Katana (刀) or the Japanese Sword

 

Karate class adventures

Today we joined Katada Sensei (my karate teacher at iCLA) on a little adventure to one of his friends in Kofu!  Katada Takashi has been more than just a teacher to me. Over the year that I have known him, he has taught me many things to do with the overall culture and Etiquette of Japan.

When we first met I would say I was somewhat boisterous or rather excited about being in Japan and studying martial arts with a World Champion.   Not speaking very good English we developed a sense of communication through, me talking and him agreeing with everything I said… Joking of course, (this did happen a lot though) the communication came through the dojo and practice karate. Growing a mutual respect for one another benefited, practically for Philip and myself in many ways. On many occasion we have been invited by Katada to events or trips and also to join the karate training with his team, (they’re all 3 dan and upward, training for the 2020 Olympics) which is pretty unheard of for two foreign novices.

P.s for those of you know don’t know what that is, here it is put in simple terms by ‘Our’ Philip – “if you are proud of your driver’s license, they’re like fighter pilots.” or my personal favorite “If you have no badges, they have 10.”

Katada for those of who know him is not only a master in karate but a keen connaisseur of everything Japanese.  Dedicating all free time to learning things like Sado, Iaido and the rest of his time to his young family. We have gained experiences in these fields because of Katada, in both Sado (or the tea ceremony) and Iaido (or drawing the sword) on a regular basis. Just two weeks ago we were able to try using a live blade for the first time thanks to Katada.

 

 

Because of these experiences, he asked both Philip and I if we would like to see how the katana are made. Of course, we jumped at the opportunity to see a swordsmith working metal!! Que today’s adventure!

 

Kofu’s Secret Sword Smith – Ito Shigemitsu

Not really sure if it’s a secret or not but it sounds more provocative don’t you think?

We jumped in the car and drove 20 minutes south of the campus and arrive at Ito Shigemitsu’s workshop/home. We introduced ourselves in the Japanese fashion of lots of bowing and saying your name. Then it was sword time!!

 

DSC_0316DSC_0373DSC_0374DSC_0395

 

He showed us first of all the raw materials for making the swords. Japan, of course, is an island with limited raw materials. They weren’t blessed, like many other places around the world with iron ore, so they had to get inventive. They were able to extract it from sand that was rich in iron like this.

 

DSC_0318

 

Of course, this made the process very time-consuming and costly. Spending several days over a charcoal furnaces (like the one shown below) the sand is spread over the top where it heats up and the iron sinks to the bottom and collects in a trough.  This is a very delicate process, the furnace needs to be kept at a constant temperature to avoid the iron spoiling and the sand being spread evenly to ensure optimum quality. After the firing, you are left with a slab of iron and other impurities. This is then broken and sorted into different groups, some are used for the softer core of the katana and others for the harder exterior.

 

DSC_0319DSC_0320DSC_0338DSC_0324

 

It is then heated, hammered and folded. This is what gives the katana its edge over other swords from around the world. This process is necessary to extract any impurities within the metal and to align the carbon, making it extremely strong. As the metal block is folded it creates lots of small layers, within the steel, giving it a pattern or skin. Of course, every sword smiths pattern is unique as they have their own individual way of folding the metal.

 

DSC_0383DSC_0365DSC_0367DSC_0368DSC_0385DSC_0392DSC_0393DSC_0399DSC_0359DSC_0401DSC_0412DSC_0413DSC_0414DSC_0416

 

The block is folded once more, only this time, a softer piece of iron is added (with a lower carbon content) to the harder steel exterior. The softer interior will eventually be hammered down and become the edge of the blade. Then it is heated and hammered into a rod that is the desired length for the sword.

 

DSC_0344DSC_0342

 

The reason for the soft centre and hard exterior has to do with strength and durability of the sword. The soft centre makes the blade flexible so your stupidly expensive sword won’t crack and break. The hard exterior is for strength, it still needs to pack a punch when you are chopping off heads, right? 

 

Then the rod is hammered on one side for the signature style single blade, this also is where the katana gets its curve. As only one side is made thinner the single piece of steel stretches on the blade side and contracts on the other giving it the curve you see. Then the blade is given a rough polish and coated in clay and heated once more to 800oC. This gives the blade its signature Hammon (or pattern/wavy line), then it is dropped into a bath of cold water dropping the temperature rapidly hardening the outer steal.

 

DSC_0468DSC_0352

 

Then comes the rigorous task of polishing and sharpening, this is normally done by a professional sharpener taking weeks of even months to perfect.

 

DSC_0398DSC_0397

 

Then we got to try out one of his swords. It was like getting a gun and shooting cans on a white picket fence in the wild west only, Japanese style. So with a katana, a wooden block, and a vending machine coffee can, oh and the aim was to slice it in half.

 

DSC_0358

 

Then Philip suggested we do some gardening and why not cut the tree’s (joking, of course,) trust the Japanese to take him seriously.

 

DSC_0467DSC_0465DSC_0458DSC_0457

Left the corner a little bare…

DSC_0471

 

Shigemitsu showed us some photos of an Australian group coming to visit his workshop. They got two swords and by striking them together were able to make sparks fly. Then he asked if we would like to try recreating this, Philip of course, jumped at the chance of destroying a ¥1,000,000 (or about 10,000 US Dollars) katana. To his dismay it was of course not the expensive katana we would be using but two blanks that were yet to be sharpened fully (still worth a shit load of money). Then Katada and Philip proceeded to destroy these two swords while I failed to capture the sparks on my camera… Gomen Shigemitsu gomen…

 

DSC_0450DSC_0439DSC_0454DSC_0446

There was actually some sparks, I just didn’t get it in time…

 

After breaking two swords we went inside to look at the real deal. Shigemitsu told us how his family had been making Katana for hundreds of years. He then produced this smaller blade and hand guard.

 

DSC_0428DSC_0427DSC_0434DSC_0430

 

These turned out to be over 300 years old made in the Edo Period by his great-grandfather! Absolutely amazing, the history and what beautiful pieces of craftsmanship.

Then he showed us one of his more recent works.

DSC_0435DSC_0424

This is the 1 Million yen jobbie right here… What an honor to even see such amazing pieces, let alone touch and swing them about!

 

What an experience, thanks, Ito Shigemitsu and of course Katada sensei!

 

Thanks for reading/looking!

Hope you enjoyed it!

Stephen

 

Poor guy was right back on the wheel as soon as we left, fixing those swords no doubt.

DSC_0455

 

Advertisements

Shingen Ko Festival! – 信玄公祭り (しんげんこうまつり)

‘The Largest Gathering of Samurai’ – Guinness World Records, April 2012.

 

As you have seen in earlier posts in the build up to the samurai parade we have been working very hard to prepare and finish the armour in time.

 

 

 

A short video of the coming up to the parade and the post about making the samurai armour.

https://lifesofar.org/2016/04/04/making-samurai-armour/

https://lifesofar.org/2016/04/07/homemade-samurai-armour-part-2-helmet/

The Big day – 9/4/16

 

After the long wait, it’s time to finally march in the Parade!  Held here in Kofu the city of my study year abroad. Convenient I hear you say…

 

 

The plan was to wake up nice and early, get the armour on and head into Kofu city centre on the train for the start of the parade.  All was going well with only a few costume hick ups, noting that the master craftsmen couldn’t fix with ease though!

After an hour or two of everyone getting ready, some worry worts putting on diapers, we made our way to the train station.

Diapers I hear you ask, yes diapers… Someone had the bright idea of telling everyone that the parade would last a long time and there would be no toilet breaks. Their solution was to wear a diaper (or 3, literally 3).  Don’t worry I can put your minds at rest and tell you that there were no accidents and everyone got home with a dry bum. Or at least I think they did?

 

IMG_5293

 

Of course, everyone in Yamanashi knows about the parade, but that didn’t stop the funny looks as we made our way to the train station.

The Parade Route

We started at the Prefectural office and marched through the streets to the castle for the opening ceremony.

 

dsbksfIMG_1368

 

After marching to Kofu Castle we sat down on the green and listened to the opening ceremony! Then it was time for the full parade, marching around the city centre and off to battle we went.

 

IMG_1364Bendik Aarsæther

She thinks that’s bad, try living beside him.. 😉

IMG_1370IMG_13734038IMGP0297IMG_1385

 

We had the great honour of being allowed to take part in the parade itself, but as if that wasn’t enough we also got to march with this man in our group!

 

IMG_1366

Kuninobu Takeda ’16th Generation descendant of Takeda Shingen’

One of the only living decedents of Takeda Shingen. Talk about amazing!

 

IMG_1365IMGP0329_01.jpg46IMG_1350IMGP0317

Some of the other performances during the parade.

IMG_138139IMGP0266IMGP0305IMG_1374

 

After a few more hours of walking we were back to the starting point and it was time to grab a quick bento, oh and photos!

 

IMG_7554IMG_7573IMG_7546

 

For obvious reasons I couldn’t take any photos on the day, I have been given permission by everyone to use all of the photos and videos that  you see in this post.

 

Big Thanks

Bendik Aarsæther, BA Productions   ( https://www.facebook.com/baprodnorway/?fref=ts )

Saitoh Naoki, LANDSCAPE FILMS  ( http://amadeus43.wix.com/landscape)

Ellie Parker-Harbord  (@icemonkey65 on Instagram)

Josephine Dryden  (@josiedryden on Instagram)

Yuka Shimazu  (@yuc4t4n on Instagram )

iCLA   (https://www.icla.jp/en/)

Everyone else who helped make this possible

 

IMG_7547

Time to get the armour off and get the beers in! What an amazing day and what an amazing experience!

 

Thanks for reading/looking

Stephen

 

 

 

 

I’ll leave you with this..

output_KOCp76

 

Okinawa – 沖縄県

22/03/16 – 25/03/16

Another weekend trip, this time on one of the famous tropical Japanese Islands!

 

 

Located roughly 600 miles from Honshu (the main island of Japan) this collection of over 150 islands are the tropics of Japan. Famous for their sandy beaches, coral reefs and unique culture, (cue terrible joke) it is quite literally one of the hot spots to visit in Japan!!

 

Not during the rainy season, though we wouldn’t want you to get blown away or washed down the drain!  This starts Late April and ends late June, and of course, we booked our flights for the end of April! Right from the get-go I was very dubious about the trip as the weather forecast was rather daunting…

 

13054387_796223543842303_971736028_o (1)

 

Looks promising right???…

Alas, our flights were booked and off we went to Narita airport to catch are Peach flight to Naha, Okinawa!

Top tip – if you want to save on flights when flying to, from or inside Japan ‘Peach’ and ‘Vanilla Air’ are always having 3/4 day flash sales. You can find out the details by signing up for their email service or make sure to check out their website. 

We arrived in Naha grabbed some water and headed for our apartment via monorail!

 

DSC_0386

 

This was in fact, my first experience on a monorail, I’d be lying if I wasn’t a bit afraid, yes I don’t like heights….

About twenty minutes down the track and we arrived at ‘Omoromachi station’ our stop for our extremely nice and reasonably priced home for the weekend!

Top tip – we booked our apartment on Airbnb this is a great website to find fun, unique, and exciting places to stay in over 34000 cities around the word! This is a great website/app to find places to stay, also it’s often considerably cheaper for what you get, in better locations and more convenient. This is also great to get the real experience of the local area and to see how people from said location life!

If you want to set up an account and receive a £14 discount that you can use on your fist booking use this link! http://www.airbnb.com/c/stephenk98

 

DSC_0399DSC_0401DSC_0395

 

With a great view to boot!

 

DSC_0393

 

We arrived quite late and just grabbed some food in a local restaurant then went for a walk around the area! Outside the monorail station near our house, there is a water/steam/light feature thing. It’s easier if you just see it.

 

 

DSC_0418.jpg

 

Then of course it was off to bed after some local beer and grub!

 

23/03/16

Tokashiki Island

We decided to go on a day trip to one of the many islands that make up Okinawa! Tokashiki island was our port of call for the day. Making our way to the main port in Naha and boarded the ferry to Tokashiki!

 

DSC_0452DSC_0433DSC_0438DSC_0462

 

After docking at Tokashiki Island we went into the port office for some information about the island. Everyone was being ushered onto a bus that was headed for the famous beach on the other side of the island. We decided to walk as the weather was really nice  (but mostly because I had no money). On the way, we saw some forest or you could say nearly jungle on the way across this tropical island, we also got the opportunity to try planting rice. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time and passed up the opportunity (kind of regret it now).

 

DSC_0474DSC_0468DSC_0473DSC_0471DSC_0476DSC_0485DSC_0484

 

We made our way over and back down the other side of the mountain coming across another small village (population of about 50 I’d say). We hit the shore and came to the beach, just wow.  This was one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen!!

 

DSC_0493DSC_0494DSC_0501DSC_0508(1)

 

After walking around for a while and of course doing the very British thing of dipping your feet in and not actually swimming in the water we headed along the beach to a viewing point. The place was just breathtaking and the pictures speak for themselves!

 

DSC_0504IMG_5892

 

 

We headed back to the little village just beside the beach as I quite rapidly turning into a lobster. We were able to grab some food and people spoke really good English, nice and easy for us getting vegetarian food!

 

DSC_0509

 

As I had developed a rather glorious sunburn we decided that (or rather I decided) we should get the bus back to the port instead of walking. We were a little early so decided to have a little cocktail beside the beach before the bus!  It was a long day trip as the boat took 2/3 hours to get there and another 2/3 to get back. The evening was once again spent finding a local restaurant to get some grub and drink some more Orion, (a Japanese beer) by the why I think this is by far the best mainstream (if you can use that term for beer) beer in Japan!

204930051_a585d7b947_z

 

24/03/16

Markets, Shurijo Castle and more Fun Stuff

We started the day bright and early to try and pack in as much as we could! We bought ourselves a day ticket for the monorail as we wanted to pack in as much as possible. (this was great as we went for some food before leaving meaning we bought the ticket after 10am) In case you are wondering the tickets last for 24 hours and they work by the clock not the day so this was perfect for us as we could use it for our ride to the airport in the next morning!

We set off to Shuriojo Castle, making the obligatory stops at vending machines of course.

DSC_0534

 

The castle was set up on top of a hill and was an enjoyable walk up to it from the station and the view was just spectacular over the city!

 

DSC_0523DSC_0520DSC_0514

 

When in the castle they had a stay with people performing 3 or 4 times a day a  dance in the traditional style of Kabuki.

 

DSC_0526DSC_0530

 

After the castle, we thought we would head to a market, but it turned out to be a night one and not very open during the day…

 

DSC_0538

 

So we headed off further down the line to Fukushūen the traditional gardens in Naha. On the way, we walked through the city a little bit and found ourselves  emits a Japanese film/tv festival. Of course, we didn’t have a clue who any of these people were but everyone else was going CRAZY!After fighting through the crowd of people we made our way to the nearest station to get to Fukushūen. Of course we found ourself going through another market this time it was open and there was a traditional Okinawan performance going on!

 

DSC_0541DSC_0548DSC_0551IMG_5901

 

This is when the real magic of a trip happens we were going one way and decided to go another and found the market but more importantly the performance. This style of dance is known as Eisa and is a traditional Okinawan dance performed with live musicans

 

 

3 hours later, we made it to Fukushuen.

 

DSC_0553DSC_0554DSC_0557DSC_0562DSC_0564IMG_5924

 

Even making some buddies along the way. 😉

 

IMG_5941

 

This for me this was one of the real treasures of the trip, it was free, not busy and really very beautiful! With its winding paths, beautiful architecture, wildlife and the waterfall that you could walk through.

 

 

IMG_5921

 

After the park we decided that we would head back, it was time for a nap, some food and I needed to get the frozen towel on my sunburn again. I haven’t actually told you about that yet… (but yes I did have two small onsen towels that I was now freezing and then rotating them to cool down my back and neck, along with the gallons of after the sun… of course Philip and Josie give me nothing but moral support {yeah right}.)

 

IMG_6171

(Photo doesn’t really do it justice!)

So this was gonna be our big night out in Naha and after walking through the town we had seen a few spots that looked promising and cheap (mainly cheap). Josie found a local supermarket and we headed up to get a little something for breakfast before the airport, today’s dinners along with some beers.  So off we go on the 5-minute walk to the supermarket, head in and get our stuff then 5-minutes later we head out again (now, baring in mind that when we left if was clear as day). We got about 2 minutes into our journey and just one block from our apartment me the rain started. Oh, and by started I mean the heaviest rain I’ve ever seen in my life, (baring in mind once again that I’m from Northern Ireland and yes it rains over 200 days of the year there..) this was some hardcore rain. So, of course, we ran back and in the space of 2 minutes we looked like drowned rats. So that kind of concluded our night, ridiculous rain… Let’s just drink the beer play cards and watch a movie!

 

IMG_6170IMG_5939

Oh yeah we also heard that Okinawa was famous for its fruit and vegetables of course Josie and I being the vegetarians were interested in this (and Philip who would literally eat shit on a stick was of course, interested too…) ‘Goya’ or bitter melon (in English) is a cumber like fruit that is really popular and is said to give the eater a longer life. We wanna stay on the planet for a long as we can so we thought ‘ahh, why not give it a go’. That was a terrible idea.

Just Don’t.

In case you are wondering what the devil of all fruits looks like it is this.

Taiwan_2009_Tainan_City_Organic_Farm_Bitter_Gourd_FRD_7956

I mean, of course, try it if someone who knows how to cook it is present. You know when you’re watching the TV and the guys say’s “Don’t try this at home” well, this is a don’t try this one at home kind of thing…

 

25/03/16

Flights

Not really too much to say for today. We got up and headed back for Kofu, Yamanashi!

I really had a lot of fun and was so happy that the not so amazing water forecast was not accurate at all!  I hope you enjoyed our little adventure in Okinawa too and it inspires you to get out and see the world!

 

Thanks for reading/looking

Happy traveling,

Stephen

 

I’ll leave you with this image, it was taken at one of the monorail stations. Make of it what you will.

DSC_0536