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Final Blog Post

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

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Exhibition Highlights Part 3


Akasaka Tsuba

decorated with reeds, dewdrops and a lost stirrup on the Musashi fields.


Akasaka Tsuba

Tadatora kiku.

"We hope that the various examples shown in these updates give you an indication of what will be on show at Samurai Art expo as part of the exhibition programme."

This is the last part of our comprehensive list of exhibits, which has been published in three parts over the last few weeks. Even so, it is still incomplete and further exhibits will be added as they are confirmed.

Alongside the excellent display of Iron Tsuba, we will have some beautiful examples of soft metal workmanship.


Nobuiye Tsuba

decorated with Morning Glory flowers and scrolls, Momoyama Period.

Previously within the collections of Noda Kiyoshige and Kobayashi Hideo.

Appears in the following publications:

Token Kinko “Mei-saku Shu Nobuiye Hen” Amiya Okura Soemon,1937.

“Tsuba Kansho” by Noda Kiyoshige, 1963, p.  100, 101.

“Kobayashi Hideo Bi o Nagameru Kokoro" (The  Heart in Search of Beauty) by Kobayashi Hideo, 2002.


Tsuba Kiyo Sukashi Matsu


Tsuba ko-Katchushi

Swirling clouds Nambokucho.



consisting of four modified trefoils, steel, middle Muromachi period.

Previously within the collections of Sasano Masayuki, as well as of the Tosogu Bijutsukan and the Museum of Japanese Sword  Fittings in Tokyo.

Appears in the following publications:

Sasano Masayuki, “Early Japanese Sword  Guards - Sukashi Tsuba” Japan Publications,  Inc., 1972.

Exhibited at the Sano Museum.



Crossbars, steel, Muromachi - Momoyama  period.

Previously within the collections of Akiyama  Kyusaku, Sasano Masayuki and the Museum of  Japanese Sword Fittings Tokyo.

Appears in the following publications:

Sasano Masayuki, “The Sasano Collection Part One” 1994.

“Bushi no Ito Sukashi Tsuba” Sano Museum Mishima, 1999.

This tsuba was also exhibited at the Sano Museum, Mishima in 1999 and the Nihon Tosogu Bijutsukan (The Japanese Museum of Sword Fittings, Tokyo) in 1995.


Yagyu-Tsuba “Nami ni Torii”

showing waves and a shrine gate, steel.

Previously in the collections of Sasano  Masayuki, Nihon Tosogu Bijutsukan (the  Japanese Museum of Sword Fittings, Tokyo).

Appears within the following publications:

Sasano Masayuki, “Early Japanese Sword Guards - Sukashi Tsuba”Japan Publications, Inc., 1972, Sasano Masayuki,

“The Sasano Collection Part One” exhibited at the Nihon Tosogu Bijutsukan (the Japanese Museum of Sword Fittings, Tokyo)  1995

Exhibited at The Museum of Japanese Sword Fittings Tokyo (Nihon Tosogu Bijutsukan).


Akasaka-Tsuba “Shiguretei”

depicting an autumnal drizzle, first master Shozaemon.

Tadamasa, early Edo period, Juyo Tosogu.

Previously in the collection of Sasano Masayuki.

Appears in the following publications:

E. Kremers, “Tsuba in European Collections” 1993.

Juyo Token Zufu, 2012, Tosogu p. 11. Nihon  Token Hakubutsukan.

Exhibited in the Nihon Token Hakubutsukan, 2013.


Akasaka-Tsuba “Karigane Musashi-no”

Showing a goose, reeds and  dewdrops on the  battlefields  of  Musashi. By the 2nd  master  Tadamasa.

Previously within the collection of Sasano  Masayuki.

Appears within the following publications:  Tosogu Yuhin Zufu Shoyu Kai, Vol. 8, 1989.


Hirata Jinbei “Taka no Zu”

decorated with a hawk on a pine tree, early  Edo period by the 1st master Shimizu family.

Previously within the collections of Hosokawa Gyobu-ke, Komemo Kenichi, Sasano Masayuki and Ito Mitsuru.

Appears in the following publications:

Ito  Mitsuru, “Works of Hirata and Shimizu” 2007.


Hirata Jinbei

decorated with an owl on a pine tree. By 1st master Shimizu family, from early Edo period.  Juyo Tosogu 1964.

Previously within the collections of Hosokawa  Gyobu-ke, Komeno Kenichi and Komeno Fumio.

Appears within the following publications:

“Higo Kinko Taikan”, 1964.

“Higo no Kinko”, 1978, exhibition catalogue of the Kumamoto Bijutsukan.

Ito Mitsuru “Works of Hirata and Shimizu” 2007.

Exhibited at “Tsuba no Bijutsu Ten Matsusakaya” Tokyo in 1952 and at the first exhibition of Kodogu after WW2 at the Tokyo National Museum in 1963. Thereafter exhibited at the Kumamoto Art Museum in 1978.


Hirata Jinbei “Ama-ryu to Tama”

decorated with a sky dragon holding a jewel. From the early Edo period, by the 1st master of the Shimizu family.

Previously within the collections of Hosokawa Gyobu-ke, Komeno Kenichi and Komeno Fumio.

Appears in the following publications:

“Higo Kinko Taikan”, 1964.

“Higo no Kinko”, 1978, exhibition catalogue of the Kumamoto Bijutsukan.

Ito Mitsuru “Works of Hirata and Shimizu” 2007.

Exhibited at “Tsuba no Bijutsu Ten” Matsusakaya in Tokyo, 1952, as well as in the first exhibition of Kodogu after WW2 at the Tokyo National Museum in 1963. Also exhibited at the Kumamoto Art Museum in 1978.

We hope that the various examples shown in these updates give you an indication of what will be on show at Samurai Art expo as part of the exhibition programme. As previously mentioned this list is not complete, but amongst the work already identified there is a Tokubetsu Juyo daito, 6 Juyo blades and an equal number of Juyo Koshirae and fittings. Alongside these are other examples of craftsmanship, many of which have been illustrated in Japanese reference texts, which are exceptional works. There is a great deal to be gained from studying them first hand.

We hope to see you there and will be happy to discuss any of the work on show with you.

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Additional exhibits at Samurai Art Expo

As promised, listed below is confirmation of additional pieces that will be on display at Samurai Art expo, together with images of items previously mentioned. This list is by no means exhaustive, it is just a taste of some of the many fine works visitors will be able to enjoy.

9. Mumei katana attributed to Aoe


10. Mumei Naginata Naoshi attributed to Shikkake:

Designated Juyo Token at the 46th Juyo shinsa held in 2000. The blade has a sayagaki By Tanobe Michiro sensei describing it as “An important treasure from the beginning of the Nambokucho period.”


11. Mumei O-suriage wakazashi attributed to Enju

Designated Tokubetsu Hozon

12. Akasaka Tsuba: Reeds dewdrops and lost stirrup on the Musashi


13. Akasaka Tsuba Tadatora kiku


14. Nobuiye Tsuba


15. Tsuba Kiyo Sukashi Matsu


16. Tsuba ko-Katchushi Swirling clouds Nambokucho


Over the next 14 days, I will add more information. To date we have 2 Tokubetsu Juyo swords and 6 Juyo blades offered and possibly more to come. We anticipate having fine examples of both swords and fittings from all periods and most traditions of Manufacture on show.

by Paul Bowman

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Event Highlights

Exhibition Highlights:

In earlier posts I have stated that the exhibition at Samurai Art expo will offer visits an excellent opportunity to see high quality workmanship. I wanted to share with you some of the items that have been offered for show.

1. Bizen Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yoshimune,                                                                                                                                      “tokubetsu-jûyô-tôken“ 28. April 2000   tachi: mei  Yoshimune (吉宗)      (ca. Shôgen (正元, 1259-1260), Province Bizen) with uchigatana-koshirae.                                                                                                                                                      There are few signed tachi by Yoshimune.  This is the only tokubetsu Juyo example another  is Juyo bunkasai and the property of  Tsukubasan-jinja (Prefecture Ibaraki), ex collection of the Daimyo Family  Yanagisawa, published. “Aito Hyakka / Sen  -  100 swords of 100 collectors“ Hayashi Eiroku / Schuppan Tokyo 1972


2. Ishiguro Masayoshi soroi-kanagu
jûyô-tôsôgu 25. März 1987
kachô-mushi no zu soroi-kanagu
En suite Set of Flowers, Insects etc
daishô-fuchi, mei: Ishiguro Masayoshi saku (石黒政美作)
menuki, divided tanzaku-mei: Ishiguro – Masayoshi (石黒政美)
kozuka and kôgai, mei: Jugakusai Masayoshi (寿岳斎政美)
It had been a heirloom of the Shimazu-Famiy (島津) for whom Masayoshi worked from Edo.


3. Hirata Jinbei,                                                                                                                                                                                                  1st Shimizu master Tsuba depicting an owl on a tree in Suemon Zogan, Juyo Tosogu. Ex coll. Hosokawa Gyobu-ke, Komeno Kenichi, Publ. “Higo Kinko Taikan”, “Higo no Kinko”, “Works of Hirata and Shimizu” by Itô Mitsuru, exhibited 1953 Matsusakaya, first exhibition of Kodogu after WW II, exh. at Tokyo National Museum, exh. At Kumamoto Bijutsukan, aso. Also other works by this particular Master and his descendants,
Manifold standard literature published Sukashi tsuba throughout the ages from famous Japanese collections, exhibited at the Sword Museum Tokyo, Sano Museum, Mishina and other places including Juyo Tosogu

4. Awataguchi Norikuni-
A daito with three attributions to the smith, including a sayagaki by Tanobe Michiro Sensei in which he describes it as “A Master Work of the Kamakura period”.
There are eight Norikuni blades on the Juyo register four are tanto (three have progressed to Tokubetsu Juyo). There are 3x Juyo bunkasai and 3xJuyo bijutsu-hin and 1, a signed daito, Kokuho.


5. Sadakatsu Kogarasu-Maru
Made to celebrate the 2600th anniversary of the founding of the Empire.  It is a copy of the famous Heian period work of the same name

6. Mainline Gotô-works by all generations including Juyo tosogu

7. Juyo Tensho koshirae,                                                                                                                                                                                Exhibited at the Tokyo National Museum exhibition Uchi-gatana koshirae 1980, from the Hosokawa- and Matsui-Family heritage with provenances of famous Japanese collections

8. Several Higo koshirae from the Hosokawa- and Matsui-Family heritage with provenances of famous Japanese collections

From this brief snapshot you can see that the exhibition will offer the visitor a unique opportunity to see items not normally on public display. To see work of this rarity and standard outside of Japan (or even inside) would be extremely difficult.
As the content is being finalised I will add additional information.

by Paul Bowman


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Art Sword?

"The best way to understand what makes a sword special, is to look at the very best examples you can. Once you identify the features that make such blades special and valuable, it becomes easier to identify such characteristics in other swords and gain some idea of their quality and value."


When walking around the trade tables at Samurai Art Expo, you might hear comments such as “that is a beautiful sword” or “It’s just right” or “it is an art sword” and you might justifiably ask “What?” Describing weapons as a thing of beauty may at first appear strange. While it is true that some weapons, particularly firearms, are often exquisitely decorated. These terms are being applied not to any decorative effect, but to an edged piece of steel whose purpose is to cut in the case of Japanese swords, so starting out in this field and describing a cutting weapon as art or as beautiful appears counter intuitive.

When looking at swords, there are a number of features that help identify their origins and their age. These are, in order of examination: Sugata (shape), jigane/hada (the forging pattern of the skin steel) and hamon (the pattern of the hardened edge.) Each of these features plays a part in making the Japanese sword the most effective cutting weapon ever manufactured. However, it is well documented that smiths throughout history have regarded their craft as a spiritual calling. They have gone far beyond the making of a functional weapon. They have worked at their craft, manipulated the raw material to create something that, at its best, is not only a supremely effective weapon, but a truly beautiful work of art.

There is great diversity within the range of Japanese blades and all collectors have their preferred style of sugata, hada and hamon. One can argue for many hours about the relative merits of each pattern. However, it is the way these different aspects of a sword interact that take it from being a weapon to the realms of art. In the very best blades, these elements come together in perfect harmony, creating a visual landscape in steel -  something unique and stunningly beautiful.


The best way to understand what makes a sword special, is to look at the very best examples you can. Once you identify the features that make such blades special and valuable, it becomes easier to identify such characteristics in other swords and gain some idea of their quality and value.

The best, some would argue the only, way to fully appreciate the complex beauty of a Japanese blade, is to hold it and view it in a single light source.

Events such as Samurai Art Expo, offer the individual the opportunity to look at some of the very best examples of swordsmith craft. As a visitor you will have invested both time and money to attend, so make sure that you gain maximum benefit from the event by looking at as many works as you can and asking questions. Everyone at the show is there to promote the subject and to encourage people to join them in what is a fascinating field of study.

By Paul Bowman

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The rambling thoughts of a foolish hermit


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