Finely carved makiri dagger
This item has been sold.
Overall length

Sheathed 33 cm

Knife 28.8 cm

Blade length

15.7 cm

Blade thickness

Base 4.5 mm

Blade width

Base 27 mm

Weight

Sheathed 168 grams

Knife 94 grams

Materials

Iron, wood, bark

Origin

Ainu people

Hokkaido

Dating

19th century

Provenance

From an American private collector

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Introduction

The Ainu people were early settlers of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago, and are considered the indigenous people of this area. There have also been Ainu populations on Sakhalin, the Kuril islands and Kamchatka. Their culture is very much their own, although they have taken elements from neighboring cultures in their local arts and crafts.

The Ainu men traditionally carried a utility knife called makiri that was used for woodcarving and for cutting food. Women carried a slightly smaller version called menoko-makiri which they used for food, and gathering fruits and bark.

 

Ainu hunters with bow and makiri knife

Ainu hunters. The one on the left carrying his makiri.
19th century painting. Anonymous.
Brooklyn Museum accession number X1085.

 

On makiri knives the handle and blade both follow the same curve, with the knife's edge being on the outside of the curve. The edges have a single bevel, on the right side. In regards to their use:

"The knife in cutting is frequently, perhaps generally, drawn toward the cutter."

-Frederick Starr; The Ainu group at the Saint Louis exposition.
Chicago, The Open Court Publishing Company, 1904. Page 106.

 

This example

A very fine example of the Ainu makiri. It has a for the type fairly substantial blade, of typical form. At the base on the right side is a mark, probably a maker's mark. The scabbard is carved out of a single piece, as is the hilt. A band of bark reinforces the scabbard mouth and prevents it from splitting.

The most striking part of the piece are the finely carved designs on hilt and scabbard. The work is deeper and more three-dimensional than often seen, and with dark staining in the recesses that really brings the decor out. The designs consist of typical abstract Ainu motifs with the addition of a kikukamon (chrysanthemum crest) with 16 petals and a mitsudomoe.

Both are adoptions from Japanese culture, where the kikukamon was the imperial seal of Japan. The mitsudomoe was very popular among the Ainu. In Japanese culture it is closely related to Hachiman, the God of archery and war. It also featured in the heraldry of several Samurai family crests. It is perhaps best known as the royal emblem of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which lasted from 1429 to 1879.

Interestingly, a 2012 survey found that the Ryukyuan people are the closest genetic match to the Ainu.1

 

Condition

Some chipping at the blade tip. Some repairs to handle and scabbard wood. See pictures.

 

Comparable examples

I have not been able to find a knife in museum collections that were this finely executed, or had kikukamon or mitsudomoe decor. (The mitsudomoe is occasionally seen on Ainu sword sashes and other Ainu art.)

The general style does remind stylistically of several items that John Andersen brought from Biratori in the late 19th century, now in the British Museum.

 

 

Notes
1. Yuka Suzuki; Ryukyuan, Ainu People Genetically Similar. December 6, 2012Asianscientist.com.

Finely carved Ainu makiri knife
Finely carved Ainu makiri knife
Finely carved Ainu makiri knife
Finely carved Ainu makiri knife
Finely carved Ainu makiri knife
Finely carved Ainu makiri knife
Finely carved Ainu makiri knife
Finely carved Ainu makiri knife

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