A retrospective look at the Japanese katana
One of the oldest Japanese weapons is the katana, which is a Japanese sword known for its curved, single-edged blade. It was a weapon used by samurai in the ancient times of feudal Japan. Long considered one of the greatest weapons in history, the katana is a perfect example of Japan’s aptitude for achieving absolute perfection using only the highest quality material.
Early developments of the katana began with the tachi, a traditional samurai sword of the Kotō period. Eventually, Japanese samurai began to favour the dexterous nature of the katana in close-combat warfare as it meant for a quicker draw and greater accuracy. Samurai would typically carry a long katana sword as well as a shorter dagger-style blade to form a combination of weapons termed a Daishō (meaning ‘big and small’). While there were many variations of the katana throughout history, the sword remained prevalent up until the samurai became obsolete during the modernisation of Japan in the Meiji period.
In its construction, the swordsmith first begins making a katana by melding together pieces of the finest quality steel to create a strong, durable blade. The signature curve of the sword is then attained through the hardening stage. The sword is then sent for polishing, which is a long and demanding process on its own. This stage can take weeks as the sword goes through a glazing process until the blade’s finish gleams so brightly it can be reflected off of other surfaces. The result is the creation of an agile blade capable of taking one’s opponent down in a single slice. Many qualities of the katana were retained when Japanese swordsmiths began producing kitchen knives, maintaining the sharp precision needed for that perfect cut of meat.
Mastery of one’s craft is a key value in the samurai way of life and it has resonated throughout Japanese culture. From conception to use, a Japanese blade is made and treated with great care and attention. Both the swordsmiths and the samurais treated the swords with great respect and always ensured the blades were kept to near perfection.