Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Famous Japanese Swords: "Meibutsu Token"

Thanks to Unka Kim and his Bloggie Thingie, I found out about a major sword show happening now (until September 25th) at the Nezu Art Museum in Omotesando, Tokyo. I had nothing better to do today, so I dropped by the exhibition. Since a lot of you budo bums are also sword-o-philes, I thought I might share.

Omotesando is one of my least favorite places in Tokyo, because it is one of the homes of the high fashion retailers like Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton ... and the people who patronize these places. And also the people who wish they could patronize these places. Everyone seems to be strutting around in oversized sunglasses, trying to pretend like they are famous people who are trying not to be recognized. The place always seems to be full of pallid, scowling, impossibly tall and thin European girls, too. Models or just wannabes? Who knows.

The museum itself is kind of nice, and you walk past a nice little garden and down a striking exterior pathway, lined by bamboo (living on one side, dry on the other).

No photography was allowed inside the gallery. 50 swords were on exhibit, a number which includes 3 National Treasures, 22 Important Cultural Properties, and 3 Important Art Objects. 12 of the blades were made by that most well-known sword smith, Masamune.

The sword which impressed me most and struck me as awesomely, fiercely beautiful was a monster by Bishu Osafune Kanemitsu, made in 1358, in the Nambokucho period. Swords of this period were often very large and this sword is no exception. Everything about it - the curvature, the kissaki, the hamon - speak of barely contained power. It really is something that would strike awe into the heart of anyone who saw it, I think - especially in the hands of an enemy. It does not surprise me to read that Kanemitsu, possibly a student of Masamune, was considered to have created some of the sharpest blades ever made.

Another fantastic blade was by Mitsutada, founder of the Osafune school. It was said to have been treasured by Oda Nobunaga, who was notoriously fond of swords.

I spent the afternoon drooling over swords, squinting at kanji, bobbing my head around trying to catch the reflection from nie and nioi ... just generally in awe of these venerable (but still somehow new-looking) objects of death and destruction. But is that fair to say? Most of these swords, if not all, were treasured status symbols and closely-guarded possessions of wealthy daimyo, custom ordered and presented as gifts from one to the other.

With that idea floating around in my head, I stopped for a quick photograph of the Prada building in Omotesando. Hard to deny that it is a beautiful building; the very essence of luxury. So the samurai had their silks and swords; today's movers and shakers have their suits and sportscars. Nothing ever changes, I suppose... we all like shiny, sparkly things!


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