Over several decades we have come to know and develop relationships with some of Japan’s most pre-eminent sword makers. Today there are slightly over 300 active licensed smiths in Japan. A lesser number of these smiths work full time. Swordstore has working relationships with about thirty full time smiths. We do not work with hobbyists or apprentice smiths.
Each smith sets his own business policies. This is important because in actuality the client is purchasing the smith’s name as much as or more than the work itself. Each smith determines whether a sword that has his signature meets his definition of “acceptable”.
Swordstore understands that some smiths believe that a blade with a number of flaws that are non-strategic in nature would be acceptable for purchase. Sometimes this can lead to a cultural misunderstanding as many Western clients harbor a conception that every blade made must be flawless. We therefore try to direct clients towards smiths that have a higher threshold for defining an acceptable blade for purchase.
Smiths are also free to select the other crafts people that work on completing a sword. Typically as many as 7 or 9 different artisans come together to make a sword in full furniture (koshirae). Often the client is focused on the name of the smith. Often the smith will not reveal openly who the polisher (togishi), habaki maker (habakishi), or saya/lacquer artisans (sayashi/nurishi) are. These craftspeople are just as important as the smith despite a lack of recognition outside of a very small sword community. Swordstore works with smiths that use top quality craftspeople in the polishing and fitting of each custom shinken.
Swordstore tries to interview the client to determine needs. It is impossible to completely automate the process of matching a client to a smith on a project. Upon learning the client’s needs we try to match the smith that is most comfortable working within the defined guidelines.
Often we ask the client for a short biography that is translated and given to the smith before the commencement of work so that he can better picture the client. This is often helpful in helping the smith get a feel for the client's needs and/or personality.
Construction Times For Authentic Japanese Shinken:
From the time that the commission is accepted to shipment typically takes from 4 to 6 months.
Shinken or pure Japanese swords are what it's all about. We work with some of Japans greatest smiths to make the best swords available at the wholesale level to our clients.
Today there are just over 300 active smiths in Japan. Swordstore.com works with approximately 35 of these smiths though admittedly we have our favorites. We only work with well-established accredited and established smiths. We do not work with hobbyists or apprentice smiths.
Each smith is able to set his own business practices and it is well that the client understand that it is the signature or mei on the blade being purchased and not the blade itself. Each particular smith sets his own policies, selects who will do the polish, habaki, and koshirae as well as his own costs and delivery times. Quite often the selection of the smith alone is not enough to determine the best value for the client.
We use the automated form on the shinken page to develop an outline with prospective clients. However the process is too complex and too personal to really create a fully automated process. Please allow us time to study your inquiry, request additional information and consider which smith would be a good match.
The smiths (Toshyo) that we use all start blade construction from tamahagane or iron sand. They follow traditional methods for sword construction and experts today claim that Japan has reached a new zenith in superior sword making.
Choosing the Right Fuchi/Kashira, Tsuba, Menuki and optional Kojiri for your sword:
Swordstore has gone to great lengths to be able to offer a wide range of motifs that can be mixed and matched successfully.
Still, the client should understand that the larger the blade and or handle required, the larger the fittings should be to accommodate the size proportionately. Another consideration is tsuba (sword guard) circumference as a smaller hand might not be as comfortable working with a tsuba of larger diameter.
Sometimes a narrower or wider tsuka will better resolve an issue that would appear to demand a longer tsuka as well. Contact us if you have any questions about special needs.
The measurements for tsuka are based upon a ratio relationship and do not exactly cover distance from tsuba to kashira for example. By Japanese sword convention however the tsuka doesn't typically exceed one/third the length of the blade. Within most Japanese sword arts the longer tsuka is frowned upon as getting in the way of doing some techniques efficiently.
NOTE: The fuchi/kashira design will impact the shape of a tsuka.
Many of our fuchi/kashira sets also allow for the optional kojiri selection. All properly made saya come with kojiri however the metal kojiri option requires that the kojiri be inset into the saya foundation. The fact is that the lacquer does not bond well with metal and can break apart at the seam. The kojiri does receive the most shock from inadvertently striking the ground. For those clients that still want a metal kojiri, I would suggest a rough texture finish such as black stone over a gloss finish as it will probably be more successful long term.
Tsuka Construction and Length and a Good Wrap
When a craftsman gets an order, he selects two precut pieces of honoki that already have a curved shape. The length of the tsuka is cut off and the length of the saya is also adjusted from these blocks of wood before shaping commences. Requests for longer tsuka and/or saya can require a special order for the wood that in many instances has been selected and aged years before the actual use of the item.
Each wrap is hand made. Properly made the ito is tight and the diamonds are even. Often quality can in part be judged by the number of diamonds on a tsuka though this should not be over-emphasized. Proper use (shibori) will actually help tighten the wrap over time. Improper hand movements can loosen a good wrap.
By Japanese sword convention the tsuka doesn’t usually exceed one third the length of the blade. Over the last few decades we’ve seen a growing interest in the West for longer tsuka and Swordstore.com recognizes and tries to meet this client request. When it comes to Japanese shinken however, some smiths will refuse to break with tradition. Please understand that it is a source of pride and tradition to these artisans to maintain a standard that bares their name (mei) and reflects on their work quality.
From a sword practitioner’s point of view there is no one proper way to determine proper tsuka length. We offer tsuka lengths in increments of about 5 bu or 1.52cm / 0.6in. Most tsuka are 8 sun (24.2 cm, 9.53 in.), 8.5 sun (25.8 cm, 10.2 in.), or 9 sun (27.2 cm, 10.7 in) and would fit the needs of most clients. Proper grip would usually dictate a distance of 2 and a half to 3 and a half fingers distance between hands.
Clients may prefer to send a tracing to Swordstore should trace the right hand from the base of the wrist around fingertips (don’t splay fingers open) to base of thumb. Although Swordstore.com can’t accept responsibility for sizing, this information will help the artisan evaluate your needs.
Some wraps are more durable than others. Therefore the default wrap is hinerimaki. Despite some unusual comments found on the internet today, “katattemaki” is not a “combat” grip. Usually it is decorative and it certainly is not superior in terms of durability. Some clients prefer the menuki placement to be reversed. This is called “gyakute” menuki and Swordstore is able to provide this service.
Don't worry it isn't not rocket science! You will probably not require precision in measuring to the nearest bu (1/12th of an inch) or even a quarter inch. Sometimes in-between sizes are best resolved by shortening, lengthening, widening or narrowing the tsuka (pommel) or even simply adjusting your grip.
Some folks think that if one Mekugi/Megukiana (pommel pins/openings) is good that two must be better. This isn't always so.
Our tsuka are shimmed tight for daily practice. We do not glue the tsuka to the nakago (tang). Typically we provide one mekugi or pin. Upon request we will often provide a second pin, especially for tsuka of longer lengths. We consider the second pin to be cosmetic. The client should know the facts however; historically the artisans provided a second mekugi as a quick field fix.designed to reduce or eliminate tsuka-gata (sloppiness) between the handle and the nakago on the interior if it was moving around. This was a short term correction and not considered ideal.
A second pin does nothing to provide additional protection from shear force. When cutting, the energy travels along the edges of the nakago and not the pin. By drilling a second hole in the wood foundation of the tsuka and in the metal of the nakago at the base of the handle where it tapers the foundation can be substantially weakened. This is compounded by the fact that the practitioner does shibori, the wringing out motion at this strategic ocation. Sustained use can then break the weakened tsuka foundation. One notable exception might be specific to cutting targets when an extraordinarily long tsuka is used.
ADY Adjustment to Dollar Yen Currency Valuations:
Try as we might to maintain prices and minimize fluctuations, they do occur. Our prices are based upon an exchange rate of Y100:$1.00. On large ticket items such as shinken, armor, and steel iaito we will require an adjustment based upon the final billing from Japan should the exchange fall below the ratio stated here.