Japanese sword - weapon or work of art?

in adsactly •  last year  (edited)
The Japanese sword, also known as katana, is mainly known as a weapon but for the Japanese people, swords have always been something more. They belonged to the gods. Katana has an extremely sharp blade. It is unbreakable and unbending. For centuries, the sword has also been considered the soul of samurai. Currently, the Japanese sword is used in martial arts to train the mind. It is believed that the deity lives in a sword, which is why they are often used in sacred rituals. Due to their beautiful form, Japanese swords are also valued as works of art. In Japan, the possession and use of swords is strictly regulated by law and each sword must be publicly registered. However, they are registered in a cultural agency and considered as objects of art, not weapons.


Antique Japanese swords, a katana at the bottom and smaller sword - Wakizashi on the topLong_Sword_and_Scabbard_LACMA_AC1999.186.1.1-.16.jpg

Source: Wikipedia

Sharpness of Japanese swords is legendary and there are even stories of a sword blade cutting clean through a metal helmet. Although swords have been used as weapons for centuries, nowadays they are appreciated as amazing pieces of art made of steel. They are also collectors' items not only in Japan, but all over the world. There are auctions organized thanks to which Japanese swords gain an established position in the world. A sword of artistic value can be bought for about one million yen. For a really special katana you have to pay up to 2.5 million yen (more than 22 000 $). The Japanese sword consists of a cutting edge, a back and a steel surface in between. On the side of the sword is visible wavy area. This is called Hamon or temper pattern. It is a pattern created during the hardening of the sword. To appreciate the Japanese sword, first look at it as a whole. Appreciate the curvature and balance, and then go to the details. The most important is temper pattern. Elements of nature as mountains and clouds are used as motifs and there are cherished.

2000px-Katana_diagram.svg.png

Source: Wikipedia

Japanese swords have long been a symbol of samurai. They are also used in iaido martial arts, whose aim is perfect artistry and spiritual discipline. At every iaido competition, people with exceptional skills can demonstrate the forms of iaido and show their skills. Real swords are used and you can fell tension and focus during performance. There are various schools of the sword, and their students devote themselves to continuous improvement.

From ancient times, swords were considered sacred objects imbued with spiritual power. The Japanese sword has over 1500 years of history and it is more than just a great weapon. For about 1000 years, aristocrats used swords in Shinto ceremonies and rituals. Ceremonial swords were beautifully decorated and they were used as a show of power and wealth. Even in times of war, swords never became a weapon chosen on the battlefield. Spears and pistols were considered more effective weapons and katana were reduced to an auxiliary role. Instead, they were the most important element of the Samurai costume and the well-made sword was very expensive. Japanese katana are nowadays associated with samurai but there was a time when everyone could have a sword. In the 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a Japanese military and political leader, issued an order to confiscate swords. He would not allow anyone outside the samurai class to have katana. This created a clear difference in status between samurai and ordinary people and gave birth to the concept of the sword as the mark of the samurai. When peace spread throughout Japan in the 17th century, samurai remained the only class of people allowed to wear a sword. As it become less common for a sword to be drawn the act of doing so acquired greater significance. Eventually not drawing a sword came to be considered a virtue. In this way, the katana steadily gained a deeper respect as a symbolic object. This state of affairs was broken in the nineteenth century, when the government dissolved the class of warriors and forbade the possession of swords. The era of the sword as a status mark has come to an end. But they still live in martial art and as works of art. Even today, they are adored by many Japanese.

The Japanese swords were usually beautifully decorated, here the hilt was wrapped in shark skin and then in silk.

800px-Koshirae_daisho_Met_36.25.1725.jpg

Source: Wikipedia

The metal for the Japanese sword is made by using a traditional method called tatara. The iron is heated for three days and three nights, while adjusting the temperature. The product of this heating is called tamahagane. It is thrown into the fire and heated to around 1500 degrees Celsius. Then tamahagane is hammered to modify its shape and thickness. When it is broken up to a thickness of 5 mm, it is placed in water to cool it down. Then it is broken into smaller blocks. Parts that break easily are hard and used on surfaces where sharpness is required. The difficult to break parts are more resistant and used in the core of the sword to provide it with flexibility. Small tamahagane blocks are arranged in an even pile so that heat can penetrate in the same way through each element. Then the metal is covered with ash and topped with water. It cuts off the access of air and allows the heat to penetrate slowly inside. The steel melts and then is hammered again, which strengthens it and improves its quality.

TamahaganeTamahagane_yao.jpg
Source: Wikipedia


After about 15 cycles of folding, heating and forming the blade, it has a thickness of 15,000 layers. This is what gives the strength and reliability of Japanese swords. Then the steel is extended with a small hammer. This determines the shape and is the process in which the skill of the craftsman is crucial. After forming the shape, a mixture of clay, charcoal and other materials is spread over the blade. The thickness of this layer is increased in some places. The mixture and its thickening influence the heat transfer in the final thermal treatment and determine the characteristic pattern on the blade. The sword is heated to 800 degrees and then submerged in water for cooling. This is the most intense moment for the creator of the sword. A sudden change in temperature naturally underlines the beautiful curvature of the katana. In this short moment the soul enters into blade. Then it is passed to craftsmen who polish the surface in order to finish the creation of the sword. Based on technique, instinct and years of experience, masters in this art still produce the highest quality blades.

One of them is Yoshiaki Sugita who constantly invents unique methods to create blades of unusual originality. He is one of the most valued swordsman in Japan. One day he received iron in a very valuable form - these were nails made over 200 years ago. These nails were collected during the repair of the famous temple from over 1200 years - Suo Kokubunji. It is believed that when it comes to materials for sword, the older the metal, the better. Ancient nails were melted to make the raw material. Iron from 200 years ago was something that Sugita had never used before. He could not use the rules of making swords he knew. He had to rely mainly on his instinct. He wanted to recreate Juka-choji - a pattern on the edge of a knife from the Kamakura period, which represents the overlapping petals. However, the method of creating this pattern is shrouded in mystery. Sugita tried to recreate it for almost 30 years. Without success. However, old temple nails could give him a chance to get a petal pattern. It took him half a year and one failure to recreate a blade with Juka-choji pattern. During the offering ceremony, Sugita offered sword to the temple.

juka choji.png
Source: www.nipponto-ken.net


Japanese swords are used even today in Shinto ceremonies throughout the country. In Seki, a city in the Gifu prefecture that has more than 700 years of sword history, the New Year begins with the first sword hammering ceremony. The local monks demonstrate their skills and pray for prosperity and security. Every spring in Saitama prefecture there is a festival during which people try to climb barefoot on a ladder make of Japanese swords. If they reach the last level safely, it is said that their prayers will be answered. Everyone can participate and pray for a year of health and safety. In the Niigata prefecture, an autumn ritual has been taking place for several centuries. People walk around from one house to another performing mock duels with Japanese swords. It is believed that it repels the evil and provides abundant harvest. At each home sake and food are offered to the participants. At the end of the year, in the Miyazaki Prefecture there is a ritual with over 500 years of history called Haraikawakagura. It's a holy dance with Japanese swords. It is a prayer to the deity that protects the land of Miyazaki. How you can see, Japanese swords still play a role in modern Japan. Both as art objects and sacred objects used in Shinto rituals.

02-katana-makinge382a6e382a7e38396e794a8.jpg
Source: gogifu.files.wordpress.com


From ancient times in Japan, it was believed that swords protect people from disaster. They are also passed down from generation to generation as family treasures depicting people's wishes for well-being and long life. It is a vivid personification of Japanese aesthetic and artistic temperament, which is now gaining popularity all over the world.

References:

1. The Art of the Japanese Sword: The Craft of Swordmaking and its Appreciation, Y. Yoshihara.


Posted from Amazing Japan : http://amazingjapan.org/a-japanese-sword-a-weapon-or-a-work-of-art/
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Fantastic article with detailed description and history of the Katana. My only knowledge prior to this was in the video games I play. It was always one of my favorite weapons to use in games like Ultima Online.

They almost seem to have a religious significance which I love. It's a shame they no longer hold the symbolic value they once did but I think there's a history there that can never be erased.

I couldn't believe shark skin was used! I guess it makes sense given the geographical location of Japan but still, it is quite the process from beginning to end. One of the things I love about the Japanese is their dedication to a craft. This guy spent 30 years trying to craft the perfect Katana. How amazing is that?

Thank you for sharing. This was a very interesting and educational post that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Cheers!

Thank you :)

Great article, @kocinka. Very interesting information about the katana. I would only suggest you add the prices in $, too... because not many people know how much a Yen is in $ or €. :-P

Thanks for sharing.

Good point @trincowski :) I must add this information, thank you :)

You're welcome. Keep up with the good work. :-)

Hi kocinka,

This post has been upvoted by the Curie community curation project and associated vote trail as exceptional content (human curated and reviewed). Have a great day :)

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Thank you, I'm really grateful for your upvote :) Have a nice day too :)

Hey @kocinka, I think it is both a weapon and a work of art :) Swords are beautiful and represents a deep part of the Japanese culture. I love watching Samurai movies such as the Last Samurai. Thank you for sharing with us the history and culture and the makes of a sword. I would never have known that it takes 15 cycles of folding, heating and forming of the blade and that it has a thickness of 15,000 layers. No wonder it is so strong and durable. And I also know that Japanese knives are much sought after too for its similar strength and characteristics. I am always amazed and intrigued by Japanese culture :)

  ·  last year (edited)

Yes, Japanese culture is very interesting that's why I try to tell something about it :)

:) Interesting and kawaii! Sometimes I wish I have the money to buy everything in their souvenir shops :D Happy weekend to you @kocinka!

An excellent article about the Japanese sword. It is true as you said, it is both a weapon and also a work of art.
                       
Congratulations for your first curie vote. I have a feeling that you might get another in the future if you keep going on like now :).

Thank you :) I always try to make my another article better than the previous one but I know that I still have a lot to improve ;)

Swords have held an important part of the Japanese culture since ancient times, it's nice to see how they still treasure that part of their culture even now. I love seeing how they adore these swords in movies...

Its amazing the labour that goes into creating just one sword, it definitely isn't something just anyone can handle but well, these guys put in their all into making it...

For me, it will be more of a piece of art than a weapon. I live the designs on the Katana, are the designs suppose to be the same all the time?

Designs on Katana can be very different, swords are usually personalized and for example there may be family crest on katana :)

Ooh.. That is incredible. Now, i want to get a Katana. Thing is i don't have a family crest🙃 lol

It's amazing how culture, which is nothing more than repeating something constantly over time has become perfection with the manufacture of the catana for hundreds of years.

I like the detailed way in which you put the data, a mixture of deities, war and art.

I have always admired the melting of metals in asia, it proves again and again that it was they who taught the Europeans how to make iron and steel.

The way to elaborate so complicated gives him exactly that category of work of art beyond the uses that can continue giving it is a jewel of Japanese ancestral craftsmanship.

Thank you for sharing countless facts about this fabulous sword.

greetings, peace and love

Thank you :)

It's both ! I think :D

Very good article :) Nicely researched, and I like the pictures that you use :)

Katana has always been a weapon but today I think it is more a piece of art, but of course you can still kill someone with that ;) thank you :)

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Katanas, for me they are a work of art that is used as a weapon, the demonstrations of their use that you shared are exceptional. I love knives but I only have one collection of small knives and six cutters that I use to cut anime and cardboard. Thanks for sharing

Very interesting article...

When I was young, samurai films were a bit famous in our country which made me thought that samurai is the sword. I did not know the correct terminology until I was a teen when a friend clarified it during a casual conversation. Still back in my younger days, I have been thinking of finding a pair of katana which I wished to display as X on my wall someday. I still think of that from time to time until few minutes ago with...

A sword of artistic value can be bought for about one million yen.

Whoah! Hahaha! I did not realize it is that expensive. How much more that I wanted a pair? 😂

... Haraikawakagura. It's a holy dance with Japanese swords.

The dancers must be very good and well trained to dance with such a dangerous weapon. 😲

Thank you for sharing your well-researched write-up here. It is indeed a very interesting to learn different cultures from different countries.

Thank you for such interesting post about the Japanese swords and the beautiful variety of their types with decorations of handles. I watched recently a documentary about the sharpest knives and of course it was a Japanese knife as well as Katana presented too, they showed how the process of creating goes on and still there are few masters whose work costs a fortune, but it is like in movies, they show how just the fallen feather was cut into two once it was landed on the sharp edge of the knife. Very educating post and it is obvious you made a research before putting the information together :)

Hah you totally made me think of this vid

Also, the book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. It's a martial arts bible, I'm sure you've heard of it already, right?

Man I can totally imagine how proud would I be if I owned a katana which is heated and molded 3 days..and then again re-heated etc etc.

I love how much details you shared about katana. I've been always fascinated by these Japanese swords but I have never learned anything about them. Now, you told me about the history, their use and how they are made and I feel like WOW, 15000 layers? Incredible!

So many details! There is such a long history of using katana and so many interesting details. Your post is very educational.

Thank you for sharing and have a nice day!

Howdy from Texas kocinka! This is such an amazing post. To read the history and significance of the Katana in cultural, art and warrior senses is amazing and to know that there are still master sword makers still making them in Japan is inspiring.

This is a tremendous post and so educational, great job! I have to ask if you do posts on ancient weapons or is this an unusual one for you?

Thank you @janton, usually I don't write about weapons but this is Japanese weapon so it's interesting for me ;)

howdy today kocinka! Well it was a wonderful and educational post so keep up the good work!