Makoto-Ni Arigato Graham Curtis
   by Robert E. Haynes (1998)

Clive Sinclaire was kind enough to send me the all too short article titled, "Observations..." by Graham Curtis, on my review of the Lundgren auction. Mr. Curtis brings up many important points that I should have addressed many years earlier. I shall try to do so now.

The first observation made by Mr. Curtis deals with the "single source" of our information in the study of swords and fittings. Mr. Curtis states that "Most of what we have been reading in the last 20 years comes from 3 authors; Homma, Sato, and Wakayama." He adds, "With the exception of a few others like Kashima, Torigoe, and Sasano, there really is so little diversity of written opinion that it makes me wonder about the validity of the scholarship and the value-judgements that stem from it." These are very important points. For the beginning student it is important to note that all of these "single source experts" are dead except for Dr. Kashima, the retired curator of metal work at the Tokyo National Museum. An even more telling point, not mentioned by Mr. Curtis, is that Wakayama, Sasano, and Torigoye, all were beholden to a "single source" for almost all of their knowledge. That source was Akiyama Kyusaku (born November-28, 1844, died January 21, 1936). See the NEWSLETTER volume 27 no 5, of the J.S.S. of U.S., for my article on the life of Akiyama. As many may know I have been annotating the Joly translation of the writings of Akiyama as printed in TOKEN KAI-SHI, the journal of the Chuo Token Kai, with issue number one in October 1900, to issue number 277, printed in May 1924. PART ONE of these annotations will be found in the above NEWSLETTER, and PART TWO is printed in volume 28 No 1, Jan. Feb. 1996, of the same NEWSLETTER. PART THREE to PART TWENTY, has been issued in the TO-RAN, the newsletter of the Northern California Japanese Sword Club, Feb. 1997 to Aug. 1998, and will continue to be so issued for the next several years. For the study of sword fittings, Akiyama IS the true single source!

Mr. Curtis next questions the validity of the sword and fittings books with photographs of the signatures of famous artists that are to be used for authentication purposes. This is a VERY important point indeed! Naturally many of us rely on such books to verify if a signature on a piece we may posses is truly genuine. I will not write of the sword signatures used for this purpose as I have not the knowledge, but the fittings books do need comment. As Mr. Curtis states, "We all treat the reference definitive examles:...we assume they are well documented and generally accepted, but perhaps only some are, or at worst are only in the opinion of the author. I have no idea how many opinions have been distilled...So there appears to be an awful lot of trust being expended." How true, how true, I am sorry to say! Naturally one has to know the reputation and reliability of the "expert" who has written such a book. In the case of Wakayama Takeshi (Homatsu) some reservation IS necessary. Wakayama did not always, take the photos of the signatures used in TOSO KODOGU MEIJI TAIKEI (The 3 volume set printed by Yuzankaku, Tokyo, 1978.) from sources where he had seen the actual pieces. A number of the illustrated photos of signatures came from such sources as The Mosle Collection Descriptive Catalogue Vol.I, and the corrigenda et addenda to volume I, printed by Poeschel & Trepte, Leipzig, 1932. He saw none of these pieces, so he could ONLY rely on the original Mosle photos, and NOT the actual pieces, a VERY dangerous thing to do! So, as you see, even this source is tainted. As to the KINKO MEIKAN, the FIRST edition was printed in 1974. Kokubo Kenichi & Masumoto Senichiro collaborated on this edition. In 1993 Kokubo printed a "new" edition by himself. It is MOST instructive to compare these two editions. In the second ed. of 1993 he not only added many signatures from new sources, but he deleted many of the signatures used in the 1974 edition. Naturally many, if not most, of the signatures that he uses come from examples of fittings in his own collection. So these books are to all intents and purposes, ONE SOURCE EXAMPLES. Which all students should be aware of, when making comparisons.

Mr. Curtis next asks about the books that allege to be compendiums of "masterpieces". He states: "Alongside the signature references, the same authors have written books which claim to show the best examples of various artists: Toso Kodogu Meihin shu (Masterpieces of sword Fittings) is one such....But, who says they are masterpieces Wakayama on his own, or are they generally accepted by all the 'reasonably knowledgeable connoisseurs of the time? Again, are they all generally accepted masterpieces, or only some, (made accessible by their proud owners) and others just called masterpieces out of politeness and gratitude, because the same owners like them?" A very important point indeed! The TOSO KODOGU MEIHIN SHU, published by Yuzankaku, Tokyo, 1972, gave Wakayama his first chance to show his "knowledge" in print. Unfortunately Sato was supervising his work. Wakayama had a strong fondness for kinko fittings, as did Sato. Which brings up the areas of knowledge and interest that the past experts were thought to be the masters of. Dr. Homma was said to be the master of koto swords. Sato of shinto swords. Wakayama of kinko fittings, and Sasano of old iron plate fittings, as was Dr. Torigoye. Kashima is a generalist in the best museum tradition. So, any book of masterpieces by Wakayama will be very strong in most kinko fittings, but weaker in the old iron plate tsuba. Naturally the Wakayama book is but one of many such "masterpiece" tomes. You should use the same judgment of these books as you would any book of masterpieces of Western art. You do NOT have to agree that ANY single piece IS a masterpiece! I see many books with illustrations of tsuba by Natsuo that are said to be master works of this artist, yet in my opinion they are VERY ORDINARY examples. In fact I know of only one tsuba by Natsuo that could be called a masterpiece, and that is still owned by the Wakayama family. So you are free to agree or not with ANY of the examples illustrated as masterpieces. Naturally you must have the knowledge and ability to judge fittings based on rational empirical aesthetics. Do not be beholden to the opinions of others unless you respect and agree with their ideas. There is no "law" to judge fittings.

What all of these comments by Mr. Curtis, and my replies mean to the beginning student, and it would seem those more advanced, should have been addressed long before now. It would seem that it is very difficult for the Western student, to have a clear picture of either the knowledge or expertise of those past sensei or the ones now in power, and how their knowledge can be used to have a clear method of study. I am sorry to say I do not have an answer for this as today the "experts" are in the position of authority only because "their time has come". The "expert" of today is Fukushi Shigeo, who has written a long series of articles in the TOKEN BIJUTSU of the NBTHK, which is at number 48 so far. They are titled TOSO, TOSOGU SHOGAKU KYOSHITSU (elementary classroom on sword decoration and sword fittings) and contain all the available knowledge that is to be found in all the books we already have in our library. These articles are not designed to enlighten the student, but to establish the credentials of Mr. Fukushi as the current sensei of the NBTHK. Thus when his name is used on "certificates" issued by the NBTHK, he will be held as THEIR expert. I understand that the area of true expertise of Mr. Fukushi is the Goto family and their school. I have not met him, but friends that have, said he does have true knowledge in that field and I hope this is true and that he will write about the Goto school, as such information is greatly needed, if he can expand on the available knowledge. To add to the general pessimism of this article so far I must say that the method of study of the students in Japan today adds nothing to an advancement of the study of sword fittings. It would seem that when they get together to study they come to conclusions by consensus. Which I am afraid must beget many a camel. I am sorry to say as far as I am concerned the last hope for the advancement of the study of sword fittings was Sasano. Perhaps there is someone on the horizon that we can respect, and will take the study of Japanese sword fittings beyond the Twenty-first Century, but as of now I see no indication that we will see such an enlightening event. (Bob Haynes)


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