Research of the Western-style Cruciform Sword Possessed by Fujisaka Shrine in Minakuchi, Koka City, Shiga Prefecture by an Expert from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and an Initial Report at the 7th Seminar Held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems
The cruciform sword possessed by Fujisaka Shrine in Minakuchi, Koka City, Shiga Prefecture is a slender Western-style sword, which is said to have been owned by feudal lord Yoshiaki KATO (1563-1631) who served Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI and Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, the founder of the Kato family ruling the Minakuchi Domain in the Tokugawa Shogunate. This sword of excellent workmanship is formed completely differently from those used in Japan or in Asia. A survey conducted by domestic specialists in 2016 revealed that this was a rapier produced in Europe between the 16th and early 17th century and that this is the only Western-style sword handed down to the present time in Japan (reported in TOBUNKEN NEWS No. 65). However, the research conducted at that time did not address some essential problems, such as whether this sword was made in Japan or brought to Japan from Europe, and around which year it was manufactured.
To resolve these problems, we invited Dr. Pierre Terjanian, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Curator in Charge, Department of Arms and Armor, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which boasts the world’s leading rapier collection. After conducting research in Minakuchi, Dr. Terjanian presented his considerations on this Western sword under the title “European Renaissance Rapiers and the Minakuchi Rapier” at the 7th seminar held by the Department of Art Research, Archives and Information Systems.
According to his consideration, the copper hilt was obviously made in Japan, and the sword blade was probably made in Japan or in Asia, not in Europe. The original European rapier, on which the Minakuchi rapier was modeled, would have been manufactured between 1600 and 1630, but closer to 1630. Moreover, this sword displays less practicability.
His view unveils a new fact utterly unknown so far that Japanese people scrutinized a Western sword from Europe and even manufactured a reproduction of it in the early 17th century in Japan. On the other hand, another fact was also found: that a unique technique was used to connect the hilt to the blade with an advanced screw structure, which has not been confirmed in European rapiers. You can understand that such a unique feature resulted from much effort and ingenious attempts by Japanese artisans of the day who worked hard to accurately reproduce an unfamiliar Western sword with the knowledge and techniques they had.
Thus, the research of a Western-style sword handed down in Minakuchi reveals various facts about the metalwork techniques of the early 17th century and about the acceptance of foreign culture. We will proceed with further research and study, including the issue of where and how this sword was manufactured and by whom. We are planning to disclose the actual situation of this sword and its historical backdrops.