The history of the Japanese Samuari sword is one that goes back many hundreds of years, with the first signs of the Japanese swords being traced back to around thirteen hundred years ago.
The very first blades were a basic variant of the Chinese straight bladed, double edged sword called a jian. The very first precursor to the Japanese katana was seen at around 700AD which were straight swords with a curve at the tang only. Around the tenth century saw Japan cleaving close ties with China and begin developing its own social and class divisions and it was in this time that the palace guards and gentry became the first samurai warriors, and with them developed the first real samurai swords.
The legends of samurai tell of the Emperor’s smith Amakuni who made the first fully curved blade after receiving divine inspiration from the Kami. His sword was praised by the Emperor and the tradition of the curved handmade katanas was born.
The golden period for the authentic samurai swords was between 1192 and 1573 in the Kamakura and Muromachi periods. After the near loss of Japan to the veracious Mongol invaders, the need for a virulent national defence was seen, and so sword smiths were kept very busy. The most famous of Japanese katana smiths was in this period and the legendary Masamune’s swords are still the most prized and exquisite handmade katanas the world has ever known.
It was Masamune who first perfected the art of folding the metal to create the beautiful temper line with crystals imbedded in a pearlite matrix. His remaining blades are considered priceless national heirlooms.
The Japanese samurai swords went into a dark period when the gun was introduced and the skills of the previous generation were almost lost. When this turbulent time in Japanese history was over, the Japanese katana once again rose in the exclusive hands of the privileged samurai class.
With the coming of the west and two world wars, the Japanese katana became a symbol of nationalism, and thousands were roughly produced to equip officers of the army. Since the end of World War II there has been an uptake in interest in the traditional art of samurai swords, and many smiths world wide have tried to reproduce the golden methods of tempering the blade perfected by Masamune. However hard they try, and whatever new methods are devised his still remain the ultimate blades.
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