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.

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