If you have developed an interest in samurai swords, you have probably asked yourself where to buy a real katana? Authentic Japanese katanas are handmade in accordance with the ancient Japanese methods. They are highly praised weapons that follow strict rules and regulations.
Buying an authentic katana is a life goal for many weapons collectors and martial arts enthusiasts. If you are ready to invest in a moderately substantial sum of money on a handmade sword, then this article is for you. There are details you need to know before spending your hard-earned money on one of these prized swords.
How to Tell the Difference Between a Real or Fake Katana?
There are a couple of important topics we should browse through before asking where to buy a real katana?
The first thing you want to grasp is sword authenticity. How to figure out the differences between a real katana (a collectible) and a decor piece. That can depend somewhat on how you define a “real” katana.
Nihonto katanas must be made in Japan (as the name suggests), by a certified master swordsmith, following the traditional techniques. A hand-forged katana of this caliber will be costly and will come with a proof of authenticity (certificate). Often, finishing this kind of blade will take months (up to a year), and the cost will reflect the hard work.
However, there are katanas of excellent quality made outside Japan, yet using the traditional hand-making techniques by master smiths. These swords are more affordable (depending on your budget) than the Nihonto katana. Of course, these blacksmiths don’t use tamahagane steel or the tatara furnace. They work with regular, modern-day tools and techniques (simple and straight-forward).
There are many good smiths all over the world (in the US, particularly), that make beautiful battle-ready, custom-designed swords. Either way, you should be aware of the specific parts of the sword that classify a high-quality katana.
Folded steel is a technique of layering multiple steel alloys with different hardness levels, to extract the best combination of sharpness, durability, and resistance for the sword. They developed this method in ancient Japan because the steel quality was poor, and this folding technique could smooth out imperfections in the metal making the sword much stronger.
You can easily identify folded steel by the minuscule swirly lines that seem to be etched on the surface of the blade. If you look closely, you will see little stripes and lines.
Folded steel was the material of choice for Japanese swordsmiths. But there are other options for layering steel, and these are used for mass-producing blades: Damascus steel is a high-quality material used to hand-forge a katana. It features a similar folding pattern like its Japanese counterpart.
A real hamon temper line, which looks like a pale wiggly portion running parallel to the edge. The hamon results from differential hardening with clay, during the cooling process. In the image above, you can see the edge has a lighter gray, wavy pattern. It is visible. That is the hamon.
Differential hardening of steel means covering the spine of the blade with clay before heating the whole thing in a flaming oven. The edge is thoroughly baked, while the spine stays much cooler. Then you shove the blade in cold water, allowing the exposed side to cool down rapidly, while the spine takes longer to reach thermal equilibrium.
This process causes the sharpened edge of the sword to become much harder than the spine. The spine will remain shock-absorbent, while the edge hardens. It is during this process that the katana gets its trademark curved shape (unequal dilation and contraction).
What Is The Price Range For a Real Katana?
Because of the precise craftsmanship and high skill required to forge a sword according to the traditional Japanese method, buying a real katana is a heavy investment.
Much like fine art, these weapons come at a premium price. It’s a good idea to plan ahead exactly how much you want to spend before making a trip to Japan to commission an authentic sword! In fact, you don’t even need to travel so far, most smiths have a website. So, let’s talk about money!
How Much Will You Pay for a Japanese Hand-Forged Katana?
It’s hard to predict how much antique pieces will be priced. Old, historical swords can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars (maybe millions). In 1992, one feudal-era Japanese katana was sold at a Christie’s Auction House in New York for $418,000!
As for newly forged swords, you have a better position for negotiating. Japanese bladesmiths (certified by NBTHK) charge far more than international creators. The reason is that they forge according to the ancient Japanese methods, which are supremely difficult and it takes too long to complete a single sword.
Nihonto swords start at about $4000 USD, depending on the master swordsmith’s demand, customization, and materials. On average, one of these katanas costs $6,000 to $8,000 USD.
But a world-renown bladesmith can be picky with his client, and they could charge up to $50,000! I heard that some of them want to acquaint the client personally to determine whether they are a worthy customer.
Where to buy a real katana? Authentic nihonto blades can only be purchased from Japan, from a certified master. Market-ready katanas only replicate the functionality, look, and design of real Japanese swords. But they are not created according to the age-old process, so they are not truly authentic.
How Much Does a High-Quality, Battle-Ready Samurai Sword Cost?
I am talking about extremely effective and resilient cutting blades, made of high-quality industrial steel or some kind of heat-treated, tempered carbon steel.
These are comparable to their hand-forged Japanese counterparts (nihonto) in terms of cutting ability and blade quality. But they lack personality and authenticity (obviously, since they are mass-produced for the wider audience).
Western or Chinese hand-made katanas are typically priced a much lower than NBTHK certified swords. Some models entering the market at $300 USD. You can find good blades at above $100 if you know what to look for. These are great for practice, and you might impress a newbie!
I wrote this katana review section, where I compared the best swords at every price category. You will also find a buyer’s guide for first-time katana owners.
Keep in mind the sword will probably need an elegant display case if you want to show it as a decor piece, so factor that in as part of the expense.
Where to Buy a Real Katana in Japan?
Still inclined to buy a custom hand-forged nihonto? If you want an authentic katana, what is the best place for getting one? There are many reputable online retailers, but when you are investing in such a pricy weapon, part of the experience is traveling to an amazing country. I would rather visit Japan, understand the culture, and personally meet the bladesmith.
Are you weary of unnecessary travel? Contact them online! The most important thing about the company you are purchasing from is their reputation. Good retailers will be very honest and straightforward about who makes their swords. And they will give you all the information you ask for.
I never personally contracted a Japanese master, but I read a lot about the subject and I have talked to many people who did buy custom-designed nihonto. Here is what they recommend! Good online resources to start with:
Your best bet is getting in contact with a certified swordsmith. Most of them have an online presence where you can contact them via email to negotiate price, dates, and design.
Make arrangements online, exchange emails, send them an image of a katana you liked. That will help them understand your needs. Do this before making flight arrangements. You don’t need to fly there! You can do everything online; they even send you the packaged sword. But why not travel a little?
You can easily get an idea of the pricing they offer. You may even negotiate the price down and customize your sword. They will estimate how long it will take to create the katana. Always remember to be respectful and courteous, these swordsmiths are highly respected masters of their art, and they have zero tolerance for brash rudeness!
Many swordsmiths prefer to meet with the buyer. They respect the craft want to ensure that their artwork will be cared for, and treated with respect. Do your research whether an oversee trip is necessary.
Traveling With or Importing a Katana
Lastly, handcrafting custom weapons takes a very long time, especially in accordance with the ancient Japanese techniques. Be prepared to wait several months up to a year to receive your nihonto. Highly-skilled swordsmiths are in high demand and there will be a long waiting list.
The last phase of buying a katana is getting it to your doorstep. If you are planning to travel to Japan, buy a proper sword carrying bag for the flight home (but you will need to consult local legislation of the countries you will be traveling through).
Inform yourself about traveling with bladed weapons, and how to get them across legally. Consult airport guidelines on how to legally pass the sword through the security checkpoints. If it is prohibited, contact an international courier.
A great option for a carrying case is a lockable hard rifle-case. If you are traveling to the USA, such a case will be checked alongside your luggage, if the airline company deems it safe to have the weapon checked and boarded.
Where to buy a real katana? Only in Japan, after contacting an NBTHK certified swordsmith (first online and then face-to-face, if you desire so). Within two to twelve months, the item will be at your doorstep. Usually, an order is finished in six months.
Buying an original Japanese katana should be on every weapons enthusiast’s bucket list. Like everything of high value, it takes research to find the best samurai sword for your needs and budget.
Always research the rules and regulations you might need to follow to import such an item to your country. Don’t spend a dime before you find all the answers!
If your country requires permits, certificates of authenticity, or any specific paperwork, it’s worth preparing yourself. And then you can enjoy your new authentic katana!