Always Was and Still Is

First entry in a while… it’s been too busy for me for the last long while.

Anyway this thought has come up a few times recently and is worth noting and talking about.

When it comes to certain blades with attributions to Masamune, Sadamune, Go Yoshihiro, and other top Soshu makers or makers of similar reputation like the Awataguchi makers… there are some various differences in context based on the age of the attribution and how many layers of attribution we’re considering.

Sometimes the fact that a blade has kinzogan mei can affect how we interpret such a blade in the modern period as well.

I classify these blades as such:

  1. Is
  2. Used To Be
  3. Always Was and Still Is

Continue reading Always Was and Still Is

Cause and Effect

I started with a flowchart, but that made this harder to understand than it should.

People traditionally have problems in this area. When observing phenomena that occur together, people often assign them a causal relationship in error.

To illustrate this, consider that I am born into a prehistoric tribe, and the tribe’s shaman every day does a sunrise dance. I am born into this society, and I am told that the sunrise dance is required to please the sun god, and the sun god reacts to this by rising above the horizon and giving us light and warmth and all good things. Through my life every day the shaman does this dance, and I am in fact trained to replace him so that on the day he dies, the next morning I do the sunrise dance and bring the sun up. Nobody is interested in testing this belief out because it will be disaster to not have the sun come up.

Thus, every day I believe:

I do the dance [cause]  ==> The sun comes up [effect]

The reality of it of course is that there is no causal relationship between my dance and the sunrise. Rather they are correlated phenomena that have to do with the time of day which is itself based on the rotation of the earth relative to the sun.

morning ==> sunrise dance

morning ==> sunrise

We see this kind of failure to sort out cause and effect consistently in buying behavior among collectors.

Continue reading Cause and Effect

It’s just one guy

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

One or Two Generations

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

Tokubetsu Juyo 2018 Results

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

This is how you do it

I am starting to see more of this kind of thing online and I am happy to see it. 

This Hasebe sword had old green papers and Aoi submitted it to get new NBTHK papers to clarify any doubts about the old attribution.

I have blogged many times that green papers = no papers, and this is what dealers should do when encountering green papered items. It is not only good for the buyer of this piece, it is good for the dealer, and good for the overall market.

This is what responsibility looks like.

Wakizashi: Mumei(Hasebe)



So, who is this smith Sue-Sa 末左?

Fujishiro has an entry for Sue Sa and says that it is an Oei period Sa school smith. The Samonji school starts with O-Sa and several of his students and their students and so on reused the single Sa 左 in their signatures. So sometimes we need to check these blades and try to determine from where in the school they came from.

Continue reading Sue-Sa

Opinions Redux

Attributions are opinions. But they are the opinions of experts. I’ve written before on it but it bears some pounding on the table from time to time.

There is a strong libertarian school of thought in the sword market which is abused by sellers. This is based partially on calling out your manhood.

I don’t need papers to tell me what to think. Do you need papers to tell you what to think?

— Guy who probably should pay more attention to papers

For a mid level student, this calls their knowledge out on the floor and challenges it. Nobody wants to be the mid level guy to say yeah, I don’t know.

Continue reading Opinions Redux

Ladder Theory — Ladder Fallacy

That’s too expensive for only Hozon.

— Everyone

There are four levels of NBTHK papers: Hozon, Tokubetsu Hozon, Juyo and Tokubetsu Juyo. This four level ranking system unfortunately means that people end up with four slots in their head for placing an object’s importance and desirability. 

This mistake takes its lead from the fact that it’s easy to grasp and remember four simple categories than it is to remember the vast and complex web of smiths, time periods, schools, their associations with each other, their place in history, as well as the myriad of individual qualities that make an item desirable.

All of that complexity is often boiled down into the thinking that an item with a particular paper should fall into a defined pricing range based on the paper.

This puts the cart (paper) in front of the horse (item). 

My complaints about this mentality were bounced back in my face by Robert Hughes with two words that really grasped the problem well. He just said: Ladder Theory. And that crystallized it all for me.

Bear with me. This is long and rambling.

Continue reading Ladder Theory — Ladder Fallacy

How many Motoshige?

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?

Pass Factor

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 The Connoisseur’s Book of Japanese Swords 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

Fungible (fŭnˈjə-bəl)

  • adj.
    Law Returnable or negotiable in kind or by substitution, as a quantity of grain for an equal amount of the same kind of grain.
  • adj.
  • n.
    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)