The ancient craft in our time.
Dear friends, collectors and enthusiasts of Japanese swords and traditional Japanese metalwork.
After previous consideration and continuous study of Japanese metalworking techniques, It has been almost ten years since I decided to become a professional craftsman in this field.
At the beginning it was really tough and years I have dedicated to my work convince me more and more in the complexity of the field I have chosen. The skills achieved by far through work and studying have no limits and there is plenty of room for improvement, self-improvement first of all, and new exciting and intricate challenges.
After the first four years of my professional journey, owing to the intervention of fate, I met my Japanese teacher, a togishi who comes from an important Hon-Ami school line, who later began to lead my steps in understanding and learning the rules of Japanese design. Thanks to his support I was given significant opportunities to develop not just my skills but also my personality. This opened to me a whole new world of the mysterious Japanese soul, traditions, specific way of thinking and perception of surroundings, nature and forces that make up the world we live in.
Thanks to the overall support of those of you who have honored me with trust and allowed me to create sword fittings for your swords by my own hands, I can now totally devote myself to my work and thus deepen my knowledge and refine my skills. I deeply thank you all for that.
In previous years I have been receiving, and still continue to receive, many inquiries regarding possible orders for the production of tsuba and other elements of the sword koshirae.
Inquiries are very often followed by expressions of surprise at the prices of the custom works compared to the historical, antique ones. Please let me try to explain this frequently discussed aspect of my work.
In the hands of Japanese and foreign collectors, as well as on the antiques market around the world, a considerable number of sword guards from different periods and schools are accumulated and being traded.
Those items’ commercial value is not always determined on the basis of their quality and complexity of execution, but above all by dealer’s pricing approaches, purchasing power of collectors and their willingness to invest certain amounts in individual pieces.
Taking that into account, for example, an unsigned tsuba from the 17th or 18th century of high quality workmanship can now be purchased in Japanese shops specializing only in the sale of traditionally made Japanese swords from ¥ 300,000 to ¥ 800,000, depending on the content and decorative technique of the motif. At that time when the art of the Japanese sword fittings was flourishing being in high demand top metalworkers had an army of preparers, assistants, students working for them. Now it is completely impossible to create a similar work in the above price range, through the hands of a contemporary craftsman, who is burdened by the costs of running a workshop, and whose work being the essence of his existence provides living for his family. This is mainly a time expense incurred by an individual craftsman to create and complete a proper quality work.
There is large volume of old sword guards and other fittings for sword koshirae moving on the market at unrealistically low selling prices, in relation to the original economic demands of production, radically eggravate the very existence and maintaining this traditional Japanese craft alive in our current modern times.
To put it simple, the original creator – the craftsman of the antique sword guard or other sword fitting sold in specialized stores is no longer behind his work, only his signature at best. And therefore no need to pay the complete cost of the production of the entire work, the cost in most of the cases is simply unknown. And thus it all comes down to the marketing perspective and approaches of the seller of a certain piece. Of course, depending on his principles, own preferences and size of his business the seller then adjusts the price to the purchasing power of his own clientele and at the same time to the amount at which it makes sense for him to offer certain piece.
It is therefore virtually impossible for a contemporary craftsman to produce a new item based on the price idea created by the open market of antique works piled up in the hands of collectors and dealers.
Historically orders for high quality works were coming to craftsmen from lords, high-ranking samurai and wealthy merchants, for whom accurately and artistically well produced sword fittings were a sign of social prestige of the time. If we have the opportunity to look into administrative archives and records, we can also find bills for some custom works. Those, in terms of today’s money buying power, represented considerable amounts at that time.
Some of the renowned metalworkers worked under the patronage of the shogunate or individual lords receiving a stable wage in koku of rice as craftsmen serving the court. They were not limited by the order processing time, budget or availability of source material.
In summary of the above, the price of custom work therefore depends on the time required to complete the whole work, including the design, not on the price of similar works that are available on today’s free antiques trade market.