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Types Of Japanese Swords – A Way To Japanese Art Culture

Long time ago, Japanese sword had been practically used as a powerful fighting weapon in combat of Samurai. It was the perfect combination of strength and artistic beauty. Several decades have passed, Japanese sword styles have gone through many changes in their design and functions. This local guide will help you dig deep into different value and types of Japanese swords.

Types of Japanese swords and their purposes 

A brief history of Japanese swords 

Made from as early as the Kofun period, Japanese sword (日本刀, nihontō) is said by Western historians to be one of the finest cutting weapons in world military history, for their intended use. There are many types of Japanese swords that differ by size, shape, field of application and method of manufacture. 

types of japanese swords

The most common Japanese sword types are known as the katana, tsurugi, wakizashi, odachi, and tachi

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Normally, a sword would contain three parts: blade, scabbard and mei. Blade is the most prominent part of the sword. Each blade has a unique profile, mostly dependent on the swordsmith and the construction method. Moreover, the forging of blade was very time-consuming, typically took weeks or even months and considered as sacred art.

Scabbard is called a saya in Japanese and the handguard piece, which often intricately designed as an individual work of art – especially in later years of the Edo period, is referred as a tsuba. Besides, the manufacture of other aspects of the mountings (koshirae) including habaki (blade collar and scabbard wedge), menuki (decorative grip swells), fuchi and kashira (handle collar and cap), saya lacquer, etc, also received similar levels of artistry.

Sword mei, which is known as the owner’s signature, is traditionally presented in kanji and chiseled onto the tang of the sword.

The development of Japanese swords is divided into 6 stages

  • Jōkotō (上古刀 “ancient swords”, until around 900 A.D.)
  • Kotō (古刀”old swords” from around 900–1596)
  • Shintō (新刀 “new swords” 1596–1780)
  • Shinshintō (新々刀 “new new swords” 1781–1876)
  • Gendaitō (現代刀 “modern swords” 1876–1945)
  • Shinsakutō (新作刀 “newly made swords” 1953–present)

The predecessor of the Japanese swords are straight Jōkotō that were said to be created by samurai in the middle of Heian period. Some other versions with unusual shapes and techniques were probably derived from China, or directly imported through trade. The period from 987 – 1596 is considered the pinnacle of Japanese swordcraft. In this age, uneven curves had been replaced by sharp, tight ones, and the center of the curve moved up the blade.

The Japanese sword known today has deep, graceful curve that reflects the changing form of warfare in Japan. The curved sword, as a result, is way more effective for a warrior to wield on horseback. Nowadays, Japanese swords are still commonly seen in annual competition hosted by the All Japan Swordsmith Association while the antique and modern forged swords can be found and purchased at very high prices. 

types of japanese swords

Sword is an important part of Japanese art culture and represents symbol of samurai integrity and worth

Samurai sword names

  • Chokuto

Chokuto is believed to be one of the earliest swords in the history of Japanese swords which originated in ancient China and were imported into Japan prior to the 10th century. This type of sword has quite a basic style with one-edged, straight blade. It was used on foot for slashing or stabbing the enemy and used to be worn hung from the waist. 

types of japanese swords

It is based on the Han Dynasty long straight iron sword

  • Tachi Sword

Being in vogue before the 15th century, Tachi (太刀, “long sword”) is supposed to be the predecessor to the Katana with slightly longer blade and more pronounced curve. The Tachi was preferred weapon of Japan’s warrior class and primarily used on horseback. The extra length and curve of the blade made it a great advantage to cut on enemy foot soldiers. Tachi is worn suspended, with the edge downward and that’s the way to differentiate it with Katana. 

types ò japanese swords

Tachi has an average cutting edge length (nagasa) of 70–80 cm

  • Katana Sword

Developed between 1392-1573 – during the Muromachi period, Katana is the most legendary sword in Japanese history. It’s said to be historically associated with the Samurai class of feudal Japan, that’s why Katana names are also referred as “Samurai sword”. The sword carries distinctive characteristics which make it easily recognised: 60 – 73 cm long with slender, curved, single-edged blade, a squared or circular guard and a long grip to hold properly with both the hands.

types of japanese swords

There are many types of katanas that have appeared in pop culture, and all of them have become synonymous with Japanese swords

The Katana is renowned for its sharpness and incredible cutting ability. The blade facing upwards allowed the solder to take out the sword and strike the enemy in just one move.

  • Wakizashi Sword

Wakizashi (meaning “side insertion” in Japanese) is another traditional Japanese sword, functioning as a backup weapon or even a side arm.

In the pass, Wakizashi is usually worn together with Katana by samurai and the two swords pair up to Daishō, which translates literally as “large and small”. Wakizashi shares similarity with Kanata in most aspects but normally shorter. With the average length of blade falling between 40 and 60 cm, it is especially well-suited to fighting in confined spaces, or could be used at the same time with Kanata. They are both items of religious importance as well as symbols of samurai integrity and worth.

japanese sword names

Katana is referred as the long sword (or simply the sword) while Wakizashi the accompany one

On occasions the sword may also be used to commit Seppuku, or ritual suicide, which lead to the title ‘Honor Blade’. A samurai would have worn it from the time he awoke to the time he went to sleep, and slept with it under his pillow. 

  • Nodachi 

Nodachi is a huge two-handed Japanese sword. The word “Nodachi” roughly translated to ‘field sword’. Nodachi has the same appearance with Tachi, though they are significantly larger and longer. Due to the abnormal large size, they mostly used by foot soldiers in open battlefields against mounted cavalry. The soldiers used to carry the sword with the Fuchi in the palms of their hands, flat edge against their shoulders and the blade facing outward. 

japanese sword types

The weapon used to be thrown down at the enemy by the foot soldiers

  • Kodachi

Traditionally used by the samurai class of feudal Japan, Kodachi (こだち) has the same shape with Tachi but smaller and shorter. It is usually 60cm long, or less. Kodachi is often mistook with Wakizashi due to the similarity in length and using techniques. It could be recognised that Kodachi has a fixed length while the size of Wakizaki depends on the Kanata that it accompany with. Kodachi could be utilized as a companion sword or a self-defence weapon of adolescent or travellers.

A Kodachi, literally translated into “small or short Tachi (sword)”

  • Shin Gunto Sword

Japan experienced a period of rising nationalism during the 1930’s and army officers adopted a sword very similar to the samurai Tachi, called the Shin-gunto (新軍刀). This type of Japanese sword was said to be a part of the officers’ uniform of the Imperial Japanese Army from the year 1934 until the end of the World War II. Most of these swords were fitted with machine-made blades, with the length of approximately 26 inches.

The shin guntō was a weapon and symbol of rank in military

  • Tanto Sword

Tanto is a type of Japanese dagger which has been referred as a stabbing weapon in the past. It features with single or double-edged blade with no more than 12 inches of length. Traditionally, the sword is straight rather than curved and usually accompanies a Katana. It is special that the wearers don’t have to leave Tanto at the door when paying a visit but carry it as a self-defence weapon.  

The Tanto blade is one of the oldest and most respected samurai weapons by Japanese and lovers of Japanese history

  • Ninja Sword

If you’re a big fan of Japanese culture, it must be acquainted for you to see warrior wearing black and holding the legendary Ninja sword in hand. The Ninja swords, also known as Ninjaken or Shinobigatana are the traditionally swords used by the Shinobi of feudal Japan. This is a beautifully carved sword with distinct features like straight, sleek and with a square guard.

Ninja swords regularly appear in popular culture, going hand-in-hand with warriors dressed in black, sneaking through the shadows to silently dispatch their enemies

  • Uchigatana 

Appearing at the beginning of the 16th century, Uchigatana is a weapon mostly used by samurai class. The blade length ranges between 60 cm and 70 cm. Therefore, the sword is relatively short and light, which makes it easily be hold by one hand. It’s usually confused between Uchigatana and Tachi though when compared, Uchigatana draws distinct differences in terms of use and feel. One visible characteristic to differ these two swords is that Uchigatana was worn with the edge-up in the samurai’s belt. 

The uchigatana was the descendant of the Tachi

Uchigatana consists of a steep saki-zori and stout sugata. It could be used both in confined quarters like inside a building or on the horseback due to its convenience and effectiveness. 

Conclusion 

In general, there are many different types of Japanese swords, each has its advantages and disadvantages. They all are the symbol of fighting spirit and the pride of Japanese people. Hope you guys get a better understanding about Japanese sword names after reading this blog. 

About Hayami Mori

Hayami Mori is an awesome travel blogger & photographer. She was born and raised in Tokyo and have been here for nearly 25 years. She loves traveling and always wants to introduce her beautiful Japan to travelers from all over the world. Therefore, her blog is a great source of information for people looking for what to do in Japan as well as provides some tips to make their trips unforgettable.