I've got a couple of queries...

Firstly, Showa stamps.

I have read two different explanations of what these were used for.

Either: Swords with a Showa stamp were swords that in some way weren't traditionally made.

Or: The Showa stamp was used to distinguish swords sold off the peg through the Kaikosha (army officers club).

The other problem I have is:

Yasuki hagane: Apparently tamahagane (the traditional steel used for making nihonto) sometimes came from Yasuki.

But: Some sources say that Yasuki hagane was used experimentally by the Ministry of Imperial Army of Japan in the production of high end gunto.

Can someone help me with these contradictions?

The reason I ask is because I am trying to find out about a katana I bought recently.

It is signed: wo motte Yasuki hagane Kanemichi saku -- made by Kanemichi using Yasuki steel

It is in shin-gunto koshirae, apparently made for a lieutenant colonel who was a member of the tokugawa clan - looking at the menuki. Do you know who this officer was?

Another question I have: Which Kanemichi was this? It might be Kojima Kanemichi but I think there was another one during this era.

Thank you for your help!

Happy thoughts!


Kojima Kanemichi

Hi Alex,

I heard the same explanations in regards to Showa stamps and I don't know which one is correct (or both). You may ask this question on Nihonto Message Board: Military Swords of Japan

As for Yasuki steel and Kanemichi, Kojima Kanemichi used the signature you mentioned (motte Yasuki hagane Kanemichi saku), as per [1]. So I think you should compare your sword with the oshigata of Kojima Kanemichi.

Personally I don't know much about Yasuki steel used in WWII times, so unfortunately I can't offer any help here.



Showa stamps

As you can imagine, the issue of Showa, Seki, and similar stamps has been discussed at length for decades. The conventional wisdom as of 20 years ago (when I was more active in collecting) was that blades with these stamps passed through a military logistics process of some sort. This means that they were not made for traditional private sale, but rather the smiths were "told" to make them, and/or the smiths chose to make and sell them to the government. The important evidence is that virtually every stamped blade is lower-teir quality compared to other blades. They usually show clear evidence of "shortcuts", such as oil quenching and an unrefined overall shape, along with a poor-quality polish. Soldiers that needed a new blade and could afford it would buy a blade from a smith directly, hence no stamps (and much better quality). The high standard for WWII-vintage blades is probably those made at Yasukuni Jinja.
Meanwhile, you mentioned the blade being owned by a Lt. Colonel belonging to the Tokugawa clan. Why do you think so? You mentioned the menuki - does it have a design featuring the Aoi kamon? This does not (by itself) say anything about who owned it. Two facts: An owner could generally put any design on it that they liked; the correlation between kamon design and family names is extremely loose.

Showa stamps - more info about my sword.

Dear Pete,

The menuki on my sword (one on each side of the tsuka) are of the Mon of the Tokugawa family. Wikipedia says that this crest was legally protected from improper use. Although sometimes people outside a family could use these, I understand that this only happened when they had been authorised by a clan. Perhaps the original owner of my sword supported the return of the Tokugawa shogunate? Even if this were the case, I would be surprised that they would be allowed to go so far as to emblazon their sword with the Tokugawa Mon. Also, someone doing this would surely be risking the opprobrium of the Emperor. These are reasons that combine to back up my thought that the owner was a member of the Tokugawa clan. But thank you for the new information! Perhaps the owner was just some bloke - it ties in with the showa stamp - after all, an aristocrat who was also a quite high-ranking officer would surely have been able to afford a better sword!

The reason I assert that the original owner was a Lt Colonel?

  • Japanese Swords Ltd state on a receipt that the previous owner received for re-wrapping the tsuka-ito that the sword was issued to a Lt Colonel. I have no other evidence.

Also I was sold the sword as being hand-made. It does have a hamon and I think I can make out a hada - a very fine grain - neither are fancy in any respect. The hamon is a plain straight example.

I'm thinking of getting the blade polished but this will cost as much to get done as the sword cost me in the first place.

I would ask: would it be better to save the money and buy a better sword rather than throw good money after bad and get this thing polished?

Thank you for your help and advice.


no polish

It's unlikely (based on what little I know of your particular blade) that a polish is justified.
Witness: Last I heard, it is not even possible to import a Showa or Seki stamped blade into Japan, because it is a "weapon", not "art". It would be stopped at Customs.
You could have it polished outside of Japan, but there are only a couple of folks that are qualified, and quite possibly they wouldn't touch a stamped blade either.
To justify polishing any blade, you should be quite sure that the blade is of good fundamental quality.

Polishing bothers

Thank you for your reply, Pete!

I recently wrote a letter to a polisher who works in England. He said that he would need to see the sword to say whether it would be worth polishing.
He also said "don't worry too much about the Showa stamp." and that from my description the sword would be worth polishing.

What am I supposed to think? Some people say swords with a stamp on are rubbish compared to a properly made one - while others say that these stamps have little bearing on whether the sword is worthy of being called 'art'!

I don't know enough about nihonto to determine for myself whether my sword (My first katana) is any good or not.

Pete - can you give me any advice about how to examine my sword - for example could you tell me what characteristics my blade should have if it is properly made?

You see I need to outlay a fair bit of wonga just to get the sword to Tony Norman (the polisher) - it weighs a lot and also I will need to insure it. Then I will have to pay for return postage too. So even if it isn't worth a polish, I'll end up spending maybe £50 for nothing.

thank you for your advice and time.

Regardless of whether my sword is rubbish, I find the whole area of nihonto to be fascinating - so thanks for all the yummy information!

Happy thoughts!


polishing thoughts

A couple of thoughts.
The most important thing to consider is "why do you want to polish it?". Some possible reasons:
1) You want to put it in good condition so that you can clearly see and study the subtle details of the forging and the hamon. This is a great reason, but it assumes that there is something to see that is worth the expense. If the blade is oil-quenched, or simply not forged very well, you will spend a lot of money and be disappointed. If your blade is WWII vintage, these are BIG concerns.
2) You want to increase its value for re-sale. With almost all WWII blades (except the best, like Yasukuni blades), the investment is probably not worth it.
3) You want to "restore and preserve" it for future generations. A very worthy goal, but you can simply preserve it as-is. Polishing it has costs: metal must be removed, and a fresh polish is very susceptible to rust and other damage.
Another angle: If a self-trained polisher says "don't worry about the stamp", I would be very suspicious. Try to find a quality blade, with a fresh and Quality polish, AND a Showa or Seki stamp. I'm sure there's something out there that meets this description, but it's going to be very rare (I've never seen one, although I haven't really looked). The closest thing you are likely to find is a lower-quality blade with an 'amateur' polish, and the owner probably uses it for kenjutsu practice.
So, what you really should do is this: Make contact with some experienced Nihonto collectors. Join the local club (Tokenkai). Chat with them, show them your blade, look at their blades, ask questions. Some clubs will have a jerk or two that is really just a dealer. But there will also be folks that will sincerely help you learn. There is NO SUBSTITUTE for having someone point out various features (good and bad) of a blade that you are holding in your hand. A little can be done via pictures, but not so much.

50 pounds

BTW, you mentioned possibly spending 50 pounds to send your blade to Mr. Norman, and maybe he wouldn't recommend polishing it... Note that 50 is trivial compared to the cost of a proper polish. I don't know what it costs today, but I have the receipt for a katana polish done about 25 years ago -- $2100. This polish was done in Japan, by a 'recognized' polisher, but not top-teir. The costs include shipping, insurance, the actual polish, a shira-saya (storage scabbard), and a sterling silver habaki. A new polish needs a new saya, because you should never put a freshly polished blade into an old saya.
I'm curious what Mr. Norman charges, and what exactly is included? Does he have samples of his available to examine? These are just rhetorical questions, because (personally) I would never give a blade to a non-traditionally-trained togishi. It would be like buying a piece of pottery from a world-famous artist, then taking it to the local school art teacher to have it glazed and fired. Remember that everything of importance on your blade that is visible (except for the tang and signature) is in the hands of the polisher.
One more thought: If you want to own a blade that is in a good state of polish, buy one that way. You can enjoy it all the more, without the stress, time, and money to polish something that may be a disappointment.
Sorry for rambling - I hope I've talked you out of polishing ;-).

Thank you Pete!

Thank you for your advice!

I will not be getting the blade polished.

Also I live in a little town and can't travel so it looks like I won't be able to meet any experts on nihonto. I will simply appreciate my sword for what it is, whether that is something unrefined and not a true nihonto or it is representative of a very rare sort of Japanese sword - one with a Showa stamp that actually could be called a work of art. I've always wanted what I used to call a Samurai sword and it is my fault that I didn't research the area thoroughly enough to find one that actually would have belonged to a Samurai. Anyone reading this who is considering buying a nihonto for the first time should bear this in mind and not only RESEARCH THOROUGHLY but also be prepared to spend serious money on their first sword. It would be better than spending a fairly large amount on something that the majority of people who know about this sort of thing would turn their noses up at - and rightly so.

Thank you again Pete.


Reply to "50 pounds"

The price I was quoted was about £600 - maybe a little less. The price does not include a new saya or habaki (and my habaki is an uncouth thing!). I think Mr Norman does have some level of proficiency - that is my understanding. I bought my katana from the states and after postage, insurance and customs charges it worked out at a little under £600. So if I were to polish it, it would end up costing as much to polish as it did to buy. Also I could probably have bought a much better blade for the combined costs - although perhaps without koshirae - and be a happier fellow.

Here's to finding a Masamune in a junk shop.

Until then and in the meanwhile I think I'll try to learn some more about nihonto and maybe save up some money.

Thanks again Pete!

Happy thoughts!