Masamune Sword Shop Mike Christianson is an excellent polisher and is my polishing "mentor". For seven years, I called it an apprenticeship, and for all intensive purposes it was. But we both look upon that frequency to his shop as a friendly exchange of his information and experiences to me, for whatever I could do for him, be it work, minding the shop, a sale for him, or just a few laughs.
Many days I have gone to polish, and instead had him hand me a sword and say, "Mmm-mm-MMM, look at this sword/polish", or "tell me what you think of this". Both of which are valuable lessons in polishing, without touching stones at all. His kindness, patience, and friendship leave me to thank "Okami-sama" for placing us in such close proximity. He always has a fine selection of swords and related art. He no l onger has a website, but his shop lives on, conveniently located between New York and Tokyo in Loma Linda, California. Call him at (909) 799-2080.
The instructor to Mr. Christianson. Mr. Benson is one of the best in the business. He is very well respected for his skill and knowledge. He is one of the first non-Japanese to learn Togi, and the first to win an award for it in competition in Japan. Mr. Benson apprenticed under a few different instructors in Japan including Onno Kokei Sensei, a Polisher elevated to National Living Treasure. He closed his shop in Honolulu many years ago, but his website is alive and well. He is the first choice anyone should consider when seeking a top polish for a special sword. He also is an acting agent that can personally submit swords, fittings, and koshirae to shinsa at the NBTHK. If you are looking for good swords or good polishes, this is a man to see. Lead times on polishes are long, but absolutely worth the wait and the dollars. Lead times vary, so best inquired about with him.
Andy Quirt has been involved with Japanese Swords for over 35 years. Some might remember him for the many humorous articles he wrote for the JSSUS way back when. He is among some of the best and most knowledgeable, and always has fine swords and fittings available. He is always willing to help with information and guidance. I recommend him highly as one of the best sources for fine art swords and fittings. If you’re looking for something that’s not on his site, email him. He may have it or can track it down for you. Andy is active in the American Branch of the NBTHK.
Fred Weissberg has been collecting and studying swords for over 30 years and was a pioneer of internet based Japanese sword sites. You will find a wide variety of excellent swords, fittings, and other Japanese items in his inventory. When asked for recommendations of honest and fair dealers, he is one of the first that comes to mind. His site also has many informative articles that will assist in your research and study. Fred is active in the Northern California Japanese Sword Club and a member of American Branch of the NBTHK.
My friend Keith Larman and I established Modern Tosho in an effort to bring forth more of the current Japanese smiths works. There are a large number of relatively unknown smiths working in Japanese today that don’t get the exposure some more published ones do, and therefore their works aren’t seen. The works these guys are doing is nothing short of incredible. We often have very nice swords by some of these smiths available. We also try to keep an educational effort going by adding articles and pictures to the site as well. Have a glass of wine and read through some of the site.
Keith Larman enjoys polishing and mounting swords by contemporary smiths such as Howard Clark. Keith’s polishing and mounting skills are excellent, and beyond that he has vast amount of talents in other stuff (though he won’t readily admit them without prodding). We talk shop a lot and swap experiences, techniques, and new discoveries both sword related and otherwise. He’s taught me a great deal about a variety of subjects, but also a great deal about myself which has translated to my studies and my work. If Keith is working on a sword, it will be done right. He’s not actively accepting new commissions, but he does have swords available occasionally that are works of his own preference and inspiration. Since he has good taste too, they don’t last long. I’m glad I was able to defeat Keith’s Jedi mind powers (well, maybe he felt pity on me and didn’t use them), to “lure him to the dark side” some years back so he would start working the craft full time. If I hadn’t, we may never have seen the great stuff he was capable of.
Howard Clark is a very talented and respected blade smith. He calls his swords "Japanese Styled" and rightfully so, because they are his work, and he is far from Japanese. He takes the opportunity to learn from Japanese sword smiths, but his swords are for the most part so "out of the box" metallurgically speaking that they are at a glance unmistakably his. His motive is to create the best sword possible, and if it isn't a good weapon first, then it's a worthless second. His heat treating methods produce fantastic activity in some with outstanding performance, to subtle (if any) activity with unparalleled performance, depending on the material. Howard works under the name "O Mimi", or Big Ear. Go to his site for the explanation, it's logical and humorous, just like Howard.
Patrick Hastings site for fittings. Another friend born from the craft, Patrick makes some downright beautiful stuff. He’s tenacious in his education and constantly working to achieve a closer relationship to the Japanese aesthetic and technique. Every piece he makes is more stunning than the last and shows a true following of traditional Japanese craft with marvelous inlay works and gorgeous patinas in a variety of traditional materials such as shakudo, shibuichi, iron, etc.. In a world where finding the right theme in the appropriate size can be darned near impossible, check with Patrick.
Bugei Trading Company. I have known the folks at Bugei for well over 10 years. Bugei was founded on providing the best customer service possible and they’ve stayed true. They are a provider of exclusive lines of Hanwei sword products and hundreds of other Japanese related items associated with the arts of Japan and the Samurai. The Hanwei swords they provide are a superior offering made to their specifications with every sword inspected for quality assurance backed by their excellent customer support. These are the best production line swords available to the martial arts practitioner, with the best customer support available. I was a customer of Bugei long before I polished swords for them. Good folks that are also good friends.
NBTHK-American Branch. An official extension branch of the Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (Association for the Preservation of the Japanese Art Sword). I have been a member of the branch since it’s establishment in 2003. There are monthly publications and translations for the membership that are a valuable and important source of education. Studying Japanese swords is beyond a lifetime endeavor. Membership provides excellent exclusive opportunities to view some of the finest art swords know both at organized lectures at sword shows in the US and Europe, but also at organized events in Japan. If you’re not a member, you should be. If you don’t, you’re missing out on some of the best education available.
Northern California Japanese Sword Club (NCJSC) One of North America’s oldest clubs established with the sole intent of study of the Japanese Art Sword. I am a happy and enthusiastic member of the NCJSC. It is the organizer and promoter of North America’s largest Japanese Sword Show as well, held every August in San Francisco. The club organizes fantastic lectures and exhibitions that provide an up close and personal experience to the pinnacle examples of this art, and having the opportunity to examine them will forever change your perspective. The club also holds a monthly meeting. Check their site for application information. Very helpful folks.
There are major token kai (sword exhibitions) in the US every year. At each show there is a large showroom filled with vendors with everything from swords to fittings to trinkets and clothing. There are always displays and educational seminars as well. Come see the real thing. I am usually at the shows in the US as well as the "official" NBTHK show in Japan in November.
Black Ship Gallery is owned and operated by David Bond. David lived and worked in Japan for many years and his site offers an excellent diversity of Japanese arts and crafts including swords, armor, ceramics, woodblock prints, sculpture, and more. Black Ship Gallery is his well presented and educational look at the excellence that Japanese craftsmen acheived, and also an intriguing look into the items that were once part of everyday life in fuedal Japan.