NIHONTO and TOSOUGU ORIGAMI
Very few westerners have the expertise to judge accurately whether a signature is authentic or not. To be reasonably certain as to the maker of a specific sword, it is necessary to submit the sword for shinsa (judging) by one of the Japanese sword study associations (NBTHK, NTK or NTHK). These organizations will judge the sword and issue appropriate certificate (origami) attesting to the swords authenticity and/or historical importance. It is extremely rare to find a false certificate, for obvious reason that just one such Origami forever ruins the reputation of the man or group who accomplished it and renders valueless all that he/they have written in the past and any that he/they may write in the future. To further confuse the issue, the Origami are written in Japanese (Kanji/Hiragana/Katakana) and are therefore un-readable by the owner. I being the owner of five different appraisal groups origami, have taken it upon myself to translate (to the best of my ability) each one.
The NBTHK and NTHK tend to stress different qualities in judging a sword. The NBTHK tends to judge rarity and historical importance as major factors whereas the NTHK judges condition of the sword as the primary factor. A sword to be submitted for shinsa should be in good to excellent polish; the higher the rating applied for, the better the polish must be. There are also various privately issued origami done by recognized Japanese scholars and individual sword authorities (NTK, Kotoken Kagihara, Fukunaga Suiken, Fujishiro). These can be beneficial in authenticating a sword, giving a different opinion of appraisal and issuing origami. The NBTHK, NTHK and NTK also issue origami for tsuba (sword guards), kodogu (fuchi-kashira or menuki) and koshirae (full mountings).
Dr. Fukunaga Suiken is an expert in sword appraisal and author of many works on Japanese swords, one being one of the most popular appraisal manuals in Japan. There is also his magnum opus the 'Nihonto Daihyakka Jiten' a five volume encyclopedia of the Japanese sword. Fukunaga Sensei was very active in many of the sword groups including the NTHK under Yoshikawa Kentaro Sensei as well as the NBTHK, he is known for his scholarship and his past contributions to their publications and Shinsa. He issued his own appraisals for a time along with some written directly on the plain scabbard; sayagaki. He has in recent years re-joined the NTHK as an emeritus advisor.
The example of a Fukunaga Suiken Kanteisho states the following information (reading from right to left) about a Kunishige blade:
Example of a Fukunaga Hakogaki Kanteisho:
Honami Koson was born in 1879 into a sword polishing family. His father was Kawaguchi Magotoro, whose name was formerly Sadakichi. Kawaguchi was retained as a sword polisher to the Matsudaira Family of the Maebashi clan. When Koson was 12 years old his family moved to Tokyo and when Koson reached the age of 19 years he apprenticed himself to Honami Ringa. He completed a 10 year apprenticeship under a very tough taskmaster, and then he became independent. When the Mito Honami master died, Honami Ringa used his influence to get Koson to be adopted into the Komi family and he became Honami Koson. . Koson believed that the exclusiveness of the Hon-ami family ‘secrets of kantei’ had hampered the development of the sword society. With a mind to disseminating information on the Japanese sword, he wrote and published a sword book titled NIHONTO in 1914. He wrote many sword books in his life, such as TOKEN KANTEI KOWA, NIHONTO TAIKAN, and NIHONTO NO OKITE TO TOKUCHO. Hon-ami Koson was the most famous and influential sword appraiser in the pre-war age. Albert Yamanaka studied under him and Nagayama Kokan was his most able apprentice.
Example of a Hon'ami Koson Sayagaki and Origami
Inami Hakusui started issuing origami in 1927. This occured after he and others had founded the Japanese Sword Research Society (or the Hakusui Association), the only organized group in Japan engaged in the study of Nippon-to and Nippon-to makers. Hakusui realized that the strong belief in the reliability of certificates of appraisal for swords meant that a piece is absolutely genuine, or is whatever it is claimed to be.
The example of a Hakusui Association origami states the following information (reading from right to left) about the Sukesada blade: (This origami is still under study)
JAPANESE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
The following ratings can only be granted by the Japanese Ministry of Education. These ratings are seen only on items of great artistic, cultural and historical value. Swords with these ratings are not found outside of Japan.
JUYO BIJUTSUHIN - "Important Art Object"
Nihon Bijutsuhin Shinsakai
Kantei Club members are all board members of the Business Cooperative Association of Japanese Swords. Mr. Shibata Mitsuo is an appraiser of great distinction for swords and sword guards (see his kanteisho listed by name below).
According to the certificate, this tsuba was made by the founder Katsurano Sekibun, well-known as a master tsuba craftsman. Shown are the seals of appraisers such as Mr. Shibata Mitsuo, Arase Eiichi, Saito Mitsuki, Matsushima Toshio, Shibata Kazuo and Asakura Banko.
READING KOTOKEN KAJIHARA ORIGAMI
The Kotoken Kajihara origami for sword blades all have the same basic
column pattern (see the example below) with Appraisal Report (in English) below.
The example of a Kotoken Kagihara origami states the following information (reading from right to left) about the Masatoshi blade:
NIHON BIJUTSU TOKEN HOZON KAI
The NBTHK (Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kai) has been issuing origami since the 1950's. They operate the Japanese Sword Museum in Tokyo. The NBTHK shinsa are held only in Japan. The nature and names of their origami have changed over time. The NBTHK issued the following types of origami starting in the 1950's.
KICHO (white papers) - "Important Work"
This ranking scale was changed in the 1980's. The current system of origami includes the following types of origami.
HOZON - "Worthy of
To be awarded Juyo papers a sword normally has first received one or both of the lower grade origami .
|Kicho (white paper)|
Awase Sanmei tsuba
Tokubetsu Kicho (green paper)
Bushu school tsuba
READING NBTHK ORIGAMI
The current NBTHK origami for sword blades all have the same basic
seven column pattern (see the example below).
Reading the columns from right to left, the following information is given:
column one is "Kanteisho" (certificate of authenticity)
column two is the length of the blade (x shaku, x sun, x bu)
column three will start "ichi" then read either katana mei, wakizashi mei, tanto mei or mu mei depending on the blade.
This is followed by the signature on the nakago or an attribution to the school and/or smith if the blade is mumei (unsigned)
(attributions are commonly in parenthesis)
columns four and five will read -"This sword has been judged at the NBTHK to be Hozon"
(or Tokubetsu Hozon, Juyo Token or Tokubetsu Juyo depending on the level of origami)
column six is the date of the shinsa
column seven is the NBTHK name and seal
A photograph or oshigata of the nakago is attached at the far left of the origami.
The example of a NBTHK Hozon origami shown states the following information (reading from right to left) about the Shimada Den blade:
column 1: Kantei Sho
NIHON TOSOUGU BIJUTSUKAN
The NTB (Nihon Tosogu Bijutsukan) was an organization dealing primarily with sword fittings (tosogu or kodogu) - tsuba, fuchi/kashira, menuki, and full koshirae. The NTB operated a museum, now closed, in Tokyo dedicated to the study and preservation of sword fittings. They also, issued origami for swords. Even though the NTB is no longer functioning, its origami are still held in high esteem.
The NTB rating system was:
Bunka Shiryoo - "Cultural Item"
READING NTB ORIGAMI
The example of a NTB origami states the following information (reading from right to left) about the Heianjo Zogan tsuba:
NIHON TOKEN HOZON KAI
The NTHK (Nihon Token Hozon Kai) also issues origami which are held in high esteem. NTHK shinsa are occasionally held in the U.S. in conjunction with a special sword event. The NTHK sword rating system includes:
SHINTEISHO - "Genuine
READING NTHK ORIGAMI
The origami issued by the Nihon Token Hozon Kai all follow a basic pattern. The example below shows a typical NTHK origami and the type of information given in each section (reading from right to left) about the Fujiwara Sadayuki blade.
NIHON TOSOUGU KENKYUKAI - JUHO TOKEN KENKYUKAI
The NTK (Nihon Tosougu Kenkyukai) appraiser is Makio Saruta dealing primarily with sword fittings (tosogu or kodogu) - tsuba, fuchi/kashira, menuki and full koshirae. He is known for his book 'TOSOGU no BI, Fine Japanese Sword Fittings: MENUKI (1994). The NTK is located at Musashiya Co. in Osaka, Japan.
READING NTK ORIGAMI
The current NTK origami for tosougu all have the same basic
column pattern (see the example below).
Reading the columns from right to left, the following information is given about the Kinai tsuba by 2nd family head:
The JTK (Juho Token Kenkyukai) appraiser is Kobayashi Yukinobu who deals only with swords. He is a known 'polisher'. The JTK is located at Musashiya Co. in Osaka, Japan.
READING JTK ORIGAMI
The current JTK origami for blades all have the same basic
column pattern (see the example below).
The following information is given about the Wakizashi: Mumei; attributed to Yamato Daijo Sukesada
Kanzan (Kan'ichi) Sato was born in Yamagata Prefecture in 1907 and until his death in 1978 was regarded as one of Japan's foremost experts on the Japanese sword. A graduate of Kokugakuin University, he worked in the section for National Treasures, Ministry of Education, and Tokyo National Museum. He was executive Director of the Society for the Preservation of Japanese Art Swords and Vice-Director of the Sword Museum.
His many publications include works on Kotetsu and Higo metalworking. See his Hakogaki below.
Born in August, 1923, in Tochigi prefecture. Obtained a job at Fujishiro Sword Shop in 1939, then studied the Japanese sword under Fujishiro Yoshio. A prominent sword dealer who has dealt in many Kokuho (National Treasures), Juyo Bunka Zai (Important Cultural Assets), Juyo Bijutsu Hin (Important Art Objects) and fine swords. Wrote sword books for beginners to promote the understanding of Japanese swords among the general public. Has held various posts including being a member of the board of trustees of the NBTHK, judge of Toroku Shinsa (sword registration), sword assessor for the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the National Tax Administration Agency, Tokyo Branch, and the first chairman of the All Japan Sword Dealer Union.
He is regarded as one of the best appraisers of Shinto and Shinshinto today. His publications include Nihonto Nyumon ("An Introduction to Japanese Swords"), Shumi no Nihonto ("Japanese Swords for Enthusiasts"), Tsuba Nyumon ("An Introduction to Japanese Swordguards"), Toso Nyumon ("An Introduction to Japanese Sword Mounts"), and Nihon no Meito ("Japanese Sword Masterpieces").
This organization was founded and operated by Murakami Kosuke sensei, a student of Hon'ami Kozon, and once a member of the NBTHK Juyo Shinsa. The organization issued several levels of papers which are quite highly regarded. When Murakami sensei passed away some years ago the group disbanded.
FUJISHIRO SWORDSMITH RATINGS
The Fujishiro family began working as polishers in the early twentieth century, the founding member
being Fujishiro Fukutaro. Fukutaro had three sons, Yoshio, Takeo, and Matsuo, all of whom were involved with
sword polishing and appraisal.
While not origami, the Fujishiro system of rating swordsmiths is widely used by collectors and students of Nihonto. It is based on the two volume set, Nihon Toko Jiten, by Yoshio and Matsuo Fujishiro. Fujishiro rated smiths of the Koto, Shinto and Shinshinto eras. This rating system applies to swordsmiths, unlike the NBTHK and NTHK origami which are awarded to a specific sword blade. In the Fujishiro rating system, the swordsmiths are rated:
Chu Saku - "Average