View Full Version : Shirasaya: Practical?
Well, the title pretty much says it all. Are the shirasaya style swords actually practical, or are they just for collectors?
It would seem to me that a tsuba would be important to have, for hand protection if nothing else.
Some internet sites claim these were designed by samurai after Japanese laws prohibited the use of the katana, but I take that with a grain of salt- I don't believe everything I read on the internet. Anyone care to verify?
Mind you, I don't plan on getting one. Rather, let me rephrase that. I don't plan on getting one to practice with; if I purchased one, it'd simply be for display. However, I tend to like swords that have practicality to them. Perhaps I'm just weird. ;)
I figure there has to be SOMETHING about them that's useful, or else why would Hanwei feature several versions of it for sale (and at a hefty price, I might add)?
Anyway, any knowledge about these would be greatly appreciated.
Historically, the Shirasaya was used to protect unmounted blades. It was a safety sheath and AFAIK not intended for use whatsoever. Though Im not sure, I would guess that the proliferation of shirasaya "swords" is thanks to 440 sword makers not knowing what it was they were trying to reproduce, and making themselvs look goofy in the process.
I'd have to echo Sgathak,
Shirasaya were never, ever used for battle. They were merely storage furniture for unmounted katana. If you ever wanted a sword renovated or repaired by a sword polisher, you sent it in a shira saya.
Same when you had your everyday furniture damaged or broken - you placed the sword in the shirasaya, until you could replace the furniture. But you never took a sword out in shirasaya furniture.
Erm... so what you're saying is that Hanwei, like everyone else, is just trying to make a buck, yes? Kinda sad, since I respect them a lot for their quality products, but I guess they have to eat too.
Thanks for the info.
As one web site I came across describes it, shirasaya are "pyjamas" for a sword, a plain storage scabbard for when the sword was not needed for actual use. Why sell Hanwei swords in shirasaya? So you can then get your own fittings and saya and have the sword fitted out to your own preferences. Some sites that sell decent quality swords also sell the individual pieces, including rayskin same and ito cord for the wrapping. I haven't seen anyone selling wood cores for tsuka though, they really need to be individually matched to the nakago (tang) of the blade for a proper fit. If you're going to remount a blade from shirasaya yourself, you're already comitted to making the saya, so a tsuba core is much the same thing, only shorter and without the lacquer polish. :)
If you have some space to do the work and have the patience, you can learn to do full mounts yourself, although learning to do a good ito wrap on the tsuka takes a *LOT* of practice and is probably the most difficult task, even compared to making your own saya.
It's better to have a specialist who knows his craft construct sword furniture like saya rather than a hobbyist. Alright, it's very expensive and time consuming, but these specialists didn't study as appretices for decades to make shoddy products.
Constructing a saya is a very time consuming, troublesome and exact craft. You have to have the right soft wood in the right thicknesses and lengths, the exact etching and carving of the sword body. (One mistake and you have to start all over again!) then you have to carve the outer surface of the saya and sand it down to just the right finish. Then you have to construct a suitable kojiri (Saya butt) to ensure that the ends of the saya are fixed together tightly to help prevent warping. Then you have to do the urushi (laquering) in layers too. It's a very precise and demanding craft that isn't just picked up in a few hours. It takes years of work and dedication to become accomplished at this craft.
You don't have your sword polished at home with a kitchen diamond or a hone do you? No, you go to a proper polisher who knows how to clean, repair and sharpen the weapon properly. Same thing with furniture.
I know it sounds old fashioned, but I'm a bit hard headed when it comes to preserving traditions. :)
I have no intention of doing any of my own work on any sort of blade; I simply don't have the skills/time/money/patience. So, now that the question of functionality is answered, I know now what the heck shirasaya are used for.
Next question... very similiar in appearance to the shirasaya are the "zatoichi" type blades. As a matter of fact, the only difference I can see from the outside (mind you, I have a very untrained eye) is the lack of a curve in the blade. Are these types of blades actually put to use in training (I'm thinking if anywhere, they'd be used in ninjutsu practice), or are they, too, simply for decoration? Again, Paul Chen/Hanwei makes several versions of this, and several are folded Swedish steel. I fail to see how such arduous tempering would be put to waste in a decorative sword.
And yes, I know the whole "zatoichi" thing is simply a movie/legend, one that I particularly know nothing about except he was a blind swordsman.
Don't ask why, but I simply like the look of these "tsuba-less" swords. I'm simply doing my homework before investing any money in them.
*pulls out his pockets and watches moths fly around* :rolleyes:
Gunyo, if we were talking about a nihonto or a blade from a more acomplished smith such as Howard Clark, then I agree with you completely, get the fitting/mounting work done by the people who know how to do it right, but I know of one polisher in California, Keith Larman, who started by practicing on Paul Chen blades. That way if he messed up a blade, noone was going to shed any tears over it, but it also meant he could practice on hand forged blades that weren't too valuable to learn on. Let's face it, there are more Paul Chen blades on the market today than you or I could poke a truckload of sticks at. Keith now earns a very large part of his living from polishing and other fitting/mounting work, but doesn't do Chen blades any more, his polishing work now costs more than the Chen blades are worth.
Let's not kid ourselves here, while Paul Chen blades are fine examples of entry level hand forged blades, that's all they are, entry level blades. How many of them are likely to become collectables or family heirlooms? They're good for what they are, but they're not without their own flaws, and while I'm not suggesting someone should attempt their own polish (although I've named on semi-professional polisher who started out by practicing on Chen blades and I've seen instructional videos for sale for blade polishing), for an entry level blade that's extremely unlikely to become a prized collectable, such as a Chen, you can learn far far more by attempting it yourself than by just reading a book about it, mistakes included (someone people learn far more by making a mistake than succeeding without knowing why). If you make a mistake with a Chen blade, does it really matter THAT much?
Am I saying anyone could start earning money doing mounting work by practicing a bit on a Chen blade? Highly unlikely, you'd have to be seriously committed, practice a LOT, again and again and again and again, and be able to step back and criticise your own work quite ruthlessly. Having access to someone who already knows what they're doing who's willing to give you some guidance is also invaluable.
I have to say that I fundamentally disagree with the notion that amatuers should leave it all alone. In the book The Craft of the Japanese Sword by Leon Kapp and Yoshindo Yoshihara there is an interview with a sword appraiser who retired as a policeman in his 40's, then became an apprentice swordsmith. He didn't learn smithing so he could earn a living making blades himself, but so that he could better understand the process and apply it to appraising blades. Perhaps he should have stuck to being a policeman and left both smithing and appraising to the "professionals", hmmm?
I'm not suggesting making a saya or building up a tsuka from scratch is going to be simple, it's certainly not, but for a budget priced Chen blade that's hardly likely to become a collectable, I don't see any harm whatsoever in using it to experiment with. Besides, the swords are designed to be disassembled and have replaceable fittings. As long as you keep the originals in one piece, you can always put the blade together again in it's original koshirae. Who knows, maybe someone here will eventually become a master craftsman making collectable tsuba, because they decided to give it a go themselves.
*taps the mic* This thing on?
Well, maybe this could clarify a bit. For those of you who've watched Kill Bill, you'll know what I'm talking about. In the last fight with O-Ren Ishii, O-Ren uses the type of sword I'm trying to describe (no tsuba, basically looks like a shirasaya to me). Now, is that just used to "look cool", or do those actually exist for practical purposes? I'd give a better example if I could think of one, but this is all that comes to mind. Sorry :(
My understanding is that the "zatoichi" (straight blade, no tsuba) is the infamous concealed sword referred to at the start of this thread. Basically it is a cane sword as described in the movie "Blind Fury".
The type of such sword is not shirasaya, but shikomi-zue. Shirasaya is "pajamas" for a blade, as been said. Shikomi-zue is a cane sword, which usually held low quality blades. However, occasionally better blades were found from such mountings.
Two fine examples:
My guess would be that O-ren Ishii's sword in Kill Bill (although it obviously was a fantasy piece) was a shikomi-zue, instead of shirasaya (or, well, if using the literal term, instead of kurosaya, heh :) ).
u want the best zotachi on the planet ( cost and quality)
go to lastlegend.com
and look at the blind warrior
i think its what you are wanting...
please post you full name with every post you make as per forum rules.
Powered by vBulletin® Version 4.1.10 Copyright © 2013 vBulletin Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved.