Top 6 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Katana

Buying a katana isn’t the same as picking a kitchen knife or any other bladed tool from the shelf. After all, this Japanese sword is more than a deadly weapon. It’s the Land of the Rising Sun’s national pride, a testament to its people’s dedication to perfection. 

Knowing what mistakes to avoid when buying a katana should help you navigate the intricate world of katana selling. Ideally, you will want an authentic katana on your display stand. Don’t worry. We will share the top 6 mistakes you must avoid to ensure you bring home only the best blade from Japan.

1. Thinking that all katana is Made in Japan

People think that all katana comes from the Land of the Rising Sun. After all, this Japanese sword is as emblematic as the Emperor and the red circle in a sea of white flags. Few other symbols speak of Japan’s heritage, Mt. Fuji and the Geisha notwithstanding.

However, if one thinks katana can only come from Japan, they’re gravely mistaken. 

Would it surprise you to learn that many katana today come from the sweatshops of China? Many Chinese sword manufacturers exploit the katana’s global appeal, operating their machines 24/7 to produce katanas faster than a processed food canning factory.

Korea and other countries are also joining the fray, giving employment to their citizens and bringing additional income to profit-oriented companies.

Sadly, these katanas are nowhere near the quality and craftsmanship of Japanese-made swords.

While katana manufacturers outside Japan employ machines, traditional katana-kaji (Japanese swordsmiths) still adhere to centuries-old techniques. 

And did you know a single katana is the product of the combined skills of six to eight Japanese craftspeople? The katana-kaji forges the blade while the togishi polishes it to perfection. The kinkosi creates metal sword fittings, and the shiroganeshi specializes in the habaki or blade collar. 

Other craftspeople include the nurishi (applies lacquer to the saya or scabbard), tsubashi (creates the hand guard or tsuba), and tsukamakishi (produces the hilt or sword handle or tsuka).

Although you cannot identify the work of individual craftspeople on a single katana, knowing its Japanese origin should help you buy an authentic Japanese sword.

You might want to know that some non-Japanese katana manufacturers employ traditional Japanese swordsmiths. These craftspeople make each katana by hand. Even though the production is outside Japan, you can feel more confident about the sword’s quality. We provide exceptional handmade katanas.

2. Cannot differentiate between a functional and a decorative katana

Another mistake to avoid when buying a katana is picking a sword for decorative purposes and not for its functionality. 

The katana is the weapon of choice of legendary warriors of feudal Japan. Although the 1876 Haito Edict outlawed the Japanese sword, it remains an enduring symbol of national pride and unity.

While some katanas are worth displaying in museums and private abodes, their fundamental purpose is utilitarian. Like any bladed weapon, the katana’s principal function is to cut. You don’t need a human target for this. Many iaidoka (iaido practitioners) use a katana to test their tatami-cutting skills.

Now, if you buy a katana only to showcase in your living room’s display cabinet, there’s a good chance your sword is the cheap, mass-produced variety. These swords often feature low-quality steel and metal fittings. They cannot withstand the rigors of cutting.

You can still buy a decorative katana, provided you don’t use it to cut or strike objects. 

mistakes to avoid when buying a katana

3. Expecting that all katana are razor-sharp

Misinformation is to blame for this katana buyer behavior. Hollywood films depict katana-wielding samurai as formidable fighters capable of splitting a human opponent with a single swift stroke. 

While the samurai are popular for cutting and slicing opponents, their katana’s sharpness still varies. This observation rings true even in the modern era. 

You might want to learn that a katana can feature one of three cutting edges or ha. 

First, the shinogi zukuri has a slightly rounded body before tapering to a sharp cutting angle. If you look at it from the front, the blade’s cross-section will resemble a law enforcer’s badge. It’s slightly flat at the top and bulging at the sides before gently tapering toward the tip. Its cutting edge is only about a third of the blade’s width.

This cutting edge cannot slice through flesh. If you run your fingers over the blade’s ha, you might be disappointed that it’s not sharp at all. This katana is ideal for cutting through hard objects, including armor plates and large bones. It’s like an axe.

The second cutting edge type is the shinogi zukuri’s polar opposite. This blade’s cross-section has a perfectly triangular shape with a narrow base and a razor-sharp edge. The hira zukuri’s cutting length runs all the way from the ha to near the blade’s spine (mune). It is the quintessential razor-sharp katana.

The third type marries the cutting force of a shinogi zukuri and the hira zukuri’s razor-sharpness. It’s slightly wider than the hira but doesn’t have the shinogi’s bulging sides. Hence, its cutting surface runs from the edge to about midway across the blade. This katana is perfect for cutting paper, tatami mats, and bamboo. 

4. Overlooking blade steel composition

Many first-time katana buyers think any metal can go into the forging of a katana. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Authentic Japanese katana can only contain tamahagane steel. Tamahagane can only come from iron sand (satetsu), combined with carbon, and forged in a single-use tatara. Smelters process the tamahagane over three days without sleep or rest to ensure they get the highest quality steel from iron sand.

By the way, satetsu is quite rare in Japan. Iron sand gatherers work through the blistering sun in Shimane to harvest as many satetsu as possible. Japanese steel workers use 9.1 tons of satetsu and 11 tons of charcoal to produce not even a ton of tamahagane. That’s how incredibly difficult it is to produce the raw material for an authentic katana.

Unsurprisingly, traditional katana-kaji can only forge no more than two swords monthly or about 24 annually. 

Katana manufacturers outside Japan often use steel other than tamahagane. These can produce swords of varying performance and quality. 

For instance, stainless steel alloy with iron and at least 10/5% chromium are common. Unfortunately, these materials aren’t as durable and strong as high-carbon steel. They are best for decorative swords.

On the other hand, high-carbon katanas can vary in strength. For instance, a katana with differentially hardened T10 tool steel is more robust than a differentially hardened 1095 carbon steel. Likewise, the 1095 carbon steel is stronger and more durable than the 1045 version. Some modern katanas also have a mono-tempered steel construction.

Here’s the scoop. An authentic katana must always feature tamahagane steel. High-quality replicas can contain high-carbon steel but never stainless steel and other cheap metals.

mistakes to avoid when buying a katana

5. Failing to recognize the characteristics of a true katana

Here’s another mistake to avoid when buying a katana. We recommend learning the characteristics of an authentic Japanese sword to escape the trap of counterfeits and deep fakes.

For example, a real katana has a blade length extending between 24 and 31 inches and a blade curve (sori) not exceeding 1.5 centimeters. It must be a single-edged sword with a hilt or handle sufficiently sized to accommodate two hands.

The blade also features a distinct temperline pattern or hamon. You can also see other intricate details. 

Although many replicas and counterfeits try to duplicate these attributes, they are never the result of natural swordsmithing processes. Many katana manufacturers use acid etching and similar technologies to leave distinguishing marks on blades.

Given that spotting a real katana from a fake is challenging, we recommend one of two things. Buy a katana only from reputable stores and dealers. Alternatively, bring a Japanese sword expert when buying a katana to examine the sword’s authenticity. You can also check NBTHK certifications or similar documentation.

6. Disregarding katana maintenance requirements

Buying a katana means being responsible for its upkeep. You are not only buying a bladed weapon. The katana is a national treasure, a symbol of a nation. It requires more care than you would give to your automobile.

Although some online resources say you could use any oil to clean a katana, experts only recommend Choji oil. If this lubricant isn’t available, you can create a mixture of 99 parts mineral oil and one part clove oil. 

You will also need an uchiko ball for removing oil and fine scratches from the katana’s blade. It’s also perfect for polishing the nagasa. A nuguigami cleaning kit is a must.

It’s tempting to substitute these materials for readily available options. That should be fine if you only spend a few hundred dollars on your katana. But authentic katana costs thousands of dollars. These swords deserve only the best care.

what to avoid when buying a katana

Final Thoughts

Learning the different mistakes to avoid when buying a katana should help you bring home the best sword from the Land of the Rising Sun. You can always buy from non-Japanese katana shops (like Katana-Sword) that offer high-quality katanas.

Mistakes to avoid when buying a katana

Our Katanas

See More
Save $120.00
Fuyu Katana 冬Fuyu Katana 冬
Katana Sword Fuyu Katana 冬
Sale priceFrom $200.00 USD Regular price$320.00 USD
In stock
Nami Katana 波Nami Katana 波
Katana Sword Nami Katana 波
Sale priceFrom $270.00 USD
In stock, 1829 units
Save $120.00
Jin KatanaJin Katana
Katana Sword Jin Katana 寺院
Sale priceFrom $250.00 USD Regular price$370.00 USD
In stock
Kamon Katana 家紋Kamon Katana 家紋
Katana Sword Kamon Katana 家紋
Sale priceFrom $220.00 USD
In stock
Save $90.00
Murasaki Katana 紫Murasaki Katana 紫
Katana Sword Murasaki Katana 紫
Sale priceFrom $230.00 USD Regular price$320.00 USD
In stock
Save $111.00
Yoriichi Tsugikuni KatanaYoriichi Tsugikuni Katana
Katana Sword Yoriichi Tsugikuni Katana
Sale priceFrom $209.00 USD Regular price$320.00 USD
In stock
Koi Katana 濃いKoi Katana 濃い
Katana Sword Koi Katana 濃い
Sale priceFrom $220.00 USD
In stock
Yoru Katana 夜Yoru Katana 夜
Katana Sword Yoru Katana 夜
Sale priceFrom $260.00 USD
In stock
Kuro Katana 黒Kuro Katana 黒
Katana Sword Kuro Katana 黒
Sale priceFrom $350.00 USD
In stock
Save $90.00
Tsuyo Katana 強Tsuyo Katana 強
Katana Sword Tsuyo Katana 強
Sale priceFrom $380.00 USD Regular price$470.00 USD
In stock
Save $41.00
Wado Ichimonji KatanaWado Ichimonji Katana
Katana Sword Wado Ichimonji Katana
Sale priceFrom $209.00 USD Regular price$250.00 USD
In stock
Gouka KatanaGouka Katana
Katana Sword Gouka Katana 豪華
Sale priceFrom $240.00 USD
In stock