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IanB last won the day on January 13

IanB had the most liked content!


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  1. During the Edo period the Japanese devised a lost-wax technique for producing superb quality castings. The description (in 'Silverwork and jewellery' by H. Wilson) related to castings of bronze, but could probably be used for iron as well. Essentially the method was to enclose the wax model with a thin layer of very fine clay into which paper fibres had been incorporated. This was then reinforced with a thicker layer of clay mixed with straw to support the paper-filled layer. When heated to melt out the wax the paper fibres and straw burnt away leaving a porous surface inside the mould that allowed gasses to escape but not the molten metal. There would inevitably be a sprue where the molten metal was poured in that needed to be cut off and the area cleaned up, but all the rest of the casting would have a smooth surface needing little or no finishing work. Ian Bottomley
  2. Far more damage was done to many fine swords long before WWII. Nikko Toshogu Shrine held the sword collection made by Tokugawa Ieyasu, stored in a special building in the Shrine grounds. Tragically, this was accidently set on fire in the 1840's or thereabouts. The Shrine still has a box full of the burnt blades, only one, by a Tadayoshi, having been put through yaki-ire to restore it. They still have however a number of magnificent lacquer boxes in which Ieyasu's swords used to be kept. Coincidently, the Grand Storehouse at the Tower of London burnt down around the same time and vast amounts of munitions were lost as well as old tournament equipment and other treasures. Ian Bottomley
  3. What a treat this thread has been. It raises several points that are worth a comment. Firstly, we really do get our proverbial pants in a twist over the length of blades. A couple of years ago I bought a rather fine daisho, both blades of which are ubu and unsigned. The nagasa of the daito is slightly less that 60cm long, which may be the reason why I was the only bidder. After musing on various reasons for the blade being less than the expected 2 shaku, the simple answer, and the obvious reason (ascertained by Piers), was that it was made for someone of small stature. As to the names of smiths. I would refer readers to the exhaustive chapter on the subject in Koop and Inada's 'Japanese names and how to read them'. Smiths signed their blades with a nanori - a name with similarities to a Western 'nom de plume' and the name by which a person was known to the outside world. However, the construction of nanori used a somewhat limited set of kanji with the inevitable high duplication rate. This situation was made worse by the tendency of some groups to incorporate the same kanji in their nanori, either because individuals had been granted the use of that kanji by a superior or because it had become traditional within the group [c.f. the use of 'MUNE' among the Myochin armourers]. Since 'family names' were forbidden to such lowly creatures as swordsmiths and other craftsmen, the inclusion of an address was a way by which an individual could further identify themselves. [My own surname which was the cause of much ribald amusement and inventive variations when I was at school) simply indicated that a distant ancestor lived in or near a lower field within their locality. Similarly, rather than rely on the address, the addition of a zokumio, or personal name by which they were known to family and intimates, was an alternative way of narrowing down a person's identity. Ian Bottomley .
  4. Franco, You mention swords with loose fitting habaki that have unsplit tsuka. Such a sword is not in a condition to be used to strike anything. A blade that is to be used should have an habaki that fits tightly to the tang and butts against the ha machi and mune machi equally. Many blades have been polished, sometimes more than once, since their existing habaki was made for them and hence no longer fit tightly on the tang as it should. It has been said many times that the habaki is the only fitting that belongs to the blade and not to the koshirae. You are correct in stating that the seppa and tsuba, and in fact the base plate of the fuchi, all play their part when the sword strikes an object, but they are in effect an extension of the rear edge of the habaki preventing the tang being forced further into the hilt. Properly fitted, the blade of a sword with the mekugi removed will still fit tightly in the hilt until jarred loose - hence the need to hold the sword upright and striking the wrist of the hand holding the hilt. Horror stories of blades shooting out of the hilt when swung without a mekugi are not uncommon for the simple reason the blades no longer fit the hilts as they would have done when in use. Incidentally, a blade in shirasaya was never used to strike anything. Ian Bottomley
  5. To some extent, the material from which mekugi are made is irrelevant. The forces acting on a blade as it strikes are transmitted from the tang to the tsuka because the latter is shaped internally to fit tightly onto the tapers of the former, both in width and thickness. The primary purpose of the habaki is to prevent the tapered tang being driven further into tsuka and splitting it. Its secondary function being to secure the blade in the saya, again because of its tapered shape. These taper fits are exactly the same as the morse taper system used to drive machine tools and drills. The only function served by the mekugi is to stop the tang being jarred out of the taper fit from the forces of a blow, hence smoked bamboo, buffalo horn are perfectly adequate to the task. Just occasionally you will come across an old mekugi that shows an indentation where the side of the mekugi ana has crushed the bamboo - an indication that the tsuka no longer fits the tang properly because of wear or distortion of the cavity in the tsuka. Ian Bottomley.
  6. All, In my opinion Piers has a valid point. Swords permanently displayed in glass cases not only look as if they are museum exhibits, but after a while become simply part of the furniture of the room. All of my swords have bags I make from old kimono, or fabric scraps, in which they live. They are thus protected from light and knocks whilst standing, leaning together, in the corner of my study. There the temperature is relatively constant and the humidity relatively low. As a result there is no reason to oil the blades provided, I wipe them clean before returning them to their saya. The process of un-bagging them, to look at them, is like discovering them afresh. Ian Bottomley
  7. Paz, To my knowledge, no educational establishment runs courses on Japanese swords or armour, although SOAS may run courses on Japanese history that mentions them in other contexts. The Royal Armouries have run seminars that might include some details and we have a video running in the gallery showing a blade being made. When I was in post I used to do Gallery Tours that often involved answering quite probing questions by members of the public. Even better were those occasions when cases were opened and you could take items out and show visitors the items close up and talk about them. These were times when I felt I was performing my curatorial functions properly. Sadly too many curators are barely interested in the displays, never mind the visitors. Ian Bottomley.
  8. Mark, You say you have no background in the humanities. As it happens neither have I, other than a fascination with Japanese arms and armour that was triggered by visiting the V&A as a kid of 14. From that time my parents were given strict instructions to buy only swords as birthday and Christmas presents, a tradition I stll maintain as a supplement to the socks, sweaters. shirts etc that my darling wife persists in buying me. It was by dint of devouring every scrap of information and visiting every museum with swords and armour in them that formed the basis of my knowledge. Basil Robinsons book on the Arts of the Japanese sword was my first bible, borrowed for years on end from the local library because I couldn't afforf to buy a copy. My formal background is in the sciences, starting with working at ICI and then 25 years as a lecturer in maths, physics and chemistry followed by computing in further education. It was the study of Japanese swords and armour during that time that kept my sane. Getting the post of curator at the Armouries was so unbelievably wonderful - being paid to follow my passion, and even more, opening doors to other museums and curators around the world. The well known Chinese saying that every journey starts with the first step is equally true of anyone with an interest in Japanese swords. None of us were born with any knowledge of them - we start as a blank canvas and put in details by either reading books or asking questions of those with the answer. The ToKen Society has always taken the view that anyone who comes through the door is welcomed and that no question they ask is too trivial to be answered. In some cases we may not know ourselves and we say so, then set out to find the answer together. Ian Bottomley.
  9. Mark, As you may know, the Royal Armouries Museum is one part of THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ARMS AND ARMOUR that also has a display in the Tower of London and runs Fort Nelson in Portsmouth for the artillery collection. The new building in Leeds was established because the Tower is managed by English Heritage and available space allowed the display of only some 8% of the collection. It was decided therefore that those items, such as Royal armours should occupy the Tower since it was their traditional home. Being a new build, Leeds was also designed to house the admin staff who had only limited space at the Tower. Being a National Museum, the overall Head, who also took the ancient title 'Master of the Armouries' is a government appointment, as indeed are the Trustees, with the result that the person deemed suitable to run the Museum is decided by the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport. As for the proper role of the Museum, that is laid down in statute and includes educating the public as well as the preservation of and the acquisition of additions to the collection. A curator must therefor be careful to avoid giving prominence to any specific area within their role. Although I am primarily a Japanese geek and acquired some 57 swords and blades for the collection, I also added a large number of items from India and several very important pieces from the Ottoman empire. One vital consideration was provenance. Nothing could be acquired unless the provenance was known and was legitimate. During my tenure some magnificent items appeared for sale I could not entertain for purchase as they were almost certainly looted. I note you live in Leeds yet seem to be disinterested in making contact with others having the same interest. We all stand on the shoulders of others, and in my case it was the encouragement from both Basil Robinson and H. Russell Robinson who started me, then in my teens, on the path that eventually led to my appointment at the Museum. Sadly, you cannot ask questions of, and learn anything more from a book than the author felt should be included. Ian Bottomley
  10. When I was in post as Senior Curator of Oriental Arms and Armour at the Royal Armouries Museum at Leeds I used to display about 12 blades / swords at a time that I changed about every couple of months, having 87 blades / swords to go at. On retiring, my replacement, Natasha Bennett, was to some extent browbeaten by a person who took it on herself to know all about everything and did a display that she claimed didn't need individual labels since the case itself was labelled 'Japanese swords'. As a curator emeritus, I did a tantrum thing of throwing myself on the floor and screaming, and managed to get a compromise that at least managed to get some of the better items on show. The problem with the museum was one in which the people who rose to power there knew absolutely nothing about arms and armour and viewed it primarily as a 'Leisure Destination'. At one point one idiot came up with the idea that all labels should be written so as to be understandable by a child of 8! Another bright spark noticed that we had little in the way of arms and armour from the 12th and 13th centuries on show and that we should purchase items to fill that gap - heaven help us. Ian Bottomley
  11. Piers, Your escapade with the gunto, coincidently matches a similar event that happened to me. Rambling around an arms fair my eye was caught by a sword with a leather saya cover and carrying ring that had black tsuka ito on the slightly curved tsuka. The fuchi and kabutogane were in shakudo with gold borders as was the matching tsuba. Rather than the more usual nanako, the shakudo areas were lightly punched with overlapping circles that form 6 pointed star / flower shapes. Clearly it was very far from being a normal gunto. A bit of feeling through the leather suggested that there was a lot more metalwork on the scabbard tan normal and clearly indicated it was a sword in an old koshirae that had been fitted with the leather cover before being dragged around South East Asia. Accompanying the sword was a plastic bag containing photos, documents and a flag. Although not cheap, waving a bundle of notes persuaded the dealer to drop his asking price a bit, and on impulse I bought it. I had noted the length of the blade (nagasa 71cm) and having removed the hilt found it had a two character signature that read Tomomitsu 友光. The high shinogi and general appearance suggest it was by a Yamato smith by that name working around 1400. The related documents contained a document which I had never seen before and which others might find interesting:- CAPTURED ENEMY WAR MATERIAL - RETENTION CERTIFICATE 185, issued from the General Staff, General Headquarters, India. dated 3 January 1946. Reference India Army Order 541/45, the retention of (in ink script) 'One Japanese officers sword' as a trophy is hereby authorised. This permit is issued subject to the owner complying with local civil laws in force and must be producednon demand. The retention of any item captured from the enemy without a certificate is published (crossed out in ink and replaced by the word 'prohibited). It is signed by a Captain Barber (?) and issued to a Major Findlay. There is also a photo of a Japanese officer handing over a sword to what looks like an Air commodore. As the saya turned out to be slightly damaged under the leather and is now being repaired, I will refrain from posting images of the sword until that is done. Ian Bottomley
  12. An interesting thread indeed. The UK is fortunate in that contact with Japan occurred not only during the 16th and 17th centuries, but also very soon after Japan was 'opened ' during the 19th century. For a while during the late 19th century there was a considerable interest in Japanese art and culture during which a considerable quantity of Japanese art of all types, including swords and fittings, was imported into the UK. Retailers such as Liberties in London sold vast quantities of lacquer work and other treasures, and if stories are to believe, even used woodblock prints as wrapping paper. Other tales are told of tsuba, tied in dozens on a string, being sold on the London docks, having served as ballast in ships. There is even a fleeting mention of a Japanese armour in one of the Sherlock Holmes stories. All this points to the fact that there still remains a considerable number of armour, swords and considerable quantities of fittings in the UK. We are also fortunate in that some of the earlier collectors have left a corpus of valuable reference material in publications such as the Journal of the Japan Society. This initial enthusiasm for all things Japanese dwindled around the close of the 19th century, becoming positively antagonistic after WWII. It is to such people as B.W. Robinson, whose writings during the post war period, rekindled the current widespread interest. To this earlier category must be added the not inconsiderable number of swords brought back by soldiers who fought in the Far East during WWII. All of this preamble leads up to the obvious statement that we in the UK are blessed in living in a country rich in swords, armour and fittings. Whist there now exist severe restrictions on the acquisition of swords from abroad, plenty of swords are available at arms fairs and many more are available from public auctions. Some of these items are of considerable merit, many having belonged to those who began collecting after WWII and who are now dying off. There are lots of good items out there if you take the trouble to learn what is worth having. Ian Bottomley
  13. Perhaps less obvious is the change in appearance of a blade. When newly made and given its first polish, the smith would examine it for defects before passing it to its first owner. What they saw would be lost after the next polish which cut away the original surface. Subsequent polishes would gradually reveal what had initially been the interior of the blade. In other words when we gaze in admiration at the activity in a koto blade, it is a bit sobering to think that we, and the last polisher, are the only people who have seen that incarnation of the blade that probably differs considerably from what its maker saw. Ian Bottomley
  14. Piers, Officially it is 4th September, but in reality I stopped having them as they are too much of a reminder of my mortality. To counter the problem, I have been going backwards for some time now and have reached the grand old age of 63. Ian
  15. Jan, A Happy New Year to you and other Vikings. I now have three teppo - a Saki one covered in fancy brass ornament, the Satsuma gun and now this. Thanks to Piers I also have a primer and a powder flask. All I need now is a bullet mould and I have the complete outfit. I have shot the Sakai gun with powder and a wad only. Great fun Ian
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