Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Reject Modernity; Embrace Tradition: The Type 95 Shin Gunto

When Japan opened up to the outside world and began to industrialize in the late 1800s, it instituted major military reforms. In place of the samurai tradition, the new Japanese Imperial armed forces emulated the major European powers - France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. One element of this was the replacement of traditional swords with European styles for officers and civil officials.

These swords remained until the mid 1930s, when a wave of nationalist sentiment ran through Japanese society. In 1934, a new model of officer's sword was adopted, which took the style of a traditional katana. A similar (but less fancy) model was adopted in 1935 for non-commissioned officers. These were the Type 34 and Type 35 respectively, and they are some of the most common Japanese swords in the United States, as many were brought back as souvenirs by American soldiers. 

Today we are looking at my Type 95, using Headstamp's upcoming book "Swords of the Emperor" as a guide. 
VIDEO HERE  (13 minutes)


My dad's stepfather who served in the Pacific brought home, among other trophies, a sword very similar to the one in the video with a couple differences.
The length is the same but the sheath isn't metal, it's made from wood and the handle 'wrapping' isn't metal, it's a heavy thread. There may be other differences, but it's been years and years since I've seen it.
Ike passed it on to my father before he died back in 1977 who in turn passed it on before his death to my nephew who he raised as a son.
We were all told it was a Samurai sword, but honestly, I think damned near every sword captured during the war was described as a Samurai sword.


  1. Very interesting, Ian as always is very informative.

  2. Long time reader, first comment. My understanding that a very few Sumarai swords were passed down within the family because of a well known maker. For the war the sword may have been altered To be regulation for the military standard. If anyone finds one they are extremely valuable

    1. Thank you. I pretty much figured it wasn't a Samurai sword, but the wooden sheath (plain, by the way, no carvings on it) threw me off.
      Please comment more often, I enjoy hearing from people like you that adds to the conversation.

  3. The key to genuine katana is the differential hardening of the steel which can be seen as an hamon at the edge.

      Hamon at 22:00

  4. Back around 1980, I had a friend in college who was from Thailand. He told me this story about his dad--

    During WWII, his dad was conscripted by the Japanese as a driver, and at one point was assigned to a young Japanese Army lieutenant who was from a powerful family in Japan. The two of them were traveling down a narrow road when they rounded a corner and saw a convoy of Japanese vehicles headed towards them in the opposite direction. Somebody was going to have to pull over. The dad was getting nervous as they got closer, but the young officer impatiently motioned to keep driving. Just before they were about to collide head-on, the officer took his sword by the scabbard and stuck it out the passenger window, raising the handle in the air so it could be seen. Every vehicle in the convoy instantly pulled off the road as soon as they recognized the markings on the handle.

  5. I have seen 'gunto' as shown in the video at local gun shows here going for maybe $900. As the video goes, they were made for utility, not for beauty or ascetics. My late father in-law a NCO in the Imperial Army was from his photographs, issued one. I have also seen a few katana which have been utterly ruined by someone doing a DIY job of sharpening one. Katanas of value need to be professionally sharpened by what is called a 'Togishi' or sword sharpener. Not surprisingly, there are Americans (among others) who have gone to Japan, apprenticed themselves to a 'Togish'i master, learned the trade and returned here. Also owning a katana of any sort requires periodic blade maintenance, otherwise the surface will deteriorate. and last, keep fingers etc., off the blade. The skin oils will also compromise the blade surface.

  6. WW2 era bring backs can be classified in three general ways. Machine made non com swords, usually with a cast metal handle and metal saya and stamped serial numbers, officers swords made in a semi-production method with various levels of hand work, and old family swords re mounted for military use. There were some swords made during the Showa (WW2) era in completely traditional way. Blades made at the Yasakuni Shine would be an example.

  7. "Gunto" is the style of mounting and the (usually Army) color and hilt style.
    The non-com swords were, as stated, factory made, single steel, non-differentially hardened, and cheaply made.
    Officers' swords were of three general types: better new factory made blades, usually with a straight temper line; newly made blades by known swordsmiths, with proper differential hardening and a more complex temper line, which (usually) had chisel-engraved signatures with dates (stated in Imperial years, as is traditional) often with other information added. I have seen such a sword which had the characters for "nanban tetsu" (foreign steel, meaning made from the rails of the Manchurian Railroad) carved into the hilt of the blade, as well as the date and the smiths' name; and most rare, the ancient swords which had been remounted into Gunto-style mountings, the mounts altered to match the curvature of the older swords. These would be known by their signatures.
    The smooth wooden sheaths are known as shira-sayas, "resting sheaths" which were used for storage of blades, generally for good ones. In Japanese formal (pre-Meji) use, a samurai might have several sheath sets for a single sword, for more or less formal occasions, etc.
    There are many good books on Japanese Swords, and in most of the larger US, and in some European cities, there are chapters of the Japanese Sword Society, who might be contacted for information.
    John in Indy

  8. I've had the experience of handling one genuine Samurai sword. My late wife was half Japanese and her father had the blade of the family sword. Just the blade. In her fathers family the three brothers broke up the sword; the blade, the scabbard, the tsuba, or sword guard. The very interesting thing about that blade was that it was made for man six feet tall, as am I and as was my father in law and apparently all the men in his family.
    My father in law did serve during WWII, but he didn't bring the sword with him. Sergeants in the US Army don't wear swords. But he came very close to having the opportunity to carry a sword into battle. He went to school in Japan before the war and only returned when his father telegraphed him to get on the next ship home. He told me that his best friend from their village in Maui planned to return in the next ship after his. But there was no next ship and that boy was inducted into the Japanese army. He never saw him again.
    My father in law's family name was Inada.


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