Authentic Japanese swords (called Nihonto 日本刀) are usually VERY expensive.
Indeed, the starting price is typically from US$3,000-5,000
and goes up (and up and UP) from there..!
However in our target price range (sub $300), there are a handful of blades on the market which come at least reasonably close to the 'real thing' in terms of their appearance, functionality and handling.
And quite a few more that use modern spring tempered steels to create amazingly tough 'Dojo Quality', frequent use Japanese style "beaters" if you will...!
On this page we will take a look at them all - including cheap swords that often get glossed over by the elitists - you name it, we put them all to the test.
For more in-depth discussions of the various types of Katana we talk about here, follow the links - this is just an overview...
Before we take a look at all the replicas of authentic Japanese swords currently available these days, you might want to brush up on the history of Samurai swords or spend a little time trying to wrap your head around the basic Samurai sword terminology.
You don't need to memorize everything all at once, indeed you should find that our reviews and articles are written to reinforce and teach you as you go, but with so much to learn - every little bit helps.
But for now, let's take a look at the most common and misrepresented types of Japanese style 'swords' on the market place, of which there are probably more of these available than any other type of sword around.
Stainless steel Japanese style sword like objects - which are about as far removed from authentic Japanese swords as night is from day..
The overwhelming majority of cheap Japanese style swords being sold online are not in any way functional. Sure, they are made of steel and yes, some of them might even be sharp - but sharpness alone doesn't mean very much if the blade bends or snaps on the first strike...
Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with buying some nice looking Samurai sword sets to display over the mantelpiece, etc.
The only problem is that many people who believe they are starting a collection of authentic Japanese swords aren't getting what they think they paid for, as the following rather infamous "home shopping network" video plainly shows...
Swords like this are a dime a dozen, overpriced and definitely nothing like what you would expect from authentic Japanese swords..
Here is a brief article on how to tell the difference between real vs fake sword set style Katana.
And next, we will look at some alternatives that cost almost the same price, are kind of hidden in the junk and perform a LOT better...
Most Katana under $100 are going to be ornamental. But not all of them..
For our purposes, the absolute most basic cutting Katana needs to be:
We explore the world of low cost Samurai Swords in detail here, but below are what we found to be the most noteworthy reviews and discoveries.
There are several main techniques used when forging authentic Japanese swords that none of the blades we have look at so far usually have..
Folding (aka Damascus) and lamination are two of the more advanced techniques, though with modern steels, they are largely obsolete practices.
Indeed, many entry level Damascus Swords are some of the worst swords you can buy - see our related articles "Damascus Sucks" and how some swords being advertised as laminated swords end up being Damascus swords anyway with no lamination in sight with the review "Ryan Sword - the 'Sanmai' Katana review"..
But there is at least one feature that all authentic Japanese swords have in common, and that is the famous tempering line known as the HAMON - which is achieved by claying the blade and tempering it so that the edge is harder than the spine..
You can read much more about what makes this technique special here - but in the meantime, as before, here is a list of our in depth, hands on reviews and cutting tests.
Finally, inspired by the SBG Custom Katana (a project that is currently on indefinite hold due to supply chain issues) - one of the most exciting sword projects that started in 2015 and came to fruition in 2016 is the Ryujin Custom Katana line which was the brain child of one of the founders of Musashi Swords, Mr Sam Sung..
Using the same style of T10 tool steel sword as the SBG Custom Katana, the number of options are less - but what makes them revolutionary is how FAST they are made because, instead of being forged from scratch in China and taking 3-6 months to arrive, the components are stocked and assembled in the USA so can be sent out in as little as one week..!!
But it is not just the speed of customizaton that makes them good. They cut pretty well too - with the most basic model close to the $200 price point, proving to be surprisingly durable..
Check out the review below to see for yourself.
"Beaters" - or relatively inexpensive, but very TOUGH Katana for dojo and backyard cutting practices are a fairly recent development.
Instead of being differentially hardened with a real hamon like authentic Japanese swords have always been made, they are what is called "Monotempered" so the blades can take a lot of punishment and if bent, spring back to true...
While they may not be authentic Japanese swords, they are a lot of fun - suitable both for the dojo and the backyard. And being so forgiving of poor technique or mishaps, are highly recommended for beginners..
We explore the world of these "beater" Katana in full detail here. But in the meantime, here are some all time classics..
Pretty much all of these swords cut the mustard. But one came out head and shoulders above the rest..
The blades are extremely tough and expertly tempered. The fittings, the best of any sword below $300. And their powerful, thick Dotanuki (Torso cutting - i.e. cut a man in half style) blades can cut through almost anything put in front of them without breaking a sweat..
They are the Dojo Pro series by Ronin Katana.
Check the video and the detailed hands on review and testing to see why this proven brand has become so popular...
Most of the swords we have looked at so far are great value for money. Many are hand made, with each sword starting as a lump of iron and going through many different processes with many hours of hard work going into every piece. Many are actually thrown away by QC at various stages of the process, and it has been said that to make one decent hand made sword takes 2-3 failures that never leave the forge.
At the end of the day ALL sub US$300 Japanese swords, be they dojo level swords with real hamon, monotempered beaters or simply cheap machine made 1045 carbon steel knockoffs have one thing in common - despite how well they might perform, they are still NOT truly authentic Japanese swords and will never be "perfect"...
With the proliferation of these bare basic Japanese
style swords, it is unfair (and unreasonable) to compare them to a high
level $1,500-$2000 production sword or (heaven forbid) a real
Shinken/Nihonto (Authentic Japanese swords made in Japan by a master smith).
Sure, if you are looking for a decent cutter for dojo applications, backyard cutting or a functional sword for display purposes (after all, a display sword that will fall apart if swung through the air is more embarrassing than impressive) - these swords will all meet (and probably exceed!) your requirements.
But that said, ALL OF THEM HAVE THEIR ISSUES, especially when compared to truly authentic Japanese swords in the US$1000+ price range. They simply aren't in the same league - it's like comparing a Ferrari to a Pinto...!
Most issues you will encounter with major, respectable sword brands are minor and are purely cosmetic. And when a truly flawed sword does sometimes sneak past QC, they are usually pretty good about getting it exchanged or refunded depending on what the customer wants to do.
But if a minor tool mark that did not polish out completely is the kind of thing that will keep you up at nights, you need to double or triple your budget at the very least..
As the major difference between high end Katana and the kind of swords we have looked at so far is simply - refinement. More time and better materials = a higher price tag.
Click here to read more about what separates basic entry to mid level Katana from the high end - it has more to do with REFINEMENT and very little to do with durability (the $300 price point beaters we looked at earlier are some of the toughest around, click here to read a review of a $2000 Katana I bent trying to cut a tough target that the $300 beaters would handle with ease).
In the meantime, here is a review of two of our mid to our own high end Katana to give you an idea of what is possible..
To help you find more information on authentic Japanese swords we put together a list of Japanese sword sites which lists only the best Japanese sword sites on the web, whether its for more information or buying a Katana from $20 to $20,000.. Concise, and to the point (with no dead links, these sites are SOLID and have been around for years), it's a doorway to a veritable wealth of extra information..
To avoid getting ripped off on eBay check out our article - Japanese Swords for Sale on eBay.
For Japanese sword training techniques, click the link - it contains a quick run down of the etiquette, basic cutting techniques and a free ebook to get you started if you can't find a dojo nearby or are simply curious.
There's also an absolute mountain of information on authentic Japanese swords over at the various Sword Forums - just using the search function there will uncover an absolute goldmine of useful info, user reviews and more. Check it out - highly recommended, though almost as addictive as collecting authentic Japanese swords! ;-)
I hope this information on authentic Japanese swords has been helpful. To return to the SBG Homepage from A Beginners Guide to Authentic Japanese Swords, click here