How long have you been in business?
Over ten years now.
Do I have to log in to buy things?
No, not at all.
How much does shipping cost?
It doesn’t. Shipping is free.
Do you sell on eBay?
Yes. Our shop is here.
I can buy things like tsukaito and cleaning kits much more cheaply elsewhere.
I'm sure you can - and you'll get exactly what you'd expect to get when you pay peanuts. The market is full of Chinese-sourced tsukaito, sageo, cleaning kits, fittings and the like, all of which are very cheap. The tsukaito and sageo, for example, are knocked out on something like the machine used for making bootlaces; they are not made by kumihimo. The 'sageo' are generally just cut off a long roll of such braid and often don't have tassels on the end. Be very wary of any photos of cheap sageo that don't show the ends. As for tsukaito they don't use the correct weave, which is specific for binding tsuka. If they use silk at all (rather than something passed off as silk), it's the most rubbishy silk around. As my partner once remarked, "The Chinese produce some wonderful silks. They also produce some godawful rubbish." She runs her own textile business.
I have had customers learn the hard way. They bought cheap Chinese tsukaito because they thought it was a good deal, had the lot fall apart on them a few months later, and then came to me to buy silk tsukaito made the correct way using the correct technique and the right weave. I have seen such bindings last a century without fraying when looked after. When not looked after, they might last sixty or seventy years.
It's not simply just a matter of being longer lasting. It can be potentially very dangerous to use inferior tsukaito. Bear in mind that the bindings are not simply ornamental; they are a structural component of the tsuka. If the tsuka is using panels of samekawa, the tsukaito is the only thing resisting the outward pressure of the nakago on the core. If that pressure isn't resisted, the core can split along its seams which were traditionally held together with rice glue. This has happened when people were practicing tameshigiri using swords with badly fraying tsukaito. It is apparently very scary when that happens, because the tsuka can completely disintegrate in the owner's hands and all of a sudden you have an uncontrolled, sharp, blade whirling through the air.
You wouldn't buy cheap brakepads for your car because they were a fraction of the price of the ones that were properly tested and approved for your vehicle, so why skimp on safety with your sword?
Similarly a cleaning kit might be very cheap, but do you really want to put clove-scented engine oil on your blade, or clean it with bathroom talc? Because that's what you're paying for. If you're going to do that, you'd do better with a can of WD40 and some Johnson's Baby Powder, but it still wouldn't do the job that choji and uchigumori powder will do.
As for Chinese fittings, quite frankly they're ugly, crude, use cheap materials, and don't look anything like anything found on a real Japanese sword. Chinese tsuba may even be cast iron, which is an absolute no-no on a sword; cast iron breaks when hit. Our fittings are direct copies of antique Japanese originals, and our tsuba are made from steel.
Do you do synthetic tsukaito?
No - and we won't. Tsuka are bound very tightly. Synthetics like Rayon stretch, and keep on stretching. Eventually they will fall off. There is no way that we will supply something that we know will eventually fail.
Why don't you offer ready-made habaki/mekugi/saya/tsuka, like some other sellers do?
Because each habaki has to be made to fit the sword on which it is to be used. The habaki takes the shock of a cut and transfers it, via the seppa and tsuba, to the outside of the tsuka. Very little of the force goes through the mekugi, which is why it doesn't break, despite being made of bamboo. Now almost nothing about Japanese swords was standardised, not even in WW2. This means that a habaki made to fit one sword will probably not fit another properly. If it is too loose, you have a potential safety issue; if it doesn't fit closely enough, too much force may go through the mekugi, eventually causing it to fail. If you're using the sword in a dojo this can mean, and has meant, that the blade leaves the tsuka and flys across the dojo with potentially fatal results.
We prefer to do things correctly. We're not going to skimp just to make a buck. It's just too important to get it right. Your sword may only be for a collection, but we don't know that, so we'll apply the same attention to detail that they would have applied in the feudal period. After all, you might want to use it in iai. In any case, we take pride in our work.
Similarly we don't sell ready-made mekugi or saya. They are also made specifically for the sword concerned. Saya are particularly problematic. One sword can differ from another in terms of depth and thickness at hamachi, depth and thickness at the kissaki, length, and sori (curvature). The chances of getting a perfect fit (i.e. one where the sword doesn't rattle), or even being able to get it in the saya at all, are low. Then again, you may get lucky. Who knows? You pays your money and takes your chances. I have run across a fair number of swords saddled with saya that didn't fit, and couldn't be made to fit. I recently had to tell one customer that the saya that he'd bought on eBay would never fit the sword that he bought it for, and that he'd wasted his money. He got us to make a new one for the blade. As for the one bought on eBay - maybe one day he'll find a sword to fit it, but I doubt it.
And sure, a traditionally made saya is not cheap. We're talking about a trained craftsman carving it by hand from honoki that's been seasoned for ten years; the lengthy seasoning ensures that the wood is stable and has a low moisture content. There's little details, like ensuring that the seam on the side of the cutting edge is in the right place so the sword doesn't cut through when drawing, that the sword is neither too loose nor rubs, that the mouth of the saya grips the habaki equally all the way round so that there isn't undue wear, and that allowance has been made for the urushi when it comes to things like the koiguchi and kojiri. After doing all that, the saya has to be finished to the sort of finish that a cabinet maker would be proud of, because urushi isn't like paint; it will not fill or otherwise obscure any blemishes in finish of the woodwork. The completed saya is then given to the lacquerer, who then spends a considerable time adding urushi by hand, and coat by coat, letting it polymerise in between each coat, before finishing it by hand. A highly polished gloss finish (ro-iro-nuri) is particularly labour intensive.
The end result is not going to be cheap, considering that all the work is done by hand. However unless you do something silly with the finished saya, there is a very high chance that someone will be admiring the workmanship in a couple of hundred years, which is more than can be said for the mass produced, ready made, offerings.
And then of course the same applies to readymade tsuka. I have run across any number of tsuka that have been put on with a hammer because they didn't fit, splitting the tsuka and breaking the wood. The only thing holding the whole tsuka together were the silk bindings. Worse, I have also come across cases where an owner, finding the new tsuka still wouldn't go on even with a hammer, decided that the best way forward was to butcher the tang. This has happened to antique nihonto, and reduced their value to zero. As I said to one individual who was considering butchering his nakago with an angle grinder, "I suggest that you take £4,000 out of the bank, pile it up on the kitchen table, and set fire to it, because that is what you're suggesting doing." Fortunately he decided against it, and asked us to make him a tsuka that fitted. The readymade tsuka went in the bin.
As I said, we prefer to do things properly. We've been at this a long time. We've even been complimented on our work by a visiting Japanese sword collector.
Is there anything that you can't repair?
Well there's nothing we can do about fatal flaws or butchered tangs, but apart from that, I'll look at it and, if necessary, ask the opinion of the relevant craftsman. I have restored an old sankaku yari saya that was so dilapidated and broken that I referred to it as 'Edo period firewood'. I have restored a broken tsuka core, despite it missing a piece of wood, because the the sword was of great sentimental value to the owner, and she wanted it restored to the condition it was in when her father brought it home from the Pacific War. I had to carve a piece of honoki to replace the missing bit. I have had to deal with a metal shin-gunto saya where a previous owner had tried to turn the sword into a fantasy barbarian sword with car body filler and paint, and deal with the aftermath of another previous owner painting a metal shin-gunto saya bright orange (that required taking everything down to bare metal, repainting using the proper military paint and painting technique, repatinating the fittings, and regilding the details).
Whatever it is, we'll look at it. We have worked minor miracles before now, such as conserving Edo period lacquered deerskin tsukagawa in situ, despite insect damage to the tsukagawa, and fraying. The damage was invisible by the time we finished, and the tsukas should be good for another 300 years.
Do you ship to my country?
We ship to everywhere except Mexico. The problem with Mexico is that orders don’t get through unless they’re tracked. I’ve no idea where they go, but they don’t get to the customer. Unfortunately the Royal Mail suspended its tracked services to Mexico. Since there was little point in sending out items that I knew would not get to the customer, I stopped shipping to Mexico. Sorry Mexico. :-(
If the Royal Mail reinstates tracked services to Mexico, I’ll start shipping there again.
How many swords have you restored?
I’ve lost count.
Why does your Services page have ‘Please Ask’ for some items instead of prices?
IWith restoration and repair jobs it would be impossible to provide a price without knowing what needs doing. For example, you want a sword restored. First of all, what needs doing? I won’t know that until I look at the sword in question. Perhaps, for example, the saya can be repaired or the tsuka simply rebound. Then again, the saya may be beyond any hope of an economical repair, and the tsuka core so cracked that it really would be sensible to make another one. I won’t know either way until I’ve looked at it, at which point I’ll do you a quote.
As for gold items, the price fluctuates. I could come up with a firm price based on today’s price of gold, but it would be pointless unless you’re ordering today. It is far easier if you ask me for a quote, and I go away and base one on the price of gold at the time you asked for the quote.
Urushi lacquering is another area. There are prices for the usual types of urushi lacquering that are requested. However there are many urushi techniques. One can, for example use abalone, egg shells or even pine needles. Our lacquerer can do these, but there isn’t much point in pricing such techniques because no one has yet asked us for a saya done using raden, rankaku-nuri, or wakasa-nuri. If, on the other hand, you’re feeling adventurous and want a saya like that, then we’ll be glad to give you a quote.
Will you customise or repair my production katana?
Sure, if you want it done and are prepared to pay for the work. Doing things the traditional way isn’t cheap, but it will last your lifetime unless you do something really silly.
Are you anything to do with Ryujin Swords Custom Katana?
No. I’ve no idea who they are, other than they’re based in the US, are something to do with the Sword Buyer’s Guide, and sell customised Chinese-made T10 production blades. We had already been established for eight years when they started their business in 2015. You’d have to ask them why they used the name of our business.
Can you make me a T10 blade?
Sorry, no. I’m not even sure where you’d get T10 from, as it doesn’t appear to be available from any UK steel stockist. I note from the Chinese metallurgical data that it is basically 1095 with the addition of 0.2-0.3% silicon. It doesn’t, as is popularly supposed, contain tungsten.
That said, we can commission a smith – either Japanese or one of the Western smiths who work in the style - to forge a sword. The blade can be forged either from tamahagane or W2 (it has a pinch of vanadium in it, which makes it a mean cutter). Depending on what you want, it can have a hada, and it will have a hamon. After the blade is forged, we’d mount it in either koshirae made to your specification, or in a shirasaya. It will be of a considerably higher quality than a Chinese-made production katana. It will however be more expensive. All that working by hand doesn’t come cheap.
Can I visit?
Sure. Sort out a day and a time, and I’ll try and make sure the kettle is on.