Original Japanese WWII Katana by SAKAI SHIGEMASA with Chrysanthemum on Water Temper Line in Recent Fittings
Original Item: One of a Kind. Recently purchased from a private collector, this is an incredible WWII Katana, which was later put into modern fittings (koshirae). We assume it was brought home after the war, and later was re-polished and put into the new setting. It is in beautiful condition, with a rare temper line type, and was forged by one of the most important Japanese swordsmiths of the 20th century. This is easily one of the most impressive Japanese swords that we have ever offered.
The blade on this example was hand forged, and the tang of the blade is signed (Mei) with the characters 酒 井 繁 正, read as SAKAI SHIGEMASA. Research indicates that this smith's real name was Sakai Hiroshi, so in this case "Sakai" was their family name, and "Shigemasa" their "swordsmith name." We have seen many other smiths sign their swords in this fashion. In this case it also allowed them to use part of their actual given name in their swordsmith name.
Sakai Ikkansai Shigemasa (酒井一貫斎繁政), as he was later known, was born in 1905 as the 3rd son of Sakai Yasujiro, who was a younger brother of Miyaguchi Masatoshi. In 1925 he was apprenticed to Kasama Ikkansai Shigetsugu (笠間一貫斎繁継), and then became independent in 1932, signing his name as 繁正 (he would later use the 政 character for "masa"). In 1933, he became a member of the Yasukuni Tanrensho, withdrawing in 1936 and becoming a member of Okura Tanren-Dojo.
During World War II Shigemasa worked for the forges Nihontō-tanrenkai (日本刀鍛錬会) and Ōkura-Nihontō-tanrenjo (大倉日本刀鍛錬所). He was approved to make swords for the Imperial Japanese Army as a Rikugun-Jumei Tosho in 1941, and then approved by the Imperial Japanese Navy as a Kaigun-Jumei Tosho in 1944. In 1942, Shigemasa was chosen to forge ten presentation tantō for Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku (山本五十六), who gave them to people of importance in assisting the attack on Pearl Harbor.
After WWII, Shigemasa continued to forge remarkable swords, being commissioned to make culturally important swords. One of these was a sacred treasure sword for Ise Shrine. In 1981 Shigemasa was granted the rank of MUKANSA (無鑑査), which translates to "Without Judgement / Examination". A swordsmith being granted this rank means his swords are of such a high level that they are displayed at the annual contemporary sword smith exhibition without examination of a panel of judges. No further awards will be granted, since the swords are above competition. Sakai Ikkansai Shigemasa passed away in 1995, having made many blades and trained many swordsmiths, including present day Mukansa Rank swordsmith Ikkansai Shigehisa. For more information please see Markus Sesko's Index of Japanese Swordsmiths.
The blade is handmade and was expertly crafted by a sword maker, which is indicated by a few tell-tale characteristics that include:
- Hole in the tang is punched and not drilled.
- Vibrant visible temper line ("hamon") with crystallization visible (Nie and Nioi).
- Blade is signed on the tang by the maker ("Mei").
- Blade has a correct geometric kissaki with a clear yokote and boshi (tip temper line).
- Blade has visible grain "hada" in the body of the blade (ji)
Offered in excellent condition, the blade is still VERY sharp, with no nicks or other damage to the edge, so care should be taken while handling. The polish on the blade is in spectacular condition, and the aspects of the blade are easy to see. The katana has a handmade blade with a length of approximately 28 inches and an overall length of 39 3/8 inches. It has a futsu 普通 (regular) Nakago with a Haagari (asymmetrical rounded) nakago-jiri (tang tip). The blade has a proper geometric kissaki (tip), with a crisp yokote showing the division between the rest of the blade.
The temper line is still clear and vibrant, and is of the very rare KIKUSUI 菊 水 (Chrysanthemum on Water) type. There NIE crystals clearly visible at the transition, and the hamon has the correct NIOI cloudiness. The internal activity shows Chrysanthemum flowers floating a river, and is quite hard to execute properly, as the clay needs to be applied carefully to cause the correct shaping of the NIOI in the temper line. Not only are the flowers seen, but also the "layers" of the river. It is nearly impossible to capture the true beauty of the blade with pictures, but we have done our best.
The boshi (tip temper line) is clear, and looks to be the JIZOU 地蔵 (Buddha’s Head) shape. It is possibly also the somewhat similar MISHINA 三品 type. The blade body (JI) shows some grain (HADA), which is the straight (MASAME) type. It also may be a very fine woodgrain (ITAME) type. Really a fantastic blade on this katana! With the long delay for traditional togishi polishing, blades like this that are ready to display are definitely highly desirable.
The KOSHIRAE (blade mountings) are relatively standard 20th century display production, which are patterned after the late Edo period mountings. This include a large cast brass rounded "quince" shaped (mokko gata) tsuba (cross guard) with embossed temple good luck charms with kanji on them. There are two embossed cast brass seppa around the tsuba, with a third of sheet brass, to keep the fittings tight. The blade collar (habaki) is copper and is embossed to look like raging ocean waves.
The handle (tsuka) has a fantastic stingray skin (Sa-Me) grip, and has a leather grip wrapping (ito), which holds two brass grasshopper shaped menuki in place. The grip collar (fuchi) and end cap (kashira) are both embossed brass, with some antiquing to the finish. The handle is held in place by a single peg (mekugi) made from bamboo.
The sword comes in a a well fitting gloss black lacquer wooden scabbard (SAYA), which has an accessory slot for a KOGATANA. It has been fitted with an all brass display knife with an embossed handle. The scabbard also has a KURIKATA (knob) with a SHITODOME internal fitting, complete with a SAGEO sword cord threaded through and properly braided. The lacquer is in great shape, with no splitting along the seams.
This is a fantastic opportunity to pick up a ready to display WWII Katana from a very important 20th Century Japanese Swordsmith in some great recent fittings. It's unlikely that we will have another like this anytime soon!
Blade Length: 28"
Blade Shape: Shinogi-Zukuri
Overall length: 39 3/8“
Scabbard Length: 29 1/2"
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 folded 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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