What do 800-year-old Japanese swords, a Chinese general, and George C. Marshall have in common? More than you know, probably.
The Chinese Nationalist was General Yen Hsi-shan, a warlord who, with American assistance fought the Japanese in Northern China during World War II. In 1946, George C. Marshall was visiting China, and General Yen gave him two Japanese swords. These were no ordinary swords. They were samurai swords of the highest caliber, and we have them in our collection.
Japanese sword makers led a nearly monastic life when they produced a blade, eschewing sex, meat, and intoxicating drinks. To create the blades took months. They used a production technique that involved folding the steel again and again until they had created the perfect blade.
As such, the sword of a samurai warrior was one of his most prized possessions. It was what separated him from the common man who served in the armies. These blades were passed down through families until they were banned from the uniform during the Meiji period. However, during the Second World War, it was not uncommon to see Japanese officers carrying these swords into battle. It is not hard to imagine that these swords given to Marshall could have been carried by a Japanese officer during the Sino-Japanese War.
The blades are what are known as Wakaizashi, however one of them was cut down from a larger sword known as a Tachi. The older and larger of the two was produced about 1250 C.E. and the smaller in about 1530 C.E. Only the shorter of the two is “signed” by its maker, Bizen Yokoyama Ju Tada-Mitzu. The smaller of the two also includes a kokatana, or “little knife” in the scabbard. The two swords were presented to Marshall in an ornately embroidered tapestry bag.