The title above formed part of a sayagaki on a sword I bought many years ago. Needless to say the use of this title did not fill me with great confidence as to the authenticity of either the attribution or contents of the shirasaya. However, while sitting in an office in the far north on a very frosty morning to start something new, it feels somehow appropriate.
The objective of this blog is to try and stimulate thinking and ideas and to offer some pointers relating to the up and coming Samurai Art Expo event. Time is precious and the opportunities to take part in such shows as this, particularly in Europe, are few and far between. It is important that visitors gain the maximum benefit they can from the experience.
I want to start with a brief discussion on fittings. For more than 30 years I have been a serious sword collector and student. I confess that my passion for swords has failed to generate equal enthusiasm for tsuba or small fittings and I often ask myself why.
With swords, collectors and students alike are very fortunate, even sitting in isolation as I am, with a few clicks of a mouse it is possible to view exceptional examples of a swordsmith's craft online. Many of these examples appear on commercial websites where Juyo and Tokubetsu Juyo blades appear regularly and in many cases are beautifully photographed and displayed. I often click on to examples that set my pulse racing and stimulate me to research a particular school or smith. Fittings offer a different story. I can trawl through hundreds of examples on websites without seeing a single piece that excites me. I therefore decided I am not a fittings person!
BUT….. On rare occasions I have visited collectors and been fortunate enough to see some superb fittings. Looking at and holding a fine iron sukashi tsuba or beautifully crafted soft metal work created exactly the same excitement as seeing good quality swords. I left those meetings fired with fitting enthusiasm, trawled all the websites I knew and….. nothing, back to “I am not a fittings person”.
I believe the reality is that you rarely see really good quality fittings for sale on websites either in Japan or anywhere else. That doesn’t mean what is available is bad, far from it, but it does mean we are deprived of seeing the beautiful colours and textures achieved by top craftsmen in the best examples of their work. Why this is I don’t know, but for some reason you do not see top quality work on general sale. I also believe the quality of what is being sold is lower than in the past. A review of old auction catalogues confirms this, I think.
At Samurai Art Expo, alongside the commercial stalls, the NBTHK EU and Token Society of GB will have an exhibition, which will include some of the finest tsuba and other fittings from within private collections. I have been lucky enough to see some of these pieces in person and they are stunningly beautiful.
This exhibition and the lectures on the subject running throughout the day will offer visitors an unequalled opportunity to look closely at the best of the craft. Hopefully, it will help guide future study and purchases and enhance the enjoyment of studying this field of art.
by Paul Bowman