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Japanese Sword Maker Discusses Craftsmanship and Discipleship

Editor's Note: The beautiful short film behind this illustration focuses on one of the last remaining Japanese swordsmiths. The text below comes from Korehira Watanabe, the swordsmith who has spent 40 years honing his craft in an attempt to recreate an ancient kind of sword. We have transcribed the video for this illustration, but we encourage you to watch the video. Special thanks to filmmaker Takeshi Fukunaga for permission to use this film on PreachingToday.com.

Today, there are only 30 people, including me, who are making a living as a sword maker. When I was younger, I was making swords just because I loved it, but as I got older I started to think that I need to pass along the aesthetics and soul of the Japanese people through my swords.

When I was in college, I saw a picture in a magazine of the legendary sword maker Akihira Miyairi, who later became my master. That was when I discovered that there will still be people who make traditional swords and when I decided to be a sword maker. All of my family members opposed the idea because they didn't think I could make a living. They told me, "Don't ever come back home if you want to be a sword maker."

There are basically no directions or formulas left to make Koto [traditional swords] from the Heian and Kamakura periods (794-1333 A.D.). It's impossible to recreate the sword. However, that's the kind that attracts me, and while I've been trying to recreate for 40 years, it's only in the past five years that I've succeeded in making a few similar to Koto.

Many traditional craftsmen respond to modern times when handing down their craft. But the essence of the tradition suffers in doing so. I think it is meaningless to carry on tradition that way.

I want my disciple to pass me as a sword maker. It is my duty to build up a disciple better than me. Otherwise the tradition will wear thin with time. What I received from my master is not only the technique, but also his passion for sword making. I want my disciple to receive my passion, and I believe he will pass down his own passion for sword making to the next generations.

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