Pursuing a Japanese Sword Making Apprenticeship
There is no set path to an apprenticeship with a certified sword smith in Japan. For people unfamiliar with Japanese culture, the path would likely be that much harder. There is precedent for non-Japanese apprenticeships, but few of those who were formally accepted have been able to successfully complete the feat.
The instinct to boast, a lack of patients, the inability to properly navigate cultural traditions and a general lack of fortitude are the key reasons people do not complete their apprenticeships. What apprentices often neglect is the investment required by their teacher and how a lost apprentice is a complete waste to them and the security of their lineage.
If accepted, the life of an apprentice is probably one of the most difficult challenges someone can undertake. There is no salary involved; therefore apprentices no only have to complete their daily duties, which vary by master, but they typically have to maintain a stream of income over and above simply to sustain themselves.
There are rare instances of “Uchi-deshi” (live-in apprenticeships) where the apprentices are provided with on-premise dwelling, food and a small stipend. These types of opportunities come with additional responsibilities which can range from cleaning the house to getting groceries and preparing meals.
For the most part, an apprentice can expect a long and hard trial which will take a minimum of 5 years, likely longer, before being granted the opportunity to take the examination to become licensed. The relationship with the master however is life long and will likely ameliorate once you’ve proven your worth over the course of time.
Family lineage is obviously encouraged to maintain authentic blood lines for sword families, but apprenticeships do not preclude apprentices that don’t have direct family relations.
The opportunity for people considering a Japanese sword apprenticeship is as follows. Tamahagane Arts mission is to connect people to Japanese sword smiths for all purposes, including apprenticeship opportunities which help ensure the continued growth and development of the art through new generations of makers.
To emphasize the serious undertaking it is to even consider a Japanese sword apprenticeship, there should be a catalogue of reasons that show how you’ve prepared and the sacrifices you understand will be required. Expectation should be managed and an acknowledgement that the closest thing to forging you’ll be doing for the first year will be cutting charcoal to fuel the fire. Fantasy should evacuate your mind, as the reality of work and life will test even the most zen of characters. Its physically demanding, dirty, arduous and monotonous work that isn’t suitable for the weak willed of the weak hearted.
In today’s environment some smiths are not only open to the idea of non-Japanese apprentices, but even women apprentices in some instances. The reality is that there are few, and even fewer confirmed, instances of women having an active and ever present role in the Japanese sword making community. Today though, women are attaining a foothold in the authentic world of Japanese sword making and opportunities exist for them more than ever.
If you have an unexplained attraction to anything mentioned above, have the character of a maker and can demonstrate strong reasons that back up your pursuit; then please feel free leave a comment which we’ll then approve, post and refer to any masters within our network that may find you interesting.
If you’re interested in being considered for apprenticeship, please watch this video, follow the instructions and tag your content with “Tamahagane Arts” and post it here for us to review. Now’s the time…