I bought two new shinai during my recent trip to Tokyo. Those of you, who are used to buying shinai in bogu shops in Japan, know that you typically choose the naked bamboo take and then ask for the fittings to be put on (shikunde). As well as being asked about the quality of the tsukagawa (gin or toko), most bogu shops will enquire about the required length 38 or 39 (san ku or san pachi).
Whilst conventional wisdom states that 39 is the standard length for shinai used by adult males, many Japanese kendoka prefer 38 because it allows a more natural grip. Having had this ingrained in me by my sempai and sensei during my time in Japan, I have always gone for the 38 option.
Most of you also know that the way to measure the correct position of your shinai grip is to place the butt of the shinai in the crook of your right arm and extend your hand to a natural position along the shinai. The position of the forefinger of your loosely closed hand should touch or be just below the tsuba.
Rather than make my usual request for a 38 tsukagawa I took the time to measure the grip position and realised that I needed a 39 for both shinai. What I had not taken into accounts is whilst I am no taller than most of my Japanese contemporaries, my arms are positively ape-like by comparison. When I lived in Japan, I had to have long-sleeve shirts either made to measure or imported. It can be argued that once the tsukagawa stretches, a 39 can become too long, but to be frank, I invariably break the shinai before it gets to that stage.
I also bought some new men himo and asked for short ones, meaning the 7 shaku variety as opposed to 8 shaku kansai himo. To my surprise the lady behind the counter produced some 6 shaku himo. This was a revelation! Normal bottom tying 7 shaku himo are just a bit longer than the required maximum 40cm of descending loops and ends demanded by ZNKR shiai regulations. Although very few people bother, you actually need to cut and re-tie their ends. 6 shaku himo come within the regulation length and eventually stretch to a perfect 30cm drop.
I felt that overall this was a pretty successful shopping trip, until got to the BA check-in at Narita Airport. I felt lucky so as per the recent post on shipping shinai, took my brightly coloured shinai bag to the desk and asked nonchalantly if it was OK to take as hand luggage. After the agent checked with her supervisor’s supervisor, I was told no and asked for an excess baggage charge of 14,300 Yen. Just 1000 Yen more than it cost to buy the shinai in the first place. The good news however was that I got to include my Y200 convenience store umbrella for free.