THE PROBLEMS WITH SENDING WWII ERA GENDAI-TO TO JAPAN FOR RESTORATION.*
S. Alexander Takeuchi, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology
University of North Alabama
November 8, 2003
As many Nihon-to enthusiasts would probably know, any Nihon-to that are in possession of owners outside of Japan but are to be sent to Japan for the sole purpose of receiving legitimate restoration work (e.g., polishing, mounting, etc.) must still be officially imported into Japan once by the dealer/broker in Japan and properly registered under their name just like any other Nihon-to that are legally owned in Japan. This rule applies equally to all Nihon-to blades "bought" by the dealer/broker in Japan as well as those that will only temporarily stay in Japan for the duration of the restoration work (which itself will take months, if not longer). Because of this "non-discriminatory application" of registration rule, the Japanese dealer/broker must first apply for and obtain the "proof of eligibility for registration" at the local law enforcement agency before he can receive the blade legally at the blade’s port of entry.
Now, suppose the blade is a WWII officer’s sword in a "gun-to (i.e., military sword)" koshirae. If it is made and signed by one of the Yasukuni Shrine to-sho, it is still an authentic "gendai-to" that must qualify for eligibility requirements. Therefore, it will most likely be granted this "proof of eligibility for registration" without much difficulty. Once the Japanese dealer/broker obtains the "proof of eligibility for registration," he must then send the blade to the "eligibility examination committee" (that is commissioned by his or her district’s Board of Education) to be granted a registration card so that it can *legally* be possessed in Japan and be shipped to the polisher and/or koshirae craftsman.
Here, everyone in the Nihon-to collector’s circle tends to assume that a traditionally made "gendai-to" by a Yasukuni Shrine smith would easily pass the "registration examination" and be granted a registration card without a problem. If indeed everything goes well as it is supposed to, the blade will pass the "registration examination" and be granted a proper "legal status." Then the blade will be returned to the Japanese dealer/broker. When the commissioned restoration is complete, the Japanese dealer/broker must then obtain the "proof of approval for exporting" a Nihon-to and turn in the short lived registration card back to his district’s Board of Education.
However, the problem may arise if the said blade is a WWII Showa era blade in a military mount, (even if it *is* in fact an authentic "gendai-to" traditionally made by a well know smith) depending on which district’s examination committee the blade is actually sent to and examined by. For those who live in countries where possession of "antique swords" is not overly regulated by some outrageous "weapons laws" or oppressive political atmosphere and not really familiar with the Japanese government’s view toward the last war, this may be difficult to believe. However, such a "legal problem" *can* occur quite possibly and *has in fact* occurred more than a few times.
A few months ago, I was having a conversation on this very subject with one of the well respected Nihon-to dealers in Japan, Mr. F. Then Mr. F informed me that, in the past, his client’s WWII era "gendai-to" by a legitimate and known "jumei to-sho (i.e, Imperial Army licensed sword smith)" which was already polished but still in a "shingun-to" koshirae (i.e., military mount) was actually *rejected* by the "eligibility examination committee" in his district on the ground that the said blade is a "weapon" and "lacks artistic value" to be deemed as a true Nihon-to...
As many Nihon-to enthusiasts outside of Japan already know, in the words of the Japanese law, "only traditionally made Nihon-to with substantial art value" is allowed to be owned and possessed legally after proper registration. In other words, if the "examination committee" determines that a particular Nihon-to blade to be a "weapon" instead of a "work of art," it will reject the blade. This was exactly what happened to this particular WWII era "gendai-to" in possession of Mr. F’s client.
According to Mr. F, we would normally expect that the standard of "registration eligibility examination" held by "examination committees" are uniform regardless of the districts that the committees are formed: Yet, the judgment of each committee sometimes varies considerably depending on the knowledge and expertise of the committee members as well as their personal biases in favor of or against WWII era Nihon-to. For instance, in the Tokyo metropolitan district, the judgments of "examination committees" have generally been more lenient in favor of WWII Showa era gendai-to because of the greater knowledge of the committee members and the political influence of NBTHK. However, in other districts, the knowledge level of the committee members often varies, especially when it comes to WWII gendai-to. Additionally, there are quite a few "conservative" members of "examination committees" who are very biased against WWII Showa era swords.
Of course, it you select a reputable broker on your end, he must know all the "insider information" as to where and when to send a potentially problematic blade to the "eligibility examination" and how to obtain the necessary paperwork without much trouble. Therefore, selecting a experienced broker on the owner’s end is also crucial when sending a WWII gendai-to to Japan for restoration.
However, there is yet another obstacle involved in sending a relatively less valuable gendai-to (e.g., WWII gendai) to Japan for restoration jobs: That is of course the cost of all the paperwork and import and sales taxes. Currently (as of summer 2003), the registration paperwork alone would cost over $420USD plus the actual import tax (based on the fair market value of the sword) and 5% Japanese national sales tax. Of course, the owner of the blade will still have to pay insured shipping both ways on top of all. When the handling fee that the broker on the owner’s end will charge is added into the equation, the total cost of sending a relatively inexpensive WWII era gendai-to to Japan for any restoration will naturally be expensive - regardless of the nature or quality the restoration work that many Nihon-to enthusiasts would like to get in Japan...
Copyright © S. Alexander Takeuchi, Ph.D.