How Much Does A Katana Cost?
How Much Does A Katana Cost?
The popularity of the katana, in general, has been on the rise in the West since WWII. Pop culture has also done wonders for the katana’s popularity in the past few decades. All that popularity means many people would like to own one if given the chance.
But it gets pretty tricky when you try to buy a katana because there’s a massive rift between the quality of katana on the market. The price range of katana spans from less than a hundred bucks to tens of thousands of dollars.
For a "Real katana", or to be more accurate, a “Nihonto” or “Shinken” from Japan, price start from US$4,000. This is the beginner for an authentic Japanese-made sword. If you are looking for something just hanging on the wall for decoration or fun backyard cutting, these katana only cost you as low as US$100. This guide will cover all the elements that play a role in determining katana costs and qualities.
Katana price range based on their purpose
Katana variants come in all shapes and sizes. I am not even exaggerating here. There are pocket katanas and giant oversized custom katanas out there. Katanas are made with the users’ requirements in mind.
A lot of katanas are made for strictly decorative purposes. Some are made with practicality and usability in mind. While antique swords boast excellent craftsmanship, no one would try to use them to cut things because they are too valuable. Here’s a detailed analysis of the main types of katana markets:
1. Cosplay/Decoration-Only - Less than $100
Katanas made for decorative purposes comprise the largest portion of the market, at least in quantity. Such swords are easy to mass produce and often have a generic blade type with some decorative handle, sheath, and handguard. Such things are usually fashioned after katanas used by pop-culture icons. Reasonable price range for these katanas should be less than USD $100.
This type of katana became more famous with the advent of the internet. TV shows and animations became widespread, and anime katana became synonymous with “cool” and “edgy.” However, while the demand for such swords is high, people interested in them aren’t willing to spend too much money. At least not as much as a real Katana.
Features of this category of katanas are:
- Not very durable
- Inferior Metal
- Inferior Craftsmanship/ Mass-produced
This high demand and low budget paved the way for a market for cheap decorative katanas. Shops like Minikatanas, Makoto Swords, and Swords Culture sell these katanas. These katanas are made of steel or other metal alloys. While they can cut things, they usually can’t withstand rough usage.
Yes, you could get away with cutting things with some of them. But you can only cut things so many times with Inosuke’s “serrated” katana before something breaks down and potentially splinters into a hundred pieces. Let’s just say fantasy katana designs are often less-than-practical.
2. Martial Arts Practice $100-500
Martial arts practice blades have a noticeable difference in quality and functionality than decoration-only cosplay swords. Blades for practicing martial arts like tatami cutting, bamboo Tameshigiri, or just cutting random things for fun in your backyard require functional katanas rather than wallflowers. Depends on the quality of the katana, they should be about USD $100-500.
The features of practice katanas are as follows:
- Quality metal
- Good Craftsmanship
Hanwei, Romanceofmen, Evolution Blades are decent stores for such katanas. They are practical, durable, sharp, and in a decent price range. You can find one that suits you without much trouble. That said, you should always check with your instructor on what type of sword you want because specific disciplines have very particular requirements.
For example, Tatami cutting swords need to be a bit more meaty and thick compared to something you’d use for, let’s say, Iaido. Most people use a type of sword called Shinken for Tameshigiri or cutting. Shinken are sharp, full tang swords meant for practical use.
Iaido swords tend to be lighter, easier to handle, and draw. Iaido practitioners generally use a type of sword called Iaito, which are lightweight, aluminum alloy swords.
3. Antique Collection/Appreciation - At least $10,000
This category has Japanese katanas made with their signature craftsmanship passed down through generations. These swords are high quality, expensive and rare. People often refer to them as Nihonto, which in plain English means “Japanese swords.” Price for these katana is very expensive, at least USD $2000 is expected.
The thing about antique Ninhonto is that you do not want to use them for any Tameshigiri or cutting. No matter what you cut, the material will cause wear and tear on the blade. That’s not something you want on a sword that is essentially an art piece.
The features of Nihonto are as follows:
- Attention to Detail
- Exquisite Blades
- Impeccable Craftsmanship
- High Quality Material
There are 7 ranking of antique Japanese Katana based on their craftsmen and historical value:
国宝 (Kokuhō) - National Treasures: These are the highest-ranked swords and are considered to be of exceptional cultural value to Japan. They are often associated with significant historical figures or events.
重要文化財 (Jūyō Bunkazai) - Important Cultural Properties: Swords in this category are of high cultural importance and are protected by the government due to their historical and artistic value.
重要美術品 (Jūyō Bijutsuhin) - Important Art Objects: These swords are recognized for their artistic excellence and are considered to be one step below Important Cultural Properties.
特別重要刀剣 (Tokubetsu Juyo Token) - Special Important Swords: This grade is considered equivalent to Important Art Objects and represents swords of high value.
重要刀剣 (Juyo Token) - Important Swords: These are swords that have been recognized for their importance and are preserved for their cultural and artistic significance.
特別保存刀剣 (Tokubetsu Hozon Token) - Special Preservation Swords: These swords are deemed worthy of preservation due to their quality and craftsmanship.
保存刀剣 (Hozon Token) - Preservation Swords: These are swords that are considered to be of sufficient quality and historical significance to warrant preservation.
Even if you do not use the swords for anything other than decoration, you will still need to do routine maintenance on them. Maintaining a katana is a systematic and very delicate process. So you’ll essentially need to learn a whole new set of skills if you want to own one of these blades.
These blades are only worthwhile for collectors who are very serious about appreciating Nihonto for their impeccable craftsmanship. You may also use them for non-contact Iaido. Finding these swords, however, is a challenge in the West since these don’t hang in conventional sword shops.
Ideally, you’d want to visit Japan or get in touch with a Japanese company that deals with national antiques like Seiyudo. That’s usually the most authentic way of acquiring such blades.
What you are getting from different price point
Katanas have a diverse price range. Where the lower and higher end of the spectrum are very far apart, but you could tentatively categorize them into low, mid, and high-end:
1. The Cheap Katanas
The genuinely cheap katanas start from 50 dollars to around 100. But you could find decent swords once you reach the 100-dollar range. Those below 100 dollars are cheap, mass-produced swords you can buy from Amazon, eBay, or other large online platforms.
These swords have terrible build quality, are brittle, and are generally only useful as decorations. It’s a bit of a stretch to even call the cheaper ones “Katanas,” as many of them won’t even have all the components that a regular katana should have.
The outer wrapping will likely be loose, uneven, and the shape may feel odd. The katanas in this category are Mall Ninja stuff at best. But hay, they look cool enough, so you could probably use them as room decor.
2. Mid-Range Katanas
The hundred bucks price point is like a threshold. It’s where actually usable swords start popping up. And the quality increases dramatically beyond this threshold. The comparatively cheaper ones may not have impeccable craftsmanship, but they cut well enough.
Most katanas at about $200 price point are great sword with all the proper components. There are some common problems like the handle wrap on the handle (Tsukaito) could be kind of loose, and the Kashira could come off if you handle it excessively roughly. But they are decent sword, and you can work on the handle a bit more to secure it.
The best deal you can get for functional katana at $150 only, is the Surudoi katana from romanceofmen.com. This katana features a extra sharp spring steel blade, the edge is super sharp, you can cut tatami mat in half even you are total new to swords, and the spring steel blade is flexible, won’t easily break, provide safety to the user. This katana also has copper tsuba, and real rayskin samegawa, which is very rare to see at this price point.
3. High-End Katanas
High-end Katanas boast top-tier craftsmanship. But there’s a significant price gap between different pieces. The starting threshold is around three thousand dollars. These katanas are very expensive and of very high quality. Most of the genuinely high-end katanas are protected as national treasures. So it can become quite challenging to get your hand on one.
While every sword in this category is good, no one who knows what they’re doing will actually use these to cut things. These swords are usually treated like very high-end paintings and works of art. But using these swords for practicing Iaido etiquettes is fine.
You don’t necessarily need to buy a historical blade used by some hotshot in the 14th century. You should opt for swords made by contemporary swordsmiths instead. Tsunahiro Yamamura’s workshop produces fine-quality blades.
Blades crafted by Yoshihara Yoshindo are massively sought-after collectibles. He is widely regarded as the best contemporary swordsmith in Japan. Fusahiro Shimojima is also a prominent bladesmith in Japan. His custom swords can easily set you back tens of thousands. Yuya Nakanishi is also worth looking into for similar reasons.
Things That Determine A Katana’s Cost
Now that we’ve talked so much about katana types and quality. Let’s talk about how to tell the fakes from the genuine ones. It can be challenging to distinguish between a good and a cheap sword if you don’t know about the following points:
1. Saya/The Scabbard
A good saya (full rayskin wrapped for example) could cost hundreds of dollars, while the cheap ones cost only as low as a few bucks.
The simplest way to identify a decent katana is to check its sheath or Saya. The manufacturer won’t spend too much on the sheath or other furnishing if it’s a cheap sword. No one is going to dress up a crappy blade with fine materials.
First thing we should look at is the paint quality, a good saya painting should be smooth, without color difference and scratches, If the manufacturers cheaped out on this, they did the same for the blade.
We should also look at the sageo, a good Sageo wrap should be made of silk, thick, and set firmly in place. A cheaper one will look like a polyester shoelace in comparison.
The steel used in the forging process is quite crucial because it determines the blade’s properties. Stainless steel is the cheapest and most readily available material, a stainless steel katana cost usually less than USD$100. If you see some people selling “battle-ready” hardened steel katanas on eBay or Amazon, they are most likely using stainless steel.
Carbon steel is a step above stainless steel, and reputable manufacturers will usually use this for making practical blades. Most beginner katana are made of Carbon steel less thanUSD $200. Spring steel is a better version of carbon steel. It has a tiny bit of silicone alloy in it, makes it more flexible and safer for tameshigiri, Spring steel katana cost a bit expensive than carbon steel katana.
T10 steel is where things get real. This type of steel is primarily used for making bladed weapons. This steel boasts tremendous strength and durability. It can reach hardness levels of over 60 HRC. A good T10 steel with real hamon can easily cost USD$200 and more. But truly top-tier Ninhonto will almost always be made of Tamahagane. Tamahagane is a precious metal with an abnormally high carbon content.
There are a lot of things that determine the blade quality of a katana. Explaining all of it in detail is rather complicated. But the thing you need to pay attention to is the hardening process. The unique aspect of a Japanese katana is differential hardening.
Cheaper swords do not have this type of tempering process. They just machine craft a blade and use acid to burn some lines in the middle to mimic hamon lines. A good katana blade, with clay tempering and good polishing, usually cost USD$300 and more.
Hamon is the line that separates the spine from the edge of the blade. It’s the wavy pattern you see running along the middle of a Japanese katana. The heating and clay tempering is done by hand, and no two swords have the same hamon lines.
When forging a Japanese katana, the edge was heat treated with high temperature so it become super hard, and the spine of the blade was covered with clay to lower the temperature and it will remain flexible. Too much hardness without any flexibility means the sword will break when struck with a harder object. An excellent Japanese katana blade is a balance of both hardness and flexibility .
Bladesmiths use a particular type of clay on the blade edge when heating the blade to keep it cooler than the spine. So the thicker part of the blade becomes hotter and more flexible while the edge remains rugged and durable. This process is called clay tempered, and this is how we get the hamon line on the blade.
The fittings of a good sword will be handmade with expensive materials. The mounting fitting of a Japanese Katana is called Koshirae, include things like Tsuba, Habaki, and Seppa etc. Expensive fittings are handcrafted, usually out of bronze, because it looks better and is easier to work with.
High-end Tsuba will feature exquisite designs that match the character of the blade. Cheaper katanas will use mass-produced Tsubas with generic designs.
5) Finishing/ Tsuka
The Tsuka ties all the components of a katana together. A proper Tsuka has quite a few components. The first is the Tsuka-ito, otherwise known as the rope that’s wrapped around the handle. That provides grip and ties the other components together.
The Tsuka is mounted on the blade's tang (Nakago) using wooden pegs called mekugi. Usually, dried Japanese bamboo is used for making them. It’s a flexible material that does not harm the blade’s tang. Then there’s the Rayskin cover called samegawa over the handle. This material provides the necessary roughness so that the Tsuka-ito or the rope doesn’t slip.
Such swords will also contain a metal ornament along the handle, usually handcrafted, providing more grip. The Kashira or the removable pommel seals all of that at the end of the handle. A cheaper blade will not have all of these components.
Hopefully, now you have a pretty good idea of how much does a katana cost. And how you can tell an authentic, high-quality katana from a fake one. It mainly comes down to the material quality and the craftsmanship of the blade. But you can tell fake ones apart purely by the furnishings and scabbard.