How Does One Make a Samurai Sword? (Video)
The infinite sophistication of the Japanese is revealed in the meticulous, alchemical process of making the sword of a samurai warrior.
The meticulousness with which the Japanese make objects touches almost every aspect of their daily lives – from books and precious papers to tea sets, the elegance and dedication would seem to endow such objects with value that others simply don’t possess. It’s as if the care with which they’re made gives them a soul all their own. There’s perhaps no greater display of this technical skill than in the production of the samurai sword, the Katana. It’s an object which stands out not only as the weapon of the legendary sect of warriors but as a further attempt – one that’s essentially Japanese – at attaining perfection.
The process of creating the sword, a ritual in and of itself, begins with a Shinto blessing. Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan, based in the worship of nature spirits. This is followed by the careful preparation and selection of the steel and iron to be used in the process, and its careful covering in the ash and mud that prevents oxidation.
Forging, the striking of the red hot metal with a special hammer, brings the metal to the desired shape. This includes a process of repeated folding which combines just the right amount of hard steel with soft steel. Without the folding process, the sword would be very hard, but never sharp and easily broken. The mixing of the metals in the sword is a process that appears more like an act of alchemy: achieving that perfect combination of hardness and softness.
When the metal has been tempered, and the blade of the sword is ready, it’s engraved with the signature of the one who made it, as artists do with their most precious work. Then the metal is polished to give it shine and an imposing edge. Finally, the handle of the sword and a sheath, both of wood, are manufactured in processes no less sophisticated nor impressive.
In Japan, about 30 master craftsmen dedicate themselves exclusively to the making of these meticulous treasures. The process of making the Katana is intended to achieve perfection, and each projects the personality of the one who made it. Thus, all Samurai swords are different from one another, like people. The process of making the Katana not only hypnotizes those who witness it, it also speaks to us of the sophistication evident in this method of creating objects and in living life.
The process is explained in detail, and with more information on the culture of the Katana, in the following extraordinary documentary.
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