Language: Japanese
Source: In common use

Description

Koshirae () is the Japanese term for a complete set of mounts of edged weapons. This includes the complete set of hilt, guard, and scabbard of the Japanese swords tachikatana, wakizashi, and the daggers called tanto. But also the pole, guard, and scabbard of polearms like the yari, naginata, etc.

 

Types of sword koshirae

 

Tachi koshirae

Fine tachi koshirae

A set of tachi koshirae. This sword is worn slung from a belt, edge downwards.
This specific type with wrapping also covering part of the scabbard is called itomaki no tachi and was worn with formal court dress.
Mandarin Mansion inventory 2022.

 

Handachi koshirae

Handachi koshirae

Handachi means "half tachi", a transitional form between the tachi and katana / wakizashi style.
Meant to be worn edge-up, but with tachi style pommel and scabbard endpiece. It was primarily popular from the late 16th to late 17th century.
Sold by Mandarin Mansion in 2021.

 

Katana koshirae

Katana koshirae

Katana koshirae. 19th century.
The red lacquer, and hilt mounts that are flush with the grip wrap are typical for Satsuma province.
Sold by Mandarin Mansion in 2021.

 

Wakizashi koshirae

Wakizashi koshirae

Wakizashi koshirae. Similar to katana koshirae, only shorter.
Fittings by Otsuryūken Masanobu, active late 18th to early 19th century.
Metropolitan Museum, accession number 36.120.420a–d.
Gift of Howard Mansfield, 1931.

 

Tanto koshirae

Tanto koshirae

Very fine set of tanto koshirae with solid gold mounts.
The set has no guard, and as such is referred to as aikuchi.
Mounts by Miyata Nobukiyo (1817–1884).
Metropolitan Museum accession number 91.2.75.
Gift of Brayton Ives and W. T. Walters, 1891.

 

Interchangeability

What sets koshirae apart from sets of mountings of weapons in other cultures is that they are so easily interchangeable; usually, it only requires the removal of a single pin to be able to swap the entire hilt of a sword. Therefore it was common to have more sets of koshirae for a single blade. Wealthy samurai were said to have more sets of koshirae per blade than there were days in a year.

"Sword mountings played an important part in the training of the Japanese of the highest classes. They formed a part of his daily life, they were frequently changed, and wealthy men are said to have had sufficient "stock" in reserve to allow favorite swords to appear in different dress each day in the year." 1

-Bashford Dean, 1921

 

Because of the temporary nature of the mounts to the sword, the Japanese sword connoisseurship generally only occupies itself with the sword blade. The study and appreciation of mounts are considered a different field entirely. It can be compared to the frames of master paintings; one doesn't judge a Rembrandt by its frame. One can have an opinion on how the frame matches the painting, but one will never see the frame as integral to the painting.

Due to people changing the koshirae of their weapons regularly and keeping up with the latest fashions and regulations, it is very rare to find early sets of koshirae.

 

Notes
1. Bashford Dean; Handbook of Arms and Armor, European and Oriental, Including the William H. Riggs Donation. New York 1921. Page 132.

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