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Japanese Samurai Sword Show and Shinsa

• The Japanese Samurai Sword Show was held from April 24 to 26 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), armors, reference books, samurai movies, decorations, and many other collectibles.

• Mark Jones, Manager of the show, said, “There are more people than normal this year because of shinsa.” Shinsa is the appraisement of Japanese swords and related things such as tsuba, scabbards, and menuki. A shinsa team from the Japan Sword Preservation Society in Japan came to the show, and people could request consultations for their swords. Experts in the team could tell them whether a certain sword was genuine or not, and if it was genuine, they could tell the name of the maker even if the sword didn’t have a name. Jones said, “There hasn’t been shinsa from this team in more than 10 years, so it’s very rare.”

• An exhibitor from Miami was Koji Sugimoto. He exhibited colorful sword bags made of obi (belt) for kimono. Those finely woven, gorgeous bags were suitable for swords and protected them from scratches and running into each other; thus, the bags were well sold at the show.
• Sugimoto has eighth dan in karate and shihan of the Shotokan Kenkojuku Karate. In recent years, he has taught karate in 13 countries and was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in April.
• He was interested in swords because of his iaido practice in his college years. After moving to Florida, he found an affordable good sword, and his collection started. It was 45 years ago.
• He said, “Once you own a sword, you have to pour substantial money into it.” For example, if your sword has a rusting spot, you have to ask an expert to polish it. The cost would be around $3,000. You also have to buy saya (scabbard), tsuba, menuki, fuchigashira, and many other things. Sugimoto said, “If you purchase a sword, preservation is not that easy.”
• He used to bring his swords to Chicago, but will no longer do that after one of his treasured swords was damaged at O’Hare Airport.

• A Canadian man, Sante, exhibited beautiful swords at his table. He became interested in swords when he was in his early 20s. He tried to go to Japan twice, but his life didn’t allow him to do it.
• He said, “I’m always interested in the discipline of samurai, dedication.” “Best things I can do are buying books, learn more and spend years collecting,” he continued.
• He said that he could find good swords in Canada. There were many Japanese or Japanese Canadian families in Canada, and many of the family heirs sold swords because they had no interest to retain their heirlooms.
• He said that he felt about when children didn’t want to learn their history and didn’t understand what their heritage was, because then you didn’t have a basis for the destination you wanted to go to.

• ***********************
• An Interview with Expert Eiichi Yoshikawa
• Japan Sword Preservation Society

• Q: How have you trained yourself as a cognoscente?

• Yoshikawa: The best way is to observe many quality swords as much as you can. Then, you’ll naturally have eyes to see swords’ hamon (wave pattern), skin, shape, and curvature, which changes over time. Swords have been improved after each war.
• Japanese sword’s golden age came after the Mongolian invasions. They attacked Japan twice, but typhoons saved Japan both times; otherwise, Japan would have been conquered by the Mongols. Japan was fortunate, but the Kamakura government had to make stronger swords, which were thicker, wider, and sharper than ever. Therefore, collectors dream to have swords made in the Kamakura era.

• Q: When did you start to observe swords?

• Yoshikawa: My grandfather started it at the age of 11. He was an expert in polishing, (and I inherited his expertise.) I can say that the swords in the exhibit room are wearing makeup with foundation and rouge. I can see the real skin of swords while I’m polishing them; thus, polishers can learn about swords more than other people.
• When you see the quality of a sword, one of the critical factors is its balance. When a short son inherited a sword from his tall father, the sword was cut to fit the son because he had to protect himself with the sword from any danger in the samurai world. Thus, there are many shortened swords called “suriage no katana”, and you have to see the balance of each sword.

• Q: Can you tell where a sword was made when you see the quality of its iron?
• Yoshikawa: The ingredients of iron were different until the Muromachi era. Transportation became much easier when the Edo period began, and sword makers gathered in metropolitan areas. So the quality of iron can be used to judge a sword whether it is shin-to or ko-to.
• The swords made before the Battle of Sekigahara are called ko-to, and the swords made after the Battle are called shin-to.

• Q: Are there fake swords?
• Yoshikawa: Yes. In this modern age, fake swords are made in a skillful manner. For instance, the handle part is younger, but the blade part is older. The two parts were cleverly welded.

• Q: You take care of the Emperor’s swords.
• Yoshikawa: Yes. I visit the palace twice a month and take care of them in the polishing room, which was built next to the Emperor’s residence. He inherited many good swords, which were gifted by lord’s families such as Aizu, Shimazu, Tokugawa, and Mori.
• The job was assigned to my family many generations ago. Every sword has its unique character, so it would be better to have a long history of knowledge about the characteristics.

• Q: How can we avoid rusting swords?
• Yoshikawa: Low humidity delays rusting, but saya (scabbard) needs moisture. It’s very difficult to keep swords. It’s not always a good way to put oil on the surface of a sword. When you keep it a wrong place, oil makes the sword rusty.

• Q: American people are not only collecting swords, but also preserving them.
• Yoshikawa: Certainly. Since 1910, our organization has devoted itself to educating the general public about swords and urging them to preserve the swords.
• Think about this. About 600 to 800 years have passed since the Kamakura era. How long is a person able to own an 800-year-old sword? It’s really a moment. It means that the owner is in charge of taking care of the sword and passing it to the next generation. If an owner didn’t take care of the sword, it would be rusted forever. I always talk about it to anybody.

• Q: Did you come to Chicago before?
• Yoshikawa: I came here 40 years ago. I also went to Los Angeles and New York, and the Chicago show was the biggest. At that time, Japanese Americans were leading the show, and American people were supporting JAs.
• As time passed, JAs became older and passed away. Now American people host the show and hold this ideal shinsa opportunity. I believe that those Americans, who know about swords, have real samurai spirit.
• During three days of shinsa, I’ll see 300 swords and other objects, but I saw 600 40 years ago. There are many good swords in the U.S., and those American people, who understand swords, continue to keep them.

• Q: Thank you very much.


Koji Sugimoto, exhibitor from Miami


Exhibiter Sante


Eiichi Yoshikawa
Japan Sword Preservation Society



• Mark Jones, Manager of the show