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How Does One Become a Katana Swordsmith?

It might sound like a straightforward topic to some novice enthusiasts. Many think that becoming a katana swordsmith is merely about possessing the craft to build a sword. However, it is much more complex, and being a katana manufacturer is a noble profession. Moreover, the creation of katana swords was seen as a religious ritual back in the day, and some manufacturers still stay true to those traditions and beliefs.

Currently, to create a Japanese sword, one must register with the “Prefectural Public Safety Commission” and get a license. To do this, one must apprentice under a master blacksmith and thoroughly study Japan’s history and culture and the art of creating Japanese swords.

A five-year minimum training time is necessary. The blacksmith who has been granted permission to produce Japanese swords is equipped with the tools and expertise needed to forge tamahagane iron. Additionally, they are familiar with the history and culture. Right now, the art of creating a Katana sword is a unique lifestyle that is seen as “Japanese culture professional.”

A Brief History of Sword Creation in Japan

The proud torchbearers of Japanese art and craft are swordsmiths. Most individuals will respond “a blacksmith” when asked who creates Japanese swords. There were 188 swordsmiths as of 2017. Japan’s ancient skill of producing swords is said to have started around the Heian era (794-1192).

The “Tenga Sansaku” pieces created by great smiths like Masamune, Yoshimitsu Awataguchi, and Yoshihiro Gono have been passed down through the years. In other words, the blacksmiths who forged Japanese swords that served as symbols of Japan were not just ambassadors of their country but also artists of the period.

During the Meiji (1868–1912) and Showa periods, Japanese sword culture was on the edge of extinction (1926-1989). However, masters of the art resurrected it in 1958 with the enactment of the “Regulations for the Approval of the Production of Art Swords.” This act allowed for the manufacture of new Japanese swords and officially acknowledged the profession of sword making.

The Path to Becoming a Katana Swordsmith

For people who desire to learn the ancient Japanese trade of sword creation, there is no institution such as a “vocational school.” The only practical and accepted way to become a katana swordsmith is to finish an apprenticeship under a blacksmith who crafts Japanese swords. After that, you must take the “Training Course for the Preservation of Art Sword Smithing Techniques” offered by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Five years of formal instruction are necessary to become a swordsmith. Even after becoming a sword maker, one must follow a strict program to keep the art alive.

The Requirements by The Agency for Cultural Affairs

Approval from The Agency for Cultural Affairs is necessary to become a swordsmith. Anyone making Japanese swords without authorization is prohibited. You must properly manufacture Japanese swords and explicitly inform the Agency for Cultural Affairs about the person who requested the sword and how many swords you created since they are also lethal weapons.

One must be seen as possessing the moral fiber and good judgment necessary to carry out these processes ethically to work as a sword maker. Additionally, one must possess the capacity for fair and accurate judgment.

A smith must have worked under the supervision of another smith who has received approval for sword manufacture, according to Section 2 of the Art Sword Production Approval Regulations. The blacksmith must continue to dedicate at least five years to practice their craft under the guidance of a blacksmith authorized to produce swords to establish that they have attained the necessary expertise.

The Process of Apprenticeship

The five-year apprenticeship normally starts off with easy chores, including cleaning. Observing the master at work while in between these chores is crucial to get used to the work setting.

The apprentice has to be knowledgeable about the history. To become an expert in Chinese and ancient literature, the Chinese zodiac, and Japanese swordsmanship necessary for carving out inscriptions, you must master this history. To embrace the theory of sword forging, students must also master science, the calendar (koyomi), which includes the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, and other subjects.

After three years, students gradually acquire the fundamentals of blacksmithing under the supervision of their instructor and start to take the craft professionally.

The Final Test

A swordsmith may participate in the Artistic Swordmaking Skills Preservation Workshop during their fifth year of study. This eight-day training course verifies fundamental abilities in forging, polishing, and external ornamentation, among other areas of swordsmanship. The learner will need to retrain if it is found that the fundamental abilities acquired throughout the training have not yet reached a specific level.

In other terms, you won’t be able to become a swordsmith if you don’t pass this test and finish the training. The only way to prove that you are competent is to use the abilities you acquired from your prior training.

You may ultimately start your profession as a blacksmith if you have accomplished at least five years of training, a training session, and have been given permission by your teacher to become an independent blacksmith.

The Journey to Becoming a Katana Swordsmith

Even though you have passed the test, your ability and future efforts will determine if you can remain a blacksmith. If you devote yourself to your job with a feeling of purpose and a dream, rather than becoming lazy or complacent about your capacity to become a blacksmith, the way to becoming a master blacksmith will open up.

If you are still unsure and vague about where to begin, you should know that a practical training session on swordsmanship is held by the All-Japan Swordsmith Association, the organization that oversees swordsmiths. Moreover, the Successor Training Support Committee oversees training sessions, introduces students to new trainees, and conducts interviews with potential new apprentices.

This way, you can find teachers, and teachers can find willing and determined students. You can learn from the guide above and see if becoming a katana manufacturer is the right thing for you. If you only want money from this noble profession, this isn’t the right path for you. However, if you truly want to become a master of the art, being a katana swordsmith might be the right choice for you.