Japanese swords are appreciated around the world for their beauty, exquisite quality and long, romanticized tradition of Samurais, carrying their cherished sidearm wherever they went. Swords served as weapon, status sign and inseparable companion for centuries.
The history of Japanese swords goes back to the 3rd century, when first swords were send from China as a gift. Soon afterwards, more blades were imported from powerful neighbor. Two hundred years later, Japanese swordsmiths learnt how to manufacture their own swords. Unlike famous katana, first blades were single edged and straight, similar to those used in China and Korea.
In 700 AD, in the Yamato Province, the legendary swordsmith, Amakuni Yasutsuna invented unique method of hardening steel and created a sword that for century became the trademark of Japan. The legend tells the story about emperor and his warriors returning from the battle with broken swords. Amakuni seeing disapproval on the emperor’s face devoted himself to creating a blade that will not break. He spent 30 days, locked in the forge with his son, Amakura improving their work. The result was the first single-edged blade with a curvature, and as the legend assures us, the new weapon did not break.
First signed blades appeared in Heian Era when swordsmiths started signing their works. Forging technique was further improved. Blades created during this period had lighter cores and hard outer surface. Soon straight swords disappeared, replaced by curved blades perfect for mounted soldiers.
With appearance of new class of samurai, swords became common and need for them increased greatly, leading to the golden age of swords making. New social class, numerous wars and changes in the warfare opened the era of katana, most recognizable Japanese sword. Center of curvature was moved forward and the blade was shortened. By the end of 14th century, almost all produced swords were katanas. New swords were much better than any other weapon, drawing attention of neighboring countries. China under the Ming dynasty imported around 100,000 swords.
Uninterrupted development of Japanese swords forging stopped with introduction of firearms. The demand for new blades decreased, especially when the government introduced official regulations regarding sword types and social groups that were allowed to carry them. Years of peace that followed forced many swordsmiths to change professions.
In 19th century, after sword manufacturing became illegal, the art of sword forging almost disappear. It was not until 1953 that sword making became legal. This year marks revival of swordsmithing in Japan. Currently there are 250 recognized swordsmiths carrying the tradition and passing their knowledge to next generation of masters.