Original WWII Japanese Type 94 Shin-Gunto Katana with Excellent 17th Century Blade by SHODAI MASAHIRO (1st Gen) with Scabbard
Original Item: One of a Kind. Recently purchased at a military auction, this is a fantastic USGI Bring-Back high grade Japanese officer Katana in the Type 94 Shin-Gunto (九四式軍刀 kyūyon-shiki guntō) setting. 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. This is the earlier pattern used, with more ornate and complicated aspects compared to the later type 98 fittings.
The blade on this example is truly remarkable, and was hand forged in the traditional fashion in the 17th century during the early 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.
The tang of the blade is signed by the maker (mei) with 肥 前 國 河 内 大 掾 藤 原 正 廣 - HIZEN KUNI KAWACHI DAIJO FUJIWARA MASAHIRO, which translates to "Masahiro Made this in Hizen Province", along with multiple honorifics and titles in the signature. We have researched this signature, and comparison to other known examples indicates that it was forged by 初代 正廣 (SHODAI MASAHIRO), or the first generation MASAHIRO in Hizen province. This same signature was also used by 四代 正廣 (YONDAI MASAHIRO), the 4th generation, but the style was not the same. The shape of the tang tip, the shape of the characters, and also the fact that it is on the side of the blade that points towards the body all indicate 1st Generation Masahiro.
This smith is highly rated by Hawley, given a rating of 70, and is rated at ¥5.5M by Toko Taikan. Blades by this smith are not often seen, as they were the sword maker to feual lords, and most of their works were kept among the upper class. This also mean that they were well cared for, and didn't see nearly the amount of use that other blades did, which helps explain the excellent condition of this and other examples seen. It also features the TOURAN (濤瀾 - Large Wave) billowing style temper line seen on other examples of his work.
Masahiro was a member of the Tadayoshi school of Hizen province, which was well-known for producing very high quality blades. The school was founded by Shodai Tadayoshi circa 1598, and among the students of this school was Yoshinobu, a very well regarded smith. His son Sadenjiro studied under his father and Tadayoshi, and began to make swords under the name Masanaga. He then changed his "swordsmith name" to MASAHIRO in 1625, and in 1628 received the title of KAWACHI NO DAIJO. His works are thought to represent the best aspects of the Tadayoshi school, as well as those of his own school, which endured for 10 generations. Masahiro had worked with Tadahiro on behalf of the Nabeshima clan of Kyushu, a very powerful family of Daimyo regional lords. Some basic additional information can be found at the Nihonto Club Website here: MASAHIRO 1st Gen. There is also wealth of internet research regarding the Masahiro Swordmith Lineage.
This blade has definitely 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. It has been well cared for, so the tagane (chisel marks) and tagane-makura (raised area around the mei) are still faintly visible.
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 WWII "Shin-Gunto" fittings, with a locking scabbard. There is a Japanese MON family crest on the hilt of the katana, which most likely indicates which family the owner was associated with. We unfortunately have not been able to identify the exact shape, as there are thousands of different crests.
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 temper line ("hamon") with crystallization visible (Nie and Nioi).
- Blade is signed on the tang by the maker ("Mei")
- Blade has a geometric kissaki (tip) with a Yokote dividing it from the blade body, and 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, mostly ware (lamination lines) in the body of the blade.
Offered in excellent condition, the blade is still quite sharp and looks fantastic. The edge is dent free, and there are just a few light scuffs on the surface. Overall the polish is excellent, with just a few areas of degradation due to oxidation or wear. There are a few areas of light oxidation at the very spine of the blade. With the great polish, the aspects of the temper line are fully visible, iridescent in the light. Unfortunately it is nearly impossible to catch the true beauty of this blade with photographs. The sword is a bit on the long side, with a blade length of approximately 26 3/4 inches and overall length of 38 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 HAMON (刃文) temper line is easily visible, and is a very attractive and active TOURAN (濤瀾 - Large Wave) billowing style. 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 and visible crystallization, such as SUNAGASHI, something not usually seen on more modern blades. The tip temper line (BOSHI) is still fully visible, and is the OMARU (大丸 - large turnback) shape. The YOKOTE (transition to the tip) is fully visible, and it has a proper geometric KISSAKI (tip).
The body of the blade has clear hada (grain), which is of the MASAME (Straight) pattern. We can see some blade wounds (KIZU) such as WARE (lamination lines) and very small FUKURE (Carbon pits). These are only possible on true traditionally made blades. This is really a fantastic looking blade! With the long delay for traditional togishi polishing, blades like this that are ready to display are definitely in demand.
The blade mountings are the classic early / pre WWII era High grade Type 94 Army Shin-Gunto style, browned brass with gilt accents, much of which is still retained. The rounded and perforated "quince" (MOKKO GATA) shaped tsuba (cross guard) indicates it was made for a higher rank officer. The tsuka (handle) has brass Imperial Army cherry blossom menuki (grip decorations), and a nice Kabuto-Gane (Pommel Cap), complete with the hanger loop and the MON mentioned earlier. The cross guard and pommel cap have matching cherry blossom motifs, which are also found on the scabbard fittings, and the fuchi (grip collar), as is correct for the pattern.
There are 6 non-magnetic Seppa (spacers) around the cross guard to keep the fit tight, all of which bear inlets matching the tsuba for the scabbard lock, which is present though worn, and doesn't grip securely. The blade collar (habaki) is a plated "rain" pattern usually seen on Edo period blades, and it really looks great. The western numeral 72 is marked on Tsuba and ALL six Seppa, while the lock and fuchi are marked with Japanese numerals 七 二 - 7 2. This means that the set was made specifically to go with this blade. The markings on the Tsuka and Saya are too faded to read.
The handle has an excellent stingray skin (Sa-Me) grip, with the correct Ito (cloth binding), which does show wear and staining consistent with light use. There is no major tearing to the golden brown wrapping, and it has a lovely lightly worn look. The mekugi (peg) is a recent replacement.
The Scabbard (saya) is steel over wood, and in very good condition, with almost all of the original smooth brown paint intact. There is definitely sign of use however, with some light oxidation where the paint has worn. We can also see a red primer coat under the brown paint, which is standard on the Type 94 scabbards. As is correct for a type 94 scabbard, hanger ring can unscrew from the fitting, and there is a rosette that is a separate piece, which are often lost. There is however some damage to the fitting, so it can no longer be removed, and is somewhat loose in the bolster.
A fantastic Japanese 17th Century Handmade blade by a VERY highly regarded maker, put into high grade Type 94 Shin-gunto fittings, most likely for a high ranking officer. This is a real USGI bring-back from WWII, ready to display and cherish!
Blade Length: 28 1/4"
Blade Shape: Shinogi Zukuri
Overall length: 38“
Scabbard Length: 29 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 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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