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The Nippon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK) is the public interest foundation. Its name at the same time is the definition of its purpose and goal. The English translation of the foundations’ name is "The Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords". The Japanese headquarters of the foundation are located at The Japanese Sword Museum in 130-0015 Tokyo, Sumida-ku, 1-12-9 Yokoami.

NBTHK Museum Tokyo

NBTHK Museum Tokyo

Park des Museums

Park of the Museums

On the history of the NBTHK

At the end of the Second World War, the occupying powers had ordered that all Japanese weapons, especially swords, be confiscated and destroyed. Especially the loss of the historically and artistically valuable blades, which are unique and unmistakable in their kind worldwide, would have meant an irreplaceable loss not only for Japanese art and culture, but also for the world culture. Even today, the art swords continue to represent in terms of numbers the largest share of all registered Japanese national treasures and important cultural assets.

Following urgent intervention from knowledgeable experts, art historians and museums, as well as understanding officers of the American military administration in Japan, who feared the destruction of one of Japan's most important cultural assets, many of the valuable blades were saved from destruction. As a result of these efforts, the NBTHK was founded in 1948 with headquarters in Tokyo.

Its mission was to identify, distinguish and separate the art swords from the masses of confiscated weapons. These weapons included mostly machine-made, artistically and historically insignificant military blades. The artistically significant swords were to be registered and preserved.

This mandate to the experts of the NBTHK is still in effect today. Every sword that enters Japan from abroad or is found in Japan must be submitted to a commission, which includes official members of the NBTHK. If the commission does not grant the blade a license as a registered art sword, the blade might still face immediate confiscation and destruction, as it is considered a mere weapon.

Purpose of the NBTHK

Set in the past, the goals of the NBTHK are still valid today:

  • Preservation and study of Japanese art swords
  • To awaken understanding and spread knowledge concerning the Japanese art sword
  • To identify, recognize and register the art swords according to their origin and qualification as important Japanese cultural assets and art objects
  • Preparation of specialised studies on Japanese swordsmanship and its masters
  • Works of art worthy of preservation also include the diverse objects of sword ornaments and sword mounts, such as koshirae, tsuba and the various associated parts of the kodogu

The Japanese Art Sword

  • An art sword in the sense of the NBTHK and thus a "collectible work of art" is any Japanese sword made according to the complex traditional method and possessing artistic quality evident in its form, construction and in the various forging and hardening structures.
  • Such blades are still restored today by experienced licensed Japanese polishers, or polished in an elaborate process that makes visible and highlights the features of the blade.
  • Only in this way the quality characteristics are recognizable, making the blade largely identifiable according to age, origin and smith or smith school, even without a signature.

Activities of the NBTHK

The NBTHK with its headquarters in Tokyo has 90 branches in Japan and only two outside of Japan, namely the NBTHK-European Branch and the NBTHK-American Branch.

The NBTHK fulfils its statutory objectives by:

  1. Identifying, classifying and documenting Japanese art swords
  2. Operating a facility for the traditional production of tamahagane - a special raw iron suitable for manufacturing of Japanese art swords
  3. Organizing competitions for swordsmiths, polishers and other artists working in the field of the swords
  4. Organizing and conducting study courses
  5. Publication of a monthly journal with reviews and presentations of special swords, swordsmiths, manufacturing processes, conservation advices and literature. The magazine is financed by the membership fees and dealer advertisements
  6. Publication of specialist literature on the various areas of the subject
  7. Assistance in the conservation and repair of swords and sword ornaments, procurement of maintenance materials and accessories
  8. Annual and periodic exhibitions with the opportunity for close view of even highly classified swords or, on special occasions, to take them into one's own hands for the in-depth study
  9. A permanent exhibition of important swords in own museum of the foundation in Tokyo