how to care for japanese sword?
Hello everyone. After acquiring an authentic-looking reproduction of a late muromachi-era Tachi, my first thought was to come here for advice.

Far from a wall-hanger, this has all the aspects of a late-muromachi sword in blade shape and mountings. The blade is very thick, as were the case in an attempt to deal with the increased strength of armour of the date. The cross section is shinogi-zukuri. It is folded steel with a beautiful itame-ji tree-board type pattern. Unfortunately, there is no hamon from clay tempering. It may not have ever been tempered as this was most-likely a piece meant for tourists, or collectors for their shelves. However, the maker knew something about his roots! The curve is koshizori, heavier at the handle-end of the blade.

The handle itself also has the correct curve in it as well. The handle wrapping is something I have never seen before. But I am not going to change it, I actually really like it. The menuki look amazing! But they are underneath the wrapping and over top of the peg. While my research suggests this is also common for feudal-era mounting, it makes getting the handle off a real pain. LOL Reading on a couple websites, I have to use smooth wooden slats to slide the menuki out from under the wrapping and then get the peg out. What Im saying is that I have no idea what the nakago area looks like. I doubt it has the makers signature though, because he did that on the blade. In the spot appropriate, where many Tachi has some form of decoration though, so its okay. I think it looks better than the usual, acid etched Buddhist god or straight sword that gets put on most repros in that area.

The fittings are all cast off of originals and they are rather nice. The sheath fittings are not the usual imperial seal-stamped type, which is nice. This sword has a character all its own.

This was a one-in-a-lifetime buy for me. I have been watching a few companies stocks for the last couple of years and when this one came up in my price range, I jumped on it. The blade was made probably 20-30 years ago. Not really antique, I know. But I cannot really afford $30,000 for an original blade. LOL But It has no serial number, so it wasnt made around WWII. That is why I guess it to be only 20-30 years ago. The guy who sold it to me confirmed that to be his belief as well.

If I can get some batteries for my camera, I will upload some pics. But I am rather extremely proud of this acquisition, so please be kind. I know it is not original and I am not saying it is original. Its a repro, but a darned fine one! I have been looking for a sword like this so that I could use it for Living History displays. Not stage combat, not cutting bamboo mats, not passing off as an original. Just something functional that has a good look to it in its shape I could tell the crowd about.

Originally, my only criteria while looking for a sword was the shape of the blade. I figured if all the fittings were wrong, I could just replace them with correct fittings. So I was really floored when I saw this whole ensemble. As far as I can tell, its all correct for the era I want to display.

Now, all that being said: If something is garishly wrong that I am just not catching, by all means please let me know. (see pics later)

Anyway, back to my original questions, Sword care:

I just want to keep it from rusting. What oil should I use? It is not sharp and I do not want to sharpen it as it will be a display piece to be brought out in the public.

The sheath has nicks. It seems like it was done in a hurry with cashew urushi instead of real urushi. Its kind of soft, so I doubt it was allowed to dry fully before successive coats were applied. The fellow that sold it to me (very nice guy, very honest) said the blade was dressed recently (probably all the original stuff was poorly maintained by the original owner, or had all incorrect fittings) and that they tried to fit it with all appropriate hardware at their shop.

Soft sheath: Should I attempt to cure it in an urushi-curing hot water-bottle cabinet? Or would that make it sweat and swell and ruin the darned thing? I am extremely partial to the designs on the sheath and absolutely do not want to ruin that sheath.

A local sword collector I showed it to put shoe dye over the bare white wood showing from the nicks. I cringed when I saw what he was doing, but he is my friends' grandfather. I figured I was going to redo those nicks anyway, so why argue?

That being said, should I sand down the area around the nicks and slowly build back up the lacquer? I can get cashew urushi on ebay. I cannot use real urushi anyway, as I am *horribly* allergic to poison sumac. lol

Its not a bad project kind of sword, just touching up the scabbard. I could just leave it as-is for that lightly battle-worn look. I don't know, what do you all think?

While I have little to no experience with Japanese swords (I'll go hide my face in shame for a few minutes), I have run across the E-Bogu store while taking kendo classes. They have a few sword maintenance kits in their iaido supplies section. While I don't know if these would be ideal for your needs, it might be a decent place to start, at least.
For the blade oiling, the simple answer is choji (clove oil). For more detailed information, I would trust anything the NBTHK had to say on the issue. Here's a link to their sword cleaning and etiquette page:

Personally, although I haven't seen the sword, I'd leave the rest of it as it is. It's usually safer that way. If you see it as a project piece however, go for it (as it's not a historical treasure) but getting advice on the how-to is a good idea.

I hope this helps, and I'm looking forward to seeing pictures.

Hello Jason,

When you post pics I will give more on-target opinions and advice. But if this is not a true Japanese sword, than you don't really have to worry about what kind of oil / care it needs. Even assuming it is non-stainless steel, mineral oil or gun oil should be fine as mentioned in our maintenance article. The traditional materials are choji oil (which is just mineral oil with a tiny bit of clove oil for scent), as well as periodic applications of uchiko powder to remove old dry oil (which will be largely unnecessary in your case). More details about care of true nihonto can be read at Richard Stein's inestimable Japanese Sword Guide here and here.

By the way, an authentic muromachi-era tachi does not have to cost $30,000 unless you are looking for upper-level Tokubetsu Hozon-rated swords. I realize you likely were using hyperbole, but just for example, Moses is selling a perfectly decent soshu-den muromachi blade (albeit with more saki-zori) in good condition with papers for $6500. Still quite a lot of money for most of us mere mortals, but it demonstrates that a nice sword is by no means unattainable with a long-term savings plan. That just happens to be on sale right this instant; I have seen acceptable ~$6,000 koshi-zori swords from the Koto period on sale before and I am sure I will see more sold in the future. Besides which I think there are better deals to be had (from a value standpoint) than that particular mix of features.

There are a few more comments I could make, but I will wait until you post photos, so as to keep to what is directly applicable.

Kind regards,
-Gabriel L.
Thank you ever so kindly everyone! :) I have always appreciated the candid nature of the board here and everyone is always very helpful. Im glad that I finally have something that makes me part of the group, instead of looking on from the outside.

I should also note I was wrong in my previous evaluation. I was so excited, I didnt take the time to step back and look. After looking at the pictures, I realized that the curve is toriizori (middle-area curve). The handle I think threw me off. (I know I should not judge a dressed blade....)

Pictures! (though note that my digital camera is all I have and it is not very good indoors) Also the little white dots are packing styrofoam. It was shipped in styrofoam.... just styrofoam. I wasn't too happy about that, but it arrived undamaged. But I am still finding little beads of that stuff!

More images in next post

Trying to get a picture of the texture of the blade is a nightmare apparently. There are a couple of pics where you can kind of see it :( Sorry about that.

All said and done, the sword ran me a whopping $159 and some change :) Its perfect for display purposes at that price. And since its not sharp, I can draw the blade out far enough to show the public the grain without fear of some accident getting me sued.

So what do you all think? Not bad for for a hundred-and-a-half, huh?
Re: how to care for japanese sword?
Jason Adams wrote:

I just want to keep it from rusting. What oil should I use? It is not sharp and I do not want to sharpen it as it will be a display piece to be brought out in the public.

Don't touch the blade or cut with it, and you should be all right.

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