The Pre-War and War-time Sword Exhibitions

There were several exhibitions in the late Taisho and early Showa periods. These exhibitions were organized to help re-establish the traditional art of swordmaking during the nationalistic climate of the 1920's and 1930's when a backlash against things foreign was in full swing. The exhibitions were organized, sponsored, and promoted by government officials, military leaders, and the top figures in the right-wing. While called exhibitions, in fact the events may more acurately be characterized as sales promotions; most blades displayed were exhibited with a price tag attached.

The following section discusses the exhibits in greater detail. The information comes directly from original programs from each exhibition, that is, it is first hand.

Imperial Exhibition

In Showa 9, the Imperial Exhibition was held and featured, among other things, a sword display. This was a much needed boost for the craft, and 112 blades, including one jumonji yari, were entered. Entries were judged at the Meiji Jingu in Tokyo and placed into three catagories: nyusen, or "chosen", gaisen, or "outside those chosen", and a third group consisting of those not classified into the first two catagories, that is, those that didn't win a prize. The sword exhibition was organized through the efforts of Kurihara Hikosaburo and various leaders from the military. In the program published for the exhibit, Toyama Mitsuru, the leader of the ultranationalists, supplied the calligraphy for the frontispiece. Additionally, his picture, as well as an article he wrote, are included in the program. Clearly, Toyama played a central role.

The top swords featured were works by Kurihara, Gassan Sadakazu, Horii Toshihide (a monstrous 2 shaku 7 sun blade), and Kasama Shigetsugu.

Shinsakuto Tenran Kai

In Showa 10, there was a controversy over whether swords should be allowed into the Imperial Exhibition; a comment was made that "swords weren't art". This created quite a controversy, resulting in a "boycott" of the Imperial Exhibition by various leaders in the sword community. As a result of the ministrations of Kurihara Hikosaburo and his circle of influential friends in the government, military and in the rightwing, the Shinsaku Nihonto Daikyoshin Kai was formed. In Showa 10, during the first week of June, on the third floor of the Marui Building, the group sponsored a competitive exhibition.¨› Later, in the same year, the Shinsakuto Tenrankai was organized by the Nihonto Tosho Kyokai with the sponsorship of the Ministry of Education. In November, Showa 10, the first of these yearly exhibitions of swords, polishing, kodogu, and related arts, was held in the National Museum in Ueno Park. These yearly exhibitions featured a shinsa, the awarding of prizes, and served as a venue for craftsman to showcase their work and make sales. The event was held yearly until Showa 17. In Showa 18, the Imperial Army started their own exhibition, and the Shinsakuto Tenrankai was discontinued.

It should be mentioned that the prizes awarded at these exhibitions were not given through a "blind" shinsa-that is, the shinsa team made its choices with full knowledge of who made each sword. Thus, it is claimed that a significant amount of bias was shown to elderly smiths and smiths who had the "right" connections. In view of this, one cannot give too much importance to the distribution of prizes. Also, every smith that entered was awarded a prize of some type; the silver medal, which was the lowest given out, was a type of consolation prize, the gold medal, one step up. To complicate matters, the names of the awards changed over time.

The following are the awards given in the June, Showa 10, Shinsaku Nihonto Daikyoshin Kai Exhibition:

Tokubetsu Meiyo Saiyu Tosho - Special Top Class Honor Award

Meiyo Sho - Honor Award

Tokubetsu Saiyu To Sho - Special Top Class Award

Saiyu To Sho - Top Class Award

Yu To Sho - Excellence Award

I To Sho - First Class Award

Ni To Sho - Second Class Award

San To Sho - Third Class Award

The following are the awards given in the first Shinsakuto Tenrankai Exhibition held in November, Showa 10:

The prizes were awarded in the following order:

Suisen -"Recommendation" class- This was given to entrants who produced superior work in the first contest and is similar to "mukansa" status.

Rikugun Daijin Sho - Minister of the Army Award

Kaigun Daijin Sho - Minister of the Navy Award

Mombu Daijin Sho - Minister of Education Award

Sori Daijin Sho - Prime Minister's Award

Sosai Daimeiyo Sho - President's High Honor Award

Sosai Meiyo Sho - President's Honor Award

Kinpai - Gold Medal

Ginpai - Silver Medal

In the third Exhibition in Showa 12, the smiths were placed into six groups:

Kokuko - National Smith

Jun Kokuko - Associate National Smith

Yushu - Superior quality

Kasaku -Excellently made

Shinshin - Up and coming

Tsuika Shupin - Additional Display

Then awards were made in the following order:

Tokusen - Special Selection

Mombu Daijin Sho - Minister of Education Award

Sori Daijin Sho - Prime Minister's Award

Rikugun Daijin Sho - Minister of the Army Award

Kaigun Daijin Sho - Minister of the Navy Award

Sosai Daimeiyo Sho - Chairman's High Honor Award

Suisen - Recommendation Award

Kinpai - Gold Medal

Ginpai - Silver Medal

In Showa 15, the smiths were placed into the following catagories:

Tokubetsu Meiyo Seki - Special Honor Seat

Dai Ichi Seki - First Seat

Dai Ni Seki - Second Seat

Dai San Seki - Third Seat

Dai Yon Seki - Forth Seat

Dai Go Seki - Fifth Seat

Each of these classifications was also given a sub-classification:

Tokubetsu Meiyo Seki - Kaji Sosho - Head Smith

Dai Ichi Seki - Kokuko - National Smith

Dai Ni Seki - Jun Kokuko - Associate National Smith

Dai San Seki - Yushu - Superior quality

Dai Yon Seki - Kasaku - Excellently made

Dai Go Seki - Shinnyusen - Newly Chosen

And the awards were given in the following order:

Koshu Seihyo Top Grade - Given to the smiths in the Kaji Sosho

Otsushu Seihyo - Second Grade - Given to the smiths in Kokuko

Saiko Meiyo Sho - Top Honor Award

Monbu Daijin Sho - Minister of Education Award

Naikaku Sori Daijin Sho - Prime Minister's Award

Rikugun Daijin Sho - Minister of the Army Award

Kaigun Daijin Sho - Minister of the Navy Award

Sosai Daimeiyo Sho - Chairman's High Honor Award

Sosai Meiyo Sho - Chairman's Honor Award

Kinpai - Gold Medal

Ginpai - Silver Medal

In Showa 16, the smiths were classified as follows:

Tokubetsu Meiyo Seki - Special Honor Seat

Dai Ichi Seki - First Seat

Dai Ni Seki - Second Seat

Dai San Seki - Third Seat

Dai Yon Seki - Fourth Seat

Dai Go Seki - Fifth Seat

Again, these catagories were also subheaded as follows:

Tokubetsu Meiyo Seki - Tanto Sosho - Head Smith

Dai Ichi Seki - Kokuko - National Smith

Dai Ni Seki - Jun Kokuko - Associate National Smith

Dai San Seki - Yushu - Superior quality

Dai Yon Seki - Kasaku - Excellently made

Dai Go Seki - Shinshin - Up and coming

Awards were given as follows:

Monbu Daijin Saiko Meiyo Sho - Minister of Education's Top Honor Award

Meiyo Tokusen Sho - Specially Chosen Honor Award

Saiko Meiyo Sho - Top Honor Award

Monbu Daijin Sho - Minister of Education Award

Naikaku Sori Daijin Sho - Prime Minister's Award

Rikugun Daijin Sho - Minister of the Army Award

Kaigun Daijin Sho - Minister of the Navy Award

Sosai Daimeiyo Sho - Chairman's High Honor Award

Sosai Meiyo Sho - Chairman's Honor Award

Kinpai - Gold Medal

Ginpai - Silver Medal

In Showa 17, at the eighth, and last, Shinsakuto Tenrankai, the awards were made as follows:

Tokusen - Special Selection

Saiko Meiyo Sho - Top Honor Award

Sori Daijin Sho - Prime Minister's Award

Mombu Daijin Sho - Minister of Education Award

Rikugun Daijin Sho - Minister of the Army Award

Kaigun Daijin Sho - Minister of the Navy Award

Sosai Daimeiyo Sho - Chairman's High Honor Award

Sosai Meiyo Sho - Chairman's¨›Honor Award

Kinpai - Gold Medal

Ginpai - Silver Medal

Different from earlier exhibitions, not everyone was awarded a prize, perhaps due to the large number of entries (470 blades).

Rikugun Gunto Tenran Kai

The Army's exhibition took place in November of Showa 18 and 19. The Showa 18 shinsa and exhibition was held at the Matsuzakaya Department Store in Ueno, while the Showa 19 event took place on the grounds of the Yasukuni Jinja. Both Exhibitions featured sections for swords, polishing, koshirae, and tameshigiri. In the first exhibition, approximately 300 swords (total) were entered in the following catagories:

Tanren to Mukansa- Traditionally made blades, mukansa (3)

Tanren to - Traditionally made blades, general entry (exact number unknown)

Zohei to - arsenal made blades (non-traditional) (exact number unknown)

and prizes (with the number given) were as follows:

Rikugun Daijin Sho - Minister of the Army Award (1)

Sosai Sho - President's Award (2)

Kaicho Sho - Chairman's Award (32)

The second Rikugun Gunto Tenran Kai was held in November, Showa 19, on the grounds of the Yasukuni Jinja in Kudan. The 236 swords exhibited were classified as follows:

tanren to - Traditionally forged blades (209)

zohei to - arsenal made blades (6)

tokushuko to - blades made from special steel (1)

sanko to - blades exhibited as reference pieces (20)

Prizes (and the number given) were awarded as follows:

shitei tosho - designated swordsmiths (152 blades submitted/150 accepted):

Rikugun Daijin Sho - Minister of the Army Award (1)

Sosai Sho - President's Award (3)

Kaicho Sho - Chairman's Award (34)

Ippan tosho - general swordsmiths (66 blades submitted/ 59 accepted):

Sosai Sho - President's Award (1)

Kaicho Sho - Chairman's Award (8)

Tameshigiri to - swords made for tameshigiri (21 submitted/ 13 accepted):

Kaicho Sho - Chairman's Award (8)

Zohei to - (6 submitted/ 6 accepted)

Kaicho Sho - Chairman's Award (1)

Tokushuko to - (1 submitted/ 1 accepted)

Kaicho Sho - Chairman's Award (1)