Well over a century after this warrior class was outlawed, the samurai are still highly emblematic of Japan in the eyes of both Japanese and foreigners alike. And if, in turn, one thing is symbolic of a samurai, it is his sword. Presently several museums across the country are dedicated to the art of the Japanese sword, but Bizen Osafune Sword Museum is possibly the best. It is certainly the sole place where each step that goes into crafting a sword, requiring 7 artisans in total, can be observed by the general public.

  • Bizen Osafune Sword Museum

    Bizen Osafune Sword Museum

    Bizen Osafune Sword Museum is located in the southern Okayama town of Bizen, close to the Yoshii River. The nearby Chugoku Mountains are a rich source of iron sand, which when transported down the river enabled Bizen to become renowned for its sword crafting by the 12th century. During the samurai heyday of the Edo period (1603–1868), Bizen was the most prestigious of the five regions (the ‘Gokaden’) recognized as centers of sword making. Swords are still crafted in the town today: at storied independent workshops, here for the benefit of not only tourists.

    Bizen Osafune Sword Museum

    Bizen Osafune Sword Museum

    Inside the museum, a highly comprehensive permanent exhibition reveals how sword design evolved to reflect not only advances in manufacturing technique, but also the spirit of different eras. Intricate and often beautiful decorative elements belie the lethality of these weapons.

    The curved katana favored by samurai is well known worldwide, but the museum’s collection emphasizes that there are four principal types of Japanese sword. Besides the katana, here you can also familiarize yourself with the tachi (longer and more curvaceous than the katana); odachi (a larger take on the tachi, sometimes over 100 cm in length); and the wakizashi (a shorter sword often used by a samurai together with his katana as a two-piece set).

    Besides this formidable permanent collection, the museum frequently holds temporary exhibits that use contemporary mediums such as anime and video games to tell the story of Japanese sword manufacturing.

    Bizen Osafune Sword Museum

    Bizen Osafune Sword Museum

    What really brings the form to life here, though, reaffirming that the art of sword making is still very much alive, are the eight ateliers (together with the museum they form the Bizen Osafune Token Village) surrounding an adjacent courtyard. Each stage of the process can be freely viewed by popping into these buildings, from the initial smelting of iron at temperatures reaching 1,300 degrees Celsius through to lacquering, polishing and engraving.

    Bizen Osafune Sword Museum

    Bizen Osafune Sword Museum

    The production of a sword takes several months from beginning to end, with the tempering of iron being the most viscerally thrilling aspect to watch. Hammers are brought down upon the fiercely hot material, often by sword maker’s apprentices, with great force, exacting precision, and a whole lot of noise! A special public demonstration of tempering is held on the second Sunday of each month, with two sessions from 11am and 2pm.

    Bizen Osafune Sword Museum

    Bizen Osafune Sword Museum

    Those wishing to get hands-on appreciation of the art can join a workshop where they will learn how to make their own (considerably less deadly) paper knife. Costing 1,500 yen, the event lasts around 90 minutes and should be reserved at least two weeks in advance. Finally, the museum gift shops sells an assortment of swords and related items: remember to prepare the required import paperwork for when you take your weapon home.

    Bizen Osafune Japanese Sword Museum
    rating

    4.5

    41 Reviews
    place
    Okayama Pref. Setouchishi Osafunechouosafune 966
    phone
    0869667767
    opening-hour
    9:00-17:00(Last entry16:30)

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