Note: This post was originally published on July 25, 2009
My husband and I just watched a program on PBS called Secrets of the Samarai Sword. It’s available to watch on the internet, and I recommend it.
There are several reasons why this program was interesting to me personally. First, my husband picked up a book at a library book sale awhile back about Japanese swords and was immediately taken with them. That year for his birthday, I embarked on my own research and bought one for him. Much like making a sword, it was a painstaking process; there are lots of “fakes” out there, particularly, swords made by machine during WWII, and an authentic, handmade sword is expensive. I’m not sure I’d have the confidence even now to buy one again, although I’m certain that the one I bought him is authentic. We both love that sword–it is almost as important to me as my wedding ring, if you want the truth.
The second reason I found this program engaging is because I’m a goldsmith. I make jewelry out of gold and silver and some of the processes used are similar, if not the same. I use ancient techniques to make my jewelry, and this type of craftsmanship appeals to me. I’m definitely not comparing my level of expertise to the level presented by the master swords-maker profiled, but my experience with making jewelry makes me extremely interested in the techniques used in Japanese sword-making.
The level of expertise required to make a sword can be applied to any field, whether it be sword making, jewelry making, or in my case now, writing. Young people apprentice in this work at an early age and through the years become experts themselves, thus preserving a tradition that is hundreds of years old. It is a reminder that to be good at anything, even if one possesses natural talent, takes years of practice. It is affirming and daunting at the same time–I am a novice at writing, at least as it pertains to novels, and I have a lot of work in front of me to become an “expert.”
Having been to Japan and having even visited the sword museum in Tokyo shown in the program, I was also interested in the cultural aspects of Samarais, sword fighting, and sword making. But for me, the really compelling part is the fabrication of the sword. It is fascinating, and an important reminder that hard work and persistence is an important key to success.