Ninja Gifts Wanted
January 9, 2005 7:17 PM   Subscribe

NinjaFilter: Help me select a present for a Japanese-weapon-loving friend. [MI]

A friend of mine, who is nuts about Japanese culture and weaponry (the whole Samurai/Ninja thing), is turning 18 in a few weeks. She already has several wooden practice weapons and "fantasy" swords, but as she's approaching adulthood I'd like to get her something a step or two above that: a real sword or dagger or the like, something with an edge that could actually be used as a weapon.

What I've been able to find in several hours of Froogling is either obvious junk, purely decorative, or obvious non-junk that's way above my price range ($150-200). Can anybody suggest anything?
posted by bac to Shopping (14 answers total)
Gun shows are full of throwing stars and Japanese swords. If you ignore all the "Kill 'em all, let god sort 'em out" T-shirts, you might be able to find something.
posted by interrobang at 7:25 PM on January 9, 2005

depends what you mean by junk. if by junk you mean inauthentic/non-traditional, then you probably run into the "way above my price range" issue 10 times out of 10.
if authenticity or traditional-ness isn't so much of an issue then one of these maybe?
posted by juv3nal at 7:42 PM on January 9, 2005

When I was in the market for a kimono, I found a nice one for under 100 bucks, hand made.

It's not weapon-riffic, but it could be a nice gift regardless. Alternate to that, consider a tsuba, or the guard on a katana. You can find antique-ish ones for 100 bucks or less.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:50 PM on January 9, 2005

A Hanwei Practical Katana (fully functional weapon, pictures of mine before I sold it) can be had for around $150. For $50-75 more, you can get a Practical Plus model.
posted by mrbill at 8:01 PM on January 9, 2005

Just weapon happy or wanting to really learn something? At one time, I liked throwing stars and grappling hooks. Then I started learning bo staff, nunchaku, and I got rid of everything that wasn't err.. useful for sparring or practice of some sort.

If she really likes samurai, maybe she'd like a kendo shinai, I'm guessing that's not what you meant by "practice sword", only because it's less common, but maybe she gots one already. They look a little lame, but people actually hit you with it.

The full armor sets are $250-1000+, but maybe a cheap helmet would be cool?

On another tangent, two toed sox and boots (as seen on todays leading ninjas), tabi are actually wearable in day to day life. (Though I'm not promising she won't be mocked for it)

It all depends how gung-ho samurai crazy she is, I've known kids into japanese culture who would have loved a personalized name stamp aka "chop", which aren't really so associated with Bushido or whoopass ninjas, but are a way to integrate one element of an asian tradition into your life.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 8:04 PM on January 9, 2005

A practical katana is about the only thing that that could be usable as a for cutting in that price range. However, as someone who has practiced Japanese sword arts (kendo, at least, with a lot of reading in the various other arts that used the real thing), I would never encourage someone with no training to get a live blade. They are very easy to accidently hurt yourself with, the cheap ones aren't as pretty as the good stuff, and transportation and storage is just that much harder. I don't know where you are, but maybe look into local kendo (sparring with bamboo weapons, mostly) or iaido (solo forms with solid wood and metal practice swords) clubs. The All US Kendo Federation is a good place to start with that. 150 or 200 bucks would be a very nice start in terms of getting some of the equipment and paying the dues that will be needed early on. Otherwise, I'd also suggest things like an antique tsuba (the cross guard on a Japanese sword) or a good book on the subject.

If you must get a weapon, I'd recommend an iaito. It is basically an unsharpened metal practice sword used for forms, but is very similar to a real katana for many purposes. The cheap one you can get at E-Bogu might be more in line with what you are thinking. Remember, though, that it's still quite pointy (you can put it through your hand while sheathing it if you aren't careful, for instance) and could act as a very, very effective bludgen, so it's still nothing to be careless with.
posted by Schismatic at 8:52 PM on January 9, 2005

One of the guys in my fraternity house bought himself a ninja suit... just saying.
posted by onalark at 9:51 PM on January 9, 2005

The hand guard on a Japanese sword is called a tsuba. There are a great variety of decorative and symbolic tsuba available, and this would make a fine gift. Check ebay.
posted by jimfl at 10:08 PM on January 9, 2005

Has she had any training in handling weapons? If not, perhaps you could give her a gift certificate for some lessons.
Several posters have mentioned the danger of weapons even in trained hands, and you would not want to be the one who gave her the sword she cut herself with.
posted by Cranberry at 11:10 PM on January 9, 2005

A genuine or replica netsuke could also be a nice idea.
posted by Sangre Azul at 12:27 AM on January 10, 2005

You know your friend better than anyone here, so if you think she is responsible enough to own a sword I’d say go for it. Avoid any sword made of stainless steel they have a nasty tendency to break. I agree that the practical katana or wakisashi is probably your best bet for you price range. If she doesn’t want to use it for cutting one of the aluminum alloy practice swords would be good and if you could up your budget a bit you could even get her some extras.
posted by Tenuki at 2:10 AM on January 10, 2005

A nice bo for sure. It can be a deadly weapon if used right, and it's mostly harmless-looking. ;)
posted by madman at 2:50 AM on January 10, 2005

A lot of good advice in here. I've been practicing Japanese Sword Arts (not kendo, iaido and kenjutsu) for a number of years now. The first rule for buying a katana - no stainless steel. That means that within your price range, pretty much only Paul Chen's PK (Practical Katana) would make sense.

However, let me warn you against buying a sword. How mature will your friend be with this weapon? A ninja/samurai wannabe fanboy will go wild, and can break the weapon, damage it beyond repair, harm himself or others. Accidents happen to the best trained of people (see here) -- if someone with 20+ years experience practicing with his sword for hours every week can amputate all the fingers of his left hand (not on the page mentionned, but a known story in our circle), what can an untrained person do?

If the person really appreciates that side of the Japanese culture (and not just ninjas=COOL!), other related gifts should do just as well. At that price point, you could probably get a bokken (wooden practice sword) made out of exotic wood -- SDK Supplies is good for that. Books on the sword or japanese culture in general are always nice. Leon Kapp and Yoshindo Yoshihara's "Craft of the Japanese Sword" is very nice.

If she just plain likes books and the samurai culture, you can get some of the classics like the book of the five rings (STAY AWAY from the Kaufman "translation"; Cleary, Harris, Ochiai, Wilson are all good), the unfettered mind, etc. If she's learning Japanese on top of that, it might be nice to track down the edition with modern Japanese facing the english translation (available on amazon japan -- english translation by William Scott Wilson).

One thing you can do -- tracking down an authentic Japanese Sword art dojo can be hard at times. This can be done rather easily if you go to the right places / talk to the right people ( is good for finding dojo for different types of arts). Tracking down a good dojo and offering a month or two free? Maybe some beginner package?

I wouldn't consider buying an iaito (metal practice sword, not sharp) for someone else -- such a thing only really makes sense if the person will practice a Japanese sword art. Also, if she decides to practice Iaido or something like that, her sensei or her style might dictate certain things to her, and the iaito might not be allowable under these conditions. If you really want a weapon, go for the cheap Paul Chen. A good iaito will be at least the same price, if not more (mine was over $1k US).

Then there are the generic Japanese gifts - sushi gift set, tabi socks or sandals, geta, maybe Japanese clothing? Japanese snacks are also always nice (wasabi peas -- so good). Or, tied a bit closer to the interest in samurai, a good dvd or two that she doesn't have? Criterion collection has really nice ones. Seven Samurai is a must if she doesn't have it, then any of Kurosawa's samurai dramas.

Hopefully that gives you a few ideas :).
posted by splice at 6:48 AM on January 10, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I appreciate both the pointers and the cautionary remarks.
posted by bac at 7:57 AM on January 10, 2005

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