To open the Masahiro Tanto Review, I just want to review some key factors in my decision to purchase this.
As covered in previous articles on my site I've been looking for an appropriate side arm to compliment my katana as I study Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū and the koryū bujutsu. While not essential I feel, with the support of my seniors, that it is in keeping with the spirit and ethos of the arts we train in.
As such my requirements are perhaps different from the average collector of tanto or Japanese Daggers. Primarily my need is for something that:
With that said I ran into rather a big problem - there is very little by way of detailed review or comparison between Tanto. As such I've taken it upon myself to rectify this situation.
I've ordered several tanto, including this "Masahiro Midnight Tanto" for this Masahiro Tanto Review and for the express purpose providing a comprehensive comparison of the tanto's out there for you good folks and for my 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 will be put to actual use as well of course of 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 Masahiro as manufacturers...
As most manufacturers of blades seem to be these days Masahiro 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 Masahiro brand banner.
As a result there is often wild difference between the blades they offer.
There is no central website, no contactable staff, in fact no contact details provided for the Masahiro 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 "Ryumon" whom we'll see in a later review (Check it out 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 Masahiro line is cheap and cheerful and should have no pretence of legitimacy beyond what they are.
And with that 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 this a red hard card box with a dragon on the front and the hilarious name of Dragon Blade. Inside this was a black bag secured by 3 pieces of Styrofoam. The cloth bag felt ok, fairly decently stitched with a drawstring top, which is unusual, at least I hadn't seen that before.
Upon opening - well you can see my EXACT initial impressions for this Masahiro Tanto Review in the video below...
Essentially...I was surprised by the fittings which seemed of good quality with the exception of the menuki. The blade is straight and a nice weight but the wire brushed hamon is awful and I don't much care for the double bo-hi...but we'll examine each of these in a lot more detail.
From the Kult of Athena site -
"The Midnight Tanto features a hand forged carbon steel blade. The wood grip is wrapped in white rayskin and black leather. Includes a black lacquered saya".
The Blade (Nagasa): The blade is the vital point of any traditional Japanese cutting weapon and as such is always my first port of call in a detailed review. If the blade is worthless it doesn't matter how nice the fittings are.
The first thing of note is that the bo-his is split into 2 very light grooves, this repeated on both sides of the blade. There is not sufficient depth in the grooves to create any significant lightness to the blade, nor are they well channelled to increase the sound of proper hasuji (blade alignment). It is therefore entirely cosmetic - and looks fairly ugly so it doesn't succeed in that regard either.
The blade of the Masahiro Tanto is well disguised on the Kult of Athena website - I'm not saying it's dishonest but it is convenient how the flash of the camera obscures the division of the bo-hi and leads to the impression that it is one solid groove. This, sadly is not the case.
Next up is the hamon - often incorrectly referred to as a 'temper line'. I this case the blade has a terrible wire brushed hamon in the "notare " style, characterized by a gentle undulating wave. I say terrible as, firstly I hate wire brushing in general, and secondly they didn't even bother to finish it. The wire brush simply tapers off approaching the yokote (the line differentiating the kissaki /tip from the rest of the blade.
Speaking of the kissaki it appears to be neither elongated nor short so I'd venture in the middle and term it an "extended chu-kissaki". It's also very poorly formed. The ko-shinogi does not parallel the fukura and makes it look warped. The very tip is also unfinished and slightly blunted. Not impressed. That said there is potential in the blade to be worked on and could make a good starter piece for those looking to practice polishing and chiselling skills. I'd start by finishing the bo-hi, re-polishing the blade and adjusting the curve of the fukura to create a better geometry.
As for sharpness I'll cover that in greater detail later...but it ain't great. It's unevenly sharpened and that too needs work.
The polish, outside of the area's I've mentioned is to near mirror shine and good enough for a peice like this.
The nakago or tang is a horrible mess. While it's one piece with the blade it's out of alignment and poorly finished.
Handle (Tsuka): The handle of the blade appears to have a slight crack (seen above) and is perhaps a bit thick in width. It's a simple straight piece, no tapering or craftsmanship here.
The claims of other reviews suggest that the same (rayskin) is fully wrapped and that it is in fact actual rayskin. I can confirm that is NOT the case. The same is in 2 panels (I can tell as the wood of the tsuka is peeking through - as above). In addition it isn't real rayskin. It's synthetic.
Kult of Athena and other retailers claim the ito (wrap) is leather. It certainly isn't. It's fake leather, likely pleather or other cheap material, and horribly tied. It's fraying at the sides, is remarkably loose and bump. The looseness is worrying and the menuki, which I'll talk about later, slides all over the place.
Also of slight worry is the Mekugi pin. It is ill fitted to the tsuka.
This is in need of a serious re-wrap. Again it could be a useful starter blade for someone looking to practice. In this case a new tuska needs to be carved, proper same applied and a proper wrap job applied either with silk or leather.
Fittings (Fuchi / Kashira/ Menuki): The surprising aspects of this tanto are the fittings- - shockingly the fittings are rather good on the whole. Particularly the Fuchi (collar) and the Kashira (butt cap). Both are cast from brass and done in a beautiful cracked pavement style with a single maple leaf adorning. The maple leaf is well detailed and designed. They are both finished in a lightly dusted black with patches creating a pleasing antique and worn look. The only downside is the clear casting marks on either side of the fuchi. As for the kashria, that too features the delicate maple on the bottom but is slightly spoiled by a loose collar on one side. This can be easily corrected with a spot of glue or better still some soldering and proper tying.
The Menuki is in a dragon motif and appears only on one side. It slides and moves under the ito and appears to be plastic. Which is repulsive.
There are no seppa (spacers).
There is no tsuba - this referred to as ichuchi style.
The habaki is plane and unadorned and a little ill fitting along the right side of the blade. It fits well into the koiguchi (opening of the saya / scabbard), and is slightly tarnished. Nothing that can't be buffed out.
Scabbard (Saya): Is well carved and even, finished in a lovely black gloss. The kurikata (knob for the sageo) is not buffalo horn and appears to simply be glued on wood. The opening of the koiguchi is just plain wood, painted black and the paint is coming off in areas. The fit with the habaki is nice and solid however.
A quick note on the sageo - it's short, untied and made of very cheap synthetic material. That needs to be replaced asap.
I think this is a fail.
Firstly the safety concerns. There's a cracked tsuka and the mekugi doesn't fit right. Not to mention the hash up of the nakago. The blade is not sharp - at least not uniformly. There are small patches where it could cut, but not many. In addition I wouldn't feel very secure holding it. The grip is uncomfortable and the blade just doesn't flow that nicely.
This failed the paper cutting test as detailed in the video above. It just doesn't cut cleanly. This is due to a poor polish of the blade but isn't helped by some of the poor geometry. Given the cracking in the tsuka I wouldn't feel comfortable cutting anything substantial on it though I may try a bottle or two later and I'll update this post in due course.
This supposedly retails for $56.00, however most places list it at $39.95. Is it worth $39.95? Perhaps as a starter piece to practice polishing and re-fitting on - and the fuchi and kashira are certainly good. Would you better off ordering these parts separately form somewhere like Yamato Budogu and making your own blade and tsuka...probably.
The world of tanto's is a mine field, much like the world of swords - except there are less reviews and guides covering tanto. Something I'm hoping to change. I'll say this much though, I wish there had been a guide so I could have avoided this piece.