Antique Appraisals

What’s It Worth?: Tiny paper sword meant to protect kamikaze pilot

What’s It Worth?

This paper sword is an omamori, a good luck talisman, used by Japanese kamikaze pilots during World War II.
This paper sword is an omamori, a good luck talisman, used by Japanese kamikaze pilots during World War II.

War souvenirs of two very different kinds are the subject of today’s What’s It Worth? One is from World War II, the other from Vietnam.

Q. Here is a photo of a tiny envelope with Japanese writing that contains a paper cutout sword. My father, a Navy medical corpsman in World War II, said he removed them from a kamikaze pilot who crash-landed on a ship in his fleet. We had believed they were a vow to the Emperor of Japan to complete the mission with honor, but have recently learned they are a Tenpin god “good luck” charm that was supposed to protect the pilot. His plane did not explode, but he died in the wreckage. What can you tell us about the rarity and value, considering the item’s fragile condition? Dad kept it inside the old matchbook. John in Kennewick

A. This is an omamori good luck charm, an item that is still commonly sold today at Shinto and Buddhist shrines throughout Japan.

Omamori — roughly translated — means amulet or talisman, a form of protection or provider of luck to the bearer. Initially, their main purpose was to ward off evil spirits. Today, they have developed into colorful charms meant to be carried in your purse, wallet or pocket.

Seeing wear and tear on the envelope is a good thing, because it shows that the talisman is doing its job of protecting you. While damage to the outside envelope is good, opening the omamori is bad. One should never be opened, as that will release the blessing.

It is understandable that a kamikaze pilot would carry such a blessing.

Kamikaze attacks were launched against Allied naval ships in the closing stages of the war. The idea was for the pilot to crash his aircraft — heavily laden with explosives and full fuel tanks — into a warship, where it would explode.

While almost 4,000 Japanese kamikaze pilots died, the offensive was not very successful. Less that 20 percent of the planes actually hit their targets. Even though numbers vary, most sources credit the kamikazes with sinking somewhere between 30 and 60 ships.

This omamori is a rare survivor of the war in the Pacific. It’s not possible for us to assign a value, as no comparable items were found in our research. A reasonable guess would be in the $100 to $200 range.

If the family were ever to dispose of this historic item, the most proper home would be a museum. Perhaps Japan’s Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots or our National Museum of the U.S. Navy in Washington, D.C., would be interested.

Q. This sword — the blade is 22 inches long — came back with me as a souvenir of Vietnam service in the late 1960s. I traded another sailor for it and have no idea of its origin. The wood sheath is made of bamboo, bound together with brass strips, and the handle is some type of hardwood. What can you tell me? — Bob in Boise

A. What you have is a “Dha” sword — common throughout Southeast Asia. Dha is the ancient Burmese word for knife.

Dha swords were made and carried by the people of Burma (Myanmar), Viet Nam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. They have been used for over a thousand years.

Most look pretty much like what Bob has. All Dha share a few defining features that distinguish them from other weapons of the area.

They have a grip or handle that is round and plain, a long, curved, single-edged blade, no cross-guard or knuckle protection and perhaps a very small round disc guard. That last item is important to this sword’s identification, as most Dha have no guard whatsoever separating the blade from the handle.

Dha are ceremonial and functional. Burmese royal troops carried them as late as the mid-19th century. They are designed for combat and can be used with the slashing motion of a cavalry saber.

Here there is a small, 2-inch oval disk guard. Swords of the Montagnard tribes in the mountainous regions of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia have such small guards.

And, their blades are always wider towards the tip than at the handle. So, this may be Montagnard.

Value is in the $150 to $300 range. The decorations on the blade are strictly decorative.

Terry K. Maurer, Tri–Cities personal property appraiser, is a senior member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What’s It Worth? by email to tchwhatsitworth@gmail.com.

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