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Japanese Swords: Cultural Icons of a Nation Hardcover – December 10, 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Roach, a student of both iaido and aikido and a dedicated sword-enthusiast, passionately dissects the symbolic essence of the sword throughout history, emphasizing changes in social significance, technological influence, and iconography. The erudite prose is ameliorated by design, modern swordsmanship, traditional artwork, illustrative photos, and etiquette. Historical periods are elegantly punctuated with ornate depictions, highlighting shifts in katana design and value from early periods to the current interpretation of ancient disciplines. Roach's own deep-rooted interest and involvement in the subject ensures a seamless blend of historical and religious themes, as well as much "sword appreciation" (the author champions his comrades in promoting traditional craftsmanship and confronts the contemporary dilemma of commercial fraud and shameless profiteering). In order to truly understand the Japanese sword in its entirety one must, Roach suggests, appreciate the "unique sociological, spiritual, and metallurgical environment in which it evolved." With this at the core of his book, he vividly tracks the fundamental transition from the sword as a mythological instrument to a functional tool for war, and finally to the display art commodity it is today.
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Review

"Beautiful photographs of swords, pictures of sword craftsmen at work, and illustrations of Japanese art and artifacts complement the thorough, scholarly text."—Maine Antique Digest


"This oversized 176-page hardcover is overflowing with color and black-and-white photographs."—Black Belt


"In order to truly understand the Japanese sword in its entirety one must, Roach suggests, appreciate the "unique sociological, spiritual, and metallurgical environment in which it evolved." With this at the core of his book, he vividly tracks the fundamental transition from the sword as a mythological instrument to a functional tool for war, and finally to the display art commodity it is today."—Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Tuttle Publishing; Hardcover with DVD edition (December 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 4805310359
  • ISBN-13: 978-4805310359
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 0.8 x 12 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #960,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Joe Pierre on January 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
For years, aficionados of the Japanese sword (nihonto) have been limited to the few works available in the English language by John Yumoto, Kanzan Sato, Clive Sinclaire, and the partnership of Leon and Kiroki Kapp with Yoshihara Yoshindo. These are all valuable books that have gone a long way to introducing nihonto to an English-speaking audience, but there remains a dearth of information in print for those of us who do not read Japanese. Fortunately, the past few years have been kind, with a number of outstanding museum exhibitions displaying stunning works from Japan along with the publication of excellent exhibition catalogs (Art of the Samurai, Japanese Arms and Armor 1156-1868, from the Met; Art of the Samurai, Selections from the Tokyo National Museum, from the Bower Museum; Lords of the Samurai: Legacy of a Daimyo Family, from the Museum of Asian Art); a new book by Clive Sinclaire (Samurai Swords: A Collector's Guide), an English translation of Nobuo Nakahara's Facts and Fundamental of Japanese Swords; and this book, Japanese Swords: Cultural Icons of a Nation by Colin Roach.

This new 176-page book is a large, almost coffee-table sized volume (12"x 9") with lots of glossy photos that bears the subtitle, "The history, metallurgy, and iconography of the samurai sword." The author is a 4th Dan Muso Jikiden Eishen-Ryu Iaido practitioner whose source material is drawn heavily from meetings and study with one of his own iaido teachers Nicklaus Suino (author and 6th Dan instructor of Muso Jikiden Eishen-Ryu Iaido); 15th generation mukansa swordsmith Kawachi Kunihira; mukansa sword polisher Abe Kazunori; and professors, authors, and Kashima Shinryu practitioners Karl Friday and William Bodiford.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As others have mentioned, the component parts of this work are all excellent. From the photography to the in-depth analysis of Japanese sword making and the sword's place in Japanese culture, everything is well done. So why couldn't the publisher be troubled to actually proofread the book?

It's astonishing to me that such a high quality work can be eroded by the carelessness of a publisher. On a single reading I found so many typos that they became a distraction from the content. I feel that this particular edition (I bought the hardcover) was given short shrift by Tuttle. That's a real tragedy considering the subject matter and the obvious care the author put into this work.

The accompanying DVD provides some good "extras" similar to those found on movie releases. They left me wanting to see even more.
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Format: Hardcover
JAPANESE SWORDS: CULTURAL ICONS OF A NATION packs together a fine history and study of the Japanese sword, which represented a transition point between the reigning military class and those they ruled. A DVD video featuring a documentary on sword-making accompanies rich illustrations in an oversized presentation packed with color and depth. From history to martial arts, this provides an in-depth survey of swordsmiths, sword developments, and ancient weaponry in a reference recommended especially for any serious Japanese history collection.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is very well done. The history of the Japanese sword and martial arts is amazingly researched and documented. The illustrations are beautiful. Just like the Japanese sword, this book is a work of art. The included DVD is a great bonus. If you want to learn more about the history and culture of the Japanese sword, this is a must have resource. Roach Sensei does an amazing job bringing the sword to life in this book.
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Format: Hardcover
First let me say that Colin and I are friends. I had the honor and pleasure of having him as a neighbor for a couple of years, before he moved away. But that in no way will bias this review. Our interests in common were motorcycles, old cars, and just about anything else friends talk about. When he would start talking about his swords however, my eyes would glaze over.

Just before Colin left, he presented me with his book. Yes, it was a gift and much appreciated. But I also considered it as something else to dust, along with my coffee table. Until now.

Although I'm not as eloquent as some of the reviews here, and am not a student of swords or the Japanese culture, I find this book captivating. Starting at the beginning of how swords are an intricate part of the Japanese culture, the Author shows the reader through his writing and exquisite pictures how the weapon is made from the raw materials to the finished product. But it's not about the swords alone. Colin explains the history and culture of Japan in such a way that my eyes no longer glaze over. In a word, fascinating.

I have a rather extensive library and this book will go into my 'Military History' section. After I read it again.

Thank you, my friend, you opened my eyes.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing resource on Japanese swords! It is accessible to someone just learning about Japanese swords, but also has information and photographs that will captivate someone who has spent a lifetime learning about the topic! The book seems small on the screen, but when you get it home it's a large book - perfect to don any coffee table and intrigue guests! Just the stunning photography and layout of the book draw you in visually and the excellent writing backs up the visuals. As if the book itself wasn't enough, it also comes with an amazing DVD! The DVD has a documentary, in which real Japanese sword-smiths are interviewed and the sword making process is filmed. The DVD also has footage of students and masters, the author included, demonstrating some parts of various Iaido kata, how to enter a dojo, and more. It is clear that the author's personal experience with Japanese swords, and intellectual interest in the subject have merged to create a masterful volume that I encourage everyone to delve into, no matter what their knowledge of Japanese swords may be!
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