by Robert E. Haynes (Sept. 1995)

The fittings for the Japanese sword is such an esoteric study, of inscrutable proportions, that one lifetime is only enough for an incipient introduction to its consummation. All who have undertaken it have discovered this fact in common. When Akiyama Kyusaku began his studies of sword fittings he had no one but himself to rely on for what knowledge he gained in the subject. We are very lucky that the facts and information he learned, in the over 80 years of his studies, have been preserved. Even these 80 years were not enough to conquer this subject to his satisfaction. All those who have come after him have used his studies as the bases for their own. One would think that in the 60 years since his death we would not only have answered many questions he raised, but did not answer, and would have completed studies in many areas that Akiyama did not have time to pursue. I am sorry to say that is not the case. In fact we are still back were Akiyama finished. We have not even answered his questions, much less proposed and answered any new ones.

Why is the study of sword fittings in such a sorry state? Part of the answer might be found in the years of study and the past and potential scholars lost from the war years, but that is only part of the reason. The Meiji period did produce scholars of note, but many were also those who bought and sold the vast number of fittings that came onto the market at that time. With the lack of buyers in Japan a whole new market opened with the foreign buyers and collectors who not only bought in great quantities but suddenly asked to be told "all about" what they had bought. Naturally the dealers were not going to question the available knowledge with information that might counter what was accepted. So they told their buyers what was safe and did not jeopardize their sales. Thus the status quo was preserved both outside and within Japan.

Even at this time there were a few books these new collectors could use, but they were all in Japanese. So they set about finding someone who could translate them. Sound familiar? Well Germany had Shinkichi Hara, The U.S. had Okabe Kakuya. France had Hayashi. England had Hogitaro Inada and others of the Japanese Embassy and of Yamanaka & Co. The most significant translation of this period was Die Meister Der Japanischen Schwertzierathen, by Shinkichi Hara, (Hamburg 1932). All the other translations at this time were not directly taken from Japanese books of the period, but from direct correspondence with Akiyama, Ogura Souemon or the dealers the foreigners purchased their collections from.

Then came World War One. The interest and study both in Japan and by the foreigners came to a halt. The years from 1920 to 1939 were reasonably productive by scholars of the period in Japan, for a collective effort was made to codify the available knowledge from such sources as Akiyama, Ogura, and Kuwabara. Those outside of Japan had all but given up their interest in "things Japanese". The Second World War brought a halt in Japan, and in the West, to both the studies and the potential scholars of sword fittings. By 1950 new scholars began to write and publish. The source of their information was still Akiyama etc. What is also interesting was the reissue of many of the books of the prewar era. They were dressed in "new found" scholarship, but this consisted, for the most part, in "new" illustrations and some corrections of past texts. From scratch research and a full rational review of the scholarship of the fifty years before 1960 did not occur. Thus we had many books printed from 1960, and little that would add to what was already known.

Perhaps this is why I have been attracted to this subject for fifty years. I know I will never conquer it and my continued studies and interest is peaked by all I do not know and will never have time to fathom. I would be interested to know if other students feel the same way as I do about their studies and perhaps we can find a more mutual exchange of what we hope will be additional knowledge to this vast subject we find so fascinating, and unconquerable.


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