Email from "One From the Church Village":
An interesting bit of info, paraphrased from this page:(Thanks, Kirby!)
We all know that the Japanese refined their swordmaking skills to an incredible degree. But WHY did they do so? For one reason, they didn't use contemporary industrial practices (necessitating a high degree of hand-craftsmanship). Also, they had to import almost all of their iron...and the stuff they got was usually poor quality. So, they had to fold the steel umpteen times, just to impart a decent amount of carbon into it.
This helps explain why swords were so treasured and revered. They were hard to get, took forever to make, and cost a fortune!
The guy also goes on to say that the katana is overrated. The Damascus swords were possibly better...they had to penetrate heavy armor, and generally survive a lot more battering. They were not as finely and laboriously made...because they didn't need to be. The starting iron was of a higher quality, and the forging techniques were more advanced. Also, Western weapons were constantly evolving, unlike the swords in the culturally static Japan.
The guy concludes with, "Therefore, the unilateral claim that the katana is the best sword ever is not just an overstatement, but an untruth. It fails to take into consideration the immensely complex factors that go into weapons technology and application."
Yay, the West!