The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Friday, November 30, 2018

The Sword is the Soul

At Nippon.com, there was an interview with a famous contemporary Japanese swordsmith, Miyairi Norihiro. The full interview may be read here, with follow up photos here. An excerpt is below.

For centuries, Japan’s warrior class revered the Japanese sword as the “soul of the samurai” and symbol of their dominant place in society. The Meiji Restoration of 1868, though, removed the samurai from power and the promulgation of the Sword Abolishment Edict (haitōrei) stripped them of their arms, bringing an end to the once-common sight of warriors strutting about with their swords at their waists.
Although many traditional arts associated with the samurai have disappeared, the production of Japanese swords has persevered. Today there are around 350 swordsmiths, and enthusiasts in Japan and around the world continue to admire Japanese swords as works of art and exemplars of an age-old tradition of craftsmanship. One of the best-known swordsmiths today is Miyairi Norihiro, a master whose commissions include ceremonial swords (goshinpō) used during Shintō ceremonies at Ise Shrine and exact replicas of historic swords for the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. We recently sat down with Miyairi to learn about why the Japanese sword continues to exert such a powerful hold over people’s imaginations.
INTERVIEWER  You come from a long line of swordsmiths. How did you develop your unique approach to sword making?
MIYAIRI NORIHIRO There are several traditions of Japanese sword-making, each with its own distinct style. Famous examples include the Sōshu and Bizen traditions. My family all the way down to my grandfather and father belonged to the Sōshu school. But when I began my apprenticeship in my twenties I studied under Sumitani Masamine, a living national treasure who was a master Bizen swordsmith. He was a true artist who could create a distinctive clove-like hamon pattern on the blade. This pattern is now known as the Sumitani chōji [cloves] hamon in his honor. I was fascinated by his creativity, which far exceeded any other swordsmith. But the world of Japanese artisans is very conservative. Leaving a family tradition and apprenticing with a master from a different school was unheard of, and many people at the time regarded me as a kind of heretic for breaking the unspoken rules of conduct.
I studied for five years under Sumitani and for nine years with my father before establishing my own forge in the city of Tōmi in Nagano Prefecture. I received the mukansa qualification [meaning “exempt from examination,” it is the mark of a master craftsman] when I was 39, the youngest person at the time to do so. But as I entered my fifties, normally the prime of life for a swordsmith, I became seriously ill. I made up my mind that if I recovered I would not be shackled by traditions or schools.
My family has been making swords in the same tradition since the middle of the nineteenth century, but I broke away and become something of a lone wolf. My swords combine differing traditions with novel elements, and I think that fusion appeals to many of people.

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