I’ve been contacted by businesses before, PR people who wanted me to do write ups. Until now I’ve turned them all down. I write this site, but I also write other things for money. I’m not about to give up my time–to be read as: money–to write something without good reason. But by sheer luck, or diabolical design, Tuttle Publishing asked if I wanted to do a book review for a book I already had. It was a good book, one I would recommend to anyone interested in Japanese swords. More importantly, Tuttle wanted to do a giveaway through IntrovertJapan. And if I can give my readers a chance to get a free copy of a good book, I’m game.
So this week is a book review. And if The Art of the Japanese Sword: The Craft of Swordmaking and Its Appreciation is something you think you want to read, you’ll have a chance for a free copy at the end.
One of the authors said the book’s aim was “to provide a comprehensive introduction to the Japanese sword,” which was exactly what I was looking for. I had been writing about them and needed something to keep me from inventing any facts. After reading it, I can say the authors accomplished what they set out to do. The book was thorough enough to be a resource, but it wasn’t weighty.
It’s a book about Japanese swords written by a swordsmith and two enthusiasts. It’s about–when and if you’re ever handed a fine-crafted Japanese sword–knowing exactly what to look for instead of just holding it cross-eyed and bleating out “nice sword.” While it’s easy to think they don’t differ much one from the next, every sword is a unique piece of art with its own traits. All it takes to distinguish them is the proper education. And because one can’t neglect ceremony in Japan, there is a lesson in both the swords themselves and the customary method of viewing them.
As for crafting, the final product is a group effort taking months. The blade itself is just one step. It’s preceded by forging the steel, then followed by polishing, engraving, scabbard-making, habaki-making (the gold-colored collar above the grip,) and finally crafting the fittings and guard (tsuba.) Each area has its own professional crafter, many of which are recognized as living “Important Cultural Properties” by the Japanese government.
The book dedicates a generous portion of itself to each step–except the tsuba, which is perhaps its only weakness. I would have appreciated a similar in-depth look at tsuba-making, which it oddly neglects to give the same attention as the others. As to why it didn’t, well, being a writer myself it’s something that I can only speculate about and ultimately forgive. The authors brought me a good book that, for want of time, opportunity, an editor’s pen, or a misplaced assumption about their readers’ lack of interest, didn’t talk as much about tsuba-making as I wanted. Certainly, though, it’s no deal-breaker.
So, if that wetted your interest on Japanese swords and now you want a free copy of the book, send me an email on the Contact Me page and tell me “I want the book.” I’ll give it around two weeks or so before the winner is chosen by the ancient Japanese method of drawing slips of paper from a samurai helmet. If it’s you, we’ll be in touch.