Katana in the Era of Peace
The Katana in the era of peace is a valuable symbol for a Samurai’s identity. It is the ‘Soul of the Samurai.’ The Samurai in the military class obtains his value through the Katana.
Prior to the era of peace, The Katana sword was mainly used for battles, together with the spear and Wakizashi sword. However, when Tokugawa Shogunate reigned in the Edo period, things and rulings have changed.
Tokugawa & Swordmakers
The Tokugawa family were the rulers after the Sekigahara battle during the year 1600. It is a position with which they enjoyed for 250 years or for 2 centuries and a half.
In just a short period of time after Tokugawa Shogunate, founding swords began to fade off the scene. The old adage became extinct and crafty sword makers began to exploit & abuse their position which affected the Samurai class members.
Upsurge of the Notorious Swordsmiths
The two remarkable sword makers during the ‘New-Swords’ period or Shinto Period were Tsuda Sukehiro and Iga-no-kami Kanemichi.
Tokugawa Ieyasu appoints Iga-no-kami Kanemichi as the Chief Swordsmith of Japan. However, he used his position to sell certificates of competence to subordinate smiths. Unfortunately, there were 10 swordsmiths who purchased from Kanemichi.
On the other hand, Tsuda Sukehiro has his own version of mass production. As per records, he has churned out five swords per month for his 25 years as a swordsmith.
This is the age where swords were not used on the battlefield but as a tool for revenge and assassination, despite being called the era of peace.
The Forty-Seven Ronin
The Loyal Retainers of Ako or better known as the Forty-Seven Ronin have conquered the raid they conducted with the use of swords. These warriors spent tons of hours secretly training and producing their own protective gear.
In the year 1703, a vindictive Samurai warrior started a raid on an Edo mansion. The reason behind the attack was that they blamed the mansion owner for the death of their master. This is the most brutal sword fights of the period. When it comes to sword fighting, both parties were highly-skilled.
Edo: The Shogun’s Territory
Aside from revengeful planned attacks by the Samurai, Edo is full of spontaneous attacks wherein they ambush rivals at the crossroads; or the likelihood of drunk men brawling in the street & carrying unsheathed swords.
Edo is full of Samurai who stays at the barracks which were assigned to their Daimyo. The government mandates the Samurai to reside in the city for the majority of the year. Notably, the townsmen and Samurai were usually fighting, which why it is a challenge to keep the peace in the Shogun’s town. The sword fights are a result of gambling, debts or women.
The Shogun issues a warning to the Tosa Daimyo, stating that if a man is dispatched outside their barracks, he should be pursued by the Tosa Samurai. These Samurai are the only ones permitted to kill him if he’s not able to surrender his sword.
Tons of Samurai lived on a fixed stipend. As a result, they are incapable of getting promoted due to the fact that the Age of Warring States is done. As a result, they are unable to maintain their social status in which the Katana was their badge, to the extent that some traded their swords to live. Some pawned their blades and rather used bamboo weapons inside their scabbards.
However, the people who dearly cling to their Samurai tradition, greatly opposes this law. There are some Samurai who still linger on keeping their traditions and skills by continual practice at the sword fighting academies.
Approaching the 1850s, the best students in the academies have geared towards the extremist groups in the uproar of Japan’s political divide.
Peace Turned Into Conflict
During the influx of foreigners in Japan, it had caused diffusion of people’s opinions. One party prefer to clean up the foreigners in Japan and resorted to the Katana as an accessory to the law. Meanwhile, the opposite party prefers the official policy of the Shogun which is of openness.
The Katana is utilized in successive attacks on the pro-foreigners party. The disagreement had caused conflict and in return, the Shogun also became brutal.
In the year 1868, the Boshin War started in northern Japan (the emperor’s supporters versus the Shogun’s army). When the Shonai army attacked the region of Kubot fief, the defenders captured the weaponry and armory from the storehouses of families. On the other hand, they reversed positions in the Kariwano battle.
This civil war confirmed the emperor’s restoration but the expulsion of foreigners did not happen. As a result, Japan became a modernized country.
In the year 1876, the Haitorei edict banned carrying weapons on the streets of Japan. The sword industry crashed overnight. However, the use of Katana is only for particular authorities, such as the police. Meanwhile, Kendo was integrated into police training.
Swords in the Early 20th Century
An upturn on the sword industry during the start of the 20th century was seen. The swords during this period were called Gunto. It is oil-tempered steel with a serial number. It is shorter than the Shinto and Shinshinto blades.
The military swords were Gendaito, made in a traditional way, unlike the Gunto.
The tradition of sword making kept going due to the determination and hard work of authentic swordsmiths. The most remarkable sword maker was Gassan Sadakatsu and Gassan Sadakazu. The swordsmiths created exquisite works for Japan’s high ranking officials and the Emperor.
In the year 1934, the Japanese government announced a specification for military sword production called Shin Gunto or the new army sword. The first version of this sword was the Type 94 Katana.
At the end of World War II, the armed forces of Japan got dissolved. Banning the use of Katana with edges was implemented, except for government and police use.
Invalidation of the law banning Katana was by Dr. Homma Junji, through meeting General Douglas MacArthur. Dr. Homma, a notable man in the sword making industry, insisted that the Japanese blades are pure weapons and have artistic merit.
On 1958, there were more authentic Japanese swords in America than in Japan.
Modern Sword Making
Swordsmiths gradually merged in producing swords for civilian rather than the military. Modern-day Katana forging is strictly made according to the traditional process which is known as Shinsakuto. When translated, it means newly-made swords or Shinken. The Shinken sword is for combat which is different than the ones used for Iato training swords.
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