What is a katana sword?

About the sacred Japanese samurai sword

One of the most famous Japanese swords until today is the Katana sword also referred as the Samurai sword. Made by the top sword smiths and from the finest materials during the ancient years of Japan, it was considered a sacred weapon representing honor and dignity of the Samurai warrior.
Learn about what is a Katana sword, its origin, and parts and know how to maintain your functional samurai sword.

History of the Katana

The original katanas were said to have been made during the Muromachi era in 1392-1573 at the height of changing warfare styles in feudal Japan. From curve swords with blades facing down called the tachi, they evolved into still curve swords but with their cutting edge facing up. This made slashing opponents easier right after a Samurai draws his sword out from its sheath. These reverse swords were then named the katana.

Katana sword making was a revered process in itself. According to the Japanese sword history, only the sword makers of the royals and the elite were allowed to forge katanas.

Katanas were not the only Japanese Samurai swords. As a matter of fact, they are only used by the Samurais as a last resort. Usually, the Samurai brings with him a wakizashi short sword and a tanto knife. A wakizashi is the companion sword to the katana and together they are called the daisho. Tanto knives are used for the ritual suicide seppuku.

The Samurai katana sword is usually 26-37 inches long. Here are the parts of this Japanese samurai sword.

1. Fuchi-kashira are those ring-like pieces of soft metal found both at the base and the top of the grip of the katana. They are helpful in holding the handle together.

2. The tsuka is the grip, hilt, or handle where the tang of the sword is hidden and locked in. Wrapped with a sageo, the tsuka has the elements habaki, tsuba, seppa, and menuki all of which will be elaborated in the following numbers.

3. Menuki are a pair of ornaments – small statues of animals or mythical creatures like dragons, rabbit on the moon, or lizards – that are placed under the bindings of the tsuka. Though in modern times menukis are mere decorations, by tradition, they represented the Samurai that owns the Katana sword.

4. Sageo are the silk or cotton wrappings of the tsuka. These are used to secure the saya or scabbard of the sword to the obi (waistband).

5. The nakago is the tang of the blade covered by the tsuka. This should be fully covered (full tang) to support the entire katana sword and prevent it from falling off when in battle. A full tang is a characteristic of authentic samurai katanas.

6. Another part of the katana is the tsuba. It is the guard that prevents the hand from slipping to the edge of the sword. Found at the end of the tsuka, this gives more control of the sword. The tsuba in itself is a valued part of the sword. In Japanese sword history, a whole dynasty of craftsmen is dedicated to make only tsubas. A tsuba was very valuable it could be passed on to younger generations as an heir loom. Today, tsubas are also well decorated to add more beauty that will attract sword collectors.

7. Seppa are metal washers used to fill in spaces between tsuba and habaki to keep them tight together.

8. The habaki is a small, square metal collar which encircles the base of the blade. It must fit just right over ken (Japanese for the blade) and the tsuka so that it can do well as a protection of the saya from dust and rain.

9. Nagasa is referred to as the entire blade of the katana from the nakago to the kissaki.

10. Sori describes the curvature of the blade which is a result of a differential quenching and hammering. Before the process, the blade is straight and just flat.

11. Mune is the back edge of the samurai katana sword blade. This is the part of the blade which is not sharpened.

12. Shinogi is the ridgeline at the widest point of the samurai blade.

13. Mono-uchi – found between the kissaki and the nakauyi, this part is the very cutting section of the sword.

14. The kissaki is the tip most of the katana. This part is crucial to every samurai sword for this determines the value of the sword. Forging and polishing this point would require a highly skilled sword smith.

15. The scabbard of the ancient Japanese sword is called the saya made of honoki wood.

Caring and maintaining for your sword

A sword maintenance kit is a must-have for anyone who has a Katana sword especially if you are into katana training and are constantly using your sword.

Since katanas have a sensitive blade, the kit provides the paraphernalia appropriate for your priced samurai sword. Occasional oiling of Samurai katanas may also be necessary. If your blade gets dull, sharpening should only be done by professionals to avoid severe damage.

Want to answer your queries about Japanese swords: Read on the Japanese sword FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) and the Japanese sword history.

Related articles: More about sword collecting for beginners – a guide for anyone who has just started a sword collection.

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