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Book Review: Swords of the Emperor by John Plimpton

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Swords of the Emperor: A Guide to the Identification of Imperial Japanese Swords, 1873 – 1945 is a comprehensive reference work examining a little-studied period in the Japanese swordmaking tradition.

Japan is internationally renowned for its traditional swords, but comparatively little has been written about the swords of the Imperial period, which include both traditional, hand-made examples and modern, machine-made types. After Japan was ‘opened’ to the West in the 19th century, a period of rapid modernization saw the adoption of European-style military arms, uniforms, and accoutrements. This was also reflected in changes to military swords, which closely echoed Western designs—albeit with a Japanese twist—until a period of resurgent nationalism in the 1930s that continued through the Second World War. Swords of the Emperor follows the evolution of Japanese military, police, diplomatic, and court swords throughout this fascinating, complex period.

At 592 pages, Swords of the Emperor illustrates more than 220 swords with more than 2,000 original photographs, supplemented by archival material and original illustrations. In addition to those swords prescribed by uniform regulations for the armed services and civil service corps, the book also examines little-known examples, such as the 1873 Japanese Marine sword and the Gensuitō (Marshal’s sword) gifted to King George V in 1918. While the book is primarily intended as an identification and reference guide for collectors, curators, and researchers, enthusiasts will find much to enjoy in this beautiful, lavishly illustrated volume.

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