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Query builder

Sword, ornament, and scabbard

Accession Number
1973/2.88

Title
Sword, ornament, and scabbard

Artist(s)
Japanese

Artist Nationality
Japanese (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
1858

Medium & Support
forged steel, lacquer, and gold

Dimensions
38 3/16 in. x 3 in. x 3 3/8 in. ( 97 cm x 7.6 cm x 8.5 cm )

Credit Line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frederic R. Smith

Label copy
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.

Primary Object Classification
Arms and Armor

Primary Object Type
sword

Additional Object Classification(s)
Metalwork

Collection Area
Asian

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Keywords
scabbards
swords

2 Related Resources

Japan Pax Tokugawa 1600-1868
(Part of: Empires and Colonialism)
Samurai
(Part of 5 Learning Collections)

& Author Notes

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