Past and Present of Japanese sword appraisal

In the recent years there is a television program that is becoming popular and is called "anything appraisal team" (なんでも鑑定団) The task of this team is to estimate the value of paintings, antiques, swords and collection objects.

I am very glad to see that public opinion is changing in this regard, and that many people are realizing how much is difficult judge the value of an antiques.

First, the study to be able to estimate a Japanese sword begins from its history that is long and engraved in time.

Is not clear when it began, but what remains in the present day is the oldest document which shows swords forged by different artisans, their shapes and characteristics. The name of this document is “Mei-Jin” (銘尽) or “Kanchiinhon Mei-Jin” (観智院本銘尽) , is an important cultural property and is stored in the National Archives.

This is a document that includes some swords of “Mei-Jin” (Great Artisans), and shows the different forging characteristics of some artisans between the Heian and the late Kamakura Era.

Since the Japanese sword (Nihontō) had its beginning, until it has reached its full phase, this is the historical period where the most excellent “Tachi” and “Tantō” were forged.

The place where i’m living in Kyoto (Rakuhoku Takagamine), was given as a gift to Hon'ami Kōetsu by Tokugawa Ieyasu, and it has been protected up to the present day as “The city of the Art”.

However, from Muromachi Period, the Hon’ami Family from generation to generation moved to work under the Shogun Family as a polishing and appraiser. The swords of which was required to be judge from this family were evaluated according to a Council system.

Then the result was written on an “Origami” (Folded paper) or “Sayagaki” (Written Scabbard) where the informations was reported : if that katana is definitely authentic (Kiwame) or similar but made by an anonymous, and the stated value. It is demonstrated that this practice continued until the Bakumatsu period.

Even after the Meiji era, Hon’ami family continued the polishing and the writing of “Origami”.

With the passing of time and the social changes human perception too changed slightly, but "Origami" and "Sayagaki" custom still remains active in the present days.

From Meiji era onwards, the system to report katana’s details was liberalized concretely.

The swords lovers who preceded us wrote their research results on the books, issue their testimony, they created the study materials that we are using nowadays. We can not let the sword may be confused with fakes as it has happened for calligraphy and antiques.

Evaluate a nihontō without knowing the 1,000 years of history that has it behind, how many difficulties and tragicomic situations can it generate!

The end of World War II ( 20th year of Showa Era – 1945 ) marks the border ; the japanese sword “nihontō” has greatly changed from weapon to Fine Arts object.

Mainly due to Doctor Honma Junji and Doctor Satō Kanzan, “Nihon Bijutsu Tōken HozonKai” (The Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords) was inaugurated. Conservation and evaluation as a pillar of the business, has become a central presence which is came to the present days.

During Kamakura Era (when Japan was invaded twice by the Mongolian (Genkō) troops), and during Muromachi Era (when firearms were imported to Japan -Teppo Denrai-), the Nihontō, according to the purpose of the use and the changing of the environment, it has been subject to several changes. This is the reason for why not all the connoisseurs can give an equal evaluation, and from this you can realize how difficult is give the correct verdict.

It seems that in the present days, the “Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords” use a system similar to the “Council system” adopted by the Hon’ami Family during the early Edo period.

As a natural flow, nowadays appraisal seems to be focused at the “Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords”( 日本美術刀剣保存協会)

I am proud to have 60 years of experience as a Swords extimator, but when i am faced with the recently progress of science and technology and i have to give an appraisal, i don’t know from where i have to start.

I can read the ages just looking at the swords, and i think that the appraisal journey end is as deep as the infinite.

And that's all. This is my theory.

I am a Sword collector, seller and owner of “Mononofuya”, a Sword shop in Kyoto.