Royal Armouries

Japanese swords

The Japanese sword is unique in the world in its cultural status. It is one of the divine objects of the Shinto religion, incorporating air, earth, fire and water in its production and a sword forms part of the Imperial regalia.

It acquired a shape and method of construction around AD 1000 that later swordsmiths failed to improve upon. The long sword became a symbol of rank for the military class, the buke; famous artists being employed to design the sword’s furniture and consummate craftsmen to translate these designs into metal.

Swordsmiths had, and still have, high status and generally signed and dated their work on the tang, allowing a tradition of scholarly study to flourish that persists to this day. Although there are many swordsmiths still working, only a few craftsmen retain the skills needed to make the mounts.

Types of Japanese swords

Japanese sword manufacture