|MYTHISTORY: A Collage of Cliches |
by Robert E. Haynes (Feb. 1997)
Funk & Wagnalls 1941 edition; defines mythistory as: a pastiche of history in which fact and fable are intermixed. Unfortunately there is not an equivalent word in the Japanese language. There should be. This year, I will have spent the last fifty years in the study of mythistory. To devote that much time to volumes of cliches, fallacies, inscrutable sophistry, and humbug, takes a devotion that defies rational reasoning. But, it would seem, I am just the one to do it. Today I am amazed at how slow and subtle the process of my indoctrination has been. From 1947 to about 1957, the first ten years of my collecting, I was my own agent. What I learned I found out by myself, for myself. There was no one else to turn to, as I did not know another collector, or have contact with the "experts". What I did learn was from the books I was able to find in those days. They taught me two things. I could learn something from the illustrations, and second that the text, if it were in Japanese, told me no more than what I already saw. If the text were in English, was what I was reading the "truth"! These were happy days, for in my ignorance I knew at least what I liked, from what I saw. That is why I was more interested in the iron plate tsuba than in the fancy soft metal examples. This seemed to be instinctive, for in those days, the price of each was not so great, that I could not collect kinko tsuba. In these ten years I easily amassed some four to five hundred tsuba. Which I loved dearly. I was spending more for each book, in most cases, than I was for each tsuba, but I was sure that the pearls of wisdom in the books was more valuable than any tsuba. I was wrong! Thank heaven I did not know this, for if I had, I think I would have stopped collecting in 1958.
Blithe in my ignorance, both of my budding study, and what I know today, I went gleefully on, until one day, I was to learn what I did not know. This happened, the first time, when I met John Yumoto, about 1958. John was studying some of the tsuba in my collection, and I was watching him. I could not figure out what it was he was seeing. It took him much time to examine each piece. What did he see? When I asked him this question, he told me of the many intricacies and subtleties of an iron plate tsuba. My youthful ignorance and joyful self-reliance were obliterated in this one meeting. I would now have to learn " by the rules". Thank heaven it was John Yumoto who opened this world of matriculation. By 1960 he asked me if I wanted to go any further with my studies. When I said I did, he made the arrangements for me to study with Dr. Torigoye. Under the scholarship of Dr. T., I would truly have to learn, by the rules. My year of study was confined primarily to the identification and history of the tsuba, with a strong emphasis on the aesthetics of the subject. This was my grounding in the "available knowledge". Unfortunately, that was the extent of my knowledge. If I had learned enough to ask the proper questions, at that time, I would not now have such a vast number of unanswered questions. So, by 1962 I had a thorough indoctrination into the study of tsuba, based on the knowledge, first introduced by Akiyama Kyusaku, about 35 years before I studied with Dr. Torigoye. When I look back now, what is very sad, is the fact that I was sure that I "knew something" about the study of tsuba. What a laugh! I knew only, what I was supposed to know, the available knowledge. In my profound enlightenment at that time, I transferred all the available knowledge I had learned, from Japanese into English. My good friend and devoted Boswell, Alan Harvie, has almost finished transcribing what I learned from Dr. Torigoye. Which has been printed in the Newsletter of the Northern California Japanese Sword Club. At least now others can learn what I was taught 37 years ago. The contents of which, are in fact, almost one hundred years old. Those who now read my annotations of the articles by Akiyama, from the TOKEN KAI-SHI, will see that the information from these articles is the foundation of the writings of Dr. Torigoye. What better teacher, and source, could he have had? Naturally when Akiyama was the sole repository, of the then available knowledge, his students did not realize for many years that there was a great deal more to learn. Akiyama knew this! All you have to do is read his words to see that he was still learning his subject until the day he died. With Dr. T. I had some of this feeling, but he was much more sure of himself, than was Akiyama. This was true of all the students of Akiyama. The most notable being Kawaguchi and Morishiro. This was to be the case with the study of sword fittings from the time that Akiyama died in 1936, until Dr. Torigoye was to add his own ideas, to the teachings of Akiyama in 1959-60. The only person who has added anything to Akiyama since Dr. Torigoye is Sasano. His life was all too short to finish the wonderful work he started. It is interesting to note, that today, both Dr. Torigoye, and Masayuki Sasano are still thought of as heretics for their ideas, beliefs, and writings. Thank god I can count myself in their company! This naturally brings up the matter at hand. How do you learn more than the available knowledge? I have been trying to figure this out for the 35 years since I finished my studies with Dr. T. I almost had some advancement in this area in the nineteen eighties. I began to study with John Yumoto, after a twenty year absence, and I was at least able to ask him, and receive from him, answers to many of my questions. But, as he told me, we felt more like we should both start all over again, rather than try to find answers to questions that did not go to the source and heart of the study of sword fittings. Now he is gone, and as far as I can tell, there is no one in Japan, or in the West, who might advance my studies, or those of anyone else. Of late we have had several translations of whole books, and various articles, that are said to be the key to the studies, for the beginning student. That old, "back to the basics" idea. It is more like starting at square one again, when the information that has been translated so laboriously, is already available in English, and several other languages. All one has to do is find it, learn it, and move on to studies that are not pure available knowledge.
This brings us back to those questions I have nagging my little gray cells to be answered. How does one get the answers to the questions that might advance the study of sword fittings? I had always hoped that I might do it through the give and take of a fellow student. This, it would seem, is not to take place. Those who might be the willing participants in such a process have gone on to other things, and do not feel that the further study of sword fittings will benefit themselves, or anyone else. The study and communication that I speak of above is difficult around the world, as it must be today, but even so, there could be more give and take, with strong emphasis, on the give, than we find at this time. A true communication of ideas, whether one finds concrete answers, or not, is what should be happening between all students, worldwide. I find myself very much alone in this process. I wish this were not the case, but no one seems to be willing to come forward and join in what must not be a solitary process, that only one person seems to be interested in. I am sorry to say this seems to be the case in japan as well as in the West. The books that have been printed in the last few years are but pale shadows of those that were being turned out in past years. Occasionally there will be a nugget of information that does add to the available knowledge, but this is as much by chance, as by design. I have been accused of not adding to the available knowledge myself. Why haven't you finished your list of artist's names, Haynes? The answer is to be found in the reception I am sure it will receive. For this I plead sloth, indolence, and cowardliness. When I do finally finish it, I am sure that it will be received with the ennui it probably will deserve. In Japan, I am sure, I will be asked why I even bothered to do such a work. To this I only have the answer, that once started, it seemed like a good idea. But only mad dogs and Englishmen, start projects that take over 40 years to complete. Thank God, that today I am at an age where the bravado and sureness of youth is long gone, and old age will solve most of the problems that I seem to be so concerned with above. What does still concern me, is the fact that the next generation of students will have to start where I started fifty years ago, perhaps they will add something in fifty years.
If you have gotten this far you must be wondering when I would get to the title of this paper. Right now, since you ask. The title refers to the history of the study of sword fittings, in Japan. To all intents and purposes the study of sword fittings began with Akiyama Kyusaku. What has happened to that study, since it was first proposed, is the core of the title of this paper. A living, breathing, growing, study has been metamorphosed by accretion, into the inert prophetic ideology, that now, has no relationship to the words or writings of Akiyama. The works of this ever growing scholar are now conglaciated to the point where they can never be thawed to the heated thoughts, theories, and living knowledge they once were. Just because tradition decrees that all study of the works of the master must be treated with reverence, does not mean parroting his words will keep his thoughts alive. Do not enter Akiyama's study, nurture it, so it will live anew for all students of the future.
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