One or Two Generations

After the Tokugawa made the final steps of unifying Japan, swordsmiths adopted more clear traditions of signing swords and dating them became much more common. The information they left behind and the fact that we’re dealing with “near history” makes it easier to understand swordsmith lineages. 

When it gets into the Muromachi period and earlier, things get a bit more murky. Many signatures were lost, dates are few and far between, and period specific references can contradict each other. 

In the modern period, with swords accessible to everyone and importantly with the work of the NBTHK passing Juyo blades and publishing them, the picture has become more clear. We owe a lot to Fujishiro Yoshio who’s work in the early 1900s on reference materials is more often right than wrong. So I’ll start this discussion with some of his general thoughts on this matter of one or two generations.

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Tokubetsu Juyo 2018 Results

This is a list of the items that passed Tokubetsu Juyo shinsa in 2018… I didn’t include dates where items were dated, or include the item lengths. Just type, signature and attribution. Congratulations to those who had their items accepted. It is never easy and requires patience and a good eye.

One interesting result is that some stubborn person received Tokuju for a Naotane katana. This is only the second time ever that a Shinshinto item has passed Tokubetsu Juyo. 

All errors and omissions are mine.

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This is how you do it

I am starting to see more of this kind of thing online and I am happy to see it. 

This Hasebe sword had old green papers and Aoi submitted it to get new NBTHK papers to clarify any doubts about the old attribution.

I have blogged many times that green papers = no papers, and this is what dealers should do when encountering green papered items. It is not only good for the buyer of this piece, it is good for the dealer, and good for the overall market.

This is what responsibility looks like.

Wakizashi: Mumei(Hasebe)

 

Sue-Sa

So, who is this smith Sue-Sa 末左?

Fujishiro has an entry for Sue Sa and says that it is an Oei period Sa school smith. The Samonji school starts with O-Sa and several of his students and their students and so on reused the single Sa 左 in their signatures. So sometimes we need to check these blades and try to determine from where in the school they came from.

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Opinions Redux

Attributions are opinions. But they are the opinions of experts. I’ve written before on it but it bears some pounding on the table from time to time.

There is a strong libertarian school of thought in the sword market which is abused by sellers. This is based partially on calling out your manhood.

I don’t need papers to tell me what to think. Do you need papers to tell you what to think?

— Guy who probably should pay more attention to papers

For a mid level student, this calls their knowledge out on the floor and challenges it. Nobody wants to be the mid level guy to say yeah, I don’t know.

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Ladder Theory — Ladder Fallacy

That’s too expensive for only Hozon.

— Everyone

There are four levels of NBTHK papers: Hozon, Tokubetsu Hozon, Juyo and Tokubetsu Juyo. This four level ranking system unfortunately means that people end up with four slots in their head for placing an object’s importance and desirability. 

This mistake takes its lead from the fact that it’s easy to grasp and remember four simple categories than it is to remember the vast and complex web of smiths, time periods, schools, their associations with each other, their place in history, as well as the myriad of individual qualities that make an item desirable.

All of that complexity is often boiled down into the thinking that an item with a particular paper should fall into a defined pricing range based on the paper.

This puts the cart (paper) in front of the horse (item). 

My complaints about this mentality were bounced back in my face by Robert Hughes with two words that really grasped the problem well. He just said: Ladder Theory. And that crystallized it all for me.

Bear with me. This is long and rambling.

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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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