“The Art of the Japanese Sword” is an extensive tour through the methods of sword creation, preservation, and appreciation. More than that, it is a celebration of the creativity and dedication of a culture in refining a tool of war into an implement of extreme philosophical and aesthetic beauty.
In this review I would like to present the contents of the book as well as its pros and cons as a title. I will give my opinions on whether or not it is worth the investment, and provide links for those interested in learning more.
What’s In the Book?
This book is broken up into five major sections exploring different aspects of the Japanese sword. The sections are as follows:
* Kansho – Appreciating the sword
* Rekishi – History
* Tamahagane and the Tatara – Traditional steel making
* Sakuto – Making the sword
* Finishing the Sword – Polishing, habaki, and saya
Japanese martial arts are known for their extreme attention to detail and extensive usage of etiquette. The katana is the most revered of all weapons and as such features no shortage of etiquette in its handling. Many people do not realize that even in the viewing of a blade there are correct and incorrect methods of handling. These subtle matters are important philosophically as attention to them reflects a person’s own character and understanding of the art of the sword. Small etiquette techniques can also help the viewer in comprehending minor but important details in the sword itself, such as weight, balance, construction method, reflectivity, and more. The first chapter is entirely dedicated to educating the reader on these matters.
The rest of the chapters are just as detailed in their coverage. High quality pictures are used throughout to add historical context to the work as well as demonstrate to the reader the differences in sword construction described by the expert authors Yoshindo Yoshihara, Leon Kapp, and Hiroko Kapp.
All aspects of the katana, down to the most minute portions of the blade and furniture, are done with careful attention. By comparing and contrasting the different styles, “The Art of the Japanese Sword” provides the reader with a rare glimpse into the painstaking precision of the sword making process.
Book Pros and Cons
Pros: This book spares no expense in terms of production quality. It utilizes a thick paper stock and glossy print due to the high number of images. Many of the images are generously sized and in clear resolution, making this one of the most visually interesting books ever made on the Japanese sword. The design and structure of the information presented is also well done, utilizing easy to read fonts and digestable organization. A book with this much content could easily become overwhelming or boring, but this book manages to avoid those issues through clever usage of color and images.
The level of informational detail is probably the strongest aspect of this book. I have personally been studying Kenjutsu for about eight years and there are a lot of details and subtleties brought up in this text that I was not fully aware of. It was enlightening and a resource that I suspect I will come back to frequently as my understanding of the Japanese sword continues to grow.
Cons: The level of detail in this book may be considered overwhelming or tedious by some. This book is not a thrilling adventure, filled with stories of Samurai and test cuts that penetrate multiple bodies. This book does not deal much in the intrigue and mysticism that draws many people toward the Samurai. That being said, if you are interested in the nitty gritty details of hours upon hours of extreme focus and labor that goes into the creation of a sword, this book will show you the way.
Final Thoughts and Where to Buy
Most of my martial arts books are used for research and personal development. I mark them up, put sticky notes in them, and otherwise abuse them. Not this book. I find myself handling “The Art of the Japanese Sword” very gingerly, carefully scrolling through pages as I appreciate the images and information. I realize now the intentional effort put into this title – it’s own beauty and refinement reflecting the nature of its source material. I intend to have this book on display either in my home or in my dojo.
The price point is, in my opinion, very reasonable for the quality of the book. If you are a Kenjutsu lover, someone looking to understand the fine details of sword construction and etiquette, this book might be for you. Click the link below to learn more: