Innovations in exhibitions

If you have not heard the name yet, Dr. Kiyoshi Sawaguchi is a formidable collector in Japan with an outstanding collection that comprises well over 10,000 items, placing him in the first rank. Of these a large number are ranked Juyo Token and higher, all the way through Kokuho.

He has been making parts of his collection available on an ongoing basis through various exhibitions that are staged throughout Japan. Ryuta Murakami has designed some very interesting new appliances for exhibiting swords that you will I think be relieved to see.

One of the common complaints we have about seeing swords “through glass” is that the lighting is bad, and the angles don’t let us see the highlights of the hamon of a great sword. And of course people who don’t know anything about swords can’t get a real appreciation when viewing them in standard museum exhibits. What’s more, they are not even aware that they are not getting a proper view of a sword.

I won’t get into a lot of writing here but just wish to show how good these display cases are.

The first design aligns a sword properly with the viewer, and a box tells the viewer where to place their face to get an optimal view of the hamon with lights in position already to let the hamon show itself at its best.

I really love this innovation as it is so simple, yet required out of the box thinking that broke with the traditional way of displaying swords and took some bravery to do so. As soon as you see this you think wow, now what if I was able to see some of the great blades at the Tokyo National Museum like this?

Using a “fish tank” style of exhibition case with lots of lights, lets a viewer move around the subject and get various sight lines. Rather than simply lining up all of the swords along a wall and having people walk by them, this gives people a better chance to see details they will otherwise miss.

Dr. Sawaguchi will exhibit various types and quality levels of swords. In some cases there will be display cases showing types of flaws and problems in swords for instance. So it’s not just about viewing the best items, but about educating at all levels.

Displays intended to educate about smaller structure differences in schools and traditions have magnifiers built in. Smart.

Displays are accompanied with a lot more educational material than you would normally get with the small cards on museum exhibits that don’t tell you much more than the maker and time period.

Particularly important swords will have their own display case and highlights to look for on the sword in question. This sword below is the Meibutsu O-Kurikara Hiromitsu, which is Juyo Bijutsuhin and one of two surviving daito made by Soshu Hiromitsu. The walk around display case with lights on all sides allows you to see the “dark side” which usually faces a wall in a museum. Sometimes those dark sides hide some mysteries, so this is a chance to see everything on a really impressive piece.

Of note, about 5,000 people once stood in line to see this sword at a temple when it was put on exhibition.

O-Kurikata Hiromitsu

I’ll take the second sword from the bottom, thanks. And this!

Tokuju Shintogo Kunimitsu

These are the Namiyogi Kanemitsu and the Suijin-giri Kanemitsu.


Suijin-giri Kanemitsu
Namiyogi Kanemitsu


Dr. Sawaguchi’s foundation has a page here:

And location and dates for these exhibitions are listed.

If you have a chance to catch one of these exhibitions you should really go. You can get a chance to see some really special pieces and they are good if you have a friend who is curious about swords and wants to learn. Sometimes they are set up in some of the further regions of Japan so it may not be convenient to the Tokyo sword tourist, but this is done on purpose to try to get good swords out to every corner of Japan and educate more Japanese about this fantastic part of their heritage. So it can be a good departure from the beaten path and a reason to get out and see a different part of Japan.