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Handmade Portraits: The Sword Maker

Nov 15, 2011

by fukunaga

MP4 | YouTubeVimeo | Blip.tv | Subscribe in iTunes

(Music by MONO, courtesy of Temporary Residence Ltd.)

Korehira Watanabe is one of the last remaining Japanese swordsmiths. He has spent 40 years honing his craft in an attempt to recreate Koto, a type of sword that dates back to the Heian and Kamakura periods (794-1333 AD). No documents remain to provide context for Watanabe’s quest, but he believes he has come close to creating a replica of this mythical samurai sword.

Takeshi Fukunaga is a NY-based filmmaker, specializing in directing and editing. His works have been featured in diverse venues ranging from Anthology Film Archives and The National Arts Club to Tokyo Fashion Week.

3 Featured Comments

  • peonylovespink

    peonylovespink said 4 years ago Featured

    What a great artisan. I liked the part where he said he wanted his disciple to be even better than he is because it was about preserving/passing down a tradition. He is a true master of his art.

  • rmoralespottery

    rmoralespottery said 4 years ago Featured

    When I was a boy I read a book about Japanese sword makers that really captivated my imagination and curiosity. This video is the closest thing I've seen to this great tradition and masterful creations. Mr. Watanabe is an incredible craftsman. His passion and soul are beautifully captured. Thank you.

  • ThePolkadotMagpie

    ThePolkadotMagpie said 4 years ago Featured

    Fantastic. I am married to a knife maker. Although he rarely makes his own damascus steel, I have been to many a "hammering off" weekend where they are forging fancy steel. My husband always comes home with holes in his socks from the sparks that fly!

70 comments

  • ohbabydotcom

    ohbabydotcom said 4 years ago

    Wonderful video. True craftsman.

  • FOYI

    FOYI said 4 years ago

    Wow! I always loved swords, and now I appreciate it as well. Thank you!

  • SPUNKbyCM

    SPUNKbyCM said 4 years ago

    We need more people like this swordsmith who try to preserve ancient crafts.

  • thebeadgirl

    thebeadgirl said 4 years ago

    oh my. serious coolness. a true artisan. thank you for sharing!

  • PaperAffection

    PaperAffection said 4 years ago

    I'm in love with the quiet, devoted, passion this man has! Great portrait.

  • funktionslust

    funktionslust said 4 years ago

    We should all aspire to be as authentic as he is

  • wwbc

    wwbc said 4 years ago

    A wonderful video. Truly one of Japan's living treasures.

  • MootiDesigns

    MootiDesigns said 4 years ago

    Great video. Thank you for sharing!

  • ChezaIndigo13

    ChezaIndigo13 said 4 years ago

    Too cool and awe inspiring for words. Thank you for posting this and thank you to Mr. Watanabe for existing and creating.

  • HerHandsMyHands

    HerHandsMyHands said 4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing with us.

  • DelightBunnie

    DelightBunnie said 4 years ago

    Amazing. I wish I could be a sword maker like him. (But I'm not Japanese).

  • renaissanceartisan

    renaissanceartisan said 4 years ago

    This is what being a master crafstman is all about. I've never seen or heard it expressed more perfectly. We can only hope someday to reach the same level as Korehira Watanabe in our own efforts.

  • Colettesboutique

    Colettesboutique said 4 years ago

    What an amazing video! thanks for sharing.

  • AlisaDesign

    AlisaDesign said 4 years ago

    WOW!

  • manicarteest

    manicarteest said 4 years ago

    Great video, i agree with keeping traditions alive. Very aspiring.

  • just4theartofit

    just4theartofit said 4 years ago

    Great video! If it wasn't for people like Mr. Watanabe ancient crafts and history would be lost forever.

  • oldyellowhorsegifts

    oldyellowhorsegifts said 4 years ago

    It is really great to see someone working to keep the culture and traditions alive in their art work. Without people preserving the old traditional ways, no matter what their ethnic back ground is, this type of craft work is at risk of becoming extinct, whether it be basket making with black ash and birch bark, saddle makers, leather work, traditional farming and seed saving, blacksmith, weavers, spinners, the list goes on... thank you for sharing your inspirational story ! Oh and the photographers who help share these wonderful treasures =)

  • theroyal

    theroyal said 4 years ago

    wow... i honestly do not know what other word would be more appropriate.. WOW!

  • theroyal

    theroyal said 4 years ago

    and MONO is the soundtrack!!!

  • Benally

    Benally said 4 years ago

    Beautiful and engaging short. Makes me want to see more! Ive only recently started bladesmithing so this is very inspiring.

  • RedorGrayArt

    RedorGrayArt said 4 years ago

    beautifully produced video of a special craft person!

  • Modrn

    Modrn said 4 years ago

    Now that, is an artisan crafter! Truly inspiring.

  • SeanClayton

    SeanClayton said 4 years ago

    Very cool! Believe it or not I was just thinking about this a couple days ago. And how many people were still maintaining the craft. I surely wish him good fortune.

  • erinag

    erinag said 4 years ago

    Beautiful

  • lovelygifts

    lovelygifts said 4 years ago

    Great story!

  • BeadSoupJewelry

    BeadSoupJewelry said 4 years ago

    Wow, amazing video! It is so important to pass down what we know to the next generation, and hope that they can take it to the next level. My dad is a welder by trade and he passed the trade down to my brother, now my brother is doing cutting edge stuff in his trade!

  • morij

    morij said 4 years ago

    It is truly amazing what you can do when you follow your heart. I believe no matter who is saying you can not do something, there are always people that have the same passion for whatever you love and will really enjoy what you create because no one else can create what you can.

  • Verdurebydesign

    Verdurebydesign said 4 years ago

    My children have enjoyed this look into such an historical art. Thank you.

  • davkadeergirl

    davkadeergirl said 4 years ago

    very cool, thanks.

  • mwest0425

    mwest0425 said 4 years ago

    I am very intrigued by this man and would like to visit his studio. Very nice film. MW

  • Judalon

    Judalon said 4 years ago

    when someone says that it takes a lifetime to perfect something and never quite get there, then you've met a true artist!

  • hanaleib

    hanaleib said 4 years ago

    Thank you so very much for your film on the lost art & history of swordsmiths. It is absolutely fascinating to watch the art of sword-making! Mr. Korehira Watanabe is Truly an Amazing Man.

  • finethreadz

    finethreadz said 4 years ago

    Love this! It's very intriguing to learn more about other cultures and craftsmanship! Thanks for sharing this.

  • PuchiMo

    PuchiMo said 4 years ago

    Great video , Great artist, Thank you !

  • ErtheFae

    ErtheFae said 4 years ago

    His swords are beautiful... Glad to see he is passing his art along to a disciple who can continue to preserve the tradition.

  • DanaCastle

    DanaCastle said 4 years ago

    So cool! I have to share this with my husband!

  • jokamin

    jokamin said 4 years ago

    Beautiful swords and the koto with japanese letters, wow!

  • NamasteWings

    NamasteWings said 4 years ago

    I absolutely loved this, it was very inspiring to see someone doing something they were passionate about, and doing it so well! We need more people to preserve old crafts and traditions for the future generations.

  • peonylovespink

    peonylovespink said 4 years ago Featured

    What a great artisan. I liked the part where he said he wanted his disciple to be even better than he is because it was about preserving/passing down a tradition. He is a true master of his art.

  • DeiDeisempai07

    DeiDeisempai07 said 4 years ago

    thats amazing, to keep such an old yet genius practice alive after all of these years. i myself collect swords, wow 8O

  • AnnTig

    AnnTig said 4 years ago

    Wow!

  • bhangtiez

    bhangtiez said 4 years ago

    So cool! Thanks for sharing!

  • Mclovebuddy

    Mclovebuddy said 4 years ago

    that's amazing.

  • KarKarStyle

    KarKarStyle said 4 years ago

    how cool... and pictures are so beautiful..!!

  • quirkyshop

    quirkyshop said 4 years ago

    Interesting!

  • ThePattypanShop

    ThePattypanShop said 4 years ago

    Amazing!!!

  • kararane

    kararane said 4 years ago

    Mr. Korehira Watanabe is as his swords.. persistent, sharp, beautiful, soulful. A true visionary who has lived his passion. An inspiration to all artists who must overcome tremendous obstacles just to create & perfect their craft. thank YOU Takeshi Fukunaga, great hand-made video portrait.

  • jamiespinello

    jamiespinello said 4 years ago

    Yay! Metal and Fire! Best swords in the world!

  • karisuma

    karisuma said 4 years ago

    Incredible. Such passion and patience is hard to come by these days.

  • ourfrontyard

    ourfrontyard said 4 years ago

    Wonderful Video! A True Artisan!

  • rmoralespottery

    rmoralespottery said 4 years ago Featured

    When I was a boy I read a book about Japanese sword makers that really captivated my imagination and curiosity. This video is the closest thing I've seen to this great tradition and masterful creations. Mr. Watanabe is an incredible craftsman. His passion and soul are beautifully captured. Thank you.

  • ThePolkadotMagpie

    ThePolkadotMagpie said 4 years ago Featured

    Fantastic. I am married to a knife maker. Although he rarely makes his own damascus steel, I have been to many a "hammering off" weekend where they are forging fancy steel. My husband always comes home with holes in his socks from the sparks that fly!

  • Unify

    Unify said 4 years ago

    That was such a beautiful video.

  • elleestpetite

    elleestpetite said 4 years ago

    This is so amazing. It would be a shame if the tradition of sword making died out. I would love to learn.

  • ivangovaerts

    ivangovaerts said 4 years ago

    true art.

  • JesseDanger

    JesseDanger said 4 years ago

    Thank you for this, very inspiring!

  • AliceCloset

    AliceCloset said 4 years ago

    What a great job!!! I love swords nad japanese ones are the best :D Thank you for sharing!

  • RossLab

    RossLab said 4 years ago

    Very inspiring video!

  • sbellestri

    sbellestri said 4 years ago

    This is so beautiful and so very important to carry on such an ancient tradition. I love this video.

  • AmandaKLockrowJewels

    AmandaKLockrowJewels said 4 years ago

    I recently found out that one of my ancestors was a Samurai sword maker and so I am so excited to see this video about passing on the tradition. I feel more connected to my ancestors knowing now why I was drawn to working with metal in college more than any other material.

  • CheapBastid

    CheapBastid said 4 years ago

    Sublte point from a neighbor who is a sword polisher: "The blurb on the site describing it has a subtle error. He said he's trying to reproduce "Koto" an ancient sword of the early periods. The problem is there is no such thing as a blade called Koto. He is trying to recreate the swords of the Koto sword period which was actually many hundreds of years long and had 5 main styles of smithing with literally 10's of thousands of smiths working. The time periods he lists (Kamakura, etc.) are some of the early time period "subsections" of the vastly longer Koto period. Basically all Koto means is the time of "old swords". As contrasted with Shinto or new (shin) to (swords), or closer to the end of the 18th and 19th centuries when we were in Shinshinto (new new swords). Today they call the period "Gendaito" or "modern swords". Any sword made before the unification of Japan under Tokugawa marks the Koto period. Once things settled down sword styles changed and skills were lost/altered."

  • bunnyontherocks

    bunnyontherocks said 4 years ago

    That was a wonderful video. Sword making is such a beautiful art, I wish I could buy one of swords!

  • happyowl

    happyowl said 4 years ago

    Amazing. Thank you for introducing me to this!

  • betheldt

    betheldt said 4 years ago

    Is it possible to get contact info? If this is his living, I want to have one made for me.

  • JulienDenoyer

    JulienDenoyer said 4 years ago

    Such an amazing video...just the sort of thing I could watch for hours! Thanks so much for sharing!!!

  • prwade

    prwade said 4 years ago

    As to contact, I found this, which appears to have a mailing address (second guy on the list in the Hokkaido section): http://www.tousyoukai.jp/english/member_e.shtml From everything I have heard, buying a classical sword in Japan is a complex business (licenses, etc) so you will probably need help from someone who speaks Japanese and has done this before.

  • fukunaga

    fukunaga said 4 years ago

    He just put up a simple website, and you can find his direct contact there. http://www.korehira.com/ Thank you everyone for viewing and leaving a comment. I'm so happy that I could share his story with so many people thorough the film.

  • Shippodo

    Ryosuke Ueda from Shippodo said 4 years ago

    I agree with his idea of preserving Japanese beauty and aesthetics. Although for me it might be a long journey on understanding this concept. Yet every day, month, and year there is something to learn or experience. Plus removing the honshitsu or the core values or idea would indeed be meaningless to continue the tradition.

  • maranetama

    maranetama said 2 years ago

    Does mr. Watanabe sells its katanas for some foreigner, like myself? Anyone is aware of that? I want a katana so much...

  • wolfnowl

    Mike Nelson Pedde said 357 days ago

    There are those few people in Japan who have been designated 'living legends'; it's wonderful to have a culture that recognizes craft elevated to art form (to borrow from China since I don't know the Japanese term, kung fu relates to someone who has done that. For Stradivarius for example, his kung fu was violins). It must be mentioned that making katana is not a one-person process, or even a one-team process. It begins with the master who selects the rocks, extracts the ore and makes the steel. Then the steel goes to the blademaker, the blade polisher, the handle maker... and so on.

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