The Collection of the Museum of Japanese Sword Fittings (Nihon Tosogu Bijutsukan)
The Museum of Japanese Sword Fittings (Nihon Tosogu Bijutsukan) in Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, was founded in 1994. The museum, now closed, was dedicated to the preservation and study of sword fittings and issued papers authenticating and attesting their historical importance. The museum also housed a collection of important swords, most acquired from the 1940s through the 1970s by Aoyama Kokichi, who made his fortune in real estate.
At the end of World War II there was a real danger that Japan's heirloom swords might all be lost. At the time it was estimated that there were some 3,500,000 swords in existence. On the one hand, financial hardship forced many families to dispose of their treasures, and on the other the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces ordered the confiscation and destruction of all existing swords, including those of artistic and historical importance. It is said that Homma Junji (1904-1991), an authority of Japanese swords who worked for the department of National Treasures at the Ministry of Education, approached General Douglas MacArthur for assistance, and in May 1946 the GHQ relented and gave permission for private ownership of blades.
The well-known Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai, or NBTHK (Society for the Preservation of Japanese Art Swords), was formed in 1948. Homma chaired the sword registration committee, a group of recognized sword specialists. Those early registration documents often have handwritten attributions and notes relating to the provenance of the swords and are therefore important records in their own rights. These were early days before the kanteisho (certificate of authenticity) system was fully established. Aoyama, the collector, was evidently a close friend of Homma: some of the swords in this sale have authentication inscriptions (sayagaki) written by Homma at the special request of Aoyama (lots 3, 12, 35, 40). Aoyama would have needed the highest level of introduction to enable him to acquire so many fine blades. The museum collection has, in addition, many swords with authentication inscriptions dating from as early as the Edo and Meiji periods. Seven swords in the collection are designated Important Cultural Properties and seven are National Treasures (including four that were acquired by Aoyama prior to 1951).
The swords in this sale are representative works dating from the Kamakura period (1185-1333) through 1985. There are both signed and unsigned blades of the finest quality and importance by some of Japan's greatest swordsmiths. Sword fittings from the Museum's collection are being offered in the sale of Japanese art (sale 1490) directly following this sale on 29 March 2005.