Sword Database released

I’m pleased to announce the rollout of a new feature which hopefully will become one of the most important components of this website. Sword Database (accessible from the Club Resources menu on the left hand side) is a collection of sword records, from the most prominent to the most humble ones. It starts from the list of Kokuho – Japanese National Treasures and it’s going to expand in the coming years. Information on more than 2000 swords is ready to be published in the future.

The first version of the Sword Database contains only basic metrics of the blade, attribution and references to public sources, e.g. sword books, magazines and articles. It will be eventually enhanced with photos, thorough description and other information. It’s totally integrated with Swordsmith Index and allows searching both smiths and individual swords by signature. Swordsmith records display a list of extant works (if registered in the database). See Sukemitsu or Tōshirō Yoshimitsu as examples.

But before going into technical details, let’s look at the ideas behind it.

The Database is a natural progression of Swordsmith Index. Currently Index consists almost entirely of tabular information (standardized and structured facts: name, location, period, genealogy, major references and rankings) and brief notes. It provided a framework and a list of records-stubs which can be enriched by textual data and discussion.

Here lies the problem which needs to be addressed before expanding the Index in any directions. Nihonto knowledge incorporates serious research, well-known historical facts, stories from ancient manuscripts, lore and legends, not to mention different opinions. The further we go back in time, the less certainty and factual information we find. Several authoritative sources may very often present different versions of the same story. How to record it? Taking just one side would mean claiming superior knowledge of the subject (which I personally don’t possess). Delivering several versions with corresponding explanation could in many cases be a daunting task which wouldn’t necessarily shed more light on the subject because significance and provenance of each story would have to be investigated. Ideology of the Swordsmith Index is transparency and traceability of the data.

Blindly quoting well-known sources may be acceptable for one-off discussions, but for a wide scale project it’s not an option due to copyright constraints. But there also exists another problem. When some highly respectable source is saying that certain smith worked in some particular style, where does this information come from? Does it come from particular extant examples? Or maybe from old books? Some master appraiser’s opinion? General Nihonto scholars’ consensus? Meikan? It’s not always possible to tell even with expert’s help.

However, there are some facts about swordsmiths which are as hard and certain as steel. It’s the swords themselves. Description of some master’s style may be a matter of opinion, but the blade says it all. Amakuni may be a legend, but Kogarasu Maru really exists. If there is a sword and it is attributed to certain smith (or bears appropriate authentic signature), this IS the fact worth recording. Taking it to the extreme, it’s not even that important if the attribution was correct for those smiths, which are almost entirely known by their works and not from reliable written sources. Isn’t it the way the old smith directories were built: if there’s a sword, there must have been a smith, not a personality, but signature? It’s chicken and eggs. Is it ‘sword A was made by smith B’ or ‘B is the smith who made sword A’? The difference is subtle but important. Some smiths and their whereabouts are only known today because their work, swords carrying their names.

Organization of the Sword Database

Each sword is represented by a record which, similar to smith records, contains a list of formal ‘facts’ and less formal free text notes. Choice of formal sword properties was made is such a way that the blade could be identified regardless of its condition and state of polishing by the parameters which don’t change in time or change in predictable fashion (e.g. the blade never gets longer of thicker). Properties which can be ambiguous and hard to formalize, like the style of hamon and jihada, will be left in the free text section.

Sword records contain the following fields:

  • Type (Wakizashi, Tanto, Katana, Tachi,, Naginata etc)
  • Tsukurikomi (Hira-zukuri, Shinogi-zukuri, Shobu-zukuri etc)
  • Nagasa (cm)
  • Sori (cm)
  • Moto-haba (cm)
  • Saki-haba (cm)
  • Moto-kasane (cm)
  • Saki-kasane (cm)
  • Number of mekugi-ana
  • Mei type (Mumei, Normal, Attribution, etc)
  • Mei (list of inscriptions on the tang)
  • Public References (books, magazines, articles etc)
  • Smith (link to smith record or a text, if unsure)
  • School (link or text)
  • Period
  • Year (if known)
  • Tags
  • Notes

List of National Treasures

The list of National Treasures (blades only, no koshirae) was compiled from a number of sources and partially verified against Database of National Cultural Properties. Sword properties were put together based on Nihonto Koza, Albert Yamanaka’s Nihonto Newsletter, Toko Taikan (attributions) and various Japanese museum websites. While trying to have a full coverage of Kokuho swords, some blades may have been missed out. Also, there are 1-2 swords which I couldn’t find enough details for.

Next target is gradual publication of the swords from Kyōhō Meibutsu Chō. It’s expected to be finished in Q1-Q2 2011.

I hope you will find it useful. Your feedback is very welcome, as always.

I’m also looking for photography and oshigata of Kokuho and almost any other swords which are licensed in a way which would let me using it on Nihonto Club website. Please share your links. TinEye is a free service which can do a reverse search for images and find where particular image is coming from. WikiMedia Commons contains a large repository of images with transparent licensing terms.

Public access

It was mentioned in the original announcement that the Sword Database is only available to registered users. Now all visitors can access the database.