Hidensho 秘伝書 is a Japanese term meaning roughly “Book of Secrets”, generally referring to scrolls, manuscripts or books containing the secret techniques or trade secrets of professionals in the peaceful arts, science, military theory, martial arts and governance. Hidensho were carefully maintained references, copied and passed down from master to student over generations.
The Hidensho Project is a private, non-profit project which specializes in collecting antique (at least 100 years old) Japanese hidensho scrolls, manuscripts and books — mostly in Classical Japanese — and providing an online space where members of connected specialist communities can aid in translating text and identifying objects found in these documents. These translations are made available to the general public via this web site. At present we have three active translation / identification projects: see our description of these projects below, or use the menu at left to directly access their pages.
Our Members / Volunteer Translators
Our network of volunteer translators includes members of the Nihonto Message Board (a well known online community of nihonto enthusiasts, as well as collectors of other Japanese art forms), and the Facebook Group: Antique Japanese Manuscript Collectors, a group for those with in interest in Japanese manuscripts at least 100+ years old, whose members include: museum curators, academics, professional translators, calligraphers, artists, martial artists, specialist collectors and many others.
Many of our nihonto specialist members also belong to national or international nihonto collector’s and appraiser’s organizations such as: the Japanese Sword Society of the United States (JSSUS); the Japanese Sword Society of Canada (JSSC); the Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK) / “Society for the Preservation of the Japan Art Sword” with national groups in Japan, Europe and America; and the Nihon Token Hozon Kai (NTHK) / “Society for the Preservation of the Japanese Sword”.
All translations entered on our main pages are automatically credited (and searchable under) the name of the volunteer translator. Credit for all translators is also given on the “Background” page for each project. Volunteers for each project are listed at the top-right of each page, posted in alphabetical order.
Readers with an interest in antique Japanese manuscripts and books who like to learn more about them should investigate the highly-recommended free online course: Japanese Culture through Rare Books
Becoming a Member
Registered members are allowed to enter translations / identifications and comments on our website, as well as participate in our private members-only discussion forum. At times they may receive high-definition digital copies of presented files for analysis. If you are interested in becoming a member of Hidensho to help translate, please see our Application for Registration form. There is no charge to join.
At present we have three projects underway. Each project is named for the person (or persons) known to have scribed the document in question, or who were the last known owner. The first two deal with nihonto (traditionally made Japanese swords).
Nakamura Oshigata Notebook: This is a handwritten notebook, made circa 1840, presumably by a craftsman who worked on swords. The front page of the notebook contains the following text (translated): “This is the property of Old Man Nakamura Nayoa”, thus the book’s name. This notebook contains more than 400 labeled oshigata — rubbings of the hilts (nakago) of nihonto — which capture the smith’s signature, dates of forging, and other information incised on the hilt which can allow identification of the smith and school of smithing. It is believed the craftsman who kept this notebook did so as a record of the swords they had worked on. At this point more than 300 oshigata have been identified, with known smithing dates of 900 CE to 1867. Included in these rubbings are the images of three presently-existing Japanese National Cultural Treasures. Additionally, more than a dozen swords classed as Juyo Token (highest quality blades) — as judged by the NBTHK, the modern Japanese national organization tasked with appraising nihonto — have been identified, as well as many still existing blades this organization now considers “Most Worthy of Preservation”.
Ono Oshigata Scrolls: A pair of scrolls dated to 1620. The names of two members of the Ono clan are listed on both scrolls, thus this project is named after them. Scroll One contains the rubbings / images of 40 blades, focusing on the hamon (temper pattern of the sword edge) and any horimono (carvings) on the blade. Scroll Two holds the oshigata of 119 nihonto. These scrolls are still in the process of being analyzed by professionals; information will be provided as it is available.
1854 Heiho Yukan Manuscript: A handmade, written and sketched notebook containing information and diagrams on fortifications taken from the Heiho Yukan, a work of military theory presented to the Shogun circa 1645.