For centuries, Japanese swords have been collected in Japan as highly valuable works of art. Joining aesthetic and practical use, the samurai sword is a unique weapon, similar to no other. The appeal of this blades has never ceased to amaze western collectors as well, as they can be considered the first form of abstract art.
Here some facts to know about collecting Japanese swords.
1. A thousand years, one blade.
Despite the fact Japanese sword was born, as we know it today, almost 1,000 years ago, its shape and the way of manufacturing it remained almost identical. There are of course some minor variations in style and shape, which can help a connoisseur to understand its age or its maker, but this requires an expert eye, while everyone can immediately recognize a “katana” among any other sword.
2. Can I use my Japanese sword?
Even if a Japanese samurai sword is made with hard steel, the polishing needed to show its artistic features is very fragile. For instance, a katana should never be touched with bare hands, as our skin would harm the steel (which is not stainless steel, of course), leaving a fingerprint that can not be deleted. For this reason it is quite evident that we should not use an important blade for cutting anything or to practice martial arts, especially if we don’t know very well what we are doing.
3. Look out for imitations
As with any collectable, fakes exist. The best way to avoid them is to do your homework. Handle as many Japanese swords as possible in order to get a feel for the geometries of the blade and for the steel’s surface. Study relevant books, and visit museum collections.
The best indicator of a fake? An exaggerated “wood grain” on the sword’s surface.
4. Beware rust or cracks
Flaws on samurai swords are called “kizu”. They can be fatal for a sword’s value, so be sure to check there are no small broken parts on the blades, especially on the tip and on the sides, where rust might have eaten the steel and formed small pin-holes. The presence of a certificate by the NBTHK might help here, as they check condition before issuing papers.
5. How much should I pay for my first piece?
The market for Japanese swords is international and consistent, attracting collectors from around the world. The best way to start your own collection may be with a wakizashi, a short sword, which offers the opportunity to handle good pieces at decent prices. Owning a blade for studying is very important, as handling a samurai sword and moving it under a light source is essential to look at its characteristics, and you are not allowed to do that in museums…