History of the katana
The katanas in feudal Japan
The katana sword is also referred to as the Samurai sword though that is only one of the swords that a Samurai warrior brings with him in battle.
A samurai is a member of the Japanese military class following the ethics code of bushido – loyalty to master, self-discipline, respect, and ethical behavior. They are considered honorable warriors of the old Japan.
The Origin of the Katanas
The earliest swords recorded in Japan were those that existed during the Wei dynasty. Two sets of straight and double edged swords called tsurugi were sent to Queen Himeko as a gift from China.
The history of the katana sword can be traced back after the eighth century when there was reformation of warfare styles.It was when fighting on foot during battles had been changed to fighting on horseback.
Because straight bladed swords would not be very functional on horseback fighting, an innovated curved blade was thought to be better. At that time though, the swords were carried by the waist with the cutting edge facing down. These were called the tachi swords.
In the Muromachi period during 1392-1573, swords worn with their sharp edge facing upwards were made and these were the katana swords. Because of such mechanism, a samurai could slash the enemy very easily in a single swing right after he removes his sword from the scabbard. Katanas did not have as deep curves as tachi had.
In the katana sword history, only samurais were supposed to bring a katana. If anyone else from the lower class of soldiers is caught to have possessed a katana sword, he is killed right there and then.
Aside from being highly revered being a symbol of warrior pride and honor, this ancient Japanese sword is also considered to be the deadliest weapon of Japan.
A samurai warrior brings also with him other weapons – a shorter sword at 12-24 inches long called the wakizashi usually used for stabbing and a tanto knife which is often used in the ritual suicide seppuku in the form of hara-kiri. A katana and wakizashi together is called daisho.
Almost everything in a Katana is something sacred, even from the forging of the sword. The history of the katana says only the highest classes of blade smiths shall perform the revered art of forging the sword. It is even believed that different craftsmen will do each stage of forging, heating, and hammering and every one of them are masters to the craft.
One dynasty for example, is highly skilled for just making the tsuba (a part of the handle). This is often made of copper but may be adorned with gold or silver. Being too precious, this part alone is passed on to generations as an heirloom.
Eventually as time went on, wars had ended and peace took over Japan. The Buddhist belief in reincarnation had led the Samurais to leave killings and violence and chose to live more serene lives. With the introduction of firearms too, the Japanese sword making consequently declined.
Though the katana swords are still known and are still respected today, the swords themselves have become rare since not many samurai sword makers still exist and practice their craft with the same level of passion, art, spirit, and meaning as those swordsmiths in the history of the katana sword.
Then again, there are still a few hundreds of sword makers who continue the legacy of making samurai swords.