Finally received my copy of Gakken’s latest sword publication Nihon no Bi: Nihonto (The Japanese Sword) the other day (thanks to Jason). To tell you right away, I really really appreciate the approach of this book as it is the first in this category (of books coming from Japan) that comes fully bilingual. That means it is not, as so often, a sword book in Japanese with just an English index and here and there some half-hearted English captions, no, it is as mentioned truly bilingual. Or almost, as the descriptions of the tsuba and kodôgu were not translated. But not a big deal and I am aware of the fact that sometimes concessions have to be made to layout and to extent of a publication and that the focus was clearly on swords. Also Paul Martin did a great job with the translations and I am very glad the he did this as he is an expert himself and knows his stuff, i.e. we are luckily not dealing with “outsider” translations that leave ambiguities. This becomes the more evident in the extensive 40+ pages terminology section at the end of the book. So if you grab a copy, you not only have depictions and explanations of the great swords (with which I will deal in the following), you also get a detailed and comprehensive sword glossary that works as a fine reference by itself.
Now to the book itself, which is four-sectioned (or at least that is how I see it, your mileage may vary). First section introduces about 30 renowned blades in color and with certain parts in full size. Depending on the sword, also its mounting is depicted in color. This section is concluded by several fine koshirae with excellent details of their highlights and masterly tsuba and fittings. As most of them are also blown up to 200~300% (135~185% when it comes to tsuba), you can really appreciate subtle details in workmanship. The second section are the pullout pages which present 1:1 color pictures of about a dozen of renowned swords and their mountings. And this section is great as it gives newbies and others who don’t have access to handle and study superior Japanese swords in person a good feel of the excellence and what makes the fascination of these superior and so much more than edged weapons. Thus one tip: Some of the swords might look at a glance delicate and fragile for beginners when you open the book but when you pull out the pages fully and place them vertically on a (preferrably empty) table or on the floor and approach them just as you would pick them up at a sword appreciation (kantei) session, you will realize how magnificent and breathtaing they actually are! The third section provides the explanation of the blades introduced in sections 1 and 2 and comes in an appealing layout as each one page is reserved for one blade and due to the bilingual approach with the Japanese text and Paul’s translation right next to each other, this also provides a great exercise for those who are about to dig deeper into the subject of translating nihontô-related texts. And section four is the aforementioned terminology part.
My conclusion: This book should be found in every nihontô library as it also excellently serves as a teaser if someone interested asks you to tell him or her more about this fascinating subject and you can show him or her, via catchy pictures, what this is all about. The only small downer is that you can’t easily order it outside of Japan for example from amazon.com. But it is relative easy to create an account on amazon.co.jp (no, your amazon.com account won’t work for that and you need to register with a different email address) and order it from them. Five of five stars.