Original Japanese Late Edo Period Women's Kaiken Dagger with Lacquered "Bird" Scabbard - Handmade Blade

Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. Purchased at a recent military show, this is a very nice Japanese Kaiken (懐剣), which translates to "pocket sword". Very similar to the Tanto (短刀 - short sword), these were often worn by women, and were used strictly for combat and self-defense purposes. Typically measuring 20–25 cm (8–10 in) long with a single edged blade, these were usually housed in a plain mount with minimal ornamental fittings.

These were once carried by both men and women of the samurai class in Japan. It was useful for self-defense in indoor spaces where the long blade katana and intermediate sword wakizashi were inconvenient. Women carried them in their kimono either in a pocket-like space (懐 - futokoro) or in the sleeve pouch (tamoto) for self-defense and for ritual suicide by slashing the veins in the left side of the neck. When a samurai woman married, she was expected to carry a kaiken with her when she moved in with her husband.

This example dates from the Edo period (江戸時代, Edo jidai) or Tokugawa period (徳川時代, Tokugawa jidai) of Japanese history. This is the period between 1603 and 1867, when Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate and the country's 300 regional daimyo. We estimate it was from the later 18th century portion. The tang on this blade definitely shows advanced age. As it is unsigned, this blade is considered 無名 (mumei), or "anonymous".

The blade is old, we are told ancient, due to a few tell tale characteristics that are:
- The hole in the tang (meguki-ana) is punched, and not drilled.
- Folded steel blade - fold lines are evident on the body and spine of blade, as well as grain typical of folded steel.
- Visible temper line ("hamon") running full length of blade cutting edge.
- Ware and Kizu (blade wounds) from lamination artifacts, only possible on handmade blades.

Offered in very nice condition, the blade shape of this example is a Shobu-Zukuri form (sugata), which is like the typical Shinogi Zukuri, but there is no yokote. The overall shape is more "knife-like", as expected for a kaiken. The polish on the blade is definitely worn, showing a lot of scuffing from cleaning and possibly use. The edge is still quite sharp, so care is needed, and there are no nicks or other damage we can see. Blade length is approximately 7 1/2" and overall length 11 5/8". It has a futsu 普通 (regular) Nakago with a Naagari (asymmetrical rounded) nakago-jiri (tank tip).

Even with the polish being degraded, the hamon (temper line) is still visible, and is a very nice NOTARE (wave or swell) shape. Due to the condition of the polish, we cannot see if it has any hada or other aspects, however it does have ware lamination artifacts, so it is definitely a traditionally made blade.

The Tsuka (handle) looks to be original, and has menuki that look to be a small person/figure riding a bore on both sides. The Stingray Skin grip (Sa-Me) is still in great shape, with a worn cloth wrapping (ITO) over it. The material looks to be possibly silk cord, and must have been quite elegant when new. The blade collar (habaki) is gilt brass, with a nice pattern on it. The handle is held on by a single mekugi (Peg), which looks to be original.

The saya (scabbard) is very nice, and has a lovely red and black lacquer finish, which has beautifully executed birds in flight in the design. Really a lovely scabbard. It has a kurikata (knob) for the attachment of a rope or cord, but it looks to be a hobbyist level replacement. There is a slot for an accessory, but there is not one present, though the top of the hilt is also inlet for one, matching the scabbard.

A very nice Kaiken Dagger from the late edo period with lovely fittings. Ready to display!

Blade Length: 7 1/2"
Blade Style: "Hira Zukuri" tanto
Overall length: 11 5/8
Scabbard Length: 9 3/8"

It has been over one thousand years ago that the art of making swords appeared in Japan. The swordsmiths of the time may not have known it but they were creating a legendary sword. The Samurai sword has seen combat in many battlefields. From the early days of the Samurai warrior to the fierce battles in the South Pacific during WWII.

Each hand-made Samurai sword is unique because it is forged from steel stock. A tremendous amount of work is dedicated to creating these pieces. They were an instrument of war as much as a beautiful artifact to adorn a room.

The Samurai sword has grown to be one of the most highly desired military antiques.

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