Firstly let me say I believe there are 2 or 3 people out there (outside of Japan) that are doing some very good work, but they have been collecting and studying for a long time and would have been lucky enough to have been shown what is and what isn’t correct by the long gone Japanese sensei. So this is directly aimed at newer collectors and students. If you cannot tell the difference between a Shoami and a Owari, then you are in no position to repair Tosogu.
All this “do it at home” restoration stuff I keep reading about is inherently dangerous and some of it is no better than the home kit self polishers out there trying their hardest to ruin swords. Without proper training in both both kantei and the restoration, then I believe in the majority of cases, more harm than good will be done.
I know this will not be liked all that much by some members of the tosogu community but these items have done nicely on their own for 100’s of years, so why do we, as their current caretakers have this over powering and never ending need to fiddle with things. A question arose on a forum recently about polishing silver tosogu, “should I, shouldn’t I”, well I ask you, if you would polish silver, would you also polish gold ?, and what about Shakudo ?. I can assure you, a Juyo quality Yujô Kogai that has been polished to bling status will never go Juyo. I can only imagine that being a great disappointment to the owner. I know some people think things will return soon enough to their old state if they over clean, but they are wrong, it could take many decades or more to get back to where it should be.
And it is no different for the repaitination of tsuba that goes on. This is becoming very common place with all forms of magic formulae and treatments. I know of one Australian Antiques dealer who sells expensive tsuba he has repaired. He does this by heating them with a blow torch and dipping them in oil, then polishing them with a rag. This is an extreme I know but no better really than buying a bottle of magic fix or anything else that will ‘hey presto’ restore your tsuba or fitting.
I guess there must be a lot of seriously good kantei judges out there. To know how to colour match the patina recipe a tsubako used in the 15, 16 or 17 hundreds is very impressive, how to make the item look like it should. I am really most impressed.
I have wanted to say something about this for some time, as I know have others so here goes. The uneducated fooling with antiques is just going to ruin the item, as an art item. Sure it’s yours, do what you want, but remember, any significant man made alterations from an items original form means it is no longer Ubu.
Lastly, I would like to suggest, if you really want to try and have a go at fixing something, then please start with a sad old iron tsuba that needs some real work. If it all goes south, then at last you have not lost something precious. Jim Gilbert has a very good article on cleaning rusty tsuba or partially rusty tsuba on his website called Cleaning Iron Tsuba but he opens with a strong warning, If it’s ok, leave it alone. This applies even more so to soft metal tosogu. You have a greater chance of ruining it than repairing it.
Ok, I’m off my soap box.