Osafune in Okayama: Sword learning centre – Part 1 –
Bizen Osafune Nihon-tou Denshuu-jyo (Bizen Osafune Japanese sword learning centre) 1
Here, you can see swordsmithing on Saturdays, Sundays and National holidays for free.
Note that they don’t demonstrate in summer because it is too hot for swordsmiths to forge.
Open from 9:00 to 16:00, closed during lunchtime (12:00 – 13:00).
On Sundays and holidays, they demonstrate traditional forging between 13:00 and 14:00.
You haven’t got to make a reservation, but it is recommended because sometimes it is closed (to public) on those supposed-to-be opening dates or they finish earlier than 16:00.
It’s about a ten-minute-walk from the sword museum.
The official website is here (Japanese page).
Information I got from the swordsmiths and websites
I had some conversations with swordsmiths in the sword learning centre, and they were happy to answer my questions.
Many swordsmiths just buy steel to forge swords, but here, they make steel from iron sand by themselves.
The steel made from iron sand or black sand is called “tama-hagane” in Japanese.
To forge a high-quality blade, they need high-quality coals.
Trees in cold areas wouldn’t grow much, so their growth rings are narrower (denser) than ones in warmer areas.
Coals made of dense tree can give high temperature, and now in Okayama, it is too warm to get proper coals.
It is probably because of increased temperature lately.
The master told me they had got to buy coals from north-east area of Japan, but it used to be possible to get good coals made of trees in Okayama before.
“Teko-bou” literally means “lever bar”.
It’s a tool used to put iron into fire (not a material for sword).
A small steel plate will be welded to the end of the bar.
Then iron is placed on the plate to be forged.
Now the price of coals is getting higher and it’s rather difficult to obtain a large amount of coal because of radiation problem in Fukushima.
People in Tokyo who had bought coals from the radiation-effected area for their business (like people selling “yakitori”, skewers of barbecued chicken, for example) have started to deal with companies in other north-east areas.
I asked the master if he could use foreign coals instead, and he answered “No.”
A person(s?) came to see him to sell foreign ones, but the quality was not enough.
I wondered whether he could know it at a glance, and he said he could.
However, they do buy coals with inferior quality for forging demonstrations or apprentice’s practice.
Those premium coals are used to forge (ordered) blades.
[To become a qualified swordsmith]
If you want to become a qualified swordsmith, you have got to apprentice yourself to a master.
You need to train at least for five consecutive years, and finish the swordsmithing course held by “Bunka-chou” (Agency for Cultural Affairs) of Japanese Government (you can take the course after four-year training).
It is called as “the course”, but it’s actually a practical test.
You can’t finish (pass) without basic skills, techniques and general knowledge.
You usually won’t get paid during training.
Even after you are qualified, you may have got to find a side job to make a living.
The master in this centre told me that most of swordsmiths couldn’t get enough income and many of his apprentices were working at a company nearby or some other places.
He must earn money not just for himself but for training them, so he also forges kitchen knives.
I didn’t ask him how many orders for blade he would get in a year, but I assume there aren’t enough to cover whole expenses.
To be continued…
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