Category Archive 'Japanese Sword'
14 Sep 2019

Katsujin-ken Satsujin-to

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In dojos offering training in kendo and aikido, the above phrase written in the grass script on a scroll is commonly hung for purposes of admonition and inspiration.

These Japanese radicals are pronounced Katsujin-ken Satsujin-to (sometimes, Katsujinken satsujinken) meaning “The sword which kills is the sword which gives life.”

They are often rendered more explicitly in English as “The sword which cuts down evil is the sword which preserves life.”

This adage is attributed to the masters of Yagyu school, the Tokugawa shoguns’ personal instructors in swordsmanship.

And those Yagyu school sword sensei-s were right. The rightful use of weapons is essential in an imperfect world to defend innocent lives against unjust violence.

A wider commitment to skill at arms and a more common readiness to defend the innocent would be infinitely more effective at saving the lives of victims of attacks by madmen and criminals than a totalitarian program attempting to enforce universal disarmament.

Katsu-tempo satsu-tempo.

In case after mass shooting case, a gun in the hands of the right bystander could have been the gun which destroyed evil and the gun which preserved life.

The latest couple of manifestations of a trend fostered by devoted media coverage and attention resulted again in all the typical expressions of the phobic attitudes of members of our over-domesticated, metrosexual intelligentsia toward firearms.

Guns are regarded as detestable and intrinsically dangerous objects which need to be kept under official control at all times, ideally in bank vaults. Their complete removal from American society is so unquestionably desirable that even house-to-house searches, and the shredding of the Bill of Rights, would be a perfectly acceptable price.

Obviously, this kind of policy proposal represents not a practical response to a real problem, but rather an irrational and emotional outburst, indifferent to benefits and costs, oblivious to process and law, expressive of an overwhelming combination of fear and aversion so profound as to dispense completely with practicality, proportionality, and cause and effect.

This kind of hostility toward firearms, this hoplophobia, needs to be recognized as the kind of irrationalism that it is.

In a sane society, familiarity and skill with arms, possession of the ability to defend oneself and others would be looked upon as essential components of every man’s education.

(A revised posting from 2007.)

26 May 2018

“A Long Way From Home”

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26 Jan 2018

Kasuga Taisha Sword Polished and on Display

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Paul Martin reports that the important sword discovered hidden in the ceiling of the Kasuga Taisha shrine in Nara has been polished by a member of the Hon’ami family and is ready to be displayed.

An important twelfth-century Japanese sword, discovered hidden in the ceiling during a 1939 refurbishment of the treasure house at Kasuga Taisha shrine in Nara, will now be put on display.

The sword appears to be in very good condition, showing little evidence of use and remains close to its original state. After repolishing and appraisal, it has been attributed to the Ko-Hoki School. The accompanying Kuro-urushi- yamagane (black lacquered mountain iron) tachi mountings are thought to date from the fourteenth century. The sword is believed to have been dedicated to the shrine sometime during the Nanboku-cho (1336-1392) and early Muromachi (1336-1573) periods.

The blade is unsigned, but as it bears a close resemblance to the famous Doji-giri sword in the Tokyo National Museum by the Ko-Hoki mastersmith Yasutsuna, and it is thought that it could be his work as well. The Doji-giri is known historically as one of the Five Greatest Swords Under Heaven. Motoki Sakai of the Tokyo National Museum said that the sword discovered at Kasuga Taisha “is a very important example of work of the period in excellent condition.”


21 Apr 2017


27 Aug 2014

Isao Machii Selling Toaster Struedels

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Isao Machii is so skilled with the Japanese sword that he can draw his blade and cut a BB fired at him in two.

Even Iaido Masters evidently have to live, unfortunately and so we find the same man cutting up thrown fruit and starring in an inane commercial for Pillsbury. Sploid

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

31 Jul 2014


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In Kendo, you shout “Men!” as you strike at the head.

Hat tip to Madame Scherzo.

08 Jun 2014

“The Sword of Doom” (1966)

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Hat tip to Ratak Monodosico.

19 May 2014

New Word for Today: Kirareyaku

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Seizo Fukumoto carves his way through a wall of human flesh, dragging an unconscious chick behind him.

A kirareyaku is an actor who portrays the unfortunate victim of a samurai sword cut. The word means literally “acting cut.” Other translations include: “chopped up actor” and “the role of being slashed.”

Seizo Fukumoto has carved out, as it were, an impressive career as victim of the Japanese sword.


Fukumoto’s career spans a half century, originating in the postwar heyday of Japanese cinema. Since then, he has gushed forth rivers of fake blood and been cut to ribbons that would stretch for miles. He has been killed on screen more than 50,000 times — more than once in some films.

In the postwar era, period dramas, including samurai films, were an important form of thinly veiled criticism of modern society and institutions. But such obliqueness is no longer necessary.

Now 69, Fukumoto recalls landing his first job in the movies as a stuntman and extra with Toei studios in 1959.

“When I was younger, our studio had some 400 stuntmen and extras,” he remembers. “I wanted to stand out. I wanted to be on screen. The best way to do that was to become a ‘chopped-up actor’ and to fight with the stars.”

Fukumoto’s art is known in Japanese as tate, a stylized sort of stage combat that combines elements of martial arts, dance and kabuki theater. Its use in Japanese film has influenced foreign cinematic styles from “spaghetti Westerns” to Hong Kong kung fu flicks. But few Japanese actors practice it today.

In a trademark move, Fukumoto is dealt a fatal blow, then bends over backward, seemingly suspended in midair for a moment of final agony before crumpling to the ground. He says his movements have an awkward grotesqueness to them; it’s called buzama in Japanese.

“Whenever we die, we have to do it in a way that is unsightly or clumsy, not graceful,” Fukumoto explains. “In this buzama, we find beauty. To die in an uncool way is the coolest.”

He’s never been the leading man, but Fukumoto has still managed to attract a large and loyal international following. But despite his fame, his career as professional sword fodder is almost by definition self-effacing.
Fukumoto in one of the numerous period costume dramas he has acted in for the Toei Company’s film studios since he began work there in 1959.

“I’m not a great traditional artist or craftsman,” he insists modestly. “It’s just that I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and I want to pass on something of my chanbara technique to the younger generation.”


The Wall Street Journal reports that Fukumoto-san will soon be appearing in a starring role.

A true kirareyaku is one who can make viewers cringe in their seats, “the one that can make them ask, ‘Is he OK?’ ” Mr. Fukumoto said.

The 71-year-old thespian got into acting at age 15 and soon became fascinated with playing the antagonist on screen. At night, on his futon, he would ponder flashier ways to drop dead in a sword fight. One of his signature moves is the “ebi-zori,” or prawn bend, in which after being struck, he arches his body backward like a prawn, then goes into convulsions, twitching and grasping before dying.

“The way my characters die has a huge impact on the impression the lead character gives in a film,” Mr. Fukumoto wrote in a 2012 essay. Ebi-zori is the perfect way to go, in his opinion, because the camera can remain focused on the hero’s gallantry while the kirareyaku actor also gains screen time by turning his face toward the audience as he falls dead.

Now, after being cut up by swords thousands of times, Mr. Fukumoto is getting his chance for the spotlight in a movie that opens in Japan in July. “Uzumasa Limelight,” will be the first film in his career in which he plays the lead role.

“I kept refusing the offer initially, telling them I couldn’t do it. It was a crazy idea,” Mr. Fukumoto said. “I was nervous once the filming started as well. I’d never had so many cameras set up right in front of me and focusing only on me.”

Before his latest movie, one of Mr. Fukumoto’s biggest roles was appearing in the 2003 Tom Cruise film “The Last Samurai,” playing a taciturn swordsman.

“This time around I had lots of my own lines, which I’d blow so often and cause trouble for my co-stars,” Mr. Fukumoto said.

The quasi-autobiographical “Uzumasa Limelight,” directed by Ken Ochiai, is a story about a retiring kirareyaku who befriends a young actress played by Chihiro Yamamoto.

Mr. Fukumoto’s character mentors the aspiring actress, whose dream is to become a samurai movie star.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

24 Jan 2014

Sword-Related Japanese Sayings

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A great collection from Markus Sesko:

jigane ga deru (地鉄が出る) – Literally “the steel appears,” for example when a blade is polished so often that the shingane appears or the jigane shows more unrefined areas. As a saying, it means “to reveal one´s true character.”

Hat tip to John Antony Scott.

23 Jul 2013

The Tiger of Malaya’s Sword

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Gendai-to made in 1929 by Ikkansai Kasama Shigetsugu, formerly owned by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, Conqueror of Singapore, “The Tiger of Malaya.”

Yesterday, one of the correspondents on a Japanese sword email list shared this current commercial offering.

The sword was once carried by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, one of the most successful Japanese commanders of WWII, who captured Malaya and Singapore and who received the largest surrender of British forces on history. General Yamashita was hanged in 1946 for war crimes committed under his command for which many thought he bore no real personal responsibility.

The sword was made in 1929 by Ikkansai Kasama Shigetsugu, arguably the most important and influential swordsmith of the Showa period.

Slightly edited excerpt from Paul Martin’s The Yoshihara Tradition:

Kurihara Hikosaburo (Akihide) [charged with reviving the craft of swordmaking by the Japanese Prime Minister] invited one of the most famous smiths of the period, Ikkansai Kasama Shigetsugu, to become the chief instructor of Nipponto Tanren Denshu Jo (Japanese Sword Forging Institute) on the grounds of his estate in Akasaka, Tokyo. Shigetsugubecame perhaps the most influential smith to teach there in its entire history, and had the greatest impact on students and teachers alike.

Shigetsugu, born Kasama Yoshikazu on April 1, 1886 in Shizuoka, started his apprenticeship under his uncle Miyaguchi Shigetoshi in 1899. In 1903 he entered the Tokiwamatsu Token Kenkyujo, on the estate of Toyama Mitsuru, to study under Morioka Masayosh. Later he went on to study metallurgy whilst collaborating with Dr. Tawara Kuniichi in formal research on the composition of
Japanese swords. Tazawa built a special laboratory in Tokyo University for the project. The results were published in a book called Nihonto no Kagakuteki Kenkyu (Scientific Research of the Japanese Sword), which remains to this day a definitive scientific work on the subject.

Shigetsugu worked mainly in the Bizen and Soshu traditions of swordmaking, which influenced many of the Denshujo’s students’ later work.

The sword has an origami (authentication paper) from the NBTHK (Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kai), the premier Japanese sword preservation and study society, testifying to its correct attribution and awarding it a rank of HOZON – “Worthy of Preservation.”

Origami ranks are commonly awarded in a step-by-step process, and it seems likely to me that this sword could very possibly receive higher rankings if re-submitted.

The asking price is 2,800,000 JPY, roughly equal to $28,000.

22 Mar 2011

Reactor Containment Chambers and Samurai Swords

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Ogata Gekkō, Heian swordsmith Munechika, aided by the kami Inari, forging the blade Ko-Gitsune Maru (“Little Fox”), 1873

George Monbiot (the original moonbat), the very last person in the world whom you would ever expect to become pro-nuke, says that events in Fukushima have caused him to stop worrying and love nuclear power.

You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.


The effectiveness of the containment at Fukushima is based on single-piece steel containment chambers, built by Japan Steel Works, (株式会社日本製鋼所, Kabushikigaisya Nihon Seikōsho), a steel manufacturer founded in Muroran, Hokkaidō, Japan in 1907, which traces its technological heritage directly back to the native Japanese steel-making tradition which produced the Japanese samurai sword.

Justin Hyde:

As fears rise in Japan about nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant, the first and best line of defense are the reactor’s six inch thick steel-walled chambers, made by a company that still forges samurai swords by hand.

Japan Steel Works is the world’s only volume builder of nuclear reactor vessels, the steel container that holds radioactive fuel, and in case of a meltdown, prevents that fuel from leaking and triggering a catastrophe. Founded in 1907 and rebuilt following World War II, it supplied nearly all of the vessels used in Japan’s 54 nuclear power plants, including the containers at the Fukushima Daiichi plants designed by General Electric and Toshiba.

While those vessels were made from steel plates bolted and welded together, modern designs require Japan Steel Works to forge containers from a single ingot that can weigh up to 600 tons. It’s a slow process that takes months at a time, using the company’s 14,000-ton press to shape a special steel alloy that’s been purified to maximize its strength. These methods also minimize seams that can give way in case of a meltdown, where nuclear fuel can reach 2,000 degrees Celsius.

Although Japan Steel Works is a major corporation with 5,000 employees, it also maintains a samurai sword blacksmith, in a small shack on a hill above the factory in Muroran, where a single craftsman still hammers steel into broadswords, as the company has done since 1917.


Japan Steel Works founded its smithy in 1918 by recruiting Taneaki Horii, whose teacher Taneyoshi Horii (c. 1820-1903), had studied under Gassan Sadayoshi (1800-1870), founder of the Osaka Gassan school, and under Taikei Naotane (c. 1777-1857).

Naotane was himself the pupil of Suishinshi Masahide (1750-1825) of Edo, the founder of the Shinshinto (New Revival) period of sword-making. Masahide criticized the showiness and practical defects of the Shinto sword, and advocated the building instead of the fukko-to, “the Restoration sword,” by returning to the sword-making techniques and styles of the Heian and Kamakura periods.


Current master Horii Tanetada making a sword and a tour of the Zuisen Sword Smithy


Horii swords displayed at exhibition hall

06 Jan 2009

Japanese Swordsmiths’ Annual Exhibition 2009


Held at the Yasukuni Shrine during New Year’s holiday.

8:00 video

Hat tip to Paul Martin.

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