-15, nobody messes with her).  It is a small thing with a blade length of only 7 1/16 inches. For a sense of scale here's a picture of it in the rosy palm of my hand (you don't wanna know what I was doing with that hand just before I took the picture).

The saya and tsuka (handle and scabbard) are covered in polished stingray skin and the fittings are made from horn. Simple but elegant.  When the Sabaku Samurai first obtained this piece it was in very sad shape.  The blade was rusted black giving no clue to quality or workmanship.  Inu Ike was called in.  With a reputation for salvaging seriously rusted and damaged blades and for consuming mass quantities of bourbon he was just the man needed for the occasion  (see my blogs  CAREFULL WHAT YA BID FOR, YOU MIGHT JUST GET IT  AND  INU IKI'S POLISH REIGNS SUPREME for more background on this amazing polisher).  What he uncovered was breath-taking!

He found some of the most eye-watering hitatsura that Sabaku Samurai had ever seen.  The temper line or hamon of a blade is a crystalline structure in the metal caused by heating and quenching and has both a practical and artistic purpose.  The practical purpose is to make the steel very hard which allows for a much sharper and more durable edge. On the artistic side, in the hands of a talented sword smith the temper line can be formed into beautiful patterns and contain intricate and complex crystalline structures that are visible when the blade has been properly polished.  With most Japanese swords the hamon follows along the edge of the blade and goes around the tip.  On a blade with hitatsura not just the edge is tempered but much of the rest of the surface of the blade also has areas of hardened steel.  Hitatsura is rare on long or regular size blades but is practically unheard of on a blade this small.  This little tanto is a tour de force in the art of hitatsura yet remarkably it is unsigned.
Who would produce such a sumptuous piece requiring so much skill and time and not put his name on it?  Well according to the NTHK-NPO (a renowned group of Japanese sword appraisal experts) it is the well known and well regarded 19th century sword maker Yokoyama Sukekane.  Sukekane was the adopted son of Yokoyama Sukemori and considered himself to be the 58th generation descendant of the great sword smith Tomonari.  It just so happens that we at Sabaku Samurai have another larger tanto signed by Sukekane and polished by Inu Ike.  Even though it is not done in hitatsura the similarity of the workmanship between the two is unmistakable.  Here's side by side pictures of the tips of the two blades.
 hitatsurasigned  Sukekane tanto

   The signed Sukekane tanto is much bigger with a blade length 12 7/16" long.   I'd say the NTHK-NPO pretty much nailed it and they awarded the blade a whopping 76 points which is the same level as a Tokubetsu Hozon paper issued by the NBTHK (another renowned group of Japanese sword appraisal experts). (yeah, there are several groups of renowned Japanese sword appraisers, but that's a whole nother blog).   Be sure to check out our website .

PS In order pacify all the wags on certain sword forums I must reveal that the picture above that seems to show the blade resting on the bare skin of my palm is fake.  The blade is actually resting on a beautiful $2000 makie lacquer sword stand.  I just photo-shopped the hand in there for perspective.  No...really...hey you know me...I wouldn't lie to you unless there was money involved...right?  (heh heh heh)    

PPS I refuse to appease grammer Nazis who uncover a few of my more meaningful innuendos.

 Before I go here's a random thought for today.