Top Japanese Swordsmiths

Japanese swordsmiths have helped Japan throughout history; they’ve created swords that have played an important role in Japan’s history. Japanese swordsmanship is highly revered around the word. Its long history has always been admired and is continuing to fascinate people around the world. Japanese swordsmanship has a long history field with different both tragic and wonderful stories. Before the modern weapons we now know, from guns to tank and bombs, there was a time when swords are one of the main weapon who have witnessed different battles that have shaped our history. Japan is one of the countries who have used swords; they’ve honed and crafted thousands of swords, each time trying to make them stronger than before or at least make sure it will be as strong or as unique as their previous creations. It is quite interesting then to know some of the notable Japanese swordsmiths that have ever lived.
Photos of Masamune himself (public domain)

Swordsmiths around the world distinctly differ from one another; Japanese swordsmiths in for one used their own techniques to create different type and style of sword that is still plays a crucial part in Japan’s culture up to this time. Earlier Japanese swordsmanship was heavily influenced by Chinese sword, though as time passed by they’ve developed their own style, thus paving a way to new and uniquely designed Japanese swords. Japanese sword history is divided to different parts depending on their era namely Koto, Shinto, Shinshinto, Gendai or Kindai and Shinsaku. And throughout this time, Japan was able to produce thousands of swordsmiths.

The First Japanese Swordsmith

Amakuni is said to be the first Japanese swordsmith and is known to have designed the single-edge, curved katana. Though there is little known information recorded in history, it is said that Amakuni has worked for the Emperor, creating swords for his army. Legends says Amakuni created single-edge curved swords, after the Emperor arrived with half of his armies with broken swords and ignoring him, making him feel disappointed and ashamed for what happened to his creation. This pushed Amakuni to design a sword that can withstand and endure battles and he vowed to create a sword that can withstand a battle without breaking.

Japan’s Greatest Swordsmith

Masamune sword in Austria

This list would not be complete without Masamune, formally known as Goro Nyudo Masamune, who is known as the greatest Japanese swordsmith, for his incredible talent and contributions in the field of sword making, his works are highly regarded for its distinct qualities and artistry. It is said that he’d created his works during the 13th and 14th century and his works has been part of national treasure, one of which is Honjo Masamune and is esteemed as one of the finest Japanese sword which is also a representation of Shogunate during the Edo period of Japan and have been passed down from one generation to another, although, at the end of World War Two it was also the last time the said sword was seen and its whereabouts is still a mystery up to this day. Despite this, there are still relics of his work that can be seen in Japan particularly in Kyoto National Museum.

A blade of Katana made by Muramasa in 16th century, in Tokyo National Museum

Cursed Samurai Swords

One of Muramasa’s work which is in Tokyo National Museum

Muramasa Sengo is another well-known and legendary swordsmith who have created his words during the Muramachi period between the 14th and 16th centuries A.D. Although his works are highly regarded because of its quality, there has been lore that his works are cursed. People have said that it can be due to Muramasa’s behavior himself, there have been stories how Muramasa would go on a bout of rage and show his temper, which is believed to also affect his works by the energy he would have. Another reason could be because of the unfortunate events that have occurred to people yielding his sword, specifically to the Tokugawa Clan. He founded Muramsa School which continued his craft in sword-making.

Masamune’s Student

Tanto sword, by Sadamune, Kamakura period, 1300s AD – Tokyo National Museum

Hikoshirō Sadamune is another known swordsmith, he was born on Einin 6, 1298 and on died Shōhei 4, 1349 and was also known as Sōshū Sadamune was originally from Omi Province, and has studied in Soshu School. Most notably he is also a student of none other than Masamune himself, and it is said that he was one of his best student. Although he is not part of “Great Juttetsu” or 10 Great Disciples of Masamune”. His works have also been regarded as one of the best and is said to be the same level as them.

Swordsmith in Okayama Prison

Chounsai Emura or Emura Shigetato was a head at a prison in Okayama. He made his name in swordsmanship as he made swords during World War Two, Emura wanted to support Japan during the war in order to do this he operated a sword making school in Okayama Prison and have also help train prisoners to make sword blades. Although he was not a professional smith his works have proven to be really good and of great quality which he have signed using his family name Emura. Emura worked in Bizen tradition, the blade pattern is generally in suguha or choji-midare (may be mixed with gunome-midare). Until 1942 the hardening of the swords at Okayama prison was made by Emura himself. His works are even being pursued by collectors and students until today.

National Treasure

Masamine Sumitani formally known as Sumitani Yoichiro was born on January 24, 1921. He graduated from Ritsumei University, with a degree in Engineering with his hopes of becoming a Japanese Swordsmiths despite his family having a soy-sauce manufacturing business. He settled in Matto, Ishikawa. He was noted for his clove-patterns and “hamon” or blade pattern of his swords. He co-founded Zen Nihon Toshokai (Japanese Swordsmiths Association) and was the vice-secretary of the group. Sumitani has won several awards for his works for instance in 1972 he won the Kunzan Award and the Masamune Prize (the highest award) at the Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai contest in 1966, 1965 and 1974. In 1979 he was recognized as a Living National Treasure.

They’re some of the known swordsmiths in Japan’s history and this shows just a little portion of the vast history and culture there is in this field and craftsmanship. Although there have been reports that there has been a big decline with swordsmiths in Japan in recent time, the beauty of the culture of swordsmanship is still striving to continue and is becoming more global with people from other countries showing interest with the craft.

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