Our next visiting artist and master swordsmith Fusataro ‘Taro’ Asano began making blades at the age of 13. At the end of February, Asano will be stopping at the Metal Museum to share his craft in a Japanese swordsmithing workshop.
The art of Japanese swordsmithing is a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation. By the age of 20, he began a six-year apprenticeship under the 25th generation of the Fujiwara Kanefusa family, who have been crafting blades in Seki City, Japan, since the 16th century. The type of blades Taro specializes in date back to the Kamakura Period (1185-1333 CE). This period was named after the Japanese coastal city, Kamakura. During this time, the emergence of the Samurai was a vital part of Japanese military. A Samurai yielded many types of weapons which determined their experience.
“Katana...is a symbol of strength for me.” -- Taro Asano (1)
The different types of Japanese blades range in size and shape. One of these blades is the katana, which has been popularized in modern times through its depiction in anime, literature, film, and video games. A katana, which means ‘peace’ in Japanese, is traditionally crafted by a swordsmith and three or more assistants. It can take months for this type of sword to be forged, but for Taro the process can take up to a year to be completed without assistance. Making a katana requires the world’s oldest techniques of Japanese swordsmithing. It requires something more than strength of body but also an understanding of the material's composition.
“The most important thing when forging a sword is that you’re not just hammering down iron, not just hammering down the bade, you are changing the composition...when you have that in mind, you can make a great sword.” -- Taro Asano (2)
When making a blade there are three compositions of steel being used. One is a soft steel, shingane. The second is a hard steel casing that surrounds the soft blade known as kawagane. The third composition of steel is tamahagane, which results from smelting iron sand and charcoal, traditionally in a tatara furnace. The goal of this technique is to not compromise any carbon for the blade.
While blades were often used by Samurai and Shoguns years ago, Taro Asano crafts blades for everyday use, bringing Japanese swordsmithing techniques to the masses. After his six year apprenticeship, he established himself in Seki City, Gifu prefecture in 2004, where the Muromachi shogun era reigned from 1336-1573 CE. Two years later, he relocated to Hashima City, Gifu prefecture.
In 2012, he was invited to France for a demonstration of Japanese swordsmithing as well as sword fighting. He began touring the globe and demonstrating his work and process. In 2015, he toured Canada and gave instruction on forging technique. The following year, he was invited back to Canada by NAIT University to give a lecture/training on Japanese sword forging. He returned to Hashima City for the Namazu festival and gave a free forge demonstration for the Regional Contribution Project. In 2017, Asano established his own workshop which specializes in knife making.
Next week, from Friday, February 28th to Sunday, March 1st, come watch Asano work alongside a small group of artist-blacksmiths. We are honored to be able to host this master craftsman during his short stay in Memphis!
For more information about Asano and Japanese swordsmithing: