The Ultimate Guide to
Authentic Japanese Swords

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..!

Authentic Japanese Swords for sale in Kyoto, Japan

SUB PAGES

This page is a quick overview. For detailed information and comparisons between swords currently available on the market, you can jump to your area of interest using the links below.

Sub $100 "Bare Bones" Katana

Traditional, yet affordable, blades ($220-500)

Heavy Duty, Ultra Durable Dojo Swords (sub $300)

Wakizashi & Ko Katana

High end Elite Blades ($600++)

SUB PAGES

This page is a quick overview. For detailed information and comparisons between swords currently available on the market, you can jump to your area of interest using the links below.

Sub $100 "Bare Bones" Katana

Traditional, yet affordable, blades ($220-500)

Heavy Duty, Ultra Durable Dojo Swords (sub $300)

Wakizashi & Ko Katana

High end Elite Blades ($600++)

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...

A Newbies Guide to Authentic Japanese Swords

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.

Our quick start guides below cover all of the basics if you want to shortcut the learning process and get a head start.

Don't get too hung up on all of this, indeed you should find that our reviews and articles are written with the beginner in mind to reinforce and teach you as you go, but with so much to learn - every little bit of knowledge helps.

Do you know how much these swords are worth?

Do you know how much these swords are worth? $30? $300? $3,000? Or more? It's hard to tell - this kind of mounting is called 'Shirasaya' and is used to house a blade. But the value of the blade can vary? How much do you think this set is worth? Can you tell? For a discussion of real katana prices, click here

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..

Worthless Swords to Avoid...

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...

The infamous home shopping network outtake

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...

Type I: Bare Bones Functionality

What follows is a quick overview

For a detailed look at sub $100 bare bones Katana:

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:

  1. Made from some kind of tempered carbon steel. Definitely NOT stainless steel.
  2. Have a full tang - i.e. goes all the way into the handle, not a welded on rod and..
  3. Weigh less than 3lbs.

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.

Hands on Reviews

FEATURED REVIEW

Musashi Bushido Series

Quite a detailed look at two typical bare bones swords. One was pretty much what you would expect for the price. But the other one more than made up for it.

Just goes to show you that there are still some jewels in the junk to be found. Average price $60


Type II: With "Hamon", the most Authentic Japanese Swords

What follows is a quick overview.

For a detailed look at traditional Katana with real hamon:

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.

Hands on Reviews

Global Gear Makaze

A fairly average sword overall, but a good deal for Australians.. $190

Hanwei Practical Plus Katana

The original entry level Katana. May be an old model but still holds it's own $322.95

Hanwei Practical Pro Katana

Solid blade and extra long handle on this Paul Chen Classic $336.95

Hanwei Practical Katana

Was great value once, but the PK is showing its age $230

Hanwei Practical Katana Elite

A step in the right direction with this 3' razor blade by Hanwei. $239.95

Hanwei Practical Plus Elite

An excellent sword for the money with several huge improvements over earlier models. $349

Hanwei Practical XL Light

Crazy sharp blade geometry, but maybe just a little too sharp for its own good.. $250

Hanwei Practical XL

Good for cutting light targets, but lacks versatility $237

Cheness Cutlery Kaze Katana

The Tatami Mat Killer that has stood the test of time. $299

Ryumon Dragon Katana

Often overlooked, but something of a diamond in the rough $219

SBG Custom Katana

Made in batches with a narrow window to buy. Sold almost at cost price and still great value. $429.99

And Finally,
The RYUJIN CUSTOM KATANA!

Finally, inspired by the SBG Custom Katana - 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 customization 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.

FEATURED REVIEW

Ryujin Custom Katana

The concept was revolutionary - import the bare blades and katana parts and assemble them to the customers preference within a week!

SBG helped test and refine the concept. Out of three swords tested, one failed, one did okay and the other exceeded all expectations. $229


Type III: Heavy Duty Beaters

What follows is a quick overview.

For a detailed look at Ultra Durable Beater Swords:

"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..

Hands on Reviews

Cold Steel O-Katana

It's big and it's bad. In a good way.. Tough but a little too heavy. $379.95

Hanwei Raptor Nanbokucho

Designed by Shihan James Williams from the Bugei company, these are excellent blades but not without a few issues. $296

Cold Steel Warrior Katana

"Handles like a crowbar, cuts like a light saber.." $305

Cheness Cutlery O-Katana

Handles surprisingly well, the 9260 blade on this one is tough enough to chop into a steel barrel. $299.99

Cheness Cutlery SGC Katana

Specialized Goza (mat) Cutter. True beast of a sword with a wide profile 9260 Spring Steel Blade. $299.99

Cheness Cutlery Tenchi Katana

Tough as nails, the workhorse flagship of the Cheness 9260 Spring Steel line $279.99

Cheness Cutlery Kurome

Not quite a 'fail' but definitely not their best use of 9260 Steel.. $249.99

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...

FEATURED REVIEW

Ronin Katana Dojo Pro Series

One of a series of 31 models - all with heavy duty, no-nonsense mono-tempered 1060 carbon steel blades and the best fittings available at swords in this price point.

Here we not only test them out to the max, but we even take a trip to where they are made in Longquan, China. $294.99

Hands on Reviews

Ronin Katana Dojo Pro 2 & 4

Double review of models #2 and #4 - and the first sighting of the legendary 'ghost' hamon. $294.99

Ronin Katana Dojo Pro #8

A close look at the 29" bladed model # 8 reveals not just a workhorse, but a beautiful sword in its own right, inside and out.. $314.99

Ronin Katana Dojo Pro 3,5 & 9

The ultimate review of not one but three swords by three SBG members, yet they all come to the same conclusion... $294.99

Wakizashi, Ko Katana & Daisho

What follows is a very quick overview.

For detailed information on Wakizashi, Daisho and their history

Within each of the main categories of authentic Japanese swords we have explored so far, there is one more very important type of sword that defined what it meant to be a Samurai - and that is the companion sword, the Wakizashi and various types of Shoto.

It was the exclusive privilege of the Samurai class to wear the two swords known as the Daisho (big and small) and no collection of Japanese swords is complete without at least a few of the smaller companion swords in it.

However, compared to Katana at least, there are not that many Wakizashi available on the sword market because they cost almost as much to make as a full length Katana, however as they are smaller most sword buyers expect they should be significantly cheaper. So the only way this works is if they are made and sold at cost price, something very few manufacturers are willing to do.

But there are some options, below are some reviews of Wakizashi and Wakizashi sub types like the Ko-Katana that can be used to make a Daisho set or enjoyed on their own merits.

Hands on Reviews

Ronin Dojo Pro Ko-Katana #10

Fast, versatile and tough - what more could you want in a Ko-Katana beater? $294.99

Cheness Cutlery Kaze Ko

Wakizashi blade, two handed Katana handle, versatile with a great little blade on it. $229.99

Hanwei Practical Wakizashi

The first Wakizashi on the market it still holds its own, but while practical isn't much of a looker.. $187


One Final Very Important Word Regarding Quality and High End Swords

What follows is a quick overview.

For a detailed look at high end Katana:

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).

Kid in a Candy Store: the author checking out authentic Japanese swords in Osaka, Japan. Average price, $4000..

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..

FEATURED REVIEW

Forge Direct Custom Katana

One of the projects we are proudest of that grew out of our dealings with master smiths in Longquan - these are actual master smith forged Katana blades mounted in the best fittings available in China that truly do represent incredible value for money.

Here we take a close look at the kind of designs you can make yourself and put them to the test. Price includes all customizations and  even free worldwide shipping. $899

Hanwei Shinto Katana

A readily available high quality Katana and good choice to dip one's toe in the higher end.. $599.95

Thaisuki Model KTN5

Strikingly attractive, and a nice cutter, it's a tad overpriced but still worth the asking price. $1349.99

Imperial Forge Kesshi Katana

Attractive and well made folded blade, but let down a bit by average fittings. $749.95


Further Resources

Unfortunately Katana are not legal to own everywhere in the world. Click here for a breakdown of where they are and were they are not legal.

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! ;-)

In the meantime, see how much you have learned and how with our 2 minute Samurai sword knowledge quiz or find your perfect sword with our find a sword quiz!


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


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