Japanese Sword Forging Demonstration
“This is Japan” is a weekly blog post where I talk a little about my life here.

It’s a place where I can share some of the strange, funny, or thought-provoking stories from my week.

You can learn a little about what it is like to live in Japan and some of the weird and wonderful things here.

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On Sunday, I found something online that I thought looked interesting. Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya was having a sword forging demonstration!

How exciting to watch blacksmiths heat steel and shape it into a world famous Japanese sword.

So I packed my camera into my backpack, and my husband and I headed to the station. We walked through the grounds of the shrine, escaping some of the heat, but not escaping the humidity. My ears smiled at the sounds of cicadas vibrating in the trees.

Soon there was rhythmic clink clink clink of metal on metal in the distance. The sounds of sword forging.

There was a small tent set up and a group of people crowded around. We went over to get a close look.

Now, I’m sorry, and I hate to disappoint, but the sword forging wasn’t all that exciting to watch.

The steel was not even shaped like a sword. It was a square on the end of a pole. It would need a lot of word to turn it into a long sword.

Now this wasn’t just a demonstration where people watched and “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed” either. It was the kind of demonstration where you take part. So there was a short line of people waiting their turn.

When it was their turn, they put on a white jacket. Because one needs to look the part when partaking in a sword forging demonstration.

The man who I will call the Sword Master heated up the steel square until it was red hot. Then, in pairs, the “apprentices” would hit the red square with their steel hammer.

This was the clink clink clink.

They did this for a few times until the steel started to lost some of it’s glow. Then they posed for a photo with the Sword Master and were finished.

The Sword Master then put the steel square back into the fire to get it ready for the next couple of sword forging apprentices.

At this rate, the “sword” would never be finished.

But alas, I suppose that’s why it was just a demonstration. No real sword should be expected. Just the opportunity to see what it would be like. So I guess it’s kind of cool anyway.

It looks like the chance to witness the real thing takes place at night. And you’re probably only allowed to watch.

We watched for a minute before I couldn’t stand the humidity anymore. It probably didn’t help that there was a pile of burning embers two meters away.

So my husband and I left the sword forging demonstration to walk around the rest of the shrine.

Let me walk you through the sword forging demonstration with a few photos:

Japanese Sword Forging Demonstration
First the sword man helps the two “apprentices” get into position
Japanese Sword Forging Demonstration
The Sword Master places the red hot steel square onto a block
Japanese Sword Forging Demonstration
The apprentices hit the steel square a few times in precession until the steel cools down too much
Japanese Sword Forging Demonstration
The Sword Master heats up the steel again for the next apprentices
Japanese Sword Forging Demonstration
Two new apprentices take their turn at sword forging

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Japanese Sword Forging Demonstration

What kind of fun cultural/historical demonstrations have you had the chance to see?

Read: Shuzenji: mini guide to an old hot spring town

13 Comments

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  2. Fascinating art to take part in. Was it hot, tough to hold…? Do they allow you to buy one as a keepsake? I mean a small prototype of it.

    I have never taken part in such demonstrations. The art of glass blowing in Murano was mesmerising to watch. That glass and fire can come together to create such pieces of art, as they showcase, is mind boggling.

    • I think it must have been extra hot inside the tent. I didn’t try it though. No, no keepsake, just the experience. Glass blowing is so mesmerizing, isn’t it? We saw it being done in Okinawa, and I could have watched for hours, but my husband lost interest a long time ago. It’s also very cool to watch a glass artist make a sculpture by pulling pieces of the hot glass in different directions.

      • Adi did too just like your husband 😀 I think men see it once and are done, right? Haha. Anyway, you captured the essence of it. The twirling of the stick is also quite something. I feel such astonishment at the hard work that these artists put in to their trade. Respect and inspiration.

  3. Ha! I’m not sure I would have enjoyed waiting in line to bang some metal espeically with all the humidity. I enjoyed reading about it though 🙂

  4. There was a fascinating programme about this on the BBC recently – even on TV and with fancy editing it took a real long time to make a sword – and a huge amount of work…

    • It sounds interesting to learn about sword making. I can imagine it must take long time. And care. It wouldn’t much good if the sword wasn’t made well, then the first time you go to cut someone’s head off, the sword breaks.

  5. I had the chance to see a blacksmith in action this past spring, in a small town in Ontario, Canada called Elora. we were able to check in on the progress periodically, which was much better then staying for the whole process, as it is not a fast craft. No sword making though, one person was making a ladle and the other an ornamental leaf. I imagine watching the entire process of sword construction would get a little bit dull, still pretty cool to see a little bit of it though!

    • Yeah, it seems like making a sword would take a long time. Especially since the Sword Master would want it to be absolutely perfect. It’s still interesting to get a small glimpse into how it is done though.

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