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Sword Blade thumbnail 2
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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Japan, Room 45, The Toshiba Gallery

Sword Blade

ca. 1400 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

This is a cord-wrapped slung sword (Ito-maki-no tachi); a tachi is a sword with a blade length normally longer than 60 centimetres and is worn with the cutting edge down. The scabbard of this example is decorated in lacquer of the type known as nashiji (pear-skin). It is decorated with arabesque scrolling and the paulownia leaf crest, the paulownia plant being associated with the ruling Tokugawa shoguns of the Edo period (1600-1868). The metal fittings are all from the Goto School and are made of shakudō (an alloy of gold and copper patinated to a rich black colour) inlaid with gold. The section of the scabbard near the suspension cords is wrapped with silk brocades to prevent abrasion of the expensive lacquer when the sword is worn with full armour. This style of slung sword mounting, with decoration of family badges, was worn only by senior samurai. This example was probably assembled around 1750-1800.

The tachi blade is signed ‘Bishu Osafune Morimitsu’ and dates to around 1420. This is an excellent example of a blade of this period from Bizen province. There is fine and elegant graining along the blade, which comes from the process of folding the steel during the manufacture of the blade. The tempered edge of the blade, which has been heavily shortened (perhaps by as much as 10 centimetres), has a strong undulating wavy pattern of clove flowers (gunome choji-hamon).

The sword came from the collection of Sir Claude MacDonald, who was the first fully accredited British ambassador to Japan from 1905 to 1912. He had a particular interest in swords. According to V&A records, this blade was given to him by ‘Prince Katsura’. Sir Claude’s widow, Lady Ethel MacDonald, later gave the V&A four splendid swords. (see references for another example).

Object details

Category
Object type
Materials and techniques
Forged steel
Brief description
Japanese tachi sword blade signed Morimitsu, 14th century.
Physical description
Ito maki no tachi with a heavily shortened blade (perhaps as much as 10cm) signed by Morimitsu of Bizen province.
Stand: of kokutam wood with gold lacquering band imitating metal mounts; it consists of an oblong base, with ogival sides, and a curved crutch-shaped upright; 17.75" x 13.25", H 28.25"
Dimensions
  • Length: 75cm
Style
Marks and inscriptions
'Bishu Osafune Morimitsu' (Signature; Japanese; outer face (omote) of the blade; engraving (incising))
Translation
Morimitsu of Osafune in Bizen
Gallery label
  • Long sword (tachi) with scabbard in wrapped cord (ito-maki) style Blade about 1420; scabbard and fittings 1750–1800 Long tachi swords with deeply curved blades were used principally when fighting from horseback. They were worn with the cutting edge facing downwards. The flat silk cord that is wrapped around part of the scabbard prevented abrasion of the lacquer surface when the sword was worn with armour. This blade has been slightly shortened, possibly when it was remounted in the 18th century. Blade signed ‘Morimitsu of Osafune in Bizen’ Steel blade; lacquered wood scabbard; patinated copper alloy fittings with gold inlay Gift of Ethel, Lady MacDonald Museum no. M.139-1929 (04/11/2015)
  • Ito-maki-no tachi scabbard decorated in gold nashiji lacquer with kiri-mon and karakusa scrolling. The metal fittings are all by the Goto school and are of shakudo inlaid with gold. The section of the scabbard near the suspension cords is wrapped with silk brocades to prevent the expensive lacquer from being abrade when the sword is worn with full armour. This mounting, for a fourteenth century sword, was probably assembled around 1850.(September 2001)
Credit line
Given by Lady Ethel MacDonald
Summary
This is a cord-wrapped slung sword (Ito-maki-no tachi); a tachi is a sword with a blade length normally longer than 60 centimetres and is worn with the cutting edge down. The scabbard of this example is decorated in lacquer of the type known as nashiji (pear-skin). It is decorated with arabesque scrolling and the paulownia leaf crest, the paulownia plant being associated with the ruling Tokugawa shoguns of the Edo period (1600-1868). The metal fittings are all from the Goto School and are made of shakudō (an alloy of gold and copper patinated to a rich black colour) inlaid with gold. The section of the scabbard near the suspension cords is wrapped with silk brocades to prevent abrasion of the expensive lacquer when the sword is worn with full armour. This style of slung sword mounting, with decoration of family badges, was worn only by senior samurai. This example was probably assembled around 1750-1800.

The tachi blade is signed ‘Bishu Osafune Morimitsu’ and dates to around 1420. This is an excellent example of a blade of this period from Bizen province. There is fine and elegant graining along the blade, which comes from the process of folding the steel during the manufacture of the blade. The tempered edge of the blade, which has been heavily shortened (perhaps by as much as 10 centimetres), has a strong undulating wavy pattern of clove flowers (gunome choji-hamon).

The sword came from the collection of Sir Claude MacDonald, who was the first fully accredited British ambassador to Japan from 1905 to 1912. He had a particular interest in swords. According to V&A records, this blade was given to him by ‘Prince Katsura’. Sir Claude’s widow, Lady Ethel MacDonald, later gave the V&A four splendid swords. (see references for another example).

Bibliographic reference
According to V&A records, this blade was given to Sir Claude MacDonald, who was the first fully accredited British ambassador to Japan from 1905 to 1912, by ‘Prince Katsura’. Sir Claude’s widow, Lady Ethel MacDonald, later gave the V&A four splendid swords, including this example. http://web.archive.org/web/20230213143203/http://www.sho-shin.com/oei.htm
Collection
Accession number
M.139:1-1929

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Record createdNovember 29, 2002
Record URL
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