A "scabbard certificate" is an inscription on the "white scabbard" in which a Japanese sword is kept and stored. The name of the swordsman, the date of the scabbard and the value assessment are written directly on the white scabbard, so you can tell at a glance what kind of sword you have inside. When and who started labeling scabbards? We will also present in detail the value that may interest you.
Sheath certificate: presentation and origin
As said before, a scabbard certificate is an inscription written on a white scabbard. This inscription is similar to the "hokosho" written on a tea ceremony utensil box. The name of the swordsman, the length of the blade and the date of the scabbard writing are written directly on the white scabbard in black ink.
Originally, the certificate was written by the lord of a daimyo family in order to organize the swords in his warehouse. The great feudal lords had a large number of swords, including swords passed down from generation to generation, as well as swords given as prizes or gifts.
In order to organize the swords in their collections, the feudal lords began to inscribe on a white scabbard the name of the swordsman, the name of the armorer, the date and name of the donor, and other information.
Eventually, the samurai society collapsed. Over time, the scabbard was replaced by a "guarantee of authenticity", and the person who wrote the scabbard was no longer a feudal lord but a "connoisseur".
What is a white sheath?
The white scabbard is a sheath for holding and storing the blade of a Japanese katana. The katanas you often see are mounted in a koshirae, which is decorated with lacquer and other materials.
Although these koshirae are beautiful and can be used immediately, leaving the sword in the koshirae will allow it to rust easily due to the lack of ventilation. Therefore, when not in use, it is necessary to store it for a long time in a well ventilated white sheath. For this reason, the white sheath is also called "resting sheath".
The material used for these white sheaths is magnolia (Magnoliaceae). This wood is characterized by its dense, uniform and soft texture, which makes it easy to work with. Besides white sheaths, it is also used for shogi (Japanese chess) pieces and piano keys. Especially in its solid white wood state without surface treatment, magnolia is sensitive to moisture and has excellent absorbency. Due to its stable moisture content, it is resistant to rust, making it an ideal material for preservation.
The important thing to know is that if you store the white scabbard in a katana bukuro (sword bag) in a place out of the sun, it will block the light and stabilize the temperature, thus preventing rusting due to condensation.
It is recommended to order a custom-made white scabbard that fits your Japanese sword perfectly. Prices start at about 20,000 yen. A high quality white scabbard is expected to last more than 50 years.
Who writes the certification and where?
The evaluators who write on the scabbard are mainly descendants of Hon ami Mitsunori, a sword evaluator who was authorized by "Toyotomi Hideyoshi". The latter was authorized to inscribe "Origami" certificates, i.e. in the same way during the Edo period.
During the period of confusion following the overthrow of the Edo shogunate, scabbard writing was frequently applied during the Meiji period (1868-1912) to guarantee authenticity. The name of the maker (zeimei), the length of the blade and the date of the scabbard label were written on the white scabbard.
The scabbard label is supposed to be placed on the surface of the blade, like on a Tachi sword. Since there are many cases where it is not possible to inscribe all the information on one side of the sword, such as on short swords, the name (or "kakume") and the length of the blade are inscribed on the front of the scabbard, and the date of inscription and the name of the person who wrote it (hanasho) are inscribed separately on the back of the scabbard.
Besides the descendants of the Hon'ami family, other famous people who wrote scabbards include Takase Hazatsu, Sato Kan'ichi (aka Sato Kanzan) and Honma Junji (aka Honma Kaoruzan).
Famous sword evaluators
1908 - 1996.
He studied with Hon'ami Rimga, a branch of the Hon'ami family, and was adopted at the age of 19. He learned the polishing and evaluation of Japanese swords, and became a holder of the Important Intangible Cultural Property (Living National Treasure) technique in 1975. His son Honami Koshu was also designated a Living National Treasure in 2014.
1853 - 1924
Journalist and sword researcher. He published "Tohoku Mainichi Shinbun" and defended liberal civil rights. He was the secretary of the sword society of Yasukuni Yushukan Shrine. Author of "Detailed book on swords and sabers" and "History of swords and sabers".
Sword specialist. Executive Director of the Society for the Preservation of Japanese Art Swords. Deputy Director of the Sword Museum. He was considered an authority on the evaluation of Japanese swords, especially in the study of new swords.
Researcher of Japanese swords. He founded the Association for the Preservation of Japanese Art Swords, of which he was director and president. He is an authority on the evaluation of Japanese swords, particularly in the study of ancient swords. Author of "Japanese Swords" and "History of Japanese Swords".
Is a Katana more valuable if it has a scabbard certificate?
The "Certificate of Authenticity" (formerly "Certificate of Approval") and "Certificate of Designation" are issued by appraisal organizations such as the Society for the Preservation of Japanese Art Swords, and are used to guarantee the value of a Japanese sword.
In contrast, scabbard certificates are often done by private appraisers. The most reliable guarantee would be a certificate of authenticity (formerly a certificate of recognition) or a certificate of designation issued by the Association for the Preservation of Japanese Art Swords.
With a certificate of authenticity, the value of the katana will not change, even if the scabbard certificate is not present. However, in these uncertain times, many people want something a little more tangible and reliable.
Therefore, a katana with a scabbard certificate looks more reliable and often fetches a higher price on the market. The title of the person who writes the scabbard certificate is also a factor that makes it trustworthy.
However, it can be used for the wrong reasons. Counterfeit Japanese katanas, including the katana itself and even the scabbard, can be put into circulation, and there is a risk of secondary or tertiary damage.