Japanese Military Swords (Shin-gunto, etc.)

            I have only one sword, a very well-worn NCO sword I bought from a walk-up at the first show where I displayed my handguns in April, 2004. Using the terminology of the Dawson book (see below), it is an galuminum-handled variation #1h, covered on pp. 56-59 and 64-65. This sword is the shin-gunto style. Shin-gunto means gnew military swordh. Prior to 1934 the Japanese military used Western-style swords. Then rising nationalism made them revert to a more traditionally Japanese style of sword, the shin-gunto, whose appearance is reminiscent of the samuraifs tachi, or slung sword. Those used by officers had blades ranging from cheap, mass-produced ones through hand-forged modern blades to priceless ancient samurai family blades that were simply outfitted with the new regulation mounts. The NCO swords, of course, used cheap, mass-produced blades. The Japanese for NCO is kashi.


Here is the right side of it in the scabbard (saya). The scabbard tip (drag or chape in English sword terminology), is called the ishizuke in Japanese.


Here is the left side in the scabbard (saya). The suspension mount band on the saya is called the ashi, and the hanging ring is the obi-tori.


            This photo shows the right side unsheathed. The blade is heavily pitted, especially the last 16 inches, but it is pretty straight. I wonder whether the corrosion is from moisture gathering in the bottom of the scabbard. Of course, blood is also quite corrosive. The blade is about 27.5 inches (70cm) from tip to guard and the whole sword measures 36.25 inches (92cm) from tip to pommel when unsheathed, and 38 inches (96.5cm) when sheathed. The scabbard was originally painted olive drab, but you have to look hard to find the few traces of original paint left. There are also several minor dents, but the sword still goes in and out easily.


Here is the left side unsheathed. The left side of the scabbard, which would be worn against the body, has more dents in it.


            This close-up shows the right side of the grip/hilt (tsuka). An officerfs sword had a grip covered in ray skin (same) with brass ornaments (menuki) and cloth binding (tsuka-ito). This NCO (non-commissioned officer) sword hilt was cast of aluminum and then painted to look like it had all these expensive features. A bamboo peg called a mekugi held an officerfs sword together. This NCO sword is more simply held together with a screw. The menuki, or ornament, is molded into the metal just to the left of the screw (the thing with flowers on it). The ring at the far left is called a sarute (knot loop). Decorative knots were attached here. Senior officers got fancier knots. The pommel (cover protecting the end of the hilt at the far left) is the kabuto-gane. The brass guard is referred to as the tsuba. The strip of metal between the grip and the guard is the fuchi and has some markings on it that are explained below. Apparently this is called a ferrule in English, though I have never heard this word before, not being a sword person. There is a little strip of metal that is attached to the top of the grip just above and to the right of the screw and can just barely be seen protruding slightly from the right of the guard. This is the scabbard release. Pushing down on the part that sticks out on the blade side (right) of the guard releases the sword so it can be withdrawn from the scabbard (see close-up photo of the guard/tsuba below).


The left side of the grip/tsuka. The menuki (ornament) is molded in further back on this side.


            The markings on the fuchi include a Tokyo/Kokura arsenal gfour cannonballsh mark on the far right and the character To (as in Tokyo) in the middle. These swords were apparently made by many subcontractors, so the one on the far left may be a company mark. It is exactly the same as the one in the Dawson book (Plate 1-87, p. 59).


            The serial number on the sword blade is also close to the one in Plate 1-87, p. 59, in the Dawson book. The character off to the right is again the To (as in Tokyo) inspection mark.


There is a serial number on the scabbard, but it does not match the sword (sword 34858, scabbard 45201).


            This close-up shows the tsuba, or guard. The little catch sticking through the square hole just above the blade is the scabbard release. There is an oval-shaped washer/spacer on either side of the guard that the blade goes through. They are called seppa.


This view shows the scabbard being retained by the catch.


This was obviously a gworking swordh, not a ceremonial piece. The last 18h have a lot of pitting, more nearer the tip.


Near the tip there are very deep pits. A friend who is more knowledgeable about swords told me this type of corrosion is most typically caused by blood.


The left side isnft quite as bad as the right.


            I will add some more detailed photos to this section as I continue to study this addition to my collection.


Sword Books    

            I have found two good books on Japanese military swords (as opposed to the prohibitively expensive samurai era swords). The one on the left, Military Swords of Japan 1868-1945 by Richard Fuller and Ron Gregory, is older and seems to be a classic. It is long since out if print, but pops up on eBay sometimes. It has a very useful diagram on page 10 explaining the Japanese terms for the parts of a sword. The one shown here was from our local library, but I have since bought a copy on eBay. The book on the right, Swords of Imperial Japan 1868-1945 by Jim Dawson, is newer and, to me, better at helping one to figure out exactly what one is looking at because it takes a very systematic approach and names each variation so collectors can have a common terminology to refer to their specimens. I ordered it directly from the publisherfs website: Link to publisher of sword book. It is also available from a specialist in books on edged weapons: Quality Blade Books. They have the Hewitt book on Japanese Military Equipment and the King book on Sake Cups, too.




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Last updated: September 3, 2005. All contents are copyright Teri unless otherwise specified and may not be used elsewhere in any form without prior permission.