Denrai are heirloom items that belonged to well known clans from the feudal era of Japan.
Some of these were very powerful regional clans and have famous warlords in their lineages, and many of them played significant roles in the history of Japan. These are clans like the Uesugi, Shimazu, Mori, and so forth.
There are also minor clans without significant power bases. On top of this all we add the Tokugawa Shogun and the Mito, Kishu and Owari branches of the Tokugawa family who stand apart from the other daimyo.
There are some reasons why denrai status is important, outside of the historical interest and coolness factor to have a sword that belonged to one of the major clans.
When we look at the NBTHK Juyo zufu there are about 453 out of almost 12,000 swords that went Juyo and higher that have preserved information about what clan handed them down. This is a surprisingly small number of only 3 percent and points out that it is quite rare to have one of these blades.
Continue reading Denrai: chicken or the egg?
I posted before about the study of generations in attributions. In the past it’s been considered that there were two generations (or more) of various smiths and I took out examples like Kanemitsu and Motoshige. These smiths lived long and prosperous lives and as a result saw a lot of style changes due to the times changing under them.
Think about the clothes you were wearing 30 years ago and what you’re wearing now. Well maybe that’s not a great example because some of us (ahem) kind of get stuck in time and don’t move too much. But if you go back far enough you will find photos of yourself that look out of place with today’s fashion. If you go back even further you may see clothes that repeated fashions from previous times.
The genius of the Ko-Bizen smiths seems to be that they experimented and tried out many different styles. There are some with hamon that look like good Soshu den, there are some that completely predict the Ichimonji styles of the Kamakura period. In general though the work of Ko-Bizen can be said to have a natural feeling and construction compared to a more forcible infliction of the smith’s will on the blade as we see happening with middle to later period Ichimonji work.
What is important to realize is that there was a general move toward choji style in the middle Kamakura that extended past the Ichimonji smiths of Bizen. It embraced Osafune, Rai, Hatakeda and early Ukai schools probably among others.
Continue reading It’s just one guy
Goto Ichijo when he worked in iron tended to use the name Hakuo (伯応).
Iron is not one of the traditional materials of the Goto family and it seems he tried to keep his work separated in this manner. This tsuba was made at the age of 75 (inscription is on the other side).
Markus Sesko says that that the literal meaning is acting as an older brother, or a leader, with the implication that it was breaking new territory for the Goto house.
He used another inscription on these Hakuo pieces from time to time which is Totsu-sanjin (凸凹山人) and has the meaning “Hermit of Unevenness.” It leaves one with a feeling that in spite of his extraordinary skill, he maintained a feeling of humility and constantly explored new ground.
I really have no words for describing the beauty of this tsuba, it escapes me.
Just picked up the lastest Juyo volume (from the 2017 session). This is the oshigata page for the Norishige on my site that I recommended to my clients as a Juyo candidate. One of them took me up on the offer.
Looks like the NBTHK will not do any more nakago oshigata but has moved to high resolution photography for the nakago, while doing oshigata for the monouchi.
I think it’s an interesting and good change.
By the way the polish on this one was done by Ted Tenold. I bought it a bit rusty. As you can see there is a little bit of activity on this sword.
I’ve written about daisho a few times in the past 10 years. It may bear some repeating.
Daisho most properly refers to the fittings that contain a pair of swords. This was hammered into me by Cary Condell. The reason for this is that any pair of swords can be put together by a user for his preferences. You can have a katana and a tanto mounted together for instance. Or katana and wakizashi. Or you could mount those in handachi koshirae. The makers of the swords don’t matter, the assumption is that the user is picking two swords he liked and trusted and fit his needs or style of fighting.
If you were buying a Hugo Boss suit you would not necessarily buy a Hugo Boss shirt to go with it, you might have an Armani shirt. Or, you could have a black gap T-shirt under the suit jacket. Whatever your needs are. However, you could match the suit and shirt if you wanted.
Continue reading Daisho and Daishoisn’t
Juyo results went out on Friday to submitters. So some people received them on Saturday mail… some may take longer to receive. Now is the time to bug the hell out of people you know for results.
You may have been noting the girls showing up for sword exhibitions in Japan. At museums, and in the new NBTHK, it’s frequently seen. Also standing in front of Sokendo and taking some selfies.
The world is changing.
Thanks to a video game.
5,000 of them linked up to see the Meibutsu O-Kurikara Hiromitsu which belongs to one of my clients. Have a read about them at
About 40% of suriage and ubu katana have bohi which is a simple groove which fills the shinogi area of the blade. Recently on nihontomessageboard.com a question came up about the strength effect on blades.
I wrote about this a long, long time ago but it bears some updating here, about why a blade has grooves and what the effects are function wise.
Continue reading Getting Into The Groove
Back from Japan. A real agonizing grind due to the excessive heat and too many things on the list to do.
I got to view the Tokuju exhibit. Everyone if they can should try to get out and see this exhibit and the Juyo when they are on. It is the best way of setting your eyes to the best work.
Continue reading Best In Show
God damn it is hot as hell.
The title of this post has nothing to do with the content. This is about some swords I saw, just riffing. But it’s like an oven outside and I am not going out again so I’ll just write this.
Continue reading 40 degrees in Kyoto
This came up recently advising someone about a nidai Tadatsuna sword. The owner had a fine specimen of more than premium length and ranked Tokubetsu Hozon, and he was happy with the piece and it represented this smith in his collection. Probably the sword sold for what appeared to be a budget friendly price, as this is a famous smith and well regarded it was bought and added to this collection.
There are details though that apply to these things that are not always evident to buyers. I’ll go over a few examples.
Continue reading Context
We have all experienced this I am sure. Probably we have been on both sides of this coin.
Someone you know consults with you for your opinion, no matter what the subject is. You give your opinion, if it is in disagreement with their own, they begin to argue with you.
When people ask for an opinion they are pursuing one of two goals: Education or Confirmation. In the case of someone seeking education they are trying to extract some information and update their own knowledge, either in the abstract or in the concrete (i.e. “what is this thing that I have”).
Based on people’s psychological makeup, and their reason for pursuing this hobby or anything similar, they will have a natural inclination to one path or the other. People who simply seek out confirmation will eventually find it, and they will sort out their opinions of everyone else based on whether or not they receive confirmation of their existing beliefs. It is not just with collectors of antiques or art, it goes for politics, religion, or who you think the best quarterback in the NFL is.
This flowchart illustrates the two different paths someone seeking education and someone seeking confirmation follow. This is very important to be aware of because it is human nature to seek out confirmation of our existing beliefs and biases. It interferes with our judgment and ability to learn when we seek confirmation instead of education.
Continue reading Asking and arguing
There has always been this phenomenon out there. But it seems to be getting worse. Treasure hunters everywhere want to be that guy who discovers something very important, both for the prestige, the thill and of course the valuation.
Importantly in digging up gold and diamonds: it certainly helps if you are a geologist.
The problem that people have is that they want to be the treasure hunter and make their big score, but they don’t have the background to understand what they are looking at. People have a very large emotional need to have their find confirmed.
I have encountered this attitude many times.
Continue reading But All My Friends Say It’s Good
After the Tokugawa made the final steps of unifying Japan, swordsmiths adopted more clear traditions of signing swords and dating them became much more common. The information they left behind and the fact that we’re dealing with “near history” makes it easier to understand swordsmith lineages.
When it gets into the Muromachi period and earlier, things get a bit more murky. Many signatures were lost, dates are few and far between, and period specific references can contradict each other.
In the modern period, with swords accessible to everyone and importantly with the work of the NBTHK passing Juyo blades and publishing them, the picture has become more clear. We owe a lot to Fujishiro Yoshio who’s work in the early 1900s on reference materials is more often right than wrong. So I’ll start this discussion with some of his general thoughts on this matter of one or two generations.
Continue reading One or Two Generations
This is a list of the items that passed Tokubetsu Juyo shinsa in 2018… I didn’t include dates where items were dated, or include the item lengths. Just type, signature and attribution. Congratulations to those who had their items accepted. It is never easy and requires patience and a good eye.
One interesting result is that some stubborn person received Tokuju for a Naotane katana. This is only the second time ever that a Shinshinto item has passed Tokubetsu Juyo.
All errors and omissions are mine.
Continue reading Tokubetsu Juyo 2018 Results