Oh ... My ... God
When I was a kid, I was really into comic books, which I bought using my allowance at the local convenience store. They had one rack of comics and you couldn't predict which ones were going to be there in any given week. You could try ordering other comics but you wouldn't always get what you wanted. Even so, I didn't have enough money to get all the comics I wanted, so I usually had to pick one or two out of the meagre selection they had.
Then one day, I went to a comic shop. I never imagined that such a wonderful place could actually exist. There were comics hanging on the walls, for God's sake! It almost blew my mind. It excited me but it also depressed me a little bit to think that there were so many comics in the world and I would never be able to buy or read them all.
Well, that's pretty much how I felt when I walked in the doors of the Tokyo Art Club on Sunday afternoon. There were swords as far as the eye could see, as well as suits of armour, whole stores devoted to Tsubas, and spears, naginatas, even some ancient guns. It was jaw-dropping. They had an entire display of new swords that had just been finished by people like Gassan (Sadamune?), Yoshihara Yoshindo, Kawauchi, and others I didn't know... it was incredible.
They also had a "Kantei" corner where you could get your sword appraised, Antiques Roadshow - style. I took my sword there and the appraiser said that I should probably spend between $1000 and $1500 to get it polished. Hmmm. But in the end, he never actually told me how much the sword was worth. Kind of strange. He didn't seem particularly impressed by it, but I guess you get kind of jaded when you are used to evaluating swords worth over $100,000.
I met the nice people at the Noshu-do store. There was an American guy there (whose name I have forgotten, but it may have been David Goldberg?) who is a swordmaker from Pennsylvania. We had a really nice chat about a variety of topics; he teaches iai and aikido down there and is also a full-time swordmaker. What a life!
Overall, the sword show was pretty amazing but at the same time, it was kind of depressing, just like when I was a kid and I saw all those comics I couldn't buy. I'll never have enough money to own a really nice or really "important" sword, and come to think of it, what's the point? Do people who own these swords take them out and look at them every day? Does it give them pleasure to know that they own the sword, not some other person? Or is it the case that they have researched these blades to such a high degree that they feel they "know" them and so they have to own them? Or do they just want to impress the other collectors? Swords have been commodified to such an extent ... I wonder if the people who run these stores take any pleasure in them anymore. I'm sure the swordmakers must get a huge feeling of satisfaction when they create a new, beautiful sword, but the collectors and dealers just seem to be in it for the money, which is a shame.
And I don't know how the average Japanese person feels about swords. Are they objects of terror? Do they feel that their family is not really respectable unless they own an "heirloom" sword? How should I feel about swords as a person who does iaido? Is it a tool, and nothing more? When we bow to our sword, and talk about the sword as the "soul of the samurai" do we do so with a feeling of irony because, after all, it's just a lifeless lump of metal? On the other hand, there are weirdos out there who sleep with their swords because they feel that will make them a better martial artist...
I guess the bottom line is that some swords are really beautiful, and I for one, would like to support the traditional craftsmen by (someday) buying a sword from one of them. Now, I just need to save $50,000 or so...