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katana (刀)

Japanese. Name for a Japanese sword, such as those worn by samurai in feudal Japan and characterized by a curved, single-edged, finely polished branded blade with a long grip, allowing for it to be handled with both hands, and with a length of under 70 centimeters, as longer ones are known as tachi (太刀). It is forged from Tamahagane, a kind of iron sand unique to Japan. Each Katana is an intricately crafted work of art and on the shank or tang, thus usually hidden from view underneath the hilt, are Kanji inscriptions that represent the signature of the sword's maker, typically a bladesmith or swordsmith and usually a master artisan in his own right. Currently there are just 180 swordsmiths working across Japan. Crafting Katana requires skill and dedication, and can take months and even years to make, typically around 18 months. Japanese swords are more than just weapons; they are highly valued works of art made to be admired, with emphasis on the sword tip where all the straight and curved lines concentrate, and thus makes for the best place to judge the maker's skills. In addition, the sparkly presence of a bright, speckled line a few millimeters wide and following the length of the edge pattern, known as hamon (刃文), are a sign of great quality. This phenomenon, known as nioi (匂, におい), is also a mark of authenticity as these glittering grains, that look like scattered stars on the border of the hamon, cannot be faked in modern reproductions, although some have tried to imitate a hamon via various processes such as acid etching, sandblasting and wire brushing, yet a fake hamon can easily be discerned from a real one by the absence of the nioi, a word that literary means ‘a colour that shines brightly’. Katana are status symbols and are believed to have apotropaic powers. They are still made with very sharp blades and rank among the finest cutting tools in world. Samurai swords are also referred to as bushi-katana (武士刀), literally ‘warior sword’, as in Bushido (武士道), i.e. the code of conduct and chivalry followed by the Japanese warrior caste.