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