Kinai Nanadai - Sword and Scabbard, early 19th century

Kinai Nanadai (active Echizen, 19th century)

Sword and Scabbard, early 19th century

Steel blade with shark skin handle, silk cord, and lacquer scabbard , 106 cm (41 3/4 in.)


Made according to traditional Japanese techniques, the long, curved steel blade of this sword, or katana, may have required weeks to craft. Like most katanas, the wooden hilt is covered with stingray skin, which is both decorative and practical—its bumpy texture provided additional grip. The hilt is wrapped with a dark blue silk cord in a pattern that exposes diamond-shaped patches of the white stingray skin beneath. 

Isabella’s friend, the curator of Asian art Okakura Kakuzō, introduced her to Uchimura Tengan, a jiu jitsu expert.  Soon Isabella started learning the martial art, and newspapers couldn’t resist reporting on her lessons. One article even warned burglars and bad characters to beware of Isabella’s new skills. Perhaps in recognition of her interest, Uchimura gave Isabella this sword and scabbard which she kept in her personal treasure trove, the Vatichino.