Item ref: 3879
Private collection, United Kingdom
The Japanese flute (ryūteki, literally ‘dragon flute’) is one of the main melodic instruments of Gagaku (court music) and the ryūteki’s sound is said to represent that of dragons soaring between heaven and earth. The dragon mounts of this fine tantō are therefore a playful reference to the name of the instrument.
The double-edged blade has a horimono depicting the standing figure of Fudo Myō -ō with flaming mandala beneath clouds, while the reverse has a further horimono of flames and clouds. The tantō is made in the form of a straight sword, or ken, were usually made for presentation to Buddhist temples for ritual, hence the multiple Buddhist references on the blade and mounts.
There are few authenticated blades by Umetada Myō ju but in the Meiji period (1868-191) blades in the style of great masters were often made, a process called utsushi. The maker of an utsushi blade challenges himself to create a work in the style of the past master and to pay homage to the original maker and focuses on the techniques required to make such a masterpiece himself. The blade was therefore probably made and mounted in the Meiji period.