What is “Shinsa”?
Shinsa literally means “examination” or “screening”. The term is applied to more than just one official procedure or process, but in general for each application, it is the process by which a sword or fitting is examined to establish some or all of the following criteria:
- Confirm it is an example of acceptable traditional craftsmanship
- Ascertain or verify period of manufacture, and/or maker of note
- Evaluate qualitative representation
- Judge condition relative to age
It can be a little confusing, because “shinsa” applies to both a procedure required for import and export by Japanese Customs, as well as the separate and unrelated evaluation of them as art objects by the NBTHK. ALL swords must be licensed and registered for importation into Japan, and the physical license card must always accompany the sword blade.
To receive this license, sword blades are required to be presented to officials for evaluation in order to receive licensing for entry into Japan at a session which is also called a Shinsa. Once a sword has been licensed and registered, it can then be forwarded to the NBTHK for submission to the shinsa held there for authentication papers. The sword must again complete the same process for export from Japan as it did upon importation when the license it carries was issued.
For export, the license must be surrendered, then the sword must immediately be packed and shipping set into motion for it to leave the country. Fittings such as menuki, tsuba, and even entire sets of mountings (as long it contains no actual sword blade) do not require a license for importation into Japan, but do often require a knowledgeable person to receive them upon import if Japanese Customs officials have questions, or specific information is required about the items. Therefore, it is highly recommended that the services of an experienced and knowledgeable broker be secured for importation of swords or fittings, so that any difficulties or requirements can be immediately addressed and prevent costly and unsettling delays or returns.
Will Shinsa establish a monetary value for my sword or fitting?
One may occasionally hear the term Shinsa translated as an “appraisal” which generally carries the connotation of establishing a monetary value, but there is no extension of monetary value quoted or established in any of the Shinsa processes. A formal appraisal for value is an entirely different matter, and such services are neither offered, nor performed, by the NBTHK.
How do I obtain authentication papers from the NBTHK?
Non-members may submit items for all levels of shinsa but will pay an additional fee as non-members. The additional fee for non-members is shown on the shinsa fees schedule. Sword blades must also have and carry a current license.
Items are submitted for shinsa based on a monthly schedule, and must be presented in person. Items cannot be directly mailed to the NBTHK for submission. Once the item is submitted, it will be examined and a judgment made for one of the following results:
- Item passes for the particular shinsa it was submitted (Hozon, Tokubetsu Hozon, Juyo, Tokubetsu Juyo), and the appropriate papers will be issued.
- Item does not pass for the particular shinsa it was submitted, or is notupgraded. No paper will be issued.
- Item is determined to require more research in the future. No determination of authenticity can be firmly established or denied. No paper will be issued.
This is a “tiered” system of evaluation, meaning that in order to receive successively higher papers, the item must have received paper for each of the preceding levels. As an example, a sword or fitting cannot be submitted for the Juyo shinsa without having first passed the Hozon and Tokubetsu Hozon levels beforehand.
How do I get my sword or fitting to the NBTHK for submission to shinsa?
If the item is outside Japan, it must be shipped and imported into Japan for submission to occur. This process for swords is complex and ever changing. Documentation and licensing procedures are something best handled by a broker or representative that is familiar with the procedures and informed of the most current requirements. The NBTHK does not offer import or export services, nor can items be mailed directly to the NBTHK for submission. There are a number of individuals outside Japan that handle shipping to Japan with import and export services including the licensing arrangements. Check with dealers of Japanese swords outside Japan, and they may recommend some contacts. Brokers charge a fee for this service, which varies from broker to broker.
How long after I submit to shinsa will it be before I know the results?
Results are usually distributed at the end of the month following the shinsa, but delays do happen for various reasons, and results may take longer depending on the particular circumstance.
How long after I receive papers will it be before I receive my item back?
It can vary depending on the broker's schedule, the individual shinsa volume, and even very special occasions when a sword or fitting will be displayed at the NBTHK Museum for a few weeks. In general, however, 4-6 months is the average turn-around time, but again, it varies from broker to broker.