Here is the finished product for any interested. A huge thanks to Carlo Giuseppe Tacchini and Markus Sesko, who's research I made ample use of in writing this paper, in addition to everyone else I quoted in either in the paper or in the sources. If I misquoted anyone, misused any information, or forgot to proper cite someone I offer my humble apologizes, and only ask that you remember that I but a mere mortal, and nothing else I tried to give proper credit where due, but if I forgot someone please let me know.
Anyways, I would probably write it a little differently in retrospect, but hopefully you guys will find it an entertaining read. Also, I did get a very good grade for the class, so a big thanks to the Nihonto message board community for the help and the info . Sorry the pictures don't work, but I couldn't figure out how to just upload the file from word or a pdf?
Professor: Dr. Fan Lin
12 June 2017
From Weapon to Art: An Historical Revaluation of the Status of the Japanese Sword as an “Art” Object:
In his preface to Cutting Edge: Japanese Swords in the British Museum, Victor Harris, keeper emeritus of Japan at the British Museum, tells us that “ The Japanese sword is renowned as a formidable cutting weapon and admired as a work of art the world over.” Kanzan Sato, one of the more renowned experts of the 20th century, says in The Japanese Sword, “The specialist language of swords is only the extreme example of a phenomenon which occurs in many of the other arts and crafts of Japan.” From 2009 to 2010, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City, hosted an exhibition entitled Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156–1868, which they claimed was their “first exhibition ever devoted to the subject of Japanese arms and armor conservation.”
That an instrument of death and war, such as the Japanese sword, can now be viewed in same context as a Rembrandt, a Claude Monet, or a Gustav Klimt might be viewed as strange, or even questionable, depending on how liberal or conservative one is when applying the term “art” to an object. Nevertheless, the Japanese sword’s very presence in institutions, such as the Met or the British Museum, places them in a context that would indicate that the application of the western prerogative of “art” is not without consideration or due process. However, the “Museum” as a concept is a relatively modern one, and a relatively western one at that. Therefore, one has to ask if the placing of the Japanese sword, with its original function as that of maiming and killing, in the context of an “art” object is not an ahistorical practice, or an act of cultural appropriation, that nullifies and exoticizes the threat that the feudal Samurai class once posed to the march of modernity, much like the display of weapons from pre-industrial societies the world over?
Even today, the Japanese term for the Japanese sword, Nihonto, has a special connotation amongst collectors and connoisseurs, which does not simply imply the literal translation of “Japanese sword,” but rather “Japanese art sword.” How then did this weapon become “art,” in the sense that we now understand it today? To answer that question we have to take the Japanese sword back to its original context, before the Meiji restoration of 1868, when the Daimyo, Samurai warlords, still ruled the varying disparate domains of the archipelago we know call “Japan.” In the following paper we will trace the evolution of the Japanese sword from weapon to “art,” in attempt to answer these varying questions, and shed further light on the shifting cultural context we view the Japanese sword in, both then and now. To that end, let us now briefly examine the origin of the Japanese sword itself.
The earliest swords that are to be found existent in Japan today are located in the 8th century treasure repository known as the Shosoin. The items in the Shosoin were “donated by the Empress (Dowager) Komyo to the Todaiji temple on 21 June 756,” in memory of the Emperor Shomu (www.kunaicho.go.jp). The vast majority of the swords in the Shosoin, are what are known as chokutō, straight blades with a ridgeline, but almost none if any curvature. While exhibiting almost all the later characteristics that one would expect to find on a Japanese sword, such as a Hamon (the tempered pattern on the blade caused by the smiths quenching of the blade as to create a sharp cutting edge), and a Shinogi-Ji (a dividing line between the edge of the blade and the back, that gives a convex shape that facilitates cutting efficiency), these blades still do not possess the signature curve, or Sori, that is most often associated with the Japanese sword today. Some of these early works can be considered products of the continent, such as China or Korea, rather than indigenous in origin. Even if some of the products in the Shosoin were indeed made locally, there can be little doubt that the technology itself came from the continent. For example, the Kojiki, the oldest historical chronical in Japan, tells of how a swordsmith came from the ancient Korean kingdom of Silla (57 BC – 935 AD), during the reign of the Emperor Bidatsu (583 C.E.), to assist in the forging of blades (Tacchini 4).
As to when the curved Japanese sword first appeared, there is much speculation. But Carlo Giuseppe Tacchini, in his Origins of NihonTo, puts forth a highly probable hypothesis that it evolved as a response of the Yamato clan’s, the predominate warrior clan in the 8th century, need to compete with the mounted warriors of the Emishi, an indigenous population of the archipelago that inhabited what is now northern Honshū. The Yamato had to adapt their straight chokutō to be suitable for the horseback combat they engaged in with the Emishi, as a curved blade is superior for use on horseback than a straight one. Whatever the true origin, the Japanese sword as we now know it today was fully developed by the mid-Heian period (794-1185) (Kanzan 49).
(Changes in Shape of the Japanese Sword Over Time: From Right to Left, 8th Century until 19th)
(Source: Public Domain)
By the Heian period, we also see the beginning of the tradition by which the swordsmith would inscribe his name, and sometimes date of forging, upon the Nakago (the tang) of the sword. The earliest example of this being a tachi (long sword, suspended from the hip with the edge facing down, and usually used on horseback) by Yukimasa, a swordsmith from Satsuma province, dated “Heiji 1st year (1159) eight month second day” (Sano 221).
The two oldest chronicles of Japanese history, the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters) and the Nihongi (Japanese Chronicles), both thought to be composed in 8th century, are chalk full of stories related to magical and divine swords that play important parts in the creation myths of Japan, or swords that serve as the divine implements of the gods. The Nihongi has a particularly fascinating tale about a short sword that has a mind of its own, and how its disappearance from its owner’s cabinet, Kiyo-hiko, caused a great surprise as the story relates bellow:
Last night the short sword came of its own accord to thy servant's house; but this morning it has disappeared." The emperor "was struck with awe, and made no further endeavour to find it." Afterwards the sword went of its own accord to the Island of Awaji, where the people "considered it a God", and erected a shrine for it, "in which it is worshipped until this day. (Naumann 418)
The Kojiki tells tale of the famous kusanagi-no-tsurugi (Grass cutter sword), which once found in the tail of a mythical serpent, is given to one of the Princes of the Yamato clan by the Sun-goddess Amaterasu-ōmikami. In a famous account from the Kojiki it helps the Prince escape a field set aflame by his enemy’s by cutting the blazing grass, hence the name, and putting out the flames (Naumann 407). The Kojiki also tells that by the ascension of the Empress Jito (r. 687-697) to the throne, the imperial regalia consisted of the sword and mirror, thereby solidifying the sword’s symbolic power as a sign of sovereignty and divine legitimacy in the annals of Japanese history (Naumann 408).
Tales of swords with legendary powers or divine origins continued in the stories of the Kamakura period (1185–1333). For example, The Honebami Toshiro was a famous tachi, said to belong to Ashikage Takauji (1305-1358), which could break the bones of its enemy’s by simply being waved in their direction. Moving into the Muromachi period (1392-1573), the magical properties of the Sword, its association with otherworldly deities, and its use as a protective force, had entered popular culture, such as in the Muromachi period Noh play called Kokaji (sword smith). Kokaji recounts the tale of how the Heian period swordsmith Sanjo Munechika was assisted in the production of a blade for the Emperor Ichijo (980 – 1011) by the deity Inari (the Shinto patron of blacksmiths and the protector of warriors), in the guise of a white fox spirit (Sano 222).
(C.1873, woodblock print by Ogata Gekkō, depicting the swordsmith Sanjo Munechika assisted by the Shinto deity Inari)
(Source: Public Domain)
It is thought that the linguistic origins for words that pertain to “swords,” in the Japanese language, such as “tsurugi,” have their origins in the context of implements used in Shamanistic rituals (Naumann 382-384). These deep-seated belief’s in the divine origins and magical properties of the sword soon lead to a fetishism for them being devolved amongst the warrior elite, as in the case of Kiyo-hiko’s sword being worshiped as a god in the Nihongi.
From a Fetish to a Commodity for Steel:
By the 15th century, this fetishizing of famous swords caused their value to exceed all other weapons, as we can infer from this extract from the house laws of by the 15th century warlord Asakura Toshikage(1428 - 21 to about 1481) , who warned his warriors as follows:
You should not covet famous swords and dirks. The reason for this, to use an example, is that a single sword worth one thousand hiki cannot win out against a force of a hundred men supplied with spears costing one hundred hiki each. (De Bary et al. 429)
The warning would seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as Francis Xavier, the first Jesuit missionary to reach Japan, noted the following in 1552:
The Japanese are very ambitious of honors and distinctions, and think themselves superior to all nations in military glory and valor. They prize and honor all that has to do with war, and all such things, and there is nothing of which they are so proud as of weapons adorned with gold and silver. They always wear swords and daggers both in and out of the house, and when they go to sleep they hang them at the bed's head. In short, they value arms more than any people I have ever seen. ( https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/1552xavier4.asp)
As this fetishism for the sword came to full fruition in the 15th and 16th centuries, based upon this cult belief that certain swordsmiths and their products were imbued with supernatural origins or abilities, like the work of Munechika in the Noh play Kokaji, a commodification started to develop around the blades themselves. Powerful warrior households sought out the most fortuitous blades to protect both their persons and progeny. However, what qualities or characteristics qualified a sword as being fortuitous or worth “one thousand hiki,” and more importantly, by whom? To answer that question we have to look at the men called Dōbōshū, and an offshoot of them, called the Hon'ami.
Dōbōshū, The Hon'ami Family, and the Hierarchy of Nihonto:
The Dōbōshū (companions) were men of highly cultivated aesthetic sensibilities, typically connoisseurs or gentlemen of taste in one field or another, such as the tea ceremony, the Noh play, or painting and calligraphy. Starting in the Higashiyama epoch, which coincides with the rule of Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436 – 1490), they served as artistic advisers to the Ashikage Shoguns, in addition to the other great military families of the times (Hall 191).
The Dōbōshū’s original responsibilities involved the cataloging, appraisal, and maintenance of karamono (Chinese things), that had been imported in large quantities for the last several centuries. The Kyoto aristocracy’s insatiable appetite for all things karamono had resulted in numerous objects of both dubious quality and authenticity entering the great collections of the Shoguns, hence the need to sort the inferior items from the superior (Hall 191). Soon, this process of cataloguing, and judging inferior items from the superior was applied to indigenous products, such as the Japanese sword.
Omura Sensai (1565-1664), the personal physician to Kato Kiyomasa (1562-1611), one of the great warlords of the Sengokujidai ("Age of Warring States"; c. 1467 – 1603), tells us the following regarding the Dōbōshū known as Hon'ami:
the dobo called Hon’ami is entrusted with the judgement of katana and wakizashi. (Sesko 23)
Like the Dōbōshū who proceeded them in the judgment of karamono, it was the Hon'ami’s prerogative to catalog, appraise, and most importantly, maintain the cutting function of the Japanese swords present in the Ashikage’s collections.
During the Azuchi–Momoyama period (1573 -1600), the Hon’ami family, by now a hereditary position, solidified their hegemony on the appraisal and restoration of swords under the various patronages of Oda Nobunaga (1534 –1582), Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537 –1598), and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543 – 1616), who collectively toppled the last vestiges of Ashikage power, effectively unifying the county under their banners. It was either Toyotomi Hideyoshi, or Tokugawa Ieyasu, who vested the Hon’ami family with the exclusive right to issue origami, appraisal papers indicating the value and authentication of famous swords (Sano 218; Sesko 31)
(An Origami by Hon’ami Kochu, who was the head of the family from the tenth year of Genroku, 1697, until tenth year of Kyoho, 1725. Appraisal to the 14th century school of swordsmiths known as Yamato Shizu. For a similar example, see Sesko 32)
This right to appraisal was a lucrative and powerful position for the Hon’ami , as it was during this time that it became customary for the Daimyo and Shogun to gift works by famous swordsmiths amongst each other, as a means of solidifying alliances, contractual agreements, or securing political favors with powerful individuals. For example, the Nakatsukasa Masamune, a famous sword thought to be produced by the almost legendary Kamakura period (1185–1333) swordsmith Gorō Nyūdō Masamune (a. 1264–1343 AD), was dedicated to Tokugawa Iesyasu by the Nakatsukasa family after receiving an appraisal from Hon’ami Kotoku (Sano 218). A hierarchy developed indicating which smiths, and of what age, was appropriate to give to an individual according to rank and status, with the works of smiths hailing from the ancient provinces of Bizen, Yamashiro, and Soshu from the late Heian (794-1185) until the end of the Kamakura (1185–1333) considered the most superior.
(The Nakatsukasa Masamune, c. 14th Century)
(Source: Ogawa; Copyright © Art Museum Journal. All Rights Reserved.)
This hierarchy, of which types of swords were appropriate as gifts, is elucidated by commentators like Ouchi Yoshioki (1477-1582), a Daimyo of Suo province, who indicated that it was “inappropriate” to give an unsigned sword to the Shogun as a gift. Other sources from the time indicate that one could not even hope to have an audience with the Shogun unless one possessed “two or three swords by smiths of Kyoto or Soshu” (Sano 220). Therefore, the possession of these articles of prestige became of paramount importance to the political survival of any great military house in pre-modern Japan. However, given the limited number of legitimate works by great smiths in existence, and the great demand for their works as items for both social prestige and gifts, it is not surprising that from time to time that the Hon’ami family fell under great pressure to issue certifications of dubious authenticity.
Since the great peace ushered in by the Tokugawa Ieyasu’s final unification of the county in 1615, the being of the Edo period (1615-1868), the warrior class was regulated to one of bureaucrats, rather than warriors. This status of bureaucrat gave the samurai, and their progenitors, a fixed annual income, but very little room for social mobility. In contrast, the newly minted bourgeois class, in the vestige of the great merchant houses of Osaka, Kyoto, and Edo, had no limitations on income, other than ability and scruples, or lack thereof. The situation soon resulted with the income of the Samurai class not keeping pace with the inflation brought about by the new middle class, which soon resulted in the impoverishment of many Samurai, especially in times of economic woe like that of the second half of the 18th century (Yonemoto 5; Sesko 34). In consequence, most Samurai, and even Daimyo, could not be able to afford the genuine articles produced by the famous swordsmiths that became so integral in the highly ritualized gift-giving culture of the Edo period elite (Yonemoto 5). The Hon’ami during this period produced many artificially valued origamis, with equally dubious attributions, in no small part due to the need for the Samurai to turn their questionable Masamunes or Sanjo Munechikas into appropriate gifts by which to gain favors and social prestige. The Hon’ami benefited immediately from the small fee they extracted from each new origami issued, but soon their reputation as appraisers started to suffer. This resulted in them reissuing many of these older origami with more realistic opinions, even though they collected a small fee for this service as well (Sesko 35).
The Hon'ami, Sword Polishing, and the Sword as Art:
(Togishi (Sword polisher), Published as a postcard, circa 1909)
(Source: Public Domain)
The role of the Hon’ami as togishi, or sword polishers, more than any other factor probably contributed to their reputation as appraisers, and the elevation of the sword from a mere weapon into that of “art.” The art of the togishi involves the refinement of the blade’s geometry with rough grade stones, and the successive process of drawing out the metallurgic aspects of the blade by polishing the surface of the blade with finer and finer grades of stones. The beauty of the Japanese sword cannot be appreciated without the togishi, as it is he or she, that draws out the contrast between the Hamon (the tempered pattern on the blade caused by the smiths quenching of the blade as to create a sharp cutting edge) and the Ji (the softer tempered surface area of the blade that lends to the blades flexibility when cutting, and also the area which most strongly exhibits the Ji-hada, the pattern in the steel that is caused by how the smith chooses to forge the steel in order to remove impurities). This striking contrast between the frosty-white Hamon and the Ji gives much of the aesthetic effect to the Japanese sword. It allows the connoisseur to distinguish between different schools, time-periods, and smiths by evaluating the highly polished Ji-hada in tandem with the Hamon, as well as a multitude of other appraisal points that are beyond the scope of this paper.
Initially, the art of togishi was of a purely practical nature, as the togishi sought to simply make the blade sharp by perfecting the geometry of the blade, and reduce friction when cutting by making the surface of the blade as smooth as possible. In addition, the togishi would also repair broken or damaged blades so they could live to see another battle. When exactly the art of the togishi turned from these purely practical matters to, in addition, the beautification of the blade is likely to have coincided with the increase in the gift exchange of swords between Daimyos and the Shoguns at the onset of the Edo period. Around the Horeki period (1751-1764), a technique of using a fine powder of iron oxide flakes, called kanahada, was implemented to beautify the blade, as its application to the Ji further darkened the contrast with the Hamon, in addition to making the Ji-hada more visible to the naked eye (Sesko 41).
Writing in 1905, E.W Mumford, gives us a complete, if imperfect translation of “‘The Complete Manual of the Old Sword,’ by an unknown author, published in 1793, in Yeddo” (Mumford 336). A student at Senshin Gakuin in Tokyo translated the work, into English. The translation gives us a fascinating insight into the state of sword connoisseurship in the late 18th century, and further confirms the importance of polishing in the appraisal of the sword by this time. It says this concerning polishing:
The judgment of the sword, however, is far more difficult than that of any other article. Old swords are often so rubbed and worn that it is impossible to discern their traits, which may have been modified, moreover, by good or bad whetting. (Mumford 341)
The “good or bad whetting” here is of course a rather arcane translation of sword polishing, as the act itself requires the use of water in conjunction with a the stones to draw out the desired “traits” of the Ji-hada and the Hamon. The work continues with a discussion of Ji-hada, and effects of polishing on it as such:
There are many different sorts of the skin (or coat) of the blade, like the Masame (regular woody lines), the Itame (irregular woody lines), or the Pear-Skin, which has spots like a section of that fruit. (The higher quality of the Pear-skin is called Kenzan skin.) Among the swords of the Itame, those are the best whose iron is dense, and among whose woody grains silvery lines are visible. Some have the minute boiling marked skin among their woody lines. The color of such work is often heightened by whetting and polishing, but the glaring color of the common sword shows the stiffness of the iron. (Mumford 343)
And consider this from a little later in the work:
As the whole appearance of a sword may depend upon the mode of whetting, we must select the most honest and skillful workman. A good whetter will work upon a sword as long as may be necessary, repeating the process until the blade is perfectly finished; but a dishonest whetter thinks only how he may save his labour, and will omit the proper processes; when and wherever he thinks it will be overlooked by an unpractised customer,he will betray his trust. (Mumford 346)
The above illustrates that by at least the 18th century the categorization of the Japanese sword by empirical investigation of its steel structure was already at a high level. Also, that the importance of polishing in bringing about and enhancing these aesthetic structures was of great importance. Concerning the actual history of polishing it goes on:
Although there was some improvement in the time of Kohō, the grandson of Kosetsu, it was but the rude polishing of the ridge, so that all the modes of finish by which the iron is modified and the body is rubbed and brightened,etc., are later developments and inventions of the house of Honnami. (Mumford 347)
The “Kosetsu” under discussion here is of course Hon'ami Kōetsu (1558 – 1637), who is more famous for his calligraphy and the creation of the Rinpa School of painting along with Tawaraya Sōtatsu (a. early 17th century), than his affiliation with swords or sword polishing (Leach 29-58). Kōetsu’s grandson, Hon'ami Kohō (1600-1682) was also a famous polisher employed by the Maeda family in the castle town of Kanazawa (Sesko 63). This passage indicates that the art of sword polishing, as an act of beautification of the sword, did not reach a high state of development until the latter half of the 18th century, by which time the sword was implemented more as a status symbol or item of social exchange, than a weapon (Earle 11-12). It should be noted: that swords were probably polished to some extent as far back as the 8th century, as can be inferred from the Man'yöshü-poems, which assert that “the heart (be) polished like a sword” (Naumann 388). However, it would seem that the major technological shifts in polishing that emphasized their aesthetic value, rather than their practicality as weapons, did not start to occur until the early Edo period, when the relative peace established by the Tokugawa government changed the social function of both the Samurai and their weapons.
This de-emphasis of the sword as a weapon and its reemphasis as an object of beauty during the Edo period parallels the Samurai’s de-emphasized role as warriors during this period, and the reemphasis on their role as bureaucratic civil administrators based upon the newly implemented Confucian ideology that the Tokugawa government structured itself around (Varley 170-173). Furthermore, this Confucian ideology was even being applied in the appraisals of swords, as we see in this continued tradition of anthropomorphizing from the Nihongi in ‘The Complete Manual of the Old Sword”:
-If you examine only the outer marks of structure and do not take into account the whole character of the sword, it is like enquiring about the genealogy of a man, and failing to ascertain the quality of his soul. (Mumford 343)
The Haitorei, and the End of Era:
In 1868 the Tokugawa Shogunate, which had ruled Japan for almost three-hundred years, fell to Imperial loyalist, in what became known as the Meiji Restoration. The new Meiji government made a rapid push for modernization to combat what they saw as an increasing threat from Western powers. In this race to modernize, the Samurai, and their swords, found themselves at the extremities of this new Japan.
(Mori Arinori, 1847 –1889)
(Source: Public Domain)
Mori Arinori (1847 –1889), a career diplomat and an ardent supporter of westernization in Japanese society after the Meiji restoration, was the first to petition for a general ban on wearing swords in public as an effort to “westernize” the image of the country, and throw of the last vestiges of its feudal past. To that end, he formally submitted a petition to the Meiji government in 1869, which would become the first of three attempts to ban the public display of the Japanese sword. The first, in 1870, affected only common people from brandishing swords in public, the second, in 1871, sought to remove the privilege of the Samurai class from carrying swords in public. Finally, the last proclamation in 1876, known as the Haitorei, banned the wearing of swords in public, irrelevant of class; the major exception being police forces, former Daimyo, and Kuge (the Japanese aristocracy, such as members of the imperial court) (Kishida 42).
The Samurai class did not give up their hereditary privilege, and the symbol of that privilege, the Daisho (the coupling of the long and short swords), without resistance. The Jinpuren Revolt, the Akizuki Revolt, the Hagi Revolt, all taking place in 1876 are thought to have been violent reactions by the samurai class in reaction to the Haitorei. Government intervention however put down each revolt in its turn, with the Battle of Seinan in 1878, ending in a resounding defeat for the rebellious Samurai forces, squashing the last vestiges of armed resistance to the Meiji government’s attempts to “modernize” the country (Kishida 42-43).
Soon after the Haitorei, and the violent reactions against it, the Japanese sword, which had been the mark of social prestige and statues for well over a thousand years, lost its social capital overnight. So much so, that they were viewed as “useless long things” soon after the Haitorei was issued (Kishida 43). As the Samurai class lost their hereditary means of survival with the abolishment of feudal domains in 1871 (Vlastos 220), both their swords, and their valuable fittings, sometimes made out of precious metals such as gold or silver, were hawked to antique dealers, curio shops, and the few affluent collectors who maintained an avid interest in these now arcane objects (Gunsaulus 9).
Subsequently, as the objects themselves found themselves in a precarious position, so too did the multitude of artisans that had been engaged in their production, maintenance, and appraisal. Sword smiths, sword polishers, scabbard makers, tsuka (hilt) binders, shiki (Lacquerware makers), and the various metalwork involved in the production of the various accruements of the Japanese sword, such the Tsuba (handguards), suddenly found their very livelihoods decimated overnight by the Haitorei (Kishida 44). Against this backdrop, a coalition of diverse artisans, connoisseurs, and collectors banded together to preserve both the swords and the traditional crafts associated with them. One of the most prevalent, being the progeny of the Hon'ami Family.
Mizu no oto.
Ah, an ancient pond—
Suddenly a frog jumps in!
The sound of water.
This famous haiku by Bashō (1644–1694), one of the 17th century masters of that tradition, exemplifies the Japanese aesthetic Kire, which means to “cut.” It is a notion that in life, as in art, one must let go, or cut, what we most cherish in the moment if we wish to experience a rebirth. As the Zen master Hakuin (1686–1769) put it: “You must be prepared to let go your hold when hanging from a sheer precipice, to die and return again to life” (Parkes). With the Haitorei effectively cutting the traditional role of the Japanese sword as a weapon and symbol of social prestige, the craftsmen left in its wake had to, like the frog, jump into the new world they now found themselves inhabiting, and hope, that what they did still made a sound.
The first to take this leap was Hon'ami Narishige, who was employed by Imperial Household Ministry under the newly established Meiji government (Sesko 68). It was Narishige who perfected the aesthetic polishing technique of kanahada-nugui (the use of a fine powder of iron oxide to beatify the blade, which darkens the Ji in contrast with the Hamon, making the forging in the Ji-hada more visible), which had been started in the Horeki period. Additionally, he is thought to have invented the technique of ato-hadori (the additional whitening of the hamon, which makes a striking contrast between the pattern of the Hamon and the forging in the Ji-hada) around this time (Kishida 44). The use of kanahada-nugui and ato-hadori has no practical purpose other than one of aesthetics, and it was thought that both techniques were invented by Narishige as a means to give the sword a role as an “art” object in this “Modernized” Japan of the Meiji government (Kishida 44). Even today, the vast majority of swords polished in museum collections are done with these techniques, if not a variety upon.
Unfortunately, for Narishige, and many of the Hon'ami employed by Imperial Household Ministry, the section dealing with swords was closed in 1871 (Sesko 56). This was devastating for most of the Hon'ami, and resulted in many relinquishing their traditional craft in order to change fields, and many more falling in destitution (Sesko 57, 91, 94, 110). However, Six years after the Haitorei, a sword appreciation group was founded called Hôryûsha (宝隆社), in Meiji 16 (1883). Two of the three founding members of this group were dealers in Japanese swords. These groups allowed collectors and dealers to meet up, exchange information on swords, and most importantly, the swords themselves. The first three articles of this association are as follows:
1. Swords are treasures of our nation. Apart from the fact that they must be treated with utmost care, discussions on the quality of a smith and his work shall be carried out with a quiet voice.
2. The mutual replies to a bid on a smith might be corrected by Hon´ami Nagane (本阿弥長根).
3. Mumei blades without any of the three Hon´ami certifications origami, soejô or sagefuda shall not be presented for kantei. But mumei blades with ubu-nakago can be brought to the meeting to get an external opinion.
…Ninth month Meiji 16 (1883), year of the sheep, Hôryûsha (https://markussesko.com/2013/10/20/from-the-meiji-era-sword-world/)
Kantei, is the act by which a sword enthusiast tries to judge the maker and time period of a sword. That a member of the Hon'ami resided over these Kantei sessions indicates that they had found new patrons amongst the bourgeoisie of the Meiji period, who desired to own a part of Japans feudal past. Now that the sword was accepted as an art object, and a commodity to be judged in a modern context, the Hon'ami could continue their tradition as the purveyors of knowledge to these new clubs, and provide restoration work for collectors and dealers alike.
Additionally, some of the Hon'ami tried to appeal to the new Meiji government to save the crafts associated with the Japanese sword, like the 10th generation of the Komi line who wrote a letter pleading to the Meiji government to save the craft, but the Haitorei effectively put end to this (Markus 75). However, by 1890 the Meiji government reconsidered, and started designating traditional artisans associated with the swordsmiths arts as Teishitsu Gigei In, the equivalent of today’s living national treasure (Kishida 44). This included the Kodogu (sword fittings) makers Kano Natsuo and Unno Shomin. By 1896, the swordsmiths Miyamoto Kanenori and Gassan Sadakazu had both been designated as Teishitsu Gigei In. In 1897, the Department of antiquities and Conservation finally started to designate swords, and their related implements, as Kokuho, or National treasures (Kishida 45). This official designation placed the sword in Japan firmly within the realm of “art” objects.
(Kokuho tanto (dagger) meibutsu (named thing) Atsushi-Tôshirô, by the 13th century Yamashiro smith Yoshimitsu, polished in the style developed by Hon'ami Narishige in the Tokyo National Museum)
(Hon´ami Koson, 1879-1955)
(Source: Nakahara 129)
By the early 20th century, Hon´ami Koson (1879-1955) had further disseminated information about the Japanese sword with publications like Nihonto in 1914, and Token-kantei-kowa (Lectures on Sword Appraisal) in 1924 (Sesko 82). He is best known for his invention and popularization of the Goku-den (Five Schools) method of Kantei, which allows a novice to easily appraise a sword based on its similarities to those of produced in the ancient provinces of Soshu, Bizen, Yamato, Yamashiro, or Mino (Nakahara 128-129). This simplification of the vast number of different schools of swordsmiths into five easily to remember traditions greatly popularized the practice of Kantei at sword club meetings, and helped disseminate information to a larger body of collectors and dealers, therefore, enhancing the reputation of the sword as an “art” object.
Lastly, the wests fetish for all things Japonisme during the latter half of the 19th century created new markets for swords, and for the specialty knowledge of them that only the Hon'ami possessed. Writing in 1892 for the Californian Illustrated Magazine , Mrs. Helen E. Gregory-Flesher, in her article entitled the Art in Japanese Swords says the following regarding the Hon'ami:
All Japanese gentlemen were supposed to understand and to be thoroughly versed in the Yakiba, and the Tokugawa government thought it of so much importance that they pensioned experts called Hor Nami to teach the youth of the county to distinguish between the true and counterfeit marks. (Flesher 15)
Additionally, writing in 1905, E.W Mumford, tells us this of the Hon'ami in his The Japanese Book of the Ancient Sword:
Of the status of the Honnami in 1793 the book leaves no doubt, and to-day the words could only be rewritten and underlined: the family still exercises the art of sword judgment and the head of the house is alone allowed the privilege of certifying the sword which successfully passes his rigorous examination, by inlaying the maker's name in gold or lacquer upon the nakago. (Mumford 336)
The great collections of sword fittings of German Industrialist Alexander G. Mosle, which were published in such works as Kunstgewerbe in Japan in 1911(Kümmel 69-94), and the arms and armor collected by Bashford Dean for the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, which included a blade by Gassan Sadakazu, further popularized the notion that the sword was an “art” object. The purchase of the sword by Bashford Dean was even used as a marketing ploy in Nippon Toh, a catalogue distributed in the west, to sell swords by Gassan Sadakazu’s successors in 1930:
When Dr. Bashford Dean, Director of the Armour Dep’t of the Metropolitan Museum in New York visited Japan in 1915, he came to Osaka to call on Mr. S. Gwassan at his smithy, hearing of the sword made by AYASUGI DEN, the long handed down secret of the Gwassan as being the rarest fine art, learned there something about the forging way through his eye and ear, admired at the wonderful workmanship, and brought home a sword to keep it forever at his museum. This eveidently shows its value. (Nippon Toh 7)
By the early 20th century the Japanese swords status as an “art” object, and the Hon'ami’s newfound role as purveyors of knowledge of it, not just domestically, but internationality, had been firmly established.
As we have seen over the course of this paper, the evolution of the Japanese sword, from weapon to “art” object, began in the 8th century, when its status as an object of deification and magic lead to its fetishism amongst the warrior elite. These same warrior elite, in the 15th century started commoditizing swords based on this belief in their magical properties, to both protect their owners and vanquish their foes, with the great warrior houses competing in a market place for the most fortuitous blades. In addition, the Hon'ami in the 15th century started ranking and categorizing blades based on names of smiths and origin of manufacture. In the Azuchi–Momoyama and early Edo period, the systemized gift culture developed amongst the Samurai elite, in conjunction with the advances in sword polishing by the Hon'ami, and the relative peace of the age, moved the sword further away from a weapon, and closer to an object of beauty and a symbol of class. This beautification of the blade reached its peak in the late 18th century, so by the time the wearing of the swords, and the Samurai class, was abolished in the 19th century, the sword was already thought of as an “art” object in Japan. The opening of Japan to the west in the late 19th century, and the multitude of new western collectors, further promulgated the notion of the Japanese sword as “art” internationally.
The increased Imperial expansion of Japan, starting with the Japanese-Sino war of 1894, and culminating in the Japanese defeat by allied powers in 1945, saw the sword once more return to its functional role as a weapon. However, after the wars end, much as after the Haitorei, a coalition of diverse artisans, connoisseurs, and collectors, once again banded together to save the sword from imminent destruction. In the west, one of the last students of Hon´ami Koson, Albert Yamanaka (1921-1983), who was born in San Francisco, did much to propagate the study and appreciation of the Japanese sword as “art” amongst the west after the war’s end, as did Koson’s other student, Nagayama Kokan (1920-2010), in Japan. Today, as in the 8th century, a new generation can experience the “magic” of the Japanese sword as they make pilgrimages to Museums and the various art institutes that house these magnificent treasures the world over.
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 For an excellent introduction to the metallurgic appraisal points of the Japanese sword see Nagayama Kōkan’s The connoisseur's book of Japanese swords.
 A religious school headed by the Unitarian minister Dr. Clay MacCauley, until its closing in 1894 (Princeton Alumni Weekly, Volume 13, pg. 655).
 The inscription on the Gassan Sadakazu purchased by the Bashford Dean for the Met reads:
Inscribed on the tang of the blade, on the obverse: 御即位記念 帝室技藝員 月山貞一時八十歳謹作（花押） (Gosokui kinen Teishitsu Gigei-in Gassan Sadakazu toki hachijūichi sai tsutsushinde tsukuru (kaō)) (Respectfully made by the Imperial Artist Gassan Sadakazu, at the age of eighty, in celebration of the enthronement [monogram]); on the reverse: 大正四年十一月吉日 以相州鎌倉五郎正宗傳 (Taishō yo-nen jūichi-gatsu kichi-jitsu Sōshū Kamakura Gorō Masamune-den wo motte) (Fourth year of Taishō , November, auspicious day, in the Sōshū Kamakura Gorō Masamune tradition); underneath the ferrule (habaki-shita): 大正四年十二月吉日 / 菱田利幸研 (Taishō yo-nen jūni-gatsu kichi-jitsu / Hishida Toshiyuki togu) (Fourth year of Taishō , December, auspicious day / Polished by Hishida Toshiyuki). (http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/22670)