Forgery of the Japanese sword
Is your sword genuine or fake?
Like other fine arts, there’re many deceptions in the world of the Japanese sword. The most well-known one is arguably the false signature “Gimei(偽銘)” but there’re other deceptions in some forms also. This post brings up the types of the Japanese sword forgery and the story behind it.
Why were fake swords made?
From ancient times, the Japanese swords have been considered not just a weapon but art also. The most common reason behind the sword forgery is money regardless of the time. Many unknown smiths made copies of famous smiths swords to make a living.
Utsushi(写し) is sometimes used in forgery also. In the Edo period, some smiths tried to recreate some old masterpiece swords so as to analyze the technique and master it and such a copy sword is classified as an Utushi. In other words, Utsushi swords were never made with the intention to deceive. But the signature of the swords often gets erased so that it could look like a genuine unsigned sword.
The least common reason is the regulation. It’s kind of strange but in the Edo period, the powerful Japanese feudal lords should possess the swords made by certain smiths such as Masamune(政宗). In order to keep to the regulation, some lords often asked their in-house smiths to make a fake.
Types of fake sword
Gimei sword: The most well-known forgery is inscribing a false signature into the sword. In most cases, you can spot the false signature with a reference book.
Sword with Orikaeshi-Mei or Gaku-Mei: If a singed sword was damaged so badly, only the signature part is sometimes cut out and attached to a resembling sword. So in this case, you need to examine not only the signature but also the Nakago very carefully. If the rust color and the Yasurime style of the signature part are different than the other parts, the signature part could be from another sword.
Unsigned sword: There are many unsigned swords in the market and sword dealers often erase the false signature from a Gimei sword to get a better attribution by the NBTHK so that they can sell it at a high price. It’s very common, in fact, maybe almost all the dealers do this. In a broad sense, However, unsigned swords could be classified as a fake also, especially when it comes to an O-Suriage sword with the NBTHK’s old certificate. The attribution of such a sword is inappropriate, 9 times out of 10.
Aside from altering a sword, a fake certificate and appraisal are also common. Just because the sword had an old paper that looks very important, it doesn’t mean it’s valuable. From the late Edo period, some bad dealers made a fake certificate. Unless you have an eye for the Japanese sword, you had better rely on a certificate or opinion by a well-known appraiser. But even some great appraisers couldn’t resist the lure of money.
The NBHTK is now the most reliable Japanese sword association but their old certificates are no longer reliable, namely Kicho Token, Tokubetsu Kicho Token, and Koshu Tokubetsu Kicho Token certificate. A few old Juyo Token certificates are also less reliable. Check our post “NBTHK certificate ranking and criteria” for the details.
Not only a certificate but you should suspect Sayagaki(鞘書き) also. Sayagaki is often written by such famous appraisers as Honami Koson(本阿弥光遜), Honma Kunzan(本間薫山), and Sato Kanzan(佐藤寒山). Their opinions are thought to be so dependable that there are many their fake Sayagaki. It’s quite difficult to tell if the Sayagaki is genuine or fake, even veteran appraisers can’t judge it.
And even though the Sayagaki was written by the notable appraisers themselves, some of them can’t be trusted because there are some collusions between some dealers with them. Especially, Sato Kanzan is said to have written many unreliable ones.