At present, in order to make a Japanese sword, it is necessary to register with the "Prefectural Public Safety Commission" and obtain a license. In order to do so, it is necessary to become a disciple of an experienced blacksmith and learn in depth the history and culture of Japan as well as the technique of making Japanese swords.
The minimum training period is 5 years. The blacksmith who has been authorized to make Japanese swords, which is one of the main arts and crafts of Japan, has not only the technology and scientific knowledge to forge tamahagane iron, but also a knowledge of the history and culture. It is a profound and special existence that should be called "Japanese culture professional" in the modern era.
Here we will focus on the profession of sword smith and present the path to it.
Note: this article presents the steps to become a blacksmith in Japan, which are probably different in US. Nevertheless, it can give you a general overview of the steps to follow.
What is a sword smith?
When asked who makes Japanese swords, most people say a blacksmith. But what about this status? As of 2017, the number of sword smiths was 188.
Japanese sword making is a traditional craft unique to Japan that is believed to have begun in the Heian period (794-1192). Sword smiths are the proud bearers of Japan's art and craft production.
The successors of a traditional know-how
The works produced by master smiths such as Masamune, Yoshimitsu Awataguchi and Yoshihiro Gono, known as "Tenga Sansaku", have been handed down through the ages.
In other words, the blacksmiths who created the Japanese swords representative of Japan were not only artists of their time, but also representatives of Japan.
Japanese sword culture was on the verge of extinction during the Meiji period (1868-1912) and the Showa period (1926-1989), but it was revived in 1958 with the promulgation of the "Regulations for the Approval of the Production of Art Swords," which legally recognized the profession of sword smithing and made it possible to make new Japanese swords.
The details will be explained later, but today's blacksmiths have passed an examination and are authorized by the government to make Japanese swords, and hold a "national license" to do so.
The only female sword smith in history
In recent years, Japanese swords have become increasingly popular with women, as evidenced by the widespread use of the term "sword girl". It is no wonder that there are sword girls who not only want to admire Japanese swords, but also try their hand at making their own sword.
However, sword forging is physically demanding work that involves heating the steel 'tamahagane' and shaping it with a mallet, forging the iron in a hot workshop. Therefore, the difficulty for a woman to become a sword smith is not small.
Even today, when women are entering various fields, it is said that there are very few women sword smiths. In fact, there is only one: Otsuki Gen, known as the only female sword smith in history.
This woman, who was active in Bicchu (the present western prefecture of Okayama) during the Edo period, decided to make swords to keep her school alive after her husband, who was ill, was no longer able to make Japanese swords.
She was called "Onna Kunishige" (女国重) because she was descended from the Ebara Kunishige school, a group of blacksmiths from Bitchu. There are no tachi swords (long swords) among Gen Otsuki's works, but she produced many "tanto" (short swords). It is said that as a smith she was recognized as having equal or better skills than her male counterparts.
The way to become a sword smith
There is no organization such as a "vocational school" for those who want to become a sword smith, a holder of a traditional Japanese craft.
The only way to become a sword smith is to become an apprentice of a blacksmith who makes Japanese swords and complete an apprenticeship, and then participate in and complete the "Training Course for the Preservation of Art Sword Smithing Techniques" sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. The minimum training period to become a sword smith is five years. Even after becoming a sword smith, one must follow a rigorous course.
Requirements to become a sword smith
The requirement for becoming a sword smith is the permission of the Agency for Cultural Affairs. It is forbidden for anyone to make Japanese swords without permission.
Since Japanese swords are also deadly weapons, you must make Japanese swords responsibly and clearly indicate to the Agency for Cultural Affairs who ordered the sword and how many swords were made.
To work as a sword smith, one must be recognized as having the character and common sense to carry out these procedures with integrity, as well as the ability to make fair and sound judgments.
Section 2 of the Art Sword Production Approval Regulations states, "A smith who has been approved for sword production must have been under the supervision of a smith who has been approved for sword production for a period of at least five years. The blacksmith must demonstrate that he or she has acquired sufficient skill by continuing to devote at least five years to the practice of his or her art under the direction of a blacksmith who has been approved for the production of swords (including a blacksmith who has previously been responsible for the production of approved swords).
Introduction to the trade of sword smith
As mentioned above, there is no school to become a sword smith.
Generally, there is no pay while you are an apprentice. Therefore, you must first provide your own housing, food and clothing. In addition, you may have to pay for the use of the forge and materials used for your training.
The training takes five years of full-time work during weekdays, which is the same as in a business, store or government office, but the decisive difference is that there is no salary. The ability to bear such financial burdens is a major problem.
Even today, there is not much information about the profession of sword smith. Even if you want to become a sword smith, it is not easy to get information about whether or not there is a master smith near you, or how to contact him.
There is a movement to meet the needs of those who wish to become master swordsmiths.
The All Japan Swordsmith Association, the governing body of swordsmiths, holds practical training sessions on the art of swordsmanship, and the Successor Training Support Committee serves as a liaison between training sessions, introducing students to new apprentices and interviewing new apprentices.
At the training sessions, participants can also hear from senior apprentices who were once apprenticed to a blacksmith and are now living the life of an apprentice.
Apprenticeship to a sword smith: things to know
Becoming an apprentice to a sword master does not always go smoothly.
It is important to know what kind of swords you want to make, and to show the smith your motivation and a clear vision of your future by observing different Japanese swords.
As an aspiring swordsmith, you should not rely too much on your surroundings, but be ready to do your own research, discover for yourself the style of Japanese swords you want to make, identify your target and the direction you want to take, develop a network of contacts and open a path for yourself.
The first tasks as an apprentice
The five-year apprenticeship with a master usually begins with simple tasks and cleaning.
In between these tasks, it is important to get used to the work atmosphere by observing the master at work. The apprentice must have knowledge of history, which is essential to becoming an expert in Japanese swordsmanship, Chinese and ancient literature, and the Chinese zodiac (えと), which is necessary for cutting out inscriptions. Students must also learn the calendar (koyomi), including the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, and science to reinforce the theory of sword making.
After three years, he gradually began to learn the basics of blacksmithing under the guidance of his master, and then began to seriously learn the art of blacksmithing.
Sword smith certification exam
In the fifth year of training, a sword smith may participate in the Artistic Swordmaking Skills Preservation Workshop, sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
This is an eight-day training session that confirms basic skills in all aspects of swordsmanship, including forging, polishing, and exterior decoration. If it is determined that the basic skills learned in the training have not yet reached a certain level, the trainee will need to retrain.
In other words, if you do not pass this exam and complete the training, you will not be qualified to become a sword smith.
The only way to be qualified is to be able to demonstrate the skills you learned in your previous training.
Start your own business
After you have completed a minimum of five years of training, finished a training session and have been authorized by your master to become an independent blacksmith, you can finally begin your career as a blacksmith.
As an independent blacksmith, you will naturally need your own workshop (forge). Article 1, paragraph 1, item 7 of the Regulation on the Approval of the Production of Art Swords also states that the notification of the "place of production" is a condition of the smith's license.
To make a sword, the following equipment is needed: a hidoko (a place where fire is handled, such as to burn the iron bars used to make Japanese swords), a bellows (to regulate the power of fire by introducing air into the hidoko), various hammers, files, hibashi (fire rods) and other tools.
It is said that the cost of opening a new forge ranges from several million to 10 million yen, not including the cost of the land.
Besides, you need not only the opening capital but also the working capital. If you can receive an advance from the customer to open a forge and make Japanese swords, that's fine, but if you have to cover your own expenses and receive payment after the swords are delivered, you will have to cover the costs of the forge and the swords.
The cost of making a Japanese sword is several hundred thousand yen, including the cost of the raw material, tamahagane . It is therefore advisable to have some money in reserve.
As mentioned above, there are a number of steps to take to start working as a blacksmith.
Even if you have reached the starting point, the possibility of continuing to work as a blacksmith depends on your subsequent efforts and talent. The path to becoming a master blacksmith will open up if you do not become complacent or complacent about your ability to become a blacksmith, but if you dedicate yourself to your work with a sense of urgency and a dream.