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Sword (itomaki no tachi)
M.13-1949
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

This sword has a long and precious history: the blade was made at a time when Japan was riven with civil war and two would-be emperors struggled for supremacy. Japanese sword blades were precious objects and were revered for their cutting ability, their intrinsic beauty and their spirituality. The blade of this word was treasured for over 600 years before being remounted (it had presumably had this done many times in its history) by the ruling Emperor Meiji for a diplomatic gift to Britain's first accredited minister to Japan. The new mounts were of the finest silk, lacquer and gold fittings, and represent the finest traditions of Japanese craftsmanship.

History of the Object
This Japanese sword carries the inlaid gold signature of the smith Tomomitsu and is dated to 1335 (Kemmu 2). This was a period in Japan’s history know as the Nanbokucho (Northern and Southern courts) when there were two claimants to the imperial throne. The Kemmu period falls within the reign of Emperor Go-Daigo of the Southern Court. Originally, a longer sword for use from horseback, the blade has been shortened for fighting on foot. Any original signature would have been lost in this process but a professional appraiser has inscribed the name of the smith Tomomitsu (of Osafune in Bizen Province) and the date of manufacture in gold on the hilt. The blade was specially remounted with solid gold fittings by Ota Yoshihisa for the Emperor Meiji who gave the sword to the British Minister Sir Harry Parkes on the occasion of his private audience with the emperor in May 1871. A plate on the tsuba (sword-guard) carries a dedicatory inscription to Parkes which indicates that the remounting was carried out specifically for the gift. Parkes audience in 1871 was a quite different experience from that of 23 March 1868 when he set out for Kyoto for his first meeting with the emperor. Although accompanied by a mounted force of British and Japanese troops, the group was attacked at a crossroads by two Japanese fanatics armed with long swords. The narrow streets prevented the use of the cavalry lances and the assailants caused significant casualties before one was killed and the other incapacitated. The Imperial audience was eventually held on 26 March 1868, and Parkes finally presented his credentials to the Emperor Meiji as the first fully accredited British Minister to Japan.

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Type
Weaponry 
Materials
Steel, lacquered wood, silk cords, gold fittings 
Measurements
Blade length 68.6cm 
Creator name
Tomomitsu 
Creator date
fl. 1325-1350 
Where it was made
Japan; Bizen province 
Geography
Japan 
Time period
AD 14th century ~ AD 14th century 
Creation date
14th century; 1335 
Function
 
Acquisition
Given by Sir Harry Parkes 
Copyright
 
Acknowledgements
 
Owner
Victoria and Albert Museum 
Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum 
Credit line
© V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London 

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