Swords have always been a big deal in Japan. Japanese swords, or nihontō (日本刀) are one of the most highly sought after types of swords in the world today. A sword was even involved with the mythological creation of Japan. The Japanese sun goddess of the universe Amaterasu gave her grandson Ninigi the legendary sword Kusanagi (along with a mirror and jewel) when he was sent down to Earth to plant rice in Japan. But what makes these legendary swords so awesome? And who if anyone is making them today? Korehira Watanabe, that’s who.
Korehira Watanabe has the kind of passion and dedication you can’t help but respect. He is not only doing what he loves, but he is doing it for his country, for the Japanese people, and for tradition. He is keeping the ancient Japanese sword-making spirit alive. From an early age he knew what he wanted to do and he never gave up on that dream. Despite protests from his family (he was more or less disowned for his career choices), he followed his own path and ultimately succeeded in his endeavors. He is truly an inspiration.
Korehira Watanabe is one of the last thirty traditional sword makers left in Japan today. He has been painstakingly perfecting his craft for the past forty years but only in the last five has he really started to achieve results acceptable to him.
Many traditional craftsmen respond to modern times when handing down his craft. But the essence of the tradition suffers in doing so. I think it is meaningless to carry on the tradition that way.He is attempting to recreate the legendary craftsmanship found in Koto swords from the Heian and Kamakura periods (794-1333 AD). This is nearly impossible to do because there are no blueprints or directions for making these swords and it’s not exactly possible for him to reverse engineer them. But these overwhelming odds have not slowed him down in the slightest. Even after forty years of hard work, Korehira Watanabe is still going strong with no signs of slowing down.
Recently he believes he has managed to create a few swords that match the quality of Koto swords, however. The art of true Japanese Shinken (lit. real sword) is in danger of dying out and Korehira Watanabe is striving to keep it alive.