Reinventing the Sword: A Cultural Comparison of the Development of the Sword in Response to the Advent of Firearms in Spain and Japan
By Charles E. Ethridge
Master’s Thesis, Louisiana State University, 2007
Abstract: Swords have been used throughout history as weapons of war, as symbols of power and wealth and as national and religious icons. Unlike other weapons however, the sword did not simply fade into the background as technological improvements caused the martial value to lessen.
The primary purpose of this paper is to look at the development of the sword as an object of art, specifically in the countries of Spain and Japan, after the invention of the firearm. A brief history of the development of the sword from the earliest manifestations through the Iron Age is provided as way of introducing the subject.
The researcher then delves into the specifics of the development of the sword in Spain and Japan. Areas of focus include the martial uses, aesthetic values and cultural influences affecting the overall formation of sword cultures in both countries.
The transformation of the sword from a weapon of war to a showpiece of craftsmanship and artistic expression after the introduction of the firearms is then discussed in detail. This discussion includes not only Spain and Japan, but neighboring regions as well. Why this transformation took place and who or what were the primary reasons for it are specific topics of interest in this section.
The researcher concludes that the sword, the weapon upon which empires rose and fell for centuries, has moved into the realm of cultural icon. Increased sale values at auction, the infusion into popular media, such as books, movies and video games, and the growing number of collectors and aficionados all serve as indicators of a thriving global sword society.