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Japanese sword smith apprenticeship


LOKI VINK
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Hi everyone.

 

been a while since my last post.

 

Ever since i started with Japanese blades i wanted to try make my way to Japan and get an apprenticeship and study the way of making a perfect blade.

 

I was wondering if anyone somewhere on this forum might be able to push me into the right direction, or have any contacts in japan that i might contact.

 

thanx

 

Loki

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I would guess that moving to Japan and trying to learn Japanese would be the first step. Then meeting and getting to know some swordsmiths, and building a relationship with one. It would take a huge leap of faith to move to the other side of the world with nothing but a dream.

 

Check out soulsmithing.com it is all about a French Canadian who got an apprenticeship, though from what I can find on the site, after five years apprenticing he had to leave Japan and never got his swordsmithing license. It wasn't clear whether he was forging blades now or not. I e-mailed him recently to try to get some more info but he never e-mailed back.

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To be honest, I think the "secrets" are out, and there are plenty of people making very very beautiful swords in a Japanese style who have never been to Japan. Doing an apprenticeship in Japan would be amazing, but you are investing in a whole lot of sizzle for probably the same amount of steak.

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Actually my Japanese is not that bad and until recently i had contact with a very old man in Fukui Prefecture

 

It would seem the best way to do things is to go there and look around for a smith .. as you said Justin.. and guessing that is the only way. from what i know it would make my life easier if i had someone over in japan inviting me over... i hear this makes everything from visa to staying there much easier.

 

Ill have a look at the site Justin thank you.

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@Alan, i didn't do a formal apprenticeship, i had been blacksmithing and making knives for several years before i went to japan...but i did live there for several years and spent some of the time studying the craft (and even more seriously since then, the more i learn the more i realize i know nothing!)...in hindsight i ended up being there long enough that i could have committed to a proper apprenticeship!

 

pierre the soulsmith did do a proper swordsmith's apprenticeship, he was also there for about a decade (and it was four years before he was accepted as an apprentice...get ready to learn patience!) and moved back to canada about the same time we did in late 2011...because of some of the crazy circumstances in japan around the time of leaving he has not done his formal "final exam" yet, but is preparing to do so soon, and is in process of building his new workshop as we speak...he will be one of only a couple of non-japanese in history to stick out a full apprenticeship and pass the japanese requirements to work as a licensed swordsmith in japan...keith austin was another: youtube.com/watch?v=7KRR1tuXFWE

 

Pierre has some helpful outsider's insider thoughts on the issue of apprenticeship:

soulsmithing.com/index.php/2007/10/how-to-become-a-swordsmith-apprentice-in-japan

 

and Fusataro~san offers some insider's insider info to consider:

 

there are many paths to becoming a skilled maker and not everyone can handle the rigors of the japanese way...the first question to self-reflect is why exactly one wants to become a swordsmith in japan...i think one of the reasons Pierre was able to persevere was because he was attracted to the working style rather than to the sword itself...most of the life of a smith does not involve a sword but long hard hours with a piece of steel that gradually begins to resemble one just before it is sent away to be polished and finished...starting an apprenticeship would mean you will not forge a sword for the next 7 years, any hardly work on even a part of a sword for the next 4 or 5 years...

 

...i think that traditional apprenticeship is not so much about the technical skills (though this is a very important component) but more about learning to submit to the internal and external discipline that it takes to work through the difficult stuff (mainly personal but also cultural) and to develop the proper attitude towards self, skill, craftsmanship, and life along the journey to being a skilled artisan...this is the stumbling block for many who travel to Japan to attempt this path, especially those of us from north america with our ideas of independence and the tendency to seek shortcut paths to success...

 

cultural tensions can be difficult to navigate as westerners often have quite different concepts of appropriate ways of interacting and responding...more specifically the "will power" behind "the want to" often runs out much sooner and is connected to the "want to" rather than to "decided to" or "committed to"...the apprenticeship program involves a great deal of trust on the part of the master as his investment of time into the deshi only pays off in the last couple of years when their skill level approaches journeyman...unfortunately this is often about the time when a westerner decides they don't need any more "teaching" and wants to set off on their own...leaving the master short for all of his input and worse, dishonored by a broken commitment...the relationship is rather like a marriage in some ways, spending much time with another person with a commitment not to walk out early, a marriage is not about getting but about giving (an apprentice should have the mentality of serving the master and increasing his business rather than simply taking his knowledge)...some of the reasons choosing the right deshi is important to a japanese master...

 

some first steps: spending a great deal of time studying the history, lines, and nuances of classical blades (stick with antiques and legit smiths) online will begin to develop your eye for those minute details that can make or break the aesthetic...and there are many base skills that can and should be developed before looking for instruction (hammering, filing, basic forging, bladesmithing, muscle memory and stamina stuff)...following that a course from tamahagane arts may be a good place to start formally learning as well as a good connection point to japan...also put in an extended trip or two to japan sometime, preferably spending a year there working some menial job to get the feel for work and regular life in japan before committing to 7 or more...if this is a true life path spending all the time it takes is the best way anyways, no rush!

 

one additional point: from my experience a university degree is pretty much a prerequisite for any kind of visa in japan, related to the work/study or not...

 

forward on the journey towards excellence! (keep us posted)

 

______

 

edit: couple of articles from elsewhere on the web...

 

"Also it is important to be aware that apprenticeship has no salary whatsoever and a great deal of cost to both the apprentice and the teacher. After traveling expenses, apprentices must face the cost of long hours and much effort for knowledge that will only be profitable after many years, if ever. For the teacher, he faces the cost of time invested in instruction, as well as the cost of fuel burned and tool wear once the apprentice is ready begin learning firsthand. Generally this debt to one’s teacher is repaid by doing whatever chores the teacher requires or by other efforts. However, all too often apprentices lose sight of this debt and the giving becomes one-sided; such relationships are always destined for failure."

from: dragonflyforge.com/2009/01/31/becoming-an-apprentice

 

"What is important is the apprentice’s attitude and commitment. Japanese don’t care about natural talents, they see it as a weakness sometimes, because he who is naturaly good tends to make less efforts than he who is poor with his hands. They consider that anyone who puts the right amount of effort will get there sometimes. Of course, the best of the best is he who has natural talent and puts in an infinite amount of efforts."

"...my best affinity with Japan was my attitude towards work: caring for details, quality, working simply to produce masterpieces, working intuitively, being aware of my whole self in the process of creation.. All this is natural in Japan, but raises eyebrows in the West."

from: samurai-sword-shop.com/blog/japanese-swordsmith-apprentice-pierre

Edited by DaveJ

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Davej - Crossed Heart Forge * islandblacksmith.ca * instagram * youtube

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input from Pierre via email from Japan today:

 

Thanks Dave.

I couldn't have replied any better on the board.
There are actually two reasons why apprenticeship nearby the source of the tradition is important:
- You need a model: you can't be reinventing the wheel, so you need to see all the tricks and tips accumulated over centuries
- You need a model: you can't be making wine if you've never tasted it, or you might make something entirely different
Pierre
———————————

 

...ganbatte!
Edited by DaveJ

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Davej - Crossed Heart Forge * islandblacksmith.ca * instagram * youtube

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@Dan that is Pierre you are quoting, not me, but i think the context is important there...

 

he is specifically speaking about the selection process and desired qualities for an apprentice...but in a larger context he is also speaking of the cultural perspective on the importance of effort as a major contributor to success, how it is possible that someone who thinks of themselves more highly than they ought is liable to fall into trouble on account of false pride or a false sense of ability...

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Davej - Crossed Heart Forge * islandblacksmith.ca * instagram * youtube

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Sorry, Dave; It is a very salient point and principle, and a universal and human one that can be found in Japan as well as Europe, the Americas, and beyond. I was just making a silly joke; Sometimes one comes across a person with quite literally no natural talent for the particular task at hand. They are rare, but they are out there!

Edited by Dan P.
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@Dan...sorry forgot the short answer summary (these are harder for me than long)...yes, it is relative! ^__^

 

though this is about polisher's apprenticeship there are some glimpses into the structure and daily life as well as some of the thought processes involved in the journey:

 

Edited by DaveJ

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Davej - Crossed Heart Forge * islandblacksmith.ca * instagram * youtube

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  • 4 weeks later...

here is a slightly more cohesive version of this answer, with the addition of some more quotes from pierre:

islandblacksmith.ca/2015/05/on-swordsmith-apprenticeship/

 

and his article on the subject is absolutely required reading for every craftsman or apprentice:

soulsmithing.com/index.php/2007/10/how-to-become-a-swordsmith-apprentice-in-japan

 

 

 

...also fixed the video links above.

Edited by DaveJ

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Davej - Crossed Heart Forge * islandblacksmith.ca * instagram * youtube

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  • 3 weeks later...

Dave,

Thanks for the posts on the apprenticeship topic, they are very interesting..I hope Loki is not put off by the difficulty of the " getting chosen" process. I would like to know more about the limits ( if any ) placed on smiths after they complete the training process ( direct limitations or indirect limitations). One would think in the current environment, with so much information available at our finger tips..reinventing the process is quite possible.

 

The sword polishing video above shows the contrasting personalities of the students very clearly...I am not sure which will assist the work in the long run.

 

Jan

Edited by Jan Ysselstein
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  • 1 month later...

@jan...

 

yes, apprenticeship is so much about the relationship aspect, everything else flows from that...developing one's self/character and learning to be healthy and relational are important ways of preparing for the best case scenario there (and for life in general too!)

 

there are strong limitations to making swords in japan, only those with licenses are allowed by law to do so (owning or making blades of any significant length is very strictly controlled in japan)...there are also rules as to the method, materials, and even the number of blades a smith may produce in a month...beyond that there are cultural pressures to work within certain constraints imposed since wwII that have narrowed the field somewhat but were seen as a necessity to preventing the complete loss of the swordsmithing tradition to the allies rule...

 

indeed the personality and relationship to the master differs greatly and can affect the outcomes and successes to a large degree...this is why having "the right master" is as important as having "the right apprentice" and no one should rush into the process without knowing one other as well as possible...

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Davej - Crossed Heart Forge * islandblacksmith.ca * instagram * youtube

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Dave,

Thank you. I think for people like Loki, there is an awful lot one can do without going the formal route. The blade metallurgy is so very interesting, it will keep one occupied a lifetime.

 

Jan

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