Hints and Tips
by Jim Kurrasch
Another section that I figure will help us as Collector of the Sword is various hints or tips that we have figured out over the years. So why don’t you send in some of those that you use or know about. The number above the section is to let you know which year and month it was in the Southern California Japanese Sword Club Newsletter. I also would love to hear your Hints and Tips. If I publish them I will be happy to give you full credit.
Hints and Tips
from the November 2000 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
Please remember that a great many swords come with stories. But these stories do not always add up properly. So please take them with a grain of salt. Even many swords from Japan have this problem. Somebody with an active imagination started with a theory long ago and it build up. Now generations later how can it be dispelled?
As one travels through Japan there are many small museums with some really strange items. So it is not a purely American product. Several have Mushashi’s Sword or one of the tsûba that he designed.
The point of all this is that similar to not paying for any Big Names without Big Papers one should not pay any extra for a Big Story without something to confirm it.
Hints and Tips
from the September 2000 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
Please keep up with the latest information in Nihontô – but not too much!
In general there is not too much change in the World of Nihontô. These have been around for hundreds of years and they have not changed too much in that time. Much of the History of Nihontô happened before there was a U.S. And nothing that has happened recently will change that.
So if somebody comes along with some new and fabulous information take it with a grain of salt. Of course if that information was released by the NBTHK, the NTHK or another major source it is probably wise to believe it or to at least study it further.
This also goes for techniques. If somebody states that the proper way to repair or repatinate an item is with some new space-age method I must wonder. What would have been done in the Age of the Samurai was basic at best when compared to modern day methods but they are also the authentic way.
Of course what was done during the Days of the Samurai often used substances that are harmful and poisonous. Some types of Artisans had very short lifespans. So one should give additional thought to just how authentic they want to be.
Hints and Tips
from the August 2000 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
Even though I occasionally write an article describing just what to look for in each sword group or individual smith one must always remember that words leave much to be desired. So for one to properly study Nihontô they must have a hands on study of many well documented swords to understand what to look for.
Descriptions such as itame hada or short turn back just have to be seen to be properly understood. There is no substitution for this. If that happens enough one will always remember how it looks. However it will still be difficult for that person to describe it. This is just another reason to study swords in Japan as much as possible.
Hints and Tips
from the July 2000 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
In a very complicated field like Nihontô the True Experts understand just how little they know. This seems like a contradiction but it is true. There is just so much to know here and one never knows it all.
Hints and Tips
from the November 1999 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
There is an increase in buying of quality Nihon Tô and related items. This appears to be due to the decrease in Yen / Dollar exchange rate along with expectations of the Japanese Economics Situation having bottomed and is now rebounding. Thus a feeling of buy it now before the prices go up. So if you were thinking of selling a very good piece maybe you should put it off for a couple of more months (or maybe not).
A second point is that when selecting a repair person for your swords and fittings remember that “The Best!” Craftsmen seldom have to hunt for work. If they are going after you to drum up business please think twice and at least get a couple of references as to their ability that are not their friends.
Hints and Tips
from the April 1999 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
Actually this is not a tip but just another thing to know. However it leads into a tip. I can not remember just exactly where I heard this long ago; In the olden times the preferred method for Umegane was to use a piece from the nakago of the sword to be repaired. This gave the exact same steel for the Umegane as used in the sword.
Maybe that is why one sees square mekugi ana one some of the older swords. These strangely shaped ana are often on the point side of the round mekugi ana. So maybe when one sees these they should also be looking for Umegane.
That leads into a tip. Often times when we are given a hint from an old Japanese book or from a Japanese Expert it is only part of the story. Such as the above. So when you read or hear one of these remember to give it some additional thought and do not just accept it at face value. I have about five or so little tidbits that I am looking for additional information on. Maybe some will give me just a little more information to remember.
Hints and Tips
from the December 1999 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
Recently on the internet there has been some thoughts mentioned about the value of having papers on ones blades. One view being that one must have papers to know what they have and another view being that one should know what they have without papers. This further goes on to state that a good blade is a good blade with or without papers.
I agree that “a good blade is a good blade with or without papers”. However outside of Japan there are no real sword sensei. Nor is there any place that the student can go to study Nihontô except at the various sword clubs.
The best way to study swords is to see and handle as many as one can and as often as possible. But to gain the most knowledge one should also know what they are looking at. Without standards (papered blades or kodogu in this case) the standards often slip.
Without a Sôshû blade standard for reference how can one establish if they are looking at a truly major Sôshû sword or a just a great Sôshû sword? In fact this was happening in Japan long ago. Since most people did not have many swords to study many gimei were honored as such. So Gisuke / Yoshisuke swords where changed into Masamune blades. And they were sold as such. Yes some knew or at least suspected but many probably never figured it out.
Along with this is a frequent complaint that submitting a blade to multiple organizations or persons often gets multiple opinions. This is especially true with mumei blades. Actually this makes sense. Few blades were made solely by one individual. They were normally made by a smith and his helpers. Often times the Master Smith would only supervise what was being done (like grading and folding of the steel). And different blades would have different amounts of the Master’s work actually in them. Stating that a mumei blade was made by a certain school may really be the best answer.
Even in the most known about smiths an exact kantei is difficult. For instance it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between works by Sôshû Yukimitsu, Masamune and Sadamune. So one would form an opinion by the traits that are seen on the blade. Things considered in differentiating these smith are the shape, the hamon, the hada and the yubashiri. And occasionally these smiths would make something out of character. So if those blades were not signed or lost their signature what will they be called?
And along those lines are the swords that have historically been mislabeled. Along with swords made by Yukimitsu and Sadamune there have been Sa, Kaneuji, and Hasebe felt to be Masamune over the centuries. Only now are the experts correcting some of these errors.
So it is not too difficult to understand just why the Kantei Committees have a difficult time judging the blades of the other 25,000 or so smiths who worked. I would feel better if they occasionally made a statement something like “This katana is an superior sword and was made by an member of the Osafune School around 1470!” Actually few superior swords made by a member of the Osafune school around 1470 can be differentiated better.
Hints and Tips
from the November 1999 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
Last year prior to going on the Japan Trip, which included the Shin-Saku Tour Kenji Mishina, advised me to obtain a magnifier to view the displays. At that time I was not able to find one, but I borrowed one for a short time from Graham Curtis who is one of our member in Britain. And it worked great.
These magnifiers are close up telescopes that allow fairly close viewing. With an accessory they can also do macroscopic work. They come in four, six and eight power. The cost is about $60 to $80 dollars in Japan, and about $15 more for the macroscopic attachment.
Hints and Tips
from the October 1998 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
If one is to consider themselves true students of Nihontô then they must visit Japan to study Nihontô as often as possible, and belong to either the NBTHK, or the NTHK (preferably both). Other clubs (American or ?) will / may help considerably in the learning process. But it is only by listening to the best sources available (think NTHK and NBTHK) that the best information is learnt. Anything else is just fooling yourself. There are currently a couple of Americans living in Japan and studying Nihontô frequently. And that is about as good as one can do.
Hints and Tips
from the September 1998 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
One can only afford to have the best person possible work on top of the line items!
I have a recent tale to tell. As some of you may know I own a Shinchu – brass tsuba that is papered as Umetada saku – Momoyama jidae. Some of the shakudo inlay that has come out. A couple of months ago I had shown this tsuba to a very good restorer in Southern California. He looked at it and said that he could restore it for me. I told him I knew that, but if I allowed him to and just by chance he screwed it up I would have to take firm action against him, and then against me for being stupid enough to let him do it. He tried several more times but I refused.
As we were talking I mentioned the wonderful patina that it had on it. He stated that he knows how to do that. He then said “That’s just shoe polish” and he could do that easily. I responded “No it is original! When I bought
it, it was very, very dirty, but I have been slowly rubbing it by hand!”
That gave him a very embarrassed look on his face. This showed exactly what I had expected, that if I had let him “Repair” this tsuba he may have screwed up the patina. And then the Japanese Experts would look at it and call it newly made. To be honest I would have this person work on just about anything that I own. He is excellent at restoring armor, and fittings. But there is just too much at stake on real high cost items.
At the last Frisco Show (must be Frisco or why would they have been calling it “The Frisco Cable Car” or “The Frisco Bay” for so long) a self appointed expert of anything Japanese came up to me while I was showing this and some other pieces to some friends. He asked to see it. I was hesitant since he is known to borrow swords and things, and when returning them some pieces are missing. His standard response is “You never gave me the ‘Kogai’, ‘Kozuka’, ‘Tsuba’ (please use the appropriate for your situation)”. Another thing that tends to happen is he forgets and leaves “Only your piece!” in his car, which just happens to be broken into and your piece was stolen. Or then there was the famous Hawley robbery, where this person sold the best blade of the lot, to one of the big collectors for $50,000. That collector sent this blade to Japan for polish and papers, where it was confiscated by the police. Mr. Big Collector basically went with the story that “He did not know!” He also made no argument to get anything back. So he lost everything on that deal. The self styled restorer of fine art turned states evidence and two other persons went to prison. And prior to their release Mr. Self Styled Restorer found it necessary to move out of California.
Anyway Mr. Self Styled Restorer offered to repair my tsuba. I said “NO!” He insisted on pushing me. I told him “No Way!” And mentioned that he has a horrible reputation for screwing up tsuba (his standard repair apparently is shaving them down flat, and putting a screwed up patina on them, this leaves most formerly rounded edges as sharp corners). His statement was “I do not know how these rumors got started! If I only knew I would put a end to them!” Well this was the same speech he gave me about 10 years ago when I almost bodily threw him out of the Nanka Token Kai meeting for some actions that he had been deeply involved in. And at that time I was just a lowly club member.
But this idiot kept pushing, and insisting that he could fix this tsuba. I said that there was “No way in Hell” I was going to take any chance of having an excellent tsuba screwed up by a “Cheap restoration!” He then stated that he does not do “Cheap restorations, and he does really good inlay work!” Well I am very sure if just by chance Mr. Self Styled Restorer did not happen to have my tsuba “Stolen” he would at best make some pieces, and then figure out that the color of the shakudo did not match. At that point he would probably strip off all of the patina, and rework everything, totally screwing it all up. And the Japanese Experts would say “Low quality,
late work!” And I would have to kill myself for being such an idiot. And to be honest killing myself would not be anywhere close to enough!
Another possibility is that he would use magic marker to give everything the “correct color”. And the Japanese Experts would say “Low quality, late work!”
So if you are talking to a Japanese Sword Expert who still lives in the west, and he offers to repair your pieces for you, please refuse his offer.
If you are foolish enough to allow this then take an inventory of exactly what you give him and make him sign it. If it is then stolen or screwed up beyond repair, well I warned you. But as has been said before “There is a fool born every minute!” If you have an excellent piece be it a tsuba, sword, or lacquer piece with very few exceptions the only place that it can be properly repaired is in Japan.
Here if the piece in perfect condition will only cost $1,000 or $2,000 the first restorer I mentioned is fine. There are a couple others in the U.S. that can also do fine restorations of that type. And one may well be wasting their money sending an item to Japan for a minor repair on a mediocre piece. But if some piece cost $5,000+ when it “needs work”. Then you had better start to think about how much work it needs and who will do the best possible work. Anything else puts too much at risk.
Hints and Tips
from the August 1998 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
Once again I am going to mention about buying swords. With the current economic situation in Japan the prices have dropped as low as they have been for many years. Some of the Tokyo Sword Shops now have Juyo katana for sale in the low $20,000 range (asking price). And I feel that in the next year this price will drop even lower. So please think about selling off your lower end swords, which actually are reaching some very good prices since America sets their market. And please look for some better items to spend that money on. In 10 to 20 years these will be the “Good Old Days” of cheap prices.
Hints and Tips
from the July 1998 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
Rank your teachers!
As we move along in our sword studies, we really should “rank our teachers”. In the beginning we are forced to take just about anyone who will talk to us. And they may know considerably more then we do. But as we move along, some of those teachers will quickly be passed by the student. Many of those will refuse to admit that. And unfortunately some will try to prevent their students from learning from other sources.
At this point in time, the teachers outside of Japan know considerably less then some of those in Japan. So one occasionally should appraise the people who they are learning from. If / when they outgrow one they must move on to another. However there are a fair number of persons outside of Japan, who feel that their “opinion” is somehow worth more then that of the recognized experts in Japan. So please always remember just who gave the opinion, and how much their opinion really is worth.
Hints and Tips
from the June 1998 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
It’s by Noshu ju Kane WHO??
Again when we first came to sword collecting we tended to buy what we could afford, and when we could afford it. And in that collection that we have amassed there are some blades that we just like. But as a guideline as we gain experience we really should point our collecting towards those pieces which we at least recognized the smith.
If after 20 years of collecting half of our blades are by someone that we only know about because we own an example of his work, there is a problem. If our collection is chuck full of those smiths like Noshu ju Kane Who?, or the 16th generation of an important smith, or a smith who is not even listed anywhere, we should re-evaluate the purpose in our collecting.
If one owns and can read Toko Taikan at least to some extent (or a similar book), they should search their blades makers out in it, and figure out their ranking. Then they should slowly move their collection towards the better makers (higher ranked).
Now I am not saying that some lesser sword smiths were not of importance. Many of these made very battleworthy blades. But one can only properly care for so many blades, so we should place a higher priority on those of higher rank.
Hints and Tips
from the April 1998 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
Billie Ford (the wife of Dr. Carrol Ford – editor of the JSS/US Newsletter) passed some of her thoughts to me. Her feeling is that when someone (frequently but not always a newcomer) wants to know something about their blade / collection they should seek out the advice of a certain variety of ‘Old – Timer’.
The ‘Old – Timers’ they should look for are the ones that have already built their collections, and thus are really not in the market for anything new. They often come to sword shows, and meeting just to see old friends, and pass the time. They are also interested in seeing something new, and learn what they can from the pieces of others. Thus they are happy to pass along what they know to others.
The advice of these ‘Old – Timers’ can be about almost anything having to do with swords. Ask them what they think your sword may be. Or ask them who will give you the fairest price for it. All in all their knowledge, and advice can be invaluable.
Hints and Tips
from the March 1998 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
As some of you probably know I am a big supporter of using safe deposit boxes at one’s bank for the security of the more valuable items in their collection. But in the last few weeks, events have occurred which make me set back and evaluate just which bank, and which box at that bank, are fitting for our items.
I live in Santa Barbara County, in Southern California. Last month Solvang, a small but very wealthy town about 30 miles away from my house was flooded, when a normally near dry river over flowed it’s banks. One of the buildings flooded was a bank. Some of the safe deposit boxes were covered with 2 feet of water. And worst yet the owners were not allowed to get to their items for about 1 week. So the damage would have been well along before the owners were allowed to help prevent further damage to the items.
So I thought about my bank, and how it would do? There appeared to be little chance of problems. Then there was the next week. The unincorporated area of Goleta where I live took 3 inches of rain in about 1 hour. The shopping center where my bank is was flooded, and water entered into several of the very large stores. So I thought about my bank again, and drove down to check it out. Water had flooded the street 25 feet in front of my bank. At the driveway apparently a considerable amount entered into the parking lot, but none into my bank. There is another bank across the parking lot that is about 3 feet lower.
Another thing (by pure chance) my box is well off the floor. So even if the bank floods there is little chance of it reaching my box. Better yet is that bank branch is moving, and the new branch is on top of a 2 foot high mound of dirt. And there they have even larger safe deposit boxes ($200 per year).
Anyway prior to renting a safe deposit box for ones valuables, it is a good idea to stand back and give it, and the bank a good evaluation as for potential for flooding. Also try to take a box as high as possible, just to give a bit of an extra margin in case your evaluation is wrong, or if things really get out of hand.
And for a little extra to think about; about 5 years ago a bank about 20 miles away burnt, in the very wealthy Montecito area by Santa Barbara. Apparently its safe deposit boxes took some pretty heavy damage. I do not know what one could do to avoid that problem. But this must still be safer then in ones house.
Another thought, just what is the possibility of flooding for your gun safe that you keep your swords in? If it does how difficult would it be to open the safe door afterwards? And remember that flooding can also happen with a broken water pipe, or a leaking or collapsed roof.
Damn! It’s raining again and I am hearing firetrucks nearby. So what has happened now? All of this in normally dry and sunny Southern California.
Hints and Tips
from the February 1998 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
This time when I say “Concentrate!” I am not saying “study harder”. Although that would hurt very few of us. What I am saying is concentrate your collection. We all have a tendency to buy pieces that we really do not need / and probably should not collect. And unless absolutely forced to we do not want to part with those pieces, which we have out-grown or purchased by mistake. So we end up with pieces, and maybe many pieces that do our collections little if any good.
So I feel about once a year the collector should look closely at their pieces, and send those items of lower level class off to sale. This also should extend well into our middle level pieces (middle level of our personal collections). Let’s face it in the beginning many of us wanted an example of everything. But can anyone really maintain so many items the way they should be? And hopefully our selection has improved with our experiences. But we still have those early mistakes, and items that we have out-grown.
Another thing to remember is that the money tied up in 3 to 5 lower level swords or tsuba can buy a very good sword or tsuba of higher quality. Sell 10 or maybe even 20 of these early study pieces, and you can then probably buy something really very good.
There are added benefits of this collection concentration;
1. As I mentioned a large number of items is difficult to maintain. Just examining 50 swords for possible problems is more of a job, than a hobby. Then there is also the safe storage of a large number of items.
2. A collector will be remembered for his collection. If they have 30 worn out sue-Kotô swords they will not be remembered long for their collection. But if they sell those lower level pieces off, and buy one really great piece, they as well as their collection will be remembered.
3. And when / if the time comes when they or their heirs must sell some of the pieces. $20,000 of lower quality items will take forever, as well as a great deal of work, to realize that $20,000. But 1 piece worth $20,000 can frequently be sold very quickly. And often other collectors will mention that if that certain piece ever must be sold, hopefully they will be remembered.
So once again I say Concentrate! Improve your collection, when it is fairly easy for you to do so. Take your time and do it right, but also do it when you will have the ability and desire to study those few great pieces that you too can buy.
Hints and Tips
from the January 1998 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
It has been well over a year since I harped about ‘This is the time to buy quality Nihontô!’ And in that time some of our members have made me extremely proud as well as envious, of some of their purchases. But I have not been yapping on it too much lately since it did not appear to me that the Japanese were willing to do what had to be done to help their economic recovery. They were just posturing, without taking serious action.
Well, I think that the Japanese have now started to take serious action on their economy. So I think that their economic turn around may be close. But they will not be big buyers again for a couple of years after that.
So what I am saying is you still have some time to buy that once in a lifetime purchase, at a somewhat reasonable price. Even when the upswing starts, it will take some time for it to effect us. So keep that in mind when you are looking for a ‘keeper’.
Of course I am not talking about the lower priced articles. The US seems to be their main market, and thus dictates the price. That did not change too much with the dive in the Japanese economy. The price of the lower quality items kept right on rising all of the time.
Many of the higher quality items actually lost value. That was really strange since the cost of a medium quality later piece, was getting into the range of the higher quality earlier pieces.
Hints and Tips
from the November 1997 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
For about 15 years, I have always carried a small flashlight with me to help me view museum exhibits. One can bring out many of the details of poorly lighted blades, or other items. Kenji Mishina told me prior to the latest sword trip that I should also bring a magnifier along.
At the Ueno Park Exhibition I saw several people with these ‘art magnifiers’. They are like small monoculars, or binoculars made to focus at a fairly close range (around 3 feet, and 4 power). I used one that Graham Curtis lent me for a short time, and they again allow one to see many of the finer details. So I advise everyone to keep their eyes open for such a item. I may be a excellent Christmas present.
Hints and Tips
from the October 1997 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
In appendix A of Early Japanese Sword Guards – Sukashi Tsuba by Masayuki Sasano he states “Exposure to the outside air, in places where the metal will not come into contact with rain, is a suitable method for stimulating black rust. But care must be exercised because pollutants and dirt in the air are likely to coat the metal before the black rust has a chance to grow.” Naoji Karita Sensei says to hang them in the house. The lack of the standard tsuba box, allows atmospheric moisture to get to the metal.
Sensei Yumoto stated that when we work on restoring fittings we must remember that pure chemicals were not available to the metal smiths of old Japan, so they used natural elements. These would be something fairly simple such as lemon juice. Tom Bill recently told me that sunlight also helps the process along.
I have some tsuba that had been over-cleaned prior to me buying them (actually almost all of my tsuba). For years I had wanted to hang them outside as Sasano suggested. Even though I have a enclosed rear yard, with very limited access to persons other then my family I was hesitant to hang these items outside. I figure it is better to avoid problems then to cry over them later. I thought about this for a long time, and came up with a possible solution. The bathroom! This is completely enclosed, and provides as complete security as is possible in a private home, of an average individual.
So I installed some hooks on the bottom of a head high shelf, on the end of the bathroom opposite the shower. Now, I hang my problem tsuba there. They are bathed in the light mist, when someone takes a shower. This mist then condenses on them. Every other week or so I take them down and rub them with a soft towel (when the wife is not present of course).
An added benefit comes from a unstated part of Yumoto Sensei’s idea. This is the hydrogen sulfide gas that is given off, by the waste material. The shakudo is also being restored. For instance the copper used on one of the nakago ana, is turning out not to be copper, but shakudo. After owning this tsuba for 10+ years I knew that part was copper. And now I know that it is actually shakudo. This must have something to do with what the wife eats. [:^)
Hints anf Tips
from the August 1997 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
This is mostly a ‘heads-up’ for the new collector. It may also inform the more experienced collector about something happening, but I think few would waste their money, on it.
I keep hearing about various self-appointed experts charging considerable money to ‘kantei’ the novice’s blades. These persons may be or may have been ‘officials’ in various clubs around the country. I have heard that one charges $150 per sword, and another only $100. Apparently there is also a group that does this, for smaller amounts.
My view point is with very few exceptions (like Morihiro Ogawa, or Robert Haynes in fittings) there is just nobody that has seen enough swords, or studied enough, so their ‘papers’ mean anything, or are worth anything. Who do these people think they are? Where did they study to be worthy of giving ‘appraisals’, other than a oral statement of their opinion?
Now I am not talking about insurance appraisals. But for that please just bring your item into the club meeting, and if you type up the information, we can get various club officers to sign the form for you at no charge. For those of you that live outside the area, I do not think a insurance appraisal is worth more than $10 or $20.
There apparently is also a ‘group’ that travels the country, to various gun shows, sword shows etc. They say they are affiliated with important persons, in sword collecting, and some of the martial arts groups. They also promise appraisals, and repair at relatively cheap prices.
Again from what I hear their work is very poor, to downright insulting, and their appraisals are worthless.
Hints and Tips
from the July 1997 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
I am going to tell you all, that if you are foolish enough to listen to me, I guarantee that I will push you just as far as I can. I am going to do my best at having you improve your collection, as much as you can. What ever you have now, will never be good enough for you, and I will always drive you to improve your collection. Until your collection is filled with Kamakura Greats, or at least blades of very highly respected later smiths, there is no end to the road, as long as you listen to me. And contrary to popular opinion I have nothing against blades made by the best smiths of any era, be it sue-Kotô, Shinto, Shin-Shinto or even Gendaitô. I just have a preference for earlier blades.
When we are new collectors, we frequently try to buy everything that we can. We will pick up any blade around that is cheap, or at least reasonable, and within our budget. And we try to build a large enough stockpile of swords to supply a small Daimyô’s army. This is just a common thing among new collectors. I know to some extent I did it as much as my pocketbook allowed. After several years, as we get deeper into collecting, and start to rub elbows with the old timers we really should change out methods.
What I am saying here is then it is really time for us to trade up. Actually anytime is the time to trade up. What we should try to do is to trade several of our swords for one of equal value, or if real lucky one of more value. Let’s face it if you have the Worlds Largest Collection of $300 blades, the best blade in it is worth exactly $300, and probably will not teach you too much. But trading 4 $300 blades will give you a blade worth $1,200 which you can learn more from, and be prouder of. And 10 $300 blades can get you one worth $3,000 which hopefully you can learn more from yet. But after more time we really should progress beyond the $1,200 blades, and then beyond the $3,000 blades. Our collection should go from a 20 or 30 blade collection to a 3 or 4 blade collection but it will grow also. That seems like a contradiction, that something can reduce in numbers, but grow in strength, and collectability. So if you are foolish enough to listen to me, expect me to push you beyond where you are. But if you are reading this last line I guess you are at least foolish enough to read what I write. [:^)
Hints and Tips
from the May 1997 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
I was just told about a not too happy thing that happened very unexpectedly. A friend had a tsûka rewrapped in Japan. When he got it back, it was a very tight fit on the nakago. Once he had put it all together, he had a very hard time getting the tsûka back off. So he stopped to do it later. When he came back a few days later, he found that the pressure had chipped the blade about 3/8th of a inch in front of the hamachi.
Now this damage is minor (about 1/16th of a inch), but it will be a long time before he stops beating himself over it. Also if it could do this, I must wonder what a really bad case would do? So maybe in a similar case one would be wiser to mount the tsuka, without the habaki, or tsûba once or twice to slightly loosen everything up. I must say that I would never imagine that this would have happened.
Hints and Tips
from the February 1997 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
Every once in a while I speak about the importance of books. Especially outside of Japan they give us information that is flat out not achievable other wise. AFU and others now have some pretty good english translations of some of the Japanese books. These have opened up the field of study to a great extent. But they can only go so far.
Really at the absolute top of the list of books to study from have to be those published by the 2 leading Japanese Sword Oranizations, the NBTHK, and the NTHK. Since they both are non-profit, and promote learning about Nihontô, they give us important information imparcially. If / when you get a chance to buy or at least study books such as those by the NTHK’s on their Yushu Saku, or those by the NBTHK on their Juyo blades, or Tokubetsu Juyo blades, go out of your way to make it happen.
Sensei Yumoto told us on one of his trips that if we want to use rice glue, we should let it set for a day or 2 prior to using. This will allow bacteria to break down the starch. And there will be less of a problem with insects eating the material after that.
from the April 1997 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
This is pertaining to a statement I heard on the internet couple of days ago. I had to think whether I really should answer it, or let it slide. Well I let it slide, but it still bothers me some what. The statement was something like the JSS/US should be the first sword organization that one should join. I only agree with that for some collectors and certainly not all.
I belong and have belonged to several Japanese Sword Organizations over the years, and that includes the JSS/US. And a good local club has a tremendous benefit over the JSS/US. I am not stating any specific club, but I can think of several clubs that I feel would be much better for a collector who lives within 200 miles of their regular meeting place. These include but are not exclusive to the New York Branch of the NTHK, the Northern California Club, Cary Condell’s study group, the Houston Club, the Philadelphia Branch of the NTHK, the Great Britain Token Society, of course either the Southern California Japanese Swords Club, and / or the Los Angeles Branch of the NTHK. It would really be wonderful if we lived in Japan, and could join a local branch of the NBTHK, or NTHK. But for most of us that is only a dream.
The reason I promote these clubs first is they give the collector time to spend with other persons, who hopefully are knowledgeable about Nihontô. There really have been very few worthy Sensei of Nihontô outside of Japan. The only ones I can think of have been Yumoto Sensei, and Yasu Kizu. Both of these men possessed considerable knowledge, as well as a inclination to spread their knowledge a far as they could. Since this type of person is so rare, most students are forced to study alone, and if real lucky, occasionally (like monthly) talk things over with others. Now certain officers of the JSS/US are as fine sword collector’s as anyone can hope to know. Foremost amongst these are Dr. Ford, and Arnold Frenzel. If this was the only type of officer in the JSS/US I could really have few complaints. But unfortunately it is my opinion as well as the opinion of some others that some important officers of the JSS/US are flat out dealers, or nearly so. One thing to avoid as much as possible is a club ran by a dealer, or a pseudo-dealer. Many know the type who say they are NOT Dealers, but merely collectors, but actually sell more blades each year than you or I own. Sooner or later this type may use the club and it’s members to promote their own business. If that is all that is available, then that is all that is available. But keep what I am saying in the back of your mind at all times.
Another thing a good local club does is to expand the number of swords one can study. The other members of any of the groups I mentioned above, will make available to the serious collector, a fairly large number of blades for them to study. There are certain things that one just will not learn without having the proper blades to study. And it will help to have either a knowledgeable owner, or another knowledgeable collector there to point things out to you. Sometimes these things may need to be pointed out several times, and maybe on several occasions (after one has had time to thing and study more). There is the argument that the JSS/US has their Annual meeting in Chicago. But few will say that it is better than similar Taikai in San Francisco, Dallas, Miami, or Houston. One can point out that the Chicago Show has their Meibutsu Room, where one can study blades. If one goes there I do not believe that you need to be a member of any club to study those blades. And studying some very good blades once a year, does not compare with studying some very good blades every month. When one travels a great distance to view nihontô, no matter how great those blades are, one maybe too tired to take full advantage of the situation. And when one only gets to see 10 or so great blades once per year, they will probably be overwhelmed by the task. Even studying 2 or 3 good blades a month, is better than studying 10 great blades once a year. Now let’s look at what club the person should join if they do not live fairly close to any club? Again to me fairly close is about 150 to 200 miles each way. This may seem like quite a bit, but the closest I have ever lived to the 2 Southern California Clubs meeting places has been over 100 mile each way. And I would have driven farther if necessary, but probably not to both club meetings each and every month.
For those who mostly rely on the newsletter, there are several clubs that do fairly well. And to be honest none (outside of Japan) does appreciatively better than some of the others. But one may fit your needs better than the others. The JSS/US is very good with general information, but the last time I saw material from the Japanese Sword Club of Great Britain, it was just as good in the general sense. And if one lives in Europe, I definitely advise they join the British Club, before any US club. The Northern California Sword Club leads in fittings, and general sword making things. But if you are just into Japanese Sword making, you had better take a pilgrimage to the Sacramento Sword Club. It’s Sensei Keith Austin is the only licensed Japanese Sword Smith who lives outside of Japan. And if one has not gone through the complete training, they can not state that they really know how to make a Japanese Sword. It is rather like a scrub nurse saying he / she knows as much about brain surgery as a boarded brain surgeon.
Now I feel that the Japanese Sword Club of Southern California / Nanka Token Kai really does a pretty good job, when it comes to the study of older swords. Kotô is really where my interests lie, and I do most of the writing for the Nanka Token Kai. But next year I expect Blaine Navroth to write quite a bit on fittings. And with the return of Joe Bott, he hopefully will bring another slant also. And I may even light a candle under a couple of other long time collectors. Now to be real honest, everything I said about living swords through newsletters, goes right out the window, when we bring the NTHK or NBTHK into the equation. If you can afford it, belonging to either should be your first step into serious collecting of Nihontô. And belonging to one of the local chapters of the NTHK, is about as good as one can do outside of Japan. Their magazine comes 6 times per year, and much of it is translated into english, in the following months. Now the NBTHK really had a grip on this area, but they stopped their english edition in 1993. So we can hope that they bring it back in the not too distant future. Maybe with the rise of the dollar / yen exchange rate, more persons can afford to join. Anyway I feel that each collector really should look at which clubs they should belong to. It is nice if you can afford to belong to them all. I can not! I really do not have the time, and I do not even want to read all of the material in all of the newsletters I receive. So maybe with this information you will be better able to focus your resources to fit your needs.
After you have been collecting for a while, you may have the opportunity to purchase a item or two from a long time private collector. This may bring the best blades, and best deals that you will ever have in collecting. Do Not Screw It Up! Here what I am talking about is a collector (or his widow) who is clearing out the collection, not to buy other items but to have a bit more money to go on to other things. And I am not talking about the old sharks, who ask more for their questionable blades than the dealers at the sword shows do. What I am saying is if a old collector offers you something like a healthy signed, papered Kamakura blade for $5,000, it’s a great deal already! Do Not try to beat them down. Don’t offer them $2,000, hoping to buy it for $3,500.
When you know you have a good deal, you have several reasonable possibilities open to you. You may buy it. You may not be able to afford it! And you may not know whether you can afford it or not. If you try and make it better for you, you will also be making it worst for him (and he will know that). By the way if you do not know that a healthy signed, papered Kamakura blade for $5,000, is a great deal, you really need to do your homework, and until you do maybe you should not talk too much around the long time collectors. And please listen very carefully when they talk.
There is nothing wrong with not being able to afford a good deal. Or not being sure if you can make it or not. I am sure that almost everybody that collects Nihôntô has had that problem at one time or another. And there is nothing wrong with telling the seller just that! Thank him, tell him it is a great deal, but you just can not afford it at this time. Or tell him you really must talk it over with the wife (or the bank). Do not jerk him around and tell him that you will do it when you know you probably will not be able, or may not be able. Basically I am saying be honest with him. Be a Gentleman! Be a friend!
Now for some of the reasoning! As I said if it is a good deal already, and you know it (or you should know it), and you try and beat the price lower, or otherwise improve the deal for yourself, the seller will know that you are just jerking him around and he probably has better things to do. He knows the approximate value, and is probably selling low because he just does not want to fight to get the higher price. If you offer a lower price, or try to make the deal better for you, he may just kiss you off completely, knowing that you are just not worth the problems. If you say that you will do a deal, and then back out, his thoughts will probably be about the same. But if you say it is a excellent deal, but really can not afford it at the time, he may remember you if he decides to lower the price, to something you can afford.
A added benefit of being fair and friendly in your deals, is that the other collectors will recognize it. It is nice to think about ‘pulling a sword out of the woodworks’ but that does not happen too often. Many of the best swords are already in the hands of the older collectors. So if you are known for being fair in your dealing, those collectors may start asking you if you are interested in their swords. If you are known to switch the deal, or being ‘cheap’ the older collectors will not even bother with you.
from the January 1997 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
Every once in a while I speak about the importance of books. The importance of having a good library available to you can not be over emphasized. Especially outside of Japan they give us information that is flat out not achievable other wise. And with books we can figure out a blade, and study it, achieving much more information. AFU and others now have some pretty good english translations of some of the Japanese books. These have opened up the field of study to a great extent. But they can only go so far. Really at the absolute top of the list of books to study from have to be those published by the 2 leading Japanese Sword Organizations, the NBTHK, and the NTHK. Since they both are non-profit, and promote learning about Nihontô, they give us important information impartially. If / when you get a chance to buy or at least study books such as those by the NTHK’s on their Yushu Saku, or those by the NBTHK on their Jûyô blades, or Tokubetsu Jûyô blades, go out of your way to make it happen.
Probably the best information ever written in english for the general study of the better nihontô was the english edition of Token Bijutsu. Unfortunately they are no longer being printed. The back issues are still available at the Sword Museum, for a reasonable price (about $11 each). These books really only covered the high end makers. That is somewhat unfortunate for those of us who are not rich, but occasionally if we have studied well we are able to pull one out of the wood work for a resonable price. The NTHK’s magazine is about 10% english, and more is translated and sent to the members in the following months. So in the end one ends up with about 1/3 in english. Also the blades shown are those more commonly found. Basically the NTHK stress is more on condition than it is on high ranking sword smiths.
When making a ôshigata of a mei, it helps to first moisten the area of the paper above the mei with your breath. And then push down on that area with the ball of your thumb. This will lower the paper over the mei, so it does not pick up as much color from the crayon. Also when you are comparing a signature on a sword, with that in the books, remember that they are not direct comparisons. Especially if the swords mei goes over the shinogi line. This will cause that signature to look narrower than it will look from the ôshigata. So if your mei goes across the shinogi you might want to do a ôshigata and compare that. Along with that sometimes parts of a obscured signature will be a bit clearer in the ôshigata, than on the nakago. So you might want to do a ôshigata even when you have no ôshigata to compare it to (like when you are trying to read what it says).
from the November 1996 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
As our eyes get weaker, or even when we are fairly young, sometimes we need a ‘edge’ on seeing things. Many drug stores and some other stores carry a selection of reading glasses. These vary in power between 1.25 X and 4.5 X. They range in price from about $10 to $20. Purchase a pair and bring them with you when looking to purchase a sword or fittings. Even with 20/20 vision sometimes a little bit better vision helps. If they ever help you find a hagiri on one sword that you are interested in they more than paid for themselves.
from the October 1996 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
This hobby is full of various types of people. And some of our sword acquaintances, we really would be better off not being aquatinted with. One of these is the deal spoiler. These maybe professionals or non-professionals. Their trait is to only tell people things bad about everything involved with a deal. The price is too high. The blade has a flaw. And a countless number of other things to spoil the deal. This can be explained by they are just being ‘honest with you’. Of course if it is their deal, they mention none of these problems. They tell you that the flaws really are not important. The price is cheap. And this sword is a rare deal. So remember just what they said to spoil other deals and apply that to the ones with them. Basically quote them, and tell them that you are doing just that. Or better yet is to ignore them completely. These persons also tend to tell you all of the problems with the blade that they want to buy from you. But once they have it those problems become insignificant. And if they try to sell the same blade the problems with it disappeared.
from the September 1996 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
I have often said, ‘Never trust anyone in sword collecting’. This is not about anything special, or any recent occurrence, but it is about life in general in sword collecting. I am mentioning things here so we can all think about these things prior to anything critical happening. That way when it hits the fan, hopefully we will have prepared for the situation. Or at least I will be able to say ‘I told you so!’
There is just something about the World of Nihontô that tends to bring out the absolute worst in some people. It is a form of ‘Gold Fever’. Something just happens to some people, that is difficult to believe. They feel that they have some ‘right’ to the best swords. They offer extremely low prices, even to their friends. They steal, cheat, lie, and just about anything else that may increase their collection, or bank account. Let there be no doubt that I know that there are some extremely fine people in sword collecting. Actually some of the finest that one may ever wish to meet. So how does one tell who is who? One thing to do is watch everybody for many years, and if you ever see them screw somebody else, just remember that you are in line for a similar treatment. Never feel that for some reason you are immune to such tricks. Also do not feel too badly that others may not trust you, for a while. If they immediately accept you as being honest they probably will do the same for others, and sooner or later this good friend will be screwed by somebody. So their suspicion of you is a survival mechanism, that you can probably learn from, and we all probably should.
If, or should I say when something happens in sword collecting, please be responsible, and help correct the problem. Do what you can! Do not feel resentful that you are checked out also. In fact do everything that you can to help checking you out along. Once you are checked out, you have that part behind you. If you feel that your position somehow puts you above suspicion then, you just complicate the problem, and you justify others not wanting to go through the check also. If the leader says ‘Please feel free to check me out. Then others will also, and the guilty party if there is one can be found quicker. Or if there is no guilt that can also be determined quicker. So let’s be responsible citizens of the World of Nihontô, and help root out the bad element when we are able. Also the good guys will note that you took the ethical route, and they will hold you in higher praise. Hopefully the turkeys will also note that you did the right thing and give you a wider berth.
Many moons ago when we were both young men (OK, younger men), Sam Oyama told me, when evaluating a sword with a broken boshi. And you want to know if it can survive a polish, do not only consider shaping from the hamon side. Remember that you can also bring the mune down. This might take off the turn-back, but a blade with no turn-back may be papered. A blade with a gap in the hamon probably will not be.
Sometimes when we are dealing with a Kotô suriage sword, it is hard to figure just what the sorii originally was. A koshizori (bizen zorii) blade may appear to be very straight. The nakago does not appear to give us any extra clues since it is fairly straight also. So look at the shinogi line as it goes through the nakago. Does it curve? Sometimes we will find a considerable curve there. And then we know that the original blade had considerable curve.
Also as we first judge a sword we should try to hold the nakago straight up. Then look at the tip, and see just how far off center it is. Sometimes when we think that there is little sorii we will find that the tip is 4 to 6 inches to the side. At that point we had better reconsider just what we thought, and find out what the blade really is.
from the July 1996 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
If you really love nihontô never take out a loan to buy a Really Excellent One. I know that this seems really strange coming from me. I am talking about the person who does not just like nihontô , but all out fanatically loves them and would happily lay their life on the line protecting them.
I am also not saying do not take out a loan to buy a really nice nihontô . This is only for the top of the line, cream of the crop, Really Excellent Nihontô. If you have one of those shortly after you get it you start to think “What will happen to this sword when I die? Where will it go? Who will know how to care for it?” Do you really think that your son will be able to carry out a job that you would approve of? Do you absolutely know that he will not fail in this duty?
In your search for the next in line as care taker of this blade you will find very few who will qualify. They are not experienced enough. They are too poor and the value of the blade may over power them. They maybe too innocent, and be prone to be tricked out of it by one of the slime that frequents nihontô.
You will not be able to just give it to a museum, or a worthy individual. You took out a loan to buy this sword. Your family suffered for you to possess it. Maybe your family did not suffer much. But there were probably a few less diners out. A few less new clothes. Definitely you did not buy a new car for 1 or 2 years more. And vacations they were shorter and / or to cheaper spots.
You / your family deserve to make some profit. So who will it get sold to? A rock star so he can hang it on his wall? Or maybe he will open his mail and cut his Thanksgiving Turkey with it. Or maybe in a drug induced rage he will use it to hack down the neighbors tree, or even the neighbor. And them the police will destroy a Really Excellent Nihontô.
If you buy swords as a investment, this should not bother you much. The sword was sold to you as a investment, and you planned all along to make a profit. That may not be a perfect solution but it is fair. You may not feel too good if you later find out it was damaged, but that’s life. Or maybe you can make your profit, on all of your nihontô, except the Best One. Maybe to appease your soul, and allow you to break bread with the top of the line sword makers in the after life, you can find a ‘Good Home’ for that one Nihontô. Whether it be a worthy museum or a worthy individual, maybe you should give them a break on just that one sword, the one you really love.
But if you really love nihontô, then listen to me. Never take out a loan to buy a Really Excellent Nihontô.
This brings up some other subjects. Just what will happen to the well loved blade that you donate to a museum. And here I include shrines since in a way they are just a religious museum. No matter what they promise, once you have given a object to a museum it is theirs, and they can do with it as they like. Some museums have annual sales to dispose of those objects that they no longer have space for. New curators frequently ‘trade’ items for other items that are more to their taste.
Never give a good sword to a local museum since they do not even have a chance to treat it as they should. One even wonders about some of the better museums, those that have a major sword section. In 1995 the ‘Kai Go’ privately came up for sale. It had apparently been found in the storage of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It was a well known, well documented blade. OK it had been burnt, and retempered, long ago. But it was listed in the 3rd book of the Kyoho meibutsû Chô. This blade apparently did not fit the museums needs. So do you think that any sword that you donate would be more important, and thus retained.
How about donating it to a shrine? Well if you are doing it a penitence for past sins, well that is what you are doing it for, and I can not say that is bad. But if you think that they will take better care of it I must wonder. Many of the shrine blades are given minimal care. I know of one ‘priest’ who was given a dai-sho by the church when he was ordained. Is that how you want your best blade to end up? In the Northern California Japanese Sword Clubs Newsletter Paul Allman is writing a very interesting article called Jewels from the Sands. He mentions there that Robert Haynes when studying with Dr. Torigoe visited a gentleman home in Japan. The gentleman requested that no drawings or photos be done of his excellent collection since they had come from shrines. Is that a better place for the masterpiece of your collection to go?
I am beginning to think that it would be better to pass it on to the right individual. This person must be the type to absolutely guard it, and let no harm fall upon it. He should be the type that will allow it to be viewed by the public (behind glass) and occasionally show it to the better students of nihontô. This will at least allow that blade to live and breath again, as well as allow students to learn from it. Also he / she must be the type to pass it on to a worthy person. Here I am just not saying give it to his son. If his son is not capable of such a project it should go else where.
Another subject that should probably be brought up here are ‘Trophies of War’. During W.W.II many average, and some excellent blades came out of Japan, as ‘Trophies of War’. I am not so concerned about the average blade that we come across, but it should be mentioned also. I was recently contacted about returning a family blade to Japan. It is signed but has no papers. The return was requested by the American soldier (now dead).
My feeling is that if one promises to do such a thing, then it is absolutely necessary that he do it promptly. None of this ‘Well I will do it next year.’ If the requesting person felt that his soul would not rest until the blade is returned, do you think that he will let your soul rest prior to that?
Anyway what I am really concerned about was those ‘Trophies of War’ of the highest class. The Kokuho, or Jûyô Bijutsu. A number of these blades were taken by soldiers and others, when everybody knew they were not to be molested. But it happened. These have been occasionally coming up for about 20 years. In the November 1981 Haynes Sale there was one. It was the pre-war Kokuho signed ‘Bishû Osafune Iyesuke’, and dated ‘One day in February 1414’. It was designated Kokuho on April 15th, 1920.
In the mid 1980’s Sensei Yumoto helped Endo San return a Kokuho tachi to the Kumano Hayatama Shrine in Wakayama Prefecture. The Northern California Club just published photographs of the pre-W.W.II Jûyô Bijutsu tachi by Awataguchi Hisakuni. It apparently is in the hands of a American collector.
I have seen or heard about several other blades that I suspect are pre-W.W.II Kokuho or Jûyô Bijutsu. One was at a recent sword show. What is the proper thing to do if you happen to come across one of these blades. The first and most important thing is to proceed very slowly and carefully. Remember that it is still stolen property. If you buy it knowing that, or if you really should have known that, you are knowingly buying stolen property. If you do not know what it is you have not broken any laws but may still be in for problems. Actually if someone once bought it not knowing that it was stolen, then I guess it is OK to own. But there are still some legal problems.
If you send one of these blades back to Japan for polish, or papers, there is a real excellent chance that it will never be returned. Such as that Hisakuni. If it hits Japan do you think it is going to be hard to track down where it came from? The prior owners know where it was from 1640 to 1945 (in their family collection). And they can prove it. And you will have a real hard time proving that you have a better claim on it than they do. You can do all the crying and complaining in the World, about how you did not know. But the blade will be in Japan, and it is then under their law. Of course the Japanese will have a vested interest in keeping such blades there.
Another thing is DO NOT have it polished by somebody here. Honestly I doubt that there are 5 persons in this world that should be allowed to polish such a blade, and all of them are Japanese. So if you think that it needs a polish, WAIT. Do nothing other than maintain it, until you decide what you really want to do with such a blade. The blade will not suffer with proper maintenance, but it will with a improper polish. And that suffering maybe extremely severe.
Again I feel that such a blade deserves to live and breath. It deserves to be shown. Behind glass to the public, and close-up to very few, very dedicated student of nihontô. It might be better to not mention just exactly where it is from, or what you suspect or know it is. It deserves to be properly maintained, and this includes your family knowing what to do with it when you die. They must know who to take it to. And then what should be done with it. Should it be sold? To who and for how much? To be honest if you would not naturally think of all these questions yourself, then you probably should not have that sword in the first place. So you probably should prepare to pass it on as soon as possible.
If one has the possibility to buy such a blade, should they? Well there is the legal question but there is also the ethical question. Ethically I tend to think that a real sword lover should do what ever they can to protect such a blade. That may entail some risks. But then I feel that a real sword lover really should be willing to put their life on the line to protect such a blade. When you come to that point sooner or later you are going to lose (die) for your beliefs.
But if you hold that belief I can not help but feel that sometimes questionable things are necessary, to protect such a blade. Now if you knowing buy such a blade for $5,000 or $10,000 and the next week are caught trying to sell it for $100,000 I will not feel very sympathetic towards you. But if you bought it, properly cared for it. Showed it to worthy students of the sword. Then I will tend to say that you were just doing the best that you could. If 10 or 20 years down the line, you sell it to a good home for a slight profit, well then I am happy for you. You will have done your part.
from the June 1996 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
One thing I learned too late to help me when on Yumoto Sensei’s Sword Tours was to rest up prior to making the trip. I always would leave work 2 days prior to the trip. Then the day prior I would spend traveling to Frisco, and checking in with the group. Next day, fly to Japan. For the rest of the trip I would be very tired. And very tired is no way to view some of the best nihontô in the world. Nor is it the preferred way to listen to some of the top nihontô experts in the World.
So when taking a sword study expedition to Japan make it more worth your while, and rest up first. Let’s face it, if you are going to invest about $3,500 to study nihontô, throwing in a couple of day to rest up and start to shift your internal clock, will allow you to appreciate it more.
from the May 1996 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
Well after my last section about bad polishes I really must state; Check the polisher out very well before you send a blade to them. See several of their polishes, and not just those show pieces that they keep around for that purpose. This goes just as much for the Japanese polishers as the American ones. Many polishers get lazy as time goes on. They get bored with their profession. So check out some of their recent works also.
This does not just hold for polishers. Artisans such as saya makers, and habaki makers can cause just as much greif. Recently a fine blade was sent out of Southern California to a ‘American Artisan’. It came back with a big scratch in the ji. And the ‘Artisan’ did not mention it. Frequently some artisans get carried away with their work, and they forget that they are also working with a valuable sword. So that sword may not have the treatment that it deserves. And just how happy will you be if your favorite sword needs a $3,000 polish because you wanted to save $200 on getting a saya or habaki made. Well in my eyes that would be a pretty expensive saya.
from the April 1996 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
One of Sensei Yumoto’s methods for kantei of kodogu was to taste the back of the item. Certain schools used certain chemicals and methods. So this can help if a item is signed, but appears to be another school, or maker.
If one wants to learn more and plans to do personal research on this, I feel that should approach this type of scholarly research with caution. Especially with the copper based metals I feel that hydrogen sulfide was used. Since the artists of Ancient Japan had few pure chemicals they used available materials. So to get that hydrogen sulfide gas they probably put the material in the chamber pot, hung it in a hole in the bottom of the outhouse, or used some similar source. Also some of the things that they were known to use contained arsenic, or mercury.
from the March 1999 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
A couple of months ago I wrote a article on security, and protection of blades. In that I recommended getting a safety deposit box for your really good blades. But occasionally we must bring those blades home, for up-keep, viewing etc. For these times I recommended a gun safe that has been improved to protect your blades.
I just came up with another way to improve the protection. There are high pressure gas tanks made from high tensile steel, and in almost all sizes. Cut the top off one of these, place that in your safe, and place the better swords into it. I do not care what building you live in, it could collapse and chances are very good your blade will survive.
You might be thinking that these a very expensive. New that is true. But they do get old, and must be pressure tested every 5 years. The ones that do not pass the test are destroyed. I just picked up 5 large ones for free (the owner just did not want to bother with testing them since they no longer fit the need). These are about 50 inches high and 9 inches across. I was given them by a beverage distributor, but places that service fire extinguishers, diving equipment, or welding supplies also may have them.
Another thing that you can do with these, is to use them for bells. Cut them in half, and hang them from ropes or chains. Hit them with a hammer and you kids will be able to hear your ring from ½ mile away. Of course will they respond? Yes that is another question.
Do not think that the process of cutting one of these is going to take 30 minutes by hand with a hacksaw. Remember they are high tensile steel, and thick. The first one I cut in the slightly necked down area was over 7/16 th inch thick, and the top 4 inches weighed 8 pounds. It will take a while for me to tackle the 2nd. So use major power tools and some time, or a torch.
from the February 1996 Nanka Token Kai Newsletter
One of the blades presented at a meeting was a signed Sue Kotô Naminohira Katana. And it is a knock-out blade, filled with whirling chikei. And although Naminohira followed the Yamato Tradition, this blade also follows the Sôshû Tradition. So it is kind of Sôden Naminohira. Hopefully we will get to see it again when we study Sôshû. It had been put into Shinza about 9 years ago and was recognized as being Sue Kotô Naminohira but may be gimei.
Sensei Yumoto had felt that the signature was good. Some of the Japanese Experts feel (and I agree) that one should not give up, just because a blade is stated to be Gimei at 1 shinza. Re-submit it, and have at least 3 shinza teams say it is gimei prior to removing the signature. And if a very knowledgeable person thinks that it maybe all right just keep submitting it, and it will sooner or later make the grade. This also goes for big papers like Jûyô. If you really think that a blade should have made it – resubmit it.
There are obviously exceptions to this rule. Some blades just have no way of being what they are signed. So save your money and remove those signature prior to submission. But there ask a “True and honestly knowledgeable sword collector for their opinion prior to pounding on the tang”.
When you read a signature remember that many of the printed kanji in the books bear only slight resemblance to the way they were writen. And many of the strokes were abbreviated, shortened, or altered.
I recently had a problem reading a obscured signature. The 1st kanji a ‘moto’ with the top stroke very short, and slanted down left to right. The printed kanji’s 2 top strokes are much longer, nearly the same lenght and horizontal. Tom had said that it might be ‘moto’, but I looked it up and though the top stroke was just too short. It did not help that there is a rust pit that appears to be another stroke. Oh well another rule that I will have to remember. Maybe I will remember them all by the time I am 85 or so, or more likely I’ll remember 10% of them some of the time.
I was recently thinking about a time in a Japanese Swordshop in Tokyô (?). I had asked Sensei Yumoto what he thought about a certain tsuba that I was thinking about buying. He did not answer that question directely, but said that I should buy things that are characteristic for an artist. And that tsuba was not characteristic. Looking back I think that that was very good advise, but I do like things that are somewhat unusual.
Basically what one should first try to collect are things that can be easily identified to a artist. You want something that if kanteied will repeatedly comeback to the name on the tang. And one does not like to have to first read the tang, to recognize the smith.
Think about if you owned a very well known and well documented Masamune tanto, that was done in nioi-deki. Nobody would ever kantei it as Masamune. And everybody would always think that “It is well documented, with all of the papers, but?”
A note of warning from the past. If you use the wooden tsuba boxes that look so good, remember that the raised piece in the center of the box is held on by small nails. They occasionally come loose leaving those nails exposed to scratch your tsuba. So transport your tsuba separately from the boxes, and what ever you do, Do Not put these boxes on their side when containing tsuba.
For instance one of our members keeps a long polearm hidden from view by putting it up behind the valence at the top of a long window. This definitely is one place that most burglars would not tend to look. We will never be able to stop the burglar that knows what we have, and has the time to look for it. But what we can do is slow them down, and make them look everywhere. And most burglaries are random. The burglar does not know what you have when he enters your home. Frequently they are just looking for something easy to sell like a television set. So do not make it easier for them. Hid your swords and other valuables.