In 1603, the Tokugawa family came to power as the rulers of Japan. Three samurai swords worn during this time, also known as the ...
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For samurai, or military nobility, in pre-industrial Japan, a sword was more than a weapon: It was an extension of the soul. Two of the swords in this collection form a daisho (meaning "big and small") set, comprised of a katana (which means "long sword") and wakizashi (which means "side arm"). Samurai treated katana swords, which are curved and single edged, with great reverence. They gave them names and, when male children turned 13, held ceremonies in which young men received their first katana swords and armor, along with adult names and samurai status.
The wakizashi— a short sword with a curved blade — was a samurai's "honor weapon" and was always with him; he would even sleep with it under his pillow. When a samurai entered a house, he was expected to leave his armor and weapons outside, but it was traditional for him to keep his wakizashi at his side for protection. According to the appraiserAn expert who assesses the value, quality, and authenticity of works of art or other objects. the third sword in this set is highly unusual: Symbols on this court sword, including the Tokugawa crest, provide evidence suggesting that it was carried by a samurai who was exceptionally close to the ruling family.
Samurai operated under a code of ethics known as Bushido, or the "way of the warrior." Central to this set of values was the importance of living — and dying — with honor. In addition to honor, six other core virtues are associated with Bushido. These include courage, respect, honesty, loyalty, compassion, and integrity.
All three of these swords were worn during the Tokugawa period, which began in 1603, when the Tokugawa family came to power as the rulers of Japan. The Tokugawa were shoguns, or military dictators, who governed in place of the emperors. (This era is also known as the Edo period, after the new capital city of Edo, which was established by the Tokugawa shoguns and which is now Tokyo.) The Tokugawa government imposed a strict new social order to Japan. The role of the samurai — and of their swords — changed dramatically, as samurai were forced to choose between relinquishing their weapons and becoming peasants or keeping their swords, moving to the city where their feudal lord lived, and becoming aristocratic bureaucrats, administrators, courtiers, or military leaders. By the time the Tokugawa era ended in 1868, daisho swords had become symbols of power rather than weapons used in warfare.
- In what country and during what time period were these swords used?
- What were the swords used to protect?
- Using context clues from the appraisal video, try to come up with definitions for the following terms: daisho; katana; wakizashi; tsuba; fuchi kashira; kozuka; tsuka. Check your definitions against a dictionary.
- What can you deduce about the samurai who owned the third sword? What clues lead you to these deductions?
- If you could ask the appraiser three questions about the swords in this collection, what more would you want to know? Share your questions with classmates. Can you find answers to any of these questions through your own research?
Antiques Roadshow: "Three Japanese Swords"
A full Teacher's Guide accompanies this video on the Antiques Roadshow Web site.