Original WWII Japanese Army Officer Type 98 Shin-Gunto Katana by HORIKAWA KUNIHIRO - 400 Year Old Blade

Item Description

Original Item: One of a Kind. Recently purchased at large military show, this is a fantastic USGI Bring-Back wartime production Japanese officer Katana in the Type 98 Shin-Gunto (九八式軍刀 kyūhachi-shiki guntō) setting. These type of fittings (koshirae) are slightly simplified compared to the earlier Type 94. A Shin-Guntō (新軍刀, new military sword) is a weapon and symbol of rank used by the Imperial Japanese Army between the years of 1935 and 1945. The blade tang is signed by the maker, and was made in the traditional fashion over 400 years ago! Even better, the maker is considered a "Grandmaster" level smith!

It was a common practice for swords to be passed down for generations, particularly ones that were of high quality. These would be re-polished and re-fit numerous times, as steel was precious and swords were expensive. This continued up into WWII, which is how this blade found it's way into standard WWII "Shin-Gunto" fittings, with a locking scabbard. There also was an official Japanese program during the war for families with no sons to donate their swords towards the war effort. There is a MON, or "family crest" on the end fitting of the handle, indicating that the officer who owned this was a member of a known family, and this was most likely a blade passed down for generations.

The blade on this example was hand forged at the very beginning of the Edo Period, and the tang of the blade is signed (Mei) with the characters 洛 陽 一 條 堀 川 住 國 廣 造, read as RAKUYO ICHIJOU HORIKAWA JU KUNIHIRO TSUKURU. This roughly translates to say that "made by HORIKAWA KUNIHIRO", along with some honorifics and information about their school. This smith was active in Yamashiro province during the period 1576-1613, and was the son & pupil of KUNIMASA. They are listed in Japanese Swordsmiths by Willis M. Hawley under reference KUN232, and are ranked at 200, or "SUPREME". Toko Taikan rates this smith at ¥25M, and they are listed in the Japanese Swordsmith reference by Fujishiro at the highest rank: 最上作 (SAIJO SAKU). We have confirmed the signature (Oshigata) with other examples of his work. As a "Grand Master" level smith, blades made by this maker are highly sought after, and this example has survived the ages well.

This example has certainly been remounted several times, as was common for Japanese blades. This has made the file marks (yasurime) on the tang somewhat faint, and is also why there are two holes in the tang. It has a lovely patina, only present on blades that are hundreds of years old.

The blade is handmade and was expertly crafted by a sword maker, which is indicated by a few tell-tale characteristics that include:

- Holes in the tang are punched and not drilled.

- Visible vibrant temper line ("hamon") with crystallization visible (Nie and Nioi), as well as lots of internal activity.

- Blade is signed on the tang by the maker ("Mei").

- Blade has a correct geometric Yokote at the tip (kissaki) with a Boshi (tip temper line)

- Blade has grain (hada) visible in the body (ha).

- Blade wounds (kizu) or lamination artifacts are present on the blade. Both ware (lamination lines) and fukure (carbon pits) are visible.

Offered in very good condition, the blade is still quite sharp and looks great. There is however a chip in the edge of the blade about 3mm long x 1mm deep about 8cm from the habaki, as well as some minor denting / chipping on the kissaki (tip). These are not anywhere close to getting near the edge of the hamon. There are also few areas of light oxidation present, but they are minor, except for a bit of light rust at the very tip of the blade. The polish on the blade is in really great shape, allowing the features to be seen clearly. Blade length is approximately 25 1/4 inches and overall length of 35 1/4 inches. The katana has a handmade blade with a Futsu 普通 (regular) Nakago (tang) with a Iriyamagata (asymmetrical pointed) nakago-jiri (tang tip).

The temper line is easily visible, and is a very attractive and active SUGUHA (straight) shape. Along the transition there are clear NIE crystals visible, with cloudy areas of NIOI in the body of the hamon. There is also a lot of internal activity, much more than we usually see, giving it an almost iridescent look. The tip temper line (boshi) is visible, and is of the OOMARU (large turnback) type. The yokote is is still clear, and the blade has a proper geometric kissaki (tip). The body of the blade has clear hada (grain), which is of the MOKUME (Wood Burl) pattern. We can see some blade wounds (KIZU) such as WARE (lamination lines) and FUKURE (Carbon pits). This is really a nice blade, with lots of aspects to enjoy.

The blade mountings are the classic later WWII era Type 98 Army Shin-Gunto style, brass with gilt accents. It has the typical rounded "quince" (mokko gata) shaped tsuba (cross guard) with brass Imperial Army cherry blossom menuki (grip decoration), and a nice Kabuto-Gane (Pommel Cap). The cross guard and pommel cap have matching cherry blossom motifs, which are also found on the scabbard fittings, and the fuchi (grip collar). There are 4 brass Seppa (spacers) around the cross guard to keep the fit tight.  and all are inlet for the scabbard lock. The tsuba and seppa are all inlet for the scabbard lock, which is still present, though the spring is missing, so it is not functional. The blade collar (habaki) is copper with a "rain pattern", typical of those used on ancient blades.

The handle (tsuka) has a great stingray skin (Sa-Me) grip, with the correct brown Ito (cloth binding). The wrapping shows light to moderate use, with a little wear and some sweat and oil staining on the 4 inches closest to the tsuba. There is a family crest attached to the end fitting of the scabbard, which shows two squares or rectangles in a circle. Unfortunately we have not been able to identify this crest. There is a single wooden securing peg (mekugi) still present, which looks to be a post war replacement.

The Scabbard (saya) is steel over wood, and in very good condition, with the original brown textured paint almost completely intact. There is a bit of light scuffing, but no major paint loss or dents, and the fittings still have a lot of their gilt highlights. It has the correct single hanger loop of the Type 98 style, and the top fitting is inlet for the scabbard lock on the hilt, though the lock on the handle is broken. Also, the two screws that hold in the scabbard mouth (koiguchi) are missing, so it can be removed.

An incredible Japanese Type 98 Shin-gunto Katana with a 400 year old handmade blade by a GRAND MASTER smith! This is a real USGI bring-back from WWII, ready to display and cherish!

Blade Length: 25 1/4"
Blade Style: Katana
Overall length: 35 1/4“
Scabbard Length: 29"

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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