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tanto / blade

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Blade (tanto). Double hi. Made of silver inlaid steel; also copper. Signed.

  • Producer name

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 16thC(early)
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 27.6 centimetres
    • Curvature: 0.2 centimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Script

      • Inscription Transliteration

      • Inscription Comment

        The silver inlaid inscription of the smith's name is of poor quality and was probably added much later.
  • Curator's comments

    Harris 2005

    This blade is 'hira zukuri'. There is a 'koshihi' on the 'omote', and 'gomabashi' on the 'ura'. The tang has two holes and the file marks are shallow sujigai. The tang narrows markedly so that it becomes particularly slender at the tang tip in the so-called 'tanagobara' (literally 'bitterling fish belly') form that characterizes the work of Muramasa. The tang tip is 'iriyamagata'. The bold and prominent 'hada' is comprised of 'itame' and a flowing grain with 'jinie'. The 'hamon' is small 'notare' with 'gunome' and 'hako gunome' in 'nie', with 'sunagashi' throughout. The 'boshi' is a swelling form of 'komaru' slightly dropping towards the cutting edge.

    With its distinctive tang and 'hamon', this blade is unmistakably Muramasa's work. The silver inlaid inscription of the smith's name is of poor quality and was probably added much later. Although such silver inlay is quite rare, interestingly a similar 'tanto' by Muramasa in the collection of Chiddingstone Castle in Kent also has a crude silver attribution on the tang.

    After Masamune the name of Muramasa is probably the best known of all swordsmiths. He was a native of Kuwana in Ise Province who worked in the early sixteenth century. His earliest recorded dated blade is marked 1501, and there are signed blades dating to the 1530s and 1570s believed to be by the second and third generations, whose works are very similar. There are later blades bearing the name 'Muramasa', but their relation to the first generation is not clear.

    Muramasa's swords were of ill repute during the Edo period, having been used several times in incidents in which members of the Tokugawa family were injured or died. It is said that both Tokugawa leyasu's father Hirotada and his grandfather Kiyoyasu were injured by means of Muramasa's swords, and leyasu himself was accidentally cut on the hand by a spear made by him. But the most awful episode was when leyasu's son Nobuyasu, having fallen foul of Oda Nobunaga, was ordered to commit 'seppuku' (ritual suicide by cutting open the abdomen, vulgarly 'hara-kiri'). In 'seppuku' a second, often a close friend, beheads the principal at a convenient time after the wound is afflicted to the abdomen, and the sword used in this case was also by Muramasa. Subsequently, leyasu ordered that all swords made by Muramasa were to be destroyed. Possibly owing to resentment against the shogun's family, however, many blades by the smith have in fact been carefully preserved. The practice during the late Edo period of spuriously incising blades with the name 'Muramasa' doubtless reflects the unpopularity of the Tokugawa house in certain parts of Japan.


  • Bibliography

    • Harris 2005 12, B&W pl. 12 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department


  • Registration number


Blade (tanto). Double hi. Made of silver inlaid steel; also copper. Signed.



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Object reference number: JCR7587

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