The Insanity of 21st Century Japanese Katana Sword making

by | Jan 17, 2021

WHEN YOU FIND YOURSELF sitting before a man with an unsheathed Japanese katana sword in his hand, it is best to take his words seriously. The master swordmaker Nakanishi-sensei retold a story once told to his master by the master before him, about the serious nature of guarding the secrets of their craft. It seems an apprentice once dared to test the temperature of the water used for quenching the steel after it was drawn from the fire and pounded into a  sharpened blade. He slyly stood near the trough and dipped his index finger into the water, but he was not sly enough. His master, assuming treacherous intent, quickly drew his sword and sliced the apprentice’s hand clean off at the wrist. Perhaps the punishment came too reflexively, as the master considered his apprentice, now writhing in pain before him. Indeed, his finger had felt the water temperature, but his brain remembered it. So his head was the next appendage to go.
japanese katana sword maker in kyoto

It should be noted that Nakanishi-sensei recounted this story with a mischievous gleam in his eye and ended it with a hearty laugh; nonetheless, I stayed at least a meter from the water trough with my hands thrust deeply in my coat pockets.

Standing in the workshop of the last active swordsmith in Kyoto Prefecture, it is unclear what era you exist in. There are no tools in the workshop that couldn’t have been made 100 years ago. The smell of charcoal, hot iron, and sweat are likely the same odors infused in the smocks of Japanese swordsmiths when their clients were actual samurai, not curious collectors of fine objects. Though the clients have changed, the men behind the craft remain the same: madmen obsessed with the quality of their blades.

I wondered what kind of person would dedicate themselves to a life of a swordsmith in the 21st century. After all, here in rural Kyoto, Nakanishi-sensei works alone every day, often in the dark, with heat equal to an incinerator close at hand. Yet, when asked about his favorite era of swords, his eyes light up like a a boy unwrapping an XBox on his birthday. He recounts his favorite era of swords in enough detail to keep us interested yet not enough detail to bore us to tears. Nakanishi-sensei is not just a master of swords, but a master of telling stories of the sword.

In the end, I concluded that Nakanishi-sensei was not mad at all, but a man who understood how to take a childhood passion and make it a lifelong pursuit. This passion drove him to complete his 10 year training period in 7 years and now drives his extensive client list, through which he has enough current orders to keep him busy for the next year. As he turned a finish blade over in his hands, I caught the reflection of the master in it. I realized that the image of the man in the blade was the master himself, exactly who and where he wanted to be.

 

making a japanese sword in kyoto

If you’d like to learn more about Japanese katana swordmaking in the countryside of Kyoto, please read the article by my friend and colleague Don Kennedy on Voyapon.com.

Like what you're seeing?

Let’s talk about how I can help your business in creating custom content promoting your products and services!

Long Walks in Tokyo – From Ginza to Shinjuku

As I mentioned in my introductory post, I love long walks in Tokyo. One of my favorite ways to take a long walk is to connect two stations along the JR Yamanote Line that encircles the central city. If you begin and end on the Yamanote...

Desperately Seeking Shoyu In Saitama

Let Chiba have their giants of mass-produced soy sauce. I’ll head west to Kawagoe, where three craft shoyu makers are still creating cedar barrel-aged masterpieces of sweet umami flavor.

4 Personalities That Can Thrive in Tokyo

Many people in the world dream of living in Tokyo. Do you have the personality type that can thrive in Tokyo?

Get Outta Town! 5 Japan Destinations for Cherry Blossoms Better than Kyoto and Tokyo

The fifth update to the annual Japan Meteorological Corporation's Cherry Blossom Forecast was released this week, with the 2024 season slated to start a day earlier than the 2023 season here in Tokyo. The full season begins from roughly...

The Miracle of the Gorin Church

How the Japanese “Hidden Christians” of tiny and impoverished Gorin Village in the Goto Islands finally got the beautiful church building they prayed for.

Escape to paradise with 14 of your closest friends

Atagoya is one of those special places combining history and luxury, the product of a young entrepreneur restoring Japan’s historic kominka folk houses.

Where’s The Beef? Discover the Kobe You Never Knew

If Kobe Beef is all you know about Kobe, there are much better reasons to see this miraculous city for yourself. It boasts modern architecture, historical quarters, jazz influence, and a rich sake production history. Ever resilient, Kobe has rebuilt itself after the devastating 1995 earthquake, offering much more beyond its culinary fame.

Gohime – The Shogun’s Daughter Who Became A Christian

Discover the story of how Gohime, daughter of the Japanese warlord who first made Christianity illegal in Japan, became a Christian herself.

Learning to Fly (A Drone)

Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return. Against my better judgement, I am learning to pilot a drone. The fact that I am...

Blooming Alone In Tokyo

Why risk gathering in crowds to enjoy cherry blossoms in Japan? It seems every neighborhood has a hidden gem of a place waiting to be discovered where one can enjoy Spring sakura.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This