Mixed Plate: Breathing life into the ancient katana

Our earliest ancestors knew that survival depended on a combination of brains and brawn.

Since the Bronze Age, humankind learned the value of using earth, fire, and water in the invention of weapons.

One of the greatest films ever made, Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” gave westerners their first glimpse of feudal Japanese weaponry.

Today, the samurai are gone, but the katana lives on. The legendary survival tool is still made in Okayama, Japan.

The birth of a new sword is a process that takes up to seven years.

Mixed Plate visited Bizen Osafune Japanese Sword Museum in Setouchi City to find out how.

“Half of the certified National Treasure katana come from here,” said Takayoshi Enomoto, Bizen Osafune Token Village. “We take earth, forge it with fire, temper it with water over and over again until the metal takes shape. Then it is polished with eight different kinds of whetstones. Everything is done by hand.”

For the grip, swordmakers go to the sea, gluing stingray skin to the jilt and securing it with leather or cord for a steadfast grip.

The diamond pattern requires hours of meticulous weaving to create a precise symmetry over the stingray skin.

An engraver then adorns the blade and scabbard with family crests, scenes of battle, or images of plants and animals.

Want one? Start saving your yen. The simplest will cost a collector at least a million yen, or about $10,000.

“Each sword has its own look and personality. In this art, we preserve our history and dedication to ancient craftsmanship,” said Takayoshi.

Just as gun owners must register in America, sword owners in Japan must register with the government, even though few katana are ever used.

Watch the premiere of “Mixed Plate: Season of Gold” Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 9:30 p.m. on KHON2.

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