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It is easy for someone new to the knowledge of Japanese swords to confuse the many terms used to classify blades and swordsmiths.

Different organizations and different books will use their own terminology and systems, and it is common for collectors to combine these in their descriptions. Often, for novices, their meaning can be lost. You will find an attempt to clarify some of the terminology and explain what each of them means.


One of the books commonly used by Japanese sword enthusiasts, the"Nihon Toko Jiten"is often known by the name of its author (Fujishiro Yoshio).

This two-volume book was written in 1935 by Fujishiro Yoshio, the older brother of the late Fujishiro Matsuo. RegretFujishiro Matsuo-sanwas a polisher"Living National Treasure"and modified and revised this two-volume set after his brother's death.



This work presents images of signatures on blades and sometimes diagrams of blade structures, accompanied by biographical and stylistic comments on the smiths.

The book offujishirois in Japanese but an excellent translation ofHarry Watsonis used by most of us.

fujishirocounted about1,500 blacksmithsand these are considered to represent the best in the field of blacksmithing. As his rating system begins to"AVERAGE"and evolves to"Grand Master", any blacksmith with a rating is considered to have been able to craft good Blades.

The terms he uses are:

1.Chu Saku – Average Achievement

2. Chu-Jo Saku – Above Average Achievement

3. Jo Saku - Superior Achievement

4. Jo-Jo Saku – Highly Superior Achievement

5. Sai-Jo Saku – Supreme Achievement (Grandmaster)


Fujishiro's systemis contextual and that's an important thing to keep in mind. It refers to the abilities of the blacksmith and that of his school and as well as his period of activity and traditions.

It's a ranking of "where he stands", so a blacksmith who (for example) can have a ranking of"Jo Saku"(Higher Achievement) and belongs to one of the best schools, can be more skilled than a blacksmith"Sai-Jo"(Supreme Achievement) who practiced in a lower school, during a different   time. It is important to know the context of the ratings that generated this ranking and the average skill of schools and blacksmiths during these times to understand the significance of the given rating.

When a blacksmith is not rated byfujishiro(which may be due to various reasons), it may be noted elsewhere by another authority using this same system.

For example,Gassan Sadakatsuworked during the period of publication of the original books. Therefore, it is listed with its old classification, while it has more recently been classified by other instances as "Sai-Jo" Saku – Supreme Achievement (Grandmaster). It therefore seems obvious to use this last classification to describe its skills.       _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b- 136bad5cf58d_  


In general, the terms describe the skills of a Japanese sword bladesmith, but a blade distinct from all others, can be called "Having the skills of a"Sai-jo" Supreme Achievement (Grand Master), meaning that forging the blade resembles the work of a higher-ranking blacksmith.

This should not be confused with the notation system of "NBTHK", nor be taken as a guarantee that a work will be certified to the highest ranks such as the"Juyo Token".


THE"Toko Taikan"regretDr. Tokunocontains a value system based on the Japanese yen. They are indicated in"Man Yen", which are increments of 10,000 yen in  10,000 yen and are considered to represent the value of a "Perfect" saber blade, which must be"Ubu"(original), unaltered, signed, with a good polish and forged at the peak of the blacksmith's quarry. Blade changes decrease the percentage of value awarded in Yen.



So what to do with these ratings when used to classify a blacksmith asSaddamunewho has no signed blade, or for a blacksmith likeHiromitsuwho has noNakago Ubu(original silk). The most practical way to use these ratings is to think of them as a level ranking"Juyō"high quality. It should be noted that, according to current practice, many blades of relatively recent manufacture and of high quality may be considered too recent to be certified"Juyo Token".


Since there are considerable differences in quality between two blades from the same smith, forged under similar conditions, it can quickly become difficult to use this type of classification.


It might be better to take into account the general appreciation ofMr Tokunoon the importance and competence of a blacksmith, in the general interest of a collector and thus to contribute to the evaluation relating to the evaluation bodies.




W. M. Hawleypublished a two-volume set with a series of appendices which was one of the first attempts (in English) to catalog blacksmiths and assign them grades. Most searches forHaleywere carried out byYasu Kizu. Yasu Kizuhas translated forHaley, THETosho Zenshupublished in 1934.



The work ofHaleymostly consisted of line by line. He took a sheet of paper which he used alternately between an English typewriter and a Japanese typewriter.


This laborious process has resulted in errors being introduced, some smith names being duplicated and some entries appearing to be wrong. Its scoring system corresponds roughly to the"Man yen"from  Toko Taikan, but divided by ten. For example,   it would not be surprising to find that a blade rated 120 with the system ofHaley, or quoted at 1,000 Man yen with the systemToko Taikan.


It is actually a simple numerical scale with higher or lower numbers that represents higher skill and importance. Many blacksmiths, especially newer ones, were assigned the same number (for example, many blacksmiths of the eraGendai(contemporary), are listed as 8 or 10 without too much comment), so some of these numbers should be taken with some skepticism and not taken at face value. It takes a lot of effort because the list of blacksmiths in the index is quite long.


The most basic form of scoring would be to classify genuine signatures and fake signatures, or to rate the smith. Traditionally folded papers were created for the classification of blades. This practice dating back several centuries, bears the name of"Origami".

It is necessary for study and, of course, for collectors to be able to classify blades into different categories of quality and importance. This allows them to know the value and quality of their blades. It is therefore important for a collector to become familiar with the various notation systems and documents that can be found on the market. You will find additional information on origami on the papers of theNBTHKand someNTHK








THE "NBTHK" SYSTEM"(Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai)

Society for the Preservation of Japanese Swords

NBTHK (Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai), Society for the Preservation of Japanese Art Swords, was founded in 1948 and remains a trusted organization that is responsible for the selection and certification of ratings of Japanese swords.


When a saber is submitted to expertise (known as"Shinsa"), of theNBTHK, the organization examines the saber and then issues a judgment on the saber in question.


These certificates are called"Origami". This process is serious and is never taken lightly. It can take three months to a year in some cases to receive the result.


There are two systems, an old one and a new one which began to be used in 1982. Below is an (unofficial) illustration of the two judging systems based on publication dates and rank or prestige.


Below the illustration, we will describe each of the certificates in more detail.


Also be sure to check out the classification document"Origami"of theNTHK-NPOto get an overview of their official certificates.

Ranking of blacksmiths in order of skill.

  • Chu Saku       _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb 3b-136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905-5cde -3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_      中作   _cc781905-5cde-3194- bb3b-136bad5cf58d_       _cc78190 5-5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905- 5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_       – _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b-1 36bad5cf58d_  _cc781905-5cde-3194- bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ “Middle class”

  • Chu Jo Saku       _cc781905-5cde-3194- bb3b-136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905- 5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_  中上作   _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b-1 36bad5cf58d_        _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b- 136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_  –    _cc781905-5 cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ “Above average class”

  • Jo Saku       _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb 3b-136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905-5cde _cc 781905-5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ 上作        _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b-13 6bad5cf58d_   _cc781905-5cde-3194- bb3b-136bad5cf58d_       _cc78190 5-5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_  – _cc781905- 5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_    “Upper Class”

  • Jo Jo Saku       _cc781905-5cde-3194- bb3b-136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905- 5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_  cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad 6bad5cf58d_      _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b- 136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_      _cc781905- 5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ –   _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_  “Above upper class”

  • Sai Jo Saku       _cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905- 5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_   最上作       _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b-13 6bad5cf58d_   _cc781905-5cde-3194- bb3b-136bad5cf58d_      _cc781905- 5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ –   _cc781905- 5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_  “The Most Prestigious Class”


Classification of Nihonto blades according to their ability to slice.

  • Wazamono       _cc781905-5cde-3194- bb3b-136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905-5cde- 3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d d_   _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b- 136bad5cf58d_      _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b- 136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_    –   _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_  “Sharp ”

  • O wazamono       _cc781905-5cde-319 4-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905-5cde -3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_大業物       _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b- 136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_    –   _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_  “Very sharp”

  • Ryo wazamono      _cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ 料業物        _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b- 136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_     –   _cc7819 05-5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ “ The superior cutting edges”

  • Saijo o wazamono  最大業物        _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b- 136bad5cf58d_   _cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_   –    _cc781905 -5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_ “The sharpest”

HOZON – Worthy of Preservation(yellow paper)

The HOZON is the first of four major certification levels.This certificate essentially indicates that the saber is worthy of preservation. It must be emphasized that this is no small task to accomplish. It is not uncommon for a sword seller to submit ten swords for judgment and only receive one."HOZON"only for two swords.



Criteria for obtaining the "HOZON" certificate(unofficial translation ofNBTHK)

1.If the blade is"ZAIMEI"(signature on the Nakago), the signature must be authentic and not false. If the blade is"MUMEI"(unsigned), blade forged date, province and school must be recognizable and identifiable  to allow judgment.

2.If the blade satisfies criteria 1, it must nevertheless be appreciated from an aesthetic point of view, even if it has some scratches or appears to be in poor condition.

3.If the blade was forged by a very famous blacksmith from before the Nanbokucho period (before 1333), the"JI"(surface) and the"NAKAGO"(silk) will be carefully examined.

4.If the surface of the blade (Jihada) has been repaired, this should not detract from its initial beauty.

5.For modern blades forged during the Meiji period and the Taisho period, they must be in good condition and be"ZAIMEI"(Nakago signed) and"UBU NAKAGO"(Original Nakago, unmodified).

6.If the blade is recognized as being"GIMEI"(false signature) or if the blade looks like"MUMEI",but is not, the blade will not be certified.

7.If there is a chip or crack in the blade, it will also not be certified.



Certificates"NBTHK HOZON"can also be issued forKoshiraeor accessories such asFuchi Kashirabelow :





TOKUBETSU HOZON - Specially Worthy of Preservation(brown paper)

"TOKUBETSU HOZON"is the second of four levels of honorable distinction. For a blade to receive the"TOKUBETSU HOZON",the blade must correspond to a high level, to the seven criteria of the"HOZON"(mentioned above. When the blades achieve such status, their value increases dramatically.


NBTHK Hozon certificates can also be issued for Koshirae or accessories such as the Tsuba below:







JUYO TOKEN - Coin of Importance,with photos and / or"Oshigata"(drawing made by laying paper over the entire blade or parts of it (Nakago) and rubbing with charcoal.

The "JUYO TOKEN" which is the third level of certification and the "TOKUBETSU JUYO TOKEN" (the highest certification) which is the fourth level enjoy considerable prestige.


There are approximately 10,000 certified blades"JUYO", of which only 700 are certified"TOKUBETSU JUYO TOKEN". Considering there are around 2 million registered blades in Japan, that's a huge honor. These blades are considered the pinnacle of Japanese swordsmanship and are priced at very  high.

I'Origamifor certification"JUYO TOKEN"was introduced in May 1958 (Showa). THE"TOKUBETSU JUYO TOKEN"was used from 1971.




TOKUBETSU JUYO TOKEN - Particularly Important Coin(highest achievement), (paper with photos and/or Oshigata)




Most of the customers we meet for the first time tell us that they were under the impression that all Japanese swords were protected and that they were forbidden to leave the country, when this is not true.

There are approximately 110 swords that possess "particularly high historical or artistic value" and these pieces are protected by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, must never leave the borders of Japan.


The process of obtaining a certificate"HOZON"issued by theNBTHKrequires moving around, in order to submit the blades to the expertise of theNBTHK, according to specific dates and timetable.


The final cost of the expertise of theNBTHKwill depend on whether or not the blade is certified.


During its first certification and whatever its quality, a blade can only reach the level"HOZON"or the level"TOKUBETSU HOZON".

For a blade to be able to obtain the level distinction"NBTHK JUYO", the blade must first be certified"TOKUBETSU HOZON".

The blades that obtain the certification"JUYO",see their value skyrocket.

IMPORTANT NOTE:The fact that a blade is certified"TOKUBETSU HOZON"does not meanNOTnecessarily that she failed the certification"JUYO TOKEN". It is likely that the blade was not presented for certification"JUYO"due to the high cost and the limited number of assignments of expertise.

THE NTHK SYSTEM(Nihon Token Hozon Kyokai)

NTHK (Nihon Token Hozon Kai)is officially translated as “Society for the Preservation of Japanese Swords”. Having established itself in 1910 during the Meiji period, it is actually much older than the N.BT.HK, so it is the oldest organization for the preservation of Japanese swords. ThereNihon Token Hozon Kyokai, split into two groups after the death ofYoshikawa Koen Sensei.

THENTHK-NPOis a non-commercial entity (non-profit organization) that was established to promote, study and preserve Japanese swordsmanship and related arts. Its head office is located atMeguro, ToTokyo, AtJapan. There are a few branches around the world.


The grading systemNTHKis based on the classification of a blade on a scale of points, which represent the quality of the work as a whole and the working methods of the blacksmith.


This total of points is not disclosed, except on the assessment worksheet, but this total is classified in one of the following four ratings:

Shinteisho- 60-69 pts –True

Kanteisho- 70-84 pts -Important

Yushu Saku- 85-94 pts –Significant Achievement

Sai Yushu Saku- 95-100 pts –Supreme Significant Achievement


It is said that if theNTHKhas some uncertainty as to the authenticity of a blade, it will be rejected and not certified. This does not necessarily mean that the blade is not genuine. It is only one of the rules necessary to validate their certification. In other words, if a blade has papersNTHK, this one is really authentic. Questionable blades will not receive certification. Information about their decision recorded on the worksheet is available upon request.


It is rare for a collector outside of Japan to have the opportunity to own a blade bearing the Ministry of Education mark, as export outside of Japan is not permitted. A foreigner can own one, but he must leave it within the country's borders. These swords are considered cultural treasures of the Japanese nation. These are works necessary for the identity of the country and the people. This is the basis of the no-export rule, and other similar artworks follow the same restrictions.

The first level assigned is the"Juyo Bijutsuhin", "Important Art Object", this one was abandoned after the war. Some sabers were given this classification by deceptive means and the system was therefore withdrawn.


It is always valuable to own a saber of this level, but further judgment is required to determine whether the classification was deserved or not. Multiple blades"Juyo Bijutsuhin"have been sold at auction in London in recent years. The catalogs had reported that these blades could not leave Japan.


It could be that, under certain conditions, a saber can be exported, but as the documents must be returned to the Japanese authorities, when the saber leaves Japan. This has the effect of removing almost the entire classification. If you are lucky enough to be the owner or purchaser of one of these swords, it is best to contact the Japanese Ministry of Education to check for yourself.

In addition to those mentioned above, there may be quality sabers, issued during the mass release of sabers outside Japan after the Second World War, which circulate in certain countries and in particular in the United States. .

When the classification"Juyo Bijutsuhin"was deleted, it was replaced by the"Juyo Bunkazai", "Important Cultural Object".


Swords receiving this classification must not only be of high quality and made by renowned swordsmiths, but must also be of historical significance.



  • JUYO BIJUTSUHIN- "Important art object"


  • JUYO BUNKAZAI- "Important cultural property"


  • KOKUHO- "National Treasures"



The best and most important classification of all is the"Kokuho", meaning "National Treasure". These are just the best and most important sabers.This classification includes the three "Hocho Masamune" swords and the "Mikazuki Munechika" sword . They are often famous swords for centuries, appearing in legends and which were the possession of famous generals, Samurai and Shogun.


They are priceless and well beyond the means of the majority of people who would wish to purchase one and that the mere chance of seeing one through glass is something a sword collector will remember for a lifetime.

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