Katana : Japanese traditional sword – Part 1-
Katana : Japanese sword (1)
At first, I was going to post an article about “Muramasa”, a very famous cursed “katana”, but I thought it might be better to write simple explanations of Japanese traditional swords beforehand.
“Unbreakable, unbending and very sharp” sword
A sword has to be hard to be unbending and sharp, and has to be soft as well to be unbreakable.
To realise these two conditions, Japanese swords are produced by wrapping soft iron with hard one.
Soft iron contains a small amount of carbon and used as core of a sword, called as “shin-gane” (core iron).
Hard one contains a large amount of carbon, called as “kawa-gane” (skin iron).
“Kawa-gane” is produced by repeating two procedures; beating hot iron flat then doubling it over.
This procedure makes iron purer, makes contained-carbon in the iron homogeneous, and reduces amount of carbon.
(Impure substances come out as sparks when you beat an iron.)
If you repeat this too many times, the iron becomes too soft.
Usually around 15 times, so a finished sword will have nearly 33,000 layers of iron.
Types of Japanese swords
[Choku-tou (Straight katana)]
Almost straight katana.
Originally came from overseas and had been used until the first half of the 10th century.
It seemed that curved swords were begun to be forged after the insurrections (from 931 to 947) by Taira no Masakado and Fujiwara no Sumitomo.
The swords which were forged in this early times are categorised as “Jyouko-tou”.
This straight type of swords is mainly used for thrusting attacks like a rapier.
[Tachi (Broad katana)]
A long, largely curved sword used between the late Heian era (794 – 1185 / 1192) and the beginning of the Muromachi era (1336 – 1392).
The length of the blade is around 70 – 80 cm (approx. 2ft 4in to 8in).
Usually placed edge-down on exhibitions.
People hang it from their waist with edge-down.
Curved swords like “tachi” and “katana” are suitable for cutting.
Around more than 60 cm (approx. 2ft) long, but a little shorter than “tachi”.
Used from the middle of the Muromachi era (the late 15th century) to the end of the Edo era (the middle of the 19th century).
When “tachi” becomes shorter by “suriage”
*, it’s called as “katana”.
“Katana” is worn with edge-up, inserted into “Obi” (a sash for kimono).
*– The word “Katana” –
The word “katana” is also used for general Japanese traditional swords including “tachi”.
(Sometimes used for Western swords, too.)
*– Suriage –
Filing notches of a blade (“machi”) and cutting off the end of its tang (“nakago”).
[Waki-zashi (lit. side-inserted)]
Between 30.3 cm (approx. 1ft) and 60.6 cm long.
Also worn at the waist with edge-up like katana.
Small ones between 36 to 40 cm (approx. 1ft 2in to 4in) are called “ko-waki-zashi” (small waki-zashi).
From around Azuchi-momoyama era (1573 – 1603) to Edo era (1603 – 1868), a waki-zashi was worn together with a katana as a spare.
A pair of katana and waki-zashi was called “Dai-shou” (Big and small).
[Tantou (lit. short katana)]
Its length isn’t over 30.3 cm.
Before curved blades were produced, this tantou was called as katana.
One without “tsuba” (sword guard) is referred to as “ai-kuchi”.
Often carried in kimono. (Referred to as “kai-ken”. “Kai” is “futokoro”.)
[Ken / Tsurugi (lit. sword)]
Both-edged straight sword.
The word “ken” or “tsurugi” is frequently used for general (especially Western) swords, including katana.
Latest posts by kara (see all)
- Basic Japanese : “Sumimasen” – “Thank you” in Japanese - June 24, 2015
- Basic Japanese : “Arigatou” – “Thank you” in Japanese - May 29, 2015
- Basic Japanese : “Go-chisou sama” – Phrase after meal - May 27, 2015
Japan is one of the countries located along the “Pacific Ring of Fire”. Countries along the “Pacific Ring of Fire” have high seismic and volcanic activity. This explains why earthquakes are common in the “Land of the Rising Sun”. There are many volcanoes in Japan. In fact, approximately ten percent of the world’s active volcanoes […]
Who is William Merrell Vories? William Merrell Vories was an american from Leavenworth, Kansas who at a young age of 24 left his country and moved to Japan to teach English at Hachiman Commercial High School and since his arrival at Omihachiman on February 2, 1905, he has called this place his new home. He quickly […]
Happy New Year! Everything you do in the first days of the New Year can mean something or will affect the whole year. Hatsu or “first” of something are important according to Japanese culture: the first shrine visit, first dreams, and the first sunrise have impacts on how your year will turn out. The following […]
Muramasa (2) Blessed swords for hostile forces against Tokugawa If “Muramasa” blades really harm the Tokugawa, they are very fortunate weapons for enemies. Nobushige Sanada (1567 – 1615), much more commonly known as Yukimura Sanada, who was against the Tokugawa, is said that he carried “Muramasa” sword(s) with him. There is also a legend that […]
As we mentioned in our hatsumoude post, everything you do in the first days of the New Year can mean something or will affect the whole year. Hatsu (初) or “first” of something are important according to Japanese culture: the first shrine visit, first dreams, and the first sunrise have impacts on how your year […]
Last time, we featured how the tanuki is similar to the kitsune in terms of how they are portrayed in Japanese legends and myths. In this post, we will talk about how the tanuki is depicted in modern Japan and in popular culture. When you stroll around Japan, you will notice that restaurants and pubs, […]
“Shin-nen akemashite omedetou gozaimasu”, Happy New Year to everyone! How did you spend your year end vacation? I guess, everyone is still in their vacation mode. Did you eat osechi during “sanganichi” (三が日)? How was it? Did you know that each dish has its own meaning and significance? For people who are not familiar with osechi, let me […]
In my first post I shared with you my experience when I visited Go’o Shrine and Kadoya. Now I will tell you about the other 4 houses – Gokaisho, Haisha, Ishibashi and Minamidera. Gokaisho designed by Yoshihiro Suda. Gokaisho litterally means a place to meet and play go – a traditional Japanese board game. But don’t expect […]
The Bicchuu Matsuyama Castle in Takahashi city(2) When I reached the top, I found a tea server. “Bicchuu Uji-cha”, a local tea was served and it was free. “Thank god, I can cool my throat”, I thought, but surprisingly it was steaming hot! I didn’t want to waste my tea, so I waited until it […]
In our previous post about kendo, we learned about its history. In this post, we will learn about the kendo equipment. As the All Japan Kendo Federation (AJKF) restored kendo and fight against the ban after the declaration of Japan’s independence, they then published “The Concept and Purpose of Kendo”. The Purpose of Kendo Its […]