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Hi all. Question to primarily UK collectors or any of you who have been lucky enough to visit London. Which museum holds the best number of swords or armour ? I have seen the British museum and London Bridge. But im planning to visit alabert and Victoria. Any recommendations would be great.

 

I have joined the token society and will keep an eye out for any shows

 

Thanks all. Good day 

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The V&A collection has a few items of arms and armour in their Toshiba Gallery (room 45). This gallery is an overview of all things Japanese rather than an exhibit focused on any one type of thing. 

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The British Museum has around 400 blades, of which only a handful are usually on display. I hope the great ex-Compton Shintogo Kunimitsu tanto is still on display. It has very elegant Goto Ichijo koshirae.
My personal favourite is the ex-Compton Ko-Bizen Yoshikane but there are some other great ubu Ko-Aoe (eg a Sueyuki), Ichimonji, some nice Soden, etc. With the To-Ken Society we have organised various study days at the BM in the past where we studied hands-on swords from the collection which are not on display. 
Normally only one armour is on display. 
 

The V&A must have over a 100 swords (just a guess) and some of them rather special. Again, on display you will have around 10. There are usually 3-5 armours on display. We have done study days there too and they also have great tosogu. 
 

The Tower of London has a handful of items in there but the vast majority of Japanese items were moved to the Leeds Armouries. Can’t remember about armours as have not been there for 15 years. 
 

in the South Easy you also have the Chiddingstone Castle museum which holds some decent swords and armours too. 

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Hi Paz,

Some options for visits a little nearer home for you. I think in all of these cases I would make enquiries to check what is actually on display before making a special journey.

 

These are listed in A Guide to Japanese Art Collections in the UK:

Scotland

The Royal Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh have a couple of swords and some sword fittings on display (though apparently lots more not on display).

There's a collection of tsuba at the McClean museum and art gallery in Greenock (apparently some swords and armour too but they don't feature on the web site).

North of England

Manchester - the Manchester Museum has a large collection of Japanese items including swords and fittings but is closed until later this year. The Manchester Art Gallery also has swords, tsuba (with many flavours of rust) and armour.

National museums Liverpool has a good collection of Japanese items including some good swords, sword fittings and 13 suits of armour.

The Oriental Museum at Durham University also has some swords and fittings on display.

The Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds (this is excellent for the Japanese items and well worth a visit generally).

 

I hope that helps a little.

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Thanks John and Co. At the moment south of England seems best for me to visit logistically.  The British museum does usually have a turn around of Japanese swords, but they only ever display one tachi or sword at a time in the Japan section. I'm thinking of albert Victoria,  the war museum did show ww2 swords. But I think Albert Victoria is the only place left in the south that I haven't visited. I made the mistake several years ago of missing out the sword museum in Tokyo, and went to the national museum instead. By gones are by gones.

 

Regards 

Paz

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G'day Paz,

I am not sure if you are only referring to Japanese swords and armour or arms and armour in general? The Wallace Collection in London is amazing!!! They only have a few Japanese examples on display, but their collection of European and Indo-Persian arms and armour is incredible.

Cheers,

Bryce

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I can second the The Wallace Collection in London, probably one of the finest collections of medieval European arms and armor anywhere in the world, plus the spectacular art collection upstairs.  

 

I was a bit disappointed with the The British Museum, I know they have a spectacular collection of Japanese arms and armor but most of it wasn't on display when I lived in the London.  Chinese porcelain on the other hand is a different story. Ditto the V&A. 

 

Unfortunately never got up to the The Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, but heard great things. 

 

Not in the London, but the Oriental Art Museum in Venice probably has the most comprehensive collection of Japanese arms and armor that I can remember seeing in Europe. 

 

For some reason most Western museum curators have an aversion to displaying these things, either because they have no idea what they are or they have lowly opinion of objets d'honneur chevalerie. Kodogu get a bit more play in the museum space, but the blades typically play second fiddle. For instance, I think recently the MET in New York even reduced the number of Nihonto on display, not that they ever had that many on display to begin with.  

 

Sincerely,

Austin R

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Not London I know, but a quick second vote of approval for the Leeds Royal Armouries. Many happy hours spent in there. Good Japanese section, and lots of other stuff to see too.

 

Perhaps it is time the British Museum had a dedicated display of their swords, say around 60 at a time in a year-long revolving exhibition.

 

Recently the Osafune Sword Museum has begun this excellent practice of illustrating what exactly can be seen in each blade. A standard printed card below it has a blade-shaped drawing, within which are added by the hand of the curator lines in green, red, blue, etc., illustrating striking or famous features in the ji or hamon, and just where on the blade to look in order to spot them. This helps visitors to get their eye in, and to confirm or cross-check both the vocabulary and the visible phenomena. :thumbs:

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Ok, ladies and gents, as someone living in London, I can definitely recommend both the BM and V&A collections.

In order to shed light on why these are not displayed extensively:

  • Firstly, space is at a premium vs the vast collections of both museums and that relates to not only Japanese collections but in general. You can imagine what happens when you have thousands of prints, screens, scrolls, porcelainware, swords, tea utensils plus a mock team room, etc competing with each other for the limited (Japan galleries) exhibition space.
  • Secondly, they need to ensure rotating displays to appeal to a broader audience. Sometimes (often) scrolls and prints are easier to understand and more appealing to the visitors. 3-5 swords plus one armour will tell the samurai story equally as well as 100 swords as far as the mass visitor is concerned. The museums need to ensure broad appeal rather than pander merely to us, nihonto enthusiasts
  • Thirdly, and probably most importantly, it is contingent upon the curator's or Japan/East Asia department director's own preferences and area of expertise to curate the items in his / her departments and galleries. Before the passing (and even retirement) of our long-term friend and honorary president Victor Harris, the BM used to display more Japanese swords and more often. In fact, I still hear stories how people informally visited the museum and viewed some of the collection in the past. Nowadays, it is a different story - however, the BM is still very friendly to us and open-minded when we request (now, formally) to view items from their collection. We did so in 2017 and 2020 (pre-Covid). For a taster of the 2020 BM collection and visit, refer to this link: BM Jan 2020 visit Some of the other events: Meeting reports | to-ken.uk
  • Similarly, the V&A Museum (Paz - please note that it is not Albert Victoria but Victoria and Albert - I suppose good old-fashioned chivalry of putting ladies first still prevailed when the museum was named; apologies if this is perceived as petty but to me accuracy is important) has wonderful items.  Greg Irvine has now retired as curator, even though he remains an honorary research fellow. What the direction of the next curator will be remains to be seen. The story is complicated by the move of many items to the new site of V&A in East London at the site of the former Olympics ( see link: V&A moves East ). Some of the collection will be split. In particular, the so-called 'reserve' collections (items not on display at the V&A Museum in South West London) are being shipped to the new storehouse in East London. The present store cannot be opened even by the V&A staff as specialist packers are moving everything in the course of 2022. And then probably in 2023 items will be rearranged and prepared for the 2024 opening. 

 

I echo what Piers mentions above about Leeds Armouries: a great place to visit in general for all types of weapons (I am not sure if any other museum beats it for medieval weaponry). Ian Bottomley has the best knowledge of it as a former curator there. We have had several wonderful visits there too: Leeds Armouries events.

 

In conclusion, a general visit to a museum, as a normal tourist will probably yield little satisfaction to the nihontophile and will probably only titillate one's curiosity and desires. However, as part of an organised event with the To-Ken Society or some other more formal organisation, will likely produce more gratifying results in terms of overall learning, but also experiencing and appreciating items which might not be on display. 

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I agree 100% with Michael except the reason Victoria is named first is nothing to do with chivalry, she was the reigning monarch and Albert her consort therefore she would always be named first (sorry now I am getting hung up on detail)

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Hahah, agree Paul - she was not only the reigning monarch but one of the greatest queens we have ever had... :). Of course, her consort would come second (which has been the case with Queen Elizabeth II too) in naming conventions etc

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Thanks Michael and Paul,  forgive me for the name swap for the VA. It's interesting that display can be influenced by who's in charge. Paul martin was once associated with the British museum aswell if I recall. 

 

I will give the VA a visit. London Bridge however did a fantastic display of medieval England and Europea  armour. 

 

It does strike me that less swords are on display at the BM. I remember seeing more people getting photos taken with the kamakura period nihinto than anywhere else when I last visited. I will visit both ad if anyone is interested,  the hokusai exhibition will end soon at the BM.

 

Regards

Paz

 

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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

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17 minutes ago, IanB said:

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

 

Ian,

 

I'd love to hear more of your thoughts and experience on museums, especially regarding their proper role and how different priorities are (or ought to be) weighted.

 

If you've ever discussed this in a book could you please point me towards it?

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34 minutes ago, mas4t0 said:

 

Ian,

 

I'd love to hear more of your thoughts and experience on museums, especially regarding their proper role and how different priorities are (or ought to be) weighted.

 

If you've ever discussed this in a book could you please point me towards it?

 

Mark, as John mentioned above, this text , despite being old, is quite insightful. It lacks inputs from Ian/ Leeds Armouries but many other UK museums with Japanese artefacts are included. Was very happy when unearthed it some 6-7 years ago as I was struggling to understand where the best collections in the UK were of Japanese swords. 

Now, some smaller or regional museums are missed out, eg Birmingham, Ashmolean and Pitt-Rivers in Oxford, Chiddingstone Castle, and of course Leeds Armouries is the glaring omission, but it provides you with insights as to what some of the largest UK museums own, what their approach is to displaying is (eg, now retired Tim Clark of BM said: "we are trying to get broad sections that will hopefully be quite easily intelligible to a general audience"), etc. 

JACUK_text.pdf

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14 minutes ago, Gakusee said:

 

Mark, as John mentioned above, this text , despite being old, is quite insightful. It lacks inputs from Ian/ Leeds Armouries but many other UK museums with Japanese artefacts are included. Was very happy when unearthed it some 6-7 years ago as I was struggling to understand where the best collections in the UK were of Japanese swords. 

Now, some smaller or regional museums are missed out, eg Birmingham, Ashmolean and Pitt-Rivers in Oxford, Chiddingstone Castle, and of course Leeds Armouries is the glaring omission, but it provides you with insights as to what some of the largest UK museums own, what their approach is to displaying is (eg, now retired Tim Clark of BM said: "we are trying to get broad sections that will hopefully be quite easily intelligible to a general audience"), etc. 

JACUK_text.pdf 402.91 kB · 0 downloads

 

Thank you Michael.

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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

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The RA at least has an on-line exhibition, right now it is Tudor related. Fitting in that it is English arms and armour, There are some great 3-D on-line exhibitions by museums and I think it is a great way to go. Artifacts can be archived in safety and studied from a distance better than behind glass. John

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1 hour ago, IanB said:

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

 

Thank you Ian, the information provided clarifies a number of things.

 

Regarding groups...

 

I have no proper background in the humanities, so would likely waste a lot of everyone's time asking things which would be expected pre-requisite knowledge; online it's easier for people to ignore me if I'm bothering them.

 

Books also feel much more efficient. I can get though several hundred pages per day, but I'd waste countless hours of someone's time to get the same understanding.

 

I also rarely have enough time on my hands to attend things. I have quite a bit of time at the moment, but that's unusual for me and won't last more than a few more months; I generally struggle to maintain decent attendance at any of the groups I am part of.

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Mark

Ian and I go a long way back in this subject. He was the person who persuaded me to join a token society in 1990. One thing I can promise is that in any group I have attended no question has been regarded as stupid and there is no pre-reqisite of knowledge required   if you can find the time I believe you would find it beneficial 

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Mark, 

I’d reiterate Paul’s sentiments: there’s so much breadth and depth in this subject that there is no pre-requisite knowledge. Everyone has something to contribute as no-one has the knowledge of the same detail. 

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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.

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This has turned indeed into a very interesting discussion. Thank you Ian for your input. 

 

With academic experience in the humanities (specifically Japan) I totally agree with what is being said. We are very lucky to have a plethora of books, Internet, and nowadays YouTube. However 30 years ago or so we relied English translated books, and many  authors had to put in alot of work and research with what little they had. 

 

I frequently visited the BM during my time at SOAS, which also has a good library with Japanese books. And what was on show regarding Japan was little in comparison to say China. 

And I say this with honesty, the first time I saw an actual nihonto,  I cringed at the high end  Chinese replicas that were in my collection. 

 

Kind regards 

 

 

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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.

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Quite right Ian. Japanese swords were not covered at all on masters level. It's more specialist, possibly PhD. But I don't know of any professor in the UK who has specialised in this field. 

 

 

Regards 

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On 1/25/2022 at 8:00 PM, paulb said:

Mark

Ian and I go a long way back in this subject. He was the person who persuaded me to join a token society in 1990. One thing I can promise is that in any group I have attended no question has been regarded as stupid and there is no pre-reqisite of knowledge required   if you can find the time I believe you would find it beneficial 

 

On 1/25/2022 at 8:09 PM, Shugyosha said:

Mark, 

I’d reiterate Paul’s sentiments: there’s so much breadth and depth in this subject that there is no pre-requisite knowledge. Everyone has something to contribute as no-one has the knowledge of the same detail. 

 

On 1/25/2022 at 9:24 PM, IanB said:

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.

 

Thank you all.

 

I'll join once I know I can somewhat consistently commit some time. That'll probably be a few more years, unless I drop something else.

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On 1/25/2022 at 4:03 PM, IanB said:

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.

  

When I was a Masters student in Asian studies at Leiden University, or Universiteit Leiden if you prefer the proper Dutch, I wanted to do my Master's thesis on the material culture of the Samurai, particularly around Nihonto.  Needless to say, the academic powers that be were not as enthused as I was with that research topic. Ended doing something more "publishable,"  to appease the thinly veiled academic snobbery.

 

Needless to say the entire experience put me off the academic track, despite having to suffer through another more "practical"  M.Sc in London to compliment my now redundant MA. For all aspiring student's of art, the only thing I can say is if you talk more about Heidegger, Foucault, and Baudrillard then the works themselves your A) On the wrong course, and B) Should run for the hills, no matter what the supposed subject is being taught. From friends who went to SOAS I wasn't under the impression the situation was drastically different/better there.   

 

However, I will caveat the above by saying that some PhD student did manage put on a spectacular exhibition of Armor at the SieboldHuis, so at least someone was more competent at navigating Das Schloss ('The Castle') than I was. 

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The excellent Leeds Royal Armouries and the Ashmolean in Oxford aside, to tell the truth, as a casual visitor, I was a little disappointed by the lack of viewable Japanese swords within London. They are there, dotted around, but not in any one place, and they lack detailed explanation. I think I saw two in the Tower, perhaps three in the BM and a couple at the V&A and a surrendered one in a case at the Honourable Artillery Company. The Wallace is really a great place to visit, but no necessarily for Japanese things.

 

Many thanks for the education behind this sad situation evident in the erudite posts above!

 

I have plenty of photos in my camera from where and when photography was permitted, but as a general comment I think we all deserve better.

 

(photos from the British Museum in 2015, for educational purposes

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BB753C5D-CD89-48AB-870B-27AD86842D38.thumb.jpeg.78b25a357a5b8167c75d73fd921d666f.jpeg

 

D0FEF954-769C-4DA3-918B-1CE808991E80.thumb.jpeg.8f702be4758d4d03d514eb59bbeb4219.jpeg

 

0FE62F03-651D-4C39-8D63-6A67EAC3E7B5.thumb.jpeg.887b7700ba37d57c4b6454809757e2ba.jpeg

 

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