What Will Japanese Fitting Collecting Be Like In The Future ?
   by Elliott Long (Excerpts from Robert E. Haynes (1976, 1995, 2002, 2005))

I hope the whole of you read, and take to the center of your being what I am about to relate. We should begin thinking about what we can do to keep our hobby alive and interesting. I'd really like to read some philosophical pieces pointing American collectors in a new collecting direction. Well I do not know if I can even come close to more than a parry of the "whole thing", but here is a stab at the transforation of the problem.

For what reasons should one take an interest in the fittings of the Japanese sword? The answer forms a multitude of other questions rather than the simple answer one would expect. From the obvious appeal of the surface beauty to the more complex aesthetic and scholarly aspects is far from a simple step. There is only a veneer of knowledge to cover a void deeper than a lifetime will ever penetrate to the true basic answers of this complex question. Fortunately this is not apparent to the neophyte collector or scholar. The early stages of this study are absorbed with blissful ignorance of the truth. The available printed material in all languages appears as a simple guide and strong foundation (though quite the contrary is the truth) for the identification, cataloguing and study of all fittings one might possess. The reasons behind the doubts just expressed will be passed over for now, so that a basis may be laid for the answer to the first question.

Each person who has found an interest in the fittings of the Japanese sword has done so for reasons and motives that are divergent, in most cases, from those of their fellow collectors. Some acquire pieces for the simple outward beauty of the objects. Others acquire solely by mass acquisition for the sake of numbers of any type, or of one type, There are those who collect signatures, subjects, one school, one type, one province, by age, for the antiquarian value, in gross lots, as a cross section, only masterpieces, study pieces, first editions, or for the monetary value and future gain. These are but a few of the many reasons persons show an interest in fittings. After the initial interest has been formed what direction does the acquirer turn? Some do not turn at all but simply follow their initial interest ever after others discover that the first reason for collecting was superficial and more knowledge is needed to broaden ones interest. The first blow to this awakening is the calligraphic style of the Japanese language. If the new collector stops short of learning the fundamentals of reading this language his knowledge and further growth will stop also. This is fine for many; for a cursory appreciation completes the interest many possess and there is no further need to go any deeper into the subject. Those who do wish to delve into the labyrinth of this study will need to learn about one hundred basic characters (kanji) by sight and the vocal sounds that accompany them. If this can be mastered there are really no limits to the future study or the areas of acquisition which lay ahead.

So one way we might get a better view of the whole is to return to the basic concept of appreciating the fitting for its beauty as an object of fine art FIRST, and what it is determined be by kantei second. The student of fittings should take heed of the application of the rules and laws of fine arts in his field of study as well, and perhaps to an even greater extent, for in many cases what is praised as a masterpiece, or great fitting is in reality a very poor ART object. In fact the aesthetics of fittings was not a priority of either the maker or the wearer, and later the collector, until the time of Akiyama who thought that the beauty of the piece should have prime importance, this despite his classic Neo-Confucian upbringing. These ideas were brought to full fruition by Dr. Torigoye, who was the first sword and tsuba expert to apply Western rational empirical teaching to the study of sword fittings, which is put forward in his introduction to tsuba; "Intrinsic Value of Tsuba". First published in his "Tsuba Geijutsu Ko" (Okayama 1960). Geijutsu is another term for the arts, or in this case the art of the tsuba. The ideas expressed in this introduction were as rare in Japanese studies of fittings in 1960 as they seem to be in the West to this day. Perhaps we have to find the whole picture of the study of fittings if we are to "keep our hobby alive and interesting".

To this end we should have articles and group discussions on the art of the Japanese fitting. It's been a few years since having a group discussion at the San Francisco Token Kai, about fittings. I certainly will propose this idea to the few collectors and students that attend the Token Kai in the hope that we may begin those group discussions and round table exchange of ideas. Naturally the idea of round table discussions presupposes that there be communication between collectors and students. It has been my experience that much of the information asked for, by those few who ask at all, is confined to what name to apply to a piece and what value it has. We should hope the serious student would want to go beyond this point, but very few seem to. Even those who are serious students seem to stop their quest for knowledge with the available information all of us have aquired over the years of our study.

Today much of the emphasis is on the commercial aspects of the sword and its fittings, and the internet only expands all areas of “pure” buying and selling. I am afraid that this can now never be reversed. It has gone on too long and there are now too many in this field who have never had any interest in this field that is not business oriented.

I hope this answers the philosophical points by perception of the way that history, the teacher and the student should share the respective areas that each commands and that when they are integrated into a whole we should finally be able to have a complete perspective of that future of the fine arts of sword fittings in the future. Until we have some concrete proof of dating, origins, geneologies, and history of fittings we can not write a true study or even a basic guide to the subject. It will take years of concentrated research and many more people than are presently interested in the subject before collectors and students in the future can truly know that they can turn to the printed page to seek accurate information on any piece in their collection. It is for every interested person to give all the help he can so this ideal may come to pass before too many more years have elapsed!

We shall see!