Utsushi

An utsushi is a copy of someone else’s work. This kind of copy was not meant to deceive. In most cases the source work is a masterpiece that has achieved some recognition. In creating the utsushi a craftsman is both challenging himself to make a work in the style of the past master, learning about the techniques required to make a work in this style, and as well pay homage to artwork he holds in high esteem.

Some of these copies make alterations or simply draw inspiration from the work that came before them. This kind of work would be done in the style of the predecessor so that it could fit in amongst their repertoire. Others were made exactingly as a note for note rendition of the previous work. In some of these cases the craftsman has the item on hand he is trying to copy. In others, he is working from drawings, or notes of the work. These notes or drawings may be incomplete or may be themselves just approximations of the piece in question.

Some of these utsushi can be quite interesting as the work that they are copying is now lost. In some cases, we can assume that the work was indeed copied but the utsushi copies are now lost. 

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A frantically, rich and proud blossoming of flowers

The word “kurui” is not easy to interpret, even for Japanese. Sometimes it is falsely translated into English as “madness” or “craziness.” The actual meaning is more like “a frantically, rich and proud blossoming of flowers” and the word expresses a splendour which far excelled that of ordinary work. To us the style of Masamune means both superior strength and a severe beauty.

— Nobuo Ogasawara, sword curator, Tokyo National Museum

I think those words are amongst the best I have encountered amongst descriptions of the work of Masamune

Most people will not have seen his work other than in photos, and fewer still will get a chance to have one in their hands.

In my own attempts, from what I’ve been lucky to hold, I have said that the best Masamune work is like a raging storm at sea. Shintogo appears to me like clear, cold ice. Sadamune as sunrise on a summer morning with dew on the grass.

If I wrote more, it would mean less.

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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You can’t teach speed

Deion Sanders ran a 4.27 in 1989. Bo Jackson holds the mythical record of 4.12 from 1986, though debate continues on whether that was an accurate time. Different evaluators and clubs place varying importance on the 40, but the old axiom remains true.

You can’t teach speed.

— Jonathan Jones, Sports Illustrated

Everyone who ever followed the NFL draft hears this when their team picks up a speedy corner. NBA has its own version if you draft a 7 foot tall center, in that you can’t teach height.

This is all true.

As usual, we can find take home wisdom from anywhere and apply it to collecting artifacts of any sort.

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Helpful friends

If you collect things, at some point you will indeed make friends through your hobby. Some of these will be good friends, some will only be linked to you by your common interest, and some others… no comment.

Your friends are your first source of second opinions, because if you choose carefully, at the very least you can get honesty from them. But you need to be careful as to what you do with their advice.

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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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Abstractions

Abstractions help us get a handle on new information. A Table of Contents is an abstraction of the information contained in a book. Executive Summaries are abstractions of information contained in a report. The Presidential Daily Briefing is supposed to be an abstraction of the status quo of the status quo of knowledge of the intelligence community. 

For swords we have Traditions, Roads and Schools.

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A good collection tells a story

This is the other part in collection planning, the first being the previous post about how to allocate funds. This advice as well applies to all levels, from someone spending hundreds to someone spending hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A good collection can be more than the sum of its parts, because the parts can act like pages in a book, telling a story. 

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What I learned from you

My background is as a mathematician and a software engineer. When I was 21 I started a software company with one of my friends, and we made tools for the financial services industry. After 9 years we got bought out by a big company and at that time I focused on my interests and hobbies, one of which was Japanese swords.

When I started my website, it was only as a place to sell from my own collection as my interests changed and grew. This brought up new challenges, like learning the magic of how the Japanese photographers captured blades in such beautiful and elegant ways. It took years to figure out the tricks and making the photography better is a daily task. Becoming a more advanced student meant studying better blades and as my site got better swords and better photography people started asking me to sell their swords for them so I started taking consignments. So, basically you pushed me into becoming a dealer.

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SPECIAL DEAL JUST FOR YOU

That’s a phrase many travelers have heard from many street hucksters in all corners of the planet. If you go along with that, the special deal is probably highly profitable for the guy offering it.

The trick that these guys pull off has to do with influencing perceptions. A good salesman will tell you that perception is reality. People want to have this perception of a bargain because it makes them feel good about their purchase, and it validates positive opinions they want to have about themselves. That is, that they are smart, perceptive, and able to influence people.

However, if everyone is always out there, getting the bargains, and beating the market, then nobody is. Markets tend to be efficient and if you are only motivated by chasing bargains, then you will probably be negatively impacted by this unless your knowledge level is extremely high because you can end up being lead around by your perceptions rather than facts.

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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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