Japanese Military Swords
A sword in the Japanese culture is a very important thing, not only from the historical point of view, but also from the spiritual one. Japanese warriors have always used their swords as their partners and not just like a simple weapon.
The Japanese military has extensively used swords especially during the Russo-Japanese war and World War II. The soldiers had different types of swords and it depended on various criteria: the type of the army (whether infantry or naval units), the rank of the officer carrying the sword and, of course, the period.
There were two criteria for classifying military swords in that period. The first criterion was the method of production and the second criterion - classification by the type of military unit the sword was meant for.
Methods of Production of Japanese Military Swords
Before 1945 the distinctive feature of such swords was the metal made tsuka (hilt). The very first sword made with this method had an unpainted copper hilt. The subsequent models had aluminum hilts, which where painted to resemble the original ito (lacing).
After this period the NCO Shin-Gunto swords had a wooden hilt with incised cross-hatching, having a mount made of black painted iron and a brown metal scabbard.
These swords where used by non-commissioned officers. All swords where machine-made and had serial numbers on their blades. These numbers were not serial numbers of the entire sword as issued to each individual soldier; those serial numbers were just manufacturing numbers. If the swords were originals the numbers on the hilt, on the blade and on the scabbard (saya) would match.
Shin-gunto is mainly a mass produced sword, though one made for army officers. These swords were reproductions of traditionally made Japanese swords. They also had a reddish brown lacing on their hilts and a brass mounting on the scabbard and on the hilt.
During the war period there were also hand made swords, though which didn't correspond to the traditional Japanese method. Such swords were called Showato, Muratato, Mantetsuto, Hantanzo or Yotetsuto and these names depicted the method of their production. There were also such swords as Gendaito and Kindaito, which were swords manufactured according to the traditional methods.
Many swordsmiths of those times have stamped their logos on the tangs of the swords so that the officers could prove the originality and the fact that they possess a hand-made sword. Many swords of that era also had various logos on their scabbards. These logos were not necessarily the emblems of the manufacturer, as they may also have been the logos of the shops selling the swords.
In the late 1944 there appeared another type of Shin-gunto mounts, which were called "Marine Mounts". This title is often used mistakenly. Such mounts could be found either with machine made blades or with Gentaido traditionally hand-made blades. These "Marine Mounts" used to have dark brown, roughly textured lacquered wooden scabbards and dark brown ito around the hilt.
A variation of Shin-gunto hilts were the "End of War" hilts. The swords having such hilts were made mostly of materials of poorest quality. They have almost no price to collectors, due the fact that the materials were of lowest quality. Nevertheless "End of War"-hilted swords can be valuable as artifacts to depict this particular period in the history of Japanese weapons.
The Kyu-Gunto swords are also called the Russo-Japanese swords, due to an interference of Russian military culture into the Japanese one. Such swords were extensively used in the period between 1883 and 1945 during the Russo-Japanese War and World War II by the Army, Cavalry and Naval officers.
The quality of these blades and swords has known both high and low evaluation. The kyu-guno were made both in mass and traditionally, as well as the shin-gunto mounts. The most difference in such swords there are to be found on their scabbards: there can be chromed metal, wooden fixtures with brass covered with leather and lacquered wood.
There is an easy way to distinguish a hand made kyu-gunto from a machine made one: if a kyu-gunto sword has a mekugi (i.e. the rod holding the sword together) - it is a sign that the sword was hand made, whereas the lack of mekugi says about the contrary.
As the Japanese armies occupied other territories, they have issued swords to the officers of the occupied land. Those swords had basically the kyu-gunto mounting, though with slight modifications. Each region occupied by the Japanese had a separate emblem on the sides of the back strap and the back strap itself. All colonial swords were machine made; they had chrome plated blades and etched hamon. However hand-made colonial mounts can be also found as well as mounts with chromed scabbards and leather with brass mountings.
The Kai-gunto swords were used by Japanese Naval officers. The fact that the scabbards for these swords were made of ray skin speaks in favor of naval units. The hilt had ray skin of the same type, while having also black or navy blue lacing around it.
Blades in the kai-gunto swords, as well as the kyu-gunto and shin-gunto, may be found either machine made, traditionally made or made of stainless steel.