Original Japanese Late Edo Period Women's Kaiken Dagger with Sharkskin Shagreen Handle & 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 early 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 other Kizu (blade wounds) from lamination artifacts, only possible on handmade blades.

Offered in very nice condition, the blade shape of this example is a more advanced form, termed an Unokubi-Zukuri (Cormorant's Neck) shape. It is somewhat hard to describe, but it essentially changes from a Shinogi-Zukuri with a Bo’hi (fuller) to Moroha Zukuri to a shobu-zukuri as one proceeds from the hamach (blade notch) to the kissaki (blade tip). The overall shape is definitely "knife-like", as expected for a kaiken.

The polish on the blade is definitely worn from cleaning and possibly use, which has made the aspects of the blade to see. There are also some areas of light staining and oxidation, however, 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 1/4" and overall length 12 1/4". 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 blade collar (habaki) is copper, with a lovely "rain" pattern, however one side is split, so it does not stay in place on the blade securely.

The Tsuka (handle) and Saya (Scabbard) form a lovely matched set of Koshirae (Fittings), both being the same shape, and covered with the same lovely lacquered Sharkskin shagreen. After the lacquer was applied, it was sanded down, giving it a lovely "puzzle" like pattern. The more diamond shaped and smaller designs indicate that this was made with Sharkskin. Rayskin shagreen has larger and more rounded patterns. Both the scabbard and handle are in very good condition, with a lightly aged patina.

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

Blade Length: 7 1/4"
Blade Style: Unokubi-Zukuri (Cormorant's Neck)
Overall length: 12 1/4“
Scabbard Length: 8 3/4"

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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