Japan Today

Missing 700-year-old national treasure katana found in Australia

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

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. 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 Aus$5,300 (about U.S.$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 hand guard 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.

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.

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 the 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

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© SoraNews24

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Aus$5,300 (about U.S.$3,810). After receiving the sword, which turned out to be as high-quality a piece as he’d expected,

Im surprised I really thought these items were worth a lot more than that. I thought a new one cost about the same. I was wrong obviously.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

@Criky - They are worth what somebody will pay for them. I’d guess the US seller didn’t really know what he had. It should be worth upwards of $20,000.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

I want one of those...

3 ( +5 / -2 )

That’s what I thought $20,000 at least! That Aussie guy must opened the box and had a “holy crap” moment. He is a collector so he knows what’s, what you would imagine. He is going to keep it (collector) and will it to the Temple. That’s a serious collector. He probably looks at it everyday and shakes his head, “can’t believe I have that”.

9 ( +12 / -3 )

What a fortuitous turn of events.

Respect to the collector.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

My friend polishes katanas worth ¥6,000,000 from this period.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

There should be a statute of limitations on this stuff.

If Grandpa lifted it in the war and it's hung over his fireplace this long, it's HIS. End of story.

-8 ( +3 / -11 )

Why are there down votes? It’s hardly a dirisive topic. Unbelievable.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

I have a filthy rich Japanese friend who bought what he thought was a prized (valuable) katana. After getting it professionally appraised, to his horror he found out it was from a lower-level samurai and thus, not so valuable. When he told me he didn't want it, I was more than willing to take it off his hands. Always wanted a real one and was really thrilled and it sits on display in my living room. Great conversation piece regardless of the rank of the guy who owned it.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Yes, a nice cultural asset of a long bygone era… Personally I would prefer distance weapons, because it’s too late and a gamble if the opponents are already such near in the reach of a katana. Shooting and sniper them out already far away is a better option when probability is considered. Anyway, I have a replica, not sharpened and I guess soon corroding , at home , for decoration purposes or if the wrong guy should ring the bell or intrude. It’s been given to me as a bonus present from a very friendly old Japanese man who was a café owner and antiques collector when I bought something else. Might be also sufficient for a simple self defense even unsharpened and not being made by an artisan sword smith out of the history books. lol

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

There should be a statute of limitations on this stuff.

I disagree (although I didn't downvote you).

Cultural artefacts - where removed illegally - should be returned.

Otherwise we'll not only have a world full of British Museums.

Secret funds will speculate on stolen goods maturing after the time specified in the statute.

It encourages behaviour like Queen Victoria arrogantly defacing the Book of Kells with her signature.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Samurai swords are works of art. There was a story of a box of unopened swords being found in a British museum. The swords were from various countries and most were black or rusting due to being in this box for over a hundred years, but at the bottom of the box were the samurai swords and they still looked brand new. It’s been said that one of the reasons for their high quality is that the smiths used wood burning fires, not coal, and this was better because it meant that less carbon got into the swords. I own two myself and they are about 700 to 800 years old.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

"Worth $20,000", Lindsay and Cricky? I think you are missing a zero there at least. Try buying a 国宝 Kokuho national treasure for $200,000...... cheap!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I’ve been fortunate enough to have handled a couple of unofficial Japanese national treasures. They’re in private hands. One was a sword which was presented by Tokugawa to Hideyoshi (in happier times) at a special ceremony. Another sword was 3 to 4 meters long and very heavy. I was told that it was carried inside of a portable shrine onto the battlefield for good luck. It was from a famous group/clan, maybe the Minamoto? But I’m not sure. That sword had been taken/stolen from a well known shrine by an American G.I. Both swords were purchased for fractions of what they were worth and brought back to Japan within the past 20 years or so. The families had no idea what their grandfather’s had brought back from Japan after WWII.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I have a Nambu which I believe belonged to Admiral Sakonju Naomasa who was murdered by the British in 1945. It bears a cloth tag with his name. The serial number is 27446 and appears to have been produced in 1937. It is clearly an officer's weapon and is complete with holster, kit, and strap and is in pristine condition. If someone knows of a museum (Etajima?, whose Kamikaze memorial I have visited and was greatly hurt and saddened by the young, bright faces I saw in the photographs) which would desire to possess this piece, perhaps Japan Today could be contacted and they would send me an email with details. This may not class with the swords discussed here but is a weapon of war with a history.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

WB, if you have your Nanbu abroad, keep it safe there.

The authorities would never allow it into Japan, without removing/destroying the barrel for example.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

""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 the sword is go to back to the Kagoshima Shrine,” and added that he hopes to pay a visit to the shrine.""

A man of good spirit, I congratulate him for making such a decision.

I can't even imagine what another greedy collector would do.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@Elvis is here

You may want to try the Yushukan Museum at Yasukuni Shrine. This museum may also be interested in acquiring it if they consider it to be historically significant.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )


@William Bjornson


1 ( +2 / -1 )

The best location for this sword is in a Japanese museum, its an important cultural property and Japan is its natural home. You can't impose a statute of limitations on important cultural items stolen, theft is theft no matter how long ago it happened. That's why there is now a world wide movement to return the stolen Parthenon marbles back to Greece.............and they were nicked by the Brits back in 1800.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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