The Art of Japanese Sword-Making

History shows us that every corner of the world has some form or version of a sword that is used primarily as a weapon.

Katana.| M Cheung

Japanese swords have been made from as early as the Kofun period (about 300 to 538 AD) and generally refer to the curved blades made after the Heian period (794 to 1185). However, there are many types of Japanese swords differing in size, use, and method of creation. Common types of Japanese swords include the katana, odachi, tachi, and wakizashi.

The late Kamakura period (1185–1333) is known to be the most prodigious time in the history of Japanese sword making.

The Soshu tradition was the most popular way of making swords in Japan with iconic smiths such as Sukezane and Kunitsuna who combined their talents with methods from Bizen and Yamashiro traditions. The group of prominent swordsmiths culminated with Masamune and his school.

Masamune.

Masamune, considered to be Japan’s greatest swordsmith, was a student of Shintōgo Kunimitsu.  His swords are of superior quality and possess remarkable beauty. Masamune is thought to have brought perfection to the art of “nie” where steel becomes a crystalline structure resembling stars in the evening sky.

The Japanese schools of sword making are categorized by the masters who created a specific tradition of sword making and by the province where they were made. There are several types of Japanese swords with rare ones made from five separate pieces and heat-treated at high temperatures.

The swords from the Masamune School were harder than any of the swords made prior to his technique. Masamune trained a group of no less than 10 followers with two students, Kanemitsu and Nagayoshi, from the Bizen province. During the 14th century, the Masamune School was the most coveted school for many Japanese smiths. Masamune’s student Kanemitsu is known to have created the Soden School which combined the Bizen and Soshu techniques in sword making.

Samurai with tachi.

Japanese swords are made legendary because of the great samurai warriors who wielded them and the many battles that ensued during the Edo period. Japanese swords still hold much fascination today for the art and craftsmanship that went into creating such weapons with deadly intent.