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.
For those who do not know, green papers refer to the old NBTHK Tokubetsu Kicho papers. This class of paper is now entirely disavowed by the NBTHK. They gave people 35 years to replace the old papers. Now the NBTHK views an existing Tokubetsu Kicho paper (green paper) as nothing.
Worse than nil: green paper means you can kantei to ANYONE EXCEPT THE GUY ON THE PAPER.
Origins of bad papers
Due to bad judgments and corruption from the regional offices where these papers were issued in the 1970s, a lot of poorly judged blades got into circulation. As the NBTHK wrote above, the yakuza got involved, papers were forged, and even some sincere but just bad judgments were made.
Most often it’s a Really Big Name on the blade. Something you could make a lot of money from by passing a fake past a sucker.
In 1980, 37 years ago, the NBTHK stopped issuing these and changed the entire system to prevent these bad judgments. This was the introduction of Hozon and Tokubetsu Hozon.
People have now had 37 years to replace these old green papers (there are also blue and white papers, for Koshu Tokubetsu Kicho and Kicho judgments).
As the fame of the smith goes up, the chances that the green paper is not reliable increases.
Dealers in Japan continue to dump this utter crap into the western market because nobody in Japan will touch this utter crap.
They are too smart and too informed. As a result anything with a green paper that cannot be upgraded to an honest modern paper can be had for next to nothing because nobody believes the paper, and in fact believes it to be a sign that the blade in question is a fake.
Westerners they know are price sensitive bargain hunters.
As a result, if the westerner does not know that these papers are worthless as an opinion, they will perceive a bargain because the price of one of these blades with junk papers will be a lot less than one with legit papers.
And if you’re a seller of such a thing, just stay sincere, sell your thing, offer an strong opinion (with no guarantee of course).
Buyers want to believe that they are receiving a bargain and discovering a treasure, so they will generally buy first and ask questions later. Probably they will exhaustively thank the guy who just sold them this green papered blade for the great value that he gave them, and then recommend this dealer to other people.
Some are good
Yes, some in the end will remain innocently good because many of the old papers were indeed good. But because a large percentage were bad, the NBTHK introduced Hozon and encouraged everyone to turn in their old papers and receive new Hozon papers in exchange. So the NBTHK reviewed each of them on a case by case basis.
The good blades got new papers.
The bad blades went right back out there without getting new papers.
So every year the percentage of good vs. bad falls. Now it is damn close to zero percent good. So you are gambling with 99% odds against you.
So, do you feel lucky?
Treat it like it’s dangerous
Now think of this, if you went to a hospital and said, “Doctor, I have been to deep dark Africa and now I am sick and I think I may have been exposed to ebola” then they are going to put you through a disease prevention protocol. You are going to be isolated. Anyone who comes near you is going to do so in full biohazard gear. Your bodily fluids will be regarded as a death sentence for anyone who touches them.
Just on the off chance that you do have ebola.
This is the situation with green papers. They are a big red flag that this thing just might have ebola. Maybe it doesn’t have ebola. But if it does, you are up the creek with no paddle.
So you need to put on your biohazard gear and treat the thing appropriately.
Get a guarantee
If you buy a blade papered with old green, white or blue papers from the NBTHK absolutely insist on a guarantee of Hozon and have the dealer send the blade directly into the NBTHK immediately. This is your biohazard gear.
You can put down a deposit, but make sure it is refundable.
If the dealer will not guarantee Hozon and submit it for you, then you already know what the result will be.
Also you should now formulate an opinion of the dealer who is selling you a green papered sword as legitimate, but will not guarantee that it will receive modern papers.
If you do not do this basic set of actions then in the dealer’s mind, you are a sucker and you get what you deserve for not doing your homework and as long as your mouth is open asking the momma bird to feed you garbage, they will oblige you because there is a lot of money to be made in buying for zero and selling for thousands. It just needs a market.
Anyone respectable selling you something with green papers should be disclosing the issues with those papers so you can make an informed decision.
If they don’t know there is a problem with them, then they themselves are not informed and are subject to being gamed by someone smarter.
If they know there is a problem with them and they are not telling you well what do you think about that?
Again, some are good. But probably not.
Other than for these exceptions, where you can look at the paper and consider it an informed opinion, but nothing more. Not a guarantee. Just nice information to take under advisement.
- On mid to low level fittings, or if the judgment is to someone very low level (i.e. no room to make money on fraud).
- For fittings that don’t cost a lot of money, it’s just not worth the money to change an old green paper for new papers. Often times the papers do not give any judgment on maker of a koshirae for instance, just says it is an antique koshirae and the price of an antique is often less than the cost of getting it made new now.
- Or if the judgment is just generic, like to Shoami or Echizen for a tsuba, this can be left to the buyer to decide if it is acceptable or not. Lastly if the papers are from the mid 60s or earlier, these are of a generation that is a lot more reliable than the 1970s era crap.
- Or if you can determine that the paper came from the main branch and not from one of the regional offices.
But still: if the item in question is expensive, get a guarantee and get the papers replaced.
If the papers are not promising you the world and there is no impact on the price then as a perceived bargain, you can accept them as additional advice without a lot of worry. Even so, the issues with these papers should be disclosed.
Sometimes the sellers of these blades attach a picture of the sword license. This gives people an additional impression of authenticity of the signature because it is a paper in funny Japanese characters that they cannot read and has the signature of this great master on it.
It means nothing.
The sword license is only a physical description of the sword. If the sword had written on it Marco Polo saku then the license would say Marco Polo saku on it. It neither confirms nor denies the authenticity of the blade. It simply describes the blade to show that this blade matches the license, and the license shows the blade was registered and is legal to own.
You need to worry if those papers are telling you Masamune, Kotetsu, Shinkai, Natsuo, Goto Ichijo, Goto Yujo, or some other giant in the field of nihonto art, you can take the modern presence of green papers as a guarantee that this is not who made the item in question.
The bigger the name, the harder the fall.
Because anyone selling it can get rid of all questions and all concerns by entering a 2 month process to get the papers replaced by modern papers. If they silence all concerns, they can get full price in the market for this item because they increase the scope from bargain hunters that are subject to fraud to all collectors, including the educated and savvy. The more marketable, the less uncertain = higher price.
If you can make $10,000 extra by waiting two months and getting reliable papers on something wouldn’t you?
After all, they are not dumb. They are aware of this, it’s not exactly a hidden issue. So if they are not replacing the paper, you have your answer, don’t you?
GREEN PAPERS = NO PAPERS
If people will grasp this concept then we won’t see green papers anymore, which means less fraud in this hobby, which benefits everyone.
I throw away green papers attached to old swords. Many years ago when I didn’t know the issues, and the problem was not as acute, I didn’t worry as much as I do now.
It is better to sell something with no papers at all so that the risk is clear to people rather than try to hide behind a disavowed opinion and hope that people don’t understand that these papers are no good.
Am I getting through?
GREEN PAPERS = NO PAPERS