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Kawa

Mumei and Suriage - Open Discussion

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For the record: I have entertained this whole discussion because we are a discussion forum. And what is posted is in the interests of collecting. I don’t delete what I don’t agree with, and keep what I do. 
That said, it would be great if we could all collect top swords only. Ubu swords in great condition, signed and polished. 
But that’s not reality in this hobby. The majority of us will strive for that, but end up with suriage Shinto or average swords in average condition. And as long as we don’t let our ambitions stay there, and at least study better swords, that is fine. As long as you enjoy your collection, That is just fine. As long as we do no harm to swords we come across, that is just fine. As long as we respect the culture and history of what we are collecting, that is just fine. 
This is not an either/or situation. Strive for the swords Ray advocates, but collect what you are able to and never feel embarrassed of what you own. 
This forum will never become elitist or exclusionary. The fact that many members here started out with nothing and ended up with fine papered swords means we are doing something right. Unless I win the lottery, a juyo isn’t in my future. But I enjoy what I own and see some beauty in all of them. 
Discussion and advice on how to collect is welcome. But let me stress that denigrating anyone or insulting them because of their collecting choices is a fast way out of here. 

 

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Well said Brian, and an important point to make.  

 

Even though I can afford some nicer pieces now, for a couple decades I had exactly zero budget for swords.  So the meager collection that I built was all on sweat equity.  I ran ads in papers, dropped everything and went to see swords when I got calls, bought all the books I could afford (especially reference books to tell if signatures are authentic) and learned as much as I could.  As my friend Dale says, the harder you work, the luckier you get.  If you work hard enough in this hobby, you can develop at least essential knowledge and find some very nice pieces that are not very expensive.  

 

Of course, back in the day when I had no discretionary funds, I would have to sell those good swords that I found cheap and use the proceeds to be able to continue to buy other good ones when I found them.  

 

There are still many bargains to be had on ebay, at sword shows, at local auctions etc.  Learning to find the diamonds in the rough is the most fun for me.  Fred Geyer picked up a tanto for a couple thousand bucks on ebay a couple years ago and it went juyo.  There are many other examples of exciting finds and there will be many more.  

 

It is not essential to be a hard core student of swords or to hustle to build a collection in order to enjoy Japanese swords.  We just congratulated a new collector and member of the NMB who bought a Jumyo blade for three hundred bucks and it was a pleasure to share his honest joy about finding it.  

 

In the period of corona virus, we have taken up bickering and swaggering a bit too much and I humbly hope that we can put that to rest.  

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The ubu, mumei, zaimei ... standards are not the invention of "elite" collectors, but standards that are defined to achieve a certain level of Shinsa (with defined exceptions).
It is only natural that we can each "jump" to the volume of our wallet.
Several experienced collectors have recommended the same to me - if it is possible for you, travel and look at as many of the best blades as possible.
What makes a blade a great blade?
Let's put the average blade and the really great one on the table. I'm convinced that the vast majority of us instinctively reach for the really great one.
However, the economic reality of many of us forces us to buy the first one.
Whether we like it or not, we often collect blades that are of no value to the Japanese.
If it makes us happy - everything is absolutely good
But to label someone as "elite" just because he is able to make his own collection of items that are excellent is hypocritical.
If we all had "unlimited" economic opportunities, we would do the same.
At one meeting, I met a collector who is a member of our forum. He bought his first blade after about 10 years of education (if I remember correctly). The blade of the highest level.
For me personally, it's admirable - discipline and patience
I am aware of my shortcomings and impatience is one of them 😅
That's why I have a collection of several blades, which I'm more happy than if I owned one TJ. (and could be)
I'm still at the beginning and looking for "my" way, but for many of us who are at the beginning of creating our collection, the advice "less is more" is doubly true in this hobby.

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Thank you all, this is a very interesting discussion and clearly shows the multitude of different levels of enjoyment we all get.

You know my wife thinks people that collect swords are weirdos.

I don't know why and I don't think she does either, she just says "it not a normal hobby"

I reply "define normal."

Clearly there are very subjective ideas of what is normal.

Sorry it's a bit off topic....or is it?

 

 

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It’s not. I can confirm you that we are indeed weirdos. Must be true since everyone who doesn’t collect them thinks so. :)

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I've already got a 7 year old wanting all my tosogu. Imagine if the missus wanted it too!

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This sort of conversation cannot work without specifying which bracket the advice applies to. One who is fishing on Ebay for nice waks cheaply priced cannot possibly benefit from the same advice as someone hunting in the treacherous mid-range. There is something for everyone in this hobby, and I think its important to qualify where the advice applies otherwise the message is inevitably elitist. Someone can do well in the Ebay hunt, and more power to that person. 

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On 8/16/2020 at 1:49 AM, Surfson said:

 We just congratulated a new collector and member of the NMB who bought a Jumyo blade for three hundred bucks and it was a pleasure to share his honest joy about finding it.  

Hey I think that was me!  Thank you for saying so.  We all need(ed) a starting point, and there's no right or wrong way to collect *anything*.   In the end, this is a hobby like none other, but the purpose of any hobby in my opinion is to have fun!  Personally, I am having a great time on this board while I learn about this fascinating subject, thanks in no small part to all of you. 

 

Something I think that's important to keep in mind - in this limited medium of text and pictures, it can be hard to express things like sarcasm or the intended tone.  Where one feels offended, I'd bet that in most cases no offense was intended.  Also we're dealing with many different people from many different cultures, and English is a second language for a good chunk of our members.  Cross-cultural sarcasm and wit don't always translate successfully, and at worst can come across as rude or insulting!  If we can all agree that sometimes things get lost in translation, and to never intentionally berate others, I think we'll all be better for it. 

 

Thanks again for making this an enjoyable community.  I'm looking forward to my future here.

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I won't dive in this topic, but frankly i prefer to own a mumei suriage nidai Magoroku Kanemoto which shows real artistic features than a Kamakura signed sword  but made by an obscure or average swordwmith

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19 minutes ago, Jacques D. said:

I won't dive in this topic, but frankly i prefer to own a mumei suriage nidai Magoroku Kanemoto which shows real artistic features than a Kamakura signed sword  but made by an obscure or average swordwmith

But how do you know it really is Nidai Magoroku Kanemoto?

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1 hour ago, Valric said:

This sort of conversation cannot work without specifying which bracket the advice applies to. One who is fishing on Ebay for nice waks cheaply priced cannot possibly benefit from the same advice as someone hunting in the treacherous mid-range. There is something for everyone in this hobby, and I think its important to qualify where the advice applies otherwise the message is inevitably elitist. Someone can do well in the Ebay hunt, and more power to that person. 

This advice is not for those looking for a good deal, or money. This is about quality....Please Valric, you know what I am saying, and I know what you are saying.

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1 hour ago, Jacques D. said:

 

There are experts for that. 

There are also existing signed, ubu, nidai Magoroku Kanemoto. Why not own / strive to own, one of those? 

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Ray, I know that you are striving to get everyone to up our game, & I appreciate that. But, don't you agree that there is a learning-curve that all of us need to experience at our own rate, & that not every blade, for every member, has to be signed & papered?

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I think there is a market for all kinds of swords whether it be zaimei, mumei or suriage. It depends what the collector's aim is what they are looking for. Each has its own merits and place in the world of nihonto collecting.

 

If you just wanted a good representation of a Kanemoto for example and didn't put much emphasis on the mei you could get a papered mumei kanemoto for half the price or less. But if the emphasis is on not only quality of blade but also zaimei then that is ok too as long as the collector is willing or able to pay the exponentially higher cost.

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Hi Ken, I understand that I am asking a lot by wanting collectors to be open to holding out on bad purchases and save for better items but the learning curve should be shortened by education. I think a fundamental part of education should be looking at the mistakes of the past and implementing them so we can avoid a few pitfalls. History is the best teacher I think. 

 

6 hours ago, mywei said:

I think there is a market for all kinds of swords whether it be zaimei, mumei or suriage. It depends what the collector's aim is what they are looking for. Each has its own merits and place in the world of nihonto collecting.

 

If you just wanted a good representation of a Kanemoto for example and didn't put much emphasis on the mei you could get a papered mumei kanemoto for half the price or less. But if the emphasis is on not only quality of blade but also zaimei then that is ok too as long as the collector is willing or able to pay the exponentially higher cost.

 

I think the non-emphasis on Mei for a sword smith that has Zai examples available and hoping it is a good example cannot exist in the same logic, bear with me, if we are talking about Kamakura then I agree this can be difficult but Mid to late Muromachi is something we have a lot of so why not be sure of what you are holding is indeed Kanemoto? So why study a smiths work and activity without being sure it is that smith, at best you are looking at School or tradition of, than that smith. A named attribution to mumei Kanemoto is the NBTHK saying "the work is good for Mino, as good as Kanemoto" they are not saying Kanemoto. A Hozon papered Zai sword to Kanemoto means it is not Gimei, a Juyo Papered Kanemoto is saying it is in the top percent of Kanemotos work. So if you purchased a signed Kanemoto there are still vast levels of attribution as to the condition of that signed work that will also determine a price bracket. You could even buy a Hozon papered Kanemoto that is priced at a Juyo price because the quality is outstanding and the seller knows it, the only way the buyer knows the same logic is if they have studied Zai examples of the best quality of the smith to make the same conclusion.

 

 

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Just my 2 cents...

 

A Koto Suriage (or O-suriage), now Mumei blade:

 

1) Hey, it's affordable now ;)

2) Even after losing the smith's signature, the blade was still of high enough quality that the various Japanese owners (Samurai) felt it was worth the using and keeping through the constant warfare of the Muromachi, and later, the centuries of (relative) peace of the Edo period;

3) Being Mumei, now the work has to stand for itself. How does it look to you? How does it feel in your hand? The fact that it's still around, cut down and re-used over the centuries, means someone saw something in it worth the keeping. 

 

 

 

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We have to remember that even the papers on a signed, ubu Kanemoto are still an opinion.  It's not a guarantee that it's actually a Kanemoto.  For all we know there could be 1000 signed, ubu Kanemoto fakes out there, all made by the same guy, that we now consider to be the originals and the real ones considered fakes, because they aren't like all those others.  Maybe a signed, ubu, papered one has a better chance of being an original than a mumei, suriage, papered one but only if we are correct in what we think the originals are supposed to look like.  Just my two cents, but I'm firmly of the buy the sword not the signature or papers mindset and don't buy because of an opinion on who made it.

 

Wayne

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I think we all know NBTHK papers are still just opinions but if you can't trust their full panel of experts comprised of individuals each arguably more knowledgeable than any of us here, who else are you proposing to be more authoritative? You could argue Tanobe but he is still just one individual.

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I should have quoted post #41.  My point is we never really know, signed or mumei, ubu or suriage, it is all an opinion, each as valid as the next when they come from NBTHK or NTHK.   Whether it's signed or not, or ubu or not, shouldn't invalidate the opinion, and we never really know as asked in #41.

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14 hours ago, Wayben said:

I should have quoted post #41.  My point is we never really know, signed or mumei, ubu or suriage, it is all an opinion, each as valid as the next when they come from NBTHK or NTHK.   Whether it's signed or not, or ubu or not, shouldn't invalidate the opinion, and we never really know as asked in #41.

I'm not sure this is valid. There are historical records of signatures in publications and existing examples that are used to determine if a signature is true or not. 

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Wayne, I think you ought to read and learn a bit more. Not only can people with sufficient knowledge such as the shinsa panel verify signatures, they can, as we well know, evaluate who made a mumei sword. As Ray said, there are enough historic signatures, scrolls, oshigata, kinzogan swords which were zaimei and shortened by Honami and others, that the characteristic style, workmanship, hataraki etc of a particular smith have been recorded, studied, and can be recognised even in a mumei sword. 
 

Now, there is a slight complication, where the sword exhibits the swordsmith characteristics but bears a slightly unusual signature. If the signature is disparate but the sword still as a whole appears made by the smith, the shinsa will likely insert the qualification “ to mei ga aru” (“ there is a signature of”). This means they are somewhat unsure and the signature needs to be studied more. They are not saying it is gimei, as then the sword will not pass but are saying there is uncertainty. There are Juyo instances with to mei ga aru which disappears when the sword becomes Tokubetsu Juyo, as the sword had been studied more, or more such signature examples emerged or whatever. That is why it is very important to treat such signatures carefully and not rush to remove them. 
 

Another point you make is that it does not matter whose opinion it is. Well, it does. Not only commercially (eg in Japan almost no one sells swords with NTHK certificates, while they are very popular in the US) but also in terms of knowledge (eg, Tanobe sensei’s view weighs much more than the NTHK panel’s and I personally tend to weight more the NBTHK than the NTHK). There is much more to say on the topic, but these are just som pointers towards further research by you. 

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A late Japanese polisher, name escapes me at the moment, said ALL remaining nihonto should be cared for as if national treasures, were it feasible.

 

With a millennium of time, tens of thousands of smiths and considering these are hands on weapons ofcourse there is spread in availability, quality and condition.

 

People will collect based on different criteria. Much is established for centuries. Many collectors wisely follow those set guidelines rather then reinventing the wheel.

 

Personally in my collecting quality is paramount. Quality as a sword, as a cutting, fighting weapon. Age, smith and provenance is a bonus, but not if it affects quality as a weapon of the time it was forged.

 

Is a tokubetsu juyo, signed ubu down through the mists of time Heian period tachi an amazing sight and desirable piece to own? It sure is.

 

Would I rather bring the only blade I currently own, a late shinshinto signed and dated hefty ubu mid level papered katana to a swordfight? You bet. I'd rather put the extra money into my savings and stocks.

 

I am in no way dismissing nihonto as pieces of art, they absolutely are, more so then much else under that distinction in my opinion. But they are in the end swords, weapons. And beyond that, slabs of steel albeit carefully put together.

 

The whole arguments about elitism and bragging rights become then to me very clear as pointless made up modern bickerings. Lets be better, especially considering actual important things going on in the world. Agreeing to disagree is a quite satisfying compromise.

 

 

 

 

 

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Swords are not simply seen as weapons in Japanese culture, indeed even in Western culture, swords are more than "slabs of steel". To infer otherwise shows true ignorance, just my opinion of course. 

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I am in no way a nihonto expert. That is why I am here. There is lifetimes of knowledge in this subject, wich is part of the attraction.

 

Sharp slab of steel or unique work of art - depends on ones perspective, or why not both? It is what you make it like everything else in life, and people will have different tastes, just because one is more expensive to pursue does not dimish the others in comparison.

 

Passing judgements or absolutes one way or the other is different then passing advice, especially in a field like this where so much is in people's head and not just present in these wonderful slabs of steel.

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I think that each collector has his/her own goal and even mumei, suriage muromachi or later swords have artistic merit and value. The important point for collectors is to know what you getting into when considering a purchase, identify if the sword has been altered (sometimes its hard to tell when a slight machi-okuri or suriage has taken place) and make sure that the price of the sword is commensurate to its condition.

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Kawa,

 

You are entitled to your opinion.  However, you posting peoples swords in the Classified and bashing them in this thread is completely uncalled for.  I bought this katana from Andy Quirt, a well respected person in the Nihonto community.  He saw something in the sword as do I, but at this time, funds will not me allow to proceed with the restoration that I had planned.  I wanted a longer, beefier blade to match up with another sword that I own and this fit the bill.  I am offering it at a very good price (around 60% of what I paid for it) and you come on here and are telling people not to buy it.  Completely unacceptable.  Not all of us have huge budgets to spend on swords and not all of us care about papered swords either.  You shouldn't be talking down to people in different situations and you should not be trashing other peoples sales.

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I agree, and have removed the 2 offending posts. Ray....it doesn't even need explanation why people can NOT interfere with sales unless there is blatant fraud or inaccuracy.
I'm really getting tired of this "don't collect X or Y as it is beneath the level or proper collectors"
If you say X should not be collected, care to share a link for something you approve of AT THE SAME PRICE POINT?
If not, then all you are advocating is not collecting anything affordable to most. And that is obviously not how it works.
We all know by now what we are supposed to collect. But that doesn't fall into many people's budgets. So they have every right to collect what they like as long as they strive to improve.
I won't have any more of this elitist discussion based on unreachable goals for many.
 

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This is not elitist, it is simply good advice and my opinion. With regards to items that would be more collectible in the same price points it simply requires a bit of online searching and there are way too many options. Expressing a Mumei Uda as a rarity is false and should not be allowed. Obviously you should consider a proper frame of validating sales posts before they go up instead of criticizing my advice and jumping on the band wagon calling it elitist. I am not saying do not buy this and instead buy this Juyo. I am just saying do not but mumei swords from certain time period, why is that elitist?

 

 

 

 

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