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

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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.

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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.

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Den

I think the reason I thought for a few years about making a blog was entirely so I could discuss this term.

Den is one of the smallest, yet most confusing things to show up in authentication papers. There are many assumptions that come along with this word, and it is in the end important to understand what it means and how to deal with it.

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Don’t bother, it has no boshi

When I started out in sword collecting, I visited the San Francisco sword show a few times. Like everyone else, eagerly looking over the tables for interesting items.

At this point I was just beginning to be able to read some Japanese, and I saw a sword with a sayagaki to Rai Kunitoshi. This was ranked Tokubetsu Hozon. Like most beginners as soon as I figured out what Juyo was, I wanted to find them myself, submit and get a sword to win in the competition. 

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20% Go, 80% Norishige

Introduced first in 1927, by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, it states that the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa — Wikipedia, The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

This little bit of physics is I think the most important fact on the planet, and it has wide ranging applications.

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Gimei

Out of every ten swords signed “Kotetsu,” eleven will be fake. — Ancient American Proverb

Gimei swords are those that bear a fake signature. These signatures were added either recently or some time in the past for a handful of reasons… all involving deception. The original degree of malevolence involved in this deception can vary. Even now they can be innocently bought and sold, but at some point gimei blades can be weaponized and used to defraud someone.

Currently there is only one good reason to consider a gimei sword for purchase. And a lot of bad ones.

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Hozon is a test, Juyo is a competition

The NBTHK in Tokyo is the main organization for authenticating Japanese swords. They currently issue papers at four levels, from lowest to highest level, these are: Hozon, Tokubetsu Hozon, Juyo, and Tokubetsu Juyo.

There is not much difference between the first and second papers, but there is a big leap to the third and fourth level papers.

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Attribution is Everything, and when it’s not it almost is

Q: What is the difference between an inferior work of Norishige and a masterpiece of the Uda school?

A: Norishige has a reputation as a great master, one of the best. Uda has a reputation as a second or third tier school. Even the best work of a third tier school will not compare to the worst work of a grand master. And even if it does, the top makers will gain attributions of master works and the lesser works will be attributed to lesser makers. Quality is the first step of attribution.

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