Photo: Pakutaso

Want to become a swordsmith? Apprenticeship opens in Japan, but the fine print might shock you

By SoraNews24

The number of people specialising in traditional crafts has declined dramatically in Japan over the years, prompting real concerns about the future of maintaining the country’s long-storied cultural traditions. 

So when one swordsmith in Japan recently announced on Twitter that they were looking to hand down generations of knowledge to a hard-working apprentice, they weren’t expecting to garner much of a response from the public.

However, the call for an apprentice soon caused a commotion online, as interested applicants found out about the details of the apprenticeship. It didn’t take long for the tweet to go viral, but it wasn’t necessarily due to people wanting to apply — instead, it was due to a lot of people criticising the requirements, which involved working from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. five days a week, and possibly some weekends, for at least five years without pay.

The swordsmith who sent out the tweet ended up receiving some flak online, but, as he duly pointed out, the requirements of his swordsmithing apprenticeship aren’t that different from any other in Japan. He sent out a link to the homepage of the All Japan Swordsmith Association, which outlined the strict requirements to becoming a trained and certified swordsmith in Japan.

The first sentence on the site about becoming a swordsmith reads:

“In order to become a swordsmith, it is necessary to train for more than five years under a qualified swordsmith, and to complete the ‘Preservation of Japanese Art Swords Craftsmanship Workshop’ run by the Agency for Cultural Affairs.”

The Association goes on to say that in order to participate in the workshop, which is actually an eight-day long national certification test, the swordsmith one studies under must have received their qualification from the Agency for Cultural Affairs, and the five years of training is based on eight hours a day, five days a week, not five years of only training on weekends.

Understandably, these strict requirements pose a problem for people already in the workforce who live away from home and have bills to pay, which is why the Association recommends starting an apprenticeship at a young age. It’s a long road that can take around 10 years to get started as an independent swordsmith, and success isn’t even a certainty after training, so the Association says you should think twice about it if you’re over 30 years of age.

The Association also says there’s no live-in system for apprentices like there was in the days of yore, so it’s common to have to pay your own living expenses, including rent and food. And while some people tend to think of an apprenticeship as unpaid work, the Association suggests thinking of an apprenticeship as “going to a vocational school to learn techniques rather than getting a job”. From this point of view, apprentices actually receive free tuition.

The most important and difficult step towards becoming a swordsmith, according to the Association, is finding a qualified swordsmith to train under, as introductions are usually required, and many are reluctant to take on apprentices because of the time and responsibility involved. And if Japanese isn’t your first language you might find it even harder, as instructions, and the certification test, are generally only available in Japanese.

Obviously, there are some tough hurdles to clear on the path to becoming a certified swordsmith in Japan, but then again, as we discovered when we spent time with a master katana maker, there’s a lot to learn about the ancient craft that symbolises the strength and beauty of the Japanese spirit.

Like a lot of traditional crafts, though, these hurdles are becoming more like giant roadblocks in the modern age, and with the number of registered swordsmiths steadily declining, some new thought may have to be given to the craft to ensure it lives on for future generations.

Sources: Hachima KikouAll Japan Swordsmith Association

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Japan is running out of swordsmiths, and a strict apprenticeship requirement is a big reason why

-- Japanese city offering authentic handcrafted swords in exchange for “tax” payments

-- Scholars confirm first discovery of Japanese sword from master bladesmith Masamune in 150 years

© SoraNews24

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So it is like getting a PhD in sciences except with more rational hours and the "apprentice" don't have to pay to get the training and has much better work prospects after finishing?

2 ( +4 / -2 )

In the old days the sons, still living as children with their families would go and learn from a master the art, for many, many years. Once adults they would start a new brand or workshop or (rarely) succeed the master. This system is still practical today, school is compulsory only up to 15.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Oh, and you have to be Japanese only , lol

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"So it is like getting a PhD in sciences except with more rational hours and the "apprentice" don't have to pay to get the training and has much better work prospects after finishing?"

While studying for a PhD one usually gets a stipend, scholarship and university housing.

With a PhD in science you can do many things and in many different countries, so the work prospects are better in my opinion.

Like many other aspects of Japanese culture and life, the traditions are destroying themselves due to lack of flexibility and desire to adjust to modern times.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The reason why the quality of the swords made is so good is because those who study hard for doing them, do it not solely for the pursuit of money. It's like all artists and artisans. The real ones do it as their passion.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

While studying for a PhD one usually gets a stipend, scholarship and university housing.

In which country? because in Japan that is not the case at all, what would be the meaning of paying the university so you can get a stipend back? Getting to do many other things that do not require the degree (or that consider that degree even an undesirable thing to have) are not advantages from getting it. In both aspects the apprentice for a trade like this represents a much better benefit.

An apprentice can put his own shop with a reasonable amount of investment and as the article clearly mentions "From this point of view, apprentices actually receive free tuition." Only very few postgraduate students get a scholarship and in sciences no one can just put his own laboratory or research institute to work after graduation.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

instead of making it easier to qualify as an apprentice... it's like companies who are paying the bare minimum wage to do grueling work wondering why there isnt a line of applicants waiting to work hard for them! Is this an only in Japan phenomenon??

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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