Japan is well known for its high-quality swords like the katana, tachi and wakizashi. With origins dating back to the country's feudal period, these swords were instrumental in shaping Japan's history. However, there's a particular area in Japan that played a critical role in its bladesmithing craft. Known as the Bizen Province, it was one of the first areas in Japan to begin producing swords using iron.
Bronze Swords in Japan
Before Japan began producing iron and steel swords, it made bronze swords by pouring molten bronze into molds. Once the mold cooled, the hardened sword-shaped metal was removed and assembled into a sword. This changed, however, with the advent of iron. Bladesmiths found that forging swords out of iron -- rather than casting them out of bronze -- resulted in stronger, more durable blades. And shortly thereafter, bladesmiths discovered that adding carbon to iron resulted in an even stronger metal: steel.
Iron Swords in the Bizen Province
Located on the Inland Sea-facing coast of Japan 's Honshu Island, Bizen Providence greatly influenced the region's bladesmithing craft. The area's soil contained high levels of carbon thanks to the presence of volcanic ash, making it ideal for use in swords. Bizen Providence also had plenty of water, allowing bladesmiths to perform differential heat treatment by quenching their swords in water.
According to some reports, Bizen Providence was the only area in Japan to produce swords nonstop from Japan's Heian Period to its Edo Period. A local community called Osafune here became the home to many esteemed Japanese bladesmiths. These bladesmiths not only produced more swords than those in other regions; they produced higher-quality swords. Because of this, Bizen Province has since become known as being Japan's capital for bladesmithing.
Bizen Province During the Kamakura Period
Sword production in the Bizen Providence peaked during Japan's Kamakura Period. From the katana and wakizashi to the tanto and tachi, countless high-quality swords were produced here during this time. These weren't just ordinary swords with generic designs. Rather, they were characterized by an unparalleled attention to detail and superior quality.
During Japan's Kamakura Period, a new branch of swordmaking known as the Ko-Bizen school emerged. Founded by bladesmith Tomonari, it taught aspiring bladesmiths how to produce high-quality swords using iron-rich sand and carbon. You can now find many of these swords on display at various Japanese museums, including the Tokyo National Museum.