Katana was gifted to shrine by samurai lord two centuries ago, but has been missing for decades.

In the 14th century, one of Japan’s greatest swordsmiths was Etchu Norishige. Norishige’s forge was in the fief of Nei, present-day Toyama Prefecture, and from there he supplied katana of the finest quality to the warriors of Japan’s Kamakura period.

As masterfully made weapons, Norishige’s best works lasted for centuries. Eventually one of the blades came to be the possession of Shimazu Norioki, 27th samurai lord of Shimazu clan, who ruled the Satsuma domain (now known as Kagoshima) roughly 200 years ago. But while Kagoshima is half-way across the country from Toyama, this Norishige katana’s journey would go much farther still, as it’s now been found in Australia.

The current owner of the sword is Melbourne resident and sword collector Ian Brooks, seen with the sword in the video above. Four years ago Brooks spotted what he could tell was a very high-quality katana being offered through an Internet auction, which he won with a bid of roughly 5,300 Australian dollars (about US$3,810). After receiving the sword, which turned out to be as high-quality a piece as he’d expected, he began investigating whether it had any special significance. From its length and handguard engravings, he suspected it might be an unsigned (i.e. a katana without the smith’s signature engraved into the hilt) Norishige known as Katana Mumei Norishige, specifically one which was designated as a national treasure in Japan but has been missing for decades.

▼ Coincidentally, this portrait of Shimazu Norioki has a katana in the background that looks sort of similar to the one Brooks purchased.

Examining the faded Japanese text of a paper wrapped around the sword’s scabbard, the characters 島神社 could be made out. Those match the last three of the name of Kagoshima Jingu/Kagoshima Shrine (鹿児島神宮), a shrine in Kagoshima’s Kirishima City that Lord Shimazu gifted the Katana Mumei Norishige to two centuries ago and which still exists today. Brooks has contacted Kagoshima Shrine, and the two parties now believe that the sword he purchased in the auction is indeed the missing national treasure.

The exact path by which the sword initially left Japan is unknown, but it was reportedly seized by Allied occupation forces following the end of World War II. Brooks purchased the sword from a seller in New York, but he doesn’t think there was any malicious intent to deprive Japan of a cultural relic, saying that he believes efforts were made at the time to keep swords of historical significance in Japan, but that some pieces slipped through such protocols due to insufficient communication.

▼ Kagoshima Jingu

As the Katana Mumei Norishige is an unsigned work, Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs wants to perform a final appraisal to determine if the two katana are one in the same, but that seems like a formality at this point, since even the cataloging numbers on the scabbard wrapping appear to match those in the shrine’s records.

In light of the revelation, Brooks said “I would like to keep the sword while I’m alive, but I’ve put a provision in my will to say that when I die that he sword is go to back to the Kagoshima Shrine,” and added that he hopes to pay a visit to the shrine. Meanwhile, Yoichi Inoue, a priest at Kagoshima Shrine, said “We never expected that the sword would return. I hope we will be will be able to retain it for a long time.”

Source: NHK News Web
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Wikipedia/Geneast, Wikipedia/Saigen Jiro
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