Almost all the Japanese swords for sale on eBay are not what they seem.
Outright lies, broken promises, shady business practices and borderline scamming is the order of the day - and in recent years, it has only gotten worse..
The sad part is, the casual sword shopper has no idea what is going on behind the scenes. So with this article, it is time to set the record straight once and for all.
Some sellers of Japanese swords for sale on eBay have what I would call a very "mixed" reputation. A seller that is hot one month can go cold the next, and where one person gets what they feel is a great deal, someone else gets ripped off..
Consistency is not one of their strong points..
For example, on our forum in the eBay Forge Buying Experiences thread, one of our members is seemingly happy with a sword he purchased for $187 made from "L6" steel.
Sure, the customization's were wrong (wrong tsuba, not silk ito as ordered, etc) but he thought it was a great deal - almost too good to be true right?
Well, it actually IS too good to be true - because is it is patently impossible to offer Japanese swords for sale made from L6 Bainite for anywhere near $187 (add another zero on the end and its about right).
The use of this steel type for swords was first pioneered by Howard Clark back in the late 1990s, and only two other companies (one in Korea and the other, the famous Hanwei forge in Dailan) were able to make it properly. No other forges in China (or anywhere else in the world for that matter) actually know HOW to heat treat it properly, nor have easy access to the steel itself, and certainly not for $187..
Same thing with "Japanese swords for sale made from 9260 Spring Steel" for $100..Most 9260 steel swords are around $250 or so, so $100 is a fantastic deal..
But the problem is, it's not 9260.. It's impossible to make real 9260 blades and sell them that cheaply (and stay in business anyway).
Case in point, here is a "9260 Blade" that broke at the tang from cutting a soaked newspaper.. (oh yeah, and the seller would not even answer the customers emails requesting some kind of compensation - happens a lot as well, they are nice and friendly until they get your money and you have a problem. Then they disappear faster than a rat up a drainpipe)..
Closer examination of the break by a blacksmith revealed that it had a huge crystalline grain structure, had an existing crack, and should have been in an annealed state anyway, so should not have broken - only bent..
At the end of the day, in almost ALL cases, the Japanese
swords for sale listed as "L6", "9260 Spring Steel", "Sanmai" or "Tamahagane" or other desirable and popular steels are all just basic 1045 carbon steel blades that honest sellers offer for around $60 or so..
Another one of our members was not all that surprised..
"the entry 1060 level blade almost fly out just swinging.
and the other sword claimed to be Sanmai constructionn cost only AUD 270 but turns out only a mono steel blade .I I wasn't too surprised cos it is impossible to make a sanmai at just price anyway.
Was pissed off that they tried to trick new buyers.
Now some of them are selling kobuse blade at $300 and $600 mark..picture looks ok but scare to take risk."
Probably wise to follow that feeling..
If only it ended with lies about the steel used..
But it's gets worse, as these cheap swords are made in the cheapest way possible to maximize the sellers profits and are patently AWFUL when compared to established brands that are honest enough to actually sell a $60 sword for $60..
Just take a look at the tang of this sword compared to a cheap blade by Musashi and its clear you are looking at a total rip off..
Some problems are not so immediately obvious. We have lost count of glowing reviews - mostly by newbies - that are later updated to report issues like this happening a few weeks later..
Though they often start out like this using a special 'stuff the wrap material into an ugly mess at the end' technique..
Or how about this abomination..
Not a pretty sight what is hidden away "under the hood".. They pray that you will never look.. Out of sight out of mind right..
Speaking of "hidden away"..
They may list Japanese swords for sale on eBay and AliExpress, but NOT ONE of these sellers are sword makers or own their own forges as they claim..
Let me repeat that - real sword forges do not sell directly to the public on eBay - EVER!
SBG member Alexander Notes:
"I lived in China - Suzhou, near Shanghai actually, for 5 years. The few
bladesmiths I ever met didn't know English at all and were usually not
too knowledgeable about tech, so I would be surprised that any smith
would be running their own online vending, let alone speak a hint of
English. Most of the ones I had ever seen only dealt with people
in-person and I'd have to have a friend translate for me since my
Chinese is only basic.
Anyway, so I figured these aren't the smiths of course. The smith is usually some grizzled older guy that you wouldn't be able to communicate with and doesn't know anything about web-design, because he's a smith, not a web designer."
The reality is that the people who offer Japanese swords for sale direct from China do it as a part time business. Most are actually female using unisex or male names (generally speaking, females tend to be better at English than males in China) and on a visit to the forges, I have seen these vendors in action.
They actually zip around on "e-bikes", usually getting the blades from one central location, grab fittings to roughly match a customers request and then take them to other small local shops to be mounted before a quick trip to the post office..
Speaking of post offices, we actually checked out some of the addresses listed on the packages - and not ONE of them was an actual forge as they claimed. Most were totally unrelated shops!
Here is one of the most hilarious pictures we found of one of the more "respectable" eBay stores offering Japanese Swords For Sale..
But it gets worse.
While most of the blades come from a central, shared workshop we have christened "Hammer-town" - others are actually rejects that they can pick up extra cheap..
Waste not want not right?
Chris from Ronin Katana Notes:
"The remainder comes from purchases of factory rejects. Last year Project X rejected a very large number of laminated katana with fatal flaws, which showed up on eBay. While some dealers may have stuff that looks better than others, it's because they paid for a little better polish, or send them off for hamon that match customer requests. Steel stock and smiths are still the same. Hamon that are far too high, and run off are pretty common. They aren't going to keep remaking it to get what was ordered."
Take a look at the Japanese swords for sale on a typical China based site or contact the sellers directly and they will tell you they can and will make anything you want.
But what you receive is almost always - wrong. Wrong fittings, wrong blade type, wrong steel, wrong description.
A case in point:
"I paid nearly 800usd for a shihozume lamination and got a mono folded steel billet sword. The fittings, rayskin, ito etc were all standard of a cheap sword."
That would have to be a record. $800 for a $60 sword..
Most of the time they are not that audacious. They just don't get any of the details right - and from our own experiences with dealing with sword forges with our own custom Katana lines, we learned the hard way. The more customization options we offered, the more confused and messed up the final order would end up. So after years of trial and error, decided on a limited number of customizations and no more.
But that is not how these vendors operate.
Like the customer who ordered a sword requesting a specific hamon, they said 'sure' and that's not what he got. But he liked it enough to give it a positive review - that is until the end cap fell off the next day..
Or another one from the forum, yet again with the hamon..
"i didnt get the ochoji hamon, it seems i got a standard wave style hamon, though it does look good
it was supposed to be 2 weeks to make and about 1 week for delivery. it took about 6 weeks to get made and a 1.5 weeks to deliver. he said he found a defect in the folding while sharpening the first sword so he remade."
Yeah, sure he did.. Doesn't matter now though, because - as is often the case - the day after the review came out describing this - the store and the seller were gone..
I had i couple things in mind including a mide and even notare hamon,
just like the SBG Kuramono, i sent some pictures
from the blade, asked them if it was possible, they said no problem.
Also i asked for pictures if the blade was complete.
Mid November i got mail that the sword is done (fully mounted)
I was really dissapointed that the hamon was not what i asked for, (thats the reason i wanted preview from the blade) their answer was:
"Because the hamon is naturally created through clay tempered processing, we
can't confirm the hamon type is same as model, it is due to master's skill,
temperature control etc. The unregular notare hamon looks better than regular, people think it is natural rather than artificial"
WTF? 'No problem' - and then 'you get what the 'master' makes'??
It all sounds good when they tell you "sure, we can do this" - but 90% of the time you will end up with something entirely different than you ordered.They just cross their fingers and wish for the best.
Unlike North American based sellers, returning a dog of a sword for full refund is incredibly tricky..
One SBG member noted:
"The last sword I sent back to China was a real pain. I had to translate the vendors address to Chinese from English (so the Chinese postman could actually deliver the sword(s) back to them). Then the address had to be written by hand on the shipping label at the post office, as they did not want to provide me blank mailing forms (each form has a unique serial/tracking number). I had to cover half the shipping cost back."
But in truth, this member was lucky - most of the time they will ONLY refund you in full if they are forced to by PayPal, they sword in question is being written about publicly somewhere.
And then there is the issue of swords being refused by Chinese customs. No sword, no refund - sending a sword back to China is a nightmare..
In a recent post on our forum, a member attempted to return a sword - and as usual, it disappeared..
"Shanghai Customs is a black hole and JKOO (Van Yang) says swords shipped from USA enter China via Shanghai Customs.
When sending my JKOO tamahagane katana back to Sinosword for repairs, only to have Shanghai Customs steal it, USPS refused to pay me my $500 Damage/Theft/Loss insurance money because they said "weapons are prohibited items" and can not be sent to China.
I will appeal (so many hours dealing with this USPS insurance claim!) because it was a "return" to seller, not a "send"/export to China."
You might wonder how these guys are able to offer Japanese swords for sale on eBay and keep ratings of 100% if their practices are so questionable.. Well, here is some insight..
Basically, there are two methods they use. The first is to ban people who ask certain questions. They don't want educated buyers, they want newbies.
This practice was first revealed on a review by a member of the SBG sword forum - he was happy with what he got - but revealed in his review that a seller actually banned him from their store..
In his own words:
"[sellers name withheld] ban me from buying his stuff for some reason. I sent 2 e-mails questioning the quality of the Odachi and the process. He banned me without reply and I tried to apologize but, nothing worked. I think because I do not have a reputation as a buyer I could not be trusted. He was right not to sell to me because I would ruin his reputation if I found anything wrong with the sword and I think he did not want to sell to someone who was new to buying sword on ebay."
Only half right, he did ban the member because it would indeed effect his reputation - and rating - if the member found anything wrong with the sword. And deeper into the thread, many more members chimed in with similar experiences, not because he/she doesn't want newbies, but because he/she DOES!
"I had a similar experience with an eBay seller. Was trying to buy some katana fittings and asked 'em what they were made of (e.g., bronze, copper, brass...) because it was not easy to tell from the description or pics. So the seller answered my question, then blocked me from asking any future questions or bidding on any of his products."
And then we hit the truth of it:
"That happened to me on Ebay before. Asked a question about a listing, got blocked. I wasn't rude or anything. My experience suggests it happens when a scammer knows someone might ask the right questions."
Essentially, they are weeding out anyone who might know what they are selling is garbage..
But they have one last dirty trick to preserve their perfect feedback record (well, apart from trying to convince you to buy via a PayPal invoice and not via email - less risk to their feedback that way, and no eBay fees)..
Another one of our forum members ordered a custom sword from eBay. Not only were the customizations all wrong, but the sword was totally substandard in every way and a refund was requested..
The response? "Sorry, we can do a return sure. But would you consider a partial refund?" (bearing in mind this sword was $350).
I will let the buyer in question finish the story:
"So I asked him how much he had in mind as a partial refund. He insulted me by offering me $25USD!! LOL! After doing a triple take at my monitor I replied that if that is the most he'd be willing to offer, I'd just rather return for full refund. He apologized and asked how much I thought was fair. Not wanting to be too hard on the guy I said I'd take $75. Bottom line is that although that will certainly not cover a re-wrap and proper fittings that puts what I received at a price that I don't feel like I got ripped at. So he agreed. Now I find out how he has maintained a 100%+ feedback profile. He responds saying that he will gladly refund only after I have left him 5 star positive feedback and ended this request with 'thank you for your help and understanding'."
So basically, they are knowingly selling junk to newbies, weeding out anyone who seems to know a little bit about swords - because they don't want to do a refund.. But will if necessary as a cost of doing business and keeping their perfect rating..
The level of deception truly staggers belief..
For a while on our forum, we had one "guy" (unisex name) in China offering what seemed to be great quality Japanese swords for sale on eBay and AliExpress who seemed to be an exception to the rule..
Prices were great, the swords themselves were pretty decent "eye candy" and many people claimed to be having good experiences (especially those who ordered and told the seller they would be reviewing the swords on the forum.. No surprise they would use this for marketing purposes and deliver their best sword, but I digress).
At first, things were mostly good. Yes, sometimes they took up to a year to deliver custom swords promised in a few weeks, and often the customizations were wrong.
Delays and errors happen with custom swords, even our line of custom swords have a small error rate and often end up taking longer than anticipated. But - and this is a key difference - we maintain communication at all times and will remake, refund or otherwise ensure the end result is satisfactory if something goes wrong.
This "guy" - quite often went silent. Sometimes for months at a time. And that is just bad business practice..
Here is an example:
"On the fifth month I asked Jacky to give me a refund before my PayPal buyer protection ran out which he did, and I told him I would send the payment again once the sword was complete. Now he won't return any of my emails. I wouldn't care so much if I hadn't shipped him all of my fittings for the sword."
This is not an isolated event. Most people don't even get the refund, communication just stops dead.
After all is said and done, "if it seems too good to be true it probably is" and "caveat emptor: buyer beware" apply doubly to eBay.
Local businesses that offer Japanese swords for sale are a much safer option. While many import their swords from the same big suppliers the eBayers get their swords from, they are upfront about what they are selling.
They also inspect their swords and reject the swords that the eBayers are happy to sell, ensuring you get the best quality swords and value for your money. They contribute to the community, employing people, paying taxes and duties and dealing with customer service issues that arise in the right way.
And many are fellow sword lovers just happy to be able to make a modest living from following their passion, not opportunists looking to make a quick buck..
The sad part is, the eBayers offering Japanese swords for sale do a disservice to not only you the buyer, but to the entire sword industry as a whole..
Dan Dacombe summed it up well:
"It's not all Chinese vendors/producers that are shady or liars... far from it. But I think it's understandable when upstanding businesses and vendors (Chinese or otherwise) aren't thrilled about competing with vendors that knowingly stretch or bend the truth, sometimes past the breaking point. The point is that the actions of a few - specifically, a group of vendors (who in this case happen to be Chinese) on eBay that are not being truthful about their products - negatively impact the market for everyone. It creates false competition and false expectations. It hurts legitimate vendors and producers around the world. And it causes customers to be victimized by purchasing products that aren't as advertised - even if they never discover this fact. More than anything else, it contributes to a negative perception of this particular Chinese industry - which is a massive shame, as it is a widely varied industry full of incredible people who are true artists at what they do. I think they deserve the kind of diligence we're trying for at SBG, if nothing else."
I hope this information about Japanese Swords for Sale on eBay has been helpful. To return to the Ultimate Guide to Authentic Japanese Swords from Japanese Swords on eBay: the Truth Revealed, click here