This little tantô brings with it good fortune for a Samurai. Anyone familiar with Japanese food knows that dashi (fish soup stock) is the foundation of all Japanese cooking. Dashi is made by boiling shaved dried bonito (katsuo bushi) in water that has been infused with dried seaweed (konbu). As a side note, the eating of konbu is supposedly excellent for hair growth. If you know me, you know that I found out about this much too late in life, unfortunately.
Sorry for the digression, back to the dried bonito. Today most people buy their katsuo bushi in packages of pre-shaved dried bonito. If you are a traditionalist, however, you should buy a whole piece of dried bonito and shave it yourself in a small wooden box that has a sharp metal plane blade on top. The whole piece of bonito looks very much like a triangular shaped block of wood. Now we are getting to the “meat” of the story.
The koshirae for this little tantô is shaped and lacquered to resemble a whole piece of dried bonito. Now comes the interesting part……The Japanese love a good play-on-words and the use of kanji provides lots of great opportunities for this. The kanji for katsuo bushi is as follows: 鰹節. This means a whole piece of dried bonito.
Now, the same-sounding phrase, katsuo bushi, can be written as follows: 勝男武士. Breaking down the individual kanji characters, you get the same reading as before but with an entirely different meaning. Katsu (勝)means to win. O (男)comes from otoko, meaning man. Bushi (武士)means Samurai. Putting it all together we have katsuo bushi which is a wonderful play on words meaning a lucky (or winning) male Samurai. Pretty cool, huh.
The blade in this interesting koshirae is a moroha-zukuri tantô signed simply Norimitsu(法光). There were several generations of Bizen smiths signing with this name in the early to late 1500’s. I don’t know which generation it was made it or even if it is a genuine signature. It really doesn’t matter as it is just too cool.