The katana and one of its great teachers, Ōsumi Toshihira.

Ōsumi Toshihira forging a katana blade (tachi).

The iron flower is his signature. He wrote it on a sheet of a catalog that he gave us. This issue is part of our reference library.

Roberto Vega Andersen

(Tres Arroyos, 1956)


Argentinian. Journalist, editor and curator. He has organized and curated numerous exhibitions in Argentina, Germany, Chile, Spain, Vatican City State, the United States of America, Italy, and Japan.


He was the founder and director of the publications Manos Artesanas and Nuestra Platería.


As editor and/or co-author he has published the following works: El apero criollo, arte y tradición (2000); El Poncho, arte y tradición (2001); El apero criollo en las tierras del Plata y en América (2002); El Mate en América (2004); El gaucho y su cuchillo (2005); Juan Manuel de Rosas y los bloqueos al Río de la Plata de Francia e Inglaterra (2008); Platería desde el período precolombino hasta la actualidad (2010); Argentina. Il gaucho, tradizione, arte e fede (2013) y Un viajero virreinal. Acuarelas inéditas de la sociedad rioplatense (2015).


For Fomento Cultural Banamex (Mexico City), he was part of the curatorial staff for the exhibition Great Masters of Ibero-American Popular Art, and collaborated as an academic advisor on the exhibition América Tierra de Jinetes. He collaborated with texts of his specialty in the books published on the occasion of both exhibitions.

He currently runs the Hilario antiquarian bookstore, gallery and auction house in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Arts Letters Crafts.

By Roberto Vega *

Among the most famous sabers in the world, the katana has a place of privilege. Conceived around the 8th century AD. C., originally it was straight and with a single edge, but already in the middle of 1100 it is known that it reached its current identity, with a barely curved and double-edged blade.

In the history of Japan, katanas fulfilled their noble function wielded by samurai warriors. Over the centuries, the most experienced forgers coined knowledge to achieve a type of steel that made the katana a fearsome weapon due to the resistance and sharpness of its blade. In that rich history, masters have stood out who today are part of its mythology; we mean Masamune, Yoshihiro and Yoshimitsu.

Just over two decades ago, I had the opportunity to organize a visit to the workshop of one of the “living national treasures” -an honorary title given to the great masters of traditional arts and crafts- dedicated to the construction of katanas. At the end of the last millennium I traveled to Japan and one of the greatest desires of that experience was to meet Ōsumi Toshihira. The stay in the so-called Empire of the Rising Sun gave me that and other rewards.

The year was 1998 and I arrived in Tokyo as the curator of a silverware exhibition organized on the occasion of the centenary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Within the framework of those celebrations, we presented the gold work of the master silversmith Juan Carlos Pallarols and we enjoyed the privilege of receiving the visit of the then crown prince Naruhito and his wife Masako. Naruhito, in 2019 ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne as emperor.

About that meeting, another of the announced rewards, they had given us all the protocol instructions to receive the hosts, warning that, as members of the royal family, they could not take the tools. With Pallarols we had installed a workbench where the craftsman chiseled a piece for the admiration of the public. Sometimes he would invite a few people over and lead them through the exciting task of tapping on metal. However, this gesture of brotherhood was forbidden to us with the noble couple; but before the royal visit and encouraged by the smiles and kindness of both, Juan Carlos did not hesitate to extend his hands offering him the hammer and a chisel. And with total naturalness, Naruhito sat in front of the bench and applied gentle blows to the surface of the piece. Almost a quarter of a century has passed and I remember that moment as if it happened today.

But let's return to the story of the katana maker blacksmith, a Japanese celebrity who received us after arranging the interview with the authorities of the Culture area. He lived in the city of Ohta -about four kilometers from the center-, distant a hundred kilometers from Tokyo; an urban point of 140,000 inhabitants with its income centered on the factory of Subaru's parent plant. As expected, everyone there knew him, so to get to his house it was only a matter of mentioning his name to a taxi driver at the city's train station.

Then we cross the central streets and little by little, we enter the outskirts. We passed through a small cemetery of about 600 m2 next to the asphalt strip, without walls or fences, it resembled a public park, and further on, between orchards and small planted lots, we arrived at the home-workshop of Ōsumi Toshihira (1923 - 2009), treasure living national of Japan since 1997, katana master builder.

About tatami

After announcing our arrival, a woman - her daughter, we would find out later - received us from the tatami, wooden floor, raised about forty centimeters and covered by a jute rug. It was all a matter of saying hello several times, taking off our shoes, leaving our coats and entering the traditional Japanese house.

To the right, Ōsumi Toshihira was waiting for us in a room for rest and dialogue, accompanied by green tea. He barely greeted us with a bow and in moments, we were next to Juan Carlos Pallarols and the translator, squatting on some cushions propped up on the tatami. The conversation took place around a coffee table, called a kotatsu. It was cold there, and the living national treasure insisted that we cover ourselves with a blanket that came out from under that table. The truth is that a little later, when the cramps were getting worse, warned by the owner of the house, he released us with a "get comfortable, sit as you want".

In the end, the dialogue was enlightening. The son of a horticulturist, Toshihira loved katanas ever since he was a child. But the memory of World War II was present and inescapable; In this city there was an explosives factory and a bomb fell a hundred meters from where he lived with his family as a child. After those disasters, he suffered from the express prohibition of making katanas -an imposition of the victors-, forced to postpone his passion until, at the age of 22, he went to live with his teacher.

After five years of daily work alongside the now deceased Akihita Myairi (1913 - 1977), also noted for his mastery as a living national treasure, in Sakaki -Nagano prefecture-, Toshihira launched himself in 1957 independently as an artist of katanas and the following year he moved to his hometown, where he received us. Since then he has won various awards; among them, he won the famous Masamune (1) three times: 1974, 1976 and 1978. Among his great merits is having achieved a special edge.

HILARIO: What has it meant to you to be recognized as a living national treasure?

ŌSUMI TOSHIHIR: Nothing special; because nothing changes. I did feel a great emotion when in 1963 they honored my teacher, Akihita Myairi.

H: Does the distinction imply any new task?

OT: For me, no. There is no task indicated by the government. You just have to follow the disciples, but I already did that before receiving it. Today a disciple accompanies me, he lives here. He started at the age of 18, because they can only do it once they finish high school, and there are even some who do it after finishing a university degree.

The assembly between teacher and disciple implies a position of surrender of the latter to a plane impossible to imagine in our Western world. Learning progresses in daily activities with the teacher. The severity of this teaching is reflected in the delivery of the disciple to his teacher, living in his house-workshop and with only one week off per year. It is said that while forging a sword one must remain silent - out of respect for the soul of the samurai warrior - and the apprentice, by the sound of the blow of the hammer, must notice the intensity to be applied in each stage of the forge. The Katana Conservation Association has a steel factory; It is a special steel that is made in the spring and using ancient techniques. Once in the hands of the master, the most relevant stage of his work arrives: forging and tempering. The iron rests on a layer of ashes from the dry stems of the rice plant and mud; then it goes into the fire and advances the process by folding the sheet at least fifteen times to achieve the desired malleability. The iron that has less resistance -soft steel- goes in the core of the blade. The blows are applied by the disciple and the intensity of the fire depends on the progress of the work, decreasing in stages. Once the katana is forged, at the end comes the stage of file polishing and the name of its author is engraved.

H: And at what point does the teacher consider that his disciple is ready to know his secrets? How does he remember those days with his teacher?

ŌT: There are no secrets to teaching. Working with the teacher, one learns on one's own. There is no special time when secrets are passed on. The disciple works in all the stages of elaboration; he helps in all the processes. You learn by looking and doing, there are no secrets in learning, nor a special moment in which the secrets of the trade are transmitted. And when the time comes, they leave the teacher's house and become independent. Although according to the Culture Agency it takes more than five years to become independent.

On the right, the piece in its entirety. In the center, both sides of the spike with the signature of its author. On the left, a detail with the edge towards the tip of the blade.

H: And today, who buys your katanas?

ŌT: Collectors, and museums also commission me, but I don't sell to shops. My works in general have not left Japan; only once did they buy me a katana to give to French premier Jacques Chirac. (2) If you are interested, in a very short time Mr. Kobayaski, a collector from the city of Takasaki, will come to pick up two works I have done for him.

We had already observed those pieces in an act that could be interpreted as ceremonial. In an adjoining room, Ōsumi Toshihira walked us over to the two katanas that remained wrapped in cloth sheaths. The master applied powders of different grains to each sheet to eliminate attached impurities and highlight the shine of the metal. "I show them only on special occasions," Toshihira assured us. You can take one. But when you have it in your hands, please don't speak."

Shortly after, his client, Kobayaski, arrived and told us that he owned four katanas signed by Ōsumi Toshihira. A colleague of his, the buyer observed, had sixteen katanas from this living national treasure. And as was the case with other collectors, he did not want to sell a work by the master, on the contrary, he was determined to order another one from him.

The following year, Ōsumi Toshihira was awarded the Purple Ribbon Medal and in 2006 the Order of the Rising Sun. In the house where he received us, he passed away in April 2009.


1. Masamune is recognized as the greatest swordsmith in Japan; It is believed that he performed in the Kamakura period (1288-1328) and in his honor the Masamune Prize is awarded in the most important contest held in that country.

2. On that occasion we tried to buy him a katana of his authorship but it was an unsuccessful effort; We would take her out of Japan and Master Ōsumi Toshihira did not accept that fate. However, today it is possible to see some of his pieces offered at international auctions.


* The first version of this interview was published in the magazine Manos Artesanas, number 20, January 1999. For Hilario. Arts Letters Trades we have written a new text, also going to the notes raised at that time.

Subscribe to our newsletter to be updated.

Ver nuestros Boletines Virtuales