Samurai Sword "Katana"

Brief Overview of Katana (Japanese Sword)


The Swords forged with Spirit of Japan
Katana (Samurai Sword) is a generic term for swords forged in the originally developed way in Japan. They are classified as Katana (Tachi, Uchigatana), Wakizashi and Tanto depending on size. Craftsmen who make Katana are called 'Toko (sword craftsman),' 'Tosho (sword master)' or 'Katana kaji (swordsmith).

The Very Soul of the Samurai
Its beautiful shape has symbolic meaning as well as its use as a weapon since ancient times, and many are highly appraised as art objects. Old and unbroken lines, including the Imperial family and shrines, value treasure swords (such as Amenomurakumono tsurugi) as a proof of power. They also functioned as a support pillar of spiritual culture, 'the very soul of the samurai against the backdrop of the military government. They feature a process of folding and forging' two types of metal, hard brittle steel and soft iron, so the Toshin (body of blade) and Nakago (core) are combined together. The Nakago has holes (Mekugi holes) to fix the body of blade to the Tsuka (handle) with pin fasteners.

Katana is not only a Weapon, but also an Art-craft
Different from swords of other countries, the biggest feature of Katana is that the body of blade itself has artistic value, aside from the fittings (Koshirae). Katana is found in a poem titled 'A Poem About the Katana' by Ou-yang Hsui in Baisong. This poem describes a merchant of Yueh (South China) who goes to Japan to buy Katana already being called treasure swords given their artistic qualities found in the fittings and appearance. Although the main point of A poem About the Katana' is to lament that books already lost in China still exist in Japan, and not about Katana, it shows that the beauty of Katana was already recognized by overseas curiosos from the late Heian period to the early Kamakura period as one of Japan's exports.

Must See Videos
Video Contents
1. Documentary of Katana, the Samurai Sword (46:53)
2. Documentary of Japanese Swords (27:23)

Ability and Mentality of Katana


'Not to Break and Not Bend'
It is thought that the process of creation of Katana has been developed basically in order to achieve three conflicting natures, 'Not to break, not bend, and sharply cut' simultaneously. In the modern metallurgy, 'not break and not bend' is called 'compatibility of strength and tenacity' and improvement research of structural material has still being done night and day. Because saving trouble even a little makes this compatibility balance lost.

'Not to Break and Sharply Cut'
Also, 'sharply cut' and 'not break' are difficult to be compatible. This has been realized by having so-called functionally-gradated structure that the cutting edge is hard, and the hardness is gradually decreased to the core, which makes compressive residual stress generate at the cutting edge. The explanation above is a case showing that the ideal condition is realized in the whole blade, so in fact, invisible defects can make a sword easily broken. However, a Katana in the ideal condition is called 'the world's strongest cutting tool,' and with reason. The sharpness of Katana are stated everywhere. As a notable example, 'Kabuto-wari (helmet splitting)' with Katana by the Dotanuki group led by Kenkichi SAKAKIBARA is famous. With best pieces of katana, if you drop one sheet of paper on it, it will be cut by its weight.

Katana is specialized for 'Cut Off'
katanaA Katana is not really light if you compare in the blade length, because its handle is longer than other swords. However, among the swords for double-handed use, it is one of the lightest ones. A Katana is originally suitable to 'cut off.' However, it is necessary to slide and pull when cutting so that the direction of force is added at a right angle against the object to cut, because the sword itself is light. With the same reason, when sharpening a sword to 'cut and kill,' it is sharpened in the direction to slide like a kitchen knife (similar in the way to handle double-edged sword). Tracing the history, from the Kofun period to the Nara period, when swords became separated between ceremonial use and actual use, 'Keito Tachi' and 'Kurozukuri-no Tachi' were only for 'cutting off.' In the Heian period, 'Kogarasu' adopted 'Kissaki moroha-zukuri (double edged tip style)' to be suitable also to 'stab,' but later, Tachi and Uchigatana didn't adopt Kissaki moroha-zukuri and had a curve to be suitable to 'cut' by wristing.

Values and Roles of Katana
katanaIt is quite an abnormal situation when people fight risking their lives, not just in battle, and they need to have a special determination. In such time, it is no wonder that 'the very soul of the samurai' of Katana, the mental and religious value as sacred treasures and the artistic value are needed as realistic force, in a way. There exist a lot of swords made during the war-torn period that are engraved with names of Shinto and Buddhist deities the owners believed in or with mantra, which interestingly reflects warriors' naked feelings. From the engineering aspect, in the periods when the theory of metallic crystal or phase transition was not resolved, sword craftsmen kept making an effort and achieved cutting tools that were excellent scientifically as well, which attracts much interest even now. This is because engineering control in the black box style is realized by accumulating and transmitting lots of meta-information including apparent change, texture, and smell that are not theorized or verbalized. In fact we don't interpret people's expression by fine and strict definition, but have an advanced ability to 'read the mind,' and especially since the Japanese are excellent in this ability, attempts to use Japanese manufacturing as an engineering system has begun in recent years.

katana Bottles on the wooden table

Forging Technique of Katana

katana body
Complex Techniques of Crafting Katana
The forging technique of Katana, a highly advanced technique at the time, strove to achieve three highly sought after qualities, 'Not to break, not to bend, and a razor sharp cutting edge.
tatara-bukiTatara-buki (Japanese style of making high-quality steel)
Tatara-buki method; the type of steel used to make a Katana is called Japanese steel or Tamahagane. Tamahagane is made using the 'Tatara-buki method,' an original Japanese steel making process. Not depending upon iron ore imported from other countries, using black iron sand found on beaches in Japan, achieves fast reduction at low temperature, and creates high-quality steel with few impurities, compared to the modern steelmaking processes.
Mizuheshi Mizuheshi (removal of carbon using water)
Heated Tamahagane is hammered with a Tsuchi (hammer) to make a thin flat plate. When qenched in water and rapidly cooled, the excess carbon flakes off. This is called 'Mizuheshi' (removal of carbon using water). These are raw metal making processes called Heshi (removal process).
Tsumi WakashiTsumi wakashi (stacked and heated)
This case-hardened piece is called Heshi gane (removed metal), which is broken into small metal pieces using a Tsuchi (hammer). These metal pieces are stacked on the tip of a forging tool called 'Teko', and wrapped in Japanese traditional paper. Straw ash is applied, and then coated with clay slurry, then it goes into the furnace (Hodo) to heat until the clay surface melts. The straw ash and clay prevents scaling loss of the steel during heating and oxidizing. It is then hammered with a Kozuchi (light hammer) to form 6x9cm block. If there are not enough iron pieces, more are stacked, heated, hammered with a Kozuchi, and formed into an ingot weighing 1.8kg to 2.0kg. This is the process known as 'Tsumi wakashi' (stacked and heated). Other than Tamahagane, pig iron (Sentetsu) which contains a lot of carbon, and pure iron called Hocho tetsu also undergo Tsumi wakashi and Shita-gitae processing mentioned below.
Shita-gitaeShita-gitae (founding forging)
The red-hot block is struck and elongated using a Tsuchi (hammer), and folded back into the middle of its length, which is called a 'folding method of forging' and it is done repeatedly. In fact, the word 'Muko-zuchi,' describes the method by which Tosho (Yokoza, master) and his disciple (Sente, helper) alternately strike the body of the blade with a Tsuchi, and this has become the root of the word 'Aizuchi wo utsu (chiming in).' In this step, folding is done about five or six times.
Tsumi WakashiTsumi wakashi (stacked and heated) again
After finishing Shita-gitae with three types of steel, Tamahagane (literally "jeweled steel"), Sentetsu (pig iron), and Hocho tetsu (literally "kitchen knife steel," pure iron), they are hammered using a Kozuchi (light hammer) again to make metal pieces, selected to produce the proper steel composition, they are stacked and formed like the first Tsumi wakashi. In this step, four kinds of steel having different carbon content, Shingane (center metal), Munegane (back metal), Hanokane (blade metal) and Gawagane (side metal), are made.
Age-gitaeForging (Age-gitae, final forging)
Shingane are folded back 7 times, Munegane 9 times, Hanokane 15 times and Gawagane 12 times. By repeatedly forging after folding back the steel struck and elongated, impurities such as sulfur, excess carbon and non-metal impurities are removed, and a strong and homogeneous steel is created.
TansetsuTansetsu (forge welding) and Wakashi-nobe (heating and elongating)
After getting four kinds of steel, Shingane (center metal), Munegane (back metal), Hanokane (blade metal) and Gawagane (side metal) by Shita-gitae (forging), the second Tsumi wakashi (stacked and heated metal) and Age-gitae (finishing forging), three layers of Munegane, Shingane and Hanokane are forged and welded, and struck and elongated to get four times the material, 20mm thick, 40mm wide, and 90mm long, and then cut into four. This is called the 'Core metal (芯金).' Gawagane is also heated, and struck and elongated to become twice as long as the Core metal, and is then cut in the center to make two Gawagane of the same length as the Core metal. Gawagane, Core metal and the other Gawagane are stacked in this order, heated, forged, and welded, then struck and elongated into a 15mm thick, 30mm wide, 500 to 600mm long plate. Teko' is cut off, then 'Nakago' which becomes the grip of a sword is heated, forged and welded.
SunobeSunobe (Forming the blank)
Sunobe,' is done by striking and elongating to form the shape of the Katana, and Kissaki (piercing tip) is made by cutting off the end. Since this rough shape determines the final finished shape of a Katana, it is carefully formed by striking with a Kozuchi.
HizukuriHizukuri (Shaping with heat)
Mune (back) of the blade is struck to start the base of a triangular shape, and the blade side (Hirachi) is struck and elongated to reduce thickness. Then the Mune of the Nakago is struck to round the back edge, and lastly 'Shinogichi (ridge line)' is struck and formed. The whole body of the blade is heated at a lower temperature until it becomes reddish brown.
Karajime (Cold forging)
After it cools down, the black taint is removed by grinding with a rough polishing stone, and the Hirachi (blade) and Shinogichi (ridge line) are hammered using a Kozuchi (light hammer), and cold forging process is applied. The straight lines of Mune and blade are adjusted, and unevenness is shaved with a special plane for shaving metal called Sen (銑, with the radical of 金 and 舌, by right). In this step, 'Hawatari (length of the blade) and the 'Machi (notch)' is determined.
Kiki ChokoNamatogi (Raw grinding)
Namatogi' is done to grind out the shaving marks left by using the plane and this is done using a polishing stone. Then, after oil and fat are removed using straw ash with water, and the sword is dried.
TsuchiokiTsuchioki (Soil coating)
As preparation for 'Yaki-ire (quenching)' to rapidly cool the heated blade with water or other liquid, 'Tsuchioki (soil coating)' where three types of Yakiba-tsuchi soil (soil used for quenching) are applied to the Hirachi (blade), Hamon (blade pattern) and Shinogichi (ridge line) are done. Yakiba-tsuchi soil (soil used for quenching) is applied thinly and evenly over the Hirachi (blade side), then Hamon (blade pattern) is designed with a writing brush using Yakiba-tsuchi soil for quenching for Hamon. Lastly, a thicker coating of Yakiba-tsuchi soil (for quenching) is applied for the Shinogichi (ridge line) from the Hamon (blade pattern) to Mune (back). By using thicker concentration of Yakiba-tsuchi soil, for quenching, on the Shinogichi (ridge line), when cooling rapidly by Yaki-ire, the blade side is quickly cooled and quenched completely, and the Mune side is cooled relatively slowly and not fully quenched. Quenching makes a sword harder, the metal expands, and creates the distinct curve of a Katana. The Mune expands less, and takes on the property of tenacity rather than hardness, and this supports the blade side steel which is hard, but otherwise easily broken.
YakiireYaki-ire (Quenching)
Generally during Yaki-ire, Tosho dims the light of the workshop, and judges the temperature of steel by its glow. The blade coated with Tsuchioki is inserted deeply into the Hodo, and the whole blade from end to end is heated uniformly to about 800 degrees. The temperature is most important, and the optimal heat condition is checked with the greatest care, the body of blade is then plunged swiftly to a water tank and rapidly cooled. As mentioned above, the blade warps in the water, and it is pulled out after it is fully cooled, and is then ground with a rough polishing stone, and the Yakiba (焼刃, cutting edge) is checked. After that, the blade is reheated in a charcoal fire for 'Yaki-modoshi (tempering).' This work is called 'Aitori (neutralizing).' Since it also warps to the side a little, it is struck while on a wooden base with a Kozuchi (light hammer) to adjust straighten the blade. The Nakago (core) is also tempered and formed. After Yaki-ire (quenching), the surface of the blade is very hard and this is called Martensite. Depending on how the Martensite looks, the Hamon (blade pattern) that looks like round particles on the surface of the metal to the naked eye, is called Nie (literally "boiling"), and separates from the Nioi (literally "scent") that looks like fine lines because the individual particles cannot be distinguished. Other than water, some of other cutting tools are quenched in oil, and as were Japanese military swords during the war, but today, it seems to be reare that a Katana is quenched in oil. Although quenching in oil reduces failure, it is not suitable for modern swords that are meant to become a work of art because it cannot achieve a fine Hamon (blade pattern).
KajioshiKajioshi (Final grinding)
The sword craftsman modifies the curvature of the Katana after Yaki-ire (quenching) is finished, and does a rough grinding. In this step, final adjustment is done by checking for small scratches, blade thickness and Jiba (blade surface).
Nakago JitateNakago jitate (core shaping)
Nakago (core) is finished with a Sen (a grinding tool) or a file, and for a Mekugi (fastening pin) hole used for securing the Tsuka (handle grip), usually one hole is drilled and two for a sword used for Iaido (Japanese martial art). Then, Yasurime (to prevent hands from slipping on the grip), which is unique to sword craftsmanship, is added.
MeikiriMeikiri (Carving inscription)
Lastly, the craftsman carves his own name, address or year the sword was made on into the Nakago (core) as Mei (an inscription) with a Tagane (borer). Generally, the name and address of the sword craftsman are inscribed on the front side (outside when wearing Tachi or Katana), and the year or name of the owner in the back side, but there are exceptions such as back-inscription or no inscription at all. This is the end of the work for the sword craftsman, then a Togi-shi (polisher) polishes the sword finally, but before the Muromachi period, the sword craftsman himself also polished the sword. There is a big differences in polishing Katana compared to other cutting tools; ensuring ornamental elements of a Katana, as a craftwork, is focused on as well as assuming sharpness as a cutting tool, and the whole body, not just the blade part, is polished.
After all the process of forging, Saya-shi (Sheath craftsman) creates the Saya (sheath) appropriate to the Katana. Katana are not completed soley by a sword craftsman, other craftsmen including a Togi-shi (polisher) and Saya-shi (Sheath craftsman) add the finishing touches.

History of Katana (Japanese Samurai Sword)

Strait Sword

From the Joko (ancient times) era to the Appearance of Curved Swords
From the Joko (ancient times) era to the appearance of curved swords In the Kofun (tumulus) period, steel swords had already been made. For example, iron swords and Tachi were excavated from the Inariyama tumulus, Saitama Prefecture and the Tsukuriyama tumulus, Shimane Prefecture, which is a large square tumulus in Izumo representing the early Kofun period. The iron sword with a gold inscription excavated from Inariyama tumulus was made in 471 for commemorating the achievement working for Wakatakeru (Emperor Yuryaku) with 115 Chinese characters.

Although most swords of this period are corroded and damaged, Kanto Tachi with gold and bronze fittings excavated from Kawarake Valley in Yasugi City, Shimane Prefecture is miraculously in good preservation, and is famous as a rare case to pass the shine from the ancient days to the present with its golden Tsuka (handle) as well as the body of blade.

Most swords after the seventh to eighth century retain their original form well, 'Heishishorinken' and 'Shichiseiken' of Shitenno-ji Temple and 'Kingindensono karatachi' of Shoso-in (treasure house of Todai-ji Temple) are well-known (Straight swords before appearance of curved swords are called ‘Tachi’ not ‘Katana’). As Emperor Suiko composed, 'A colt from Hyuga Province is the best horse, and Masabi from Wu is the best Tachi,' swords from Wu (collective name of southeast area of China) was supposed to be the best during this period. However, the skill of Katanamiths was improving.

Strait SwordIn Shoso-in, domestically produced straight swords called Karayo (Chinese style) Tachi are stored as well as imports from overseas called Kara (Chinese) Tachi. Moreover, there still exist straight swords with Hirazukuri (ridged style) and Seppazukuri (front ridge style) and domestically produced Ken including Warabiteno Katana. Although relics of swords from the early Heian period are scarce, and the transition of styles or how and when Japanese original curved swords were formed are not fully figured out academically, after the mid Heian period (around the 10th century), when the turmoil of Johei and Tengyo occurred, Warabiteno Katana (curved sword) which was easy to use when riding with its warped body of blade was used instead of conventional straight swords.

It seems that Warabiteno Katana that barbarians used while riding to the disputes with Tohoku where they suffered for a long time had an influence. Also in this period, swords with 'Shinogizukuri' (ridged style) whose cross section of the body of blade is rhombic started to be made instead of the Hirazukuri (no ridge style) or Seppazukuri (front ridge style). Shinogizukuri' is said to be stronger and easier to cut with than Hirazukuri and Seppazukuri.

Tachi SwordAge of Tachi (long sword)
In the late Heian period, especially around the time of Early Nine-Years War and Late Three-Years War, Tachi was developed along with increasing power of samurai, and usually the ones after this period are called Katana. Schools of sword craftsmenship appeared in the border area between Izumo and Hoki, and Bizen Province where there was good iron sand, and Yamashiro Province and Yamato Province which were the center of politics and culture. In these days, the mainstream of Katana is Tachi considered for fighting on horseback. Representative Katana of this period are; 'Doji giri (killing ogre)' sword by which MINAMOTO no Yorimitsu cut Shuten-doji (Drunk Ogre) on Oe Mountain (made by Yasutsuna in Hoki Province, National Treasure); 'Kogitsunemaru (small fox)' sword which has a legend that a fox helped with the forging (made by Munechika SANJO in Yamashiro Province, lost during the Second World War).

Although an ancient document mentions that Yasutsuna from the border area between Izumo and Hoki who made 'Doji-giri' sword lived in the early 9th century, as seen in his existing work, it is widely believed that he didn't live in those days, but rather in the mid Heian period at the end of 10th century. Other than Yasutsuna, SANJO Kokaji Munechika in Yamashiro (capital) and Tomonari KOBIZEN are regarded as the oldest sword craftsmen whose names are on existing work.

TachiAlthough Katana in the early Kamakura era looked like the ones in the late Heian period, the military government system was established by the Kamakura Shogunate, and the world of swords blossomed. The Retired Emperor Gotoba established Gotoba-in smithery, where he summoned sword craftsmen each month and had them forge swords, also involved himself in Yakiba (cutting edge), and positively encouraged the making of swords. In this period, Awataguchi school in Yamashiro Province and Ichimonji school in Bizen Province were newly established. In the mid Kamakura period, as a result of emphasizing utility, the width of the blade became wider, which makes a difference in the width of blade at the base and at the top less, and swords have a rounded surface. Kissaki (tip) became wide and short, which was called Ikubi (boar's neck), and showed a simple and strong characteristic. As famous swordsmith in this period, there were Kuniyoshi and Yoshimitsu of the Awataguchi school in Yamashiro, Kuniyuki, Rai Kunitoshi and Niji Kunitoshi (only 'Kunitoshi' was inscribed instead of 'Rai Kunitoshi' as signature) of Rai school also in Yamashiro, Shintogo Kunimitsu in Sagami Province, Fukuoka Ichimonji school in Bizen, Mitsutada of Bizen Osafune school and Aoe school of Bicchu Province.

Swords made especially in Yamashiro, Yamato, Bizen, Mino, and Sagami are called 'Gokaden (Swords from the five provinces).' The creation of swords in these five provinces respectively have a unique feature in Jitetsu (steel), Kitae (forging) or Hamon (blade pattern), which are respectively called 'Yamashiro den (Swords from Yamashiro Province)' or 'Soshu den (Swords from Sagami Province).' In the late Kamakura period, the creation of swords bloomed further due to disorders such as two Genko (Mongol Invasions) and collapse of the political system.

Katana of this period were changing to become more dynamic than those from the mid Kamakura era. The blade width became wider, which makes the width less at the base and at the top, and they came to have longer Kissaki (tip). Tanto (short swords) or other Katana also came to have a longer point like the Tachi. It could be said that OKAZAKI Goro-nyudo Masamune, as an expert of Soshu den was the most brilliant swordsmith in this period. His style is prominent in the artwork on the blade surface, that is, Kinsuji (golden strip), Inazuma (thunderbolt) or Chikei (landscape). The style of Masamune tremendously influenced sword craftsmenship in various regions. There are swordsmiths called 'Masamune Jittetsu (Ten best disciples of Masamune).' Although most of them were stretches in the later days and had no actual relationship between master and disciple, this shows the influence of Masamune's Soshu den in various regions.

After the Muromachi Period
Samurai with KatanaThe early Muromachi period produced famous swordsmiths including Bizen Osafune Morimitsu and Bizen Osafune Yasumitsu, and Moromitsu, Iesuke, Tsuneie also from Bizen. Since most swords of theirs were made during the Oei period, they are generally called 'Oei Bizen' and are highly valued. Domestic demand for swords decreased since the era of peace started, but production for important exports to Ming dynasty in China also started.

When the war-torn era started by the turmoil of the Onin War, numbers of inferior swords made by mass production called 'Kazu-uchi mono' started to appear to respond to the massive demand, which intensified the deterioration in the quality of swords. The Sengoku period (period of warring states) gave rise to mass production of inferior Kazu-uchi mono (mass products), but on the other hand, the steel industry which produced the material made a rapid advance in Tatara (bellows) technology and with the arrival of guns by trading with Westerners.

Stable supply of high quality steel was realized, and elaborate works of Katana kaji of this period and 'Chumon-uchi (items made to order)' which warriors specially ordered to entrust his own fate to are mostly famous. In the Sengoku period, Magoroku Kanemoto and Izuminokami Kanesada as two major swordsmiths of Sue Koto (Late Old Sword), and Muramasa in Ise appeared. (As for the swords after the mid Muromachi era, Tachi which was carried on at the waist with the blade downward was replaced by Uchigatana which was put on at the waist with the blade upward. The outside of both Tachi and Uchigatana when wearing is supposed to be the front of the body of blade, on which signature of the sword craftsman is usually inscribed. Therefore, Tachi and Uchigatana are mostly distinguished by the position of the inscribed signature (Mei), but some sword craftsmen inscribed in the back.)

In the history of swords, creation of swords after the Keicho period are called 'Shinto (New Swords),' and were distinguished from 'Koto (Old Swords),' made before that. In this period, famous swordsmiths gathered in Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka to compete with each other.

Samurai KatanaDuring the Edo Period
In the Edo period, swordsmithery flourished in Edo, Osaka and other regions, and famous swordsmiths including Kotetsu NAGASONE, Kunihiro HORIKAWA, Shinkai INOUE, and Sukehiro TSUDA appeared. Although Katana kaji used to have an attribute as workmen of weapon manufacturing, some of them started to develop an artistic disposition. New demand for Katana was also generated since financially well-off merchants specially ordered luxurious Wakizashi (medium length swords). Especially in Osaka, Shinkai and Sukehiro appeared, who developed a magnificent style called Osaka Shinto (Osaka New Swords). However, conservative samurai avoided some of them because they thought those swords looked decadent with the picturesque and ornate Hamon (blade pattern). And since swordsmanship was practiced with bamboo swords, Katana came to have a shape with a shallow curve.

Edo KatanaIn the era of peace after the Genroku period, there was no demand for new swords, and few craftsmen made swords. On the other hand, however, riggings of a sword such as Tsuba (handguard), Kozuka (accessory knife), Menuki (hilt ornaments), Kogai (hair pick accessory) were developed in this period, and also in such field of sword ornament goldsmiths, lots of famous swordsmiths including Matashichi HAYASHI, Yasuchika TSUCHIYA, Toshinaga NARA, Somin YOKOTANI, Shozui HAMANO and Ichijo GOTO appeared.

In the late Edo era, when Japan became turbulent, Suishinshi Masahide and some others tried to restore the forging method of Koto (Old Swords) from the philosophy of revivalism, and practical Katana started to be made again. Creation of swords after this period is called 'Shin Shinto (New-New Swords).' Disciples of Masahide including SHOJI Taikei Naotane, MINAMOTO no Kiyomaro, Sa no Yukihide, Munetsugu KOYAMA appeared. However, when the creation of sword started to flourish again, the Meiji Restoration began, then Revenge was banned in 1873, and the decree banning the wearing of swords to prohibit people, except the police and military from wearing swords, was issued on March 28, 1876, so Katana rapidly declined.

Army KatanaFrom the Meiji Era to the Second World War
In 1873, Katana were exhibited at the Expo held in Vienna. This was to show Japanese technology and mentality to the international society. However, after the decree banning the wearing of swords, there were little demand for new swords, and most swordsmiths who were popular lost their job. Moreover, numbers of famous swords went abroad. Still, Japanese government appointed Gassan and Tadanori MIYAMOTO as Imperial Members of Art. They made an effort to preserve traditional techniques of creating swords. On the other hand, appreciation of the Drawn Sword Squad in the Seinan War influenced the Japanese Army and Navy to keep using katana as major weapons for officers, and it became standard to make Katana with military sword fittings of saber style, then the proof of Katana' effectiveness in close combats in the Russo-Japanese War as weapons in a modern war, and the increasing momentum of ultranationalism in the Showa era made the Army and Navy develop military sword fittings more suitable to store a Katana with the motif of Tachi fittings in the Kamakura era, instead of military sword fittings of the saber style (at the same time, however, numbers of swords that had been used in ancient and modern wars as military swords were lost on the battleground).

Army KatanaAfter the Manchurian Incident, the Armory and some researchers in institutes pursued the possibility as a soldier's gear in regard not only to the fittings, but also the body of blade. For example, various military swords including 'Shinbuto' that is strong in the bitter cold of Manchuria, and Katana of stainless steel the Navy used ('Taiseito') were studied. Various bodies of blades from the ones with partly changed materials or from production methods of Katana to industrial swords representing the shape of Katana were made as prototypes or in large quality. These special blades were called 'Showa swords,' 'New Murata sword' and 'New Katana,' and it is said that a lot of them outweighed conventional Katana (even famous swords) in quality as weapons.

From the original viewpoint of 'Katana as weapons to fight with,' each of the special blades became a perfect Katana using modern technology and had an essential practical utility, but most of them have no taste of beauty in appearance (some swords including semi-forged Showa Swords of Seki have both), so, today, they are not supposed to be included together with Katana, also from the standpoint of the production method. Recently, however, such military swords which were disregarded in the sword world became popular, and at the same time they are reevaluated as researchers and collectors found something new or an unfair and the myth was denied.

After the Second World War
Samurai armyAfter the surrender in the Second World War, the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers conducted a sword hunt regarding Katana as weapons, so numerous swords including Hotarumaru were destroyed (in Kumamoto prefecture, for example, swords were burned with petroleum and thrown into the sea). There was also a rumor that 'if you have a sword, the GHQ will come to search with a metal detector,' so some swords were hidden in the ground, which caused them to corrode and they were ruined, some were broken to make a short one which is shorter than the length of the those that were prized by collectors, and some people discarded swords on their own, and so on and so forth.

Although Katana themselves were endangered once, Japan made a great effort and possession with a registration system became possible. A Katana itself is required to be registered, and a sword without a registration needs to be notified to the Police and investigated. Although carrying a sword is subject to restriction by the Sword and Firearms Control Law, permission is not required to possess a sword and anybody can possess them (some municipalities prohibit sales to people 18 or younger in an ordinance). Today, Katana are not weapons, but tools for martial arts such as Iaido, and decent art objects same as paintings and pottery, and the production and possession are allowed only for such purposes. Furthermore, the number of swords to be made by a sword craft master per year is allocated, which prevents reduction in quality of the work by mass production of inferior swords.

Art of Katana
Art of Katana
Art of Katana

Classification of Katana by Shape

This type is a Katana with an average shape with a warped blade and several parts including Tsuka, Tsuba and Seppa. Simply mentioning 'Katana' mostly indicates Uchigatana. In the modern classification, it indicates the one with its blade length (direct distance between Kissaki (tip) and Mune-machi - notch in the back) is 60cm and longer, and those shorter than 60cm is called Wakizashi.
tachi Tachi (Long Swords)
The structure is almost same with Uchigatana, but the way of carrying is totally different (Uchigatana is carried with the blade upward by putting in a belt, while Tachi is hung with the blade downward to carry), and Koshirae (fittings) are also different. Also, a lot of them are ornately decorated on Tsuka (handle) and Saya (sheath). As mentioned above, there is no big difference when comparing only the blade, it generally features a deep curve.
wakizashiWakizashi (Medium Length Swords)
This is Uchigatana (or Tachi) with a short blade. In modern classification, those with a blade length from 30cm to 60cm. Wakizashi with almost 60cm long blade is especially called Kodachi (shorter tachi) or Naga-wakizashi (longer wakizashi).
OdachiOdachi (Very Long Swords)
Uchigatana (or Tachi) with a long blade. It is also called Nodachi (field tachi). It was carried on the back or the shoulder because it was too long to put (or hang) at the waist. As for usage, chopping while riding horseback by letting its weight work was most common.
Kenukigata-tachiKenukigata Tachi (Tachi with a tweezer shape)
Tachi (long sword) where Nakago (core) also functions as a Tsuka (handle). It existed during the transit period from straight swords to curved swords.
KogarasumaruKogarasumaru Swords
It has Shinogi-zukuri (ridged style) from Hamachi (edge notch) to Monouchi (striking point), but Kissaki (point) has a style closer to Moroha-zukuri (double edge style). It also has some curve. It existed during the transit period from straight swords to curved swords.
TantoTanto (Short Swords)
In modern classification, one with a blade length shorter than 30cm. However, one longer than 30cm in Hira-zukuri style with little curve is called 'Sunnobi (extended length)' and can be included in Tanto.
NagamakiNagamaki (literally "Long Roll")
Odachi (very long sword) with a Tsuka (handle) almost the same length as the blade. It was evolved from 'Nakamaki (literally "medium roll")' that became easier to handle by extending the Tsuka of Odachi. The difference between Nagamaki and Nakamaki is; the Tsuka is made long from the beginning, or the Tsuka is made long by extending a regular Odachi. Shoso-in (treasure house of Todai-ji temple) has a weapon with a long handle as in its original version.
naginataNaginata (Pole Swords)
A weapon with a long handle having a curved blade like Uchigatana and Tachi. It looks like Nagamaki in appearance, but there are some theories on the relationship with Nagamaki, and the truth is unclear.
shikomigatanaShikomi katana (Disguised swords)
A hidden weapon to disguise it as something different than a sword by covering the blade. There are mainly two types; one disguised as a commodity, and a two-step weapon by fitting another weapon with a small blade. The blade gives priority to 'how easy it is to hide' over 'how strong,' it is so, it is thinner and easier to break compared to other Katana.
katana Bottles on the wooden table
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See Also
Encyclopedia of Japan