Learn about Japanese Swords

The Japanese culture is heavily imbued with the sword (daisho). The history of Japan could be characterized as too many people fighting over too little land. The use of the sword was shaped by the history of the land and its people.

Ancient Yayoi warriors developed weapons, armour and a code during the ensuing centuries that became the centerpiece for the Japanese Samurai. Early weapons included bows, arrows and swords. The early Samurai emphasized fighting with the bow and arrow. They used swords for close fighting and beheading their enemies. Battles with the Mongols in the late 13th century led to a change in the Samurai's fighting style. The Samurai slowly changed from fighting on horseback to fighting on foot.

Legend says that the gifted sword maker Amakuni developed the classically styled Japanese sword. Prior to this time, the swords were developed from copies of Korean and Chinese designs. The “hundred refinings method” used to hard temper the cutting edge of the sword was also learned from the Chinese who had more advanced iron and steelsmiths then Europe and the rest of the known world. The Samurai wore the long sword (daito - katana) which was more than 24 inches and the short sword (shoto - wakizashi) was between 12 and 24 inches. The Samurai's desire for tougher, sharper swords for battle gave rise to the curved blade we still have today.

Miyamoto Musashi, Tsunemoto and Yamamoto are still regarded as kensai (sword saints) in Japanese folklore. In 1877 Emperor Meiji disbanded the Samurai. They were stripped of the honor of wearing the two swords. This was the premise of the last great battle of the Swaor. The Satsuma refused to obey and rebelled against the government army (Dec 1877- Jan 1878) at Kagoshima in the south. The Samurai were killed in this battle while becoming a symbol of the swordsman. 


Glossary of Japanese Sword Terms


Small pattern of softer steel extending from the ji into the hamon. This pattern in the hamon was to prevent large sections of the cutting edge from being broken off.


This is a large wavey hada


A wide groove or Hi in the blade. Often believed to channel blood from your slain opponent and commonly called a "Blood Groove." The Bo'Hi "groove" is to lighten the blade just as the fuller in a European sword.


The rounded hardened edge on the point or Kissaki of the blade.


Clover or mushroom shaped hamon pattern.


Collar beside the tsuba


Semi circular wave shaped hamon.


The cutting edge of the blade. Also the section that would be sharpened.


This is the transitional zone from hard to soft steel or the line defining the edge of the hamon.


The pattern or grain in the blade that is a result of folding the steel


The notch at the beginning of the cutting edge


The line seen between the edge and spine of a blade where the metal is changes hardness. This is typical in Japanese styled blades from the process of differential tempering or hardening.


A groove in the blade. Often believed to channel blood from your slain opponent and commonly called a "Blood Groove." The Bo'Hi "groove" is to lighten the blade just as the fuller in a European sword.


Carving or Engraving in the Blade


Streaks of hardened steel in a vertical zig-zag pattern in the transition zone habuchi. This type of hamon literally means "lightning bolts"


Wood-like grain in the steel, This type of Hada is similar to the side grain in a block of wood, with irregular rounded shapes.


silk or cotton hilt wrapping


The blade surface just above the hamon and below the shinogi


Grain pattern in the Ji


Butt cap on the tsuka


A type of hamon that means "golden lines"


The point or tip of the blade


The fitting or mouth of the saya


Fitting on the saya for attaching the sageo


The peg or pegs that go through the handle and tang of the blade holding the sword together.


The ornament under the Ito on the Tsuka


The back or spine of the blade


The Belt or Sash worn by the martial artist


The cord used for tying the saya to the obi


Rayskin used for covering the tsuka under the Ito


The ridge line defining the Yakiba or edge of the blade


The flat section just above the Shinogi


The guard on the sword.


The handle or the grip of the sword



The sharpened cutting edge of the blade

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