Cool stuff! Thanks for the review!
Hanwei Kaeru Katana : A First Look
Marc Kaden Ridgeway
Atlanta , GA
In January CAS-Hanwei posted a teaser photo of a new katana prototype on their facebook page. A beautiful katana, in a color scheme that I am a sucker for ... but the clincher was the Kaeru (frog) theme.
My wife was nicknamed Frog by her father many years ago, and collects frogs in all guises. I knew right away that I was going to have to find a way to get her one... if anything could get her into swords , this would be it.
Now , roughly 6 months later , a shipment has come in from the forge and luckily it had some of the Kaeru Katana in it. I talked about it with Krista at Blade 2012 and also to Blake . Unfortunately some if not all of the Kaeru Katana were defected due to saya blemishes. Fortunately , I was able to recieve one of them for review purposes. Which brings me to ... :
Full Disclosure : I did not purchase this sword, it was sent to me by CAS Hanwei for the purpose of review. I do not have any business relationship with CAS Hanwei , nor have any conditions been placed upon my review. I will be candid , as I always have been.
Unfortunately this review marks the end of an era. Each review I have written for the last 5 years are so has contained my trademark "flower and kissaki" photos on my magic azaela bush that blooms with so many variety of blossoms. My mastiff , a really dog-like horse , or horse-like dog (haven't figured out which) got an allergic reaction to something on his head , and all but destroyed the azalea scratching his head on it.
There is not much need to make you sit through another psuedo-historic ,50 words or less, super-condensed version of the origins of uchigatana. Instead , let's discuss the frog... or kaeru.
Frogs enter into many eastern cultures , in part thanks to the Taoist classic Chaung-tzu in which the Frog in an old well talked to the Turtle from the Eastern Sea.
In Japanese culture the frog is a prominent character, symbolizing Spring , good fortune and luck.
The kanji for frog is the same as "to return " . This in itself brings another layer to the frog symbiology.
Nagasa : --------- 27 in.
Tsuka : ---------- 11 in (with fittings)
Weight : ---------- 2 lbs. 6.5 oz.
Motohaba : ------ 1.25 in.
Sakihaba : ------- 1 in.
Motokasane : ---- @7mm
Sakikasane : ---- @5.5 mm
POB : ------------- 5 in.
Aesthetics ; Fit & Finish
Sugata is shinogi zukuri with chu-kissaki. At first I thought it was a ko-kissaki, mostly due to the nice , full fukura, or curvature in the kissaki. However , after really looking at the blade, I'd have to say it is indeed a chu-kissaki. A ko-kissaki is not defined by its length, but by its proportions to the rest of the katana. This means basically that a ko-kissaki will be found on a blade with lots of profile taper... like a tachi. The profile taper of the Kaeru is almost dead-on standard ... thus , despite the small length of the kissaki and the sweeping fukura, it is a chu-kissaki.
The blade is forge-folded from Swedish powdered steel , and differentially hardened through a water quench. The hamon is notare and the boshi O-maru.
The hada is tight and subdued, making the sword not appear folded at a cursory glance. This is a change from most folded production katana, including Hanwei's previous offerings. It gives the blade a more traditional appearance as opposed to the louder "damascus" look.
It is a change for the better.
The 27 inch blade features a geometric yokote , and a mirror polished bo-hi. The bo-hi has the appearance of being done by hand, and nicely done at that,this coming from a guy who doesn't care for bo-hi.
The blade has about .75 inches of tori-sori, which is a pretty well pronounced curve on a 27 inch nagasa. It also exhibits nice fumbari.
The tsuka is 11 inches with the fittings , featuring blue silk ito over white samegawa panels. The real triumph of the tsuka is the complete lack of any semblance to the "axe-handle tsuka of old. The tsuka is slim, slightly curved and rikko (hourglass) shaped.
The fittings are blackened iron , and have a frog theme. The kashira sports a golden frog, while the fuchi is adorned with a lily pad and flower.
In Japanese society all things and people have a public face and a private face ... on that is showed to the world and one kept in private. This concept applies to people, corporations , swords, even tsubas. On the public face of the tsuba , a silver frog with golden eyes sits peacefully upon a lilly-pad. This is what would be seen by the public while the katana is nestled peacefully in the obi. However, once drawn, the private face of the tsuba shows nothing but the ripples in the water, where the frog has fled his post in advance of the impending violence... poignant.
The menuki are poignant as well , being a pair of carp on one side, and tadpoles on the other, We see the cycle of life spelled out in the koshirae, the frog, the carp that feeds upon him , and the tadpole which leads the frog kaeru, "to return".
The black saya features buffalo horn koiguchi , kurigata and kojiri and is adorned with very high quality, dual color (blue and teal) sageo. The saya is tight and there is no rattle.
On the saya there is some rough textured, almost pebbling in the laquer, and a chip at the kojiri, however, since this sword was defected for this reason , that doen't have any real bearing upon this review.
The habaki has a very good fit for a production sword , and indeed the fit and finish as whole is tight and well done.
As previously mentioned , the tsuka is perhaps the best tsuka I've ever encountered on a Hanwei sword. It is slim and waisted, the rikko shape making it ergonomically pleasing to grip.
The ito is tight and provides a tactile gripping surface.
With a nagasa of 27 inches , a POB at 5 inches and a weight of less than 2.5 lbs, the Kaeru is lightning fast. Handling is definitely its strong suite , stopping and transitioning without drag.
This would, in my opinion , be a great sword for iai practice. This is also a terrific sword for swordsmen of smaller stature or ladies as well as being a break from the 29 to 30 inch monsters Hanwei has been building recently. Heck its a nice sword for anyone, being far from small myself , I still enjoy a quick handling sword. As a collector I appreciate that it represents a different era in Japanese sword making than say the Bamboo Mat or the Lion Dog.
While not a sword designed for and dedicated to heavy cutting, the Kaeru is still quite capable at the task. Although I didn't cut any bamboo , the Kaeru handled bottles easily , forgiving my bad form. Please check out the following video.
I do have some tatami , and will try to update with that , as time allows.
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
As most of you know this is the section I use to be crictical rather than clinical. There's not a whole lot on the Kaeru to be critical of. While everything on the sword is not exactly to my taste (hi, kissaki ) it is still well done and a great representation of what it is meant to be. My wife is in love with every inch of it , having no preconcieved prejudices about short kissaki and bo-hi as I do. And you know what? They have won me over as well.
The one thing that I really think would set this sword off would be a higher quality piece of samegawa.
The Kaeru fills a gap that many companies have not been addressing recently. That is , a replica with a length and weight more in line with the majority of antiques . And they do this in a very nicely presented , attractive package.
To be honest, I think that this is the most beautiful sword that Hanwei has ever turned out. I absolutely love the theme, the koshirae, the flow ... and all the little detailed touches. The hada is the best I've seen on a Hanwei, and that means on ANY production katana.
The Kaeru also marks a turning point for Hanwei, it seems . In the Kaeru we see a move towards a more tradional , subdued hada, and a better shaped tsuka.
I really like what I am seeing from the new Hanwei stuff, and I feel that they are well positioned to continue to make advancements in their line, as well as continue lead the industry in quality and variety.
The Kaeru from Hanwei is a winner in my book , and I can't wait to see what is coming next.
Thanks for reading!
Cool stuff! Thanks for the review!
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Very good review, as always. You have a turn for the lyrical, and a good eye for detail. Thanks very much for sharing. If you don't mind my asking, do you have any idea what MSRP is?
Great review Mark Thanks
Thanks for another thorough review
Sorry to hear about your azalea, it really complimented your pics nicely.
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