In the Japanese sword world, we often hear the term, Mukansa. Originally, it means that a work is allowed to be exhibited without examination by the exhibition organizer, mainly in the field of art, taking into consideration its past achievements. In other words, being recognized as Mukansa by a prominent exhibition or organization is proof that a person or work has been held in extremely high esteem for a long period of time.
In the sword world, Mukansa is a title that recognizes the exceptional skills of a swordsmith who has been recognized by the Society for Preservation of Japanese Swords as having received more than one special award at the Modern Sword Art Exhibition.
Once a swordsmith has been certified as Mukansa swordsmith, his work entered in the Modern Sword Art Exhibition does not need to be judged for awards, and is treated as a separate category. This means that the swordsmith has the highest level of qualification.
Since 1958, when the title of Mukansa was first awarded in the sword world, only 39 swordsmiths have been awarded as of 2017. Although the process of obtaining the title is a narrow one, the prestigious title also carries with it the obligation to be a role model for swordsmiths. If a swordsmith does not exhibit, or if his skills are deemed to have declined significantly, he may be deprived of the title. In other words, Mukansa is expected to be a master swordsmith among master swordsmiths.
The criteria for being certified as Mukansa swordsmith are as follows: The applicant must have won 15 prizes at the Modern Sword Art Exhibition, including 8 or more special awards, and have won the Prince Takamatsu Memorial Prize at least twice, or have won 10 or more special awards, be of high character, and have outstanding skills as a swordsmith. The applicant must be a person of high integrity and outstanding skill as a swordsmith. After meeting these criteria, a swordsmith must be approved by the Board of Directors of the Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords and be granted the status of Mukansa by the President of the Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords.
The names of the awards presented at the Modern Sword Art Exhibition are as follows.
- Prince Takamatsu Memorial Prize
- Kunzan Award
- Kanzan Award
- The President of the Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords Award
- The Prize for Excellence
- Effort Award
- Honorable Mention Award
Since these prizes are awarded annually, it will take at least 15 years to win 15 prizes, even if you are selected every year. It is a long and arduous process, requiring at least eight Special Prizes and at least two Prince Takamatsu Memorial Prizes, or at least ten Special Prizes.
There is also an award that is given to Mukansa swordsmiths who aim for a higher level of excellence. It is the "Masamune Award," which is considered to be the pinnacle of the sword world. This award is given only to those Mukansa swordsmiths who have exhibited their work at the Modern Sword Art Exhibition and whose work is of exceptional quality. Only three masters have received the Masamune Award in the 30 years of the Heisei period. This means that only one out of five of the uninspected swordsmiths can receive the Masamune Award, which is even more difficult than becoming an uninspected swordsmith.
Starting with the first recipient of the Masamune Award in 1961, there have been eight recipients of the award through 2018, and four swordsmiths have received the award two or more times. All of them were certified as holders of individual "Important Intangible Cultural Property" status, or so-called "Living National Treasures. For modern swordsmiths, receiving the Masamune Award more than twice is one of the criteria for being recognized as a Living National Treasure.
List of Living National Treasures
- Takahashi Sadatsugu(1955)
- Miyairi Shohei Yukihira(1963)
- Gassan Sadakazu the 2nd(1971)
- Sumitani Masamine(1981)
- Amata Akitsugu(1997)
- Osumi Toshihira(1997)
List of Mukansa Swordsmiths
- Takahashi Sadatsugu(1958)
- Miyairi Shohei Yukihira(1960)
- Gassan Sadakazu the 2nd(1967)
- Sumitani Masamine(1967)
- Imaizumi Toshimitsu(1970)
- Kawashima Tadayoshi the 2nd(1972)
- Amata Akitsugu(1973)
- Osumi Toshihira(1973)
- Endo Mitsuoki(1981)
- Sakai Ikkansai Shigemasa(1981)
- Yakuwa Yasutake(1981)
- Hokke Saburo Nobumasa the 8th(1981)
- Nigara Kunitoshi(1981)
- Yoshihara Yoshindo(1982)
- Yoshihara Kuniie the 3rd(1982)
- Gassan Sadatoshi(1982)
- Tanigawa Moriyoshi(1985)
- Kanbayashi Tsunehira(1985)
- Yamaguchi Kiyofusa(1986)
- Kawachi Kunihira(1987)
- Ono Yoshimitsu(1987)
- Takahashi Tsuguhira(1989)
- So Tsutomu(1990)
- Mikami Sadanao(1995)
- Miyairi Norihiro(1995)
- Enomoto Sadayoshi(1996)
- Seto Yoshihiro(1996)
- Hiroki Hirokuni(1996)
- Miyairi Kozaemon Yukihira(2000)
- Okubo Kazuhira(2000)
- Yoshihara Yoshikazu(2003)
- Ogata Kanekuni(2006)
- Matsuda Tsuguyasu(2010)
- Matsuba Kunimasa(2014)
- Kubo Yoshihiro(2017)
- Takami Kuniichi(2019)