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Thread: Peace Sword Nakago Photo

  1. #1

    Peace Sword Nakago Photo

    Someone had asked me about the shaping/style of the nakago on Bugei's Peace sword that I designed for them. I forgot who asked me about it, I can't find the e-mail where they asked me, so I hope they're paying attention here because I think they were from here. Anyway, since I can't find the guy's info (and I'm blanking on his name), I decided to post this here. And I figure it might create more conversation anyway...

    I'm redoing a tsuka for a Bugei customer for their Peace Sword. Someone asked me about their nakago. So... Since I've remove the tsuka to reshape it a bit and rewrap it per the customer's preferences, I got my daughter and her visiting friend to hold it for me for a quick shot.



    This particular model is the 30" peace sword with a 14" tsuka. The nakago is just a hair over 12" long with a very slight bit of sori in the nakago (and I must say their tsuka core was well shaped -- I did a lot less than usual to make it a bit more to my liking while I had it unwrapped).

    So... For discussion...

    Notice the nakago is very long. Why? Because so many customers in the US are convinced it needs to have a "full tang" that if we don't do that people won't buy them. Drives me nuts because it ends up being one of those compromises that has to be made if you want to actually sell swords. But the craftsman side of my brain just wants to scream in frustration. Properly done it doesn't have to be that long. But... So many companies make such crappy tsuka that people have decided the swords "need" a full tang to be safe. No, what would make them safe is if the companies would simply quit hammering poorly carved tsuka onto the nakago in the first place. To me it is like trying to address a car with bad brakes by putting in better airbags. No, fix the freaking breaks first.

    So... In order for these swords to be considered "safe" by some out there the nakago needs to run most of the length of the tsuka. If they kept the nakago at the same "beefiness" as traditional nakago it would throw the balance off completely (which is what happens with a lot of production swords I've seen -- the nakago are long *and* too beefy making the blades handle like a crow bar). So Paul has his smiths taper them increasingly more making them look more "svelte" that traditional. This is a good thing in this case because it keeps the balance from getting pulled back into the hands too far. So, to sum it up, some customers insist on "full tang" because that's what crappy swords need. To do full tang means the nakago has to be shaped differently to prevent the balance from being thrown off. So voila, this is what you get. To me it is a compromise that works just fine. But like I said part of my brain just gets annoyed that extra work is being done to safely and functionally accommodate what is in fact a misconception. Or maybe more accurately things are being done to address a problem that doesn't exist in this particular case. Yes, if the tsuka were poorly fit and poorly made then a shorter nakago would be a problem. But they're are well fit and decently made. So we *could* have a "normal" tsuka. But... Some customers will pass because someone says "Oh, no, it doesn't have a full tang design -- that's not safe".

    Okay, yeah, I'm venting a bit. It's one of those things that just drives me nuts about the production sword world.

    Okay, more observations... The nakago has a slight sori to it. It is fairly straightforward to build a tsuka for a nakago like this. One thing is that since they had to extend the nakago out to satisfy a small group of uniformed people it means that there is more "wiggle room" for fittings placement. It also means it is easier to curve and taper the tsuka (this one "out of the box" was actually really nicely shaped). Notice the nakago comes out at a bit of an angle already curving in the correct direction. Add that little bit of extra curvature along the mune of the nakago along with the less tall nakago (back to edge) and the person making the tsuka can build a nicely shaped tsuka with confidence. So it is a good design "all things being equal".

    I just wish people would stop insisting on "full tangs" and instead start insisting that companies' who make swords do the handles correctly so they don't need a "full tang" (which was never traditional to begin with).

    Anyway, I figured it would be something people could possibly talk about since I'm right in the middle of doing about 4 tsuka right now. And I also forgot to send the image to someone who asked and I feel guilty because for the life of me I can't find the guy's e-mail. So if you're reading, does this answer your question? Or does anyone else have any questions?
    Keith Larman
    Summerchild Polishing and Modertosho Modern Japanese Swords
    "They say I have ADD, but ... Hey, look, a chicken!"

  2. #2
    Oh, the masking tape is to keep the blade from sliding into the saya further while the tsuka is off. Just noticed it in the photo and thought I should explain that.

    And the girl with the braided hair and smirk on the left is my daughter. Her good friend on the right (they often get mistaken as being sisters).
    Keith Larman
    Summerchild Polishing and Modertosho Modern Japanese Swords
    "They say I have ADD, but ... Hey, look, a chicken!"

  3. #3
    oh, crud, and one more thing... The nakago on the 28/12 Peace swords is about 10" long. And Bugei is considering adding different handle lengths upon request. So if you are interested, contact them and let them know what you're looking for. I tried to talk them into a 28/11 configuration when we first started, but they wanted to focus on a limited number of configurations hoping the factory could keep up with demand. Didn't work anyway, so go ahead and bug them if there's something you want. Please, prove me right on that one.
    Keith Larman
    Summerchild Polishing and Modertosho Modern Japanese Swords
    "They say I have ADD, but ... Hey, look, a chicken!"

  4. #4
    28/11 is about perfect. I favor shorter tsuka than longer. 14 feels to long for me.
    So you're right.

    I'm too busy buying old stuff right now to order one- but they are very nice.
    I cut with a Bugei wave not to long ago, and was very impressed. Very nice sword.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Keith Larman View Post
    Notice the nakago is very long. Why? Because so many customers in the US are convinced it needs to have a "full tang" that if we don't do that people won't buy them. Drives me nuts because it ends up being one of those compromises that has to be made if you want to actually sell swords. But the craftsman side of my brain just wants to scream in frustration. Properly done it doesn't have to be that long. But... So many companies make such crappy tsuka that people have decided the swords "need" a full tang to be safe. No, what would make them safe is if the companies would simply quit hammering poorly carved tsuka onto the nakago in the first place. To me it is like trying to address a car with bad brakes by putting in better airbags. No, fix the freaking breaks first.

    So... In order for these swords to be considered "safe" by some out there the nakago needs to run most of the length of the tsuka. If they kept the nakago at the same "beefiness" as traditional nakago it would throw the balance off completely (which is what happens with a lot of production swords I've seen -- the nakago are long *and* too beefy making the blades handle like a crow bar). So Paul has his smiths taper them increasingly more making them look more "svelte" that traditional. This is a good thing in this case because it keeps the balance from getting pulled back into the hands too far. So, to sum it up, some customers insist on "full tang" because that's what crappy swords need. To do full tang means the nakago has to be shaped differently to prevent the balance from being thrown off. So voila, this is what you get. To me it is a compromise that works just fine. But like I said part of my brain just gets annoyed that extra work is being done to safely and functionally accommodate what is in fact a misconception. Or maybe more accurately things are being done to address a problem that doesn't exist in this particular case. Yes, if the tsuka were poorly fit and poorly made then a shorter nakago would be a problem. But they're are well fit and decently made. So we *could* have a "normal" tsuka. But... Some customers will pass because someone says "Oh, no, it doesn't have a full tang design -- that's not safe".

    Okay, yeah, I'm venting a bit. It's one of those things that just drives me nuts about the production sword world.

    I just wish people would stop insisting on "full tangs" and instead start insisting that companies' who make swords do the handles correctly so they don't need a "full tang" (which was never traditional to begin with).
    THIS! My god, can I quote you on that, Keith?
    I'm totally super cereal!

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Tsugio Kawakami View Post
    THIS! My god, can I quote you on that, Keith?
    Sure, no problem. Thanks for asking (most don't ask and then incorrectly paraphrase me anyway).
    Keith Larman
    Summerchild Polishing and Modertosho Modern Japanese Swords
    "They say I have ADD, but ... Hey, look, a chicken!"

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Tsugio Kawakami View Post
    THIS! My god, can I quote you on that, Keith?
    But do me a favor and correct all my misspellings and grammatical errors... Just reread it. Wow. Typing too fast.
    Keith Larman
    Summerchild Polishing and Modertosho Modern Japanese Swords
    "They say I have ADD, but ... Hey, look, a chicken!"

  8. #8
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    Haha. No problem, I prefer asking instead of just using.

    As for spelling and grammar...yours is probably better than mine, but I'll try. Thanks again.

    By the way, that's a fantastic sword overall. I certainly do prefer a shorter tsuka, but I have to admit that a long blade with a long tsuka looks impressive.
    I'm totally super cereal!

  9. #9
    Excuse me for saying so, but that thing looks like it needs about three inches chopped off!
    "Give any one species too much rope, and they'll F*#% it up."

  10. #10
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    Nice post Keith.

    I appreciate reading your thoughts and frustrations on the long tsuka and nakago. I have always considered a tang that is roughly 65 -70% of the handle length to be a 'full tang' (assuming the shape is correct).

    It's mainly the rats-tail that I consider to be non-full-tang.

    Cheers

    Jason

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    I tried to talk them into a 28/11 configuration when we first started
    A version without bo-hi would be nice too, IMO. What you guys think?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rubem Bastos View Post
    A version without bo-hi would be nice too, IMO. What you guys think?
    I seem to remember reading somewhere that they were thinking about offering it without the bo-hi sometime in the future.
    Ken

  13. #13
    Honestly I don't know if that is going to happen. The idea behind some of the newer designs for Bugei was to try to stick to creating new designs based on actual dimensions and characteristics of swords that were highly regarded and used back when they were in use. So the Peace Sword blade itself was based on a sword by the Tadayoshi school. Remember that sometimes a groove was used on a blade as part of the overall design. Meaning that we could go with a slightly thicker, taller blade (good for cutting) but keep the weight and balance more prioritized to the person doing kata as well. The original was made with the grooves being done by the smith intentionally to get the balance he wanted given the other dimensions of the sword.

    But that said there are two things also going on. One is we do get feedback from customers and one reason for me posting this at all is to hear what people think of it. So far it has been very well received but I'm always open to suggestions. Another factor is the new steel/heat treatment that Hanwei developed and James Williams has been involved with in terms of blade testing. We are planning on rolling that new steel out in a couple existing lines once we determine Hanwei is able to deliver it reliably. I've designed some changes to the hamon for each of the swords where we might use this steel. Depending on how all this plays out it might find its way into something like the peace sword. And since the hamon will be so different and the steel different in look as well, I might design a similiar blade shape but adjust a few things to keep the same feel while going without the grooves.

    But this is all way down the road. And it all depends on how things go with the existing line, new swords, new designs, etc. As most can imagine the sword market is very soft right now, so it is hard to make a case to spend on doing a whole new sword line. So... We're just seeing how things are going.

    And I should clarify one thing (I got an e-mail that made me realize someone might have misunderstood something I was saying). I really have no problem with the way hanwei does the nakago in a functional context. With this piece they did a nice job of slightly curving the nakago but extending it to satisfy those who want steel running most of the way inside the tsuka. To me it is one of those "how did we end up doing this" kinda deals. And you will still find people insisting absolutely on having the nakago extend all the way in the tsuka. Even if the tsuka is properly made, fit and tight. The reality is that I've done a *lot* of swords that had "normal" length nakago that didn't extend the entire length that have survived hard, frequent use for years. And now that Hanwei has gotten really quite good at fittings tsuka, at least on Bugei's swords (since that's really the bulk of my experience), it strikes me as odd that people still ask about it and insist on it. In the end it isn't a problem as their way works just fine. It just looks odd to my eye to see it but I can work with it. I just find it a bit sad that some things have to be done due to both the misconceptions of the buying public and the stupid advertising done by makers who don't know what the heck they're doing in the first place. It reminds me of the "3 mekugi" swords, cryo treatment, and all that associated BS that thankfully didn't "stick". It's all marketing. All sizzle and no steak.
    Keith Larman
    Summerchild Polishing and Modertosho Modern Japanese Swords
    "They say I have ADD, but ... Hey, look, a chicken!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Keith Larman View Post
    Someone had asked me about the shaping/style of the nakago on Bugei's Peace sword that I designed for them. I forgot who asked me about it, I can't find the e-mail where they asked me, so I hope they're paying attention here because I think they were from here. Anyway, since I can't find the guy's info (and I'm blanking on his name), I decided to post this here. And I figure it might create more conversation anyway...

    And I also forgot to send the image to someone who asked and I feel guilty because for the life of me I can't find the guy's e-mail. So if you're reading, does this answer your question?
    Hi Keith...

    I totally accept your choise to go for a public reply and a possible discussion of my question concerning the nakagao on the peace katana. ;-)

    However, to dismantle any misunderstandings I wanted you to explain wether this katana displays a traditional nagako, i.e corresponding with the blades sugata typical of tadayoshi's style or if it displays, as is the case, some odd compromise? To answer your question: Yes, your describtion answers my question, to the point of disappointment, sadly enough, though. ;-)
    Active in TSKSR

  15. #15
    Loke:

    Glad you found the post. Sorry about blanking on your name.

    The nakago on the 28/12 configuration is a lot more "conventional" and the nakago on one I reworked was about 10" in length.

    The nakago on the hanwei production swords are better than most production swords. But they aren't shinsakuto either.

    I'll also point out that I've mounted swords by custom smiths that had very nice looking nakago. Nice filework, pretty signatures, etc. But some of these guys probably don't do much mounting work. The tapers were often wrong and on some the mei itself would interfere with sliding on the habaki -- i.e., they didn't taper enough at the right point to allow habaki to pass over the slightly raised edges created by the mei. So you're left with a choice of a slightly looser habaki or filing down the signature. Neither is a good choice.

    Anyway, glad you looked at the thread.
    Keith Larman
    Summerchild Polishing and Modertosho Modern Japanese Swords
    "They say I have ADD, but ... Hey, look, a chicken!"

  16. #16
    An observation...

    If we went with a fully traditional nakago on the sword matching the original sword exactly we'd have some not buying the sword because the nakago wasn't long enough according to their sensei given the length of the tsuka. If we go with the compromise that Hanwei has to deal with the very same issue someone else (in this case Loke). Tis the nature of these things -- you can't win them all. And when we're talking about a full sword, polished and mounted for dramatically less than an entry level shinsakuto unfinished... Well, there you go. Gotta make some compromises to keep costs down. And some compromises are made simply because of what the public demands -- in this case a nakago that runs most of the length of the tsuka.

    Heck, the original magazine this very site was based on had an article that was incredibly critical of the early shinto model because the nakago was too short. Yeah, it was kinda short, but I've seen antiques with shorter ones. However, given the knowledge level at the time and the quality of the first generation tsuka cores they had to go to "full tangs" to satisfy those doing reviews.

    The irony is obvious...
    Keith Larman
    Summerchild Polishing and Modertosho Modern Japanese Swords
    "They say I have ADD, but ... Hey, look, a chicken!"

  17. #17
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    And I thought the Thaitsuki was long at 9"!!!

    I was tempted to lop some of my own off, but mine does have the two holes for Mekugi, which for me is OK..

    ---------------
    True Karate-do is this: that in daily life, one's mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility; and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice.
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  18. #18
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    Recently I had someone ask me to do a custom blade for him (not me...). He wanted a 31 inch katana I have now, but he wanted me to cut the nagasa down to 28 inches so that it would have an 11 inch nakago, and then carve a 12 inch tsuka for it. I told him that was unnecessary, and that I could just order him a 28 inch katana and do the same tsuka for it. He insisted if he cut with it, he would come away with a hand full of broken tsuka. I asked him if he had any idea the tensile strength of 3 inches of poplar wood, especially when wrapped with stingray skin, and silk. The client then cancelled his order since apparently I didn't know what I was talking about.

    Gotta love people sometimes.
    Last edited by Aaron Justice; 06-16-2010 at 12:05 AM.
    Every time I put on a suit for a wedding or other event, I feel like I'm wearing optimal clothing for an epic fight scene...

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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aaron Justice View Post
    Recently I had someone ask me to do a custom blade for me. He wanted a 31 inch katana I have now, but he wanted me to cut the nagasa down to 28 inches so that it would have an 11 inch nakago, and then carve a 12 inch tsuka for it. I told him that was unnecessary, and that I could just order him a 28 inch katana and do the same tsuka for it. He insisted if he cut with it, he would come away with a hand full of broken tsuka. I asked him if he had any idea the tensile strength of 3 inches of poplar wood, especially when wrapped with stingray skin, and silk. The client then cancelled his order since apparently I didn't know what I was talking about.

    Gotta love people sometimes.
    What? Don't you know how weak wood is, Aaron? It's not like they make trees out of it, you know.


    ...No, wait...
    I'm totally super cereal!

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Keith Larman View Post
    Heck, the original magazine this very site was based on had an article that was incredibly critical of the early shinto model because the nakago was too short. Yeah, it was kinda short, but I've seen antiques with shorter ones. However, given the knowledge level at the time and the quality of the first generation tsuka cores they had to go to "full tangs" to satisfy those doing reviews.
    There is also a tutorial on shortening the tsuka of a Paul Chen Golden Oriole katana with a 14.25 inch tsuka. That article itself may have given legitimacy to the idea a nakago has to be almost the full length of the tsuka.

    My 28.25 inch nihonto would look kind of silly with a 7.5 inch tsuka.
    Every time I put on a suit for a wedding or other event, I feel like I'm wearing optimal clothing for an epic fight scene...

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  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Aaron Justice View Post
    There is also a tutorial on shortening the tsuka of a Paul Chen Golden Oriole katana with a 14.25 inch tsuka. That article itself may have given legitimacy to the idea a nakago has to be almost the full length of the tsuka.

    My 28.25 inch nihonto would look kind of silly with a 7.5 inch tsuka.
    True. However I would also say that as the tsuka gets longer (like a rock-star 14" long tsuka) it is a good idea to have one longer than 7.5... But at some point it all gets silly. If the nakago extends significantly more than half or better yet about 2/3, well, you're going to have to start whacking the sword against an anvil (or trees) holding it predominantly with the back hand to do any damage. And that's really just sword abuse at that point.
    Keith Larman
    Summerchild Polishing and Modertosho Modern Japanese Swords
    "They say I have ADD, but ... Hey, look, a chicken!"

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tsugio Kawakami View Post
    What? Don't you know how weak wood is, Aaron? It's not like they make trees out of it, you know.


    ...No, wait...
    Especially poplar. I did a tsuka in basswood, and after the full rayskin wrap it still felt hard enough to use like a club. Poplar is much, much tougher than basswood.
    Every time I put on a suit for a wedding or other event, I feel like I'm wearing optimal clothing for an epic fight scene...

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  23. #23
    When we did the L6 destruction video at Howard Clark's place, the nakago went just past half way into the tsuka. It was a short katana/long wakizashi but we put an 11" tsuka on it.

    After a massive amount of test cutting the blade was whacked against a iron work bench repeatedly (not on film). Later on it was slammed repeatedly against copper pipe and then an anvil. Eventually the tsuka failed but *not* initially at the point where the nakago ended. It started when the habaki began to shear apart at the mune. The strikes were so hard that even the ana on the tsuba was deformed significantly -- that's how much the blade was flexing from edge to back and back to edge. After a few more strikes the habaki sheared out completely allowing the blade to flex inside the tsuka (the habaki will tend to hold the blade in place by the large surface area of the habaki in contact with first the seppa and then the tsuba -- remember the flexing was so great it was deforming an iron tsuba). Finally with the habaki broken the flexing blade began to rip through the mune of the tsuka at the entry point. Then after all of that and a few more powerful strikes on an anvil by a guy who swings a heavy hammer day and after day the blade could finally move enough inside the tsuka to cause the alder core with full wrap same to fracture.

    This was all top notch custom work of course.

    I'll also point out that for a long time martial artists in the US were using about the only thing they had -- WWII swords. If you think about it many were using tsuka made in the 1940's all the way up into the 70's and 80's. The wood had degraded so much that they tended to fail at the end of the nakago. No surprise there, metal won't weaken significantly over a time frame like that. But glues, woods, and fiber products will. And that is *way* too long to be using something like that. Also, lots of the crappy swords made overseas (Pakistan, etc.) from way back where absolutely atrocious. No surprise those failed too.

    Today I hope we'd be more educated. But this one thing still persists. Full tang.
    Keith Larman
    Summerchild Polishing and Modertosho Modern Japanese Swords
    "They say I have ADD, but ... Hey, look, a chicken!"

  24. #24
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    Love these threads, I learn a lot.

    I always wondered why the tang on my Bugei Samurai was so damn long but also skinny when compared to Japanese made katanas. Makes sense now.

    BTW this is the tang on my Bugei Samurai:



    That reminds me I wanted to ask everyone's opinion on something...

    I was recently corresponding via e-mail with someone at a well known sword manufacturer about a custom katana order. I wanted to know if I could have the option for a full same wrap on my tsuka and was told that full same wraps are not common anymore and that same panel inserts are stronger than full same wraps because a full same wrap needs to have more wood removed than panel inserts need so the tsuka isn't too "fat" and that now with modern glue you don't need a full same wrap on a properly made tsuka.

    What's all your opinion on that statement?

    This thread contradicts much of what I have researched on the internet about a sword with a "full tang" but makes total sense. This e-mail contradicted what I have researched on the internet about full same wraps but makes total sense to me. All my research has led me to believe a katana with a full same wrap and full tang is indestructible

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Frank B View Post
    Love these threads, I learn a lot.

    I always wondered why the tang on my Bugei Samurai was so damn long but also skinny when compared to Japanese made katanas. Makes sense now.

    That reminds me I wanted to ask everyone's opinion on something...

    I was recently corresponding via e-mail with someone at a well known sword manufacturer about a custom katana order. I wanted to know if I could have the option for a full same wrap on my tsuka and was told that full same wraps are not common anymore and that same panel inserts are stronger than full same wraps because a full same wrap needs to have more wood removed than panel inserts need so the tsuka isn't too "fat" and that now with modern glue you don't need a full same wrap on a properly made tsuka.

    What's all your opinion on that statement?

    This thread contradicts much of what I have researched on the internet about a sword with a "full tang" but makes total sense. This e-mail contradicted what I have researched on the internet about full same wraps but makes total sense to me. All my research has led me to believe a katana with a full same wrap and full tang is indestructible

    The reason most katana don't have full wraps is a materials/cost reason really. Stingray skin is one of the more expensive of the organic materials used in a katana, and panels are simply easier to do cost wise.

    Not every tsuka needs a full rayskin wrap. On the one hand, you're removing wood from the tsuka, possibly making the wood too thin. However, the other way is a full wrap which does bind the tsuka together and therefore keeping the seams of the tsuka together. I always do a full wrap on new tsuka I carve. Tomorrow I am doing one without a full wrap because it's a less expensive sword and I'm low on materials, saving the full hides for more expensive blades.

    There's no real right or wrong, it just depends on the size of the fuchi and kashira, width of the nakago, etc. I'm sure Keith will have a much better answer.
    Every time I put on a suit for a wedding or other event, I feel like I'm wearing optimal clothing for an epic fight scene...

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