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 Post subject: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2012 10:10 pm 
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Kokuho
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I am often intrigued by blades and kodogu made in the Japanese style by non-Japanese artisans/craftsman. While I have yet to see a Western made Japanese style blade on the same level craft-wise as what is made in Japan, I have seen Western made kodogu that does compete equally with the native versions.

I personally don't consider a Western made Japanese style sword a "Japanese sword", and I suppose I would have to say by extension, I can't consider kodogu made by Western craftsman anything but work done in the Japanese style.

I greatly admire the skills, craft, and dedication that many in the West possess and have nothing but respect for their efforts but I have to wonder, what market do they serve? Most of the nihon-to collectors I know well always tell me they wouldn't buy Western made because it is not Japanese ( "I collect Japanese swords, not Japanese style swords"...). I am sure there must be those out there that appreciate fine workmanship regardless of origin, but I have met very few.

I know many modern craftsman in Japan and they always talk about how hard a road they travel when they are competing for sales with all of the existing antique items. Not many collectors will pay $10,000 for a modern made blade or $5000 for a modern tsuba when there are antique options available by well known artisans at the same or even lower price points. Imagine how much more difficult it must be to compete for non-Japanese crafts people...

I know woodblock print artists making prints in the Japanese style, as well as other Western artists/craftspeople, working in a traditional Japanese craft, and most seem to be placed in their special category rather than accepted as part of the Japanese craft circle.

How many here have or would buy Western made Japanese style blades and/or kodogu? Do you consider it the same as Japanese made, or do you consider them reproductions or?

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 Post subject: Re: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2012 10:58 pm 
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Sai Jo Saku
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Well - remember the road we fell down talking of Western influence on Japanese art :roll:

This is not the same thank GOD so : knowing the process am often very impressed with the work of modern smiths both Japanese and Western, but without the age, the history and the fact that the piece of art is still here they don't appeal to me as much as the older blades. They were also made under circumstances and conditions probably not quite as good as today.

It is not hard to spend 10 grand on a painting done by someone today that looks like a white dot on a blue background but give me a real Rembrandt print for the same money and I am much happier - just my 2 cents.

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Last edited by drbvac on Fri Mar 09, 2012 2:08 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2012 11:22 pm 
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I am in the same boat. I have rapiers hand made for practice and a shinken for that as well, but, do not consider them as legitimate parts of my collection, Nihonto or otherwise. I am amazed at the craft and artistry of some modern western smiths/artists and support them as much as feasible in keeping the art alive. However, even modern Japanese work is not my focus. No bones about it, I am an antiquarian, full stop. It is the place in history that adds to the mystique these artifacts survive that entices. John

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 Post subject: Re: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 12:10 am 
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Jo Saku

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I feel it is the aesthetic we value rather than the object in question itself. In the case of Nihonto we are all in love with a cultural view whether we have looked at it that way or not. It is the unique cultural perspective that created Nihonto and it's many facets but that perspective once expressed is not exclusive to the genre. I have thought about this a lot since moving back from Japan and there is something very unique in Japanese art. What is it though? My conclusion is that it there is deep emotional restraint in Japanese culture that explodes in it's art. An extreme focus of energies seem to be captured in the various expressions. This exists within the relative field of Nihonto beyond and outside of Japan and I personally love to find it. Several of my friends are restorationists who do amazing work. It is impossible to do this without having a deep understanding of the Japanese aesthetic. That is why in my woodworking I cannot let my creations go so easily (or cheaply) I see them as a perfect expression of myself
Jim


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 Post subject: Re: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 12:12 am 
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Daimyo
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Chris,

How would you classify Ford Hallam's work?

I have some of his tsuba and consider them as Japanese craft due to his training :)

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 Post subject: Re: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 12:20 am 
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Interesting topic. The reality is in this specific field we're faced with a blurred distinction of antiquities (some of which may have aesthetic qualities) and aesthetic works of art which don't depend of age to validate them. True art is ultimately timeless...and not a consequence of age.

I have to point out the inherent racist position in suggesting that only Japanese people can make 'real' Japanese art. In any other, mature, art-form, this nationalistic prejudice would be an embarrassment. A brief survey of classical 'European music' should serve as sufficient warning in that respect.

Having said all that I have to conclude that the observations of the OP are actually sound, as supported by the preceeding 2 posts.

For me this thread is quite timely. I've struggled against all the odds for nearly 20 years now and in the last few weeks/months finally come to the realisation that in real terms, ie; making a living that might support my family, this endeavour is a waste of time. This is obviously something artisans in Japan realised a long time ago....my idealism sustained me for just a few more futile years. :(

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Last edited by Ford Hallam on Fri Mar 09, 2012 7:09 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 12:30 am 
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Jo Jo Saku
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Although I collect Japanese swords and fittiings I had no problem buying Ford Hallam tsuba. I love his work. If I saw his tsuba on a table at a sword show I would stop, look and hope that I could afford it. My buying the tsuba was two fold in purpose: I wanted to support Ford and I really liked the tsuba.
I am saddened to read Ford's post that was just made before mine. In it he basically says that he cannot afford to continue his journey in this research driven artisitc endeavour.

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 Post subject: Re: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 1:09 am 
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Sai Jo Saku

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I understand that there exists a bias in Nihonto collecting circles against non-Japanese craftsmen/artists, and I suspect that this bias is unlikely to change anytime soon if at all, but I think it's silly.
I can be proud to own tsuka-maki done by Dave McDonald, a fine habaki by John Tirado is no less fine due to his ethnicity, Ford's tsuba are art (no prefix necessary), and if I collected shin saku-to it shouldn't matter who made it, only how well it was made.
Remember: buy the blade, not the name.
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 Post subject: Re: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 1:38 am 
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Kokuho
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Jimmy R wrote:
That is why in my woodworking I cannot let my creations go so easily (or cheaply) I see them as a perfect expression of myself
Jim


Funny you should mention that as I said nearly the same thing to a carpenter friend of mine who was checking on my Japanese style home construction progress...I told him that my wife, who is at the end of her rope with me because we still aren't in the house after 7 years of work, hasn't figured out yet that this is my legacy to my progeny. All that I am is in this house-good and bad...it is a book that tells my story....It is my love letter to my family...

Jean wrote:
Chris,

How would you classify Ford Hallam's work?

I have some of his tsuba and consider them as Japanese craft due to his training :)


He should have been born 200 years ago in Japan....I think his work is worthy of collecting, though as I said, unfortunately, I think the market for western made Japanese style art is a small one. Reading his response below about the frustration he faces in earning a living at it brings to mind, sadly, similar sentiments I have heard from craftsman in Japan. Most of the tsubako I know do it more as a hobby because they can not earn a living doing it. It has gotten that way for the majority of sword smiths as well after 20 years of recession in Japan.

Ford Hallam wrote:
I have to point out the inherent racist position in suggesting that implying that only Japanese people can make 'real' Japanese art. In any other, mature, art-form, this nationalistic prejudice would be an embarrassment. A brief survey of classical 'European music' should serve as sufficient warning in that respect.


I agree fully that art is timeless and that one does not need to be Japanese to make art in a Japanese style, but I don't think it is racist to state that only a Japanese can make a Japanese sword. It is by definition made by a Japanese. I am not saying you have to be Japanese to make a good sword, but any sword made by someone not Japanese is a Japanese style sword, not a Japanese sword....I think it is this distinction that makes life difficult for westerners trying to gain acceptance of their work in the Japanese style. No matter the quality, seemingly, it is always looked at as an homage, rather than the real thing....I have heard that Keith Austin battled this his whole career...

Grey's comment about buying a blade and not a name, is great in theory but difficult in practice when you are considering shinsakuto and you can actually meet the craftsman....I met many smiths in Japan. People are the same everywhere- some you like, some you are indifferent to, and some you hope you never meet again. I had a blade I loved by a smith and was excited to have the chance to meet him. He was one I didn't desire to meet again and I sold the blade because no matter how good it was, all I thought of when I looked at it was what an ass the smith was....It is hard to divorce the art from the artist when it is modern....

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 Post subject: Re: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 1:53 am 
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That is a sad thing to hear Ford. In such a selective and limited market I am afraid that most of these esoteric arts will always be difficult to provide a comfortable income. I am sure even historically you will find artists struggled to survive and depended often on enlightened and wealthy patrons to keep the bread and salt on the table. I commiserate. John

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 Post subject: Re: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 5:00 am 
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Chris, I believe that the term "Japanese Sword" is more like "French Fry" for most people. It is a type (of sword or potato) and does not necessarily designate who made it or where. In your definition, is it still a "Japanese Sword" if it were made by a Japanese craftsman while visiting in New York? What about a sword made by a descendant of a Westerner who has lived in Japan all his life, is trained in the traditional methods and made the sword in Tokyo? We are varied group - some art lovers, some scientists, some martial artists, and some Ninja wannabes, but we better wake up and see the true intrinsic value of things (or we'll never realize that the "Emperor has no clothes" like the others ogling elephant dung spread on a canvas at the Met just because someone else classified it as art). If we are honest (and not just romantics reveling in the Samurai/Ninja myth), we should value the better made sword or more appealing fitting regardless of who made it, when or where.

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 Post subject: Re: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 5:29 am 
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Kokuho
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We are each entitled to our own interpretation of what it is we collect I suppose but for me a Japanese sword is defined by a 1000 year tradition. It is made by a licensed Japanese smith who was trained by a Japanese smith, etc., in accordance with that tradition, within parameters that have been defined through history. It is made with particular materials in a particular way.

Western smiths may get the form, but without the training and materials, it lacks the essence that makes it a Japanese sword....It is always a sword made in the Japanese style. I am not saying it is without merit, just that it is different, and I personally don't collect that type of blade.

I would consider a blade made by a Japanese smith with traditional materials a Japanese sword no matter where it was made. It would be hard to argue that the blades Keith Austin made with traditional materials aren't Japanese swords since he was a fully trained in the Japanese tradition, but he is the only westerner ever fully trained and licensed as a Japanese smith.

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 Post subject: Re: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 6:12 am 
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Chris, once you expanded on your definition and why you collect "Japanese Swords" (the "traditional training, methods and materials"), I believe that my point became clearer to you. Based on your new definition (it's not about the person, it's about the traditional training, methods and materials), if a Westerner who was trained in the traditional craft made a sword using traditional materials and methods in New York, then it would be a "Japanese Sword". I can respect that. Following your logic (like you did in your original post going from sword makers to fitting makers), I believe that you would now say that a Westerner who was trained in the traditional craft and made fittings using traditional material and methods in South Africa would be making "Japanese Fittings". Interestingly, I understand that most, if not all, Japanese (people) fitting makers in Japan are no longer smelting their own alloys for kinko works and are instead using modern prepared billets (not traditional materials). Therefore, the modern fittings made by those Japanese (people) fitting makers are not "Japanese Fittings" under your definition (because they are not using traditional materials or methods) and you would not buy or collect them. Conversely, I understand that Ford does do his own smelting, so if you purchase any modern kinko "Japanese Fittings", it can only be from Ford :D If each of us really investigates why he/she collects (e.g., it's the amazing results from using traditional methods and materials, attention to detail, aesthetic, etc.), and it's not just about the romantic Samurai history, then we should open our minds to swords and fittings made by non-Japanese if they are comparable in terms of quality, aesthetic and price.

For the record, I'm not a friend of Ford's (but I'd like to be), I'm not an artist, and I'm not in the business of making or selling Japanese Swords or Fittings (or any similar items made by Japanese or non-Japanese people).

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 Post subject: Re: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 6:20 am 
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I am happy to have David McDonald wrap a handle for me, for Brian Tschernaga to make a habaki for me, for John Terado to make a shirasaya for me, and for Ford Hallam to make a tsuba for me. Brian, David and Ford have all entered contests in Japan and had some recognition and success for their respective work.
I think that on of Brians early habaki was thought to have actually been made by his teacher. Brian was that good and now is better.
I have yet to buy a sword by a modern non-Japanese smith. If the opportunity comes I will take a serious look at the blade. Pierre Nadeau has completed 5.5 years of traditional training in sword making. I do not know if he completed his training but I will look for him to make swords in the future - Japanese swords made with traditional materials in the traditional way.

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 Post subject: Re: Blades and kodogu-modern and by non-Japanese: What is it?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 6:33 am 
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George, You have mentioned the romance of samurai history twice and even the dreaded ninja word as if that is a despicable thing. Never-minding the Hollywood ninja hype and the minor role they played in Japanese history, the knowledge of the 'entire' history of Japan is necessary to understand how the Japanese sword came about, evolved and the effect it had on its' people. It is within this context that the true artfulness of its' construction becomes truly appreciated, from the lowly charcoal burner to the consummate smith working for the great lords of the times. As well as say kenjutsuka are samurai wannabes and that is just not true on the whole. John

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