I'm not by any means a knife and sword aficionado. I know a moderate amount about them through research for my books, and I've seen rather too much for comfort of how primitive knives and makeshift swords are used by thugs and wannabe terrorists in the Third World. (Hint: Don't bother trying to reason with a machete-wielding uneducated gangbanger teenager stoned out of his mind on alcohol and marijuana, to say nothing of other substances. It won't work. Stronger methods are required.)
Despite that limitation, I can still appreciate the craftsmanship that went into medieval and Renaissance weapons and armor. Working only by hand, with charcoal forges and not a mechanical tool in sight, the weaponsmiths of those days produced some weapons that were spectacular works of art as well as very efficient killing machines. You'll find a lot of them on display in European museums.
Japan was no exception. Some of the swordsmiths in that country have become legendary historical figures, and the few examples of their work that have survived have been designated as National Treasures. An exhibition has just opened at the museum of the Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara, highlighting some of their creations.
The winter exhibition at the shrine’s museum showcases 30 blades forged between the Heian Period (794-1185) and the Edo Period (1603-1867). Some of them are designated as national treasures.
The two-part “Pride of the Aristocracy, Soul of the Samurai” event runs through March 31.
Some of the highlights include ornamental swords produced between the mid- and late Heian Period, four of which are designated as national treasures. They were worn by aristocrats to display dignity when they were dressed in formal attire.
. . .
Swords dedicated to Kasuga Taisha are deemed to be extremely valuable because many of them were never used in real fights or were newly forged, retaining their original state.
There's more at the link. You can see more of the National Treasure swords of Japan at Wikipedia.
The Heian Period ran from 794-1185 A.D. That means some of those swords are more than a thousand years old, and are still in just as good a condition as the day they were dedicated to the shrine. What's more, they were made as combat weapons, not just as display pieces - they were merely decorated and embellished to a higher level than the identical blades carried in battle by those who presented them. Very few Western museums can boast genuine martial exhibits that old, and that well preserved.
An acquaintance of mine has one of those historic Japanese swords. His grandfather brought it back from the Pacific after the Second World War. He took it off the body of a Japanese officer, thinking it was no more than a standard-issue Japanese Army sword. However, some decades later he showed it to an expert in the field, who frothed at the mouth with excitement. He identified it as a centuries-old sword, its blade possibly dating from as early as the Kamakura Period. He said it was probably a family heirloom that had been fitted with a less decorative tsuka or handle, placed in a utilitarian military saya or scabbard, and sent to war with one of the family's scions (a rare practice, but not unknown, apparently, as a symbol and continuation of a cherished family martial tradition). The bearer died wielding it in a charge on American positions on one of the islands of the Pacific. Apparently such swords can be identified by markings underneath the tsuka.
Naturally, having been carried and used in wartime, and brought back over thousands of miles aboard a troopship in a GI-issue kitbag, the sword was not in pristine condition. Having learned of its antique status, the family approached a local specialist to clean and preserve it. He, in turn, informed his contacts in Japan of its existence. Next thing you know, the family was approached by a Japanese firm that was anxious to "restore the sword to its original glory" at what seemed like a very reasonable price, if they would send it back to that country for expert attention. Fortunately, the local specialist warned them that if they sent it to Japan, they might never get it back, because if it were to be classified as a National Treasure, it would not be permitted to leave the country again. I'm told this has happened more than once to people who didn't understand Japan's obsession with its historical treasures. At any rate, the family declined the offer, and retain the sword to this day.