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

eBay

One word can bring the dancing thought of undiscovered treasure through your mind, and it can also bring the crushing thought of buying a fake. 

eBay has its place as a useful tool, but there are a few things to keep in mind. None of this will be news for experienced collectors, but is a short overview for people new to this hobby.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

Continue reading Oil your nakago

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.

Continue reading Green papers = no papers

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.

Continue reading By any other name

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.