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Japanese Samurai Sword Show

Japanese Samurai Sword Show was held from April 25 to 27 at the Hyatt Regency Woodfield in Schaumburg. The show has been hosted by the Midwest Token Kai since 2005.
Exhibitors gathered from all over the U.S., and displayed Japanese swords, tsuba (sword guards), reference books, samurai movies, decorations, and many other collectibles.

Mark Jones, Manager of the show, said, “The show is much bigger this year, and more venders and visitors are coming.” He also said that an American branch of NBTHK (The Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai) hosted a special sword exhibition, which showed important old swords from 500 to 700 years ago with perfect condition.

Another significant exhibition was tsuba (sword guards) used by historical figures such as Kenshin Uesugi, Nobunaga Oda, and Hideyoshi Toyotomi. If you were a samurai movie fan, you would have heard of the names.
But how can you say those tsuba are authentic? Nick Nakamura, Chairman of the International Tosogu Kai, said that owners of the tsuba were able to trace back to Edo period. The Tayasu Tokugawa family owned the tsuba and transferred them to mineralogist Tsunashiro Wada. After his death in 1920, his family sold them to the Furukawa Electric Co.,Ltd. The corporation preserved the tusuba and other collections for long time, and now Nick Nakamura owns the tsuba. He said that the tsuba were never put in the market.
Nick Nakamura first came to the U.S. as an exchange student in 1969. He saw a Japanese sword in a gun show and began to collect and study swords. He made a success in the construction industry and became a fellow of the American Institute of Architects.
Nakamura founded the International Tosogu Kai 10 years ago and has held a yearly convention since then. He also published a museum-quality catalog annually. He said that he had become acquainted with Jones and attended the show from Japan to promote the show more and more.

David Bond brought samurai-warrior armors and helmets from Canada. An armor he displayed was called “Yukinoshita do’, which was one of five suits specially ordered by Masamune Date. He was also a historical figure in the 17th century. Bond said that the five suits were gifted to his retainers who had fought hard on the battlefields.
According to Bond, Masamune’s suits were plain black, but the family, who was given a suit by Masamune, later added gold and silver lacquer. Although the family has not been identified, Bond said, “The suit is museum quality.”
Another suit of armor was preserved in the Satomi family, and its family crest was observed on the armor. The suit uses leather instead iron. The weight of the suit is lighter, but it is still strong. Bond mentioned about the suit owner saying, “He was likely to be an older man. One of the reasons for nurikawa (leather) was that as a battle became longer, wearing heavy armor was quite tiring for samurai.”

Ted Kiss displayed some swords with a certificate (kantei sho). He also exhibited many collectibles such as kimono, a purse with significant decorations, and some others.
Kiss was raised in Colorado and given a sword by his uncle when he was about 12 years old. That became a starting point for him to collect and study about swords.
He used to belong to the Marine Corps and was deployed to Vietnam where he had an injury in his back and become disabled. While he was working as an artist, he studied how to polish sword blades under a professional polisher. He often practiced it for six hours a day and now he can help cleaning his friends’ swords.
He said, “Take your time to find a better sword. Don’t be afraid of spending money for a good one. You can buy many cheap ones, but you can save money for better swords if you are serious.”
He also said, “It’s very important to preserve all those beautiful things because no one makes these anymore.”

Bob Benson from Hawaii started his sword related business in 1967, after being in Japan for five years. He studied sword polishing and restoration during his stay in Japan, but finding the right instructors was not so easy. Finally, he found a human national treasure Kokei Ono, and studied polishing under him.

Japanese dealer Ando also attended the show to find good swords. He said that there used to be national-treasure-quality swords in local shows, but he has rarely found one in recent years.
He came to the U.S. as an exchange student about 40 years ago and found a sword in a Japanese festival organized by Nisei. He thought that buying and selling swords would be a good business, so he started it some years later.
Ando said, “If you are too greedy, good swords go away from you. When you have a clean mind, good ones fly into your hands. Good ones come to me, and then go to my good customers, who take care of swords very well. I have learned a lot from swords.”

Lori Garcia, who spoke fluent Japanese, displayed some thick staffed kimono called “dotera” or “tanzen”. Those staffed kimono were a necessary item in samurai period to endure a cold winter.
Garcia lives in western Illinois, and close to the Mississippi river where quilting has been common. Due to the popularity, many stores offer varieties of fabrics including Japanese flavored patterns. She found a pine-tree-pattern and used it for dotera. Pine tree is always referred to when celebrating occasions in Japan.

Tsuba from left: Used by Kenshin Uesugi, Nobunaga Oda, and Hideyoshi Toyotomi


David Bond (L) and armor specially ordered by Masamune Date


Ted Kiss and his collections


Bob Benson from Hawaii and his daughter


Lori Garcia holds her handmade dotera


Mark Jonson, Manager of the show