Posted by Kam
It has become very apparent that Gunto/showato/Gendaito have gained in popularity in the last few years, gaining in market value. The reason for the increased interest I believe is due to a number of factors, one of the main ones being the availability of reference information. Approx 5 years ago (when info was not AS available ) I had an old rusty gunto with a seki stamp, it was the accepted belief that a seki stamp meant “mass produced oil quenched blade” although I wasn’t so sure. After some consideration what to do with this blade I decided as it had a nice Sugata I would give it an Iaito polish ( I do not polish professionally) and mount it in Bukezukuri koshirae for Iaido/kenjutsu. After removing all the rust and pitting I was starting to see what appeared as a nice wide Sanbonsugi hamon (typical in mino/seki work and often found on gunto) but what was starting to confuse me was I was sure I could see sunageashi in parts of the habuchi – At this stage I was using a Kaisei stone which makes the blade look whitish/grey with a very dark hamon. Once I had completed the foundation stage polish – Uchigumori had been complete – I was convinced not only did I see Sunageshi but I could make out in the right light a fine itame hada with some ko-mokume. Normally when polishing a blade for Iaido etc you finish at the uchigumori stage and give a quick nugui but by this stage I was getting a bit curious so I decided to use “finger stones” on it to see if I could get the details to be a bit clearer. The hazuya stone (the first of the finger stones seemed to obscure some of the details although now the blade had a nice satin finish with a clear hamon. After work over with the jizuya stone things started to show through but after the nugui (oxide oil to darken the blade) I was shocked to see nie and sunagashi in the habuchi…but the big surprise was the small but distinct kinsuji showing through.
So obviously not all seki stamped blades were as inferior as first thought but when I mentioned my findings very few of the serious nihonto collectors would consider what I tried to tell them. . . and 5 years later here we are. But have things changed that much? . . . not really! So who are these people buying up Gunto, well from what I can gather it is a mixture of new nihonto enthusiasts some of the older (not in years…but experience) but open minded nihonto enthusiasts and militaria collectors. What does this mean for the future of collecting? . . for starters… a bigger bank balance to afford the price increase, this also means that the guys just starting out have fewer options for a cheap beginners sword. But does greater interest mean we will make more discoveries into the manufacture of blades made during the showa era?. . . . maybe but that would mean often challenging established views and opinions.
I will make brief mention that Adrian Schlemmer has been working on chemical analysis which is already proving to be useful in uncovering information on the manufacture of nihonto. Craig has been polishing Gunto and other modern steel blades for a few years now but has always stuck to the more classical old school japanese Sashikomi, but with further study and research he is now looking at other options that will hopefully help reveal more. Now on the other side of this coin while we have a larger amount of ww2 era swords going into private collections (often permanently or until said collector dies) a good deal of these are Militaria collectors which means for them the more original condition the better. Now while I personally think Gunto koshirae is ugly and impersonal, that’s just my opinion…others may love it which in itself is fine and good for posterity, what the real problem is that a lot of these guys would choke on their beer if you suggested that they get the blades polished even if it was an Ikkansai Shigeteru because then ” it’s not in it’s original condition”.
Then there are the ones who enjoy “restoring” the sword to it’s former glory, yet still insist on sticking the polished (and often straightened and repaired) blade straight back into the saya it was originally housed in. Now this is where the problems begin, firstly putting a fresh polished blade in an old un-cleaned saya is inviting trouble like dirt, grit,and possibly old rust, now with Gunto mountings you have the additional problem of corrosive lubricants. It seems illogical to go to the effort and expense of “restoring” a blade either by full polish or even just a surface polish to counter oxidisation with nugui and then stick it into the very item that aided in it’s deterioration. Now here is where things get even more perplexing… when the koshirae is not original to the blade or they pieced the koshirae together themselves which sometimes means that the saya is not original, yet they still insist in putting the blade right back in there. The other problem is when I have seen great antique blades stored in gunto koshirae (blades from smiths like Rai Kinmichi, Uda Kunimune, Soshu Tsunahiro and many others) yet when I suggest storing them in a shirasaya I’m met with a death stare like I ate their dog (and maybe I did…but that’s besides the point…).
Anyway…the point is if a lot of blades continue to go down this path the ww2/Gendaito/Showato era of swords may lose some very special pieces and ignorance will prevail.