Grandpa's old Japanese sword


January 8, 2008, 11:37 PM
My grandfather passed away a couple weeks ago.
After the funeral my aunt gave my sister a short sword that he brought back with him from Japan in '45. We don't know much about it besides that. Any info would be appreciated. We were especially curious about the little metal thing in the handle.

edit-I must be doing something wrong with the photos. I'll try to figure it out tomorrow.

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January 9, 2008, 03:36 AM
email me the photo and I'll host it for you (remove the second @)

January 9, 2008, 04:42 PM
Supported image types ( for attachments are smallish (244 KB) jpg, gif, jpeg, pdf, psd files.

Sounds like you probably have a wakizashi.

January 9, 2008, 11:12 PM
Got the photos to work! I'm not sure what was wrong; I just deleted them and re-loaded them.

I did a photo search today on google for "Japanese swords" and the name "Wakizashi" did come up with the photos that looked the closest to what we have. I was a little surprised at the prices even for reproductions.

Also; this one is not in the best shape. Any idea of someone who restores old swords? We're not worried too much about value, because we have no plans for it to ever leave the family, but it is kind of falling apart.
My mom told me he had a much longer one he also brought back, but it was stolen out of their house back in the 50's.:mad:

January 9, 2008, 11:23 PM
"restore" often results in a lowered value.
unless you are planning to play with it every so often, leave it alone in a protective sack (gun sock will do), and in the safe with dessicant.

however, if you do want to play with it - and that's proper too - then you might do better on one of the japanese nippon sword forums.

January 10, 2008, 03:03 AM
Fatelk, do not attempt to clean or remove rust from the blade- it will make it much harder or impossible for a restorer to polish it. A light coat of oil will be fine. You have an old (pre 1900) wakizashi or large tanto. A good site for info is Richard Steins "Japanese Sword Index." A good basic book is John Yamato's "The Samurai Sword". Be very careful who you give the sword to for restoration, the world of Japanese Sword Collectors weirder than the gun world, believe it or not!
PM me if you want more info, my father brought one of these back from the Pacific and it has led me on a long journey.

January 10, 2008, 03:06 AM
That is a very nice wakizashi, Fatelk.

"restore" often results in a lowered value.
unless you are planning to play with it every so often, leave it alone in a protective sack (gun sock will do), and in the safe with dessicant.

however, if you do want to play with it - and that's proper too - then you might do better on one of the japanese nippon sword forums.

This is false.

One quick warning though, polishing an old sword like this will cost nearly $1,000.

However, letting it rust away would be a crime.

You can venture on over to , and they can really help you out.

January 10, 2008, 03:37 AM
Take it to someone who knows what it'd be worth and then decide what you want to do :D

January 10, 2008, 03:46 AM
Judging from the wrap, the fittings, and the hi this appears to be a very nice sword.

January 10, 2008, 05:43 AM
hum, what family uses koi as an emblem?

If you remove the one peg you see above the fish, the handle slides off; check for caricatures on the tang, mouth of the scabbard, and everywhere you can :P be neat to find out whose sword you have

if you store the sword, store it blade up

50 Shooter
January 10, 2008, 03:57 PM
I found an old knife magazine the other day and found an article that I've been looking for. Check out try contacting them as Michael Bell is a master when it comes to Japanese sword making and restoring.

January 10, 2008, 04:13 PM
We were especially curious about the little metal thing in the handle.

do a google search for 'menuki'

antique wakizashis range in price from about $75 to $100k+ with most "very nice" ones being somewhere in the $300-700 range. You can buy them on ebay and other sites like that all day long. if that is a double-bohi in the picture, I'd say that's a little unusual.

January 10, 2008, 05:44 PM
First off, DONT do anything to clean or polish any part of the sword or fittings. This may damage & devalue the sword.

Your sword appears to be a pre-War Japanese Wakisashi. Japan did not generally issue this length sword during WWII, but naval pilots did prefer shorter swords because they fit into the cockpit easier. A wakisashi is the shorter of the 2 swords carried by Samurai along with the katana. This was meant to be carried on the body when at home or indoors as a self-defense weapon. This was also the sword used for ritual suicide as well as for removal of heads from vanquished enemies.

Your sword appears to have been reset into it's current fittings late in WWII when the Japanese were poor & losing. This explains the sparse use of Same rayskin so that the wood of the grip is visible thru the wrapping. This may also explain why there is no Kashira (buttcap) or Tsuba (swordguard).

The Menuki under the wrapping is meant to give a better grip for fingers as well as provide proper reference for positioning the hand. The designs are quite 'generic' based on owner's personal likes and dislikes, there is no correlation with design to family crests.

The double bloodgroove (bohi) filled in red lacquer is very nice, this can indiate that it is a cut-down longsword or naganata.

If you push out the bamboo plug, the grip should slide right off. Look at the tang to see if there are any visible charachters or markings and photograph this (do not clean this area as tis is the area used by experts to establish authenticity). A 'trick' used to make charachters visible for photography is to fill-in the area with talcum powder.

The costs to properly polish ~ $60+ per inch plus the cost of new fittings (at least another $500-1000).

You should visit and visit the Japanese sword forum for more info. You should NEVER send your sword to anyone until you have established and verified that the person is a legitimate appraiser or restorer.

January 11, 2008, 01:21 AM
OK, hold on. You all are kind of freaking me out here. Nobody in my family, including my grandfather, thought this old thing would be worth more than a couple hundred dollars. The thought of spending $1000 to have it polished is way beyond anything anyone in my family would even consider. We're working people and farmers.

At the same time, talk of numbers like $75-$100K make me think it should not be in my safe at all. I plan on calling my folks in the morning and letting them know this thing perhaps needs to be professionally appraised. I'm starting to be afraid to even touch it.:what:

January 11, 2008, 01:40 AM
I've seen those swords go for some big bucks.

Now quit using it to cut weeds!!! LOL.

January 11, 2008, 01:54 AM

Touch it, just wipe all fingerprints off of it afterwards. Most likely your sword is not worth that high a price range. Most swords will go for $750-2500 range in that condition. I doubt your grandpa picked-up a Japanese National Treasure (any National Treasure sword would have been a lucky battlefield pick-up, not a souvenier bought in Japan).

For now, try to take the handle off the blade and photograph any charachters and file marks it may have on the tang. Also take pictures of the point and blade including any imperfections you may see. Post those pictures on the Japanese sword discussion area at for free and expert analysis of your sword.

January 11, 2008, 02:14 AM
More photos. Thanks, CWL, I'm definitely less worried now. I expected this to be something rather common, and as a family heirloom I think it's actually better if it's not some kind of super valuable thing.

Byron Quick
January 11, 2008, 07:24 AM
I have a katana that was actually used to cut weeds by the veteran who brought it back from Japan. Chipped up the edge too. I offered him a couple of hundred bucks twenty years ago and he accepted.

I've had it polished, reproduction fittings and furniture (except the tsuba), and appraised. I've about $1700 in the sword, total. It was appraised as being worth between $3500 and $4500.

With real fittings and furniture in good conditon, it would be worth a good bit more.

What CWL said. Except for the National Treasure part. Supposedly, the Japanese, bless their literal minded souls, placed about a dozen or so National Treasure blades in the collection barrels after the confiscation order. These collected blades were given to GI's. No one knows who got the very valuable ones or where they are at.

January 11, 2008, 11:30 AM
Call Tony Marfone at Microtech knives. He used to restore Japanese swords and may still. Restoration charges are by the inch.

January 11, 2008, 04:49 PM
talk of numbers like $75-$100K

just so we're clear, I did mean $75, not $75k there.

January 12, 2008, 12:49 AM
Taliv, thanks for clarifying. I felt like a complete dunce after posting my rather incredulous post, when I re-read yours. I had been up for way too long after a tough day at work, and should have been fast asleep instead of typing, or misreading astromical numbers!:o

The thought of spending $1000 to have it polished rather freaked me out, too. No going to happen in my family. I think the plan will be to just find out what info we can about it and carefully preserve it as it is for now.

Byron Quick
January 12, 2008, 03:20 AM
The thought of spending $1000 to have it polished rather freaked me out, too.

Seems that would depend on several factors. Now, if I had had my sword appraised and had been told that it was worth $20,000 in full polish...I would have scrimped and scraped for a year or so to raise the $2000 to get a fully trained master polisher to do the job. And then sold that windfall. I wouldn't have the cash to get such a polish done if I wanted to keep the blade

I could barely justify the polish, reproduction fittings, and reproduction furniture on my $3k to $4k blade and that took me about a year to get the money together. But then it took them about a year to do the work, too.

To get a handle on the cost of polishing, Japanese water stones are used. These stones are themselves very costly. The blade is polished completely with successively finer stones. All the work is done by hand

Do a bit of research about preserving the blade. Don't use synthetic oils on the steel. Clove oil is best. NEVER try to clean any portion of the blade, hilt, fittings, or furniture yourself...the red, brown, or black patina on the hilt of the blade is supposed to be there and the value of the blade will be completely destroyed if it is removed.

Looked at an old blade once in Japanese Imperial Navy WWII fittings. Given the compostion of naval officers in WWII, there is about an 80% chance of that blade being an old, valuable blace. I removed the handle, the tsuka, and gawked at the blade. Someone had take sandpaper and totally removed the patina from the hilt.

They didn't believe me when I told them they had destroyed the value of the blade and that I would give them $50 bucks for it and was probably wasting my money. Thought I was trying to cheat them. Left it there.

January 12, 2008, 04:21 AM
Byron is right on with all he's said. Whatever you do, DON'T try to restore the blade yourself. You do have a wakizashi and it may very well be a cut down katana or naginata. It will be worth more if you don't try and restore it yourself.

Now, regarding the blade. Your blade is most likely folded. That makes it pre-WWII. Most blades made during WWII were not folded and made in what the Japanese called "rust proofed steel" (stainless?) so that it could be better suited for marine applications as well as on land. Also, few soldiers themselves carried swords. The closest thing they got was a bayonet. Officers carried swords.

Unfortunately, your blade looks like its been neglected for a long time. The second set of photos shows that rust has been allowed to eat away at the outer layers or the skin of the blade. Depending on how deep this rust runs, it could be very detrimental to your blade and your bank account.

The way katanas and japanese blades are restored and sharpened are through a complete work through on stones. The entire blade is polished on several different stones by hand, descending in coarseness. The final stone(s) provide a powder finish, not mirror mind you, and gives the blade its look and hones the edge. If the edge becomes dull, the entire process is repeated, not just the edge being sharpened.

With the rust on the blade, if it is deep, a master polisher may decide that he will not be able to restore the blade. Restoring the blade also means bringing it back to functioning state as well as cosmetically. If he has to take off too much of the blade's skin to eliminate the rust, it will be considerably weakened and thus its value will be lost too.

It could cost a couple thousand or tens of thousands depending on the amount of work to be done. I've got two katanas myself, one from the Shinto period (unsigned) and a new one, shingen as its called, for my martial arts practice. The antique cost me roughly $2700 in restorations and was appraised last year (july 07) at just over $7500. My practice/combat katana is made by Last Legend. That cost me just over $1000 altogether.

You've got a treasure, regardless of the value. It has a great deal of history behind it and must be treated as such. Personally, I'd come up with the money to have it restored if possible even if you don't sell it. It'll just be that much more of an heirloom to pass onto the kids/grandkids etc.


January 13, 2008, 12:49 AM
Thank you all for the help and info. At this point in time, it will be carefully stored away so it is not damaged further. It now actually belongs to my little sister, who is a college student on the other side of the country. She left it here for safe keeping. I really don't see anyone in my family spending the money to restore it, as it will never be sold.

At least this sword didn't get "sporterized" like the Arisaka he brought back.

Thanks again for all the info. It has been appreciated.:)

Byron Quick
January 14, 2008, 05:16 AM
The rust doesn't look like it's very deep. There are a couple of flaws in the blade that appear to have been there since it was first made. Such flaws affect the value of the blade but the smith who produced, the polisher who first polished, the craftsmen who produced the hilt, scabbard, and fittings all judged that the flaws did not weaken the blade's functionality.

You can get a Japanese sword cleaning kit for about twenty or thirty dollars or so. With instructions. It won't get rid of the rust. It'll just clean the blade of gunk. The clove oil will keep the blade from rusting further.

Maybe you simply don't have the resources to restore the blade. No problem, plenty of people don't. However, the equipment to give the proper care to prevent further deterioration costs little.

Officers carried swords

Officers who were samurai families carried heirloom blades in Imperial military fittings. NCO's also carried the mass produced swords, many of which had serial numbers stamped into the blade and cast metal handles that somewhat resembled the silk wrapping over menuki and rayskin of the officer's blades. The partial rayskin wrap is also found on very old swords. It's been done for centuries. Replacing hilts, scabbards, fittings, and polishing have always been expensive. Not all samurai could afford to have the entire thing done as it should be. Heck, many samurai couldn't even feed their families on their income as a samurai after the Tokugawa Shogunate imposed peace shut down internecine warfare. Many of them during the latter 17th century, and the 18th and 19th centuries were farmers from day to day. The daimyo didn't pay samurai that well when no battles were in sight. From 1620 to 1868, no battles were in sight.

January 14, 2008, 02:09 PM
Fred Lohmans is a reputable company in Oregon that sells sword parts and restores swords, a basic package will set you back ~$2000. Perhaps you can pay them a visit if you are nearby Portland.

Unfortunately, the blade has delaminated, which is something that significantly devalues a sword.

Something very interesting about the tang, I'm no expert, but this may be a cut-down sword. The tang appears very new and has two "nicks" or chips along the edge-side of the tang. Chips would not come from traditional forging of folded blades. I can't tell clearly from the photos, but these may have been caused from battle damage, either from edge-v-edge contact, or from hitting armor. If the original sword's edge was chipped in this manner, it may have destroyed the integrity of the blade to the point where salvage was the only option.

Interesting stuff!

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