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!

Oil your nakago

Japanese books say to leave the nakago (the tang of the sword) to age, because the condition of the nakago indicates how old it is.

I think this is good advice for the mid-1600s. But we are past the Edo period now. Swords are historical treasures. If we continue to let nakago “age gracefully” then there is a future where they turn into dust.

Not now, not next century, but not so far past that.

The black oxidated state of nakago are fairly stable, but not perfectly stable. Otherwise, there would be no “graceful aging” at all. Logically, we cannot have it both ways, that the nakago is safe from eroding away and that different period nakago will show different aging conditions. If these nakago were not slowly rotting away on a centuries timescale, then they would hit a stable point and then never change. 

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Green papers = no papers

Actually, green papers on a sword at this point are worse than having no papers. They are a virtual guarantee that the sword was made by anyone else except for the guy named on the papers

“But, Darcy,” you say, “this that and the other thing! This one is real!”

GREEN PAPERS = NO PAPERS

From a standpoint of the offended side in the consecutive incidents having taken place last year, one in Fukuoka Kyushu where the Society’s Local Shinsa of Kicho Token was disgraced by an intrusion of local organized outlaws in March and the other involving forged certificates widely circulated in the autumn, the Society had entrusted the Metropolitan Police Department with investigation into those regrettable incidents. After eight months’ thorough investigation by the authority, eight persons in the forgery ring were arrested and twenty-eight more connected with the ring have been sent the police reports to the public prosecutor.

— NBTHK Token Bijutsu (English), 1981

“But, Darcy,” you say, “I really feel good about this one!”

GREEN PAPERS = NO PAPERS

“But, Darcy,” you say, “let me explain why this one is the exception!”

GREEN PAPERS = NO PAPERS

The bigger the name, the worse it is.

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Uchiko considered harmful

Uchiko is an abrasive compound that comes with a lot of sword care kits. This compound is needlessly, carelessly and incorrectly applied most times and causes damage to the polish, even when correctly applied. 

It’s an abrasive, there is no getting around this fact and I won’t use it, and encourage other people to not use it.

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By any other name

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

— William Shakespeare

Juliet is ready for level two sword study. 

There is some confusion regarding the terms tachi, katana, uchigata, naginata, naginata naoshi, tanto, sunnobi tanto, wakizashi, and ko-wakizashi.

The NBTHK lacks some consistency when they paper some of these blades, so I figured I would go through everything at length.

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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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