Last year my high school kendo club celebrated it’s 60th anniversary. 60 sounds a lot, but the school itself was actually founded in Meiji 19 (1886), over 130 years ago, when the girls department of the Osaka-fu Shihan Gakko (“Osaka Normal High School”), separated itself into a different institution.
Of course, long term kenshi 24/7 readers have long known about the first “Shihan Gakko” in the post Meiji Japan: Tokyo Shihan Gakko (Tokyo Normal High School”) of which Takano Sasaburo was to become the kendo instructor of (and what is now Tsukuba University). These types of school were different from what exist nowadays in that they were more like kind of preliminary teacher training schools for older students.
From 1886 until the post war period, when the Japanese education system was completely overhauled, my workplace was actually a girls school, thus there was no kendo club. In 1948 it became a co-educational school, with a kendo club finally formed in 1959.
Last year I hosted a 60th-year keiko session for kendo club graduates and one of them – who is about 75 years old or so – called me over suddenly. Our conversation went as follows:
“Do you want my fathers military sword? It is just lying my house doing nothing and I’d like you to have it.”
“Ok, I’ll bring it over soon.”
The conversation was so sudden and the content so unexpected that I didn’t feel like I could refuse. So that was that.
Afterwards I mulled that he would probably bring round some rusted old piece of worthless metal and that I had nowhere to store it. Besides, what use have I for a sword anyway?
A few weeks later he came round to watch a normal keiko session and handed me his fathers old military sword afterwards. Looking at it, it seemed a bit cheap and worn, and the saya – even though it had leather military protective sleeve around it – was a mess. I was in for a mini-surprise though: not only was the blade itself pretty much spotless (it obviously had never been used for cutting much, if at all) but it also looked like a properly made katana, not a machine made piece of junk (which many war time blades are).
The name on the tang of the sword (machine made military swords often had serial numbers, so the name shows it was made using traditional methods) was Fukumoto Kanemune, a known, middle-ranked swordsmith from Seki in Gifu prefecture. Online I could see that some of the guys swords fetched quite a high price, so I was getting hopeful!
The blade, btw, also has a military stamp on it, showing that it was indeed made for the Imperial Japanese Army, somewhere on or after 1935.
The bits and pieces (koshirae) associated with the blade – the tsuka, tsuba, saya, and iron parts – however, were all cheap stuff. Also, the fact that the sword wasn’t kitted out in the normal war-time style (apart from the sleeve) made me suspicious that it might not be worth much. Perhaps, at some point after the war, the father or the son swapped out the military koshirae for something more normal? We will never know.
Once I got some free time in my schedule I took the sword down to the Meirin Sangyo shop here in Osaka to get it checked out. They deal with all types of budo equipment as well as having an extensive sword shop and showroom as well, with many of their blades are antique and super expensive. My connection there is very knowledgeable about swords and he appraised it for me for free.
As suspected, the blade itself was in great condition (the son must have looked after it well) but the bits and pieces were cheap. I pressed the guy for a value on the sword but he brushed me off politely saying: “it’s a nice blade and it would be good for iaido or tameshigiri practise.” After a bit of back and forth I gave up pushing – although it’s probably worth some serious pocket money, it is obviously not worth anything like the antiques that they sell.
So, I had this nice blade now. I took it home and wondered what I was going to do with it. I could sell it, of course, but I think that would be rude to the guy that gave it to me. So, instead, I took my connections advice: I decided to make it a useable sword.
I wanted any work on it to be super simple and practical: if I was going to wave it around it would be wise to have the tsuka and saya replaced in case of rot, so I opted to have those made, and I had some (not all) of the metal fittings replaced. The iron tsuba I left as is for the moment as I couldn’t find something I liked.
A few weeks after taking it back to Meirin, I went down to pick the refurbished sword up. It was coincidence that it was the 25th of December. The results you can see below.
I’ve yet to have a chance to use the sword for tameshigiri yet, but I plan to soon.
Over the years here in Japan I’ve been asked countless times: “Do you have a katana?” I’m not sure why people kept asking me this, but at least now I can say yes.
How can you be a kenshi without a sword anyway?