|The N-B-T-H-K A Short History |
by Robert Haynes
The Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (N.B.T.H.K.), The Japanese Art Sword Preservation Society, has a history of just fifty to fifty-five years. During the United States occupation of Japan after World War II, General Mac Arthur was urged by many to destroy all the available Japanese swords that were extant in Japan. Not wanting to deal with this matter directly, he turned this problem over to Colonel Cadwell, who then needed the advice of a sword "expert" in Japan. This expert turned out to be Dr. Homma. After much consultation, and discussion with others, it was decided to try and save the swords of Japan, and to regard them as art objects, and not as weapons per se. Now Dr. Homma had the blessing of the authority of the occupation. At this time Dr. Homma enlisted the help of his student, Dr. Sato. These two created the N.B.T.H.K., at this time to give authenticity to the project of saving the swords in Japan. Naturally they had no control over the many thousands of swords gathered in various warehouses, except to try and go through them and pull out the better blades they found, but this proved such a huge task that only a small percentage of the best blades were recovered. That is why there were as many fine blades, and fittings, to be seen in the United States, mostly brought to the States by military personnel, from Japan after 1945. Dr. Homma felt that the only way he could get full control of the blades in Japan was to give his society as much legitimacy as possible. Dr. Homma and Dr. Sato found office space in the basement of the National Museum at Ueno Park, and there they setup business. Since they were the only ones who had the full authority of Mac Arthur and Cadwell, no other societies were formed at that time. The greatest problem for Dr. Homma and Dr. Sato was that they had no money to run such a society, and the occupation forces gave them only enough to survive. Dr. Homma then thought of the idea of "registering" all the blades he came across, for a fee, and then his society would have some funds. The occupation authority thought this was a great idea, never knowing that they would never get their hands on the records of the registered blades, that the N.B.T.H.K. would practically control the whereabouts of almost all blades in Japan, and later all those registered blades, OUTSIDE of Japan. It was not very long before these registration fees began to add up, slowly making the N.B.T.H.K., very powerful indeed!
After the end of the occupation of Japan, there were restraints or restrictions on the powers of the N.B.T.H.K. Homma decided that there should be "chapters" of the society in any area that wished to form one, such as Takamatsu, Okayama, and Kumamoto. Next an annual tour of all these chapters was commenced, with the object of registering all the blades that could be found. Naturally most of these blades belonged to the dealers who were now back in business after the war. Old time private collectors did not want their collections seen, or registered, by the N.B.T.H.K., and most of them have not been to this day. These various "chapters" of the N.B.T.H.K., who had hosted Dr. Homma, and Sato, and the Tokyo contingent, as they toured the country, felt that they should get a larger cut of the money raised from the certificates issued for the blades viewed in their districts, Tokyo naturally felt that most of the money should be theirs. The upshot of this dispute was the eventual dissolution of the "chapters" and all the power, and money returning to the Tokyo headquarters. Now, I am sorry to say, we must tackle the problem of "certificates", and all manner of other types of "paper". The dealers and private collectors who were paying the fees that were being collected by the "chapters", and the Tokyo group, had to have something for their money, and that turned out to be the various colored papers that we have seen everywhere for the last fifty years. These papers were designed to be "insurance policies" for the owner in case he wished to sell the blade, most often to the dealer from whom he had bought it. As we well know the information on these papers is very scant; just enough to identify the piece. They were never intended to tell you more than this.
In these early days of the society, there were "white papers", "green papers" etc. This was very clever, indeed. You first paid for a "white paper", but you really wanted a "green paper" so you paid a second fee to upgrade your piece, and the N.B.T.H.K. got richer and richer. A good friend of mine in 1960, Masahiro Ide, a fourth generation sword dealer of impeccable reputation, who lived in Okayama, explained how this all worked. When he sold a blade to a new collector he told the person that a "paper" would come with the blade. As the N.B.T.H.K. toured the country, Masahiro submitted his blade until it got a white paper, then he resubmitted it until it got a green paper, often because they were so tired of seeing the blade, they did not want to look at it again. At that time he could then throw the white paper away. This green paper went to the new buyer of the blade and everyone was happy, mostly the N.B.T.H.K., for all the fees it had collected in this process, which was the same for most dealers. The N.B.T.H.K. no longer tours the county in this fashion. They do not need to, for now all collectors and dealers come to them, they no longer have to go to the country to write papers to earn fees. In fact by 1970 they had become so successful, and powerful, that these "papers" gave "value" to a blade. At that time the Yakusa was back in full swing and had made loans to some individuals who had put up blades as collateral for their loan. The Yakusa had no idea if these blades did equal the value of the loan, so it is alleged, they went to the N.B.T.H.K. to find out. Even the N.B.T.H.K. was not powerful enough to stand up to the Yakusa, so they issued "papers" that said the blades were genuine, even if the signature was fake, and thus the Yakusa could get their money out of the blade, if it were not redeemed. One still sees some of these "fake" papers floating around. This problem became so bad that the N.B.T.H.K. had to change the color of its papers so dealers and collectors would know that these new "certificates" were genuine.
As the years passed the N.B.T.H.K. had enough money to build at their present location and to form a very fine collection of blades and fittings of their own. When the Western collectors became fully interested in forming clubs and societies, they wanted to know if the blades they owned where genuine and had value. John Yumoto was able to have Dr. Homma, Dr. Sato, and others, come to the West and view the blades and fittings of the Western collectors. For a fee they issued "papers" for the pieces they thought were the best examples they saw. The Western collectors paid for these trips, in full, and for the papers as well. What the foreign collectors did not know was the reason the N.B.T.H.K., and others, came to the West in the first place. By seeing these many blades and fittings, and registering the best of them, they knew exactly where all the finest pieces were outside of Japan. It did not take long for others to come to the West and try to buy these best pieces. In fact it was not too many years before many of the blades they wanted "restored" to Japan were back "home". This all went on for many years and in some ways even extended to some great museums and institutions that had some pieces returned to Japan. Some Western collectors did give some blades of high value back to Japan, through the N.B.T.H.K. in most cases. The Yakusa were not the only ones who received "special" favors from the N.B.T.H.K. The Western collectors who were important enough to be "recognized" as superior, had papers written for them that were far more favorable to the pieces than if the same piece had belonged to a Japanese collector. At that time they needed powerful foreigners and did not expect that any of the boxes or papers they gave for pieces outside of Japan, would ever be seen inside of Japan again. A good case in point were some of the papers written for Dr. Compton. So one should be very careful of all papers, for the reason the paper was written may be as important as the piece itself.
During the years of Dr. Homma and Dr. Sato, the N.B.T.H.K, did publish a number of fine books on swords and fittings, many of which we use to this day. After the administration period of Dr. Homma and Dr. Sato, the N.B.T.H.K. had a number of other officers who took their places. Today the chairman of the N.B.T.H.K. is Mr. Yamanaka Sadanori, and the managing director is Mr. Suzuki Kajo, I have never met either of these gentlemen. The only person from the "early" days that I know very well is the scholar and expert Michihiro Tanobe, who unfortunately I have not seen in many years. Not all the great experts of the past remained members of the N.B.T.H.K. Both Wakayama and Sasano left the ranks of the N.B.T.H.K., and never returned. Dr. Torigoye, as early as 1959-60, was asked to be the fittings expert of the N.B.T.H.K., but they told him that "their" expert could not live in a provincial place like Okayama, and that he would have to move to Tokyo to be their expert. He politely declined, and never was a member of the N.B.T.H.K., or any other group or society in his many years as a teacher. Because the old collectors had very little to do with the N.B.T.H.K., and did not want the pieces in their collections seen or registered by the N.B.T.H.K., the primary relationship of the N.B.T.H.K. was with the many sword dealers, and new young collectors who formed their collections after the war. This same relationship was formed with the Western collectors and dealers. Today whose who use the services of the N.B.T.H.K, do so with the idea that the pieces that receive "papers" are of superior importance in the collecting world. This "legitimacy" has come to color all the collecting and study of the blades and fittings, both inside and outside of Japan. The value of any sword or fitting should be determined by the owner of that piece when he has given it full and sufficient study, based on his own research and consultation. If we are speaking of value as "money", then any "papers" will do for any piece, so that the price will be maintained or increased, but that has nothing to do with study and research. In the last twenty years the N.B.T.H.K. has seen its power and influence control almost all of the Japanese sword world, both commercially and intellectually. In my opinion, Dr. Homma and Colonel Cadwell, would be surprised, shocked, saddened, and appalled, at what has become of their dream of fifty years ago.
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