Sword Show: Collectors Share Their Personal Stories
• Dealers, collectors and fans of Japanese swords and collectables gathered
at the Hyatt Regency Woodfield in Schaumburg for a three-day show from
April 26 through 28. The Midwest Sword Show was organized by the Midwest
Token Kai, which has been holding the annual show in the Chicagoland since
• Last year’s show had eight members of Japan’s Nihontouken Hozonkai (“Japanese
Sword Preservation Society”) to perform appraisal of the swords and antiques
that were brought in to the show.
• This year, the focus was on education, according to Mark Jones, Manager
of the Token Kai.
• In addition to exhibition and sale of samurai swords and collectables
such as Japanese armor, art and antiques, the show featured lectures on
the historical and artistic sides of Japanese swords, including the presentation
about the swords made by the Yamato-school sword makers during the 1200s
and 1300s. A display and discussion on the works by Horikawa Kunihiro
(1531-1614), the “master of new sword,” was another special event.
• These events were for the fans who came to the show, wanting to learn
more about Japanese swords. “Hopefully, they will help the new generation
of collectors,” Jones said.
Exhibitors at the Sword
• Howard Sloan from St. Louis, Missouri shows up at this
event every year with a wide variety of items – incense burners, tea bowls
and woman’s combs as well as swords and sword accessories.
• He first came in touch with Japanese antiques and collectables when
he was stationed in Yokosuka as a U.S. Navy sailor from 1957 to 1959.
• The interest faded away after he returned home. A long time passed,
and one day he saw a Japanese sword at a store in St. Louis. It got started
again, as Sloan explained, and he has been buying and selling swords and
other collectables ever since.
• Three Japanese exchange students had stayed with him and his wife, for
one year each. He said he and the students learned a lot from each other
– one of them, a young woman, asked how to take a bath in an American
bathroom. Sloan told her to “get a coke and a magazine” and sit in the
tub reading the magazine. She followed it without a question, and sometimes
stayed in the bathroom for as long as an hour, Sloan recalled.
• In another situation, she said to him that he should save money instead
of buying so many Japanese swords for his collection. She is now a high-ranking
judge in Japan, Sloan said.
• It was a good experience to be a host family, he added.
• Near Sloan’s booth was a setup by Tangerine Mountain
Imports & Designs, a vintage Japanese kimono and accessories dealer
run by two sisters.
• The company operates a large storehouse in Schaumburg to store several
hundreds of kimono dresses. Its business is booming, with kimono conventions
and exhibits lined up in places like Seattle and Boston. Specifically,
Boston has a community of many kimono fans who would queue up to buy vintage
kimono dresses offered by Tangerine Mountain.
• Jim Tobin from Indianapolis was another familiar face
at the show.
• A collector of samurai swords, Tobin comes to the annual show “just
to look at all the beautiful swords.”
• He got hooked when the sword he bought at a market turned out to be
a 400-year-old gem. Since then, he’s buying and selling swords purely
• Some of the swords he brought to the show were 900 years old. “It’s
very difficult to know about these swords because there’s so much to learn,”
• Rick Jachim was happy to return to the show after some
years of absence.
• For Jachim, who has learned sword making in the past, buying and selling
Japanese swords is more of a passion than a money-making transaction.
• Among a variety of swords on display with their certificates of authenticity,
his special pride was a 1984 sword made by Sadahito Enomoto, a renowned
sword maker in modern Japan.
• “Sadahito is my teacher; he taught me how to make swords,” Jachim said.
• Matt Brice from Wisconsin was a former knife dealer.
He switched over to Japanese swords when he had a chance to own one. Soon,
he “had to have more and more” because they are all different – they all
have different makers, different ranks, different skill levels and different
fittings. It makes you study about them, Brice explained.
• “[Japanese sword] is the best sword in the world, and that makes it
so interesting to own them,” Brice said.
• Having studied Japanese history at college, Brice wasn’t a stranger
to Japanese culture, but he didn’t’ understand what he was looking at
when he owned his first sword. So he “jumped in” the world of Japanese
sword. Looking back, Brice said he had bought and sold as many as 1,500
swords during the past 10 years as a sword dealer.
• David Stiles came from Virginia, near Washington, D.C.
His specific interest was in “tsuba,” the handguard of the sword.
• All tsubas are different in design, style and shape, and the fact that
they are functional makes it a work of art, according to Stiles. In addition,
the vibrant designs of tsubas are an expression of the individual character
of the samurai who owns the sword.
• Many of the tsubas on display were from the Edo period but some were
from earlier periods. The one in a wooden box, Stiles pointed out, had
a design featuring a chrysanthemum, an emblem of the imperial family,
and would probably date from the end of the Edo period.
• His Japanese wife calls him “otaku” (a Japanese term for someone who
is obsessed with certain aspects or trivialities of popular culture),
• David Oda is an avid collector of Japanese swords and
accessories. His family originated from a court aristocracy residing in
Kake-cho (now Akiota-cho), Hiroshima. Oda is the 30th generation of the
• Oda’s grandfather immigrated to the U.S. in 1920. When leaving home,
he asked his younger brother to preserve the family heirlooms such as
swords, spears and armors. But when he returned home in 1964, they were
all but gone.
• It may have been “taken by MacArthur” [by the Allied occupation forces]
when World War II ended, but Oda thinks perhaps the family had to sell
swords and other family treasures to survive in the post-war hardship.
The family tree record his grandfather left at home had also been lost
in a fire in 1970.
• Oda has been searching for clues of his ancestry. He’s never visited
his home town in Hiroshima, but through his research he’s discovered that
his family crest was a “suhama,” which represents a mythical sandy beach.
• Oda said he had taken a DNA test for ancestry research, which revealed
that he had a second cousin living in the U.S.
• Upon contacting her last year, Oda found out that she is a Japanese
woman who had been adopted in Yokohama as a child by an Irish man and
his Taiwanese wife. The woman didn’t know that until recently.
• Oda also knows that his great aunt, at one time, ran an orphanage in
the Yokohama area and a lot of the children there were adopted by American
• “So I think learning Japanese culture means learning more about my family
history as well as the history of Japanese Americans,” Oda said.