Meibutsu and Meito

I just want to spend a few minutes to clarify the difference between these terms. There is some confusion out there and as soon as three people repeat the wrong thing it becomes truth.

MeitoThis is a sword with a name (a Gō 号). Any sword can have a name. What we primarily care about this though is a historical name, that is, the blade in question had a name during the Edo period. An example here is the Sunnokina Masamune. It is simply a Masamune that came down through the Edo period with a nickname. This term meito is also used to casually indicate swords of great quality and importance, that may in fact have no name (but we imagine they would be worthy of one). There are no legal restrictions on ownership or movement of meito. Sometimes the NBTHK will indicate a name for a sword in the Juyo or Tokuju papers, in other times it can be discovered through other books or often on the sayagaki where an authority has preserved the name. Sometimes the name comes down with no history at all. 

Meibutsu: These are special meito that are on the list of the Kyoho Meibutsu Cho, the most famous swords in the country in Edo period Japan. These also have no restrictions on ownership. However, many of these also happen to be Juyo Bijutsuhin, Juyo Bunkazai and Kokuho and as a result of that kind of status, would be illegal to export from Japan. An example of this would be the Kanze Masamune

All meibutsu are meito but not all meito are meibutsu.

Utsushi also sometimes take the name of the source blace, for instance Kunihiro coped the Yamanba-giri Chogi, the resulting copy also became famous over the years and so took on a similar name to the original, becoming the Yamanba-giri Kunihiro. Both blades in this situation are meito, but not meibutsu, and both are Juyo Bunkazai making them illegal to export from Japan. 

Fatality

We all dread the fatal flaw. 

These tend to be hidden on rusty blades, and revealed by polish. 

Depending on who made the blade and when, a fatal flaw will send the value to zero. Sometimes however, the balance of positives in a sword allow it to be appreciated and even paper to the top levels, with a so-called “fatal flaw” present.

Continue reading Fatality

How many Motoshige?

It’s necessary to know that different experts from different time periods saw different swords, and those swords that they saw form the basis for their judgments. For instance Soshu Sadamune signatures have been recorded but today we can’t find those blade or some dispute is made over the signatures. Unfortunately we do not have the actual work and cannot comment on it, other than that an old expert thought it was good and included it in their oshigata references. This implies at least that the work was as good as the signature proclaimed it to be.

The problem here is demonstrated by a parable called The Blind Men and the Elephant

Continue reading How many Motoshige?

Wisdom

As the sword will be judged differently by men of different interests, you must be very careful in its selection. Some are foolish enough to pass judgment on a sword which they cannot really understand, others will not speak the truth although they see it.

The merchant may speak falsely in order to sell his wares.

If a blade belongs to some nobleman, or if it is appreciated as a family treasure, or if the possessor is very proud of its supposed qualities, the true judgment will often be withheld through courtesy. When you would have any sword truly judged, you must commit it unreservedly to a judge of absolute sincerity.

— The Complete Manual of the Old Sword (ca. 1793)

Nothing has changed.

This book is free here on JSTOR.

Bear in mind there are some transcription errors. Since it was translated over 100 years ago there is some Olde Tymey romanization as well. I find these old books fascinating as sometimes they confirm things that took us a long time to get to. For instance, this book relays the story of Niji Kunitoshi changing his name to Rai Kunitoshi at the age of 38 and names him Magotaro. 

With the most useful data we have now, the last signed and dated Niji Kunitoshi is indeed at the age of 38 and the first signed and dated Rai Kunitoshi blade appears at age 49. Until Tanobe sensei put the lid down on this theory, there was a lot more belief that these were two separate smiths. Rai Magotaro Saku is also on a blade which is now Kokuho (National Treasure) and attributed to Kunitoshi.

Sometimes the old books have truths in them that were forgotten, and in the meantime people came up with some new fanciful stories. Not everything in an old book is going to be agreeable. They are however important things that fill in the gaps or at least provide some fertile ground for modern analysis. 

A better way

With some help from Ted Tenold, I’ve put together a nice modern sword care kit to replace the uchiko-based kits-o-death that are commonplace destroyers of swords everywhere.

I’m supplying these for free to first time buyers of high quality swords from my site. So if you were looking for a reason to drop $50,000 on a sword, it has arrived.

Rejoice!

Send money.

Continue reading A better way

Pass Factor

I had a good question come in about my references to lower tier schools, and the question asked me to reflect on what were the top tier schools. You can find in Nagayama’s The Connoisseur’s Book of Japanese Swords good listings of the Leading Schools for each time period. I think every collector should have this book. It was out of print for a while and prices went way up, but it is back in print now and you can buy it following that Amazon link (which does not make me money, just get this book and use it).

Trying to get a handle on which schools are the best actually seems easy at first but it gets a little bit complicated the deeper you dig.

Continue reading Pass Factor

Fungible (fŭnˈjə-bəl)

  • adj.
    Law Returnable or negotiable in kind or by substitution, as a quantity of grain for an equal amount of the same kind of grain.
  • adj.
    Interchangeable.
  • n.
    Something that is exchangeable or substitutable. Often used in the plural.

If you want to properly understand attributions, you need to understand this concept thoroughly.

Continue reading Fungible (fŭnˈjə-bəl)

Green Papers Pt. 2

I am glad my post on green papers is getting some traction and the issue is being discussed. There is some of the expected harrumphing and finger pointing going around as people are reacting to the information, and I suggest to not get distracted by it. No handwaving is required and no conspiracy theories necessary about this being a scam wherein the NBTHK accuses itself of fraudulent papers in order to get people to pay twice for papers (kind of like shooting yourself in the face in order to claim insurance).

This is the appropriate response if you think your green papers are good:

I GUARANTEE IT.

If you really believe in it, you can do it.

Continue reading Green Papers Pt. 2

Daisho

A nice to have on everyone’s list… the daisho. The name literally means “big-small” and refers to the pair of swords that only a samurai was authorized to wear. 

There are some simple basics about daisho and some misconceptions. The learning curve is shallow but some people skip over the essentials, and it can cause some damage.

Continue reading Daisho

The humble wakizashi

You may have gotten advice when you started out to buy a wakizashi as your first item. I am not 100% sure yet if this is completely out-dated bullshit advice (like uchiko improving a polish), or if it is meant well and properly. I want to poke at that idea a bit and see if something comes out of it. 

There is certainly a bias in the market against wakizashi. This has some merit, and this in other regards lacks merit. Basically, a wakizashi is a case by case thing. Who made it, why they made it, when they made it, all of this factors into how you should be thinking about them.

Continue reading The humble wakizashi

Your swords: not samurai swords. Daimyo swords!

The title refers to a conversation I had with a top Japanese dealer.

I try hard to focus on quality and to weed the weak out when I select something for my site. I don’t want to get commercial grade items and host them, this to me isn’t interesting, and I don’t want to pretend to fawn over items that were basically utilitarian in their time. 

This spawns some thoughts.

Continue reading Your swords: not samurai swords. Daimyo swords!