Giant Artifacts from the Tokyo National Museum

Written and illustrated by Brian Snoddy.

I was on my way to the Tokyo National Museum, and I couldn’t wait to get there. It was the spring of 2002, and after getting off the train at Ueno Station, it started to rain, so the quicker I could walk through the park, the quicker I could get out of the rain as well. I had been going to Japan every year for a few years, and was just starting to figure out where everything was. It was my second time visiting this museum, and I also loved the book shop located in the basement, where I usually spent about 1/4 of all the money I brought with me on every trip. I was an addict, going to get “my fix”.

Upon entering the museum, I immediately went to the “archeology” section, which is down the hall to the right of the entrance. This section consists of two large rooms filled with artifacts from the YAYOI-KOFUN (300 BC-538 AD) eras. Although I had visited before, I was now shocked at what I saw, and was dumbfounded that I had not noticed these things before.

I saw several objects that were so large in proportion to Japanese people at that time, they can only be described as “giant artifacts”. I base this off of several suits of armor that were displayed in the KOFUN section, that could not have fit anyone much above 5 feet in hight, if that. Figure 4 in the illustration, shows what a Japanese BUSHI (military man) would be outfitted in at the time, and he is also used as a reference point to show the scale of the “giant artifacts”.

The first objects to receive my attention were some spear points. They were included in a display of 12 objects altogether. 4 of the objects were KA blades. A KA is a type of pole axe, in where the spear like blade was attached to the side of a shaft, and used in a chopping and hooking fashion. There were 2 spear points so large that it made me do a double take. They were both double the size of the next largest object in the display, and measured about 3 feet in length. I say “about”, because I could not see and any weights or measurements in association with any of these objects in any of these displays, and I had to guess using other objects around me as a guide. The type of spear that used this style of blade was called a HOKO, and all of the objects in this display were made of bronze.

The next set of objects that I noticed were a set of handle parts used to construct a sword. Figure 2 of the illustration shows two haves of a KABUDSUCHI (pommel), and figure 3 shows a TSUBA (hilt). All of these objects are about 3 times the size of regular sword fittings. Most swords of this time were single edged, straight swords that carried a cutting blade length of 2 to 3 feet. However these “giant” sword parts could have easily supported a cutting blade length of 6 to 8 feet. Extra long swords called NODACHI were used by Japanese warriors, but not until much later (around 1100 AD or so). I suspect the TSUBA was made of iron. The KABUDSUCHI looked like heavy gold foil, but I am not 100% sure.

Figure number 5 of the illustration, in my opinion,  shows one of the most impressive pieces of the “giant artifacts” in the museum. It is an iron shield about 5 feet tall. Made of several riveted iron plates, it is a magnificent piece of craftsmanship. In the display, this shield is seated between 2 suits of armor. The armors are so small in comparison, the shield looks like a large door. The weight would be anyone’s guess, but I suspect at least 30 pounds. How a 5 foot person could carry this thing around during hand to hand combat is beyond me.

The last set of “giant artifacts” is shown in figure 6 of the illustration. These were a pair of decorated bronze shoes. The decorations included designs hammered into the bronze shoe itself, as well as small bronze plates attached with twisted bronze wire. The shoes look ceremonial, as I could not imagine anyone tromping around in the woods with these on. I also could not imagine anyone under 8 feet high wearing these things either. These were the only artifacts that I was able to get an accurate measurement of, as I could place my ruler right next to the glass display window. The first and most complete shoe measured 18 inches in length.

In the year 2004 I visited for a 3rd time. I took some more photos and even sketched few of the artifacts with my magic marker set. The “giant” sword handle objects were gone, and in the replacement display were several saddle parts and other objects associated with horses. As of 2009, my last visit to Japan, all the remaining objects were still there. However, I have not heard nor read anything, from any museum worker or any Japanese historian who can or has explained the giant nature of these artifacts. They are simply ignored.

Brian Snoddy is a freelance artist who lives in the greater Seattle area. Brian specializes in fantasy, science fiction and historical illustration. He has a keen interest in ancient history, and is an avid collector of Japanese armor.