Idle Musings: Dark Secrets of the Japanese Sword

Early Japanese swords were straight and had two edges. You just think about that for a minute.

Additionally, the famed beauty of nihonto stems almost entirely from Japan’s historically poor iron supply. In order to even out impurities so that the blades would harden properly and not snap the instant they hit something, Japan’s smiths developed a complex system of folding, laminating, and differentially quenching blades. In spite of this, the swords were sufficiently prone to chipping that the many smiths would use lines of clay to soften the material above the edge at certain points. That way, only the material between the lines would break off.

Traditional Japanese swords are considered to have hit peak quality in the 1400s. Many of the masterwork blades from this period were later cut down to smaller sizes, helping reinforce the myth that all Japanese swords are comparatively short.

Contemporary smiths are limited to making a certain number of blades per month by the Japanese government, ostensibly in order to ensure quality. This leads to entry-level nihonto costing an average of $10,000.

For the same reason, most of the best Japanese swords will never see use by a trained swordsman. They either go into collector’s vaults or wind up on mantles.

Did I mention that Japan’s classic shinogi-zukuri blade form is just the result of replicating the Chinese Tang Dao, but with a curve at the point?

I think that’ll do for now. Please collect your shattered dreams on the way out of the blog.

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