Best samurai swords
Samurai sword collecting guide: How to choose the best Japanese swords
Whether you’re looking for antique or modern samurai swords, it is always necessary to look at their quality. This article is going to teach you how to buy the best samurai Japanese swords for sale.
Best Japanese samurai swords
Samurai swords are science and art wonders. Scientists today are startled to find out that ancient smiths were able to harden and toughen iron ores without the use of modern metal-working machineries. Art curators marvel at their finest polishing works and beautiful fittings.Antique, modern, and mass-produced samurai swords
Antique Japanese swords are the top of the line when it comes to quality. The oldest of them called koto are made in between 12th century to 14th century, the golden age of Japanese sword making. Most of them are considered national treasures of Japan.
Today, both Japanese and foreign smiths are licensed by the Japanese government before they are allowed to produce newly made art swords, called shinsakuto. These modern katana sword makers have to participate in annual sword competitions to check their work and to gather the best of generation’s Japanese swords.
Mass-produced samurai swords refer to swords produced by manufacturers in and outside Japan without Japanese government license. Their quality varies. While smiths of shinsakuto are only allowed to produce few blades each year and restricted to follow age-old traditions, the manufacturers can make fantasy swords out of the Japanese sword designs.
Best antique samurai sword collectibles
Japanese law has set the standards on the best samurai swords into three categories:
• Kokuho (Nation's Treasure or National Treasure) / $500,000 and up
• Juyou-Bunkazai (Important Cultural Assets) / $300,000 and up
• Juyou-Bijitsuhin (Important Artworks) / $200,000 and up
There are 900 swords classified as Juyo-Bunkazai so far, and only 122 of them are accepted as Kokuho. They have to remain in Japan at all times as penalties are dealt with when any one of them is sold or sent out of the country. In which case, the government reserves the right to buy the sword at a ‘fair market value’.
The swords considered Juyo-Bijutsuhin have been issued from 1933 to 1955. Their recognition is only good as long as they stay inside Japan. Outside the country they lose the recognition.
Missing samurai swords
Since 1946, the government of Japan identified 25 swords worth as national treasures and other 45 swords worth as Important Cultural Assets. They have gone missing after World War II because of the American’s prohibition on using or keeping swords among Japanese citizens. Collectors believe that the number could be higher since not all swords that were brought out of Japan were registered at that time.
These missing swords have to be submitted first before being recognized; meaning, they are not considered national treasure or important cultural until Japanese government tells so.
How to buy the best samurai swords
Like all collectibles, the best samurai swords are judged according to four qualities: appearance , forging, age, and the smith who produced it.
Appearance of samurai sword
Appearance is simply the present condition of the sword. Some national treasures like Masamune sword have chips on the edge and rusts covering the blade, but these are excusable and do not lessen the antique sword value.
Appearance however is very important for other antique sword collectibles, shinsakuto, and mass-produced swords. This would mean high quality fittings, hilt, scabbard, blade, and decorations of the katana sword.
Forging of samurai sword
All Japanese swords, including katana swords, are originally made by folded steel process already in practice since 10th century. The forging makes use of two different strands of steel: one with higher carbon content, the other with lower carbon content. These are heated, hammered, and folded countless times. Afterwards, the blade is differentially tempered.
The result of this process is a remarkably hard-to-chip edges and very tough blade. It also produces light streaks (called nie) on the blade, a very defined temper line (called hamon), and shiny cutting edge.
Age of samurai sword
The age determines the quality of the samurai sword not only because it is an artifact from the past, but also for reason of forging. It is believed that the forging techniques of the old swords (koto) are lost in 15th century. Hence, koto (made until 15th century) is considered best among shinto (made between 1597-17980), shinsito (1781-1876), and gendaito (1877-1945). Please see the article samurai sword history for more discussion.
Smith of samurai sword
The reputation of the smith is very important, particularly in the olden times. The secrets of sword-making were well-guarded by the smith, much of his skills being the fruits of his own trial-and-error tests. With very simple tools and without advanced machines, it was hard to have consistently good and artistically forged swords. Only few talented smiths could do that.
Today, the well-known smiths of shinsakuto samurai are consistent winners of the annual sword competition and were later on given Mukansa (beyond judging) ranking; their swords are not anymore entered in the contest but are displayed as standards. The best of the Mukansa-ranking smiths are elevated to Living National Treasures or Ningen Kokuho.
The same standard for quality applies to smiths that are produced by smiths not sanctioned by the Japanese government. Manufacturers of affordable samurai swords for sale can establish their reputation through word-of-mouth and favorable reviews from sword collectors.
Samurai swords for sale
The good thing about sword collecting today is samurai sword for sale is not difficult to find anymore. There are many channels of distribution that you can buy the swords from. They cater to all collectors of different tastes. For more discussion, please check our article how to collect samurai swords.