The Japanese sword has become more of a show piece, or an “art sword” in modern times. Like most objects, it is put on display in museum or in peoples display cabinets only to become invisible between the moments of interaction when it becomes a mediator between two worlds. It’s presence has also been maintained within the martial arts which “still flourishes with schools of kendō, the ways of the sword, and iai-dō, another form of swordsmanship, active throughout the world” (Irvine, 2000: 121). Therefore, the swords use, and its function take on different meanings depending on the context. The meaning also changes depending on the owner. It’s categorization as an art piece has changed the ways it has also been produced. Incorporating ornate designs and materials has created a situation where some of the smiths have been “criticized for their apparent overuse of excessively flamboyant hamon and for catering overmuch to the tastes of the contemporary patrons” (Irvine, 2000: 121). What was once feared has now become an art piece to be marveled at.
The spaces with which Japanese swords are used or viewed become an important part in the way it is received by audiences/participants. Exhibitions of Japanese swords in museums around the world hold swords that are meticulously crafted, but the patron’s interaction with the sword is limited to the inscription that is provided along the bottom of the case. It is also important to recognize the contexts with which the sword was acquired, because this often changes the way in which the story of the sword is told. A Japanese sword in the British museum will be presented as an exotic piece of craftsmanship that was once wielded by the formidable samurai warrior. Where as a Japanese sword displayed at the NationalMuseumin Japan, or on exhibition at the Society for the Preservation of Japanese Art Swords will symbolize a shared national identity, and pride in preserving an art-form that is distinctly Japanese. Furthermore, it is important to recognize the swords continued use in the martial arts and the deep connections that are attached to its use. The classic sword-drawing art of iaidō can be traced back nearly 400 years dating back before the Meiji restoration (Roach, 2010: 159). The sword takes on greater agency as the student learns to interact with it and gain the spiritual understanding that is part in parcel of iaidō. In his forward Nicklaus Suino describes that a “true Japanese katana is capable of transporting the educated aficionado to a similar extent as walking on hot coals transports the firewalker” (Roach, 2010: 9).