While many people immediately think of samurai when Japan is mentioned, you might not expect to find many swordcraftsmen still working in the modern-day. And certainly not out in public for everyone to see.
However, the start of every year sees a gathering of swordcraftsmen in Gifu Prefecture where they ceremonially pound a piece of steel in a centuries old traditional ceremony.
Started some time in the Kamakura Period (roughly 1185 to 1333), the swordcrafting ceremony is over 700 years old and is currently held at the Seki Sword Tradition Museum in Seki City, Gifu Prefecture.
Following purification at Kasuga Shrine, swordcraftsmen walk next door to the museum where, dressed in white robes and black lacquered hats, they used large hammers to pound a chunk steel into the length of a sword. The steel is heated to over 1000 degrees Celsius (1832 degrees Fahrenheit), enough to soften the metal but not enough to cause it to melt.
Unfortunately, we can’t all visit Gifu to see the sparks fly. However, we can all watch awesome videos on YouTube.
As you can see in the video, the three standing swordcraftsmen use the massive tools to pound the steel out while the squatting swordcraftsman holds the steel in place and uses a smaller hammer to help keep the rhythm.
The ceremony is done as a way of asking for a good year for the swordcrafters. We imagine that injury is always a concern for those working in an environment with hot steel, so any little bit of extra insurance helps, right?
In addition to the January event, the ceremony is repeated throughout the year on the first Sunday of March, April, June, and November. Perhaps as testament to the swordcrafter’s physical fortitude, the ceremony is repeated three times each day.
Sources: NHK, Seki City, Asahi Digital
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