TO UCHIKO OR NOT TO UCHIKO: ILL EFFECTS OF UCHIKO IN REGULAR SWORD CARE AND MAINTENANCE.*
S. Alexander Takeuchi, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology
University of North Alabama
January 24, 2004
Since I am not a polisher nor a Nihon-to appraiser, what I think personally about this topic may not have much merit, especially after many experts including real togi-shi (i.e., polisher) have already explained elsewhere possible ill effects of abusing uchiko. Here, I just want to share what I have learned from one of Japan’s "Ningen Kokuho" (i.e., Living National Treasure – the highest government recognized honor for a traditional craftsman in Japan) togi-shi, Kohkan Nagayama, through his books.
In a book interview, Kohkan Nagayama (1994), one of the Living National Treasure togi-shi in Japan, rather strongly recommends *against* regular use of uchiko on finely polished antique blades. He explains that the major purpose of using uchiko when cleaning *antique Nihon-to* is to remove old oil. However, no matter how good the quality of the uchiko may be, the uchigumori-to powder repeatedly rubbed against a finely polished blade (that skilled togi-shi worked so hard on) will eventually dull the subtle activities in ha and ji-hada over time.... Thus, Nagayama clearly says that it would be ideal if we could remove old oil on finely polished antique Nihon-to blades without ever using uchiko.
In his retrospective essays, Nagayama (2000) also mentions about the ill effects of repeated and prolonged application of uchiko even on the blades that are still in the process of being polished. There, he explains that if the entire process of polishing takes too long, it will require the blade to be oiled at the end of each day until it is finally finished: However, this will also require the use of uchiko every beginning of the day to first remove the oil applied on the blade... Since uchiko is "finely ground polishing stone" after all, its use should be kept minimal (even for the purpose of cleaning and maintaining the blade) in order not to scratch or "kill" the polished activities in the steel.
Now as to the "widely spread misinformation" (in Nagayama’s and several other Nihon-to authorities’ opinions such as Ogasawara, 1994) that "repeated use of uchiko on a polished blade will make the blade look even better," Nagayama (2000) also clearly denies its validity and even condemns the polishers who would give such an account to their clients. According to Nagayama, even though laypersons may not be able to tell, polishers ought to know better whether or not another polisher has cut corners in doing his job. If the blade is polished skillfully and meticulously, it will much less likely loose its finely brought-up activities and other aesthetic characteristics over years: Such a blade will only get "tasteful" over years of cleaning with uchiko *only because* all the activities aesthetic characteristics are already brought up properly. In other words, Nihon-to blades must look their best when they have just been polished properly. Therefore, when a polisher tells his client that "the blade will look better over years if it is cleaned with uchiko regularly," he is admitting that his polishing job is not good and [taking advantage of the naive clients by] using such a misconception as an excuse for his poor work...
It is still a question if other reputable polishers will totally agree with Nagayama’s rather strong assertions against the use of uchiko. However, I tend to believe there is some truth in these strong opinions when such opinions come from a professional who has achieved in his profession the highest honor and recognition that his national government designates...
Nagayama, Kohkan. (1994). "Togi." [Polishing.] In Tadashi Oono (Ed.) Nihon-to shokunin shokudan. [The tales from Nihon-to craftsmen.] (1st Ed.) Pp. 57-72. Tokyo, Japan: Kogei Shuppan. ISBN 4-7694-0051-9.
Nagayama, Kohkan. (2000). Nihon-to wo Togu: Togishi no waza, me, kokoro. [Polishing Nihon-to: The skills, eyes and spirit of togi-shi]. Tokyo, Japan: Yuzankaku. ISBN4-639-01554-2.
Ogasawara, Nobuo. (1994). Nihon_to no kansho kiso chishiki. [The fundamental knowledge of Japanese sword appreciation.] Tokyo, Japan: Shibun Do. ISBN4-7694-0053-5.
[Note. Nobuo Ogasawara is one of Japan’s leading experts in the academic study of Nihon-to. He is also the chief executive officer of the Nihon-to division at the Tokyo National Art Museum.]
*The original article appeared on the old Bugei Sword Forums in 2003. This version has been edited slightly from the original post.
Copyright © by S. Alexander Takeuchi, Ph.D.