A Shin-Gunto (New Army Sword) is a Military version Japanese Samurai sword. These swords are not the actual Japanese class family Samurai sword that was hand built by craftsmen but a factory mass produced copy instead, and it was these that were issued to all Japanese NCOs in World War Two.

 

Allen a long-time family friend recently  passed away and his remaining family bequeathed to me a family heirloom of sorts. A genuine circa1940's Shin-Gunto or Military Version  Samurai Sword from World War Two.

Allen served in The Royal Signals during World War Two and was on the Normandy landings June 6th, 1944. He along with his comrades fought right the way up into Berlin 1945. He also saw action in the now infamous Battle of the Bulge  in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium where he later remarked that he spent Christmas and New year 1944 "buried up to his neck in foxholes in the frozen snow covered earth  freezing his brass monkeys off ".

The Ardennes too, is the terrible place where many of his comrades lost their lives under the perpetual heavy German bombardment.

It was somewhere during this time in Belgium that Allen came across a P08 German Luger pistol and he kept it as a souvenir, souvenir and memento collecting was common practice for World War Two soldiers.

Sometime after World War Two  had ended,  officially know as V.E day Victory in Europe and  V.J day Victory over Japan, He later came across some American Marines, awaiting their return to the States. These Marines had fought in the Pacific, more notably Iwo Jima and Okinawa and were resting up before going back to the States. 

One of the Marines had acquired a dead Japanese Sergeant's sword during battle but the Marine wanted to take back home a German Luger pistol as a trophy but had not come across one and his pals had not wanted to part with any of their trophies.   Allen told the Marine that he had actually had a Luger, so he swapped it for the sword, and this is basically how the sword came into his possession.

It remained in his possession until in old age he passed away and the sword has now been handed on to me.  R.I.P Allen, Family friend and World War Two veteran.

Weight including scabbard 3lb 9 ounces.   Weight of sword 2lb 5oz.  Length including scabbard 3ft 2 ins (38 inches).  Length of cutting blade 2ft 2 ins (26 inches).

The Type 95 Shin-Gunto was released to the Imperial Japanese Army in 1935 and was specifically designed to be carried by Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs). All of these swords had factory machine made blades with deep blood grooves  and a serial number stamped on the blade.

The Scabbard Saya  on My Shin-Gunto is painted in a dark brown paint that I presume is a more recent application due to its lustre even though it bears lots of scratches and is quite shabby in areas.  The  band and ring Ashi  on the scabbard is polished.

The blade is in remarkable condition and still retains its sharp cutting edge called the Ha  although it has become slightly blunted due to some previous abuse by whoever and is not as razor sharp as when first issued. The handle is made of aluminum and still retains some of the original gold and brown paint  on it.

The locking latch lever that is made of iron is still 100% operational with little or no rust and no metal fractures in it. It has been remarked that these lever are the first to break on these swords as they get fragile with age.

The swords slides easily out of the scabbard of which is wood lined to protect the sword as it is inserted into it. It must be said here that when the sword is withdrawn or indeed replaced the blade MUST be facing upwards or it will get blunted against the mouth of the scabbard. This is also the way that the true Samurai handles the sword.

This clearer image of the handle shows the cherry blossom in the center.  The cherry blossom was the symbol for the Japanese Army and this ornate design is often mistaken by westerners as a simple flower pattern. Also the criss-cross metal pattern simulates what would be a cross pattern of silk cord over Manta Ray or Sharks skin as in the genuine true Samurai swords.

The leather strap and tassel that adorn this sword is very fragile and I have removed it from the sword and keep it separate, as it disintegrated when I touched it...seventy year old leather! It is very rare to have a Shin-Gunto with its original leather strap and tassel and this makes the sword that much more special.

The tip Kissaki of the Shin-Gunto is also one of the first parts of the sword to get broken or damaged as novice owners of swords such as this, strike hard surfaces and try to penetrate equally hard objects to " test it out "

The tip of my Shin-Gunto about ninety percent original condition, although not as pointed and sharp as it was once was, it is still formidable and would penetrate your flesh if handled foolishly. 

Note also the blood groove that runs down the length of the blade, this blood groove is actually called a fuller and was incorporated into the blade to make it lighter, something that true Samurai swords don't have and this is a clear indication for the swords origin as a Shin-Gunto.

The edge of this sword is still quite sharp and shiny for its age which is over seventy years. Although not sharp enough to shave the hairs off your arm for example, it can still slice through material such as an old T-Shirt with little effort as I discovered on a test (NB: never  cut paper with any sharp blade to see how sharp it is as this will take the edge off it) and consequently this sword still represents a very dangerous weapon and would be terrifying in the wrong hands.

I also note here that there is a serial number that is stamped into the end of the sword blade. This number also matches the number that is on the end of the scabbard, this also increase's its value to collectors.  There is no rust and not much pitting in the sword and the blade is in remarkable condition.

The serial number 66356 also matches the scabbards number. Note too that there is a small inspectors stamp mark on the left about a centimeter from the first 6 on the scabbards end Kuchi-Gane  Sadly the serial numbers are only  manufacturing numbers.

They are not serial numbers of swords as issued to specific soldiers. Although individuals may of made a note of the serial number for their own identification for example  " This is my sword hands off  ! "

There are various markings on the copper hilt Tsuka  ring of the sword that indicate where the sword was made and also factory manufacturers inspection stamps.

The abundant cheap Chinese copies of these swords that flooded the market at the end of World War Two  do not have these markings and experts can authenticate the ones that do.   It must be said that a sword such as this, can if needs be, be carbon dated to prove its authenticity.

A look down the  sword from the users view. The hand guard Tsuba  is of Brass and is quite ornate in its design and finish. It is a mistake to get the polish out and bring up the Brass to a new shine as this depreciates the sword...so put that tin of 'Brasso' away and leave it as it is.

Over all it is quite austere and a very nice condition Genuine Japanese NCOs sword from World War Two.  A sword that is steeped in History.

Average condition Shin-Gunto's fetch about $300 to $500 but this particular one I would estimate would fetch a lot more especially as it still has the genuine sword tassel.  As stated the leather tassel is now very weak and degraded hence I removed it and put it in a safe place.

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Was this sword ever used by its original Japanese owner to kill? Has this sword ever taken the life of some poor soul? well this can only remain as a 50/50 possibility. The history of my sword's previous life prior to the Marine's capture of it remains forever obscure.

The Japanese military were  particularly vicious  during World War Two and showed complete contempt of all who fell to their mercy. POW's were treated abysmally as well as Burmese, Malaysians, Indonesians, Russians, Koreans, Manchurians, Chinese and Filipinos.

In fact any who were under their occupation.  Japanese Officers especially those  members of the  dreaded  Kempeitai (Military Police)  and the Tokko " Tokubetsu Koto " Keisatsu  (Japanese Gestapo)  executed many of those unfortunate to fall foul or get captured by them with an often impromptu trial or indeed and more often than not, they were executed right there on the spot.

One of the hardest things for the westerner to understand was the Japanese soldiers code of Bushido and the Japanese strict adherence to its protocols. 

The Japanese Officer along with many enlisted men religiously followed the code of Bushido which has its tracings from the days of the Samurai warrior.  The code of Bushido ( the way of the warrior ) follows seven virtues, which are:

Gi - Rectitude.   Yu - Courage.   Jin - Benevolence.   Rei - Respect.   Makato - Honesty.   Chugi - Loyalty  and  Meiyo - Honor to the death. 

Of course none of these virtues were reserved for prisoners or enemies of the Empire of Japan.

Bushido originated from Japanese national traditions and religious heritage mainly Shinto and Zen Buddhism and is a way of life rather than just religious dogma. Bushido and its code of honor is never broken by its devotees and the Kamikaze pilots - Divine Wind  - adhered  to this code to give them strength and courage for their successful attacks against American ships particularly in the battle of Midway in World War Two.

This code gave strict military rules of conduct for its followers including the teaching that all captured enemy are dishonorable.  It professed further that they should only be treated as lowlife as all honor with them was relinquished by their unthinkable act of surrender or capture.

This most unthinkable, unimaginable act of being captured or even worse surrendering to the enemy ( shock-horror ) was so abhorrent to the Japanese Officer or Soldier, that they would prefer the honor of dying rather than being taken prisoner.

Being taken prisoner was absolutely abhorrent to them and their families, who it was said would live in eternal shame.  So suicide was expected as normality, perquisite for all Japanese soldiers who followed Bushido.

Seppuku or more commonly known in the West as  Hara-Kiri ( slit stomach ) was the preferred method of suicide as stated by the Code of Bushido. After ritual preparation with prayer and burning incense and wearing the right apparel the Japanese Officer would kneel down open up his blouse, place the tip of his Tanto Samurai knife to his stomach then would stab inwards and upwards, his assistant standing there behind him, would decapitate him in one swift strike with a Shin-Gunto or true Samurai Sword moments later.

Our often very brutal history could pose the question; was my sword ever used in such a fashion? I can only answer that I will never know, but it gives me an eerie feeling every time I hold it that it may have but I in all honesty hope that it never has.

It was designed to look gracious and elegant, a true accessory for any budding young NCO in the Imperial Japanese Army but besides this the Shin-Gunto was a weapon, a personal side-arm for protection or attack.

Nearly all of the Japanese Shin-Gunto's and Samurai Swords were captured during WWII, many were destroyed by the occupying Americans as a sign of contempt for the Japanese whilst tens of thousands were kept as war trophies.  Some of these are now finding their way back to Japan, being re-acquired by many a discerning Japanese.

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Page created October 10th 2006.  Updated August 18th 2012