Katana: The Samurais Soul
The Katana is a sword that embraced many values and importance in the life of a Samurai. The sword was of ample importance to the life of these people since it was a symbol for ones social status, it was used in many traditions and it was the closest entity to the Samurai. The Katana was the product of years and years of swords building. It was the early 15th century when a sword smith and his son swore to their master that they would make the perfect sword with properties so strong that it could withstand anything and still be the sharpest blade. After the perfection of this sword, it was recognized as the single most perfect sword ever developed.
The Japanese culture had traditions behind every behaviour and entity. Along with being a Katana holder, a Samurai had a lot of traditions and responsibilities that were carried out since the first Shogun ruled. Murphy N W, a researcher on the history of the Samurai said that the Katana “was a symbol of his obedience of the code of Bushido and his undying loyalty to his master.” The code of the warrior, Bushido, consisted of the main rules and principles that all Samurais lived by. Learning to wield the sword, respect it and always having its possession was one of the traditions that were passed on from father to son and went on for generations. Carrying the Katana was a way to show loyalty to the master gesturing that the Samurai will never betray his master. The sword was earned under his master and through that he would always be loyal to his master. This was the notion that was given off by the sword. Other small traditions and superstitions constituted scenarios where the Katana was brought during birth so that the baby is blessed with “good luck, fortune and purity,” says Turnbull, S in his book The world of the warrior. One other tradition was that when a Samurai passed on to the next world, he believed that dying by his sword helps him be protected in the other world and that when passing over, the sword assure a clear and unhindered path. Such traditions were passed on from father to son and so on. All these principles, ethics and superstitions, relied on the sword. Hence, residing in the sword were traditions that only true Japanese Samurais and their descendants knew.
Both during and after the Sengoku period (1467-1603), the Samurai’s swords, mainly the Katana, had been a symbol for social Status. During the Sengoku period, it was a privilege to be Samurai. Carrying the sword meant the ownership of the weapon of the warrior. The Samurais were feared and respected by all, even the Emperor. A.Knowles, in his essay, The Soul of the Samurai, wrote that the Katana “had been valued and utilized above all else.” It was the Samurais only entity that made them who they were in the past as well as the period after the Sengoku era. After the Sengoku era, the Samurais were above all the people with the exception of the Emperor. To be carrying a sword around in the town was to earn respect from everybody staring at a nobleman. But soon, this culture died when the abolishment of swords came in place. By then, the Samurais had not been specialized in any crafts or profession. Being a warrior in the Sengoku era and enjoying the fruits of their service was soon to end. They were people of high status without any economy. They were indebt to the merchants and the merchants were now in a very advantageous place. Even though they were in a bad place and had no financial aids, they still had the social status as they kept their valued swords in their houses.
Tokugawa Ieyasu’s renown remarks regarding the katana was that it was the “soul of the Samurai.” This was true because during those times, the only way a person was recognized as a Samurai was if he were holding his soul, the samurai katana. Not only was it the closest entity, accordingly, his life depended on it. It was more of an obligation than a choice for their swords to be the most priceless object. From the time of birth to their last breath, the Katana was in their presence, to protect them, to bless them and to guide them. A.Knowles, in his essay, Soul of the Samurai, said: “It was considered great honour to receive such a sword from ones master or even his ally.” The word honour, meant so much more in the history. Even now, this trend that honour is above everything is reviving in Japan. During those times, when the Katana was received from anyone, it was considered to be the highest act of honour. As the Katana was the most precious object to the samurai, to have received one showed great deal of respect, undying loyalty and hard earned honour and dignity. Hence, the sword was the highest valued entity that the samurai owned as it was a representation of power, status, honour, dignity and principles.
Confucius once said, “Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.” The samurai’s code of Bushido, when it comes to the Katana was similar. A samurai had to be a sole loyal warrior and had to show potential that he values honour above all to earn his Katana. It was his life, his fate and his destiny. Behind each named Katana, was how worthy the samurai was. The sword determined their ethics and what they insinuated by their actions. They esteemed their sword more than any materialistic object they possessed. From birth to death and even after, the Katana blade would guide them and truly proved the words of Ieyasu right, it was “the soul of the samurai.”
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