Midwest Token Kai Sword Show: from Sword to Kimono
The Japanese Samurai Sword Show was held at the Hyatt
Regency Woodfield in Schaumburg from April 27 to 29. The Show has been
hosted by the Midwest Token Kai since Marc Porpora brought back the show
to the Chicago area in 2005 after an interval of years. Since 2013, the
show has been managed by Mark Jones, a collector in Indiana.
Exhibitors gathered from all over the U.S. and displayed Japanese swords,
tsuba (sword guards), armors, reference books, decorations, and many other
According to Mark Jones, “shinsa”, evaluation of swords,
was held this year. A group of eight judging experts form NTHK-NPO, a
well-known organization in Japan, came to the show, so that the exhibitors
and visitors in the show could bring their swords and ask the experts’
opinions if a sword maker’s name was authentic or fake. They also could
ask the experts issuing a certificate for each sword. Jones said, “So
the show is very busy and very successful this year.”
People in the Show
Markus Sesko, exhibitor Bob Schleimer’s guest, has published
15 books about Japanese swords. “Genealogies and Schools of Japanese Swordsmiths”,
“Legends and Stories around the Japanese Sword”, and “Kantei Reference
Book - Hamon & Boshi” are some titles of his books.
Being born and raised in Austria, Sesko became interested in Japanese
swords and bought one for the first time when he was 18 years old. Not
knowing much about the sword, he began studying Japanese language when
he entered the Salzburg University. During his college years, he studied
at the Kyoto University for a year as an exchange student in 2002. After
he graduated from Salzburg, he established his own translation business
10 years ago and has visited Japan regularly. He has resided in North
Carolina since 2015.
“The first thing that attracted me was the elegant shape, curvature or
“sori” of the Japanese sword. Finally you start to appreciate the steel
and hardening,” Sesko talked about the attractiveness of the sword.
He likes old swords, especially, from Yamashiro (Kyoto) and Kamakura era
because there were very good swords and schools. “I like those because
the swordsmiths in the early Kamaura period was making their own steel
by themselves, but later in the Edo period, they were buying the steel
then making swords. That’s why they look different,” he explained.
Bob Schleimer read Sesko’s books and contacted him,
so Sesko came to join the show for the second year in a row.
Schleimer, professor of pharmacology at Northwestern University, taught
for six weeks at Tohoku University in Japan as a visiting professor in
the 1980s. On the way back to the U.S., he bought a wakizashi sword as
a souvenir. It was the beginning of his collection, and now he possesses
60 to 70 swords. This year, he brought several swords to receive shinsa
and several others to sell. He said that he wanted to sell some after
he had bought new ones, so he could improve quality of his collection
He buys swords through online, auctions by collectors, and on other different
occasions. Asked by Shimpo if he had encountered cheating, he said, “I
have made many mistakes, but I have also made some lucky buys, so there
is balance of (good buy and bad buy).”
John Kurata, a dealer from Los Angeles, brought swords
from the famous Gassan School, which prospered in Kamakura and Muromachi
era, then was revived by Sadayoshi in Meiji era. The School has continued
to the present day. Sadakatsu and Sadakazu after Sadayoshi are also famous
The Gassan collection belonged to Kurata’s friend, who was aging and worrying
about his wife, who had no knowledge of the collection, so he decided
to sell his precious collections.
This year, Kerry Mackert, owner of the Ohio Kimono,
joined the show. She exhibited a variety of kimono dresses and old collectibles.
She said that the Ohio Kimono had an inventory of more than 1,000 kimono
dresses and has sold through various events like Ginza Holiday and Summer
Festival in Anderson Gardens. It has also sold kimono pieces through online.
The kimono dresses have been sent from Kyoto through a family business,
which buys and collects second-hand kimono dresses at auctions and closing
sales; therefore, Mackert says they are authentic vintage kimono dresses.
Mackert started her kimono business in 2009. She said that she was not
only selling kimono pieces but also educating her customers. She explains
to them about the occasions furisode (long sleeves), homongi (party dress),
or iromuji (flat colored) should be worn. She also talked about the importance
of the kimono culture that was paying respect to the kimono. She said
that when her customers heard about her explanations, they wanted to learn
more about the kimono.
Mackert’s father spent his entire career in the U.S.
Air Force, so she was born and raised in the military bases until she
became 17 years old.
Living in the military bases gave her a sense of international community.
One day, a family moved in near her house, and the wife of the family
was a Japanese woman. She came to Mackert’s house, took off her shoes
at the front door, and sat on the floor. She was wearing yukata, a cotton
kimono dress. Mackert’s eyes were drawn to her elegant appearance. That
became Kerry’s unforgettable memory.
In later years, she decided to learn more about the kimono and met Japanese
mentors, who taught her A to Z of the kimono. She mastered how to wear
a kimono dress, and dress it for other people if they need her help.
Mackert said that the internet was amazing because you could see and buy
a variety of kimono pieces and get more knowledge of the kimono.
According to Kerry, a kimono fan gathering “Kimono de Jack” was founded
in Japan, and its chapters have spread to across the world. They have
encouraged people of every ethnic background, race, and religion, to dress
up with kimono and go and have fun. More information about Ohio Kimono
is available at https://www.OhioKimono.com.