AMERICAN RETURNS CHERISHED FAMILY SAMURAI SWORD TO OWNER’S SON

By Henry Sakaida

     There are collectors and there are historians. Sometimes, they can be both. A true historian is someone who understands the value of history and the impact it may have on succeeding generations. Paul McDaniel is such a person.



Back in March 2009, I received an email from Paul. He is the well known author of the book, The Comprehensive Guide to Soviet Orders and Medals (with coauthor Paul J. Schmitt). He wrote that he had attended a military collector show and had purchased an old Japanese sword while waiting in line. The seller said that it came from his father-in-law, who had been stationed in Japan after the war, and brought it home as a souvenir.

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The sword bought by Paul McDaniel

“The coolest thing with this sword is that it came with a piece of linen that has the owner’s name and address in Japanese and English!” Paul exclaimed. “The guy lived in Nagano. Anyway, I have two questions. 1: Can you help me find out what the signature is on the blade and about the age? 2: Would it be possible to track down this dude to give it back if I decide to? I know you are the “King of Returning Stuff…”

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Information written on linen about the former owner of the Samurai sword

Since I have been returning medals and military items to the next-of-kin for decades, Paul’s case didn’t look particularly difficult. All it takes is connections, research, and a huge dose of luck!

I sent a photo of the surrender tag to my friend in Japan and asked for his assistance. At the time of surrender, officers were told to write their names and addresses on paper, linen, or wooden tablets, so that their swords could be examined and eventually returned. This was a big lie.

On 16 April 2006, I received a response from my friend: “This is good news! I found the Usuda Family! Mr. Jinichiro Usuda was an Army Veterinary 1st Lieutenant at the end of the war on Cheju Island, South Korea. After the war, he settled in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, and died about ten years ago. He has a son living there.”



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1st Lt. Jinichiro Usuda posing with his prized Samurai sword.

The son of the sword owner (Yasuhiro) was located and he was incredulous when he learned that not only had the sword been located, but that an American wanted to return it! He wanted to fly to America immediately to pick up the sword, but since Paul would be visiting Japan shortly, the son was told to wait.

Luckily, the sword was a legitimate Samurai era sword. The inscription on the sword tang read: “Motohira of Satsuiyo City.” There were two sword makers who used the inscription and they worked from 1667-73 and 1789-1809. Samurai swords are considered cultural items, but swords made exclusively for war, with production stamps or serial numbers, are forbidden and are destroyed when found.

I met Mr. Yasuhiro Usuda just a few hours before I departed Tokyo, at the time Paul was coming in! I missed Paul by a couple of hours!

“Mr. Usuda was able to take the sword with him from Customs,” said Paul. “We did a ceremonial hand over at our hotel and then he took us out to dinner. What an experience! He was so happy and slightly shaking when he pulled the blade out. He stated that his father got the sword from the village where he lived. The residents pooled their money to buy it for him before he went off to war. Pretty awesome.”

The sword meant so much to the former 1st Lt. Usuda, he bought a fake sword and would practice cleaning it. His father dreamed that someday, through some miracle, he would be reunited with his cherished sword. The story of Lt Usuda’s lost sword and its return by Paul McDaniel is now of part of history in Chiba Prefecture!

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Paul McDaniel returns Jinichiro Usuda’s prized Samurai sword to his son Yasuhiro.

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Yasuhiro pulls out the blade of his father’s sword.

For Books by Henry Sakaida Check Out:

Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941–45


I-400: Japan’s Secret Aircraft Carrying Strike Submarine, Objective Panama Canal


Genda’s Blade: Japan’s Squadron of Aces: 343 Kokutai


Aces of the Rising Sun 1937–1945


B-29 Hunters of the JAAF




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One thought on “AMERICAN RETURNS CHERISHED FAMILY SAMURAI SWORD TO OWNER’S SON

  • Bill Getz says:

    I don’t know if such a gesture is most often found in Americans, but I do know as a fact that Americans are the most generous people in the world – by far. The handle of the sword resembles the handle on my 500 year old Samurai knife (don’t know the Japanese name) which we purchased in about 1948 from the foremost swordsman of Japan from his private collection. It was a minor piece to him.

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