It’s necessary to know that different experts from different time periods saw different swords, and those swords that they saw form the basis for their judgments. For instance Soshu Sadamune signatures have been recorded but today we can’t find those blade or some dispute is made over the signatures. Unfortunately we do not have the actual work and cannot comment on it, other than that an old expert thought it was good and included it in their oshigata references. This implies at least that the work was as good as the signature proclaimed it to be.
The problem here is demonstrated by a parable called The Blind Men and the Elephant.
Continue reading How many Motoshige?
As the sword will be judged differently by men of different interests, you must be very careful in its selection. Some are foolish enough to pass judgment on a sword which they cannot really understand, others will not speak the truth although they see it.
The merchant may speak falsely in order to sell his wares.
If a blade belongs to some nobleman, or if it is appreciated as a family treasure, or if the possessor is very proud of its supposed qualities, the true judgment will often be withheld through courtesy. When you would have any sword truly judged, you must commit it unreservedly to a judge of absolute sincerity.
— The Complete Manual of the Old Sword (ca. 1793)
Nothing has changed.
This book is free here on JSTOR.
Bear in mind there are some transcription errors. Since it was translated over 100 years ago there is some Olde Tymey romanization as well. I find these old books fascinating as sometimes they confirm things that took us a long time to get to. For instance, this book relays the story of Niji Kunitoshi changing his name to Rai Kunitoshi at the age of 38 and names him Magotaro.
With the most useful data we have now, the last signed and dated Niji Kunitoshi is indeed at the age of 38 and the first signed and dated Rai Kunitoshi blade appears at age 49. Until Tanobe sensei put the lid down on this theory, there was a lot more belief that these were two separate smiths. Rai Magotaro Saku is also on a blade which is now Kokuho (National Treasure) and attributed to Kunitoshi.
Sometimes the old books have truths in them that were forgotten, and in the meantime people came up with some new fanciful stories. Not everything in an old book is going to be agreeable. They are however important things that fill in the gaps or at least provide some fertile ground for modern analysis.
With some help from Ted Tenold, I’ve put together a nice modern sword care kit to replace the uchiko-based kits-o-death that are commonplace destroyers of swords everywhere.
I’m supplying these for free to first time buyers of high quality swords from my site. So if you were looking for a reason to drop $50,000 on a sword, it has arrived.
Continue reading A better way
I had a good question come in about my references to lower tier schools, and the question asked me to reflect on what were the top tier schools. You can find in Nagayama’s good listings of the Leading Schools for each time period. I think every collector should have this book. It was out of print for a while and prices went way up, but it is back in print now and you can buy it following that Amazon link (which does not make me money, just get this book and use it).
Trying to get a handle on which schools are the best actually seems easy at first but it gets a little bit complicated the deeper you dig.
Continue reading Pass Factor
Law Returnable or negotiable in kind or by substitution, as a quantity of grain for an equal amount of the same kind of grain.
Something that is exchangeable or substitutable. Often used in the plural.
If you want to properly understand attributions, you need to understand this concept thoroughly.
Continue reading Fungible (fŭnˈjə-bəl)
I am glad my post on green papers is getting some traction and the issue is being discussed. There is some of the expected harrumphing and finger pointing going around as people are reacting to the information, and I suggest to not get distracted by it. No handwaving is required and no conspiracy theories necessary about this being a scam wherein the NBTHK accuses itself of fraudulent papers in order to get people to pay twice for papers (kind of like shooting yourself in the face in order to claim insurance).
This is the appropriate response if you think your green papers are good:
I GUARANTEE IT.
If you really believe in it, you can do it.
Continue reading Green Papers Pt. 2
One word can bring the dancing thought of undiscovered treasure through your mind, and it can also bring the crushing thought of buying a fake.
eBay has its place as a useful tool, but there are a few things to keep in mind. None of this will be news for experienced collectors, but is a short overview for people new to this hobby.
Continue reading eBay
This is a magic number that you may or may not know.
70 centimeters and above for a katana is considered premium length. Below this is can be detrimental to the value of a blade.
There are reasons for this.
Continue reading 70 centimeters
A nice to have on everyone’s list… the daisho. The name literally means “big-small” and refers to the pair of swords that only a samurai was authorized to wear.
There are some simple basics about daisho and some misconceptions. The learning curve is shallow but some people skip over the essentials, and it can cause some damage.
Continue reading Daisho
You may have gotten advice when you started out to buy a wakizashi as your first item. I am not 100% sure yet if this is completely out-dated bullshit advice (like uchiko improving a polish), or if it is meant well and properly. I want to poke at that idea a bit and see if something comes out of it.
There is certainly a bias in the market against wakizashi. This has some merit, and this in other regards lacks merit. Basically, a wakizashi is a case by case thing. Who made it, why they made it, when they made it, all of this factors into how you should be thinking about them.
Continue reading The humble wakizashi
There are four stages to learning.
- Unconscious incompetence.
- Conscious incompetence.
- Conscious competence.
- Unconscious competence.
It’s generalizing, but it works on a practical level.
Continue reading Learning
The title refers to a conversation I had with a top Japanese dealer.
I try hard to focus on quality and to weed the weak out when I select something for my site. I don’t want to get commercial grade items and host them, this to me isn’t interesting, and I don’t want to pretend to fawn over items that were basically utilitarian in their time.
This spawns some thoughts.
Continue reading Your swords: not samurai swords. Daimyo swords!
Japanese books say to leave the nakago (the tang of the sword) to age, because the condition of the nakago indicates how old it is.
I think this is good advice for the mid-1600s. But we are past the Edo period now. Swords are historical treasures. If we continue to let nakago “age gracefully” then there is a future where they turn into dust.
Not now, not next century, but not so far past that.
The black oxidated state of nakago are fairly stable, but not perfectly stable. Otherwise, there would be no “graceful aging” at all. Logically, we cannot have it both ways, that the nakago is safe from eroding away and that different period nakago will show different aging conditions. If these nakago were not slowly rotting away on a centuries timescale, then they would hit a stable point and then never change.
Continue reading Oil your nakago
Actually, green papers on a sword at this point are worse than having no papers. They are a virtual guarantee that the sword was made by anyone else except for the guy named on the papers.
“But, Darcy,” you say, “this that and the other thing! This one is real!”
GREEN PAPERS = NO PAPERS
From a standpoint of the offended side in the consecutive incidents having taken place last year, one in Fukuoka Kyushu where the Society’s Local Shinsa of Kicho Token was disgraced by an intrusion of local organized outlaws in March and the other involving forged certificates widely circulated in the autumn, the Society had entrusted the Metropolitan Police Department with investigation into those regrettable incidents. After eight months’ thorough investigation by the authority, eight persons in the forgery ring were arrested and twenty-eight more connected with the ring have been sent the police reports to the public prosecutor.
— NBTHK Token Bijutsu (English), 1981
“But, Darcy,” you say, “I really feel good about this one!”
GREEN PAPERS = NO PAPERS
“But, Darcy,” you say, “let me explain why this one is the exception!”
GREEN PAPERS = NO PAPERS
The bigger the name, the worse it is.
Continue reading Green papers = no papers