Books and Information on the Japanese Sword

by Jim Kurrasch

The following are a list of books and information that may help the collector. I have tried to give a short explanation of each.

Basic Books

The Samurai Sword, a Handbook by John Yumoto, published by Charles E. Tuttle Company. This is a widely available book, that was first published in 1958. In all there is probably no other one book in English that is of as much use to the beginning collector. The late Sensei Yumoto wrote a basic book that is excellent for the beginning collector.

The Craft of the Japanese Sword by Leon and Hiroko Kapp, and Yoshindo Yoshihara, and published by Kodansha. With Yoshindo Yoshihara being a top ranked Japanese Swordsmith, this book gives great detail as to the craftsmanship surrounding the Japanese Sword. From the forging, to the polish, and then to the making of the basic fittings, and saya. It is very good on the technical details, but understandably deals with the newer blades.

The Japanese Sword by Kanzan Sato, and published by Kodansha. The late Kanzan Sato earned the greatest respect as a Japanese Sword Scholar. This book of his deals mostly with the Koto blades (prior to 1596). And there have been few men in recent history that could deal with swords of this period better. Even with these lofty credentials, this book is as easy to understand as possibly.

Military Swords of Japan 1868 – 1945 by Richard Fuller and Ron Gregory, published by Arms and Armour Press of London. This book deals with the a period that was avoided by many of the “Serious” Collectors of Japanese Swords. But the Military Swords attracted a breed of collector, that was some what different, but not inferior. With the current situation Military Swords are the only thing that a lot of collectors can attain. So this book has increased it’s importance to the new collector. Without it they may avoid the very swords that are best for them.

Advanced Information

As we get away from the “Basic Books” we get into a area that is much more difficult to pick books from. The best suggestion is to ask both friends and experts for their recommendation and then view the book before buying it. Remember that there is a great deal of variation as to why people buy these books. There are a many writers, that are demanding a large amount of money for information of limited use. There are also books that are basically “Vanity Books”, where the authors just blew a lot of hot air and stroked their egos. Possibly in the back of their minds they wanted to sell their articles pictured in these books at high values because they were published. With this in mind I, and I hope you shall proceed with caution. Here there are 3 basic forms of written information, the newsletters and magazines, the auction or sales catalogues and the books.

Newsletters and Magazines

The newsletters and magazines serve several different purposes. They are the best way to get current information out to those that want and need it. Such as upcoming meetings, events, and publications. Again beware here for the “Vanity Press” type of publication.

Included in the reputable English newsletters are the JSSUS (Japanese Sword Society of the United States), and the Nanka Token Kai (Southern California Japanese Sword Society, of which I am the Editor). There are also several other Sword Clubs that are scattered around that provide one of the best forms of general information out there. Unfortunately the sharks and con artists also tend to frequent these organizations, if they are not occasionally chased away. These clubs are frequently ran or directed by one or more of the local sword dealers. This is not completely bad. The reputable dealer has a vested interest in keeping the collector both interested and financially stable. They also have about the best collection of available swords for you to view and to buy. I have spent the greatest amount of my collecting dollars through sword dealers. Remember that I can not give much comment on publications that I have not seen. But they range from little more than a post card up to a very decent publication.

JSSUS, one of the Grand Daddies of American Sword collecting, publishes bi-monthly and the yearly rates are $30 for the US and Canada, $40 for foreign. There are 40 to 50 pages per issue, and these normally include various articles relating to the Japanese Sword. Information is included on many aspects of the sword and by many different authors. About 1/3 of the publication is advertising. The JSSUS Newsletter Editor, Dr. Carrol Ford about as fine of a Southern Gentleman as one will ever meet. He is helped by his wife Billie, who is equally courteous. For information write; P.O. Box 712, Breckenridge, Texas 76424 USA The JSSUS does not have local meetings. It does have a lending library and through the mail booksales. There is normally one National meeting each year.

The Nanka Token Kai Newsletter is published monthly, the yearly rates are $30 for US members, $35 for Canada and Mexico, and $40 for all others. It meets at 7:30 P.M. on the second Friday of every month at the Japanese Cultural Center at 16215 South Gramercy Place, in Gardena, California. The publication is about 16 pages per month, and includes very little advertising at this time. The articles tend to be wide spread in information but limited by the number of authors included. We are currently including many photographs and oshigatas of various material of interest. Anyone wishing to join may send a check or money order made out to Nanka Token Kai, along with their mailing address to Gloria Bill, 16241 Keats Circle, Westminster, California, 92683 USA. The NTK sells a limited amount of recently released books. You may also contact me (but do Not send checks) see the information at the end of this article.

Japanese Sword Society of Australia started a newsletter in 1994, and it is published about 10 times a year. This newsletter is about 25 pages of various information. The price for membership is $35 Australian dollars per year. Contact the Secretary of the JSSA, 8 Crofts Avenue, Hurstville. 2220 Australia.

Boston Token Kai, meets the third Thursday of every month. Please contact Rad Smith, Box 26, Newton, Mass. 02159.
The Northern California Sword Club has a monthly publication. It meets the 2nd. Sunday of each month at 1 to 4 P.M. in the Hospitality Room of the Union Bank, Japan Town, San Francisco, California. Contact NC-JSC, P.O. Box 1397, Lafayette, California. They are putting out a newsletter of about 15 pages.

The Colorado Token Kai has monthly meetings at the Akebono Japanese Restaurant, 1255 19th street, Denver, Colorado. For more information call David Lay, (303) 987-2534.

The Florida Token Kai publishes 4 times a year, and has a yearly International Sword Show. Carl Hall is the President, and he may be reached at 17120 Gulf Boulevard, North Redington Beach, Florida 33708.

The Japanese Sword Club of Hawaii holds monthly meetings at the Honolulu Academy of the Arts. They are at 1 to 4 P.M. on the 1st Sunday of the month.

The Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kai is the group associated with the National Sword Museum in Tokyo, Japan. It once published a English edition of it’s excellent magazine but recently ceased. It publishes the Token Bijutsu, 6 times a year and the last I heard cost $200 per year. It has monthly meetings around Japan, as well as a Annual National Meeting and Sword Show. Unfortunately these annual shows while they contain many excellent examples, one is too rushed by the crowds to enjoy the viewing. Write to The Japanese Sword Museum, 4-25-10 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 151 Japan. Or if in Tokyo be sure to stop at the museum. It has a constant display of excellent swords and fittings. There is also a book store.

The Nihon Token Hozon Kai publishes 6 times per year for $100 to the US. Its magazine is in Japanese, but much of it is translated into English by Gordon Robson and sent with the following issue. They hold a annual meeting with one of the best sword shows available. There is always plenty of time for viewing works of the best sword smiths. The address is Nihon Token Hozon Kai, 4-19-14 Kasuya Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 157 Japan. And the phone is (03) 3305-0848, fax is (03) 3326-0163. The LA branch meets once a month has a Annual Sword Show, and a Shinza every 5 years. Be warned this is a serious Kai, the members are expected to be active, and very correct at the meetings. Selling or doing business at the meetings is strictly prohibited.
The Houston Token Kai meets monthly. For more information write Dick Marxen, 7676 Hillmont, Suite 120, Houston, Texas. Call (713) 690-6789 ext. 122 or fax (713) 690-7020.

The New Mexico Token Kai holds 6 meeting per year. The person to contact is John Coffman, Box 1232, Edgewood, New Mexico, 87015 or (505) 281-4049.

For the Metropolitan New York Japanese Sword Club contact John Prough, Secretary (201) 434-7119. His InterNet address is [email protected]. This club has regular meetings and a monthly newsletter. The Newsletter is about 6 pages per month concerning general sword as well as local topics. I have frequently published material submitted by John and I considered it to be informative and well done.

Three Rivers Token Kai is new and in the Pittsburgh area. For more information contact one of the following P.O. Box 13144, Pittsburgh, PA, 15243. Call (412) 561-6156, or fax (412) 561-4152.
The Token Society of Great Britain always had a pretty good newsletter, but it has been a while since I have seen one. For more information contact Mr. Clive Sinclaire, Secretary, Token Society of Great Britain. 340 Hurst Road, Bexley, Kent DA5 3LA, England.

Auction Catalogues

The auction catalogue can be a very good reference point as to what things are selling for. They may or may not be accurate as to content. However their experts vary widely in ability and honesty. I once bought a advertised Shinshinto sword from a distant auction house, and when I received it there was a W.W.II military armory stamp under some rust on the tang. However the Haynes Auction Catalogues are a prime source of quality information on Kodogu. And some of the other auction catalogues give rare glimpse of truly great pieces.

The books can be either new or used. They can be in English (or your native language) or in Japanese. The books written prior to World War II and just after should be approached with caution. Basically the best swords were hidden away in Japan, and unavailable to the serious student. The only group that was above this where the Honnami’s. But they where not going to divulge their “Secrets”, and if they said the truth about some of the “Great Swords” they would have lost their positions, if not their lives.

I have bought and looked at many of the used books in Japanese strictly as reference material. If you are trying to hunt down information on a sword that you have seen, you might be able to find something similar. This goes for either hamon or mei. Of course then you have to figure out what the similarity means. As soon as new information was printed the Con Men improved their methods. One of the very good things about used books is that they have increased in value, better than the average sword. The price of a used book in Japanese is twice the price in the US, as it is in Japan. And the books reflect the value in yen. So as the yen goes up the books value goes up. However lugging books around Japan is no pleasure.

Pre-publication prices, are a sore point with me. I still remember ordering a 1st book from one writer. When I finally received it I opened it up and instantly knew what a piece of trash it was. That writer has since written more and I will never again look at one of his works. However with this there are some very respectable authors, and translators. I can highly recommend the translations of Harry AFU Watson. Works in English by some of the Japanese Greats, such as Kanzan Sato, or Sasano (tsuba) are guaranteed good. But they may be very expensive. While the above precautions are fresh in your mind here are some of the available books.

The Modern Reader’s Japanese-English Character Dictionary by Andrew N. Nelson, and published by Charles E. Tuttle Company. One can not get very far in collecting Japanese Swords without being in the position of wanting to know what is written on the tang. Even native Japanese will have trouble reading some of the tangs. Over the years various kanji have changed considerably, and it is still not that hard to find a sword that is 400 years old. One problem is that the printed kanji does not tend to look like the hand written kanji. But with this book and a little work one can work out a translation of the signature. One can also translate Shinza papers and the reference books in Japanese.

Japanese Swordsmiths Revised compiled and published by Wilis M. Hawley. It is no longer in print. With 32,000+ swordsmiths listed this compilation will truly never be matched. However part of that is due to Wilis duplicated many of the smiths. His comparative values of the smiths works also often tended to be Wilis’s own beliefs. But even with it’s few bad points this book can be very helpful to both the new as well as the seasoned collector. It costs about $100 at this time, and maybe re-released in 1996.


Swords and Swordsmiths of Mino Province
This section on the book Mino-To was not written by me but provided by the author. I allowed this because Mino blades, are a important part of Japanese Sword History, and this is a well written book about that part.


This English-language handbook goes some way towards unravelling the history of sword manufacture in Mino Province, from its beginnings up to the Meiji period. Swordsmiths (kaji) are listed both chronologically and within their “school” or ha. The following periods are used to organise sword production:
Koto (a) pre-Mino (pre-1300)
(b) early Koto (1302 to 1345)
(c) middle Koto (1346 to 1459)
(d) late Koto (1460 to 1595)
Shinto (1596 to 1780)
Shinshinto (1781 to 1867)

The book is directed to the English language reader and integrates information gathered from sources like Hawley, various magazines and journals, and the new generation of translations such as those by Watson, Mishina and Robson. (Those translations include work by Fujishiro, Nagayama and Yoshikawa).


“Mino-to” is A4 size with softcover and is 255 pages in length; these are comprised of 20 pages of explanatory text and background history, 135 pages of listings and over 90 pages of sketches of blades and oshigata. There are over 2500 smiths listed and approximately 300 sketches. The skethes of blades are all captioned with explanations, and all mei translations are given. The listings of kaji are cross-referenced as much as possible to name and migration of smiths to other towns. Where available the Hawley and Fujishiro ratings are given for listed kaji, and all available examples of mei are given in Romanji in the text.

The various lines of Mino smiths are followed into the Shinto and Shinshinto, as they migrate to other provinces. This provides a historical base for understanding both the origins of Mino-den and its later dispersion as a style. The features of blades that are typical of Mino-den are described in detail.

The listings of smiths do not have accompanying kanji, but a descriptive note is made of the characters, and referenced to a table of 400 characters in the appendix. Several maps of the old provinces and Mino-Owari are also included.

This handbook is an important source of information for those interested in the sword history of central Japan, especially Mino-Owari. The book will also appeal to those with a general interest in the history and arts of Japan through the Muromachi to Edo periods. The author, Dr Malcolm Cox, is a lecturer in the School of Natural Resource Sciences, QUT, and has had a long-term interest in Nihon-to.


Queensland University of Technology,
GPO Box 2434,
Brisbane, 4001, Qld, Australia
tel: (07) 3864 2433
fax (07) 3864 1523

Nihonto Newsletter by Albert Yamanaka. This was reprinted by the JSSUS of a newsletter from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The Northern California Club re-released it. The cost to non-members is $65 loose leaf and $110 softbound. This is a very good price for almost 2,000 pages. Paul Alman has completely gone through this Newsletter and placed it in a more logical order. Unfortunately it is still copies of copies, and so parts may be hard to read. But there is a wealth of information here. This will be a good investment. Actually there was a shortage of these publication within 2 or 3 months of the JSSUS selling out. Albert put out a very informative newsletter.

AFU books by Harry AFU Watson. Harry has and is releasing a series of books translated by him. The current batch is the 10 volume set of the Nihon To Koza by Honma Junji, et al. The books are broken down into general areas such as Koto (3 volumes), Shinto, and Kodogu. He also translated the 2 volume set of Fujishiro’s book Nihon Toko Jiten. The books he picks to translate are amongst the best general reference books available. Harry is now planning to publish a quarterly on Nihon To. This will include translations from Japanese publications. The price will be $112 per year. For more information contact him at; Harry Watson, AFU Research Enterprises, Inc., P.O. Box 630, Cisco, Texas, 76437. To telephone voice is (817) 442-2349, fax is (817) 442-2380.

Various Taikans, are books on restricted subjects such as Shinshinto Taikan, Koto Taikan, Mino Taikan, or Sôshû Taikan. They are all in Japanese, and untranslated. But if you want the most complete information on those subjects it will probably be in one of these. In fact the 1st. edition of the Soshu Taikan was a Art Masterpiece in itself. It is 21 X 15 X 1 1/4 inches and covered in silk, with a silk covered outer protector. This quality was carried on through out the book. This is the kind of book one does not feel very bad about spending $1,000 on (when one just happens to have a spare $1,000). Each sword displayed had a excellent photograph and on the opposite page a oshigata. This really shows the merit of an oshigata artist, where his work is displayed with a photograph. The world may not see his errors but all the influential sword collectors would. The latter editions of this are not as well done, but perhaps more affordable. I hear that the Japanese Sword Museum in Tokyo still has copies of the later editions for sale.

Related books not about Nihontô

There are a number of books about ancient Japan. While their information is not absolutely essential to the collector of nihontô, it is occasionally useful. Knowing the history and related information tends to make collecting more fun. But knowing what happened when, and for what reason may give a edge in determining the value of swords and fittings. It may point out forgeries, or it may tie related items together. Such as a pair of menukis may seem unrelated until you know the ‘Tale’ behind them. Or just what item is shown in the fittings is often of interest. And knowing about the location inscribed on a tang can benefit you in your knowledge about that sword. The books can help you in your search for knowledge.

Historical and Geographical Dictionary of Japan by E. Papinot and published by Charles Tuttle, Company gives a good basic know of Japan 100+ years ago. It gives names, dates, and history. In the back there is a set of maps of Japan about 1910. This includes a map of Japan, 8 maps of smaller sections of Japan, and maps of Korea, Formosa, and China which were controlled by

Japan about 1910.

Japanese Things by Basil Chamberlain, and published by Tuttle, covers a wide selection of general information of Japan 100 years ago. There is a map, and numerous details of various subjects, such as Art, Education, Harakiri, Law, costs of living, Parks, Samurai, Tea Ceremonies and Women.