Important Notice

This is an important notice regarding my monthly translations of selected parts of the Tōken Bijutsu magazine for members of the American and European branches of the NBTHK.

At present, I have neither received the September (752) nor the August (751) issue, nor have I received any issue at all this year. So far, I had a workaround, which were the copies sent to Mr. Ogawa here at the museum. However, his last two copies have not yet arrived here either.

Also, some of our dear members were providing me with scans/photos of their copy, which I am truly grateful for! But that said, I do not want that three or four of our members have to “worry” and be at the start month after month about this issue. Or in other words, this workaround can not become – or rather I refuse that this workaround becomes – a permanent solution for this ongoing problem with absent copies of the magazine (and I am not the only one not receiving them on a regular basis).

I am aware of the fact that many of you are participating in the monthly kantei and are eagerly awaiting my translation, especially the German-speaking members, and those who want to double-check with the English translation provided by the NBTHK on their website before mailing their answers. I am very sorry this situation but please understand that the issue is beyond my control. 

At this point I want to state that, as indicated, the translation provided by the NBTHK on their website is not done by me as some members assumed. Mine, done on behalf of the EB and AB, are sent out monthly (and directly) via email for the former, and quarterly (by the AB) via mail for the latter group.

I still have hopes that this problem can be fixed as my new address has been forwarded to Japan in January this year…

Thank you for your understanding.

Breakdown of price for sword blade




My first book Legends and Stories around the Japanese Sword contains a chapter on period sword prices which can be found, in article form, here and here. In this article, you will not only find the fees certain smiths charged for their blades, but also information about the income and living expenses of samurai.

In this context, I would like to introduce a very interesting document, and related blade, which gives us an insight into the price structure of shinshintō master Chōunsai Tsunatoshi (長運斎綱俊, 1798-1863). This document, shown below, is an invoice that breaks down the costs of making that sword inquestion. Note: There are a few characters in the second part that need further research when there is some time one day but the parts relevant for this post are clear, and quoted below.


一弐両 平作代
一弐両壱分 彫物
一壱分弐朱 ほんち二字
一三分弐朱 研上クさや代金

如件 上杉内




nagasa 1 shaku 5 sun 1 bu
• 2 ryō – Costs for making the blade
• 2 ryō 1 buHorimono
• 1 bu 2 shu – Two bonji
• 3 bu 2 shu – Costs for polish and saya

Total: 5 ryō 2 bu
I hereby acknowledge to having received above stated sum.

At the Uesugi facilities, 14th day of the third month, Tsunatoshi + seal

Tenpō, year of the rat (1840)
Receipt issued by the Edo swordsmith and Uesugi retainer Chōunsai Tsunatoshi.

(Info: 1 ryō = 4 bu = 16 shu)

As you can see, the horimono, i.e., a shin no kurikara on the omote side and gomabashi on the ura side, are actually more expensive than the forging of the blade itself. And, the two bonji cost extra! Also interesting to see is that Tsunatoshi charged his client for polish and (shira)saya. That is, at least as far as the blade is concerned, there was no broker involved who charged the client and then distributed the fee between the smith, polisher, and saya-shi.

When you read my aforementioned article on sword prices you will see that in terms of price for a blade, Tsunatoshi was at around the same level as Taikei Naotane (大慶直胤, 1778-1857) who also charged, on average, 5 ryõ. Incidentally, Naotane was a fellow senior student of Tsunatoshi under master Suishinshi Masahide (水心子正秀, 1750-1825).

Five ryō was more than the annual income of a lower ranking samurai by the way, which brings me to another interesting element of that memo, and that is the name that appears therein, Uesugi (上杉). We know that from Bunsei six (文政, 1823) onwards, Tsunatoshi was living in, and working from, the Edo residence of the Uesugi, the daimyō of the Yonezawa fief (米沢藩) in Dewa province. (Link to photos of the blade here).



Wakizashi (jūyō-tōken), mei: Chōunsai Tsunatoshi – Tenpō jūichinen nigatsu hi hori-dōsaku (長運斎綱俊・天保十一年二月日彫同作, “Made and engraved by Chōnsai Tsunatoshi on a day in the second month of Tenpō eleven [1840]”), nagasa 46.2 cm, sori 1.0 cm, hira-zukuri, iori-mune