Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Gendaito and Otanto

So it's been a while since I bought anything firearm related, but I recently had the opportunity to acquire something new and different.  My iaido classmate Ron had been toying with the idea of selling his nihonto recently and I may or may not have egged him on into selling them to me.

Although I love all my firearms and see myself using them for a very long time, I've amassed a very large collection, including many I seldom use.  I've imagined one day passing them down to my kid one day, but I've often wondered if he will even take on an interest in firearms, and also if some, if not all of my collection will be obsolete by the time he's old enough to get into the hobby,  

We've all heard people talk about "Grandpa's old hunting rifle", or "dad's old shotgun".  One day it could be "dad's old chassis rifle with that old S&B".  Although I'm not in a hurry to thin the heard with my firearms, I've been thinking about their current value, having all that money tied up in my beloved firearms, versus having something of long term value and inherit ability.

My parents came to Canada with little of their heritage other than their family history passed to me by word of mouth.  They kept very few photos, let alone family heirlooms to pass down to future generations.  I wanted something to pass down to my kid and if he had any interest, maybe he would pass it down to his kids.  Part of the reason I got the Colt Canada SA20 was because I wanted my boy to have a replica of my army rifle, and maybe he'll pass it down to his kid and tell him/her that this was the same rifle grandpa used when he was in the army.  I figured that because I had nothing of my cultural heritage to pass down, it may as well be this rifle.  

Recently though, I have been considering the other side of his heritage as he is half Japanese.  Like a typical stupid gaijin, I asked my wife early on in our relationship if her family were descendants of samurai.   To the best of my knowledge, her family has very few heirlooms or family keepsakes older than from Showa-era.  

I've been fascinated with Japanese swords for a long time, and though far from being an expert, I have a rudimentary understanding of the differences between a wall-hanger and Nihonto.  I once had a gunto, (see ) but I sold it 20 years ago and used the money as a downpayment for a car.  About 11 year ago, I began studying iaido, the way of drawing the Japanese sword and my interest in Japanese swords was rekindled.  I started with a bokuto, then got a few cheaper, made-in-China shinken, then my iaito, and then a few years ago, I picked up a Tozando shinken, which was claimed to be made by a Japanese smith, or at least under Japanese supervision outside of Japan.  Though it's likely my Tozando katana has a decent blade, I still wanted something made in Japan, in the traditional method, by a Japanese smith.

As you can tell, this isn't entirely about having something to pass down to my kid, I have a keen interest in it also.  That being said, someone from the Vancouver Japanese Sword Appreciate Club once told me that none of us actually own a Japanese sword.  We are the keepers for our lifetime, then we pass them on to the next generation.  

According to my sensei, Hiro Inoue, the gendaito pictured here was likely crafted around 50 years ago, it is, on a balance of probabilities authentic and made in Japan by a Japanese smith in the traditional way.  In effect, it is likely made with folded steel and water tempered, and it was made from tamehagane or oroshigane.

There are no tang stamps (Showa, Naval, Mukden, or Seki etc to indicate a gunto blade) and my sensei tells me that he does not recognize the name of the smith.  A lot of fakes will engrave the names of a famous smiths to boost their perceived value, but a possible indicator of authenticity would be a smith that may not necessarily be famous.  My sword is not certified by NBTHK or NTHK, but I am satisfied that it is a gendaito, and I hope that my kid will appreciate such finely crafted swords as I do.  I haven't decided if I will have it fitted with furniture, but it is something I may consider doing because it is the same dimensions as my practice sword (iaito) coming in at about 2.45 shaku.

A few interesting tidbits I got from Ron about the history of the gendaito is that he's had it (along with the otanto) for about 30 years (That puts the purchase date sometime in the mid to late 80s).  

He bought both blades from a Japanese man who worked for JAL at the time.  The man had other swords, some with certificates, but Ron decided on these two as they were less expensive because they had no certificates.  

I've known Ron for more that 10 years and I find him to be a good person with little reason to be telling me porky pies.  With that said, I am completely satisfied that the history of the sword you are about to read about is exactly as he heard it from the previous owner.

 The gendaito was previously owned by a yakuza.  Apparently the yakuza had at least on one occasion used the sword in a fight with a rival yakuza, and cut the other yakuza's arm off.  Now, it's not likely that this story could ever be corroborated, but it's an interesting story nonetheless.

The second blade that I acquired from Ron was this otanto.  Again, the blade came in shirasaya as my gendaito did.  Actually, I was hoping to buy only this otanto because he didn't mention that he was thinking about selling his long sword as well.  

According to my sensei, this blade is likely about 200 years old or so.  The smith's name is known to my sensei, but apparently not famous.  Again, there are no certificates from NBTHK or NTHK, but I trust Ron, as well as the opinion of my sensei

The tip has a slight chip in it, but it's not catastrophic and can be polished out.

The two toshin on their own.

My iaito, though made in Japan, does not have an edge and is composed of a aluminum-zinc alloy.  It simulates the look, dimensions and feel of a real sword, but made strictly for practing iaido.  Many sword vendors will advertise their Musashi koshirae swords, however after a little research, I have found little evidence of any complete swords with furniture that were owned by Miyamoto Musashi.

The namako designed tsuba accredited to Musashi.

The last sword I have for this post is my Nishijin branded shinken. I purchased this back in 2011 from another classmate.  According to Nishijin's website at the time:

"Nishijin Sword's Iaito swords have already received numerous praises from the users with its superior balance, workmanship and finish.  Now with the new hard carbon steel blade, you can experience the real Japanese sword feeling and test cutting.  Unlike other competitors in the market, each and every sword is specifically handmade under the supervision of Tozando/Nishijin Sword and the technical guidance of the Japanese master sword craftsman in Seki of Gifu.  Although the final product is assembled in China, the quality of the fitting materials is as same as the one available in Japan and as such ornaments as Tsuba and Tsuka are shipped from Japan"  In an e-mail to Nishijin, they indicated that they used T-10 steel for the toshin.

The previous owner had an Edo-period tsuba fitted to it, however it seems a bit smallish and may have been meant for a wakizashi rather than katana.

Hopefully my modest sword collection will stay this way, contrary to my firearms library.  I eventually want to get something older, with certification from NBTHK or NTHK, but I will have to study Japanese swords a lot more to make an educated purchase.  The reason I got the gendaito and the otanto was because they were from a friend at a fantastic price, and it was under the guidance of my sensei.

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