Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Kanshoan Sword Shop

Kanshoan, a sword shop in Japan, offers up this poem, the origin of which we do not know. Perhaps they made it up:

When you have trouble and you are at a loss,
just look at a sword.
A sword will encourage you.

When you’re angry and you have flown into a rage,
just take a deep breath and look at a sword.
A sword will quietly ease your mind.

Look at a sword, and touch a sword.

Of course, if your mind doesn’t ease, you still have the sword, and can set to lopping off heads. There is that.

But a Japanese sword is an item of beauty as much as practicality. Consider this katana from the Onin Warring States Period c 1467-68, well before Ferdinand and Isabella secured Spain and sent an Italian navigator on an exploratory mission.

kanesada-warring-states-periodThis sword was half a millenium old when Sergeant Pepper was released, and before cars had to have headrests and shoulder belts in the USA.

It is attributed to a master swordsmith named Kanesada, was engraved by a named master, and was made for a swordsman named Fukazaka, of which nothing is known except that his taste in swords was sublime. It can be yours for something over a million Japanese yen.

Japanese swords are unique in the world of edged weapons. Their engineering was, for the day (and for today, for that matter), remarkable. They mastered the impossible task of making the same blade strong, rigid, flexible, durable and razor-sharp. Normally metallurgy presents the engineer with a series of properties, but only lets him choose a few of them, for a metal that takes a razor edge, for example, seldom can hold it long; a sword that can slice through a man’s torso, powered by a strong warrior’s swing, seldom can take the blow of a thrust upon its tip. The Japanese innovation was in using laminated forged steel (much like Damascus steel) to give a blade multiple properties, and then using separate heat-treatment techniques for separate parts of the blade to produce, again, multiple properties.

There was nothing like it before, and there has been little like it since, although there has been a renaissance of blade-making (something watched with a beady eye and stringent licensure by the authorities). The finest Japanese swords arguably date from before the shogunate, and the very best of them are restricted from export, as they are considered part of the nation’s cultural patrimony. The bulk of the antique swords offered by dealers like Kanshoan are from later periods. For example, the Meiji Restoration era (1800s) is well represented. Twentieth century, Showa-era swords, particularly the many swords made for military use during Japan’s long midcentury war, are in a hot spot in Japan as they are not considered culturally desirable artifacts, but they are still swords and proscribed from most Japanese owners. (Showa-era swords that are products of individual artisans are on somewhat firmer ground as works of art).

Kanshoan divides their available swords by vintage: a sword is either “Historical” or a “New Age Sword,” by which they presumably don’t mean it’s intended to be used by a drum circle in Sedona. It means it’s produced by a living (or recently-living) swordsmith.

All historical swords (and the “new age” ones, too, frankly) are irreplaceable, unique works of art and science. But that doesn’t mean they’re staggeringly expensive. This is a detail of a Meiji era (1902) sword blade made by master Minamotono Masayuki.

ura-nakahodo

 

 

If you have to ask, maybe you can afford it: while the ¥650,000 price seems daunting, it’s really $5,300 — if Japanese authorities will clear it to leave the country, which they probably will.

Kanshoan explains their name like this:

Our name recalls the legend of Kansho, a famous sword smith
from the Go country of ancient China.

As he worked by the forge, his wife, Bakuya, cut her hair and
nails and threw them into the blazing furnace.
Just then, two swords of unparalleled beauty were created.
The “Kansho-Bakuya” swords were to become known throughout the
country and by all ages as the finest ever produced.

We named KANSHOAN for this legend, as a place where you can
find historical and modern swords of such high quality and
legendary craft.

And they have this hope:

KANSHOAN hopes that its customers will act as golden
bridges between the past and the future, by passing on to
future generations the rich cultural heritage embodied in
Japanese swords.

Hear, hear.

Kanshoan is only one of several shops specializing in Japanese swords for the worldwide market. It makes a good visit if you have any fondness for beautiful weaponry.

We started this post many weeks ago, and set it aside when we ran into a complication. Tonight, we unearthed it again, after looking at a sword.

The sword eased our mind, and encouraged us. There may be something to that poem. A friendly Banzai to Kanshoan Sword Shop.

21 thoughts on “Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Kanshoan Sword Shop

  1. John D

    “Sold out” “Sold out”.

    Kind of like checking out the rimfire pages of on line ammo dealers, not that I have the funds for such beautiful weapons.

    So, I consoled myself with a bourbon, and put my 19th century German straight razor to the strop.

    Oddly satisfying.

  2. Pingback: WeaponsMan: On Japanese Swords | Western Rifle Shooters Association

  3. Tom

    Cutlery and wood working chisels are less expensive way to experience Japanese laminated steel.
    I have some of both. Wood plane blades are laminated as well.
    Paper thin curls of hardwood shavings are relaxing to make.
    I keep a plane next to the fireplace to make tinder with.
    Sometimes the wood turns out so pretty that is is set aside and not consumed for heat.

  4. S

    Kerry: that’s because their ingrained culture still reviles traitors. Being physically different and on an island helps, though the lesson of the Former UK should be noted. Not many accusations of waaacist being leveled against the Sons of Nippon, because they have succeeded in excluding minorities: they won’t listen because they don’t have to. Oh, if only you’d exported all your former slaves to Liberia, how different would things be now? They’d have their African Utopia, and you’d retain White Privilege, whatever that is. Father Lincoln and his well known sympathies would explain it better.

    John D: You use a cutthroat? Which artwork do you use? I’m using a Thiers-Issard Durandal, lovely piece of kit, very good for waking up….nothing like scary sharp steel within a twitch of the carotid to remind one of mortality. Also, nothing beats it when scraping the beard is to be somewhat tolerated. Might just go back to Beard, screw the locals and their inability to discern between Eurobeard and Islamobeard…..we don’t trim the ‘stache, but they do; perhaps they fear irritating the goats.

    An interesting comparison of the Samurai vs Knight…..

    http://www.thearma.org/essays/knightvs.htm

    Conclusion: It’s the man, not the machine. That corresponds to command and mission….if the commander is a scoundrel or merely incompetent, the tools may do the job they were designed for, but the fool will prevail and the tool is debased. Mission accomplished, the Führer is pleased.

  5. Ray

    I’d like a Nihonto for Christmas, BUT , MARRIED. I had my eye on a Koto, Wakazashi for some time now, but the “old man” wants his pound in blood for it. If I met his price I’d need a good lawyer. Oh well he’s a “collector” and he hasn’t said anything about the show YET.

  6. Kirk

    The whole katana thing is horribly over-rated in popular culture. It looks elegant, and has the cachet of being Japanese and subtle, but the realities are that the swords are what they are due to having shitty materials to work with, and the techniques developed for using those swords are what they are due to their need to adapt to the limitations of the design. I used to think the whole katana/kenjutsu thing was amazing, and then started researching things.

    Somewhere out there on the internet, there are a set of videos showing what happens when you put kenjutsu up against late 17th Century Italian sword technique. It isn’t pretty, at all. Same thing with the earlier German schools of combat used by the Landesknechts. The thing is, the Europeans were a lot more practical than the Japanese–As soon as the handgun was practical, they abandoned the sword. All that technique was just abandoned, instead of preserved the way the Japanese chose to handle it.

    What’s really ironic? The Japanese arguably figured out how to effectively use guns in war, and were better at it than the Europeans for a long time. Go back and look at who developed volley fire and drill first–It happened on a large and war-winning scale in Japan, first. And, then they threw the whole thing out and went back to the sword… Which just goes to show how deeply embedded fantasy is, in Japan. They basically cosplayed for a couple of centuries, and it wasn’t until Perry that they snapped out of it.

    1. pdxr13

      The Japanese make good machines, with a Japanese style. It’s not the same as the Germans or Austrians do it. Not surprisingly, the Japanese interact with their machines in their own way. Honda AI humanoid guard-robot with sword? They will make anything you want, how ever you want it, especially if it is for export only. Howa 1500 is a good example: no Japanese get this, but almost any American with $400 can have a very good quality imported Japanese-style Mauser-inspired rifle. Big Toyota SUV’s are useless unobtainium for most Japanese, but common in N. America. Betcha Japan Inc. is tooling to have ability to build/deliver high-quality fission weapons at any point 60 days away, while denying possessing such items (defense, ya know). If I was their Director of Nippon Defense Industries, it would be the thing to do to give options to serious leadership in the gravest extremes. Japanese have Tribe & Culture, with Iron & Soil, as it should be.

      It’s foolish for the American empire to depend too much on a workshop so far away, nearer China than ConUS.

      1. Kirk

        The thing about the katana and kenjutsu in general that bears remembering is that Mushashi, who was probably one of the greatest practitioners of that art, essentially gave up the sword towards the end. Many of his greatest duels were won with bokken, or wooden training swords, including one famous example where he carved one out of an oar before meeting his opponent on an island. He was late, you see, and had forgotten the bokken… He basically beat his opponent to death with an improvised wooden club.

        This fact does not inspire me to confidence in the primacy of the katana as an individual weapon. While it is possible that Mushashi would have prevailed in a contest against an Italian swordmaster of the appropriate era, I kinda suspect that the reality is that he would have been skewered several times over by either the rapier or the dagger.

        Japanese combat and warfare technique is both sophisticated and elegant. Their weapons, likewise. What I have my doubts about are their effectiveness and relevance. Sure, the Japanese had a well thought-out school of martial arts centered on the bayonet, or Jukendo, but did that avail them of much when faced with Marines and GIs armed with the M1 rifle? I’m not sure that it did, in the final analysis.

        I’m of the mind that brute force and ignorance will almost always prevail over finesse and subtlety. Or, at least, this has been my experience, throughout my life.

    2. James Sullivan

      “…but the realities are that the swords are what they are due to having shitty materials to work with, and the techniques developed for using those swords are what they are due to their need to adapt to the limitations of the design.”

      You say that like its a bad thing. I get it, I mean, about the katana and kenjutsu’s limitations. But art is art and elegance is elegance and a man can admire them for what they are without something turning into Leichtenauer RULES!1!1!1 katanas sux!

      1. Kirk

        I find the katana form beautiful, and the whole of kendo equally lovely. I just have my doubts about the efficacy of the combination in real combat.

        It’s like the deal where we had a miniature race riot during my first assignment in Korea. We’d been stuck with a bunch of troublemaker KATUSA troops, whose parents were too elite to have them spend their conscription in the ROK Army, so they were relegated to our formerly rear-area unit south of Seoul where they couldn’t cause much trouble. Then, we converted over to Combat (Wheeled) on the way to Combat (Mechanized), and… Well, let us just say that the sudden change in environment between a comfy Heavy Engineer battalion milieu vs. the sudden influx of Combat Engineer types wasn’t easily adapted to, by the Koreans.

        One of the things that caused friction was that the previous regime had set aside hours at the gym which were exclusively for the KATUSA troops. Incoming commander reviewed the policy, and then decided to change it. Didn’t go over well. KATUSA agitators, who were former student protestors up in Seoul, and veterans of the Olympic-era protests, decide they’re going to make a point by starting a riot during their former time in the gym, and with the six or so GIs who had the misfortune to think that they had a right to be playing basketball there at that time. I was on duty up at the Battalion headquarters, and the first I heard of it was guys rushing up to tell me that there was a fight in the gym…

        When I got there, after running the 300-400 meters that separated the two buildings, the “fight” was over. The outnumbered GIs, who numbered about 8-10 guys, tops, had cleared the gym of the thirty or so KATUSAs who’d decided to take part in the whole thing. No injuries to any of the GIs, and about ten of the KATUSA idiots wound up needing hospitalization. At least one of them got hurt by being stuck in the doorway coming out of the gym, as the rest of his cohorts stampeded over the top of him. They were in that much of a hurry to get out of range of the GIs, who were basically throwing them around like rag dolls, despite desperate attempts by the Koreans to use their hard-earned Tae Kwon Do skills. They’d square off, like they were in a tournament, and bam, get a right hook to the face that would knock them off their feet and back several feet. None of the GIs had so much as a bruise, and the KATUSA idiots wound up with injuries including broken bones, black eyes, and severe lacerations to the face. Korean skin tears, when encountering fists, apparently.

        The whole thing was swept under the carpet by the bosses, not least because the ROKA liaison we had just gotten in was horribly, horribly embarrassed by the bad showing of “his” KATUSAs. He was a hard-ass Combat Engineer, too, and it wasn’t too long before the major troublemakers just vanished into the maw of the ROK Army, several of them with added time to their conscriptions. The subsequent KATUSA Tae Kwon Do training sessions suddenly became a lot more stringent, and we saw a whole lot of them coming away from those training periods with significant injuries. Funny thing, too… Many of them were coincidentally involved in the “riot”.

        It’s changed a little, now that Korea has a much better economy, but in the early 1990s, there were still significant differences in mass and strength between KATUSA troops and even the smallest GIs. The running joke was that if you wanted to know just how many KATUSAs it would take to lift something, just calculate the number of GIs it would take, double it, and add another fifty percent for safety.

        Brute force and ignorance… You can bet on it, every damn time. I appreciate elegance and style, but when I have to get something done, I’m gonna go look for the biggest damn hammer I can find.

        1. James Sullivan

          Lol. Never said you were wrong. Was just wondering why an article about the art of Japanese sword craftsmanship had to become a dissertation about European swords/fighting vs. Japanese.

  7. StopShouting

    Beautiful piece of gear. I remember watching a documentary about a sword master plying his craft. It’s good that such cultural and practical skills are being preserved and passed from generation to generation. We need to be doing more of the same. Our culture and history is worth honoring and preserving for future generations too, IMHO.

    Our youngest took up the sport of sabre fencing competitively and travels internationally as a member of a national squad. There are many tangential benefits to understanding and practicing sword combat and meeting an opponent one on one that one doesn’t pick up on the range (she’s very firearms proficient as well, BTW). The Japanese have now decided they want to dominate sabre in the Olympic field and are pouring huge resources into making that happen before the Toyko Olympics, including importing alot of Eastern European and Russian coaches. But it seems to echo a rewakening in general of a national interest in all this sword-y so to speak.

    My 2 c. Your mileage may vary. ;-)

  8. LSWCHP

    I’m a knife guy and an amateur chef, and my two main cutting tools in the kitchen are Japanese laminated blades. One of them was handmade from Hitachi blue steel by a guy in his backyard workshop. It looks pre-industrial and kinda crude, but it’s the sharpest thing I’ve ever touched. If I sharpen it right the blade will fall through ripe tomatoes under its own weight, and it keeps that edge for weeks. The only problem is that it’s not fully stainless so I need to be careful about rust.

    Japanese kitchen knives are far superior in materials and design to their European equivalents.

  9. Worker

    There was (in my opinion) a very good PBS (I know, haters will hate) documentary on current sword making in Japan from making the steel, making the blade to final hand finish. Very interesting and hard to believe this still goes on ……………

    1. Hognose Post author

      Certain swords feel “alive”. My so-called Taliban Beheading Sword is one such. (Let’s just say the story that came with it is highly suspect, but it is an old and superior piece of steel, long ago stripped of the jewels that once were inset in it).

  10. raven

    Kirk is correct, the manufacture of Japanese swords was a workaround .
    The iron used was river iron sand, melted into pig iron in a clay smelter. They broke the smelter apart to get the iron off the bottom- then they had to turn it into steel- that is where all the folding came in, you have to pick up carbon somehow, and the charcoal in the forge adds it-but then you have to get out the slag and impurities- so fold and hammer over and over. A very time intensive way to make steel, the Europeans gave it up about 1000AD. Then the great mystery- how to harden the thing? The Japanese had very little knowledge of tempering, the process of drawing the hardness in a controlled fashion from full hard water quenched steel- so they learned to deferentially harden the steel, they insulated the back of the blade with clay and left the edge uncovered , so when quenched the edge would go full hard. This also had a tremendous compression effect, putting the curve in the sword.
    Incidentally, one of the major problems the Japanese had in duplicating the Portuguese muskets was in making the spring steel for the locks.
    “The Craft of the Japanese Sword” is an excellent book on the modern art of swordmaking in Japan.
    They are beautiful weapons, Dad brought one back as a trophy. Not an ancestral blade, but a very fine piece none the less.

  11. Ray

    We talk about the makers, the craft, the steel and history. All of that loses sight of what we are talking about. Weapons made to cut up humans at shit smelling range . The Japanese consider any bladed weapon made to kill humans a “sword” and Japanese “swords” were and still are among the best CQB killing weapons ever devised by mankind. Who would have “won” a fight between “X” weapons and styles depended on what it has always has, and still does, depend on. The heart of the man, the depth of his will, and training. The weapon is just a tool. I just happen to like Japanese killing tools. They were developed over a period 2000 years by an isolated island race of obsessive compulsive perfectionist’s that DEEPLY enjoyed cutting each other up. They did the same thing over and over obsessively for thousands of years. Handing it down generation after generation, Every art; Every craft . Until they got it as near perfect as they could. Its a bummer for Kirk that he hated Asia. But other than raw fish for supper and pickles , soup and rice for breakfast. I don’t.

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