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Sword, ornament, and scabbard


Artwork Details

Sword, ornament, and scabbard
forged steel, lacquer, and gold
38 3/16 in. x 3 in. x 3 3/8 in. ( 97 cm x 7.6 cm x 8.5 cm )
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frederic R. Smith

On Display


After the Tokugawa shogunate established peace in the early seventeenth century, no major battles were fought on Japanese soil. Yet swords and martial arts remained a vital part of the samurai life. Ruling samurai were required to wear swords, training in swordsmanship was highly encouraged, and swords became important markers of the hierarchical samurai class system. During the Edo period, the symbolic importance of swords was underscored through the use of elaborate and decorated scabbards, guards, sheaths, and attachments. This scabbard, for example, is adorned with multicolored lacquer, which would be quickly damaged in actual combat.
The warrior depicted here is Kojima Takanori, a devoted supporter of the Emperor Godaigo (1288–1339), who led a rebellion against the powerful Hôjô clan. When the Emperor’s attempt failed, Takanori sneaked into the inn where the ruler was in captivity and wrote a poem on a piece of cherry tree bark predicting that the Emperor would surely be liberated by his ardent vassal. This was provocative subject matter in 1858, a time when the pro-Emperor forces and the supporters of the shogunate were engaged in fierce struggles for power.
(Label for UMMA Japanese Gallery Opening Rotation, March 2009)

Subject Matter:

Long swords (tachi) were the most important belongings for samurai, almost as equal to their lives; as many tragic stories attest, samurai could commit suicide when his sword was taken, stolen, or lost. The samurai in the laquered scabbard engages in a traditional literal activity, versing a poem in promptu. The combination of samurai and the literal practice may suggest the way of samurai" (bushidô) ideal: "exel in both civil and military pursuits" (bunbu ryôdô).

Physical Description:

The sword is long and slightly curved; the metal smith's name is engraved on the metal handle. The scabbard is painted with black laquer with image of samurai and cherry tree. He wears a jacket, pants, a straw hat and a sword, holding a brush, possibly writing a poem on a piece of paper hanging from the tree. The figure and tree are painted with rose-color and gold laquer.

Usage Rights:

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