|THE CONSCIENCE OF THE COLLECTOR |
by Robert Haynes
For the last forty-five years, without a conscious thought, it seems I have been the conscience for the community of Japanese sword fittings students; individually and collectively. My contrition is only subordinate to my conscience, for which I really need not apologize. The students seem to have understood this over these many years. Though I am not sure what heed they have paid to my admonitions. Probably more than they have paid to the source of the injunctions of my conscience. For today the student seems to have lost both his conscience, and never known its source. Let us see what we can do about that. In the many papers that I have written that ponder this problem, I seem to return most often to the need for rational, empirical, questioning of each thought, theory, and stated fact, that we have so heedlessly absorbed during our many years of study of the fittings for the Japanese sword. Today it would seem that the student wants to return to their womb of those who control the various groups, clubs, and societies in Japan. I can understand this need, but I do not sanction it, for the student is taught by these various groups to NEVER question what they are told, and to never make waves. I have spent fifty years making waves, and have paid a high price for it, but I would not have it any other way. Forty years ago the student of that day could question his sensei, AND receive an answer to his question that might go against established authority. As Dr. Torigoye and Sasano Sensei both told me: you can question the past and the “experts” of the present, but you can not put in print those thoughts and theories that go against past sensei, or present authority. Something that I have done many times over the last fifty years. In the earliest days of the formal study of sword fittings, that was originated by Akiyama Kyusaku, one could question any and all thoughts, and freely oppose ideas, for this as the birth of the study of sword fittings, and Akiyama approached his study of the fittings from a rational, empirical point of view. Only the students who followed the lead of Akiyama were to carry on this tradition. Something that has been completely forsaken today by whom are thought of as the experts of the moment. Naturally, the student wants his information with assurances of its veracity, but today that veracity is very much in question. Mainly because the voracity of the student is feed from a moribund source of information that has not advanced, but a small step, during our lifetime. Even Dr. Homma, and Dr. Sato, in giving us much additional information during the last fifty years, reworked past sources of information from the books of the Meiji period, rather than breaking new ground that might have added to the fifty years of knowledge printed before 1950.
The student of today is probably not aware that his studies are but a reflection of the early authorities who were truly the originators of almost all of the source information we use today. That is not to say that there have not been those who wished to contribute to the knowledge of the past, but that is not an easy thing to do in Japan, and the Western student is ignored in all areas that pertain to these studies. He is considered totally incapable of any useful contribution. In fact the Western student is tolerated today, but given their druthers, those in authority would be just as pleased if the Westerner would disappear. All of this is very carefully masked and what we see is the experts dispensing knowledge that is, in fact, mostly to their benefit, both financially and materially. You do not find the “experts” in Japan coming to the West to give lectures or exhibits that would advance the knowledge of the student, and give him an equal footing to that of the student in Japan. A good part of the reason for this is that the Western student is primarily thought of as a merchant and not as a student. All the large group meetings held in the West, for the collectors of swords and fittings, are not of an intellectual nature but almost purely of a material dealer-merchant nature; this has been so for over forty years.
The only purely aesthetic event to date, was the exhibit in Los Angeles from February 19th through March 22nd, 1964, at the Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Park, put together by the Southern California To-ken Kai, and the Municipal Art Patrons of Los Angeles. The 68 page catalog of highlights from this exhibit is titled: ARMS AND ARMOR OF ANCIENT JAPAN, An Historical Survey. It is very sad to say that there has never been another such exhibit held outside of Japan that was as comprehensive, or as important. It is also interesting to note that the only visitor to the exhibit from Japan, was the Consul General of Japan, in Los Angeles. The only other exhibit held in America, after Los Angeles, was: NIPPON-TO ART SWORDS OF JAPAN, The Walter A. Compton Collection, held at Japan House Gallery, Japan Society, Inc. in New York City, 1976. A very well produced catalog accompanied this exhibit. The first exhibition Solingen, Germany, was held in 1984, which was titled: FIRST EUROPEAN SYMPOSIUM ON THE ARTS OF THE SAMURAI GERMAN SWORD MUSEUM, SOLINGEN, two catalogs were produced, one on fittings: 100 SELECTED TSUBA FROM EUROPEAN PUBLIC COLLECTIONS. The volume on blades was titled: ERTES EUROPAISCHES SYMPOSIUM DIE KUNST DER SAMURAI, DEUTSCHES KLINGENMUSEUM, SOLINGEN, and has rubbings of 28 blades.
A second symposium was held at Solingen, this past year. Both the German exhibits were attended by museum, and N.B.T.H.K. members from Japan, but primarily as observers, and not lecturers. All very commendable, and such exhibits should be repeated on an annual basis, somewhere in the Western world, but four exhibits in forty years is not to be commended. Why have there been so few exhibits in the West that are devoted to the purely aesthetic and scholarly aspects of the Japanese sword and its fittings? One reason is the very long preparation time to mount such exhibits and the slave labor needed to produce any exhibit. The Los Angeles exhibit took about six to eight years to mount. Those members of the Southern California To-ken Kai, who had the time and devotion to that exhibit, spent the full time working on the exhibit, by the last two years all the members of the club, and many of the wives, mothers, friends, and even acquaintances, were working full time on the exhibit. That is the nature of any major exhibit. Great museums devote at least ten years to the preparation of a major exhibit. But there is something else that has changed in the West.
Today much of the emphasis is on the commercial aspects of the sword and its fittings, and the internet only expands all areas of “pure” buying and selling. I am afraid that this can now never be reversed. It has gone on too long and there are now too many in this field who have never had any interest in this field that is not business oriented. In the old days that was the purview of the international auction houses, and the reason this has come about is the nature today of the J.S.S. of U.S. It was originally formed to bring the polisher Nakajima to the U. S. When those days were over, rather than being the major force in the field of swords and fittings, it devoted itself to printing an annual bulletin, which later became a quarterly “newsletter”. What did not happen, was the J.S.S. becoming the major organization in the field of Japanese swords and fittings. It should have let the various regional clubs be business oriented, and it should have had an annual meeting in a different city, both here, and in other countries of the world. The general meeting could have been devoted to lectures, and inviting those from Japan who could come, not as buyers, but as experts in their field, so all students could benefit. COULD THIS STILL HAPPEN? Well, I guess that is only the dream of those who care. What have I been doing to promote these very things I am making so much noise about, you may very well ask? Well, I did much of my contribution forty years ago, and again twenty years ago, and through Butterfield’s, Sothebys, Christie’s and my own auction catalogs. I tried to combine the commercial with the advancement of our studies, and I succeeded to a good extent. Now I seem to have the role of senior nag, and I am going to play it for all it is worth. Perhaps that might be my greatest contribution yet, to the field of Japanese swords and fittings.
We shall see!
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