Previously published in The Token Society of Great Britain Bulletin #183.
Used here by permission of the author.
Purpose: This article will focus on one of the swords previously in the MacArthur collection but currently listed as stolen.
Facts: The MacArthur Museum curator's records indicate that General MacArthur took possession of three of General Tojo's swords. The swords include the following museum catalog numbers. The descriptions are the result of a cataloging project performed in December 1997 (see JSS/US Newsletter article Vol 30, #3):
M2 (#3532) - Tanto. Signed "Muramasa." Ca - 1800, fake signature.
M3 (#3511) - Katana. Unsigned, possibly late Yamato-den. Ca - 1450.
M4 (#3518) - Katana. Signed "Bishu Osafune Sukesada." Dated February 1509
Unfortunately, one of the swords was discovered missing in December 1997 during a joint cataloging project by the Japanese Sword Society of Virginia and the Metropolitan New York Japanese Sword Club. In the course of the initial archival research the tanto was initially catalogued by the one-time curator/property officer known as Colonel Judge. However, no swordsmith name is associated with the sword. The reason for this is that the original archival card for this particular piece has curiously been misplaced. Instead, a short handwritten document prepared by a museum visitor named Frank Gish, indicates the tanto bears the inscription Muramasa. There were no dimensions or descriptions other than of the inscription on the document prepared by Gish. However, a detailed search of records produced a second archival catalog card which did give some limited information. Included with this card was a xerox photograph of the tanto with background ruler. In addition, a copy of the original photograph was later located in another location in the sword archives. This was a high quality image which was later enhanced using computer graphics. No oshigata or other information was given. In a later visit to the museum, during a hands-on evaluation of the swords, General Tojo's tanto was taken from the display case in the museum and then evaluated. Unfortunately, it was at this time that it was discovered that someone had taken the original tanto, shown in the archival photograph, and replaced it with an obvious forgery (see oshigata 1). It was apparent that the replacement tanto was not correct for the shirasaya handle since it was too short and too narrow to properly fit in the handle and scabbard. Nevertheless, to the uninitiated, it might appear reasonably similar. On inspection of the shirasaya, it was apparent that the shirasaya handle had two red lacquer kanji characters reading "Masa-Shige." These kanji were located on the pommel end of the shirasaya handle. Similarly, this handle and the shirasaya scabbard clearly matched the one in the archival photograph which had been reproduced to actual size. The grain in the wooden handle as well as shape of the handle matched exactly. The next step was to attempt to locate the last known person to have visited the museum and had access to the tanto. In reviewing the entry logs for various visitors to the museum, the last person known to have seen the tanto was listed as Frank Gish. It is also recorded that he physically inspected the tanto and apparently provided the museum with an oshigata of the tanto. The oshigata provided by Mr. Gish matches the fake tanto. So, what can we make of General Tojo's tanto? Who made it, who has it now, and will it surface again?
Discussion: In an attempt to recreate as much information as possible on the tanto, the archival photograph is assumed to be genuine and the measurement ruler is accurate. Further, the shirasaya for the tanto is also assumed to be original since it corresponds to the archival photo. Given these assumptions and some computer software to enhance the photographic details of the tanto we can create a very precise oshigata of the tanto less the portion covered by the habaki. Unfortunately, time did not permit us to split the shirasaya handle and determine the exact shape of the nakago. Therefore, the oshigata presented is of one side and the nakago shape has been estimated. However, the position of the mekugi ana is known.
The dimensions and description are given as follows:
Boshi: Jizo (Priest-head)
Length: (see oshigata)
Width: (see oshigata)
It is clear that the tanto exhibits the characteristic style of Muramasa School. Its suguta and dimensions tend to support a Sengo blade. The hako-midare hamon is specialty of Muramasa School. However, several other schools made the hako-midare style. The hamon displays a hamon with a very close approach to the edge. This is a specialty of Muramasa, Masashige, and Masazane of the Sengo-ha. It is unfortunate we do not have a reverse side view of the tanto. If the hamon was identical on the obverse this would tend to confirm a Sengo-ha work. It is also unfortunate that more detail could not be extracted from the photograph to display the characteristic activity of the hamon and the jitetsu. The jizo-boshi is also characteristic of Sengo-ha. However, other smiths could also be included. There is no mention of the type of mune in archival records. However, Sengo blades exhibited both iori-mune and mitsu-mune. So, this would not necessarily rule one maker in or out of consideration.
Perhaps the printing of this article will alert those who may have seen or owned this tanto at some time in the recent past. If anyone has information regarding a tanto which matches the description and oshigata they are urged to contact the MacArthur Museum at the following address: General Douglas MacArthur Foundation, % Museum Curator, MacArthur Square, Norfolk, VA 23510
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