Shimazu clan daisho overall
Overall length

Dai sheathed 98 cm

Sho sheathed 67.5 cm

Dai unsheathed 93.2 cm

Sho unsheathed 63.7 cm

 

Blade length

Dai  66.6 cm

Sho 44.5 cm

Blade thickness

Dai motokasane 6.7 mm

Dai sakikasane 5 mm

Sho motokasane 6 mm

Sho sakikasane 4.8 mm

Blade width

Dai motohaba 28.8 mm

Dai sakihaba 19.2 mm

Sho motohaba 27.5 mm

Sho sakihaba 20.5 mm

Weight mounted

Dai 944 grams

Sho 624 grams

Point of balance

Dai 15 cm from guard

Sho 8 cm from guard

Materials

Blades: tempered steel

Mountings: wood, lacquer, gold, shakudō, copper, silver, silk, stingray skin

Origin

Japan

Blades: Bungo

Hilt fittings: Mino

Dating

Dai circa 16th century

Sho circa 17th-18th century

Hilt mounts circa 1650-1700

Hilts and scabbards probably 19th century

Provenance

From a US-based dealer

who imported them from Japan

Price on request

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Introduction

During the Edo period (1600-1868) the samurai class had the sole privilege of being able to wear the daishō (大小), which became a symbol of their caste. It consists of a large katana, the dai (), and a shorter wakizashi, the shō (). When entering a building, the katana was typically left outside as a sign of respect, but the wakizashi was carried at all times.

Most samurai just wore two unrelated swords, but the epitome of a daishō was, of course, a fully matched set. This was only accessible to wealthier samurai.

 

This daishō

Both blades are forged by the Takada group of swordsmiths who were active in Bungo, in the northern part of the island of Kyūshū. This group of smiths was active from around the 14th century and thrived well into the 19th century. They were initially known for making very practical blades, with less focus on aesthetics, but by the Shinto period, between them, they mastered all of the five main traditions while also producing typical Shinto styles.

Both these blades are in a fine, recent polish and have recent NBTHK Hozon papers. 

 

Daisho unsheathed

 

The dai

The katana is attributed to the Taira Takada smiths of the Koto period and has the rustic, practical appearance that these blades were known for. Compared to the Shinto period shō, it has a more open-grained hada and a lot more nie.
 

Dai

 

Dai sword attributes
(With plain English below)

Nakago: Suriage. Mumei. Kurijiri. Kiri yasurime. One mekugi ana. 
(Tang: Shortened. Unsigned. Rounded tip. Straight file marks. One peg hole.)

Sugata: Toriizori. Shinogi-zukuri with noticeable funbari. Iori-mune.  
(Overall form: Curvature concentrated at the center. Blade with ridged sides, ridged spine, and noticeable taper in width. Spine finished with two facets.)

Jigane: A coarse ko itame-hada with some mokume. Masame in the ji.  Some nie and ara nie in the ji.
(Steel: A coarse small dimensioned wood grain pattern with some burling patterns. Straight grain in the upper facet. Martensite crystals, some of them large, above the temperline.)

Hamon: Midare in nie-deki. Some sunagashi.
(Temperline: Undulating hamon. Large martensite crystals demark the tempered zone, some forming lines like flowing sand.

Boshi: Kaen.
(Temperline at tip: Sprays of nie resembling flames.)

 

The shō

The wakizashi is attributed to the Fujiwara Takada smiths of the Shinto period. It is more aesthetically accomplished than the dai, with a rather fine and active mokume hada and a midare hamon. The forging lines that run in and out of the hamon form short sunagashi. It bears some resemblance to, and may have aimed to emulate, the work of the famous Sukesada of Osafune, Bizen of the early 16th century.

 

Sho

 

Shō sword attributes
(With plain English below)

Nakago: Ubu. Mumei. Kurijiri. Katte sagari yasurime. One mekugi ana. 
(Tang: Unaltered. Unsigned. Rounded tip. Diagonal file marks from upper left to lower right. One peg hole.)

Sugata: Toriizori. Shinogi-zukuri with some funbari. Iori-mune.  
(Overall form: Curvature concentrated at the center. Blade with ridged sides, ridged spine, and some taper in width. Spine finished with two facets.)

Jigane: A fine ko itame-hada with some mokume. Masame in the ji.  Some ji nie.
(Steel: A fine small dimensioned wood grain pattern with some burling patterns. Straight grain in the upper facet. Martensite crystals above the temperline.)

Hamon: Midare in nie-deki. Some sunagashi.
(Temperline: Undulating hamon. Large martensite crystals demark the tempered zone, some forming lines like flowing sand.

Boshi: Kaen.
(Temperline at tip: Sprays of nie resembling flames.)

 

Dai and sho kissaki

This photo beautifully illustrates the similarities and differences between the older dai (left) and the more recent sho (right).
We see a coarser forging pattern on the old sword, with conspicuous nie.
The sho has a more soft, subdued look, tighter forging and a more ambitious hamon.
 

Hamon

Hamon of the wakizashi

 

Hamon

Hamon of the katana

 

Nakago

Both nakago

 

Koshirae

The daishō set comes in two full sets of matching koshirae. The saya are both lacquered in autumn shades of gold and brown, decorated with a number of Shimazu clan mon. The mon are not neatly lined up as would be the case on the formal itomaki-no-tachi swords carried in court, but instead are distributed in a somewhat informal, playful manner.

 

DaishoDaisho

 

The matching iron tsuba are carved with designs of watery landscapes and people on a boat, their faces executed in silver. On the reverse are a village and fishing traps.

 

TsubaTsuba

 

Both tsuka are wrapped with dark green silk over white stingray skin, with have dragonfly menuki under the wrap. The fuchi (ferrules) cap) and kashira (pommel caps) are made of shakudō, executed in Mino-bori with flowers and praying mantis. The fine details are highlighted in gold and silver.

Tsuka

Dragonfly

 

 

Signed fuchi

Both fuchi are signed. Left that of the wakizashi, right that of the katana.

Mino Ju Mitsunaka shoshin and gimei

美濃住光仲
Mino Ju Mitsunaka
"Mitsunaka, resident of Mino"
 

Mino ju Mitsunaka in the meikan

Mino Ju Mitsunaka in the Kinko Meikan by Kokubo Masumoto

The reference examples all have the crosshatched background as seen on the fuchi on the wakizashi. The signature on that piece itself is also a perfect match.

The one on the katana, however, is a so-called gimei (偽銘), or "false signature." These were often done to pass work by a lesser maker as something made by a master. In this case I do not expect faul intent. Rather, the owner probably had the set for his wakizashi and wanted to complete it to make a daishō, and so had faithful copies commissioned. At first glance they appear identical but upon close inspection, the genuine mounts on the wakizashi are just a little finer in execution.

Whoever copied it had access to the original, and knew his way around a chisel, and so we can conclude that the signature and surface finish on the plate are deliberately off. I think copying the actual work is much harder than truly copying the signature, if one would want to. And so we have an example of what I'd call an honest reproduction with no intent to fool anyone. Just to complete a set.

 

Mino-bori Daisho mounts

 

 

 

Mino-bori Daisho mountsMino-bori Daisho mounts

Close up of the mounts with left the shoshin, right the gimei.

 

Kozuka

The accompanying kogatana (by-knife) has a matching kozuka, unsigned, with a praying mantis and two bugs. The mantis enjoyed great respect in Japanese culture as a fierce fighter. When in rest, it appeared as if contemplating in prayer. As a hunting insect, it also protected the crops from bugs so it was an appreciated sight throughout Japan.

Mantis kozuka

Mantis kozuka

 

Kogatana blade signature <span class=山城國住埋忠吉信">

The blade is signed:

山城國住埋忠吉信
Yamashiro Kuni ju Umetada Yoshinobu

"Umetada Yoshinobu, resident of Yamashiro Province"

He was a very well-regarded smith of the 17th century, but one who rarely forged his own blades. He was the second son of Umetada Shigeyoshi and a student of Umetada Myōju and was mostly known as an excellent horimono carver.

Markus Sesko: Swordsmiths of Japan. Lulu Publishing. 2015. Pages 1306-1307. 

 

The Shimazu clan

Both saya carry a multitude of Shimazu clan mon. They were a powerful daimyō family that ruled over Satsuma in the south of Kyūshū. They were the first to make contact with Europeans, and hosted Jesuit Franciscus Xavier in their castle in 1549. In the 16th century, they were the first to employ muskets in battle and to produce them locally, which gave them a significant edge.

The Shimazu were among the losing factions of the decisive Battle of Sekigahara that gave the Tokugawa control of Japan. Most losing daimyō were stripped of lands and titles, but the Shimazu were too powerful to take on, and so the new shogunate aimed to appease them instead. In 1609, Tokugawa Hidetada allowed them to annex the Ryukyu Kingdom. This established a trade loophole that could bypass the stricter Tokugawa trade regulations. At their peak, they were the wealthiest and most powerful of the so-called "outside daimyō." 

Shimazu samurai Felice Beato

Men in traditional samurai armor posing with a Shimazu clan banner.
Felice Beato 1832-1909.
 

The Shimazu played a central role in opposing Tokugawa rule during the Boshin War of 1868-1869, which eventually led to the fall of the Tokugawa house and the Meiji Restoration of the Imperial Court. Disgruntled with the new court's attitude towards samurai, some notable Satsuma samurai led by Saigō Takamori revolted against the Meiji government and led the Satsuma rebellion of 1877, where they were mowed down using modern firearms. This story became the plot of the Hollywood movie The Last Samurai, where Ken Watanabe plays Katsumoto, who is in turn based on Saigō Takamori.

The set was probably worn by a member of the Shimazu clan or one of their loyal followers.

Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Bungo takada group daisho blades
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho
Shimazu mon daisho

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