Samurai sword recovered from wildfire wreckage

A samurai sword that belonged to a Japanese winemaker, thought to have been lost in last year’s wildfires in California, has been recovered, plucked from the ruins of the Paradise Ridge Winery where it had been part of an historical exhibit.

Photo credit: Paradise Ridge Winery (Facebook)

Kanaye Nagasawa established one of the largest wineries in Santa Rosa in the late 1800s, with the Paradise Ridge Winery later taking over parts of its vineyards. The blade had been kept on display by the winery at an exhibition within its winery, along with his tuxedo, traditional “hakama” trousers and other possessions. 

This winery, along with the sword and other historical artefacts, was burned to the ground in wildfires that swept through the regions in October. The artefacts were thought to have been lost, however on 13 March, a team recovered the sword from the wreckage.

The wildfires, which began on Monday (9 October), swept throughout northern California by high winds and were most damaging in the Atlas Peak-Stag’s Leap area near Yountville, in Sonoma County between Kenwood and Santa Rosa, and in the mountains north and west of Calistoga. A total of 43 people lost their lives, including a fire worker, with hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed.

Paradise Ridge in Santa Rosa, Sonoma, was among the worst affected, with its winery completely destroyed, as well as a wooden barn built in 1899 under the direction of Nagasawa.

Confirming its recovery on Facebook, the winery said: “Best news ever – We found Nagasawa’s Samurai sword today during the first day of debris removal – could not be happier #sonomastrong #historylives #risingfromtheashes.”

At the age of 12, Kanaye Nagasawa, a Japanese Samurai who became a winemaker in Sonoma County, set sail for the US in the later 1800s with eight others to learn more about the west, despite the Japanese emperor at the time forbidding contact.

Upon leaving their homeland, the group cut their hair bought western names and changed their names – in Nagasawa’s case, his former identity was that of Hikosuke Isonaga. Nagasawa was introduced to Thomas Lake Harris, a charismatic religious leader who had established a utopian community called The Brotherhood of the New Life on the shores of Lake Erie in the United States.

When Nagasawa was 18, he followed Harris to Santa Rosa, California, where the group was to build a new colony that would become the new headquarters for his “Brotherhood”. Nagasawa was tasked with cultivating grapes across the 600-acre estate to sustain the colony. When the utopian community disbanded Harris gave Nagasawa the entire estate, which now covered 2,000 acres.

He became known as the “Wine King” of California, and was among the first to introduce California wines to England, Europe, and Japan.

While Nagasawa’s land has since been split up and sold off, the Paradise Ridge winery has kept the history alive through an exhibit, which will reopen with the recovery of the sword and rebuilding of the winery.

Other items from the exhibit lost in the fire included Nagasawa’s tuxedo and also had a hakama (traditional Japanese trousers), donated by his family, as well as a glass set of condiment containers from his dining room table, awards and an original curtain cloth that was over 100 years old from Fountaingrove – the home of the Brotherhood in Santa Rosa.

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