Period: Showa, no later than late 1941/early 1942. Probably late 1930s.
Mei: Seki ju Kanetatsu saku kore wa with sho stamp
Sugata: Shinogi-zukuri, tori-zori, iori-mune, bo-hi. The bo-hi goes all the way through the nakago.
Overall length: 36.38 inches (924.00 mm).
Nagasa: 27.83 inches (707.00 mm).
Nakago: Ubu, 8.54 inches (217.00 mm), sujikai yasurime, ha agari kurijiri nakago jiri, two mekugi-ana, one original, one drilled.
Kissaki: Chu-kissaki, 1.25 inches (31.70 mm). The boshi is difficult to see, but probably ko-maru boshi.
Moto-haba: 1.19 inches (30.30 mm). Saki-haba: 0.74 inches (18.90 mm). Moto-gasane: 0.29 inches (7.30 mm). Saki-gasane: 0.22 inches (5.50 mm).
Sori: 0.49 inches (12.50 mm).
Hada: Konuka hada. Konuka hada (rice grain hada) is often found on Hizen blades and is formed by folding the metal more than the usual number of times.
Blade Condition: Generally in good condition, though it is out of polish and there is some minor pitting on one side. No bends or fatal flaws. It could do with a polish, especially if someone wants to use it for tameshigiri.
The blade has been remounted for iai and a new habaki has recently been made. The gilt and copper fuchi-kashira are Edo period and depict stylised Pawlonia. The menuki is of a chrysanthemum design (edagiku), and the tsukamaki is katate-maki, commonly referred to as 'battle wrap' in the West. The iron tsuba is signed Kunikiyo.
This is very interesting sword. Given its length, which is a bit unusual for the period, it would not have fitted the standard Army koshirae. It is extremely well-balanced; to quote the previous owner, you can cut with it all day. This would in short be a dream sword for someone practicing iai.
The smith is probably Kanematsu Kanetatsu (KAN 2488), a Seki smith who made gendaito. Some of his blades have been papered. Other than that, little is known about him.
Tang stamps cause all sorts of controversy, and the sho stamp is no exception. It was used from 1926 to late 1941 - early 1942. In short, its use was contemporary with Japanese actions in China and Manchuria and its discontinuation contemporary with the start of the Pacific War and mass mobilisation.
The sho stamp is frequently described as an arsenal mark. However, it is not an arsenal mark, nor does it indicate a method of manufacture. It was instead an Army acceptance stamp (Fuller & Gregory 82). It has been noted that in a minority of cases 1930s made swords might get a sho stamp if their civilian owners subsequently enlisted and took their own sword to war. This may be one such - it is not made to the standard military pattern of the period and so presumably was originally made for a civilian. In the vast majority of cases however a sho stamp indicates swords made by various smiths using various methods and sold off-the-peg through the Officer's Club. It was never intended to indicate a non-traditional sword, merely that a 'modern' sword was fit for military use.
Whilst it is true that most sho stamped swords are sunobe abura yaki-ire (drawn, hammered and oil-tempered mill-steel) that does not mean that all were. A minority are undoubtedly gendaito; for example, swords made by Asano Kanezane have either Showa or Seki stamps, yet are described by Fuller and Gregory as 'good quality gendaito' (Fuller & Gregory 1987, 111). Post-war letters from Kanezane confirm that he made swords using traditional methods and materials. One cannot logically argue that there is only one solitary exception to an otherwise inviolable rule. There must therefore be other gendaito bearing a sho stamp. It is not impossible that some may have even been papered after the sho stamp was skillfully removed. Further, I have seen sho-stamped swords, with hada and hamon, on sale in Japan, where the law bans swords that are not traditionally made. The conventional argument would therefore appear to be an over-generalisation and more research is needed.
As always with any sword of any period, each sword should be judged on its own merits, regardless of the mei - or stamp - on the tang. It is the workmanship displayed in the making of the sword that matters, not what is written on it afterwards.
Which brings us back to the sword in question. My own opinion is that, given the hada and the confident, well-chiselled mei, this is may be a true gendaito. Then again it might not be. I'd like to see it polished before I made more of a commitment. It is however a superb iai sword, and I have therefore priced it as that. As an iai sword it is on a par with the most expensive iai-to currently commercially available, yet it is much cheaper.
Fuller R and R Gregory (1986, reprinted 1993), Military Swords of Japan 1868-1945, Sterling Publishing Inc, New York.