A Day With A Master Swordsmith

Five hand forged knives on a rustic wooden table crafted by master sword smith Fusataro. Text overlay reads Asano Kajiya Workshop Gifu, Japan.

As we exited the train station, Taro-san's apprentice stood outside patiently waiting to drive us to Asano Kajiya. We had some difficulty at the station and ended up missing our train, eventually arriving half an hour later than we had planned.

When we arrived at the forge, we were greeted with an excited smile.  Taro-san's enthusiasm and love of forging were infectious from the start.  As one of the few remaining master swordsmiths left in Japan, he was truly at the top of his craft.

Exterior view of Asano Kajiya. Small dirt path leading to wooden building surrounded by small trees and rocks.

Before we could begin, Taro covered the foundation of the forging process. We learned that there are four basic steps: forging, shaping, hardening, and sharpening. Here he explains the science between each step and its importance.

Asano Kajiya Workshop

After the basic explanations were over, Taro-san walked up to the forge and began to hammer a long piece of steel.  The rhythmic cadence of his hammerfalls were almost meditative.  As the steel began to glow brighter and hotter with each stroke, he explained that ancient Japanese smiths considered fires started this way to be sacred, since they were pure and created from the metal itself.  After touching the steel to some kindling and coal, he pumped the bellows and the forge sprang to life!

Japanese blacksmith pumps air into a forge full of coal by way of an antique wood bellow.

He demonstrated the proper way to heat the metal and how to hammer it to the desired length. One by one, we all dropped down into the forge to have a go at it while he shouted out directions from above.

Young woman wearing long sleeves hammers a heated length of metal against an anvil with a stone forge in the background. Her hair is in a bun with a japanese cotton print scarf tied around her head.

Once everyone got a turn to practice, we were separated and got to work at our own forge and anvil setup. First, we got to work on stretching the handle and tapering it at the end. This would allow us to then make the snake tail afterwards.

Young man wearing glasses and green lantern t-shirt holds unfinished knife up with metal pliers checking to see if blade is stretched to proper length.

Here is what the handle looks like once we had completed that task.

Two unfinished knives with snake tail handles forming a heart shape placed side by side on a wooden table.

After we finished the handle, it was time for a quick break and then we moved onto forging the blade!

GIF of young man in a harry potter jacket hammering a piece of metal on a block.
GIF of young woman hammering a piece of hot metal on a block.

This work went pretty quick and soon we were ready to quench our blades in the oil. Taro guided us through the process of heating the blade to the correct temperature before lowering it into the dark liquid.

GIF of swordsmith guiding a young woman in quenching a blade of carbon steel into oil by the forge. When the blade is dipped into the oil, it blazes with fire like small explosions.

When all the blades were quenched, they were set to cool while we had lunch. Taro's wife had made a spread of tonkatsu with curry, rice, pickled veggies, and bread rolls.

Bento style lunch with steamed white rice, crispy pork tonkatsu cutlet sliced and served with homemade curry sauce with hot chili oil garnish and a small side of blanched chopped spinach.
Wooden bowl of sweet bread rolls.

We had an hour to eat and rest our aching wrists and shoulders. Once we were back in the workshop, we were set to smoothing all the rough edges on our blade.

Two men are filing the sharp edges of their knife handles with a vise and a rasp.

Then we were shown how to properly sharpen the edge of the knife using a whetstone.

Girl in leather jacket and black knit scarf sharpens a blade on a whetstone.

We all sharpened our knives one at a time. Those who weren't sharpening their knives got their name stamped into the blade while they waited their turn. And here are our sharpened blades side by side!

Close up of two blades side by side that are made by hand and stamped with the names "Law" and "Emjidi"

And now to put our blades to the test!

GIF of girl in leather jacket and retrobilly hairstyle cutting a piece of paper with a sharp knife in a Japanese workshop.
Young man sitting on a bench with bright windows behind him. He is slicing a piece of paper with a sharp blade.

Our blades can cut! This was a really fun class and it was something that we had both wanted to do for a long time now. We would definitely recommend this for all you knife aficionados out there or for those of you who are looking for a unique experience in the Gifu region!

And of course, we couldn't leave without buying one of his personally forged kitchen knives.  I mean, how often do you find a kitchen knife forged by a master swordsmith?

A young couple standing with the master sword-smith and workers at Asano Kajiya located in Gifu, Japan.

 


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16 Comments

    1. What a cool experience! Great for those who love working with their hands and making crafts. I’m not familiar with the Gifu region in Japan. How far is this area from Tokyo?

      1. We love working with our hands so it was perfect. This studio is about 3-4 hours from Tokyo. It’s much closer to Kyoto or Osaka.

  1. Wow, meeting one of the few remaining master swordsmiths left in Japan is, I guess, a dream come true, especially for someone that loves samurai. Also, I love that Taro-San’s enthusiasm and smile are infectious like no other, which makes his client comfortable. He’s truly a legend, and will keep this in mind, just in case I get the chance to visit Japan soon.

  2. That must have been a great experience to spend time with master swordsmith. It reminded me of Kill Bill movie. It is nice to have a hands-on experience like this. I would love to see him preparing a sword and put it on test. I wish I get to visit Japan soon.

    1. That would be an awesome sight. We did get to take home one of his knives so it’s pretty close XD

  3. Wow that looks amazing. I’ve lived in Japan for one year but never had the chance to experience something as amazing as this ! How much did the experience cost?

  4. What a cool hands-on experience! The GIFs you include really show what the process is like. That tonkatsu lunch you had in the middle also looks delicious! Thanks for sharing; this makes me want to go to Japan since it’s been over 10 years since I was last there!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Japan is amazing and full of fun hands on experiences like this one. We can’t wait to go back and are planning our next trip already!

  5. How cool to be able to experience this! I love excursions like this that take you off the beaten bath. Such a great way to see part of the culture that might not be visible on the mainstream route.

    1. It is our favorite way to travel! Japan is so rich in culture and it would be a shame not to experience the craftsmanship from master artisans first-hand.

  6. What an amazing experience this seems to be! I’m a sucker for excursions like this that take you off the beaten track. Would love to do this someday

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