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 sabakusamurai.com .

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.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


Greetings my Gassan-aholics.  Put on your sun glasses and hold on to your seats!  You are about to witness Gassan Nirvana.  As you know Gassan Sadakatsu is Sabaku Samurai's favorite sword smith of all times.  He is considered by most to be the TOP 20th century sword maker.  He was the maker to the Imperial Household in the first part of the 20th century.  He made swords for the Emperor of Japan, high ranking military Officers and dignitaries.  One of his blades is on display in the Tower of London along with the British Crown jewels. The most rare and coveted type of sword Sadakatsu made was the Kogarasu-maru.  The Holy Grail of his Kogarasu blades,  what everybody REALLY wants is a Kogarasu sword done in ayasugi hada. .   Ayasugi is the result of folding and welding the steel so that an even undulating pattern is visible on the surface of the blade when the sword is properly polished.  How to make this pattern was a closely guarded Gassan family secret for centuries.  Sadakatsu made very few kogarasu style swords and even fewer using his distinctive ayasugi family tradition.  Collectors all over the world seek them out and are willing to pay a stupid amount of money for them.  Here, brought to you courtesy of Sabaku Samurai (at no extra charge) is a world class example for you to gawk at . This blade has an impressive 26 7/8 inch cutting edge comes in it's original shirasaya and sports a solid silver habaki made by Sadakatsu himself. It is signed "Osaka ju Gassan Sadakatsu kitau saku" and dated 1940 and has the unusual round shaped mune or spine called maru-mune.

Soooooo what's a kogarasu-maru sword you ask (yes you did I heard you) and why is it so special?  The unusual shape of the blade is called kissaki moro ha zukuri and  is thought to be a transition or evolution between the straight double edged Chinese style ken blades used by the Japanese in early times and the curved single edged tachi developed around 1200 years ago.  It is curved like a tachi sword but the sharp double edge goes down the back of the blade from the tip only about a third of the way.  The tip of the blade still has the symmetrical double edged point of a ken
not the chisel shaped kissaki we are more familiar with in Japanese swords.  The most famous sword with this shape is the Kogarasu-maru which translates to "Little Crow" and is owned by the Emperor of Japan.  It is thought to have been made by a legendary sword smith named Amakuni in the early part of the 8th century who is credited with developing curved Japanese blades.  It is generally accepted that the sword was passed down in a convoluted way as a family treasure of the Taira clan although the ties to the Taira by some of the owners were a bit tenuous.  The sword ended up in the Ise family and was purchased by Count So Shigemasa (who also claims a tenuous linkage to the Taira) in the late 1800s and presented to Emperor Meji in 1882.  There are a bunch of stories and legends as to how the sword got the name "Little Crow".  The most down to earth and believable to me is that the original furniture or koshirae of the blade were adorned with crows.  There you have it!  You've just been learned by Sabaku Samurai University (SSU) and by Dr. Sabaku himself who has a P.H.D. in B.S which we all know is a B.F.D so be our B.F.F and tune in again for our next cool post.  A.M.F!  Don't forget to check out our site sabakusamurai.com

Saturday, July 9, 2016


  Hey!  Wake up!  I have another interesting bit of cutlery to give you a gander at.  For your consideration I put before you a tanto with an apparently interesting pedigree. This ancient bit of iron was made by the famous Nanbokucho period sword maker Tomomitsu .  The kanji character he uses for "Tomo" in his signature also has the (Chinese) pronunciation of "Rin" so he is known as Rin-Tomo by collectors to distinguish him from several other well known Tomomitsu.  He is a son of the REALLY famous Bizen Kanemitsu who was one of Masamune's golden students.  This is another blade with ALL the bells and whistles.  Blade cutting edge length is 10 3/8 inches.  It is ubu which means the nakago (tang) of the blade has not been cut or shortened.  The nakago  is signed and dated on one side (Bishu Osafune Tomomitsu) (Feb 1366)  and on the other side it says "Hachiman Daibosatsu" which is an invocation to the God of armed forces.  The blade is mitsumune, this means the back or spine of the blade is three sided which is unusual as most blades have a two sided spine much like the roof of a house. One side of the blade has a stylized ken sword carved in it for decoration and a bonji (Sanskrit) character on the other.  The temper line is a straight suguha style and the hada (forging pattern) is a strong mokume or wood grain typical of the era.  The workmanship of the blade features such treats a utsuri and chikei (you'll have to look some of this crap up yourself I can't explain everything or this blog would be a mile long).  Tomomitsu rates a wopping 100 points in Hawley's and a sweet jojosaku from Fujishiro. Several of his blades have been designated NATIONAL TREASURES.  This blade received a Tokubetsu Kicho rating (one step below the coveted juyo rating) from the NBTHK in 1972.  As far as I know it was never submitted for Juyo but I strongly suspect it is a good contender.  The polish is old but top quality.  Now for some intrigue (you knew it was coming).  The blade is housed in a plain wooden scabbard and handle called a shirasaya.  There is Japanese writing on the outside of the shirasaya (called sayagaki) that says this blade has a black set of koshirae (fittings) and that the tanto was the possession of the Uesugi which are a famous clan of Samurai.  This is pretty cool by itself but the sayagaki is signed with a kao (sort of a hand written personal symbol) and has the writer's red stamped chop or seal.  I have not been able to figure out who he is.  The chop was a bit faded so I enhanced it with PhotoShop to show you.  There is a well known family of sword appraisers called the Honami who did sayagaki like this but I have not come up with any good matches to the Kao.  I suspect the sayagaki was done during it's appraisal by the NBTHK in 1972 by an expert back then or prior to that but that is just a guess .  If anybody recognizes the chop or Kao and knows who the writer was please drop us a line here at Sabaku Samurai.  A valuable reward of eternal gratitude is offered for any good information (because we're too cheap to offer anything better). The black koshirae were apparently separated from the blade some time ago.  If you have them I want em back.  Check us out at sabakusamurai.com .  Until next time I bid you adieu (or maybe a doodoo) (nah, the world already has enough of that). 

Sunday, July 3, 2016


Greetings all you Gassan maniacs!  I have a VERY nice one to show off.  This blade has all the bells and whistles.  It is an impressive, beefy, 27 6/8 inches long.  A sword made for a real man by perhaps the top 20th century Japanese sword smith and Sabaku Samurai's favorite sword maker of all times, Gassan Sadakatsu.  The blade is forged in perfect ayasugi hada which is an even undulating pattern in the steel that is a Gassan family trade mark.  The forging technique used to make ayasugi hada was a closely guarded family secret for hundreds of years and is even rare among Gassan blades.  Gassan Sadakatsu was also a master of the Soshu, Bizen and Yamato tradition of swordmaking and most of his blades are in those styles.  The habaki is solid silver and probably made by Sadakatsu himself.  This sword also features eye watering horimono (decorative carving) of a dramatically rendered ceremonial ken sword on one side and a pair of short hi (grooves) on the other. The nakago (tang) is richly engraved on one side with the makers name (Gassan Sadakatsu), the date of manufacture (Feb 11 1937) and the information that he is the 3rd generation Gassan to work in Naniwa which is the place that became the modern city of Osaka.  The inscription on the other side is a bit more intriguing.  There are several slightly different ways of interpreting it.  Generally it seems to indicate that the sword was made for the head of the main line Kimura family as a family heirloom or treasure for protection.  Then it goes on to say that the sword is named CLOUD DRAGON (pretty cool) and was made from extra or left over steel.  This could also be interpreted that the blade was made of left over steel FROM the Cloud Dragon. Now this interpretation begs the questions who is this Kimura and what was the Cloud Dragon that the sword was made from.  Gassan Sadakatsu was the sword maker to the Imperial Household.  He made swords for the Emperor, dignitaries, and high ranking Military Officers.  He even made one for the King of England which is on display in the Tower of London which is where the Crown Jewels are kept (it's there, I've seen it in person).  Doing a little research I discovered that there were at least three significant Military Officers with the family name of Kimura in service when the sword was produced.  Two were Navy admirals and the other a notorious Army general.  There may have been others that I have not found. It just so happens that one of the Kimura Admirals served on an aircraft carrier produced late in WWII named CLOUD DRAGON.  Could this sword be made from left over steel from that ship?  That all fits together pretty nifty except for one little detail, the keel of the Cloud Dragon wasn't laid until well after the sword was forged.  So although it is an intriguing coincidence I haven't figured out how to tie them together, it seems to be a dead end.  The Kimura General was hanged for war crimes.  I have not been able to associate the sword with him.  This blade was purchased from the Dai Token Ichi  several years ago which is a huge annual sword trade show in Japan and my trail of provenance stops there.  ~~If any of you readers have any information or bright ideas for avenues of research on this wonderful sword please drop me a line.  If you want some more pictures of any part of the blade let me know.  Hasta la Vista Baby!