Kamakura is a city located about 50km south-west of Tokyo and was the capital of the feudal military dictatorship of the Minamoto shogunate from 1185 to 1333. Today it is a popular tourist destination famous for its Buddha statues, temples, shrines and beaches. The most famous of the Buddha statues is the gigantic outdoor bronze statue of Amida Buddha.
But there is more to Kamakura: It is also home of one of Japan’s famous family samurai swordsmith, Masamune. The 24th generation of the family Masamune, Tsunahiro Yamamura may be the last in the line of Masamune swordsmiths as his son, who is studying lyric opera in Italy, is not interested in continuing the family tradition.
photo: Tsunahiro Yamamura forging a samurai sword at his workshop in Kamakura
Short history: The sword is considered to be the spirit of the Samurai. The master forger is usually under the patronage of the Lords during the Medieval period. When the Shogun Yoritomo Minamoto founded the government in Kamakura in 1192, sword forgers from all over Japan went there to forge swords for the samurais.
During this time, the swords formed were not easy to use and were at risk of breaking. A young forger named Goro Masamune of Sagami (1264-1343) who came to Kamakura, perfected a combination of two types of steel which made the sword both supple and hard, making it a far more superior sword. Swords forged by Masamune were admired and he became known as Master forger.
The tradition of forgery is handed down in the family, from father to son. Tsunahiro Yamamura is the 24th generation, descended from the first Masamune.