Japanese Heirlooms

Oct 7, 1998
I don't know a lot about japanese swords.
What I do know I learned from a couple friends that are avid collectors. Please correct me where needed.
I understand that during world war 2 some japanese officers had their family heirloon swords fitted with military hardware and used them.
It would seem logical that the families would be extremely interested in retrieving their heirlooms.
Do you know of any efforts of japanese families to recover their swords or is there any kind of organization involved in recovery such as returning that part of japanese art back to japan?

[This message has been edited by TomW (edited 09-28-2000).]
Aug 20, 2000
Well I have not heard much on this front. Most of the officers were issued swords. And the ones they take into combat are usually the issued ones. Some however do loose their heirloom swords. But if they loose the sword it is enough of a disgrace. Remember "To live and die by the sword". So i doubt any effort is out there to retrieve it. I'm not by any means an expert. but culture wise, it would be a disgrace to loose the family sword let alone having the guts to live and tell about it.

Peter Bui
Some guy in California just ate a worm and boy is it yummy.


Gold Member
Aug 8, 2000
I agree with that analysis and would like to add that the Japanese would really like to forget that the war ever happened. I understand that they go to great lengths to gloss over the war or minimize Japan's role. Having a concrete reminder of that time brought back to them isn't high on most Japanese priority lists I wouldn't think.
Sep 17, 1999
Actually, I think there are families who would appreciate the return of heirloom blades. However, I would hazard a guess that it would be really difficult to match up a lost sword with the family it belonged to. Although the nakago (tang) of a traditionally made sword will bear information about the maker, date of making, etc., it won't necessarily identify who it was made for. If there are no identifying marks on the fittings, then there would be no way to know who owned a particular blade.

Also, there is a bright-line distinction in Japanese weapons law with regards to traditionally made (OK to own b/c of historical/artistic merit) and factory made, i.e. barstock (absolutely banned b/c it is purely a weapon) swords. Most of the swords brought back by Allied servicemen were the latter type, which is another reason people don't make efforts to repatriate WWII swords--no point in sending it back if the Japanese government is just gonna melt it down.
Jul 2, 2000
Many many blades were handed over to allied troops upon the end of the war. These were given without the notion of having them returned.

Many that were handed over were machine-made showato that are no longer welcome in Japan. The heirlooms and so forth though would have a place. I'm also sure that there are some families that would like something of theirs back. However, the likelihood is extremely slim of it ever happening. Good old blades could wind up either destroyed over American soil with something so simple as a belt sander and a passion for hacking shrubbery...or they will find a home in the hands of a collector.

I personally think that it is such a terribly slim chance that families will receive their stuff back, that it's almost not worth thinking about. However, there are many organizations that people can belong to, and if someone is looking for a very specific sword...they could reacquire it if it does show up. There are also wanted ads and so forth in the JSS/US and other groups...and there is a big collecting community out there.

The chance is slim that someone would return a sword to its rightful original owner, but there's always hope that some collector may have it and is taking care of it, and would be willing to return it to its family.

This is personal opinion though.

Oct 9, 1998
I have one of those heirloom swords from WWII. The blade is “tired”, as it has been polished many times. It was made around 1600. It’s one of the nicest Nihonto I have seen with a beautiful hamon. While I would never cut anything with it or even touch the blade, even with the military hardware it is an absolute joy to swing through the air. The scabbard has a tag in Japanese indicating whom it belonged to. After visiting Japan in the early 70s, I had some of my Japanese friends try and locate the owner’s family so I could return the blade. Unfortunately they could not locate them. The bomb got them.