As we enter the final week before Samurai Art Expo this will be the final Blog entry before setting out to the event.
The pieces to be displayed in the exhibition have largely been confirmed. As result of the generosity of fellow collectors from within the European collecting community there will be an exceptional display of swords, fittings and tsuba. Please do take the opportunity to spend some time viewing the exhibits. As has been said often before in various posts, to have so many fine examples of the craft together in one place in Europe is extremely rare and we need to take full advantage of the occasion.
While thinking of how to conclude this series of blog articles I realised that one thing that hadn’t been touched on is why do people concentrate so much time, effort and money on collecting what is at the end of the day a weapon? This question is particularly valid for non Japanese collectors for whom the challenges posed are far greater.
Japanese swords and fittings can be expensive. Normally the only way a student can see a lot of top quality blades “in the flesh” is by visiting Japan. The majority of information written about them is in Japanese, using terminology that confuses modern Japanese readers as much as it does the western student. You can spend a lifetime studying the subject and still know only a little. So what is the attraction?
Ian Bottomley said in the Royal Armouries video “bamboo and steel” - “The Japanese sword is the finest cutting weapon ever made”. George Cameron Stone in his definitive work “A glossary of the construction, decoration and use of Arms and Armour” describes the Japanese sword as the nearest thing to perfection ever made by human hand.
In fitness for purpose no other weapon has reached the level of perfection achieved by the greatest sword smiths of Japan. In realising that purpose the Japanese sword blade was imbued with a number of unique characteristics which made it not only an efficient cutting tool but a work of great aesthetic beauty. Although there are great differences in shape and construction of swords made by different schools and in different periods they have in common features which make them unmistakably Japanese.
Alongside the technical excellence of construction the Japanese Sword has a spiritual association which takes it beyond being an efficient or even beautiful weapon. Tokugawa Ieyasu famously called the sword “The soul of the Samurai”. Not only his most prized possession or badge of office the sword was a symbol of his honour, integrity and courage, it was the embodiment of his nobility.
It is perhaps this combination of the technical perfection and spiritual representation, whilst not unique to them, has been taken to a much higher level of appreciation by the Japanese. The study of the subject is challenging, intriguing and at the same time extremely fulfilling. It encompasses such a breadth of information historical, technical, theological and artistic that one cannot but help be enriched by the study.
Put simply there is no finer example from the history of craftsmanship that so perfectly combines technical excellence, fitness for purpose and outstanding beauty. As Cameron Stone said they truly are “the nearest thing to perfection made by Human hand”
by Paul Bowman