How I Acquired Hideki Tojo’s Seppuku Sword (Hara-Kiri sword)

I got a call from my mother early this past Saturday morning (Nov 15, 2009- yesterday as I begin writing this) informing me that a friend of the family’s estate was being auctioned off.  There was a painting there from the early 1800s that she thought could be had for a good price, as the auction was being held in a church basement on a very miserable New England day. Knowing that she had a good nose for these types of things, I hopped into my car and drove from Scituate to Hingham to see.

One look at the painting made me think my trip had been wasted. The artist was clearly a master, but his subject was of an ugly, ugly old man. Discouraged, I walked around half asleep seeing if my trip could be salvaged. When I came to the lot of wartime memorabilia, a case and loose sword caught my eye. I knew the story the auctioneer was about to tell me already, that the sword I was looking at was Tojo’s  Hara-Kiri sword, which Jim (James L. H. Thomson) had brought back from Japan.

My next thought was that the piece of history I was looking at should not be being sold in a church basement auction. I muttered something to that effect as I watched the auctioneer overview the piles of documentation to onlooking dealers. The lot was to be sold together by silent auction. Several of the dealers placed bids right away, which made my heart begin to pound. I literately could not believe what was happening.

I pulled my sister over to the corner of the room who had arrived with my mother. I asked her if she was interested in splitting the “knife,” as we called it. We both knew Jim and knew the story to be true, so I figured she would be game. She pondered for a moment and then started talking about the economy. Exactly what was going through my head, too. So, I decided to think about it further, especially now that I’d have to cover the price on my own.

The auctioneer said, “if you bid, I’ll tell you if you’re the high bidder.” I knew the best way not to overspend in that circumstance was to come back at the end of the auction. I asked when they expected to wrap it up and headed home.

As I drove home my mind circled, What to do????  Over and over I thought about the price points, my own financial situation, and the blasted economy.  I half knew I would be back already, I was just trying to justify it to myself.  I did it by deciding I could take some funds from my Roth. As I understand it, you can withdraw original contributions without a tax penalty. It made it a risky situation if I was wrong, because I’ve already spent next year’s tax refund (we’ll find out).

Later that day I headed back. The auctioneer taking the bids was off taking a break somewhere. My suspicious side told me he was calling those that had been outbid to give them a chance to up the ante. It made me ponder, and since it was an hour or so before they were supposed to wrap up,  I decided to take a ride and once again think it through.

When I got back, I headed right over to the auctioneer who was taking bids on the lot. I started fishing low.  He said he already had bids that high.  I had told him earlier that I knew Jim and he cut to the chase by giving me a figure that would make it mine.  It was just below what I had determined as my maximum bid. I agreed to the figure and he flipped over the bid sheet to show me there was no funny business going on. After I nervously watched the last few late afternoon attendees take a passing interest, they ended the auction and declared me the winner.

As the auctioneer was packing up the lot for me, Jim’s daughter Gale began to review some of the material with me. She showed me a picture of the alter where her father had got the sword, a newspaper picture of Tojo leaning out his window on the day of his attempted suicide and capture, with her father looking up at him, and the tapes in which he recounts the story of how he acquired the sword.

As she repeated her father’s story, the significance of the events was enough to give me goose bumps.  Here was America’s trophy and nobody knew. One of the most scared and personal positions of the man that ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor.

She ended her story by informing me that the tapes had been recorded with my father present. I almost teared up and I asked her to stop before I did. I  knew Jim (her father) because he occupied the bed next to my father’s in a VA nursing home before he passed away (also a Jim, Jim Davey).  Jim (her father) was a completely lucid man who was condemned to such an existence because he suffered from blackouts.  Jim had been my father’s last friend in the final days before my father succumb to Lewy Body Disease.  I find it necessary to say here that Jim was very, very good to my father.

After I arrived home Diana (my love) and I started  going through Jim’s entire war time archive.  It was incredible, hundreds of letters home, books about the war, pictures, papers, money and newspapers (and of course, the sword). An entire legacy of one man’s journey through WWII in the Pacific. Actual photographs of he atomic aftermath!  It made me think that this stuff should be shared and available for others to see.  In part, that’s why I’m starting this blog. The other reason is to record the story of the Sword, which is in no small part a piece of my nation’s history. This blog will be about both.

Gregg A Davey

An Accidental Collector

Comments (12)

Kevin HallFebruary 10th, 2010 at 4:21 pm

That’s a great story. My grandfather was in the Military and took Tojo back and forth to his war trial in Tokyo. Long story short. My grandfather asked Tojo for his Affidavit (Exhibit 3655) issued to him by the Internation Military Tribunal for the Far East. Tojo agreed after his family declined to wanting it. Tojo signed his own Affidavit for my grandfather. I was just curous to see how much the document is worth? If you have and information on how I can find out it would be appreciated.

Thanks

Kevin Hall

GreggDaveyMarch 30th, 2010 at 9:47 am

Kevin,

I have no idea, I’d recommend talking to these guys: http://www.historical-autographs.com/

Regards,
Gregg

Joy ShivarMarch 8th, 2011 at 5:43 am

I very much need to speak with you directly. I have much to add to your story. Please e-mail me directly at Joy@JustaJoy.com or call 704-948-1912. This is quite important.
Joy Shivar
JustaJoy Historical Treasures

Dallas RandlemanFebruary 17th, 2012 at 12:28 am

My dad was present at this event.

He took three swords from the General’s house.

One General Eighelberger commandeered the following morning, by sending 2 MP’s to pick it up. This sword now rest in the Special Collection Library of Duke University.

My dad gave sword number 2 to a GI who saved his life. It now resides in NJ with his widow…I have talked to her and she verified she has the sword….gold gem-encrusted hilt and a wooden blade.

I have sword number 3. It is a military sword bearing the makers marks on the tang. The sword has a blue and olive ribbon on the hilt signifying the rank of a lieutenant.

Two of the swords were leaning up against the wall and Sword number 3 was on display on the General’s dresser. During the confusion Dad silently shoved all 3 swords into his pants….along with a pillow case full of artifacts from Tojo’s house.

This sword is pictured in a Life Magazine photo page 36, volume 19, published Sept 24th 1945. Dad gave me the sword and the other loot when I was 6…I’m now 64.

Be glad to share the tale of the sword capture and my dad’s story of the events of the day with anyone….dallasr1@charter.net.

DR

MegApril 15th, 2012 at 7:00 pm

I have the stars off of Tojo’s uniform, the 3 stars showing rank. They were sent home by my great uncle after he cut them off of Tojo’s uniform. I also have the news paper article that was published locally when the stars arrived in his parents possession. It was something that no one ever mentioned. I happened to find them after my Great Aunt passed away and I was helping to clean out the house. They were found in a chest, along with photo albums full of dead soldiers (extremely morbid), bags of gold teeth and foreign money. When I got home, I had no idea what I even had in my possession and even threw them in the trash until I found the news paper article mixed in with all the money….. Long story short, does anyone know what something like that would be worth, if anything?

Thanks.

Darla KorolOctober 16th, 2012 at 4:14 pm

My uncle, Boris Paul Korol, was the GI who was commandeered by McArthur to drive the Central Intelligence to Tojo’s bungalow. He did not take the hairi kari swords as he saw Tojo’s daughter praying near them. He did take two swords. One was wooden and one was a ceremonial sword. He gave the wooden sword to another GI and sent the cermonial sword back to his parents. His son now has the ceremonial sword that belonged to Tojo. He also took cigarettes and and ashtray. His involvement was documented in the Pittsburgh newspaper and in his nationality newspaper – Ukrainian.

GreggDaveyOctober 16th, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Darla,

As it turns out…Tojo had a lot of swords.

I haven’t worked on any of this in a while, and probably won’t for a year or two, but I do remember a Ukrainian newspaper article amongst Jim’s belongings which tells a story of a Ukrainian born participant. If/when I find it, I’ll post it here an alert you.

Thanks for the story!

Gregg

Ken HodelOctober 27th, 2012 at 2:26 pm

My uncle was a medic assigned to Tojo’s care. Tojo was a diabetic, and had to have insulin shots several times a day. I have a picture of him giving Tojo a shot. He had given my uncle a pair of beautifully engraved swords before his trial and execution. My uncle did not want to accept them, but he was ordered to so as not to offend Tojo or the family. I am not sure what happened to them, but I handled the short sword and saw the engraving when I was about 7-8 years old. I could not lift the long sword.

Daniel WalterMarch 2nd, 2014 at 10:41 am

RE Dallas Randleman’s comment from Feb. 2012:

You mention that there were three swords, one of which General Eichelberger
sent his MP’s to get sometime after the surrender on the Missouri. You also say
that it now resides in Special Collections, Duke University Library.

A couple of points, and maybe you or someone can help us here:

1. I am from Urbana, Ohio, Gen. Eichelberger’s home town, and still reside here. I am 65 years old.

2. After the war the General gave the sword, which we assumed had been presented
to him by Tojo himself at the surrender, to the City of Urbana.

3. That sword rested for years on the walls of the Urbana Municipal Building.

4. Sometime in the 1970’s it was stolen. We have been looking for it ever since.
The Champaign County Historical Society, of which I am a member, would love to recover it.

5. I have done a preliminary check with the library’s special
collections unit. There is no sword there.

mel kittleMarch 11th, 2014 at 12:18 am

my sister pawned a tojo sword in fla. ,15 yrs ago , my father brought one home from world war 11 , he was in Burma ,,never would say anything about the war,,or how he acquired the sword? were there a large amount of these?

AmyJune 2nd, 2014 at 12:57 pm

My grandfather did surgery on Tojo when he was brought to the 98th evacuation hospital. I also have a sword that probably belonged to Tojo.

GreggMay 15th, 2015 at 6:27 am

Daniel Walter, I am trying to determine the best place to donate this sword to. If you, or your Historical Society are interested in having it be the Urbana, Ohio HS, let me know?

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