Top 5 Types of Japanese Swords

The samurai sword is one of the greatest symbols of Japan and its history. It has been used not only for cutting down enemies but also as a symbol of honor and dignity. Different types of Japanese real swords have a long, centuries-long tradition dominated primarily by metalworking villages in the southern part of what is now Tokushima prefecture on Shikoku island.

Earliest Japanese Swords

The first known Japanese swords come from around 150 BC. These are now collected as national treasures, though most are no longer sharp because they were made to be ceremonial daggers not designed for combat usage. Although these early blades did have "points," they were more like spikes rather than pointed blades with edge surfaces that could cut.

The first blades with actual edges seem to have been made sometime around the 4th century AD. Most of these early swords were fairly simple in construction: a tang, and hilt composed of a guard (tsuba) covering the hand to protect it from an opposing sword, and a grip (tsuka) to be held in the hand.

Later blades were more elaborate and decorative. Their hilts over time started incorporating more and more metal, initially in order to make them stronger, but eventually, swordsmiths began creating all sorts of designs where they would decorate both the blade and hilt with all kinds of patterns, etchings, or inscriptions.

These were intended to demonstrate wealth and status or to pay homage to the emperor, but it was also the blades in many cases that were used as a form of personal identification. For example, the very wealthy sometimes had their blades engraved with their name and family lineage. The Japanese were an extremely class-divided society.

Types of Japanese Swords

The Japanese sword, which has been synonymous with martial arts weapons and military prowess for centuries, has found its way into popular culture all over the world. But how did this weapon of war and regalia become so revered? Let’s explore different types of swords and what they mean for Japan's culture.

1. Wakizashi

A wakizashi was the shorter of two swords traditionally worn by samurai. Samurai would wear both a katana and a wakizashi, typically with the katana sword being used in combat while the second sword was often worn as more of an accessory. In feudal Japan, this implement would have been carried along with them as they traveled. 

Typically, it served not just as a blade but also various other purposes including; letter opener, food carver, and so on. These days, wakizashi are used primarily for decoration or display instead of practical use thanks to modern technological innovations like guns and laser pointers. The history of the wakizashi is one of the more interesting ones. 

Due to Japan's centuries-old isolationist policy, they were primarily cut off from the rest of the world until around the mid-19th century which meant that they had to make use of whatever materials they had at their disposal. They used a lot of metal that came from China and Korea although occasionally, ore could be found within Japan itself. 

However, whatever properties it did have were often rather weak which meant that even samurai swords were subject to the same standards as other disposable items of metalwork and were therefore made from inferior material.

Japanese sword

2. Tachi

The word "Tachi" (??) refers to a Japanese sword that is worn with the cutting edge down, parallel to the wearer's left hand. Traditional Japanese swords are either referred to as tachi or katana - this has more of an impact on the style of the blade than anything else. 

Tachi is worn with the cutting edge down, parallel to the wearer's left hand. The word tachi can be used for any sword that is hung in this manner, even if it was originally intended for use with one hand and not two. This includes odachi and nagamaki. 

It is also important to point out that while many swords of the period were worn edge-downward, this was not universal. There are numerous examples of blades that were worn thrust through the belt, blade up or blade down. Any blade which is colocated with its owner's right hand in any way is probably going to be considered a katana even if it was intended for use as a tachi.

3. Katana

A katana is a type of Japanese sword. The word "katana" comes from the term "wakizashi," which refers to the shorter version of a traditional Japanese sword. A long, slightly curved blade with a circular or squared guard and one edge curving up to form a sharp point that meets in the middle, as opposed to being straight like a European sword, was used by samurai warriors until they adopted firearms in warfare. 

It can be distinguished from other types of Japanese swords by its length and curvature. The katana's ornate hilt and scabbard have been depicted in films, television shows, and video games for decades. A samurai could pull his sword from its sheath quickly. 

The shape of the blade with its curved line changed how a bullet would impact – making the bullet follow the curved line rather than enter the body at a straight angle. The curve was also good for slicing through multiple people – to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. It can be used to slice open a foe's jugular vein and carotid artery, causing almost instant death.

Samurai katana sword

4. Nodachi

A nodachi is a Japanese sword. It is noted for its straight, single-edged blade, single hilt, and wide cutting edge. It was used primarily by foot soldiers in the Edo period (1603–1868).

Nodachi were longer than katana and were typically carried over the left shoulder with the handle parallel to the ground. As with katana, a tassel called a "kashira" was observed on their pommels. Their blades had less curvature near their tips for easier drawing at full length; this meant that they also moved faster through cuts because of greater momentum.

This sword type is also noted for its large size, as it was made to be used with two hands. Modern replicas of these swords can reach a length of 1.5 to 2 meters (4.9 to 6.6 feet). This did not have a tsuba; instead, they had a handguard similar to that of the katana. They were used by foot soldiers because they could cut the enemy's leg, arm, or head more easily than shorter blades.

Most of these types of Japanese swords that exist now are made post-World War II due to the destruction and loss of blades during that period. Many older ones were also destroyed during World War II by Japanese soldiers to avoid capture: Japanese military law required surrendering soldiers to destroy their weapons before surrendering to Allied forces, and there are many accounts of soldiers being executed for failing to do so. Some were destroyed during air raids.

5. Tanto

A tanto-style sword has a type of triangular cross-section blade that is single-edged and straight, with a sharpened point. It is most commonly used in traditional Japanese martial arts and is considered to be one of the first forms or types of the sword to be used by samurai. 

Tanto swords are also known as "tanto" in Japan, which literally means "pine hand knife", referring to the fact that these medieval swords were originally designed for use on board ships where they would have been used as knives or surgical instruments during combat. However, over time they began to be adapted for use in close combat fighting disciplines such as kenjutsu (Japanese swordsmanship).

Tanto blades traditionally have been forged out of a harder, but less expensive material, such as the Japanese sword steel called "shin-gunto". For this reason, tanto blades are more likely to be made of softer steel with a higher carbon content than traditional swords. These anime swords tend to be lighter and thinner than standard swords on account of their small size and shape.

Tanto-type swords are also very well known for their straightness or lack thereof as they are generally sharpened only on one side and thus may appear to be bent at the waist. This helps distinguish them from other weapons that may have different features on each side (such as scimitars).

The Popularity of Japanese Swords

Japanese swords are often used in Hollywood as movie swords of choice for sword-wielding warriors. They have also been a common trope in many games, especially those featuring feudal Japan or samurai. The popularity of different types of Japanese swords stems from the mostly forgotten yet intensely popular samurai culture of feudal Japan. 

They have been a part of Japan’s culture and identity since the imperial court was established. The Japanese samurai were renowned for honor, loyalty, and skill in battle. Although their prestige was almost toppled with the rise of Western imperialism (an era that still heavily impacts the Japanese mindset), they are still considered an important military asset in their culture today. 

The main origin of these blades is often thought to originate from China, but there is little proof of this claim. In fact, many popular myths regarding their origin are simply untrue as well as inaccurate.