Posts Tagged ‘Shirasaya’

Straight swords, plain swords, and sword canes…

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Most of my regular readers will know at this point that I am somewhat partial to sword canes, Shikomizue, or “Prepared Canes” as they are called. The reason is twofold. First because they are simple canes, and I’ve always enjoyed using “sticks” as some like to call them, or staff weapons. So throwing a blade into the mix for me, pretty much makes them completely and uncompromisingly awesome. It’s like bringing a sword to a stick fight. Dirty, but full of WIN. 😛

Blind Fury

Blind Fury

For similar reasons, I am also a great fan of Chokutō. Chokutō (or “Straight Sword”) are, as the name might suggest, just simple straight swords. But while Chokutō and Shikomizue are similar in appearance, the designs are not the same. And while they may both share structural similarities with Shirasya, (I have actually confused these designs on numerous occasions in the past) the three are actually very different in terms of design focus, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about them (I.E. go grab a cup of coffee or tea or whatever, and get comfortable, before you continue reading. 🙂 )

Shirasaya, (or “White Sheath”) swords, regardless of form factor, were designed initially as a storage format for sword blades, and are generally distinguishable from other designs by a very simple, generally unadorned saya and tsuki. Compared to the complex tsuka furniture, mountings and lacquered saya finishes of traditional Japanese swords, shirasaya were stored, lightly pinned, in plain, un-lacquered saya, so that both the saya and tsuki could “breathe” and prevent the build up of moisture that could cause corrosion and or deformation of the blade and tang.

White Double Shirasya

White Double Shirasya

Shikomizue, or “Prepared Canes”, are just that. Walking sticks or canes, designed to conceal a sword blade. The design focus here was the covert carry of a sword, without arousing suspicion. Featuring a featureless straight saya and tsuki, generally cut from the same piece of wood, or cut and finished to look like it was, this was a popular choice for ninjas and other warriors who did not wish to arouse suspicion, but still wanted to be able to carry a sword about them for offensive or defensive purposes.

Zatoichi - Blind Fury Shikomizue

Zatoichi - Blind Fury Shikomizue

Chokutō, or “straight sword” design, on the other hand, was focused on neither conceal-ability nor storage. It was a design born in an age prior to that of differential tempering, and, in fact originated outside of Japan, in places like China and Korea. Differential tempering is a process that produces a hard edge, but flexible spine on a most traditional Japanese swords. It also imparts the characteristic curve to the sword, which was found to be a much more efficient sword design, when used correctly.

However before the discovery of the benefits of curved swords and differential tempering, swords were generally straight, and is here that the Chokutō design came from. A simple straight sword, intended for practical use, with no differential tempering, and no need to conceal the blade. The form of the sword simply followed it’s function and the limitations of the technology of the time. Or so the legends say…

So I’ll bet you’re wondering why I decided to bring all of this up. Well, here’s the thing. I am a fan of anime, one of them being Naruto. Or at least I used to be a fan of Naruto. Been a while since I watched any anime. But at least the first and second seasons were acceptably entertaining. If you are willing to disregard the many annoying filler arcs. :/

Anyway, In the anime, one of our eventual anti-heros, Sasuke Uchiha, wields what can only be called a monstrous black Chokutō called the Kusanagi Grass Cutter. As I mentioned in an earlier post on the topic, there is some disparity between the Anime version of the sword, and the Manga (comic book) version of this sword. In the comic, the sword is white, with a black stripe. In the anime, however, the sword is dark gray with a black stripe.

Sasukes Kusanagi No Tsurugi (Kusanagi Grass Cutter)

Sasukes Kusanagi No Tsurugi (Kusanagi Grass Cutter)

Personally, I prefer the animated version of the sword. But, nonetheless, the most common versions I am seeing are the manga versions, a replica of which was the inspiration for todays post:

Sasuke Uchiha's Chokutō

Sasuke Uchiha's Chokutō

As you can see this is the Manga version of the sword, but despite it’s white saya, it actually looks pretty nice. And it has a sweet black blade. And it appears to of a much higher quality construction than the last one I posted about. So just thought, after my long winded post, that I’d share. 🙂

Now if only someone would make it in black… Actually never mind. I’ll probably just get this one, sand it down and give it the traditional Japanese black lacquer treatment…

Yeah… Go me! 😀

Sasuke Uchiha Chokutō – [King of Swords]

Another Copycat Blade…

Monday, September 21st, 2009

I am a big fan of shirasaya patterned swords, even though the design was originally developed for storage, rather than actual use. I find them such simple, clean designs. No muss, no fuss, no ornate furniture, no complex tsuka-maki, etc. I just really like the clean lines of the design.

However there are tactical disadvantages to using shirasaya styled sword furniture when compared to traditional sword designs. Obviously, without tsukamaki, your grip on the tsuka will not be as good. And without a guard, you are limited in the number of ways you can parry a strike. However these issues can be mitigated via training, and in the end, they become no more or less difficult to use than the purpose built shikomizue.

But I’m rambling. The real reason why I brought up the subject is because I ran into another shikomizue styled blade:

Custom Ninja Sword aka Sasukes Kusanagi Grass cutter

Custom Ninja Sword aka Sasukes Kusanagi Grass cutter

This interesting little blade, modestly called a Custom Anime Ninja Sword, bears a striking resemblance to a sword from a previous post. None other than Sasuke Uchihas’ Kusanagi Grass Cutter (aka Kusanagi no Tsurugi) from the anime Naruto! Obviously this is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that a sword company decided to make a copy of a cool anime sword. But as cheap rip offs go, this one is a pretty good likeness.

About the only differences between this and the original is that this one lacks the signature Uchiha clan fan symbol on the Tsuka, it has a cheap cast habaki, and the point is a sharply angled tanto point, as opposed to a traditional katana point. But it has a straight black blade, just like the orignial, a feature that I absolutely love, and the long, straight white saya with the rectangular cross section with the black racing stripe down the middle.

I think that black stripe adds like 9000 points to the hit strength of the sword, but I could be wrong. 🙂

Sasuke’s Kusanagi Grass Cutter (aka Kusanagi no Tsurugi) rip off – [True Swords]

A beautiful sword for a beautiful but deadly lady…

Monday, November 19th, 2007

A few posts back I introduced you to the shirasaya, which, for all intents and purposes, is an exercise in Japanese sword making minimalism. My kind of design. Well just happened to come across another stunning example of a black shirasaya, that I felt deserved a post. I present to you, one of the coolest designs I have ever seen in a shirasaya:

O-Ren Ishii Shirasaya

O-Ren Ishii Shirasaya from Kill Bill
[view full size]

The dark, lithe and lovely blade above is a reproduction is of the beautiful shirasaya used by the character O-Ren Ishii, a Japanese mafia boss, in the movie “Kill Bill”, played by equally stunning Lucy Liu. Now this shirasaya is special in quite a few ways. Let me count the ways… 😛

The most noticeable is it’s shape. You can see the mild s-shape that this shirasaya takes when sheathed. Sweeeet. 🙂 And then you have the almost elven sword like blade, with a large ricasso. A ricasso is unusual for a Japanese swords, but here it adds a more organic feel to the blade, much like the sword of Arya, which I found equally alluring.

And of course, the black laquer treatment of the scabbard and blade is just superb. All and all, I really like the elegance and simplicity of this swords design…

O-Ren Ishii Shirasaya– [True Swords]

The Shirasaya. A sword of simplicity and elegance.

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Given that I’ve been talking a lot about cool, stealthy staff weapons, I thought i’d throw one more sword type into the mix, designed along similar lines to the venerable shikomizue. Especially since I recently encountered a rather beautiful specimen of such a sword. It’s only fair that I share:

Mushashi Black Shirasaya

Musashi Black Shirasaya
[view full size]

The oh, so elegant sword you see above is called a shirasaya. The shirasaya, which means “White Scabbard” in Japanese, is a style of sword that features a minimalist theme with regards to the way the grip and scabbard is designed. A traditional shirasaya features a smooth grip with no fancy fittings, in hardly any fittings at all, save for the bamboo pin(s) used to secure the blade in the grip. No guard either. The scabbard is usually equally plain, though they sometimes have information about the sword written on them.

The shirasaya above is unique in that it is lacquered in black, which runs counter to the traditional “white scabbard” design theme, but it is still smooth, and devoid of all fittings, except, of course, for the bamboo pin used to secure the blade. A sleek, beautiful fusion of traditional shirasaya style in modern black.

The shirasaya, while beautiful, suffers from a flaw that is common to pretty much every other staff weapon I have mentioned in previous posts. No guard and a poor grip. This causes two problems. First, because there is no guard, your fingers/arms/etc. no longer have any protection from a sword strike that slides down the blade towards your hand. combine that with a smooth grip, and you no longer have a positive way to prevent your hand from sliding up toward and/or onto the blade should a mishap occur.

Both issues pose rather large problems from a combat perspective, providing all the ingredients for a rather nasty accident. However, given that staff weapons were meant foremost for stealth, and easy concealment, as opposed to uncompromising battle ability, I suppose they are flaws that a person using such a weapon could learn to live with.

I thought I’d also show you an example of a more traditional shirasaya. At least on the outside:

2 in 1 Shirasaya

2 in 1 Shirasaya
[view full size]

Now while the weapon above may actually look like a standard shirasaya when they sheathed, is actually rather unique, in that it has two swords instead of the single blade of a standard shirasaya. What is even more interesting is that these swords are sheathed at the same end of the saya, side by side. A very interesting, and quite useful design.

Based on it’s appearance alone, you might not guess that there were two swords hiding in that innocent looking piece of wood. I love stealth…

*Update*

A commenter (Muchas gracias, Miles!) recently pointed out to me that the Shirasaya design was intended primarily for storage, as opposed to stealth. I also discovered that it has traditionally been used to transport high quality blades to and from the polishers, or for shipping a blade to a collector who intended to install their own custom fittings.

Having never purchased a sword without the fittings attached, I thought this was interesting, as I have run across this design a gazillion times, but for some inexplicable reason, never really took the time to properly research it’s origins. Oh. well. I guess I’m slipping in my old age…

Anyway the light wood used (often magnolia) was usually specifically selected for the purpose and cured for many years to remove all moisture, and the lack of finishing, or more precisely, the lack of the traditional lacquer finish, was by design intended to allow the saya to “breathe” and allow moisture to escape, so that the blade would last longer in storage.

In retrospect, looking at the design, this all makes perfect sense, though I will also point out that the design is of such significant aesthetic value that it has been subverted for “practical” use by many sword designers, and even traditionally finished, such as the first blade featured above, which is technically a violation of it’s original intent.

So while similar in many respects to shikomizue, it was originally intended for a completely different purpose. Though aesthetically it’s still a sweet as all get out design… Even if it’s not really particularly stealthy…

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