To a sword collector, the katana is one blade that’s worth having. If you mean to impress your friends, perhaps a katana wall-hanger for $100 from eBay might do the trick. However, if you want to be taken seriously, you might have to raise the price a tad higher. With that said, we’re looking at somewhere between $5,000 to $10,000. Perhaps even more.
With all that said, how much really is an authentic katana? Is it possible to get one at such a low price? With several katana shops online and buyer guides that provide different details, knowing how much a real katana costs can be quite confusing. For that matter, read on and find out more about the average price, as well as tips on buying a cheapo versus a genuine katana.
What’s the Average Cost of an Authentic Katana?
By authentic, we mean shinken or katana blades that are made in Japan. Japanese sword craftsmen in Japan still practice the traditional method of forging a katana. For this reason, the average cost of an authentic samurai sword starts anywhere from $4,000 and can go as high as $6,000. On the other hand, a battle-ready katana that has undergone traditional forging methods may cost $10,000 or more.
For katana purists, the price of an authentic Japanese katana can go from $7,000 up to $8,500. In fact, the price can get as high as $25,000 depending on the material, technique, and level of craftsmanship of the bladesmith. Now, if these price ranges tell you one thing, it’s this: quality affects the price of a shinken katana more than anything else. Thus, if you are looking for a high-quality blade, expect that it will be on the pricey side.
Comparing a $200 Replica and $6,000 Authentic Katana: What to Expect?
After discussing what makes a high-quality, authentic katana in the previous section, it’s time to determine what makes a $6,000 katana different from one that costs $200. What makes a $6,000 katana superior in quality as compared to one that costs a couple hundred bucks? As mentioned previously, comparing a cheapo against a pricey katany would boil down to one crucial aspect: quality and make.
That’s because while a $200 replica might look like and cut like an authentic $6,000 katana, the former can’t surpass the latter on many levels. And just as the saying goes: the devil’s in the details. For that matter, here are 6 features that you would immediately notice when comparing a $200 and $6,000 katana:
- Polishing of the Blade
Nowadays, bladesmiths use power tools when sharpening tools, like knives and such. The same goes for modern katanas made outside Japan. A buffer is all it takes to sharpen the blade and bring out its lustrous elegance.
However, unlike the togishi—the individual responsible for sharpening and polishing the katana using traditional means—this process takes time and effort. With a buffer tool, you are more likely to overlook a lot of spots; you might even fail to bring out the unique features on a katana’s blade, such as the hamon line. The togishi, in contrast, would painstakingly polish each part of the blade to accentuate the hamon line and the folds. They would use different types of polishing stones in this procedure.
The polishing process is important to the katana as do the other techniques employed in crafting the blade from start to finish. In fact, katana experts admire the polishing as much as they admire the other features of a katana.
- Hamon Temper Line
The hamon temper line is the byproduct of the differential clay tempering the bladesmith performed on the katana. Of all the features on the blade, the hamon line is highly marvelled by amateur and expert katana enthusiasts.
Unless you can tell what makes the hamon line of an authentic katana better than the replica, you might not recognize what makes the former a work of art. Often, the hamon line on a $200 katana literally looks like the sharp edge of the blade was subjected to an acid bath. Now, compare that to a katana that’s been sharpened and polished in a painstaking process by a katana craftsman or someone who’s familiar with katanas. No offense, but that acid bath treatment sounds like,well, cheating.
- Sageo (Sheath/Scabbard)
The sageo is a woven cord wrapped around the saya or sheath of the katana. This item is generally made of either silk or cotton. Often, you might see the sageo wrapped around the sheath in an elegant manner with seemingly complex knots, which adds to the katana’s overall aesthetic.
However, there have been buyers who have had issues with some online katana sellers because of the sageo among the other features of the katana. Some have remarked that the cord appears to have been made of synthetic material (not real silk, for that matter). Hence, the sageo looks like some random shoelace that’s tied on the scabbard. Unless you have actually seen what a sageo looks like, you might not be able to tell the difference between an authentic one. And this affects beginners who are keen on collecting high-quality authentic swords.
- Samegawa (Rayskin)
The samegawa is made from dried stingray skin, and it is wrapped around the wooden handle of the katana. Similar to the sageo, distinguishing the authenticity of a rayskin or samegawa on a katana can be difficult unless you have actually seen or felt one in person.
Usually, the samegawa has tiny bumps on it, which makes it coarse as a result, and gives the tsuka-ito a firm hold around the hilt. A closer look at an original samegawa would immediately tell you that the bumps appear distinct, random patterns and deviations. If you compare that to the handle on a cheap katana, you can instantly tell that the hilt is made of moulded plastic and does not provide that firm grip when you press your finger against it.
- Tsuka-Ito (Handle Wrap)
The tsuka-ito, or handle wrap is made of Japanese silk, cotton, and even leather that’s woven around the hilt, creating beautiful diamond-shaped patterns on the tsuka. The tsuka-ito is used to add aesthetics on the katana, and provide the wielder a good grip on the sword. One way to tell you are holding a cheap katana is by moving the wrapping around with your finger. If it’s loose, it’s definitely inauthentic. That’s because you won’t see the same thing happen to a genuine katana.
- Tsuba (Guard)
You can definitely tell that a tsuba is of high-quality not just by the material used, but also by its overall appearance. Again, it takes a skilled eye to determine what’s authentic and what’s not. If you are purchasing a $5,000 to $7,000 shinken katana, you will instantly notice the intricacy and attention to detail the Japanese bladesmiths have applied while creating the tsuba. Compare that to a $200 replica and you will quickly see the difference. In other words, the skill of crafting one alone speaks a lot, for that matter.
- Quality Fittings
When we speak of katana fittings, we are referring to the other components of the katana. These are the mekugi (pins that hold the tang of the katana in the handle), menuki (adornments), kashira-gane (pommel), fuchi (hilt collar), and seppa (washers), among others. The quality of the fittings—the way they were cast and furnished—reflect heavily in the price of a katana.
Again, if you compare the fittings on a cheap katana to a pricey one, you’ll immediately notice the differences in every component. On a $200 or $600 blade, some of the fittings can become loose, and chief among these is the kashira-gane. Depending on how tight the tsuka-ito is, the menuki may also become loose after a short tameshigiri session. In that case, it seems there’s no need to set your expectations high when purchasing a replica.
Tips in Finding High-Quality, Authentic Katana
When looking for a quality, traditionally forged katana online, you might find yourself in a bind since there are a lot of online shops that sell such a sword. For that matter, it’s ideal that you take your time and figure out which sword site suits your preferences. Here are 3 vital guidelines that can help if you are keen on purchasing and owning an authentic katana.
Every sword enthusiast knows that buying a katana online is a risky venture. There’s no telling if you’re getting the right value for your money. For that matter, do your homework. Conducting intensive research on the site would give you insights on whether the katana you’re buying would be worth the bang for your buck or not.
In addition, take time in reading the reviews in every website and note the ones that have received five-star customer reviews. Not only would you save time and effort in researching potential online katana shops, but you also get to save your money.
Materials and Forging Methods Used
Whether you are planning on purchasing a katana online or not, there is one thing that you should keep in mind all the time: the type of metal used. This factor is most crucial especially if you are in the lookout for katana blades constructed outside Japan.
Japanese swordsmiths are required by law to use traditional tamahagane, so you are assured that shinken blades are authentic as they come. On the other hand, the bladesmiths from other countries use a different type of steel, which could either be 1060 or 1095 steel. Other tags or labels that you should look for are the following:
- Contains high carbon content
- Purified through folding
- Differentially hardened through clay tempering
As mentioned earlier, 1060 and 1095 steel are the ideal materials for making high-quality katana because these steel types contain a high amount of carbon, which makes them tough. Also, with 1060 and 1095 steel, you are ensured that the sharpness of the blade lasts for a long time.
Another factor that you should look for when in the hunt for high-quality katanas are its features. An authentic katana has a set of distinct characteristics that sets it apart from the other swords, let alone the fake, inferior blades. Some of the features that a buyer should pay close attention to are as follows:
- Tang (Nakago)
The tang of a katana or nakago is the part of the blade that is inserted into the handle (tsuka). Generally, the swordsmith would put their signature on the nakago, as well as the date it was constructed. With that said, every katana has a tang, whether it’s crafted using traditional means or not. Otherwise, what you are looking at isn’t a katana nor is it a steel sword, for that matter.
- Components of the Sword
The components of the katana are as vital as the blade itself. You might as well not purchase the blade if it does not come with the handle or tsuka, guard or tsuba, and the sheath or saya. In fact, you can also tell if a katana is authentic through its accessories. Besides, without these components, you cannot use it for the purposes of tameshigiri (test-cutting) using a real goza (target) or filled water bottles. Now, where is the fun in that?
- Length of the Blade
The length of the katana is also one of its distinctive features. Usually, a katana has an average length of anywhere between 60 to 80 centimetres (23.6 to 31.6 inches). If you are looking at a Japanese sword that either falls short or goes beyond those figures definitely isn’t a katana.
- Width and Weight
When it comes to its width, an authentic katana generally measures 1 and ¼ inches. Usually, a fake katana does not even reach an inch in width. In addition, considering the types of material used, a genuine katana should weigh around .90 to .95 kilograms (3 lbs). Fake katanas tend to weigh less because the manufacturer utilizes aluminum alloy or stainless steel.
Final Word — How Much Does an Authentic Katana Cost?
On average, an authentic, high-quality katana costs anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000. However, the price of a shinken katana varies depending on the quality of the blade. Katana purists, meanwhile, believe that the starting price of a genuine katana should be somewhere between $7,000 and $8,000, which is a lot. However, if you consider the preparations and methods used in crafting the blade and its components, there’s no doubt the price of an authentic katana should be that high.
Moreover, when looking at an authentic, high-quality katana, it’s ideal that you do some research and familiarize yourself with the differences between a low-end and high-quality katana. With that in mind, not only would you be able to purchase the right blade that fits your preferences, but you also get the bang of your buck with an authentic katana.