NormanKeith -

Edged Weapons and Blades

The Chen Chao Po (Paul Chen) Practical Wakizashi from the Hanwei forge

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My interests of Japanese swords started from the presence of three of them that were in our household from the time I was born. They came back from Japan with my father in the mid fifties and were handed down to me some time ago.

As far back as the early 80's I have gone through cycles of trying to catalog whatever could be found and researched on them. I'm going to catalog each of their histories here over time.

 I'll go ahead and list modern reproductions, newer forge offerings, and favorite copies of movie swords that are worthy of being in your collections, and we’ll look into the traditional processes and spirituallity that have historically gone into making Samurai swords.

Visit the  web site link below which has an incredible collection of data on the history of Samrai swords as well as other information on Japanese swords if you are researching one of your own. The site is run by Prof Richard Stein . As with any link I post, if links go dead and I'm unaware of it please email me so that I can correct or delete addresses. 

Japanese swords are often seen or thought of as being in the familiar set of three swords sitting in a vertical table stand. Those three blades are the;

  • Katana (the longest of them)  
  • Wakizashi (the mid length)
  • Tanto (the knife or dagger length blade of the three). 

It is simply fascinating to me to think of the processes that go into making one of these swords. Depending on the circumstances of who ordered it or why it was being made, it could take months to produce and when holding one I can't help but visualize the prayers and blessings being spoken in the process of creation. I think of the spiritual aspects of the sword smith calling out prayers of protection for the soon to be owner, as the master pings his instructions and an apprentice makes each strike with his hammer to the glowing billet, then the prayers spoken with each of the thousands of strokes made with sharpening stones and antlers when honing the edge and polishing it for presentation. To me they are spiritual objects created by master craftsmen more than weapons of war or tools to be used in the Martial arts. 

Throughout collecting, it has amazed me that a rifle or sword could survive
the rigors of history or war and be sought/acquired for the condition
it is in only to be nicked, marked, or broken somehow
by a friend or relative that has no concept of
what it is or why it's in a collection

Out of some irritating human curiosity someone will always want to touch a sword’s blade and feel it’s edge to see how sharp it is and if you don’t know the sword has been handled and you don’t inspect and clean it for an extended period of time you’re going to find it permanently stained and ruined from fingerprint oils left behind.

Knowing that, it’s a good practice to have them hung on a wall out of reach or in their stand in a position that is inconvenient for people to handle them. The surface of every angle that has been polished onto the blade when it was made is beautiful and has a name and appreciation when being valued. The hamon (temper line) which was formed in the clay heating process has a beauty of it’s own and come in many styles.

As with any historical or antique object, no matter what the condition an authentic samurai sword is in it should never be cleaned or polished in any way that would alter the surface patina or the grain of it's steel. Though I know these values change, I have a blade that someone polished that I've been told would have been valued at around $6,000 had it been left alone and now that it is altered (shiny polished) might bring $600 and that's from a combination of it being around 500 years old and the value in each of it's hardware pieces. There are people that make a living escorting swords to Japanese sword smiths to be properly honed and polished and the last time I inquired on it the fee for the smith alone was around $100 an inch for a restoration.

I have tried to identify whatever information there is in the characters that are inscribed on my oldest swords since the mid 80's. Tried to identify characters on their tangs (Nakago) such as a signature (Mei) of the swordsmith or the place and dates of when they were made. Though I have had access to many people and generations of their families from Japan, and help from folks coming from every Asian country with a sword making history help me over time I have only found sporadic information on these swords. I have studied several books on the subject and It's a time consuming task. It's both interesting and discouraging when these peoples great grand parents can only recognize a few of the characters and they tell you the dialect is from way before their time but it will be exciting to one day finally decipher them be able to know that much more of their history.

I'll post pictorials of these swords soon and in the mean time post this image of the markings on them. If anyone is able to translate from this image please let me know.


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