The Japanese Samurai Sword - Wakizashi, Katana, Daisho, & Daito

In honor of the Japanese Sword, Knife Club Member Randy Price has written this helpful article.

The popular curved Japanese sword is most closely associated with the word Samurai, which means warrior in Japanese. The Japanese Samurai warrior came into existence in the 12th century and eventually was afforded positions of privilege and power. While the warrior part of the equation is gone today, the descendants of Samurai still enjoy the privilege of high esteem in the Japanese population.

There is argument that the Japanese warrior was a horseman who fought from the saddle, wielding his swords like a Civil War cavalryman; however, Dr. Karl Friday, Professor of Japanese History, University of Georgia, believes otherwise. Samurai began as archers, using their bows and arrows from the saddle and the use of the curved sword while on foot became an alternative when the warrior ran out of arrows. By the late 15th century, warfare changed to archery battles on foot augmented by sword battles.

Soon after the first empire of Japan was established, sword making began. The art of weapon making was imported from China and Korea and was characterized by straight blades that were sometimes double-edged. The straight blade era lasted over 300 years until, according to legend, a swordsmith named Yasutsuna recognized that blades were failing due to improper forging. The swordsmith created the first single-edged curved sword with better steel. In the middle of the Heian period of Japanese culture, sword making moved into the koto era or old-sword period. During this period, swordmaking made a giant leap in technology and the blades that emerged are the finest made to date making them the most sought after by collectors. Swords from the koto era are considered national treasures by the Japanese government.

In the koto era, the Samurai wore two swords. A long sword, the katana, was normally two to three feet in length and was worn with a shorter sword, the wakazashi. The swordsmith found that these blades when curved were stronger, easier to draw, and allowed more natural cutting and chopping motions used in battle. The katana and wakazashi were a matched set called the daisho. Swordmakers of today strive to reach the level of excellence of the great masters of the koto era.

The parts of a daito (long sword) are as follows:

  • Kissaki the blade point; the Boshi is the tempered point
  • Ha the sword cutting edge; the Mune is the back of the blade
  • Hamon the wiggly (wavy) temper line running along the cutting edge
  • Horimono the engraving on the blade near the hand guard
  • Nakago the tang
  • Saya the scabbard
  • Tsuba the hand guard
  • Sageo the ornamental cord tied onto the scabbard
  • Tsuka the handle; Same the rayskin wrap on the handle
  • Koiguchi the scabbard mouth; Kojiri
  • Mune-Machi the back notch used for measuring blade length

Japanese swords are classified by the blade length. A daito is a long sword known as a tachi or a katana. These blades should be over two shaku (a shaku is about 12 inches.) A shorter sword is a shoto or wakizashi, which is between one and two shaku. A tanto blade should be under one shaku in length and was worn as a personal knife. The sword length is measured from the tip (kissaki) in a straight line to the back notch (mune-machi.)

The Daisho long sword could only be worn by samurai or higher rank whereas the wakizashi short sword could be worn by merchants, tradesmen and craftsmen. For this reason, today daito have a higher value and are found in lesser quantities than wakizashi.

Randy (Ransom) Price 2005 - S.W. Florida Knife Collectors Club

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