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Japanese Swords

Romance alone would not have made the blade an object of interest
to the positive mind, attracted by the efficiency of the weapon, by its
qualities qua sword, by the marvellous skill evinced in its forging, in
the shaping of its harmonious curves. Further, the blade presented a
characteristic temper; unlike the European swords evenly tempered
throughout, it had a mere edge of great hardness backed by enough
softer metal to ensure toughness, and to allow bending in preference
to snapping when the sword blow met an unexpected resistance.
Then it was realised that all those characteristic peculiarities required
study, for they presented variations of appearance intimately
associated with the various swordsmiths, with the periods, the
schools. How numerous those smiths were may be guessed, but it
may come as a surprise to some, that over 11,000 names are
recorded in one book alone.
To study a blade and appreciate its points is a matter of considerable
interest, the various portions of the blade have their names and their
peculiarities; one must pay attention to every part of the body, of its
edge, of the handle, etc., and with practice an expert may become
able to recognise the technique and style of a smith by the
peculiarities of the blade, silent witnesses left in the metal itself. Thus,
in Japan, the Honami
[Pg 3]
family of sword experts were professionally engaged for over 350
years in examining and certifying blades.
In feudal days a man's life was at his lord's call, and he might never
feel sure that the following day would not be his last, either in fight or
by self infliction under orders of the death penalty for some breach,
however slight, of the stiff code of Samurai etiquette. Hence his
sword was selected and cared for, its edge must be keen enough to
cut a man's head at a blow, leaving, if skilfully done, a shred of skin
on the throat for the head to hang on the breast.
His sword was tested, sometimes officially by cutting up corpses, and
thus we come across blades on the tang of which is inscribed a
statement that it cut one or two or even three bodies at a blow. No
sword in Europe ever came through such an ordeal; indeed, it is
doubtful whether its shape and constitution would have allowed a