Centuries-old Japanese samurai sword

A WWII Japanese samurai sword brought home as a wartime souvenir by a Minnesota solider turns out to ve 400 years old. 

LE CENTER, Minn. – A Japanese samurai sword received for payment of construction work by a local contractor has turned out to be more than 400 years old and considered special in its home land.

Jeff Traxler, who collects Word II and other military memorabilia, was given the sword long ago by his friend Jeff Fowler in return for doing construction work he needed done.

Fowler’s late father served in the Pacific Theater in World War II and brought the sword home with him as a souvenir. It was displayed for decades in Traxler’s hunting preserve clubhouse.

A year ago, Jeff Traxler's son Sam and girlfriend Allie Trnka began researching the sword’s history, posting photos of it on a Reddit community forum. "We were looking for some translations because the sword smith's name was on it and an address," Sam said.

A retired antique expert in Japan, Takashi Yano, contacted them, saying the sword appeared to be extraordinary. Yano, working with a team in Japan, did further research and traced it to Nichinan City, Japan, estimating a sword smith made it there around 1600.

The original owner was a leader of the Ito Clan who lived in a Nichinan castle and whose clan ruled over a large part of southern Japan, Yano reported.

Fowler is unsure how his father came about the sword. He likely was among U.S. soldiers who were allowed to take Japanese swords as wartime souvenirs from captured weapons before they were destroyed.

Realizing its historic value, the Traxlers and Fowler began talking with their contacts in Japan about returning it to descendants of the original owner for display in the present castle’s museum.

"It's worth quite a bit, but we're not interested in the money,” said Jeff Traxler. “We just want to return it.”

And that’s exactly what Sam Traxler and his girlfriend will do later this month.  Residents of Nichinan raised funds for the couple’s flight to Japan and accommodations for a 10-day stay, which will include a pageantry-filled ceremony reuniting the samurai sword with its town of origin.

"We're pretty excited about returning it to where it should be," said Sam. “They have time set up to prep us for the ceremony and the costume and makeup.”

The Minnesota couple is also working on a website dedicated to the sword’s return, its history and any future details regarding the samurai scimitar.

"We're pretty excited about returning it to where it should be," Sam said. “It’s super rare and was thought to be lost.”

Tim Krohn is a reporter for the Mankato, Minnesota, Free Press. Contact him at tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com.