Tatsuto Yamano: The Path of a Young Swordsmith under Yoshindo Yoshihara
In 1995, a spark of creativity was born into the world, destined to illuminate the realm of craftsmanship. This is the story of a remarkable individual whose journey encapsulates dedication, perseverance, and the pursuit of a lifelong dream under the world’s foremost present-day katana swordsmith, Yoshindo Yoshihara.
Early Dreams and Tough Choices
In Yamano San’s youth, he loved to make things with his hands. The idea of becoming a blacksmith and crafting knives fascinated him. As he grew, so did his dream of shaping raw materials into functional art pieces. Around 15, he started high school, but soon after dropped out after three months. School wasn’t his focus at the time, but that was the turning point that set him on his unique path.
Facing Challenges with Grit
At 16, he ventured to Tosa, wanting to learn the ways of a "Nokaji" – a craftsman who made farming tools. With the help of his mother, she would arrange for a cab to visit the No-Kaji together. To his disappointment, every Nokaji he approached turned him down.
They explained that the job was physically demanding and the conditions tough. For this reason, they wanted him to finish high school and have an education under his belt for extra security before he tries again.
He was at a crossroads. He took this advice and joined a technical high school for four years. He learned about manufacturing as he built a solid foundation for what lay ahead.
Serendipity and Determination
At 19, his dream of becoming a blacksmith was as strong as ever. He heard about Yoshindo Yoshihara, a master sword-smith who was taking in apprentices. A chance-meeting led him to Yoshindo's doorstep. Though he was initially told no, he didn't let that stop him. Another apprentice's recommendation opened the door, and for a year at age 20, he soaked in the master's craft, chatting with fellow apprentices about the art of sword-smithing.
Ups and Downs
That same year dealt him a heavy blow – the loss of his mother. She had been his biggest supporter, always by his side for every decision he made. He felt sad not to show her his progress towards his dream. When he turned 20, he completed high school and started his apprenticeship under Yoshindo Yoshihara. He worked hard for years, leading up to his certification as a sword-maker at 25.
As he moved into his mid-twenties, his talent became evident. He had one month from the time he was certified as a sword-smith to complete a sword for a competition. Having crafted a beautiful sword in such a short time span, at 26 years old, he won three awards:
- Effort Award
- 5th place Newcomer Award
- Rookie of the Year Award for crafting impressive swords in a short span.
At age 27, Ivan reached out to Yamano San with an instant spiritual connection. They had the idea to promote his versatile talents to a wider audience, thus making kitchen knives together.
In 2023, at 28, he brought forth a Wakizashi blade. This creation encapsulated his mastery, turning his lifelong dream into reality, one hammer strike at a time. The journey of this young sword smith, marked by unwavering determination, personal loss, and soaring accomplishments, stands as an inspiration for anyone pursuing their dreams. From childhood dreams to the anvil's fiery embrace, his story reminds us that dreams, combined with passion and resilience, can indeed be forged into reality – step by step.
Tosho will be the first to sell Yamano Kitchen Knives and Swords in North America and has a goal to best support his blacksmithing career.
One on One
We had a chance to sit down with Tatsuto, below is the English translated transcript.
Q: When did you decide to become a sword maker
A: When I was in elementary school, I used to pick up small parts, about one millimetre in size, from broken umbrellas and used steel files to create small knives. My father works as an office worker making car seats, but I had a creative childhood and admired things like swords as a boy's dream. Based on those experiences, my initial dream was to become a rural blacksmith (a blacksmith who makes agricultural tools). I enrolled in a private high school at the age of 16, but quit a few months later due to a fight. After leaving high school, I wanted to become a blacksmith, so at the age of 16, my mother and I visited several rural blacksmiths in Tosa, Kochi Prefecture, who made hatchets and axes. We went there to ask each of them directly if they would take me on as an apprentice. However, everyone told me to finish high school first, so I enrolled in a four-year technical high school. Later, I found out that it was difficult for rural blacksmiths to hire people due to the low wages and high workload, and they refused me to offer other options for my future.
Q: How did you find Yoshindo Yoshihara to be your teacher
A: When I was in high school, I got to know the chairman of the Japan Craftsmen's Association. I asked him if he could introduce me to a blacksmith who was taking apprentices. He then introduced me to Yoshindo Yoshihara (吉原義人), a master swordsmith known for Japanese swords. Until then, everyone I had visited with hopes of becoming an apprentice were all agricultural tool blacksmiths, so I had a formal and strict image of swordsmiths (also, I found the process of obtaining qualifications for swordsmithing to be troublesome). However, I had a strong desire to make knives since I was a child, and I had a clear dream of becoming a blacksmith, so I decided to visit Mr. Yoshihara. Also during my high school years, I had the experience of buying "zanken" (remnants of sword blades) on Yahoo Auctions, repaired them, and sold them.
I called Yoshindo Yoshihara and then visited his workshop with my mother. At first, I was hesitant to enter the workshop and we wandered around the entrance. It seemed that Yoshindo initially declined my request to become his apprentice, citing that he already had about six apprentices at that time, and it was difficult to take on more new apprentices. Fortunately, another apprentice (who is now independent) informed me that one or two apprentices were planning to become independent in the near future, despite being declined. I received advice to continue visiting the workshop even though my request was declined. From then on, I started visiting the workshop several times a month for about a year. When I visited, I observed the work of the workshop and other apprentices, as well as the work of the master. Sometimes, the apprentices would teach me about the work they were doing and the work they had done in the past.
Q: How long was your training to become a sword maker
A: At the age of 20 when I graduated from high school, I formally became an apprentice to Yoshindo Yoshihara and my training as a swordsmith began in earnest. At first, I was not given any glamorous tasks typically associated with swordsmithing, but rather started with simple tasks such as cutting charcoal with an axe. During the training to transform round bars into square bars, I struggled as my hands would get swollen from the intense labor. Since all the tools used to make swords were handmade, I had to repair or create new bars for heating the Tamahagane steel, as well as perform other tasks such as crushing the Tamahagane. For the first six months, I mainly did these types of miscellaneous duties. However, after six months to a year, I finally began to learn the forging process and gradually gained more responsibilities. In Japan, in order to create Japanese swords, one needs to obtain approval from the national agency and obtain a "sakutou shouning" (sword-making approval). For this, it is necessary to undergo an apprenticeship of at least 5 years under a certified swordsmith and complete the "Bijutsu-touken-toukou gijutsu hozon kenkyuukai" (Technical Preservation Workshop for Art Swords) organized by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Participation in this workshop is only allowed for those who have completed 4 years of apprenticeship. After undergoing these apprenticeships and workshops, I obtained my sword-making approval (permission to create swords) in 2020. The exams conducted at the end of the workshop are held in a tense atmosphere, and even after rigorous training, some may not be able to pass the exams. Fortunately, I was able to pass the exams on my first attempt.
After obtaining my sword-making approval, the annual Contemporary Swordsmith Exhibition was approaching at the end of 2020. With only two months left until the competition, and limited time, I submitted Tanto (a short sword) that I had made to test my own skills. As a result, I was able to win the Tanto the Newcomer Award in 2021.
Q: What is your goal for the future as a sword maker
A: I want to obtain the "Mukansa" title, which is a reevaluation of modern sword-smiths, with a sword that I have made myself. I also want to showcase my Japanese swords and my own creations overseas and have them appreciated. Currently, through my master's introduction, I am exhibiting my creations at shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the United States, and I feel that many people abroad truly respect good work. In Japan, swords made by well-known elderly veteran swordsmiths are often highly regarded, so I want to connect with people outside of Japan who can appreciate my own work.