Aikuchi Tanto 1

J0 Aikuchi Tanto - Version 2

Code: J0

This is a Meji-period Aikuchi Tanto short sword from Japan, circa late 1800's to early 1900's. The most remarkable aspect of Aikuchi are the decorative carvings found on the bone sheath, hilt and other fittings. The quality of the carving is one of the principle measures of value for a Aikuchi.  The scabbard and hilt of these knives were made from bone, stag antler or elephant ivory. The artistic carvings typically capture a vision of the times with scenes of samurai, village people, life at court and sometimes flowers.  

Aikuchi were sometimes made from longer blades that were broken, or from blades that didn't come through the yaki-iri (hardening process) in good shape.  The reshaping was done by cutting off the end and reshaping the lines of the blade with polishing stones rather than running it through the forge a second time.

As you can see in the pictures below, this blade has several hairline cracks and is otherwise imperfectly formed.  Partly because of the inferior quality of the Aikuchi blade in comparison with the blades on weapons such as the Katana, Tachi, and others, Aikuchi are sometimes referred to as “hocho tetsu”, or “kitchen steel”, a most derogatory term .  

While Aikuchi were relished as mementos by early European visitors to Japan primarily for the decorative carvings, they also served as functional weapons.  Without a tsuba (a guard found on the katana and other swords of Japan), these knives were much easier to conceal. Thus, tanto sometimes were the last line of defense for women in the home and for warriors on the battlefield.  They were an extreme back-up weapon if it came down to grappling. As serious weapons, after the Tachi, Katana, and Wakizashi, there were few deadly options left to the samurai warrior.

This Aikuchi measures 15 inches long overall. The blade is 8 ¼ inches long from hilt to tip, ¾ inch wide and ⅛ inch thick with a distal taper to the tip.  The blade has an upswept tip that has been created as a repair, probably due to a broken blade.

The hilt and scabbard comprise four separate pieces of bone ranging from 3 ¼ inches to 3 ¾ inches in length.  The kashira (buttcap of the hilt) and kojira (tip of the scabbard) appear to be made from a different type of bone and possibly they were added later as a repair.  Unlike the rest of the fittings, these pieces are uncarved.