|THE LAST 100 YEARS |
by Robert E. Haynes
As most of you are aware there has been an entreaty by Mr. Grey Doffin of the J.S.S. of U.S. concerning proposed publications to be undertaken by this body. A very admirable idea, long over due. When I thought about what suggestions I might make for these future publications I found not a profusion of possibilities, but that vast immutable mass of volumes produced, for the most part, over the last one hundred years. What could one choose from these books that would be worthy and valuable to all collectors, both seasoned and neophyte. I am sorry to say the list was short and not of the significance one would hope such proposed publications would aspire to. Why, then, when there are at least six hundred publications in Japanese alone, can we not find a few that should be published at all costs?
One has to go back two hundred years for this answer. When one looks at the lists of sword and fittings books published since 1700 the first thing you notice is that the listed books are all of a type. In the early period they tend to be about specific schools or artists, such as the Goto, Somin or (Yokoya) Soyo, or those works titled TOBAN this or that. They are "identification" works to try to teach how to recognize the works of a school or artist group. They are not historical, philosophical, or aesthetic in content but pedagogic in nature. This is because the origin of all study of swords and fittings is grounded in the KANTEI method of study. Thus the books are but extensions of this style of teaching. We have become so used to this method that we have never questioned its use as the BEST tool for the complete study of blades and fittings, but these pros and cons will have to wait for another paper. It is a shame that we have to thus dismiss the first hundred years of sword and fittings publications, but we must.
The books published in the second hundred years, say from 1800 to 1900, are, unfortunately, of little more use than those of the eighteenth century. For most of the early ones are, again, based on the KANTEI style of books that preceeded them. In fact, many of them are reprints of these early publications, with slight revisions. The areas covered by these publications expands during this hundred years, but the style and content is the same. It is also interesting to note that the total number of books listed for this hundred years is under fifty publications.
The hundred years from 1900 to the present would seem to be the area we should explore for those valuable texts to translate. It is a sad statement of fact that the most valuable work dealing with sword fittings published since 1900 was published in 1900. It is not a book but the journal of the Chuo Token Kai. Its title is Token Kai-Shi, published from 1899 to 1945. This sword club publication is so valuable for the student of sword fittings because in each issue there was an article written by Akiyama Kyusaku. This was the first person to write about sword fittings who was not rehashing past published material, and he did not rely on the KANTEI method of study. He used his EYE for study and wrote of what he saw and what he thought about what he saw. We are very fortunate that there exists a handwritten manuscript of these articles from 1900 to 1919. This translation is in the hand of Henri L. Joly. It covers some 275 pages and encompasses all the schools, major artists, early books, dealers, genealogies, contemporary authorities, as well as thoughts on blades, mountings, fashions, and a host of other subjects, including the infamous kantei. At present this information resides in the original manuscript and three or four copies. To add to this vast wealth of information we need a translation of the articles by Akiyama that were published in the Token Kai-Shi from 1919 (when Joly died) to 1936 (the year Akiyama died).
To say that all the important information we have about fittings was from this one source is a sad statement of fact, but I think that very few Western, and even most Eastern students, have not read AkiŽyama in the original. All they know of his ideas are as published, or translated from the works of others. We should have all of this knowledge from its origin, not by facsimile, and usually a poor interpretation at that.
|Return to Index to Articles - Go to Home Page - Email to Shibui Swords|