Japan is famous for its martial arts such as Karate (空手), Judo (柔道), Kendo (剣道), Aikido (合気道), Jujutsu (柔術), Sumo (相撲), and others. Some of these martial arts, especially Kendo, involve swordsmanship which makes them interesting activities. Many people practice using a bamboo sword or a plastic sword at a training school since it is illegal to carry swords in Japan, including a spear or a dagger-like object that could easily hurt anyone. One must have a valid license or permit to possess or carry these dangerous objects. If you are interested in bringing home a Japanese sword as a souvenir or to practice martial arts, then this article is for you.
Japan has a tough law that prevents homicide effectively, namely the Japanese Firearm and Sword Possession Control Law (銃刀法剣類所持等取締法). According to this law, any sword, even a fake replica, whose length is above 15 centimeters is strictly prohibited to either be possessed or carried in Japan. Failure to report a recovery or loss of a sword can lead you to hefty fines, and sometimes jail depending on the circumstances. This law applies not only to carrying but also importing of swords, so you need a permit to perform any kind of activity involving swords in Japan.
Remember, if you have a blade, it needs to be registered first at the Prefectural Board of Education aka Kyoiku Iinkai (教育委員会) by submitting an application. A review committee, comprising of sword experts and public safety officials, examines the sword and issues the license called “torokusho (登録証).”
A torokusho is issued for the sword, not the applicant. It takes some time to obtain a license as the sword meetings at the Board of Education are only held once a month. To obtain this license without any hassle, there are some requirements you must keep in mind:
- The sword must be a Japanese sword aka Nihonto (日本刀); no foreign swords are eligible.
- It must be either an antique (not the WWII ones) or a new one made by a modern smith who holds a license/certificate from the Bunka-cho (Agency for Cultural Affairs).
- If you are buying a rare sword designated as a national treasure or a cultural property, you cannot take it outside of Japan.
For export or import of any kind, you need a torokusho for the sword. After obtaining one, you should approach the Agency for Cultural Affairs and request an export permit (Kobijutsuhin-yushutsu-kansa-shomei; 古美術品輸出監査証明) by submitting documents, especially the license and photos of the sword.
Usually, an export permit is valid for just a month; you can either carry the sword personally through customs or send it via courier within that period. Packaging and carrier confirmation are usually done under the supervision of the customs.
Importing swords into Japan is a bit risky as it could take plenty of time and paperwork. If you have a license already, the process would be much simpler. All you need to do is get the import permit (Hikiwatashi-sho; 引渡証) from the port police after landing and going through customs.
Do not forget to declare the sword on the Customs Form and present it at customs without fail. If you do not comply with the customs, it might land you in imprisonment for smuggling or possible threat. You can bring up to three swords into the country if you are personally bringing them with you.
In case you are bringing the sword into Japan via mail, it would be stored at the International Post Office. Do not use UPS, FedEx, or any other international courier service providers as they won’t be familiar with the sword laws in Japan. Your sword might just get destroyed by the port police if you do not have a torokusho. It is better to use Japan Post as they will inform you about the licensing and send it to your address after a “shinsa (審査).”
“Shinsa” is the sword examination that takes place in order to issue torokushos for the swords. You can attend a shinsa, and once your sword gets accepted, you have to pay a small fee to get the torokusho. There are also brokers who can help you get your license for a fee. Be prepared to wait for weeks or months to get your license.
Furthermore, it is recommended to submit the value of the sword bought outside Japan, including the details of authenticity, for a smooth process at customs or at a shinsa. You will get your license if the imported sword is a Japanese sword made by a smith recognized by the Bunka-cho or other notable agencies. Fancy swords bought from eBay which you cannot prove the authenticity will most likely be rejected for a license.
- Usually, sword parts such as fittings and mountings do not need a permit or a license to be brought in or out of Japan, or to simply own them.
- Training swords (Iaito; 居合刀) made of aluminum do not require a torokusho for it to be carried or used; however, be prepared for questions by airport officials if you are carrying one in or out of the country.
To get more information on bringing a sword in or out of Japan, you can visit the Japan Customs website here. If you need a broker to help you out, you have to search on Google or contact the online seller for more details. If you are visiting Japan for just a few days, it would be very difficult to own or bring a sword as the entire procedure takes weeks or months to complete.