Page Last Updated: Wednesday, 04 November 2015 13:35 EDT, 1965 by Torii Teller, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010

Swordmaker & Art Collector

Torii Teller, Iwakuni Weekly, June 7 1965

Sgt. D. C. Preston, Editor; Sgt. John G. McCullough, LCpl. Alex Wasinski, Photographers

Dean Hartley was a 14-year-old lad who had outgrown his homemade wooden sword back in South Carolina when Kunitoshi Fujimura forged his first steel sword in Iwakuni, Japan. That was back in 1935, before either of them could possibly know that swords would kink them into an unique friendship.

Dean Hartley is now a colonel in the Marine Corps, and swords are no longer toys. The study and collection of ancient blades is an art form, and Col. Hartley is recognized as one of America's foremost authorities on Japanese swords. He is certainly the most avid collector in the Corps.

Colleague. Fujimura is one of only 200 licensed swordsmiths in Japan today; only four are fulltime swordmakers. Fujimura is one of the latter. His intricate, painstakingly exact copies of old swords have earned him international acclaim.

Col. Hartley and Fujimura have known each other for seven years. "I first met him when I flew into Iwakuni on a visit," the colonel explained last week before he left Iwakuni again. "I was an amateur then and Mr. Fujimura was already a noted swordsmith. But he welcomed me as if I were a colleague. I've learned a lot from the old gentleman, especially this last year."

During the past year Col. Hartley was comptroller for the 1st Wing. He is now enroute to his new job on the staff of the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. But he plans to return to Iwakuni someday, to spend more hours in the combination home and shop of the 73-year-old artist.

"Really Hooked." Col. Hartley became interested in Japanese swords 10 years ago... "after I'd read a book describing rare swords, then almost immediately spotted one in a store in Washington, D.C."

Out of the first 10 swords the colonel collected, six were rarities sought by sword fanciers for astonishing start for a neophyte.

"I really got hooked then," understated the colonel. By "hooked" he meant that he began researching the nuances of sword collecting. "I found that the research -- getting ancient transcripts, collectors' studies, etc. -- was almost as expensive as getting the swords, " Col. Hartley added.

But the research cost was refunded in a number of ways. The colonel's reputation as a collector caused him to be elected president last year of the Nanka Token Kai (Southern Sword Society) in Los Angeles. He also belongs to the Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (Society for the Preservation of Japanese Art Swords) and the Japanese Sword Society of the United States.

HARTLEY & FUJIMURA: Welcomed as a colleague


COLLECTOR HARTLEY AND SAMURAI SWORD: An astonishing start for a neophyte

Sword Snob. He has also amassed an envied collection of blades. Of the 65 swords in his collection, 55 are masterpieces worth thousands of dollars; one sword, a 900-year-old Tachi, is considered in the art category of "priceless."

The colonel's research collection has made him a sword snob.

"Japanese makes are the only items of art in the sword world today," he said. "Well, there may be a few Persian and possibly some Damascene swords worth looking at, but only in Japan are swords made today exactly as they were before recorded history."

It was that fact which drew Col. Hartley to Kunitoshi Fujimura. It takes the venerable swordsmith a month to forge, temper, polish and engrave a single sword. He will not use steel or iron unless it's already hundreds of years old. Then he melts it down, flakes it, stacks it and pounds it into shape time and again. Each step of the process follows a pattern thousands of years old. He tempers the blade into precision with the help of chemicals, the compound of which is as closely a guarded secret as the combination to Fort Knox.


Old metal, a secret...


SWORDSMITH FUJIMURA AT WORK IN HIS SHOP: ...formula, and the venerable artist produces a rare blade.


"The Old Ways." Then he keeps the sword. He places it in national competitions, many of which he's won, then loans it for display at castles-now-museums which are as old as the smithing process.

"I've never bought a sword from Mr. Fujimura," Col. Hartley said. "Ours isn't a retail association. I respect his craftsmanship and adherence to the old ways. That's why I selected him to be an advisor to the Nanka Token Kai."

There is one "adherence to the old ways" which Fujimura doesn't abide by, however. In medieval days, every sword was tested and the results inlaid in gold on the blade's tang, which is set into the grip. The cutting test was made, more often than not, against human bodies. Col. Hartley owns a sword which, hundreds of years ago, sliced through seven bodies in a single stroke!

Today's cutting tests are more humane. If body texture is desired by a testing supervisor (who is never the swordsmith), he uses specially prepared manikins.

Which seems to please everyone concerned.

ARTIST AND MEMENTOS: Adherence to the past


FUJIMURA AND HARTLEY WITH NEW BLADE: They don't use human bodies any more.

Additional Photos

Fujimura Kunitoshi starting to hammer tomahagane (first real step in sword making).

The "set" of forging steps Kunitoshi-San (his art name) gave Col. Hartley for the Nanka Token Kai.

"Guardian Sword" being carried to Iwakuni Castle, blade made by Fujimura Kunitoshi

Fujimura Kunitoshi presents "Guardian Sword" he made for Iwakuni Castle to Mayor Doi

Hartley presents certificate from the Nanka Token Kai to Mr. Fujimura

Certificate of honorary membership and designation as Official Advisor

Choosing sword for inspection. The top blade is a Ko-Bizen Masazane, ca. 1065, certified by Dr. Homma.

Viewing a sword.

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