Looking for an authentic katana?
You’d have to spend at least $2,000 on one. Authentic, Japanese-made, handcrafted, Tamahagane katanas aren’t going to come any cheaper. Of course, there are cheaper katanas in the market (anywhere from $10 to $1,000). But these aren’t “authentic” katanas.
But here’s where things get confusing…
What makes a katana authentic?
Do you really have to spend $2,000 for a “real” katana?
Let’s find out…
What makes katanas so expensive?
Is it what they’re made of? Is it how they’re made? Is it where they’re made?
All these have an effect on the katana’s price.
That’s why you can find katanas at $20, all the way up t $20,000.
But here’s the real question…
How much better are expensive katanas compared to cheap ones?
Is a $10,000 katana 10x better than a $1,000 one?
And if not… where do you draw the line between an authentic katana, a quality katana, and a fake katana?
What Makes a Good Katana?
Advertisers make it extremely difficult for you to choose a good katana.
Every single manufacturer will tell you their katanas are “authentic”… even if they aren’t.
So how do you spot a good katana?
What is an Authentic Katana?
Before we jump into the details, let’s clear the most confusing thing about katanas first…
What exactly makes a katana authentic?
For purists, only hand-made Tamahagane katanas forged in Japan are authentic. To them, if you take any of these away, it’s no longer an authentic katana.
Others say it doesn’t matter where the katana was made… as long as it uses Tamahagane forged by hand.
Finally, some say that steel doesn’t matter. If it’s handmade – it’s authentic.
You can see why there’s so much confusion.
The worse part?
There is no official answer.
If you’re looking for an authentic katana, you decide what qualifies and what doesn’t.
Of course, I’m not going to leave you like that.
Katanas are famous for their strength and cutting ability. To me, any katana that excels at both of these is already an authentic katana.
It doesn’t matter if it’s made in China. It doesn’t matter what type of steel is used. Heck, it doesn’t even matter if it isn’t hand-forged (although it’s difficult to find a good katana that isn’t).
As long as it’s a good katana, it’s an “authentic” katana.
Now, this brings up the question…
How do you spot a good katana?
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Want to hear something shocking?
Tamahagane is not the best steel in the world.
In fact, it’s pretty bad compared to modern steel.
There go the people that insist Tamahagane is some sort of magical steel. Guess what? It’s not.
So what’s the fuss about Tamahagane?
If it’s bad, why did the Japanese use it for katanas? And why do some people worship it?
Here’s why… medieval Japanese didn’t have a choice.
Because of Japan’s geology, they can’t produce superior steel. Japanese swordsmiths didn’t choose Tamahagane because it’s the best, they were forced to use it because it was all they had.
And the whole folding and refolding of Tamahagane? They HAD to do that. Otherwise, their swords would’ve been full of impurities.
Of course, purists will insist that if it’s not Tamahagane, your katana isn’t authentic. To me that’s bogus.
Good modern steel trumps Tamahagane every day.
That said, you don’t want to just get any modern steel.
The rule of thumb is if you want a katana for cutting, get high carbon steel. If you want one for display, stainless is better.
Check out my article on the 30 most popular steel types of knives and swords. You’ll get a better idea of what works for katanas there.
How It’s Made
“It’s difficult to find a good katana that isn’t [hand-forged]”
There’s so much more care that goes into a hand-made sword than a mass-produced one.
Mass production can be high-quality, yes. But the whole idea of mass production was to make the swordmaking process easy, fast, and cheap.
When you put those above crafting the best possible katana, you get poor results. You get swords that break on impact… or swords that don’t look good at all.
Plus, katanas are special because of their hamon.
Have you ever seen that wavy line that runs through the middle of a katana blade? That’s the hamon.
It’s the area where the hard and sharp edge meets the soft and flexible spine. This gives you the hardest and sharpest blade without any brittleness.
You can never find this beautiful natural hamon on a mass-produced blade. They’re either too hard that they shatter, or they’re too soft that they can’t cut well.
Folds of steel. That’s another thing people will tell you to look for in an authentic katana.
However, it isn’t really necessary.
Too many people believe that the more steel is folded, the better it becomes. That’s not necessarily true.
Steel folding is done to get rid of impurities. Remember, Tamahagane is full of impurities. That’s why Japanese swordsmiths folded it over and over.
If the blade is made of pure steel though, there’s no need to fold.
In fact, folding pure steel can make it worse.
That said, the fold lines do make your blade more beautiful. If you’re after an authentic look, this is what Samurai katanas looked like.
Where It’s Made
Japan is the heartland of the katana.
It’s where this sword was born and used. It’s where the katana gained its legendary status.
But contrary to popular belief… it’s not the only place good katanas come from.
Again, if you’re a purist, your katana HAS to be made in Japan. Otherwise, it’s not authentic.
If you’re like me though, you know that good katanas can be produced elsewhere. As long as they use good steel and are made with care, I don’t see why it isn’t authentic.
Besides, those stories you hear about ancient katanas being the best sword in the world? They’re not true.
A well-made modern katana can easily outperform a traditionally made one. So don’t get caught up with the idea that non-Japanese means inferior.
Most good katanas come from Japan… but that’s not the ONLY place they’re made.
How Much Should You Spend for a Katana?
With all that in mind… what’s a fair price for a katana?
That all depends on what you’re looking for.
But let me break down the price brackets for you.
$50 – $100 Range
The lowest price range. Don’t expect a good katana if you’re not willing to spend at least a hundred bucks.
Here you have the fakes – the mass-produced katanas without care given to their manufacture.
These are the replicas, the toys, the swords that are called katanas only because of their shape. Other than that, nothing that goes into these makes them a katana.
$100 – $300 Range
If you’re looking for a blade that can cut, this is the price range for you.
Here you’ll find katanas that aren’t fancy, but they get the job done.
These blades are sharp, strong, and oftentimes, very durable. In fact, at the higher end of this range, you have some of the best functioning katanas.
They’re not Japanese… they’re not made from the best of the best steel… they’re not the most beautiful… but there’s nothing wrong with these katanas in any way.
$300 – $1,000 Range
Then the fancy katanas come in.
When it comes to function, these katanas aren’t necessarily better than the previous range. These don’t cut better most of the time.
However, when it comes to aesthetics, this range is way ahead.
Here you have the hand-forged blades. You have the real hamons. You have the folded steel lines. You also have the gorgeous handles.
$1,000 – $2,000 Range
If there was an overpriced katana, it would fall into this range. Here, you have to be very careful.
Yes, there are a lot of fancy katanas in this range. However, unless they are certified Japanese-made, they aren’t “better” in any way from the previous range.
That’s why it’s so important to know what you are buying. If not, you can be scammed into buying a cheap katana for a thousand dollars.
One way to avoid his is to make sure you only buy from reputable sellers. There are too many scammers out there nowadays. When you find a good seller though, you can be sure you are getting your money’s worth.
And then there’s the “authentic” katana price range.
These katanas are hand-made only in Japan. These are the purists’ idea of a “real” katana.
Are they better than the others?
In terms of function, no. A $500 katana can perform as well as one of these.
But in terms of cultural significance, there is no match. These are the very katanas that the Samurai used.
$2,000 That’s how much you have to spend for an “authentic” katana.
But if you’ve reached this far, you know that “authentic” is a tricky word. It doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone.
So what does authentic mean to you?
Answer this, and you’ll know how much you should spend on your katana.