Cutting Edge Issue 2 - Page 49

KOSHIRAE: THE FURNITURE OF A JAPANESE SWORD Daisho Koshirae During the Edo period, it became mandatory and the badge of rank, for the samurai to wear two swords, one long one and one short. These are called Daisho (a contraction of Daitolong sword and Shoto-short sword). The daisho koshirae has both swords mounted in complimentary koshirae. Most often the daisho comprises of a katana and a wakizashi. These may be in the manner of either the katana koshirae or han-dachi koshirae mentioned above. Rarely, instead of the wakizashi (or companion sword) the shorter sword may be a tanto or dagger. This is said to be an indication that the pair were owned by a samurai of Hatamoto rank (direct vassal to the shogun) It is said that the long sword was there to defend and fight for the reputation and name of the clan or feudal lord, whilst the short sword was to defend one’s own honour and used for seppuku (hara-kiri) if necessary. Whatever the truth of this, it is certain that when fighting in a confined area or indoors, it was more convenient to use a wakizashi than a long katana. Top is a conventional daisho, whilst the bottom is with a tanto, this is a daisho of the Oda family who were Hatamoto These are from left to right, aikuchi, hamadashi and regular tanto koshirae with a full tsuba Tanto Koshirae Amongst the tanto or dagger koshirae, may be found some of the highest quality workmanship. This may be due to the fact that many of the Edo period artists in metalwork, were patronised by the rich merchant class, who were allowed to own tanto but not long swords. Many have fittings fashioned out of gold, silver and other soft metals, with designs that are unbelievable in their detail and quality. The blades may vary greatly in both age and quality, but tanto are generally rated in the market place, at higher prices than wakizashi. There are several styles of tanto koshirae including one that follows that of the katana koshirae. In other words, it is complete with a tsuba and fuchi-kashira and a wrapped hilt, in fact identical to a katana or wakizashi, but on a smaller scale. The ko-gatana and kogai may also be found on some tanto koshirae. Often the lacquer work and other decorative pieces are both ornate and beautifully executed works of art. The presence and the style of the tsuba are the defining points in the naming of tanto koshirae. A tanto that completely lacks a tsuba and so the handle is a flush fit into the top of the scabbard, is know as an Aikuchi (close-fitting mouth) koshirae. Sometimes the handle of an aikuchi has no thread wrapping at all and instead it has the samé (ray-skin) completely exposed. Originally it is thought that such tanto were designed for wearing with armour, where they could not be easily caught up in the armour lacing. In such cases only a pair of menuki will grace the samé and these would often be in the form of the clan mon or heraldic devise. As they were worn in the centre of the sash it was quite easy for a proud Edo period samurai, to show and boast of his clan affiliation, by clearly showing the Mon on his tanto’s handle. One further style was known as the hamidashi tanto. In some ways I suppose it comes mid-way between the ordinary tanto (with tsuba) and the aikuchi (with no tsuba). The hamidashi tanto has a small tsuba with most of one side cut away, usually to accommodate the top of the kodzuka. Possibly, in later examples, this was mainly the property of women of the samurai class, and might be kept concealed in the sleeve of her kimono. Many swords of all shapes and sizes were hastily mounted up in the mid 19th century. Often with old unsigned blades, these were often quite well made, but tend to have garish, ornate lacquer scabbards depicting dragons and the like, in CUTTING EDGE | 47