The Japanese Sword Law
/ import of swords from / into
C.U. Guido Schiller
Application Of The Sword Law and Related Topics
In order to legally own a sword in
The certificate issued - Juh˘-t˘ken-rui-t˘rokush˘ 銃砲刀剣類登録証 (in short "T˘rokush˘" 登録証) - has to stay with the sword at all times. Most collectors attach it to the Shirasaya-bukoro or Koshirae-bukoro (storage bags). It's the blade that is registered, not the owner; however, the Prefectural Education Board (Ky˘iku-inkai 教育委員会) has to be notified within 20 days if there is a change of ownership, using the Shoyűsha-henk˘-todokesho 所有者変更届書 form.
Registration is done by the Education Board at a T˘roku-shinsa-kaij˘ 登録審査会場 (sword evaluation meeting), which usually takes place once a month. The judges conducting the Shinsa are sword experts contracted by the Education Board, usually senior members of the local NBTHK branch (Nippon Bijutsu T˘ken Hozon Ky˘kai 日本美術刀剣保存協会 = Society for the preservation of the Japanese Art Sword).
A Japanese sword license, the Juh˘-T˘ken-Rui-T˘rokush˘ (serial number partially blackened).
If someone who lives in
It should be noted that the T˘rokush˘ is not a certificate of authenticity; only the length, Sori, number of Mekugi-ana and the Mei (name inscribed) are stated, whether it's authentic (Sh˘shin 正真) or false (Gimei 偽銘).
Only traditionally made Nihont˘ can be registered,
i.e. swords made in
Contemporary smiths have to go through an apprenticeship of at least five years and - after they have proven their ability to forge a sword before a panel of judges consisting of senior smiths - become certified by the Cultural Agency (Bunka-ch˘ 文化庁).
Nihont˘ can be freely imported into, and
In 1950 the Bunkazai-hogo-h˘ 文化財保護法 took
effect, in which important artwork of exemplary artistic and historic significance
can be designated as Jűy˘-Bunkazai 重要文化財 ("important cultural property") and
Kokuh˘ 国宝 ("national
treasure"). At present ca. 900 swords are designated Jűy˘-Bunkazai, and
out of those 122 are Kokuh˘. Although anybody - including non-Japanese - can
own such an item, it has to remain in
Ranking below the Jűy˘-Bunkazai are the
Jűy˘-Bijutsuhin 重要美術品 ("important art work"). This designation was issued between
1933 and 1950 for a total of 1,004 swords, and an export permit is usually
granted. However, once a Jűy˘-Bijutsuhin leaves
Exporting Swords From
Swords for export must be submitted to the Bunka-ch˘-bijutsu-k˘gei-ka 文化庁美術工芸課 (Art and Craft Section of the Cultural Agency). The T˘rokush˘ is handed in, and an export permit (Kobijutsuhin-yushutsu-kansa-sh˘mei 古美術品輸出鑑査証明) is issued in return. This export permit is valid for one month; within that time all customs and export procedures have to be completed or otherwise the permit becomes void.
With this permit it is possible to either send
the sword via mail / private carrier abroad, or to personally carry it through
customs when leaving
In order to obtain an export permit, the following documents have to be send (or handed in) to the Cultural Agency: filled in form*, original registration, copy of registration*, photo of tang*, photo of full blade*, and a self-addressed, stamped envelope (* = in duplicate).
If send by parcel, the sword and export permit has to be brought to the International Post Office (Kokusai Yűbinkyoku 国際郵便局). Customs checks the export permit against the sword (at least the Nakago has to be shown to the customs officer), and only then can the sword be packed while customs observes packing, sealing the parcel afterwards. Another form has to be filled in by the sender, which is stamped by the carrier at shipping as proof thereof, and must be returned to customs immediately.
The International Post Office used to be
conveniently located near T˘ky˘ station, but was relocated to the outskirts of
Importing Swords Into
There are two possibilities: sending a sword to
If the sword is sent to
When personally bringing a sword into
In T˘ky˘ Shinsa takes place at the T˘ky˘ Metropolitan Government Office (T˘ky˘ Toch˘ 東京都庁) in Shinjuku at the second Tuesday of every month. One fills out the registration form, takes a number, and waits for his turn to be called to one of the Shinsa tables. Under normal circumstances, the inspection itself takes only a few minutes.
After fact is established that the sword is eligible for registration, one has to wait again until the T˘rokush˘ is issued and laminated. Paying a fee of ą 6,300, one can take the sword back home at long last.
Although most of the inspectors are nice people, they tend to get a little sloppy towards the end of the Shinsa day. I've seen a few collectors being in a cold sweat, almost refusing to let them handle the sword, out of the fear that they might scratch up one of their prized blades; once they lost the Mekugi of one of my swords; on another occasion they misread the Mei, and after I politely pointed this out, another registration was issued. Sure, the face-loss was theirs, but it was me who wasted another hour waiting for the outcome of their joint efforts to explain to each other this perfectly innocent mistake, and the issuing of the new T˘rokush˘.
If a sword is rejected at the Shinsa, the
recipient (or owner if at that time in
Choosing A shipping Method
Since Japan Post and
Equally, when sending swords to
Japanese Law Enforcement
"Toto, I've A Feeling We're Not In
The above is a summary of the laws and
proceedings to the best of my knowledge, and based on my personal experience.
It may sound very complicated and unnecessary to those who are used to much more
liberal weapon laws, but it's the law in
I have to warn everybody who entertains the
notion of sending a blade to
But if police only suspects as much as you having
violated the law, you're in for an unpleasant surprise. Technically speaking, if you are
riding a bicycle, a policeman can stop you on the suspicion that you may have
stolen it. Since there is no law of habeas
Needless to say, police never apologized, even after the story hit the newspapers. No charges were filed by the victim, because it would have been a waste of time: a judge ruling against the police is almost unheard of, especially since most cases never make it beyond the public prosecutor's desk. Be it known that cops in this country have a lot of arbitrary power; they make their moves, and let the lawyers or Amnesty International sort it out later. The judiciary doesn't stand in the way of the executive organs, and the legislature doesn't see a reason to change anything.
Possession of a sword or firearm - and be it only a smallish Tant˘ or a muzzle loader - without the proper registration isn't only a misdemeanor but a criminal offense, punishable by up to Yen 300,000 and / or up to three years imprisonment.
The harsher forms of interrogation and
punishment are usually reserved for their fellow countrymen, and foreigners
often get away with a slap on the wrist - in this case meaning being deported
after incarceration with
other criminals for at least several days (sometimes at a charge of ą 60,000 per
day), without access to family, a consulate, or even a lawyer. Not to mentioned
If you like to live dangerously, be my guest. But please don't make life difficult for the poor schmuck you're sending a sword to. I know a polisher who once was suspected of violating the Ju-t˘-h˘, and was interrogated by police for hours. Knowing he did nothing wrong, he rubbed them the wrong way, and although they were not able to charge him with any crime, he is checked upon by the police regularly ever since. They visit (or should I say raid?) his house at all odd hours, looking for unregistered swords, and once, when he was fed up and complained, they "accidentally" slammed his head into a wall.
As scary as my stories about the police are,
Another popular story I hear often - even from Japanese collectors! - is the tale of the sword that was confiscated after being submitted for Shinsa because it turned out to be a national treasure. In one word: nonsense!
First of all, there are - technically speaking - no unknown or missing Kokuh˘. In 1950 all former national treasures were re-assigned as Jűy˘-Bunkazai, and had to be submitted again to regain their Kokuh˘ status. The designation of the 14 pre-war Kokuh˘ that were "lost" after WWII is therefore void. And even if one of those swords would surface now, it's perfectly legal to privately own a Jűy˘-Bunkazai, the Japanese government doesn't simply snatch it from its rightful owner.
But be that all as it may, more than 60 years after the end of the war there's no evidence of a rediscovered (former) national treasure, and not a single case of a sword that was confiscated after it was send to Japan. I'm very sorry if I made the post-sword-show story-telling-time a little duller. But, as they used to say in the TV show Dragnet: "Just the facts, Ma'm!"