An authentic handmade katana in Japan is called a nihonto. Often, these cost around 10,000 to 25,000 dollars and more.
In general, Katanas are very expensive, and when it comes to an authentic samurai Katana, things get even more expensive.
Compared to Chinese productions, prices usually vary between 1,000 and 4,500 dollars for an object considered "reasonably traditional".
Why is a real Katana expensive?
Technically, these classic, traditionally forged Katana swords are characterized by unique and lengthy production processes.
These include bending, rolling, and differential hardening, which are difficult tasks that require extensive and appropriate know-how to create a perfect Katana.
Note that the method of bending a Katana does not require a thousand times as one might think. It rarely takes more than fifteen. Yet, despite the decrease in the number of folds, it is still possible to create an impressive number of layers, often reaching over 32,000 layers.
In ancient Japan, the quality of iron ore was not very good. But thanks to the innovative skills of the sword smiths, they used various impure iron plates which they then purified with a flame.
It took 72 hours to complete the purification technique, and they did it in a specially designed furnace, the Tatara. This process produced Tamahagane, the famous steel of the traditional Katana.
Forging contributes to the vital physical aspects of a Katana, and there are different ways to do this. These include the simplest form, the Kobuse, the Sanmai, and the Shoshu Kitae for the more complicated ones. All of these methods have one thing in common: they involve fusing steel parts of different hardnesses.
Fusion produces a blade capable of maintaining an edge without breaking.
The general principle of the process is to produce a hard edged blade. It must also be surrounded by a flexible envelope.
The concept of a soft back and hard edge comes into play in clay and differential tempering. It also produces the Japanese Hamon. The practice is to cover the blade with a layer of clay.
A thick layer is needed on the spine and a thin layer on the edge. It will then be heated to about 750 degrees Celsius and then soaked in water to cool the edge more quickly. The result of this procedure produces a blade with a strong edge while the overall blade remains flexible.
Real Katana vs "Fake"
As for the debate between real and fake Katana, some purists claim that the only real Nihonto Katana made in Japan cost more than $5000. The production of real swords is strictly regulated, Japan has some of the strictest laws on weapons ownership in the world. Every master smith therefore has a production limit on swords and this is one of the reasons why authentic Japanese made Katana is so expensive.
You can still find replicas in Japan between 100 and $1000 which are of very good quality. But if you want an authentic Katana with Tamahagane steel then you will have to save money.
However, let's define what we mean by "real"...
If we define a real sword as being handmade, with a real hamon temper line, extremely sharp, well balanced, with a high quality nomenclature and capable of cutting like a lightsaber then you can find prices under 5000 €.
In reality for a hobbyist, it is quite complicated to tell the difference between a $500 Katana and a $5000 Katana. Visually they will be very similar, but the details will make all the difference.
Even an expert with a simple picture might have a hard time differentiating the swords.
Why such a different price?
The reputation of the blacksmith and the company that will forge the sword has a great influence on the price. It is said that an expert or an enthusiast could recognize by whom the sword was forged and in which prefecture of Japan.
Secondly, a Japanese sword may need more than a year in its handcrafting, with specific steels in Japan. There are very few Katana masters in Japan which makes authentic swords rare.