• The Essence of Nihonto - Tamanagane and Nihonto

  • Nihonto - A Powerful Weapon, A Beautiful Work of Art

  • The first thing that comes to mind when tatara iron is mentioned is the katana, or nihonto.

    Since the end of the Kofun Period (approx. 200-600 CE) and onward, nihonto were redesigned to fit the period in which they appeared. Knowledge and techniques obtained through unending trial and error drew out the full capabilities of steel, and nihonto exhibit practicality as a weapon as well as unique beauty and fascinating mystique.

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Although no longer used as weapons, one reason nihonto continue to captivate us today is that they embody the spirit of Japanese workmanship.

High-quality metal is essential to make a nihonto. Such metal is produced in the Izumo region using tatara and shipped all over the country. Here, we will explain about nihonto as they relate to tatara ironworks.

  • Tamahagane - The Steel that Makes a Nihonto, a Nihonto

  • The highest-quality part of the iron made using tatara is called “tamahagane.” Tamahagane is essential in making nihonto.

    Using tamahagane made by the murage, a skilled swordsmith pours his body and spirit into forging and quenching a one-of-a-kind nihonto.

  • There are many things about nihonto production that are already lost to time. They are considered the pinnacle of traditional craftsmanship which cannot be imitated using modern methods, and is another reason tamahagane is indispensable as an ingredient.

    Nittoho Tatara in Okuizumo is the only place left in Japan that makes tamahagane the traditional way and sends it around the country for swordsmiths to create nihonto.

    *Tamahagane was not only used in sword production. In fact, the term “tamahagane” was used in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and comes from the Japanese word for cannonball (tama). Naturally, swords were produced with tatara iron since long before the term was invented.

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  • Forging - Strike and Fold Layering the Soul of Nihonto

  • The ingredient for the blade of a katana is called “kawagane” or “skin steel.” It is folded 15 times during forging to create 30,000 layers that make the blade both hard and springy, and produces a beautiful grain.

  • Forging Process

    1. ① Subeshi/Kowari

      Heated tamahagane is pounded thin with a hammer and broken into pieces.

    2. ② Shitagitae

      Pieces are arranged and heated, pounded thin, then folded for another round. This is repeated 12-15 times.

    3. ③ Agekitae

      Finished steel is again cut into pieces and rearranged for another heating. The grain will differ depending on the arrangement of the steel pieces.

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  • The Shape of Nihonto - Nihonto as a Work of Art

  • Today, you won’t see nihonto used as a weapon, but many people enjoy them as works of art both privately and in museums.

    Each part of the katana has a name. By learning these terms, you can appreciate nihonto even more.

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  • The Kobayashi Brothers - Exploring Traditional Sword Making Okuizumo Swordsmiths

    • Sadateru
      Hirotsugu Kobayashi
      Swordsmithing Name: Sadateru
    • Sadanori
      Sadatoshi Kobayashi
      Swordsmiting Name: Sadanori
    • Sadanaga
      Rikio Kobayashi
      Swordsmithing Name: Sadanaga