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Latest Articles - Luxury

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Samurai Swords: Fashion is Transient, Art is For Ever

Sunday, 02 August 2009

samurai-swordsBut before you hang it for display on the wall or put it in the case, you should understand that samurai sword is not only a weapon or work of art. It is more of a philosophy and the way of thinking. Samurai sword is a symbol of honor and martial virtue, courage and valor. It is justly called a part, an extension of samurai's soul. It is always referred to as the sacred regalia of Japanese rulers; it is a major object of Shintoist cult. Samurai sword can not be regarded as an amusing plaything, a fine and elegant trinket, a decorative object or a part of interior design.

This attitude was typical of American soldiers who brought from Japan a lot of samurai swords after the World War II - exquisite beauty of the Japanese weapon attracted Americans. But soon the trend was passé in America and people got rid of those swords which have become useless, though many of them were ancient swords which were passed on across the generations (in Japan, the passing of the sword is traditionally fixed in the will from the ancient times, as samurai sword can cost a fortune), many swords are true masterpieces of the art of armory. And all this was gone because of the utter ignorance of the new owners of the wonderful weaponry.

There are several types of samurai swords, the most important of which are the following three: Katana, a large two-handled sword bladed only on one side which was worn hung from the belt with the cutting edge faced upwards), Tanto (dagger or knife up to 30 centimeters long, a samurai weapon «at rest»), and the Wakizashi (Shoto) (a small sword 30-60 centimeters long). Only the samurais were allowed to carry these as a pair. Katana was the principal weapon of the samurai. The ancient Katanas had a long straight blade but after XVII century they became shorter and curved.

Today, it is nearly impossible to purchase an ancient samurai sword crafted in the Middle Ages (which was the period of the efflorescence of Japanese weaponry art). Such swords cost more than $1 million, they are part of the Japanese national endowment and their export is forbidden. Of course, some were swords exported before the prohibition, so their price is absolutely beyond all reasonable limits.

The swords which are sold in weaponry shops are mostly the models of samurai cold steel arm. They are very elegant; they look just like authentic swords but are only souvenirs that are perfect when hung on the wall, and are wonderful interior design elements, but nothing more.

But there are authentic samurai swords. The art of their manufacture survived even the Meiji Revolution in 1868, when the samurai as a social rank were abolished and the majority of armory workshops were closed. Only some of many Japanese blacksmiths were allowed to keep on producing samurai swords - to save the ancient art from absolute oblivion.

Today, there are samurai swords produced by modern Japanese masters. Some Russian blacksmiths mastered the technique of samurai swords production, and their Katanas are highly competitive with those manufactured in Japan, and the most exquisite of them even surpass the Japanese ones.

The first thing which sets the real Katana apart from the souvenir sword is a wavy of straight line along the blade. It is called the Hamon. In English literature on cold steel arms this line is often called «tempererline»; Russian armoires call it «a hardening line». During the manufacturing process, the blade is covered with special insulating clay which is then heated to extreme temperatures and quenched with water. These steps provide a hardened edge with a visual pattern that remotely resembles the pattern in which the clay was applied. A common practice which often followed was that of polishing the Hamon to make it stand out more from the rest of the steel. The color of the metal above and below the Hamon is different, so, its structure is also different.

The Hamon indicates the border between the hardened steel and soft iron. The combat characteristics of the blade are defined by the structure, size and shape of the hardened part (Jakiba in Japan).

There is one more distinctive property of authentic Katanas which is the refinement and elegance of their decoration. Every element has its own place (and often symbolizes a certain thing); scabbard and handle (sometimes very colorful) are notable for classic Japanese minimalism (little means to gain a maximum result). Everything is manufactured with a very high level of craftsmanship, with all possible care. Imperfections are almost impossible. The scabbard and the handle are often made of or ornate with bamboo, leather, semi-precious and even precious stones.

The ornamentation of samurai swords is an original symbol of the craftsman, the owner and the era. The ornate design of the sword tells much about its master and its owner. The swords which were inherited changed their ornament with each owner. Modern samurai swords also have such symbolic decoration revealing information primarily about the craftsman.

The blade quality of the authentic samurai sword is admirable. The tradition says that the blacksmith Murimasa wishing to demonstrate the sharpness of the Katana he had made, plunged it into the brook bed, and the blade cut up the leaves dashing against it. Such a test for Katanas was quite rare. Masters usually tested the blade sharpness by chopping up the bunch of rigid bamboo or (for those who neglected such a vegetarian test) by cutting the corpses or bodies of condemned criminals. The masters who manufactured Katanas put a quality trademark on the blade with the indication of test type and its result.

Taking into consideration the price of authentic samurai swords (even the modern swords cost $3000-5000 and higher), be sure not to purchase a fake. There are «masters» who even manage to imitate the Hamon (as a rule it is a trivial build-up welding and no regular tempering). So, if you want to save your money and to make yourself secure against buying a low-quality souvenir, head to a special shop which offers authentic products and the quality and authenticity of the sword are guaranteed.

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