The Captivation Of Coequal Collecting
   by Robert E. Haynes

We are all aware that the fittings are stepchild to the blade. This need not be so. In Japan the blade collectors will often have a fine set of fittings for each of their blades, even though they keep the blades in shirasaya. Naturally when swords were still in use, the samurai may have had several sets of fittings for each of his blades. A set for war, a set for official functions, a New Years day set, and a set to go to the Yoshiwara. The great daimyo families had sets of fittings that had been used for generations and were held in their storehouse. Some were put away when fashions changed, and some were part of the treasures of the household. A number of these great treasure troves of fittings are still held by such great daimyo families as the Hosokawa of Kumamoto, the Maeda of Kanagawa, and the Imperial family.

The collecting of swords and fittings, as we know it today, did not come about until after the haitorei (1876), the prohibition against wearing swords in public. At that time a very large number of sword fittings came into the hands of the antique dealers, and those who had never been allowed to have a sword, up to that time. New collectors, and new interest in these objects for their aesthetics, was about to be conceived. Unfortunately the blade and its fittings were on the verge of separation. Many great blades were kept by the original owners, but their fittings were sold, as these samurai thought they would never wear them again. The samurai class now dressed in Western clothing styles. The once proud symbol of the samurai was now discarded by those who had held it as the embodiment of their soul and spirit. It was taken up again during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), but soon put away once more, for the next 30 years. Almost unnoticed, from 1876 to 1906, a very large number of sword fittings were sold, both to collectors in Japan, and to the many foreigners who now showed great interest in all things Japanese. Thus the worldwide collector was born.

In the first forty years of the new century the collecting of fittings, outside of Japan, predominated over the collecting of blades. Only the Boston Museum put together a highly important collection of blades during this time. The museums of England, Germany, Denmark, and the rest of America, bought and stored, vast numbers of fittings which were bestowed on them during these forty years. A large number of books were published in all the languages of the Western world, and close contact was maintained with the leading experts in Japan. This new interest and cooperation, was about to come to an end, and it was not to revive until the second half of the century. The American G.I. was to take an instant interest in the Japanese sword, and a love affair was born that burns to this day. This new generation of students and collectors was primarily interested in the sword blades, but some were first drawn to the fittings, though they were much in the minority. In the "good old days" when all these objects were both plentiful and cheap, one could collect at will. Today this is no longer possible. The new collector and student, during the last 20 years or so, has found he has to be either a blade collector or a fittings collector. Today those who chose blades, see how difficult it is to acquire objects for their collections. In consequence many have turned to collecting fittings and have found the joy of the art of the tsuba and other kodogu. The blade and its fittings should not be mutually exclusive, but in the West, this parallel interest has always been the case. This would seem to be the time to join the forces of the students of the blade with those of the fittings. So let all collectors and students, be it either blades or fittings, join together in a common study that both can enjoy, and hopefully learn from each other. Naturally it is not easy to master the available knowledge of both the blade and the fittings, but the student can acquire a good understanding of both and find in consequence that his interest in each is heightened. There are those who have an excellent knowledge of both these fields, and they are the ones who should pass their knowledge on to the student today.

The study of the blade has been in progress for many more years than that of fittings. When fittings were taken up as a proper study, about a hundred years ago, the experts of the day modeled such study after what was already considered the accepted form of blade study. Even today most books try to apply the KANTEI method of study, used in blades, to fittings. This was done to legitimize, and elevate the study of fittings to that of the blade. This need no longer be done. Fittings now should be studied as one would any other art form, such as painting or sculpture, and as fittings are a unique combination of these two art forms, that alone should make such an approach to their study, more than legitimate. Because the study of fittings is only a hundred years old a great deal of research needs to be done in all its aspects. The scholarship needed to bring our knowledge of fittings up to the level it should be will require that many students apply themselves to fundamental inquiry much more diligently than has been done so far. This should be a most interesting challenge for anyone even remotely interested in fittings. Since the study of fittings is a much more open field of study, and not hindered by old conventions and the restrictions of the kantei method, it should be a most inviting opportunity for new students, even those now occupied with the study of blades. There are many areas of study that need immediate attention. The nomenclature of the style and types of fittings should be reviewed, so that names and terms can be used that far better describe the true origin and nature of the pieces. The derivation of many schools of fittings need to be examined, such as the Akasaka, many schools of the Owari area, and almost all types of fittings made from 1300 to 1500. The true beginning and working period needs serious investigation in such schools, as Kaneie, Nobuie, Hoan, and related groups. The relationship between the earliest soft metal plate fittings, and the other arts and artists of their period, has not even been started yet. A structured chronology of the historical periods and their relationship to all the schools and styles within each period needs study. These ideas are just a beginning.


Return to Index to Articles - Go to Home Page - Email to Shibui Swords