GVSU Lecture Report

Just back from Grand Rapids I want to give you a brief report on the trip and lecture. The lecture was held on Wednesday, April 12, at Grand Valley State University’s L.V. Eberhard Center, starting at 5:30 pm, and it was a general overview of the history of the Japanese sword and how it is made, plus a brief introduction into the practice of cutting tests, tameshigiri. I will provide a transcript of the former part as PDF below.


The lecture was concluded by me introducing several swords from the Grand Rapids City Archives and Research Center, accompanied by a very good Q&A session. The day prior to the lecture I was given the opportunity to go through the Japanese sword collection of the City Archives and I picked six representative swords for the lecture. The Grand Rapids City Archives and Research Center own about 25 Japanese swords, a Japanese armor, and a few Japanese helmets (e.g. a signed and very good Saotome Iechika [早乙女家親] and a Nobuie dated 1512 but which is probably gimei). The swords I picked were a signed Hizen Dewa Daijô Yukihiro (肥前出羽大掾行広) katana whose koshirae features a nice Nobuie-tsuba, an unsigned mounted Bizen Yoshii (吉井) School katana, a signed Kashû Kanewaka (加州兼若) wakizashi in kyû-guntô mounts, an unsigned mounted kotô naginata-naoshi katana, an unsigned Mino wakizashi with a typical sanbonsugi-hamon in a nice Higo-koshirae, and an unsigned shintô wakizashi that is also nicely mounted.

That said, I want to thank all attendees, the Japanese/Chinese students I met for lunch the day before the lecture, Mr. Alex Forist and Mr. Jared Yax from the Grand Rapids City Archives and Research Center for giving me the opportunity to go through their Japanese collection, and Prof. Meghan Cai from GVSU’s Chinese Faculty for initiating the lecture and for organizing the whole event. ありがとうございます!

Ah, and as Grand Rapids is Beer City USA, I also enjoyed the local craft beers of course 🙂

Easter eBook Super Sale III


I just started, like last year and the year before, an Easter eBook Super Sale where ALL of my eBooks are reduced by 50%! This offer will be valid for until the day after Easter Monday (4/18) so you have enough time to decide what you want. So fill up all your tablets (or PC´s) with all the important Nihonto and Tosogu reference material you need four your studies!

Once again, it goes directly via me (i.e. I’m not going to manually change all the prices on Lulu.com and then change them back when the sale is over). I provide a list of all my eBooks below, showing the regular and the reduced prices. I also linked them so that you can check what the description says but again, DO NOT buy over there at Lulu.com this time. Get in touch with me via “markus.sesko@gmail.com” and pay me directly, either by PayPal using the very same email address or by credit card, using the donate button at the very bottom of this page and I’m going to send you over the eBook. And anyway, if you gave a question, just drop me a mail.

So grab this chance to fill up your laptops/tablets/phones with all references you need.

Thank you for your attention!

Akasaka Tanko Roku ….. $8.90 – $4.50
Encyclopedia of Japanese Swords ….. $24.90 – $12.50
Geneaogies and Schools of Japanese Swordsmiths ….. $19.90$10
Genealogies of Japanese Toso Kinko Artists ….. $19,90$10
Identifying Japanese Cursive Script ….. $14.90$7.50
Identifying Japanese Seal Script ….. $14.90$7.50
Japan’s Most Important Sword Fittings ….. $14.90$7.50
Jukken ….. $14.90$7.50
Kano Natsuo I ….. $59.90$30
Kano Natsuo II ….. $59.90$30
Kantei Reference Book – Hamon & Boshi ….. $19.90$10
Koshirae – Japanese Sword Mountings ….. $19.90$10
Koshirae Taikan ….. $59.90$30
Koto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45
Koto Meikan ….. $39.90$20
Legends and Stories Around the Japanese Sword ….. $9.90 – $5
Legends and Stories Around the Japanese Sword 2 ….. $9.90 – $5
Masamune ….. $29.90$15
Masters of Keicho Shinto ….. $19.90$10
Nihon-koto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Nihon-shinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Nihon-shinshinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Shinshinto Meikan ….. $29.90$15
Shinto Meikan ….. $29.90$15
Shinto Shinshinto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45
Signatures of Japanese Sword Fittings Artists ….. $89.90$45
Soken Kinko Zufu ….. $9.90 – $5
Swordsmiths of Japan ….. $89.90$45
Tameshigiri ….. $29.90$15
The Honami Family ….. $19.90$10
The Japanese Toso Kinko Schools ….. $24.90$12.50

German Titles:

Die Honami Familie ….. $19.90$10
Geschichten rund ums japanische Schwert ….. $9.90 – $5
Geschichten rund ums japanische Schwert 2 ….. $9.90 – $5
Koto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45
Nihon-shinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Nihon-shinshinto-shi ….. $29.90$15
Shinto Shinshinto Kantei Zenshu ….. $89.90$45

Theodor von Lerch

I have said this several times: Delving into the world of nihontô makes you aware of parts of Japanese history you probably wouldn’t have thought about, ever. Looking for something in particular in my files the other day, I came across a translation/research I did seven years ago.

So this is the background: I was approached by a friend of mine from Bavaria who knows someone who owns a Japanese sword in shirasaya that has an inscription, i.e. a sayagaki. Obviously I was asked to translate the sayagaki but I have to admit, it can’t provide any pics here because I got the inquiry via real physical photos and I never scanned or copied them before they were returned.

Anyway, I don’t remember if the blade was signed or attributed but it was a work of Sa Akikuni (左顕国), a student of master Sa Yasuyoshi (左安吉) who was active in the early years of the Ôei era (応永, 1394-1428) and who had moved from Chikuzen to Nagato province. So his name was noted in the sayagaki and was followed by the following inscrtiption:


Tei ôkoku sanken chûsa Reruhi-kun.
Present to Lieutenant Colonal Lerch from Austria.


Now translating the brief dedication was not very difficult of couse but having a katakana transcription of a Western name that is just of three syllables made me doubt about finding anything on this person. However, I am from Austria too so I became ambitious about who he was. The age of the shirasaya and writing style of the sayagaki seemed to be Meiji, what would have been a match with my initial assumption that the person might have been one of the so-called oyatoi gaikokujin (御雇い外国人), a foreign government advisor in Meiji Japan. Next and always the first step, just google the name on Japanese Google, and well, just throwing in the katakana レルヒ already came back with a hit: Not a oyatoi gaikokujin but I was not that off. He was an official coming to Japan a little bit later than the oyatoi gaikokujin, Lieutenant Colonel Theodor Edler von Lerch (1869-1945), the guy who was the first to properly introduce the art of skiing to Japan, in 1911. Wow! So he was presented with a sword in Japan, obviously took it home, and it would be interesting to know how it ended up in Bavaria. 

I will provide some links for further reading on my fellow countryman below because I don’t want to rehash. I just thought it would be interesting to post this little anecote on my blog after stumbling upon this seven years old research of mine the other day.

Picture 1: Theodor Edler von Lerch in 1911 in Jôetsu, Japan.

Picture 2: The two bronze statues of Lerch in Japan, one at the Kanayasan Ski Resort (left) and one at Asahikawa Airport (right).

Picture 3: The local Lerch mascot at Kanayasan 😉


As mentioned, isn’t it fascinating what you come across by dealing with Japanese swords? That way, I had to dive into the world and history of Japanese barbershops, ramen noodles, sake brewing, weird delicacies served at a tea ceremony, the Portuguese entering the Indian Ocean, pirates, the entire Silk Road, the development of howitzers, the anatomy of skeletons of certain fish, and so much more. What a fruitful job and activity!