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Did Samurai Use Katanas?

Did Samurai Use Katanas?

The Japanese sword, also known as Katana, is integral to Japan’s vigorous history. Even though the Katana has emerged as a piece of art in recent years, its value was unparalleled in feudal Japan. 

The ancient Samurai sword has a remarkable blade, becoming a symbol of honor and pride for many Samurai warriors. In this article, we will explore the various facets of a Katana and how it came to be a status symbol in the medieval age of Japan. 

What Is a Katana?  

As one of the most remarkable Samurai swords, a Katana was one of the most prized possessions in a Samurai’s collection. Although it has notable value, this style of blade dates back to the 12th century–a successor of an earlier sword known as tachi.  

Katana.
Katana
Kakidai, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Katana was developed in 1281 after Japan’s defeat against the notorious warrior Kublai Khan. [1] Older Japanese swords proved ineffective against the ruthless Mongolian army, which inadvertently instigated the invention of the symbolic blade. 

Its history stretches back over twenty centuries before Japanese swords were just a variation of Chinese swords that were straight and had a double-edged blade. 

The first Katana was used by members of the military nobility of feudal Japan and is believed to have been developed by Amakuni Yasatsuna and his son, who were the first to create the long, curved-edge sword known as tachi in 700 AD. [2] 

Why Did Samurai Use Them?

The beginning of the Heian period saw the rise of the Samurai class. These elite warriors overthrew the imperial government and established a military government in 1192. 

With the rise of the Samurai class, the importance of the Katana sword became a symbol of power and honor in Japanese society. 

It’s imperative to note the change in the military style during the battle that influenced the finer rendition of the tachi sword. Before, swords were built to serve one-on-one duels, hence the subtle craftsmanship of previous swords. 

However, during the Mongol invasions, Japanese soldiers faced highly organized and tactical enemies. The previously long sword had to be replaced by a finer curved blade that could seamlessly be operated by foot soldiers, giving them the flexibility of a comparatively short sword to wager enemies on the battlefield. 

The upgraded version of the tachi became the signature weapon of Samurai warriors and could only be wielded by them in later years. The prevalence of the Katana sword only lasted till the end of the Edo period, following which Japan entered into a rapid phase of industrialization. [3]

The Art of Sword Fighting 

The Katana was a crucial element of a Samurai’s life. Specifically, the art of sword fighting or martial arts was a distinguished skill in feudal Japan. Military prowess was greatly revered by fellow comrades, and it also measured the level of respect and honor in Japanese society. 

Japanese girl practicing Iaido with a custom made katana.
Japanese girl practicing Iaido with a custom made katana
Rodrigja, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kenjutsu, or the ways of the Samurai sword, had to be mastered by every Samurai warrior. [4]

Since they engaged in life-and-death situations, proficiency in the ways of the blade was integral to a warrior’s life. The art of Japanese sword fighting had to be perfected physically and spiritually.

A young Samurai would learn the intricate ways to wield a sword efficiently to prevail on the battlefield. The Samurai class was trained to slash like lightning and to execute the enemy in a single stroke.  

The Process of Making Katana 

Katanas emerged after shortening the length of a tachi sword. This means that it still possessed a curved blade with a single cutting edge compared to the former, which was longer and had double edges. 

Master swordsmith Goro Masamune (五郎正宗) forges a katana with an assistant.
Master swordsmith Goro Masamune (五郎正宗) forges a katana with an assistant.
See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The process of manufacturing it usually depended on its style and an individual warrior’s preferences. Authentic katanas were made from a metal known as tamahagane, or “jewel metal.” 

How did master craftsmen test the tenacity of a Katana sword? The answer is quite simple. Tameshigiri, an ancient form of testing Katanas on targets, was employed to perfect this sword. Since there were no volunteers to be used as bait, criminals and animals were brutally severed or even killed to test the pliability of the ancient sword. 

The process of making it required patience and incredible skill. Some of the steps are listed below: 

  • Preparation of raw ingredients, such as charcoal and metals, along with the necessary tools, was procured.
  • The first stage involved forging raw steel into intricate blocks. 
  • The harder steel metal was used for the outer layer, while the softer steel metal formed the core. 
  • The final shape of the sword was formed. 
  • Next, the rough finishing touches were added as straightening and flattening of the blade. 
  • Clay was then added to create the hamon pattern, a visual wave-like effect along the edge of a blade.
  • Heat was also added to create this pattern. 
  • Final finishing touches were added to the blade, and it was then embellished with carnal grooves or engravings. 

Realistically, the above process was completed over the course of 3 months.  Due to its flexibility and precision, a single Katana was priced as high as tens of thousands of dollars. Its craftsmanship involved superior skill and accuracy; hence the price was justifiable for the work and dedication of a skilled swordsman. 

Conclusion 

The intricate craftsmanship of a Katana sword is unmatched by the numerous other Japanese swords in a Samurai’s collection. With the agility of a spear and the preciseness of an arrow, this sword was one of the greatest weapons in Japanese history. 

With honor and pride associated with its value, it has become a topic of discussion even for the youth of today. Its legacy is engraved in history even after centuries of its revival.