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Mysterious Quality of KATANA-Mastery of Japanese Sword

2018.05.25

The blade of a Japanese sword has a mysterious quality, with its curve, razor-sharp edge, and wavy pattern on the body.

There are over 110 blades registered as National Treasures.  The owners include museums and individuals, but many are in shrines around the country.

One of Three Sacred Objects – Symbols of Power

“Kojiki – Records of Ancient Matters” dramatically tells the legend of the nation’s foundation.  At the very beginning, there is a story of Three Sacred Objects.

The Sacred Mirror, Magatama (comma-shaped bead), and the Kusanagi Sword, the official name of which is “Amanomurakumo no Tsurugi”, were presented to the founding Emperor of Japan by Amaterasu – the Sun Goddess”.

This original sword is said to be kept in Atsuta Shrine as their Shintai, as the subject of worship.  The Mirror is held in Ise Shrine, and the bead was lost a long time ago.  There is no way that they can be examined for authenticity. These objects are too sacred and off-limits.

Swords always served as symbols of strength and power in history.  There are many legendary swords in the world, such as Cortana and Excalibur of England, and Joyeuse of France, and the treasures of the Saudi Arabian royal family. The holder of such a a sword is the ultimate ruler appointed by the God.  In many portraits, important people typically carry a set of swords as proof of power.

Mastering the Sword Making – Dealing with Divinity

The origin of what is known as Katana, Japanese Sword, appeared about 900 years ago, at the end of the Heian period. This was the time when power shifted from the royal and noble families to Samurai warlords.

Many swords were made hastily to meet the high demand, and they perished during the power struggles.  But for the lords, it was necessary to have the best of the best, a sword beautiful and indestructible, to claim legitimacy to rule the land.

The most notable characteristics, the curve and ridges on the blade, are the result of the meticulous processes employed achieve lightness, sharpness, and strength at the same time.  Swordsmiths had to master the craft with devotion to creating a sword with divine beauty and power.  Around 900 years ago, the swordsmiths in Bizen (western Japan) began to perfect the process.

First, high-quality iron sand from the Bizen area is heated to a lower temperature to eliminate impurities such as sulphur and phosphorus. Small clusters are sorted into a few groups according to their hardness/purity levels.

The grouped pieces are melted in a 1500 degree Celsius kiln, and hammered down to 200mm sheets, folded from the centre, and then placed back in the furnace.This process is repeated 10 to 15 times depending on the hardness of the clusters, to eliminate further impurities and to achieve the best quality.   This process of forging is key to the strength of the blade.  In the Japanese language, this process shares the same word as physical training, “tanren”.

Once alloys of different strengths are ready, they are combined to form a blade, with the softest iron in the core to give flexibility, and with the hardest on the outside for sharpness.  At the end of this process, the alloy will consist of over 30,000 layers, and the blade is shaped to form a hexagonal section.

The blade is now ready for quenching.  The process of repeated heating, cooling, and hammering gives the beautiful wavy pattern on the blade between heated part (edge) and unheated part, and this process also determines the curve of the blade.

This process could take two to three weeks; then it is ready for sharpening.  By then, ten kilograms of raw material is used to create a blade weighing one kilogram. Throughout, swordsmiths devote their body and soul to this intense process.

Rare Existence in the World

The construction of a Japanese sword is more complicated than many others in the world.  They were manufactured with extreme devotion, and the owners paid respect and took pride in carrying them.  The swords forged by the best, such as Muramasa and Masamune, were given as ultimate prizes from lords to generals and soldiers.They were the proof of skills, solidarity, loyalty, strength, and knowledge.

One master swordsmith said that true swords would make soldiers aware of the senselessness of the war and sheathe them at once.

The spirituality of the sword making process and the beauty of the blades never stop attracting Japanese people to reflect and take pride on the long history of the country.

 

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