Ryujin Swords

Katana by Kanetatsu

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Period: Showa.

Mei: Kanetatsu. The mei is accompanied with a Gifu stamp. The sword is dated on the reverse Showa 20 nen 4 Gatsu (April, 1945). The date inscription is accompanied by a Seki stamp.

Sugata: Shinogi-zukuri, tori-zori, iori-mune.

Overall length: 34.84 inches (885.00 mm)

Nagasa: 24.79 inches (655.00 mm) long.

Nakago: Ubu, 9.05 inches (230.00 mm), ha agari kiri-jiri, two mekugi-ana. The yasurime are sujikai with kasho.

Kissaki: Chu-kissaki, 1.40 inches (35.60 mm). The boshi is ko-maru.

Moto-haba: 1.25 inches (31.70 mm). Moto-gasane: 0.29 inches (7.30 mm). Saki-haba: 0.81 inches (20.60 mm). Saki-gasane: 0.20 inches (5.20 mm).

Sori: 0.61 inches (15.50 mm)

Hamon: Suguha.

Hada: None

Blade condition: Good. There is one very small pit that should have been polished out when the sword was made, but wasn't. The blade has been buffed at some point, but not by the vet who took it as a war souvenir. In fact the blade was covered in cosmoline from June 1945 until July 2010. Cleaning the cosmoline off the blade revealed a fingerprint (see picture below). Whether this fingerprint belongs to the original owner or the US vet is unknown. However, it has been there since 1945.


Type 3 shingunto koshirae. Unusually the imitation samekawa is of the type usually found on 1934 pattern shin-gunto koshirae. The tsuka is also pegged, instead of being secured by two screws. The sword was pegged when the vet took it from a dead Japanese soldier.

The sword has been rebound and repegged. The vet removed the tsuka-ito in 2010 whilst trying to work out how to remove the tsuka. He was trying to find out if the sword had an inscription, and whether it was made by anyone important. The pegs were also seriously damaged by his efforts. I have retained the original tsuka-ito, which is included in the sale.

The saya liner is original. All traces of cosmoline were removed using organic solvents.


The smith's real name was Tatsuo Kanemura. He made swords for the IJA from 26 October 1939 to 15 August 1945.

The sword is interesting and one for the militaria collectors. It was made in Japan in April 1945. A month or less later it was taken as a war souvenir in the field in the Philippines by a soldier serving in the 25th Infantry Division, which was assigned to the Sixth Army:

"I was a soldier in the 25th Division known as "Tropic Lightning". I was in the battlefield fighting the Japanese Army in Northern Luzon in the Philippines. In this particular battle we were exchanging fire with the Japanese army soldiers throughout the night. In the morning, as we were advancing, we came upon dead Japanese soldiers lying in the field. I took this sword off the body of a Japanese soldier and kept it as a war souvenir. The war ended shortly after that and my outfit was sent to Japan."

The 25th Infantry Division earned the name “Tropic Lightning” after the impressive speed of their operations on Guadalcanal. They landed on Luzon at San Fabian on 11 January 1945. The 25th met fierce resistance from Japanese forces as they liberated key towns along the left flank of the Sixth Army.

In order to secure the Sixth Army's left flank as the latter pushed on to Manila, the 25th attacked Japanese forces in the Caraballo Mountains. The assault began on 21 February 1945, with the Division fighting its way through the Japanese defences on one hill after the other. Balete Pass, the key position in the operation, fell to the Division on 13 May 1945. Japanese resistance was largely broken by this, with the exception of a core in the north under Yamashita which didn't surrender until Japan's surrender. The 25th was therefore involved in mopping up operations until 30 June 1945, when it was taken off the line. By this time it had been in continuous combat for 165 days, had experienced the some of the severest fighting of the Pacific War, and taken the most casualties of any unit in the Sixth Army. The Division was in rehabilitation near Tarlac when the war ended. Shortly after it was sent to Japan as part of the Occupation. The 25th Division subsequently took up garrison stations on south-central Honshu Island with the Division Headquarters located in the city of Osaka.

The sword must therefore have been captured during the drive through the Caraballo Mountains; the vet mentioned in one communication that they were fighting in the mountains. This is where matters become curious. The Americans had established air and sea supremacy by February 1945, with the Japanese losing control of both naval bases and major airfields by that time. It was not possible for the Japanese to resupply by sea or air after this time; American ships and fighter would intercept Japanese ships and transport aircraft. It was therefore impossible for the Japanese garrison on Luzon to receive reinforcements or materiel by either sea or air. However the sword was made in Seki in Japan in April 1945 and captured in northern Luzon in May 1945. Somehow it made the journey.

Given the contemporary situation, the Japanese military were not going to risk an aircraft to fly in a new sword for someone already on the ground. The sword must therefore have accompanied someone, someone with an urgent or important enough official mission for them to be flown into the Philippines. The most likely possibility is that it belonged to a courier from IGHQ. ‘Tropic Lightning’ was facing the Shobo Group, troops commanded directly by General Tomoyuki Yamashita. IGHQ is known to have had sent couriers to tell Yamashita how he should fight the war after the Americans had invaded. Unfortunately IGHQ's ideas of what was possible were part wishful thinking and part belief in their own propaganda, and thus bore no resemblance to the reality on the ground.

Yamashita withdrew his headquarters north from Manila following the American invasion. There are a number of small airfields in the area to which he initially withdrew; these were big enough to land a small plane carrying a courier. It would have been impossible for transport aircraft to get through, but just possible for a small plane to dodge the fighters. After all, the British did something similar in Occupied Europe when dropping SOE agents.

In May 1945 Yamashita withdrew his headquarters further north, into the mountains, and no longer had access to airfields or suitable terrain for improvising an airstrip. There would have been no chance of anyone flying in or out.

Why didn’t the courier return to Japan? It was probably impossible. In any case the chances are that Yamashita had better uses for a courier than to send him back to Tokyo. Yamashita needed every fighting man he could find.

The tsuka is therefore interesting. The use of imitation samekawa from an earlier pattern of shin-gunto mountings suggests that the koshira maker was, in this instance at least, cannibalising spare parts from earlier shin-gunto mounts. The tsuka should, in the Type 3 koshirae, be secured with two screws, but presumably these were unavailable. Traditional pegs were used instead.

The buffing appears to have taken place in Japan. The vet did nothing to the sword other than cover it in cosmoline when he was at Tarlac. This suggests that the original owner didn't have time even for a wartime polish but instead had the blade quickly buffed and fitted into its koshirae. This supported by the very small pit on the blade. This would have easily disappeared had the blade had a proper polish, even a wartime polish, after it was made. It is further supported by the fact that the blade was in the Philippines a month or less after the smith signed it. That interval of a month or less leaves very little time for the blade to be properly polished and the koshirae made.

Taken as a whole, the sword and its koshirae suggests hasty preparations and the shortages that we know were going on in Japan at the time. My overall impression is of a newly recruited officer with no combat experience but with a nice new uniform, and a nice new shiny sword that had been thrown together in a hurry, being sent off on what was to prove a one-way mission, carrying orders from IGHQ that bore no resemblance to the reality on the ground and which could not have changed the outcome of either the Philippines campaign or the war. He probably survived, at best, for only a few weeks; at worst, a matter of days. All in all, an illustration of futility.

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