Before I get into the Ryumon Tanto Review proper, I want to take a moment to refresh a few factors in my decision to pick up this tanto.
In previous articles on my site, I've discussed acquiring a good ko-dachi (side sword or side arm) to match my daito - a long sword, in this case a katana, as I am a student of Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū (無双直伝英信流)and the Koryū bujutsu. While not vital I feel, with the support of my seniors, that it is in keeping with the spirit and ethos of the arts we train in to wear the daishō (two swords - a traditional signifier of samurai rank).
Due to this my requirements are perhaps different from the average collector of tanto or Japanese Daggers. Essentially my need is for something that:
With these considerations in mind, I ran into rather a big problem - there is extremely little by way of detailed review or comparison between available Tanto. I've taken it upon myself to rectify this situation.
I've ordered several tanto, including this "Ryumon Damascus Steel Tanto" for this Ryumon Tanto Review for the dual purpose of getting a good tanto (hopefully) and providing a comprehensive comparison of the tanto's out there for you and this site so that when you go to make a purchase you too can do so with confidence that you'll be getting the best quality and best value for money.
Each of these tanto will be put to actual use (if possible) as well over the next few months and I'll provide feedback on the functionality, comfort and practicality with hard core use in the dojo.
I've covered the history of the tanto in some detail on the site Part 1 and Part 2 are available here. So I won't got into that too much here, instead focusing on the history of Ryumon as manufacturers...
With the majority of manufacturers of Japanese knives Ryumon's "production centre" is based in China - however they are not a manufacturer in their own right. Much like Red Bull - they focus not on production but on branding. As such they collect a variety of pieces from different forges throughout China and offer them under the Ryumon brand banner.
As a result there is often wild difference in quality between the blades they offer.
There is no central website, no contactable staff, in fact no contact details provided for the Ryumon at all. At least not one I could find.
There is however plenty of rumour and speculation.
Within the US they seem to be primarily distributed by Master Cutlery and there are claims that Master Cutlery actually "own" the brand and that of sister company "Masahiro" whom I've reviewed - here. Likewise they are distributed mostly by Hill Giftware in the UK, and there are also rumours that Hill are behind the brand. These allegations have yet to be confirmed and ultimately it's not of major consequence. The Ryumon brand is meant to be of higher quality than Masahiro and as such command a slightly higher price point. Given my overall disappointment with Masahiro it shouldn't be hard pressed to improve over it.
With all this in mind let's take a look at exactly what they are....
These were purchased full price from Kult of Athena. I have not been paid or compensated in any way for this review.
It arrived in a 20x20x 8 brown box, inside of which was a smaller brown box, unsealed and un-taped. Inside was a very nice wooden box with the Ryumon logo on it. In a very nice touch the box has some small shavings tapering the edge.
Inside the wood box is some packing foam with some silk or synthetic silk covering, with the Ryumon Tanto wrapped in plastic. Removing that we...
....you can see my EXACT initial impressions for this Ryumon Tanto Review in the video below...
My first thoughts, this is lovely! I'm certainly hopeful! Let's check it out in more detail!
From the Kult of Athena site...
"The Ryumon Folded Steel Dragon Tanto features a hand forged 1065 carbon steel blade, folded, hand sharpened and differentially clay tempered. The grip is covered in genuine rayskin with a black cord wrap. The cast metal tsuba is in the form of a coiled dragon. Includes a red lacquered saya and wood presentation box".
And it retails for approx $59.95 so it's about 2/3rds more expensive than the Masahiro.
On first impressions it certainly seems to match the images on the Kult of Athena website, however I'd be confident in saying the red lacquer of the saya is far nicer in real life than as seen in the photos.
Ryumon Tanto Overall Appearance:
The saya is a gorgeous shade of red and much deeper in life than it appeared on the site. As with the Masahiro the fittings look very solid,with a lovely dragon motif. The sageo is soft cotton, at least it doesn't appear to be synthetic.
The ito (handle wrap) I think might be but it doesn't feel like synthetic cotton, which is nice. There's some exposure in the wrap between the wood and the same (ray skin) but the wrap itself is quite secure.
The menuki look nice, although this one appears to be slightly off to the side, that needs to be more centred, the other one is centred. It looks very nice overall though and I'm very excited to see the blade...
The Saya: The saya is a lovely deep shade of red with a rounded kojiri (butt). It's completely straight with no curvature. It fits in the obi nicely and is quite snug. The koiguchi (opening of the saya) is not supplemented by the traditional buffalo horn. But is nicely carved and smooth. The kurikata (the knob that holds the sageo or cord) is also not buffalo horn and appears to be a simple wood finish. But well painted and embellished with a well fitted and glued alloy spacer on both sides.
The Tsuba: Is made of blackened iron and a simple cast oval, measuring 4.5 cm by 6 cm. The tsuba is about 1.7 cm thick at it's highest point and features a dragon in relief on both sides. It is pleasant enough to look at and without any major distinguishing features. And that's more than okay at this price point.
The tsuba is softly rounded and thus not uncomfortable when gripping the tsuka, however the rounding takes the seppa (spacers) off the surface of the tsuba and there are noticeable gaps on both top and bottom. There is no mimi (edge rim) and it's line wobbles a lot. Ultimately the tsuba is cheap but does it's job and that's perfect for this price. :-)
The tsuka appears to be a simple carving, completely straight (which is not a good tsuka carving style), but this is common for lower end models.
The ito wrap is soft, but on closer inspection definitely a synthetic cotton (though many websites claim this is natural cotton). It's wrapped in a menpumaki or a possible attempt at Hineri Maki (捻り巻). But it's not good either way. The cotton overlaps in several places, there are noticeable gaps between the crossover points and the diamonds are all over the place. It's very sloppy. I doubt any hishigame (paper triangles) was used.
The samegawa appears to be fake (if it's real it's remarkably poor quality) and is most certainly applied in ill fitting panels. This is very evident as the tsuka core wood is exposed in a number of area's including the kashira join on the ura side (side facing in while worn).
The end knot is poorly tied, it is neither neat nor tight looking.and again this is particularly evident on the ura side.
The tsuka is held in place via a single mekugi (wood pin), which is further secured by an overlap on both sides by the ito wrap. That's actually reassuring for me. It's highly unlikely the mekugi will slip out.
The Menuki: The menuki are ornaments placed on the tsuka, beneath the ito wrap. These are often used to secure a better grip on the tsuka and often feature excellent carving and design. They tie together the artistic theme of the sword and often have specific meaning to the owner of the sword.
Given this is a dragon themed blade, the menuki are simple, black cast dragons, some detailing, and appear on both sides. The menuki on the omote side (facing out while work) appears to be slightly off to the side, that needs to be more centred, this one to the rear (ura side) is centred.
These may in fact be blackened iron...
The Fuchi and Kashira secure the tsuka. The kashira being the pommel or butt of the handle and the fuchi acting as a collar before the tsuba / hand guard. Traditionally these are made of brass or iron. They can be highly stylised or plain and again should reflect the overall theme of the sword.
These are actually a high point of the blade. The fuchi is slightly flaring, reminiscent of a Tenshō-koshirae (天正拵) fuchi, however unlike the Tenshō variety, this fuchi is more ornate. it features a series of diagonal grooves over which are 3 small samurai mon symbols. While this is nice feature it's a strange choice as the mon (family crest) is the one associated with the royal house of the Ryukyu Kingdom. (Present Okinawa), which during the samurai era's from the 15th century to the 19th century was mostly an independent kingdom....is this then meant to be an Okinawan/Japanese hybrid blade? ;-)
Meanwhile the kashira features a larger version of the same slanted grooves and a single centred Ryukyu Mon. And as with the menuki are basic cast and possibly iron.
The Habaki is plain and unadorned brass. It's too big for the saya opening of the koiguchi - and as such the blade cannot be properly sealed.
The Blade (Nagasa): The nagasa is apparently 1065 carbon steel blade, folded, hand sharpened and differentially clay tempered.
It's beautiful to look at. And that's the big selling point of this blade - the folded steel produces a beautiful grain patter called hada. You could happily spend a few hours looking at this blade in variety of lights and finding new details.
Is it clay tempered however? I can see no evidence of this. There is no hamon (temper line) present nor any boshi (temper line curving around the kissaki / blade point).
The kissaki (point) is a nice and even chu kissaki, and it's been counter polished to the line of the koshinogi and yokote. As mentioned there's no hamon or boshi to speak of. The line the koshinogi is ever so slightly off, but at such a low price I'd be shocked if the gemomerty was properly aligned.
And speaking of alignment, the big problem becomes evident.
This blade is bent.
By nearly 1 cm.
That's VERY disappointing.
This blade is so beautiful and yet that is so disappointing. In the above video you can see where that is coming off quite substantially. It is quite a substantial bend. It's a shame. Not un-salvageable, but it's definitely bent.
Well let's see how it does for sharpness....
Later I'll be doing full Tameshigiri tests, of this and other tantos I received, but let's see how it stacks up to the old paper cutting test.
The Ryumon Tanto Review Functional Assessment: PASS!
Yeah, it's certainly sharp. It's certainly sharp enough to pass the paper cutting test as seen in the Ryumon Tanto Review clip above. However I still have concerns with that bent blade. Once that's straightened out though, I'm confident that it will be completely use worthy.
Wait till it's straightened. ;-)
For $59.99 this is a really nice buy. It's a beautiful display piece with a good edge and could serve as decent functional tanto. The red saya, the interesting iron fittings, and the georgeous hada pattern are a treat. And there's the display box which is lovely too.
That said it's not without it's problems. The wrap is poorly done, the same and materials are cheap. The menuki is off, there is no way this differentially clay hardened.
And the blade is bent.
But then...it's less tha $60.
I think this is a great "gift". If you want to get something nice for a friend who's just gotten a black belt or as thank you to your Sensei for his instruction over the year then this is a lovely present that won't break the bank.
This is't bad at all. I've seen other reviews and no one else has reported a bent blade - and that's easy to fix anyway. For less than $60 you can get a nice affordable, cool grain patterned, functional tanto. It get's a thumbs up from me. :-)