After World War II
At the end of the Second World War, following the betrayal caused by Pear Harbor, the American General Douglas MacArthur (in Japan also called since "Gaijin Shogun" or foreign generalissimo) supervises the occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1951 and undertakes many political and social measures. The objective of this occupation is to rebuild the Japanese economy and to set in place a democratic government before returning power in 1949. Unfortunately this period misled to very bad serious consequences for the Japanese saber.
Massive disarmament was undertaken, affecting military sabers but also sabers kept by individuals and families of samurais. Estimations vary enormously, but thousands of sabers were sometimes destroyed, or sometimes brought back by the GIs as trophies. So, more than 7 tons of sabers would have been sent to the United States, and there is the base of some great collections of nihontos that you can find today. Unfortunately, not only Showatos (poor quality sabers produced in large quantities during the war) were lost, because (fortunately) their military setting was more interesting for the American soldiers, but also large sabers which are yet actively sought-after. However it is sure that many historical sabers have been lost because of ignorance and will never be found. Fortunately, these destructions and losses ended following various events, in particular in 1949 during a celebration taking place every 25 years at the great sanctuary of Ise, where some blacksmiths were authorized to forge a total of 60 blades to honor the saber. Dr Honma will also send Kanzan Sato as interpreter to speak with Colonel Cadwell during the occupation, to teach General MacArthur to distinguish between military sabers and artistic sabers, to prevent other nihontos from being lost. After one month of negotiations, no more sabers that could constitute an artistic and cultural interest were to be destroyed. Again their possession became legal (no more seizures), and a committee was created to evaluate the sabers under the direction of Hosokawa Moritsugu. Thus, about fifteen judges examined every day the sabers which could be of cultural interest in order to preserve them. After a year of work, just over 4,500 sabers will be saved and kept at the Tokyo National Museum. The NBTHK will appear in 1948 (Japanese government agency for the preservation of the saber) co founded by Dr Honma Kunzan and Kanzan Sato, two great figures of modern Japanese saber. They were very involved, and particularly in charge of the sabers at the Tokyo National Museum. In 1952 the forge was again authorized and Dr Honma, together with Mr Nakajima, they had distributed, at the beginning of the 1960s, the photographs of some great lost sabers (14 Kokuho or national treasures and 25 Jûyô Bijûtû or important cultural objects). At that time the pictures are not widely distributed and many other significant losses will be reported in subsequent years.
Up today, too few sabers have been found, but the Japanese saber is being protected and defended in order to prevent it from being lost forever. However the loss of sabers is of a monumental importance. Thus in 1958 there was more Japanese sabers in the United States than in Japan, and despite the changing law authorizing the possession of art sabers, some of them were took out and sometimes sold as second-hand to American soldiers, the war having caused a lot of economic difficulties for some inhabitants. The 4500 sabers saved and examined by the committee will unfortunately be stored for almost 50 years in a reserve, before being maintained and shown to the public in 2000 during an exhibition. Today, most of these sabers are returned to their Japanese owners. The forge authorization voted in 1952 is greatly the feat of a man, Kurihara Hokisaburo, who had the project of having 300 blades forged to commemorate the peace treaty of the Second World War. He will not complete his project, because he died in 1954 before its completion. Thanks to him and his visits to all the blacksmiths in the country, he has revived the traditional Japanese forge which is still carried out today under the direction of the government, in accordance with what was initially planned for this project. The Government direction clearly permits traditional knowledge not to be mixed with modern processes, and also to maintain today, thanks to the NBTHK, a purely traditional forge in the lands where the katana was born.