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What Weapons Did Samurai Use?

What Weapons Did Samurai Use?

For much of Japan’s history, the country was wrecked by wars of clans competing for military prowess and strength. Consequently, a class of warriors that performed military service emerged to substantiate the need for trained professionals. 

These elite warriors were bestowed with sharp swords to protect the nation against invaders. Many people are curious about the weapons used by samurai warriors on the Japanese battlefield.

Primarily used Samurai weapons were: the Katana sword, Wakizashi sword, Tanto knife, Yumi longbow, and the Naginata pole weapon.

In this article, we will discuss the main weapons used by them to land blows tactfully on their enemies. 

Samurai of the Chosyu clan, during the Boshin War period.
Samurai of the Chosyu clan, during the Boshin War period
Felice Beato, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Honor of the Weapon 

Before we get into the intricate details of a samurai’s weapons, we need to first understand the degree of honor and pride associated with the title. Samurai warriors displayed their honor through their weapons and equipment. 

In the medieval period, they were an essential part of Japanese armies due to their military prowess and incredible skills. The concept of the Bushido–The Way Of The Warrior emphasized the tenets of honor and freedom from one’s death. [1] Since the Samurai imbibed the spirit of Bushido, they always fought without fear and accepted defeat in the face of death. 

It allowed the Samurai warriors to cut down anyone who dishonored them. Their ruthless and unrelenting power solidified their legacy in Japanese history.

What Blades Did They Use? 

Samurai warriors were known for their unique weaponry. In medieval Japan, only the best men were bestowed with the title of Samurai. 

They were equipped with a number of weapons, mainly swords, that represented the weapons used by the elite class of warrior men in the Medieval period and unique Samurai armor. 

Katana 

As one of Japan’s famous blades, the Katana sword was one of the weapons in a Samurai’s collection. 

It was a slender, curved sword with a single sharp edge. Measuring two or three feet long, the Katana was built to accommodate two hands instead of one for easy grip. 

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

As the signature weapon of the Samurai, it was usually worn on the left hip with the edge facing down completely. 

The blade was made by master craftsmen by combining different types of steel and repeatedly heating and folding it to produce agile and sharp blades. In the medieval ages, the Katana was viewed as a symbol of honor and success. [2] 

It was believed that only members of the Samurai class could wield the prestigious sword. When people from lower classes were found wielding the trusted blade, they were instantly put to death. 

It was often paired with a smaller companion sword known as wakizashi.

Wakizashi 

A shorter sword than the famous Katana, the Wakizashi’s blade was used by Samurai warriors in enclosed spaces and areas with low ceilings. Since the Katana was not entirely functional in these spaces, the Wakizashi sword proved to be a seamless alternative to its counterpart. 

Wakizashi.
Wakizashi
Attribution: Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons

It was also a norm for Japanese warriors to carry two or three bladed weapons at once. The Samurai warriors were often seen wearing the Katana and Wakizashi together as a daisho (pair). The latter was used as an auxiliary sword to perform the ritualistic suicide of seppuku. It’s around one to two feet long and curved to match the stature of the Katana. 

The Wakizashi was usually fitted with a square-shaped Tsuba interwoven with classic themes, symbols, and traditional motifs. According to Japanese tradition, the Samurai would be allowed to keep his Wakizashi when he entered a house but had to part with his Katana. [3]

Tanto 

A Samurai warrior did not extensively use the Tanto due to the sharp swords and blades kept at his disposal. However, it proved effective in penetrating Japanese armor relentlessly. 

Tanto sword.
Tanto sword
Daderot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A Tanto is a single or double-edged straight-bladed knife that was primarily designed to slash through weapons seamlessly. Since it is a short but sharp dagger, it was usually used to finish a fight with a deadly blow. 

The purpose of a Tanto was predominantly ceremonial and decorative. Just like the Wakizashi, it was used by many warriors to end their lives after battlefield failures. 

What Other Weapons Did Samurai Use? 

Early Samurai warfare consisted of bows and spears which usually fought on foot or horseback. These foot soldiers utilized longbows called the Yumi and long-bladed pole weapons called the Naginata. 

Yumi 

During the feudal period of Japan, the Yumi was an asymmetric Japanese longbow that skilled archers used. It was traditionally made from laminated bamboo, leather, and wood and exceeded the height of the archer–measuring around 2 meters. 

Antique Japanese (samurai) yumi (bow) and yebira (quivers), Met museum.
Antique Japanese (samurai) yumi (bow) and yebira (quivers), Met museum.
inazakira, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For samurai warriors, the Japanese bow was held by little quiver boxes for easier retrieval. The Yumi has a long history, dating back to the Yayoi era when the samurai warrior was a mounted soldier carrying the longbow on horseback. 

Later, in the Sengoku period, Heki Danjou Matsugu transformed the Yumi longbow with a new and precise approach. [4] During those times, the Samurai would usually train with it for competitions and challenges.

Naginata 

Lastly, the Naginata was a long-bladed pole weapon that was wielded by the Japanese warriors of the high nobility. It was most popular among a group of warrior monks known as Sohei. 

Naginata.
Naginata
SLIMHANNYA, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The weapon was at least eight feet long and heavier and slower than the Japanese sword. The Naginata was primarily distinguished for taking down mounted soldiers seamlessly. 

Conclusion 

Hence, the Samurai warrior was bestowed with many weapons to showcase their excellent skills on the military battlefield. As one of the most distinguished classes of the hierarchy, they were able to wield power and control over many regions. 

The honor and power attributed to a Samurai’s weapon are what makes them powerful and invincible.