Learn About The Japanese Samurai Katana, History And Construction

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

The Samurai Katana

AshiSmall 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.

AyasugiThis is a large wavey hada

Bo'HiA 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.

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

ChojiClover or mushroom shaped hamon pattern.

FuchiCollar beside the tsuba

GunomeSemi circular wave shaped hamon.

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

HabakiThe metal at the base of the blade that holds the katana in the saya

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

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

HamachiThe notch at the beginning of the cutting edge

HamonThe 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.

HiA 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.

HorimonoCarving or Engraving in the Blade

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

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

Itosilk or cotton hilt wrapping

JiThe blade surface just above the hamon and below the shinogi

JihaddaGrain pattern in the Ji

KashiraButt cap on the tsuka

KinsujiA type of hamon that means "golden lines"

KissakiThe point or tip of the blade

KoiguchiThe fitting or mouth of the saya

KurikataFitting on the saya for attaching the sageo

MakidomeThe final knot securing the tsuka-ito

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

MenukiThe ornament under the Ito on the Tsuka

MuneThe back or spine of the blade

ObiThe Belt or Sash worn by the martial artist

SageoThe cord used for tying the saya to the obi

SameRayskin used for covering the tsuka under the Ito

ShinogiThe ridge line defining the Yakiba or edge of the blade

Shinogi-JiThe flat section just above the Shinogi

TsubaThe guard on the sword.

TsukaThe handle or the grip of the sword

YakibaThe sharpened cutting edge of the blade