Many of Tokyo's award-winning swordsmiths choose to live in Ka-tsushika. Why? "Land has always been cheap here," said Shoji Yoshihara, 61, designated an Important Living Cultural Property of the ward and deputy head of All Japan Swordsmiths Association. "The process of making swords is noisy and smoky, so you need as much space as you can afford," he added.

Yoshihara studied at his grandfather's elbow, made his first katana (sword) at age 12, and adopted the family art name with which he now signs his work, Kuniie III. His older brother, Yoshindo, another internationally recognized swordsmith, also lives in Katsushika, and currently has several apprentices under his wing.

Slipping his most recent award-winning katana out of its nebukuro ("sleeping bag"), Shoji gingerly passed it to me as he explained that, on average, a sword takes six months to complete and costs 4 million yen. The blade caught the sun in Yoshihara's living room, and felt weightier than its graceful lines suggested. I had the urge to take a little swing until Yoshihara calmly reminded me that a good stroke would go right through human bones.